Graphic Nature: “I want kids to listen to us who are like me – introverted kids. I want that kind of connection”

Graphic Nature’s rise has been fast. They’ve made one of the heaviest debuts we’ve heard in ages, and the London metal crew are about to hit Download. But for frontman Harvey Freeman, fame is a daunting prospect. It hasn’t stopped him being disarmingly open about mental health in his lyrics, though…

Graphic Nature: “I want kids to listen to us who are like me – introverted kids. I want that kind of connection”
James Hickie

On the wall behind Harvey Freeman is a shelf. It frames a large TV and is adorned with toys from the comics, movies and shows that have captured his imagination over the course of his 30 years. Prominent among the Batman, Dragon Ball Z and Star Wars figures, in a wide and powerful stance, is the Green Ranger. Fans of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers will know that the character, who eventually became the White Ranger, was played by Jason David Frank. They’ll also be aware that the actor died in November, aged 49, having taken his own life.

“The idea that someone is going through that doesn’t come into your mind as a kid,” says Harvey. “I thought he was the coolest person in the world, so to know his mental health was so bad he could do that is horrible to consider.”

Harvey was affected not just as a fan, but as a man living with his own mental health challenges, and whose band, Graphic Nature, have named their debut full-length a mind waiting to die.

“We wrote the album when we were completely isolated from each other, and with the health anxiety and general anxiety I get in life, being locked in one room for nearly two years conjures up a title like that,” explains Harvey of making a record during the pandemic, a time that saw him battle insomnia on top of everything else. “I was just waiting for something bad to happen.”

When it comes to the fortunes of Graphic Nature, things have been entirely positive. The quintet’s sound, a visceral resurrection of the nu-metal blueprint, resonated with audiences that caught them on tours with Ho99o9, Cancer Bats, Witch Fever and SeeYouSpaceCowboy last year.

“There was a snowball effect and it was one after the other,” says Harvey of the rollercoaster that was 2022. “It was wild but really cool. Beyond any expectations that we had.”

The messaging behind the band’s musical output has also captivated listeners, by virtue of how darkly relatable it is. From their early singles to their recently-released debut, Harvey’s songwriting has nakedly explored the difficulties that come with being human and possessing a mind, from wrestling with anxiety to the haunting spectre of suicide.

“The floodgates are now fully opened regarding what I can speak about in this band,” explains Harvey. “Everyone in the band is comfortable with me speaking about the things I do. There’s no filter, as long as there’s nothing triggering or provocative for the listener − I’m fully aware of that. I don’t want anything to come across the wrong way, like I’m trying to encourage something. But I do want to start some conversations.”

Harvey’s biggest concern around mental health isn’t how much he reveals, or the way he reveals it, but the way in which some are wielding it selectively, as if it’s a box-ticking exercise.

“So many bands are doing it as a performative act,” he suggests. “They’ll put up one post a month or a year about mental health and suicide, but I’m not fucking scared to talk about it because not enough people do. I don’t care if I get any backlash about it, or people telling me to kill myself. I’ve heard it before.”

Growing up, Harvey did what kids do. He read. He drew. He watched films. He played video games. So what if he did most of these things alone and in a bedroom he rarely left. That’s normal, right? His mum certainly didn’t think so, suggesting her son’s desire to escape into any world other than the one he lived in was symptomatic of depression. And she was right.

“My imagination was so huge that everything outside didn’t really matter to me,” was how Harvey rationalised his experiences at the time. “I shrugged it off and thought, ‘Depression isn’t something that affects kids.’ It was something I thought happened to adults. How could I be depressed? I didn’t have bills to pay. All I had to do back then was go to school until 3pm and then I could do whatever the fuck I wanted for the rest of the day.”

Years later, Harvey is still a homebody. He’s speaking to K! from the flat he shares with his wife in the Waterloo area of London. Graphic Nature’s guitarist Pete Woolven describes his bandmate as the most difficult person to get to leave the house, but once he’s out, he’s fine. How does Harvey reconcile that reluctance with the part of him that necessitates being away for weeks and months at a time, often in unfamiliar places, performing to strangers?

“It’s really difficult for me,” he admits. “To do a big tour is a big ask. It’s not something I’ll ever pull out of as a result, but I have a weird phobia of something going wrong when I’m not in a safe space. Anywhere out of my flat is like warzone territory for me, and I’m on such high alert, thinking I could get ill or that something might happen to my wife. I’ve always been like that and it holds me back from doing a lot of things. There was a time when I really loved touring − and I’m not saying I don’t love touring now, but I used to be absolutely carefree. But that’s when I didn’t have anything at home, I didn’t have a girlfriend at the time. As I got older, I got this fear of losing shit.”

Thankfully, Graphic Nature − completed by guitarist Matas Michailovskis, bassist Charlie Smith and drummer Jack Bowdery − gives Harvey an opportunity to wrestle, creatively, with his thoughts and fears. In his previous bands, he’d been the drummer. Writing lyrics came later and quickly provided an outlet for exploring the many avenues of his specialist subject.

“I know so much about video games and movies, but I know more about mental health,” says Harvey. “It’s a hyperfixation that I can put into words, without even having to think, because I’ve been dealing with it for 30 years now.”

On the band’s early single, grit, Harvey explored the control of addiction. On a mind waiting to die, the explosive White Noise deals with neurodivergence, written in the aftermath of Harvey abandoning a social situation that left him on the verge of a panic attack. Killing Floor, meanwhile, is something of an exception in the Graphic Nature oeuvre. It tells the story of a man who’s consumed too many violent films, pondering the harm he could do to others.

“It still relates to me in a weird way,” Harvey reveals, slightly alarmingly. “I’m not saying I’m going to go and fucking kill people, but he’s very introverted in the same ways that I am.”

Harvey used to think there was an indistinguishable line between his heroes and the music they made. He can pinpoint the two moments he found out how painfully wrong he was. The first was on May 24, 2010, when Paul Gray, bassist of Slipknot – the band Harvey had idolised ever since a classmate introduced him to their debut album – was found dead in a Des Moines hotel room. The second date was the following day, when Paul’s eight bandmates sat alongside his brother and widow at a press conference. Some delivered statements, shakily and sobbing; others, unable to find the words so soon, remained silent.

Harvey was taken aback by what he saw. His heroes were not just unmasked but undone. Somehow, thanks to the terrifying theatricality of their image and the attack-is-the-greatest-form-of-defence intensity of their music, the teenager had lost sight of there being men, who loved and lost, behind the monstrousness.

“It was suddenly apparent to me that Slipknot was a persona and these were real humans going through some really fucking horrible stuff,” recalls Harvey now, still surprised by his naïvety. “That’s when I realised it can be separated and not everyone is as tough as they seem behind the masks they wear.”

In June, Graphic Nature will play Download Festival, a four-day celebration of its 20th anniversary boasting headliners Bring Me The Horizon, Metallica (playing twice), and Harvey’s heroes in Slipknot − as well as Evanescence, Architects, Parkway Drive, Ghost and many more. And for Harvey, despite being a lifelong metal fan, the day Graphic Nature appear at the festival will be the first time the frontman has ever set foot on Donington Park’s sacred soil.

Not that he doesn’t like it, of course. He’s simply not that type. In an industry in which confidence has currency and bold claims seize headlines, Harvey is something of an odd-man-out, his capacity for daring to dream tempered by an aversion to getting carried away that can make him his own worst enemy in interviews.

“I’m weirdly optimistic and weirdly pessimistic about it,” Harvey says about the future of his band. “I’ll believe it when I see it. I don’t allow myself to get too excited about anything because the feeling of being let down could end up overriding any enjoyment of the things that end up coming off. If we’ve got a headline show coming up, the rest of the band think it’s sick but I wait for the night itself to see if anyone ends up turning up. I don’t ever want to inflate our ego by assuming anything. I take it a month at a time with the band.”

As a result, discussing long-term aspirations doesn’t come easily. That may also be because his aspirations are more focused on an up-close, whites-of-the-eyes connection than pie in the sky projections.

“I’d just like to see a steady increase of people giving a shit about Graphic Nature,” Harvey suggests quietly. “I want kids to listen to us who are like me − gamer kids and introverted kids I can meet and swap gamer tags with so we can play at weekends. I want that kind of connection and interaction that I would have liked to have had. We’re just the same as everyone else, except we get to play and get £50 a show for it.”

If success came at the expense of that closeness, one wonders, would Harvey still want it?

“I’d rather have a big group of friends than a big group of strangers,” comes a response that’s more complicated than it seems. “I’m not going to say we’re going to play Brixton by the end of the year because I can’t see that happening, but I’d rather we grow steadily than become a fucking big band overnight. I don’t have the mental capacity for that. I don’t understand ego.”

Is Harvey, as the frontman of a band, sure he’s in the right job? He exhales as if he’s asked himself the same question more than once.

“I’m probably too fucking soft for this,” he answers after a couple of seconds, before shifting the focus back to the band’s fledgling fanbase. They are, after all, the people Harvey considers to be as responsible for Graphic Nature’s success as he is − particularly those who invested their time and affection at the ground floor and are getting to see their heroes rise through the ranks.

“Anyone who’s there when we open a show are the most important people, because they’re the people that make sure that bands like us can get anywhere in life,” praises Harvey. “So if you’re a person who goes to shows to see the first band, you’re a fucking unicorn!”

We’ll raise the horns to that.

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