The Cover Story

Graphic Nature: “We’re grateful for everything, because in a second it can be taken away”

Just over a year on from their gripping debut album, Kent metallers Graphic Nature are set to out-do themselves with upcoming follow-up Who Are You When No One Is Watching? Despite their undeniable rise, though, behind-the-scenes frontman Harvey Freeman has been battling PTSD, and has experienced a “wake-up call” to truly seize the day…

Graphic Nature: “We’re grateful for everything, because in a second it can be taken away”
Nick Ruskell

Harvey Freeman has no idea who the man who attacked him was, or why he did it. A little over a year ago, Graphic Nature’s frontman was on a train in London, headphones on, head in a book, business his own, making the same evening journey as he ever did back home to his wife. With no warning, in a short, violent moment, his life was suddenly changed.

He’d got a vibe from the guy who sat down a couple of seats away, but didn’t think much of it. Weird people on public transport are nothing new. Who interacts with anyone on the train in London, anyway? It’s fine. Back to the book.

“I was like, ‘This guy’s kind of weird, because he’s got his hood up, and he’s got something over his face,’” tells Harvey today. “But, you know, what have I got to worry about? I haven’t done fucking nothing to anyone. So I’m good, easy, whatever.”

As they pulled into Canning Town station, the stranger tapped Harvey in the chest. Removing his headphones and looking up, he thought the guy might be going to ask him about what he was reading. Instead, and very suddenly, he began attacking Harvey, battering him as he remained stuck in his seat, not retaliating partly through the shock of what was happening, and also because “that’s not the person I am”.

Eventually, the man left the train and got onto the platform, from where he began goading Harvey to come outside to finish what had been started, an invitation that was obviously refused. “I had no idea what was going on. Knife crime is a big thing in London, and I just thought, ‘I’m not gonna die today.’”

A moment later, the doors closed and the train continued its journey, leaving the man behind. Had he been visibly spoiling for a fight, or got into an argument with Harvey before the attack, or if the fuss of violence had profited his attacker with something logical like Harvey’s phone or wallet, there might have been something around which to process it all. Instead, Harvey was left to wonder: “What the fuck just happened?”

It’s one of the many questions that have itched at Harvey in the year and a bit since it happened, a year and a bit in which the effects have seeded stubborn roots in his life and left him with PTSD, laid down in Graphic Nature’s surprise-dropped new song To The Grave.

One of these questions has become the title of the band’s second album, Who Are You When No One Is Watching?. A classic bit of personal appraisal for when one is alone but for a mirror, its depth is inversely proportional to its basic simplicity. As Harvey realised as it span around his head, it’s also versatile.

“This thing that happened to me, the guy was on his own, and I was on my own,” he puzzles. “Who is that guy? Not just his identity, but who is he? Was he just some guy out looking for a fight? And I think about me, I’ve never been like that, I’m content in my life.”

It’s a title that also says a lot about the lasting impact that night had on Harvey. For Graphic Nature – Harvey, guitarists Pete Woolven and Matas Michailovskis, bassist Charlie Smith and drummer Jack Bowdery – by any metric, things have been solidly on the up and up. In February last year they released their excellent debut album, a mind waiting to die, a record that built on an already hard-won good name and marked them out as a virulent and promising new force in British metal. In June, they appeared at Download for the first time. In August, they were not only the heaviest and most chaotic turn at Reading & Leeds, but also one of the very best. November saw them tour with Harvey’s heroes in Skindred (“The first band I ever saw when I was 14 – that show basically made me want to be in a band”), before they rounded out the year with a riotous headlining show at The Underworld in Camden. Ever a man cautious to blow his own trumpet, Harvey says he had his doubts when their manager tabled the idea of such a venue to the band, admitting it wasn’t until he was given some numbers come gig day vis à vis ticket sales that he actually believed his band deserved to be there.

“That was such a big ask,” he smiles. “But then we came out onstage and saw all these people. It took me a minute to be like, ‘Oh, wait, there’s not a band on after us. You guys are here for us.’ It’s mad. And it’s humbling in a way to think, ‘Wow, everything that we’ve done has really paid off.’”

Amongst all this, the band found themselves also hitting a creative patch so fecund and plentiful that work on some new recordings quickly grew more legs than expected. “We did think, ‘Is it too soon to do another album?’ But then we went: ‘Fuck it, that’s unexpected, that’s part of it.’” So fast have things moved that Harvey only finished tracking his vocals two weeks ago (after a writing process that had him most nights of the week demoing ideas in his room until the small hours), and most of the songs haven’t been fully mixed yet. Lots are even still waiting for their permanent title.

When no-one was watching, however, Harvey was having a much tougher time. In the weeks following the attack, still shaken, he nevertheless was “cool with it”. After a bit, though, his wife started noticing things were amiss. Getting the train alone or at night had become a problem. He’d become withdrawn, more than his usual homebody tendencies. He’d also started becoming, he says, “very hateful and very vile towards people”.

“I was going through different emotions, a lot of anger,” he admits. “I started to really, what’s the word? Not neglect… I just hated people, and I kind of still do to this day, in the sense of, if I was on the train before, and someone’s there sat in a hoodie, I wouldn’t usually care about that. But now I’m very on edge. So I don’t sit down on the train anymore. I don't listen to music on the train. I try not to get the train…”

“I just hated people, and I kind of still do to this day…”

Listen to Harvey detail the different emotions he felt after his attack

Elsewhere, it began to affect how he interacted with people he knew. That is: he stopped doing it.

“I lost contact with a lot of friends that I was really close to, out of choice,” he says. “I couldn’t care less for anyone at that point in my life. Like, if anyone wanted help, I didn't really give a shit because what I was going through was way worse. It’s so selfish for me to say, but I just couldn't give a fuck.

“I didn't want to leave the house. I didn't want to do anything. It didn’t suck my enthusiasm for gaming, or watching films, but it really took out the excitement of any kind of band plans.”

By way of example, he points to Graphic Nature shows at the beginning and end of 2023, a gig for Facedown at The Scala in March, and The Underworld a few days shy of Christmas. The latter was a marker and a celebration. At the former, a month after the attack, he simply was not there.

“That was tough, because I was like, ‘Oh, I’ve got to come out of the house to do this show,’” he recalls. “And I can see the difference [today]. Now when I look at it, I’m just not in it. It was almost like I had to flick that switch on every time doors opened, or every time I had to do press. Anything that I should be really fucking grateful for doing, at the time I was like, ‘There is nowhere else I'd rather be than my home.’ Not that anything was fake – I really did put my all into any press and fan interactions – but that stuff, that worry, was always there.”

Even six months on, for Reading & Leeds, the shows themselves would be bangers, he knew, but there was a knot of things to get past in order to get there.

“The boys live in Kent, so I’ve got to take a train there,” Harvey explains. “They’re all so excited to go and play Reading & Leeds. And I am too, but I'm also like, ‘Okay, cool, I need to make it through this 45-minute journey without anything happening.’ And then I've got one or two days of safety, and then it's back to normality, where I have to then go back into London, this place that I've done a complete 180 on. I hate this area now, I hate this fucking city.”

As someone who’s often been so frank and open about mental health and the importance of not feeling shame around it, having written about depression and suicidal thoughts without varnishing the subjects, Harvey was aware that keeping what he was going through quiet and trying to keep calm and carry on was, in some sense, exactly what he’d been talking about. He also knew, though, that it was important to keep doing so, partly for himself, in not letting the incident take any more from him than it already had, but also for the people who needed to hear someone like him on a stage.

“It’s very much the Batman-Bruce Wayne thing, man,” he says. “I put on the mask to do the show, and front it, because people need to hear it. People need to hear they’re seen, as a group of neurodivergent people, from a guy that’s got fucking Asperger’s and ADHD, [who’s] onstage playing heavy music. It's a thing that I need to do every show because I've always wanted that.

“When you're going through shit yourself, you kind of have to push it aside. And it's something that I can only do in a band setting, like when we're playing a show. I have to go, ‘These people are here for you. Stop being selfish for half an hour and look after these guys.’ I actively made it a thing that I wouldn't stop talking about mental health, because it's still very much linked to what I was going through. So if anything, I pushed it a bit more.”

“When you’re going through shit yourself, you kind of have to push it aside”

Hear Harvey explain the “Batman-Bruce Wayne thing” that Graphic Nature brings out of him

This connection, this ability to create somewhere in which people can recognise themselves, is important to Harvey. It’s also one of the reasons why so many people like him and Graphic Nature. Originally picking up drumsticks in his first band as a teenager, he’d found the instrument a good source of catharsis (“You’re just hitting things,” he grins). Eventually, he decided he’d try his hand as a singer.

“I had a bit of frontman syndrome with drumming anyway,” he laughs. “I'd always overdo it. I'd stand up and hit the drums and stuff, just being a fucking moron, basically.”

At first, he says the only thing he struggled with was what to say between songs (“Working in retail helped my people skills there, actually”). When he came to put pen to paper for lyrics, Harvey eventually found it pointing inward, not least because he didn’t have much else to write about.

“I went through a phase of being like, ‘I’ve got to be tough, so I’m gonna write tough-guy songs about how you can’t mess with me, I’m the sickest, coolest dude,’” he remembers. “It just didn't work. It took me ages to realise: you’re just not this guy, so don’t pretend. Do something else and do something that's real for you.

“I was like, ‘Well, I don’t know anything about politics, so I can't do the Rage Against The Machine thing.’ I think I was in one of my moments and wrote what I was feeling, and it was like, ‘Okay, cool, this is making sense.’ Ever since then, it's always been about whatever's going on in my life.”

Unsurprisingly, so many of Harvey’s lyrics on Who Are You When No One Is Watching? deal with what happened to him and how it’s affected his life. Many people close to him, he says, will be hearing about it for the first time via the band. He likens it to “a confession”, and that he’s almost saying, “I’m sorry to everyone that I've pushed away, sorry to my wife, and here’s how I’m dealing with it. And it's kind of an apology to myself, an apology to everyone else, but mainly my wife, because she dealt with it for so long, and she was there the whole time.”

The pride and enthusiasm with which Harvey talks about the record, though, says something, too. There’s a lyric, ‘I should have taken the long way’, pondering on where the Back To The Future moment was that would have meant he and his attacker never crossed paths. But, he reasons, had this not happened, they wouldn’t have the album they do.

“It was a big ask last time, doing a whole album, but this time I really feel like we’ve topped it,” he says. “I'm so proud of it. I'm really excited for people to hear it.”

It’s nice when Harvey talks like this, because often he sells himself short, almost as if Graphic Nature have blagged it to this point. They’re seeing a lot of hard labour bearing fruit, but he’s also not one to ever expect anything, often even when it’s really happened.

“I’ll always do that,” he laughs when we point it out. “I always feel there’s a lot of bands out there who are better than us. I’m just rolling with it. I once asked Josh Franceschi [You Me At Six] how he deals with it all, and he just said, ‘If you expect nothing, then you’ll never be disappointed.’ I've done it for so long, man, we've all been in other bands for years, I'm 32 this year, and I think it's more of a case of not letting any kind of ego seep in. We’re just grateful and appreciative of everything that's come and everything that's given, because in a second it can be taken away.”

“I went through a phase of trying to write tough-guy songs”

Harvey reveals how he came to find his authentic songwriting style

This is something that worries Harvey. Should it happen (unlikely, given current wind in sails), it wouldn’t do to have been “just another no-one band”. What Graphic Nature do matters greatly to the frontman, as does what their lyrics and message represent. This is how they’ve sprouted a second album that outruns their first so soon after its release. One of the thoughts stirred up over the past year was fitting with the album title: who am I without this?

“I kind of had this weird existential crisis where I started questioning my worth to everyone,” Harvey explains. “What am I really worth to anyone outside of being a musician? What do I offer to anyone? If I wasn’t in a band, would anyone give a shit? What value have I added to their life? So that was a whole fucking thing.”

These are the sort of bold but, equally, unhelpful, bullying thoughts that can be dug up by trauma and having your mental compass thrown off. Harvey is a magnetic, charismatic frontman in a very good band who are doing very good things, but he is, on his own merits, a lovely, sweet man, a devoted husband, a dog-dad to his new puppy. He’s endearingly keen on gaming, toys, nu-metal and movies, eager to compare notes on Dune: Part Two, currently on his third cinema viewing.

“I think it’s mainly because I don't really have anything outside of music that I really enjoy doing, apart from fun shit like collecting toys and playing games!” he laughs.

Ask Harvey, a year on, if he feels like he’s managed to get on top of processing what happened, and he’s blunt: not really. He won’t take a train alone at night, because “it sets it all off again”, and admits he still feels like he has to have eyes in the back of his head all the time. “I’m sure I’ll get over it,” he says. “I should probably go to therapy or some shit, but it’s expensive. I think I will get better. But, you know, some days are good, some days are bad.”

He’s getting there, though. Having pushed through and not let it fully derail things, however hard it may have been at the time, they have an album that should not only punt Graphic Nature’s name upward, but has helped process things and organise his thoughts. Even just saying it aloud is a good seed planted in something that will eventually blossom into something beautiful.

“I don't want to seem fucking spiritual and shit, but it could have almost be something that was meant to happen to me, in order for me to push myself to do a better album,” he ponders, before letting out a laugh. “That seems so fucking egotistical! But it could have been like: ‘You're not appreciating life enough, here's a wake-up call. Try your best to do some good shit for people.’

“I did find myself doing that after a while,” he smiles. “I found myself helping people more and trying to better myself more. We'll see where we are in a year’s time. I can be worse, I can be better.”

Having pulled himself back up from where he’d been knocked down to, Harvey will probably be better. Even better.

Now read these

The best of Kerrang! delivered straight to your inbox three times a week. What are you waiting for?