|Just in time before the official release of 'A Map Of All Our Failures', the new full-length of My Dying Bride due out next month, doom-metal has been offered to do a phone interview with Aaron Stainthorpe. A long chat with a passionate – and talkative- man.|
|Hi, is that Mike? It's Aaron from My Dying Bride. |
Hello there Aaron, very nice to make your acquaintance.
Yeah, you too – how are you today?
Not too bad, thanks, not too bad.
Great. Are you back in the UK?
I am yes, here on the sunny South Coast.
It's pretty sunny here in Paris as well. Seems a shame to come all this way and then do a phoner back to England, but there you go.
Well, yes, sadly I couldn't be there.
Right, well – sorry, I've got the gig more because I'm the English member of the team than because I'll be any good at it, so I'll try not to make too much of a mess up!
Me too (laughs).
So how long have we got?
I'm not really sure – it's about 20 minutes normally, 'cos I have never seen an interview schedule like this before. It's packed to the rafters. The final one I'll actually be doing in a taxi on the way to the airport this evening, so, yeah I'm well busy.
Sounds like it. Right, well, I hope I can ask you a couple of things you haven't been asked ten thousand times already today then.
The obvious one of course: you're out there promoting the new album 'A Map Of All Our Failures', due out next month. How would you describe it
Erm...we've been asked that question a lot, and our answers are quite varied from time to time - depending on how tired we are, I guess, because you're tempted to say it's the obvious evolutionary step up from 'For Lies I Sire' - although that did come out three years ago, which is quite a substantial gap between releases. And as we're a little bit older and like to think we're a little bit wiser, and I'm hoping also that our songwriting capabilities are better than they've ever been before – practice makes perfect, you know. We've been doing it 23 years so with that theory in mind, this should effectively be our best album to date. I know that everybody says - who's promoting an album - it's the greatest stuff to date, but I think you would - you'd have to say that, you know, because it's all yours. Like, it feels like us right at this moment in time. It's got the doom, it's got the death, there's gothic overtones, there's all sorts of stuff going on. We love the theatre and so there's church bells, there's wind and rain and thunder and all sorts of theatrics going on. Which is nice, you know: it adds a lot of colour to an album - and of course the violin's in there as well adding a lovely haunting lilt to some of the tunes, so, yeah, it is our best work to date and I can happily say that.
I think I might agree with you there – I've got a great fondness for the early works: 'The Angel And The Dark River' was what first got me into the band. But I've found the evolution over the years to be quite interesting – it's not been terribly linear has it?
No. I mean, it's hard to stay true to your roots and your beliefs but keep it interesting, because if you get the mix wrong and you stick to your roots too closely then every album's going to be pretty much the same - and people are afraid of upsetting fans and doing something a little bit off kilter. We're not that fussed, you know – we need to keep coming up with fresh ideas because we don't want to do the same thing, we don't want to listen to the same thing over and over again. We certainly don't want to create the same things over and over again so...and we've always got loads of fresh ideas, we never actually stop writing, we're always coming up with little ideas. We've got, like, a database on the MDB central computer packed full of gigabytes of ideas which we tap into when the time comes to record a record and it's nice to know that these things are a little bit better – or at least we perceive them to be a little bit better – than what's gone previously. And as I mentioned before, practice makes perfect. The guitarists are better now than they used to be, therefore the music should – in theory – be the best it's ever been.
That's a fair point. On the subject of doing the same thing again – nobody could accuse you of that. 'For Lies I Sire' perhaps is the logical predecessor to this, but what about the last two releases – 'Evinta' and 'Barghest O'Whitby'? That's a pretty leftfield catalogue, there.
It is a little bit, isn't it! I think being able to do things like that is a testament to our relationship with Peaceville as well because they've given us complete artistic freedom. I don't think Evinta would have existed, or even Barghest, had we been on another record label because if you look at the concept of Barghest...it's a 27-minute long death doom mayhemic piece of music. If I'd've presented that idea to a larger record label, they'd have just said fuck off, because EPs are essentially - they're just big singles. They want airplay, they want the three-and-a-half minute nugget to get on the radio and earn lots of money. Peaceville, God bless 'em, they're not interested in any of that shit - and neither are My Dying Bride. We recorded a 27 minute doom death metal song and released it – and I'm sure that there was probably a bit of head-scratching at the record label on how to market such a thing - but, you know, we're allowed this freedom. and it's wonderful. And, yeah, the Evinta thing was the complete opposite – segments of My Dying Bride songs chopped up, put back together again, played by an orchestra, new lyrics, French opera singing! It's a weird concept and, again, had you presented that to a bigger label they would have thrown it away immediately because it has no commercial interest whatsoever to them...but as artists we feel it's necessary to do these things. We like doing these things, we want to explore new areas and, as I say, God bless Peaceville for backing us all the way.
You're obviously very happy with them still? I know you've said that on a number of occasions.
So have you had much feedback on the new album? I know it's still in pre-release, basically.
Feedback...we've heard only from journalists at the moment, because – yes, it's not yet reached illegal download level yet - but I'm sure it's only a matter of time! And you mentioned The Angel And The Dark River, because a couple of journalists have said this hints back to that period...and I kind of understand what they're saying, because we recorded this album in a slightly rawer state than we have previous albums...because in the past – with technology the way it is, you can plug your instruments straight into the computer, record everything crystal clear, edit out any squeaks and feedback and have a well-produced album. When we did the Barghest it was old Marshalls, old-style valve amps and big fat old mikes sat in front of them, crank it up to 10 and off we went...and we loved the sound of Bargest and wanted to carry that on on 'A Map Of All Our Failures' - but not to the level that we did on Barghest...because you need some refinement on an album, you know, that people are spending money on it - you've got to at least attempt to clean things up a little bit. With EPs you can mess around: they're more experimental and you can get away with more. With an album really you need to be a bit more polished. So we still recorded with old valve amps but less of the feedback, less of the squeaks and the noise, but it still gives the album just a little hint of The Angel And The Dark River kind of feel...which so far people seem to be quite buzzing about.
Yeah I can see that. I was quite interested by the promotional quote 'a controlled demolition of all your hopes'
Yeah, good old Andy (Andrew Craighan, guitars). Like Shakespeare that lad, but with ginger hair (laughs)
I mean, does that imply you were deliberately holding back – a restrained sort of feel to it?
Well, no, not really because – yeah, controlled is probably the wrong word. Well, no, it's the right word because...we don't throw songs together willy-nilly: we spend ages crafting them to get every nuance just right to tug at the heartstrings, so we spend a lot of time getting all the atmosphere and the feelings right, so it is controlled in that respect and...yeah, I mean, listening to our albums can be challenging – especially to the newcomer. I think the die-hards, they already know what's coming and it can hit them with a fair old impact still – but I think people who are just tentatively checking out the band, listening to the new album it's like being under pressure, somehow, in a heated environment...if it's me, you feel kind of exhausted by the end of it and you kind of pick yourself up and it feels like you've been run over by a bloody truck! It's an exhausting process and it's nice to know, though, that we can affect people with the music rather than just let them listen. We're making them feel the music and we're creating atmospheres where, when they close their eyes, they can just drift off to these almost dreamlike areas that the lyrics lead them into. 'Cause I'll never write political lyrics and I generally steer clear of contemporary items and subjects – I want My Dying Bride's music to be a form of escapism and I'd like our fans to stick on some headphones, have a glass of wine, enjoy the music on your own...turned up loud, so you can hear every little whisper in the background and it's just a chance to leave reality for an hour or so and indulge in something a little bit more – I don't know, not necessarily over the top, but romantic and dark and menacing. It's nice to escape now and again.
That it is. Okay, lyrics – that's always been a big part of the My Dying Bride feel. I think you write absolutely beautiful lyrics...
Thank you very much.
...there's a very scholarly elegance to them. Do you feel driven by the intrinsic beauty of language, in that sense? Is it that more than necessarily the musical content?
It is, actually. You know the music's great, but I don't play a single instrument so my contribution on music terms within the album is very limited. You know, I can hum a tune which I'm into and the guitar players might play it for me – for me it's all about the lyrics and the delivery of the lyrics through the voice, so when I'm writing I really pay – it's, okay, the music's playing in the background but I'm really trying to get ideas I want into the songs because that's what I do, you know, and I enjoy doing it. I'm a wordy man: I like words, I like messing around with words. I watch quiz shows, I love all sorts of words, I read a lot of books. I like words...'cause I like, you know, using old words which you don't see so much these days – like, you know, For Lies I Sire. Who says 'Sire' these days – it's not exactly dead but it's not far off...and it's just nice to bring a bit more life back to some of these old romantic words...because I like a bit of poetry and I think most people probably do, but they steer clear of it because sometimes it's nonsense! I think there's more crap poetry out there than there is good stuff...and yeah, I like words - hence the album title. You know we could have given it any number of miserable-sounding titles to represent what the content's like, but to just sort of sum it all up with A Map Of All Our Failures...it just works perfectly and I like statements like that, because they make people wonder...you know: 'what on earth is this, with a title like that?'. I think people want to see what's behind the surface, because that little tempting title is well worth a further look.
You've always had quite a lot of Christian imagery and allusions within the lyrics as well, that's been a bit of a trademark. I believe you're an atheist – do you use them metaphorically or just for storytelling. The significance?
Oh yeah, the bible's a great source of inspiration. You don't have to believe in it to be able to, you know, to read all the stories that are contained within...'cause there's hundreds of stories in the bible and some of them are pretty good, some of them are quite interesting, a lot of them are, you know, plain old gobbledigook. But, being from the West and being more familiar with this style of religion than, say, Sikhism I'm more prone to delve into this thing...so, yeah, you can pull ideas out of the bible, give them a little bit of a twist and re-release them – not necessarily as having a pop at religion – but just sort of discussing it, almost. I'm sort of anti-religious, but not in a massive way. I do understand that if people need a religious crutch to get through in their day to day, that's perfectly fine – I am not going to kick that crutch out from under them. However, you know, I am very much against the full-on, organised, money-making part of religion and we hear stories in the UK all the time...but, like, from all over the place, where priests have been fiddling with kids and the Pope's turned a blind eye – they just move them from one diocese to another thinking that's going to cure the problem and it's outrageous and yet it seems to go on quite often. You know I could have a pop at other religions, but, as I say, being from the West this is my most familiar territory and I'm not going to start, you know, ripping apart Hinduism because I just don't know enough about it. But still, I'm under the belief really that if there was one God we'd all be loving each other and the world would be rosy, but because there isn't everybody thinks their god's better than everybody else's and my god if you don't believe me, I'll cut your fucking head off...and that's an outrageous thing – the most grumpiest, most miserable, bitterest people on this earth are religious people!
It's quite doomy, then!
Well, you just see them on the news, fanatics, and you wander around any town, any big cosmopolitan city and you can see them all - religious people, you know - the way they dress, they're miserable as sin and it's almost like they're checking out everybody to make sure no-one is dissing their particular deity – relax, for goodness sake, it's supposed to be there as an uplifting thing! It just isn't any more – people are using it as a weapon and indeed have done for many years, and its the spark that ignites most conflict, seemingly, around the world and it's just such a shame. It's all completely out of control and that's the part I don't like – I don't mind me granny going to church on a Sunday, but I don't want any gunwielding nutcase who wants to kill me just because his god's better than my god!
Fair enough! You do sometimes dip into other mythologies – 'Hail Odysseus' (from the new album), for example. Is that something you feel you could - or would - like to do more with?
Well I've tapped into stuff like that for a long, long time because there's nothing wrong with finding a great classic story and nicking a little bit of the idea and turning it completely on its head and moulding it into your own style - and then it becomes your own idea, albeit influenced heavily by the origin. And, yeah, Homer is obviously – I've never read it all, I've read snippets of it – 'cause it's an epic...and again similarly to the bible, there's loads of little segments you could tap into...heavy metal, the heavy metal genre, is filled with fantasy...and I just like – I like literature, I try to tap into the more literary parts of fantasy and life and it's just nice to write with a style that isn't common within the heavy metal world. Heavy metal's very much blood and guts and Satan and war and all that sort of shit, which is great...but I just want something more from my metal. So, when we formed the Bride back in 1990, you know the early lyrics like Symphonaire Infernus - nobody was really doing anything like that, 'cause its pretty obscure, but that's what I like to do. I like, you know, most of the stuff I write is made up - influenced just by what goes in my brain, but quite often if I read a good story or see a good movie or hear a good song...that might plant the seed that grows into something a bit later on – a My Dying Bride entity.
Well, speaking of which: how are the band all working together, with the current lineup?
So far, so good. Erm, everybody seems pretty stable and really enthusiastic...which is great. Shaun's (Shaun Macgowan, keyboards & violin) obviously the newest member: I think he's only 21 or 22, I mean, I think the band had only just formed when he was born...which is a bit weird, but it's quite nice to have that young blood in the band! But he's still quite shy - so when it comes to writing songs he's not inputting quite as much as I would like to hear from him. 'Cause he plays not only violin and keys, he plays guitar as well – he used to be in a smaller local band – so I know he's got ideas, but I think he's just a little bit wary of, you know, saying to Andy and Hamish (Hamish Glencross, guitars), you know, hey I've got a guitar idea just in case they throw it back in his face - which I know they wouldn't do, we're open to ideas from the rest of the band! Lena's (Lena Abé, bass) been settling down lovely: in fact, she's on the press tour with me now...so she's doing interviews as well and she's loving it. And it feels solid at the moment, it feels solid...we've never kicked anyone out of the band: people have just left because they've either got bored with it, or it's just become troublesome or whatever...so far these guys from, you know, chatting on the tour bus and getting to know them more, they seem pretty chuffed with what they've been given – so, hopefully, we'll stick with this line-up for quite some time. I mean, we don't officially have a drummer at the moment. Shaun Taylor-Steels helps us in the rehearsal room and the studio but can't come in to live stuff because he struggles to get time off work and when he does he wants to spend it with his family – it's a lovely young family and I can't blame him! That's where he wants to put his time. So when we play live we use Dave Gray from Akercocke...so we don't have a drummer, but this format works quite well at the moment...it would probably be better if we did have a real, official drummer, but until then we'll just carry on with the way we're going.
Okay, you returned recently to including the violin. Do you see that as being a permanent fixture now – is it really part of the classic sound?
It is...until Shaun decides he's had enough and leaves. And you know, that's what's happened in the past...when Martin went we thought, briefly, about immediately replacing him but didn't...because we didn't really feel we needed it. Because sometimes when you've got an extraordinary instrument that's not normally associated with heavy metal it can be a gimmick, or it can be seen as a gimmick to some people So we went for – oh, it must be ten years, I think, without any violin and it was fine. We did some great stuff and it was only when the old keyboard player, Sarah (Stanton), became pregnant and had to leave that we looked to replace her and brought in Katie Stone – and she just happened to play the violin. It was a great sort of surprise and a little bonus for us, and when we recorded with her we didn't tell anybody the violin was back because, again, it would then become a gimmick. Every interview you do would be about the violin, and we just didn't want all that shit. The violin was always there to embellish what was already written...a bit like the keyboards were...so when we released the album 'For Lies' people heard it, and they were like 'is that the violin?!' and they were shocked...but you know if you use an instrument like that on every single song, all the way through every song, it is a total gimmick and it's like you've got no other ideas. So we use it sparingly and, again, we use it to embellish what's already there. I mean, that's what we're doing with Shaun at the moment. We've asked him to come out of his shell a bit more and be a bit more creative...I mean, there's some nice violin work on the new album for sure: some of it's played as you would expect to hear a violin and some of it's played in a completely different style altogether - he's coming up with some weird soundscapes as well and I like that. I like the fact that he's feeling bold enough to not just play typical My Dying Bride-style violin, he's being a bit more adventurous and I would expect to see more of that in the future.
I read an interview with you once where you described 'The Dreadful Hours' as your favourite My Dying Bride album. Is that still the case – I mean that was very violin-free!
Well, yeah, I didn't actually even realise...but it had such a good variety, that album: there's all sorts of stuff going on it...from the fast stuff to the really slow stuff, it's melancholic as you like...and for me that has all the right ingredients you would expect to find on a My Dying Bride record – it ticks all the boxes. Erm...the new album's too new, I think, for me to have The Dreadful Hours usurped from the throne...but you never know: in five or six years time, I might look back and think, 'fuck me - move over Dreadful Hours, A Map Of All Our Failures has taken your crown'...but we'll see. I think Turn Loose (The Swans) is just a great album, I mean, The Angel And The Dark River - you know there's good stuff out there and I'm proud of that. I'm proud of the fact I find it difficult to choose my favourite - The Dreadful just takes it, but it's not by much!
So, you're touring Europe later in the year to promote the album – are you looking forward to that at all?
Not really. I don't really like playing live much...but the rest of the guys do, so they're all buzzing about it but, you know, to be honest we don't do that many live shows...this year - including that tour – I think will amount to 10 live shows...in total, for the whole year. Now, I'm sure other bands who are going to hear that are thinking 'that's not a tour, that's ridiculous', but you know we've never really done that many shows…because if you tour for such a long time that you become bored of your gigs and you don't care what town you're in, you don't really care about the fans, you just want to get the show over so you can have another beer - that's a sorry state to be in. We've seen bands doing that: we've seen bands on huge tours…when they make it to our town they look tired, they're not as effervescent as they would normally be and they get the town wrong when they say ‘hi’ - you know: ‘hello Bradford’ and we're in Leeds…and it's just, you just think…okay, it happens but we don't want that to happen to us. So we make sure the few shows we do are really special. We're completely focussed, we know exactly where we are, we know exactly who we're performing to and we're going to cause the best possible show we can, with plenty of energy still, to make it look like you know the best possible show that we can play…you know, I'm sure that the rest of the guys would want to play tons more live gigs but I really struggle with it and so it's just a case of – 'look, let’s…we'll do a deal: we'll do some live shows but not the hundreds you want to do', you know, because I don't like - I wouldn't survive a long tour. It's too emotional for me on stage: I work my guts out on the stage and to do a long tour, I just wouldn't survive it.
Well, I've got to say I could vouch for your live performances. I saw you a few times at the late, lamented London Astoria way back when – once on a Halloween evening, I remember particularly – yeah, I'd love to see the band live again.
Well, we're doing London – have you seen the tour dates we're doing?
O2 academy isn't it?
That's the one, yeah.
Do you prefer the large stadium-type venues or the smaller club sort of scene?
It doesn't matter to me because I'm off the planet as it is! Anyway...because I get into my zone - as it were - and try to become the characters I've written about in my songs, most of whom are having a torrid time as it is, I don't really feel the audience as much as the other guys do…because the other guys are staring at the crowd, and they're rocking, you know, they're trying to look cool and the crowd are watching and applauding. I don't see any of that stuff, so, whether we're playing a big festival with several thousand people or our own club show which is just a couple of hundred, you know, literally inches from your face - I've got my eyes closed for most of the show anyway, so it doesn't really matter...the applause is loud from both...but I'm in a different place on stage to anyone else and it's hard work and it makes no difference if we're supporting the likes of Iron Maiden in a huge arena or playing a dodgy dive in Halifax. I'm already gone.
So, obviously you've been working hard in the studio, on the promotion and there's the tour coming up. What do you do to kick back and relax when you're not working with the band?
Erm, well, because we don't have a manager, myself and Andrew are actually always working for the band. It is a business, you know - we pay VAT, we're registered with Business House, whatever it's called (Companies House), and the whole band is run as a small business and me and Andrew are the partners…so even if we're not doing something in the public eye we are definitely working our balls off in the background. It's not that we don't – well, it is actually – we don't trust other people to handle things for us, so we want to handle everything ourselves, you know, we design our own merchandise, we figure out where we want to go on tour. It gets dull at times when the accountant rings us and says come on you guys we need a meeting, and it's fucking statistics and shit and dullness that's got nothing to do with creativity or music but you have to, you know, if you're going to run bands yourself you have to get involved in that. And that's miserable and crap and somehow influences some of the things we do as well...there's shit that goes on in the music business - as I'm sure you're aware - that's horrendous and unfair and under the table and we have to deal with that sometimes…and you kind of think actually this isn't the business I expected it to be, but you know, you get back to the creative side of things and everything is good again.
Do you feel it gets easier or more difficult to work in the Doom genre as you get older? What do you feel you've gained or lost, individually and as a band, along the way?
We've gained a lot of knowledge that's for sure - I mean, practice makes perfect…if you've been doing something that you enjoy for a long period of time, hopefully you should get better and better at doing that and I'd like to think that we're better songwriters now than we've ever been…erm it would be a bit of a sorry state if we were going backward and we weren't quite as good, you know! We're wiser now than we were even five or six years ago, we've experienced more, our characters have developed - we've grown up more...and that's reflected in the music. The songwriting, I think, is more controlled...it's more mature and that's important because that means it will sound better, in my theory, than everything that's gone before it...and it's different for us, as I mentioned, because we run the band as well as perform in it...we've seen the business grow, we've seen the troubled times, the good times, the dodgy stuff...so we're seeing it from all kinds of weird angles! I'm sure most bands only get to see the artistic side, which is probably nice for them cause they've always got – I'm sure most bands have got a manager who are sort of, you know, sorting out the chaff and flare and giving the band just the good stuff – but we get the good stuff and the bad stuff, but we've chosen to do that, so it's just the way it goes and we've gained a lot of knowledge over the years...we are wise old men now and I'd like to think that's reflected in the music that we perform.
I notice, slightly immodestly, we're one of the very few sites that has a link from your own web site. Do you ever hang around on the internet forums?
From time to time Andrew or Hamish, who do, will say – they'll send a link saying ‘check this out, it's brilliant’ and I'll go and check it out. I enjoy having a look around but, I'm quite a private – not secretive, but I quite like my own self. I'm a member of a couple of forums but really just so I can have a nosy what people are up to and comment from time to time. I mean, Andrew wanted me to do a studio report when we recorded the album and I just thought…'do you know who you're talking to, if you want me to do a studio report!'…you know, I just don't think people are that interested, but clearly they must be because when he mentioned it on the My Dying Bride forum and the fans were like, ‘yeah, go on Aaron – you hardly ever post any posts here, let’s - give us a studio report, you lazy bugger!’...so you do and it keeps them happy and it's quite nice, actually, sometimes, to do a bit of interaction with them. They're always responding to everything we do, not always good, but that's fair enough, you know, it's a free world – say what you like...but it's good to know what they feel and it's great to see them tear some of the songs apart. Some of the songs aren't very obvious – I mean, they don't have an obvious story and the fans will delve into it and come up with their own ideas and thoughts and when you read them you think ‘we've got a really creative fan forum here, they really know their stuff’ and they're showing it to the band and they know the band are reading it, and that's great.
So, do you think we'll see another 23 years of My Dying Bride?
Funnily enough, I don't see why not. So long as we're enjoying what we're doing...I see no reason to quit and if we've still got enough fresh ideas – without losing sight of our roots – to keep the fanbase solid, then there is no reason to quit whatsoever. We're enjoying this, we're having a buzz, we've still got loads of ideas…and then, when we recorded this album we actually recorded 13 songs...8 are on the regular CD, 9 are on the special edition - which comes with a DVD, which is a kind of behind the scenes My Dying Bride...which leaves 4 songs which have yet to be released and so we're just going to do an EP, at some point early next year, featuring four brand-new songs.
That's brilliant. It's really nice to hear that you're all still so enthusiastic about it!
Yeah, we're buzzing about it at the moment. I've actually shaved all my hair off so I've kind of become a new man at the moment, I'm kind of looking at the world through fresh new young eyes…and I've been to the gym a bit and played a bit of five-a-side and I'm a bit buff! (Laughs) I feel 10 years younger than I did and it's…I'm full of it at the moment!
Well thank you very much for your time Aaron, really do appreciate it, it's been an absolute pleasure!
Yeah, it's been good.
Any last words you want to put out there?
Erm, I think we've mentioned the tour, haven't we? We've mentioned the EP…we're doing a couple of videos, by the way, one for the second track on the album...The Poorest Waltz, and then the EP which comes out next year will have a video for The Manuscript, which is the title of the EP, so there a couple of…there's lots of interesting stuff coming up at the moment so, you know, if you're into My Dying Bride, then there's some treats on the way.
Fantastic, All right then, well, thank you very much.
Thank you, too. Have a good old day back there in Blighty and I'm going to have some more dodgy tea here in Paris.
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