» Nick/Greg - Paradise Lost
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Interview conducted June 18 2017
Interview published July 18 2017

"So it quickly narrowed down to 2 people and one of them didn't drink, so he was out."

To promote their new album Medusa, coming out September 1st, vocalist Nick Holmes and lead guitarist Greg Mackintosh of British metallers Paradise Lost made a stop in Stockholm, Sweden. On this record they have definitely gone back to sort of visit an earlier stage in their career and even if it sonically doesn't go all the way back to the demo days and the first album, there will certainly be some mixed feelings among the fans about the band's decision to again not trying to relate stuff to what they put out in the mid 90's.

"We take the music very seriously, but everything else, not at all."

Tobbe: Paradise Lost is an ever changing band, musically, so what do you come out with this time?

Nick: We started out in this kind of style of music. When we started the band this was pretty much what we were doing, albeit a bit more of a rough version of it. So yeah, I mean, it's just we had a huge break and now it's kind of exciting to explore this, the music that got us together in the first place, again. But, you know, it's a lot more modern production and the songs are better written and, you know, all that stuff.

(Greg:) Usually there's a spark that sends us down a pathway and for this one it was a song from the last album that we wrote [The Plague Within, 2015], very last minute, called Beneath Broken Earth. It was written probably in a couple of hours and it just turned out really great and made us the nod. We get to do a full album with this stuff, so. And that was it, you know.

Tobbe: I think musically it feels like Shades Of God [1992], but with a more modern touch put to it, and vocally I think it sounds more like maybe Gothic [1991], but still you have some more clean singing now.

Nick: Yeah, I mean, I think it's not an obviously catchy album, 'cause I mean, I think some of our stuff you just presume is gonna be catchy, or attempt to be catchy, though we haven't really done it with this one. But I mean, the songs actually are. They just have to be listened. You know, even the gruff singing lines are catchy themselves. It's just, you know, to me the gruff singing's more like another instrument in a way. But it's nice, after all these years, to do something that sounds not dissimilar in feel to something that we wrote 28 years ago.

(Greg:) It did help. Not help, but it did kind of influence it as well that we played Gothic in its entirety on the Roadburn Festival. It did kind of affect the songwriting for us just a little bit as it made, you know, us relearn songs that we wouldn't really write in that way anymore and it just makes you think about it, I suppose.

Tobbe: I think the song Blood And Chaos definitely has a different approach to it and it sounds like it's made a few years later, like '94, so it brings some diversity to the album as well.

Nick: Yeah, I mean, that was the only one on the album that is like it. And it was a kind of an experiment and we didn't know if we were gonna put it on the album or not, but we decided to, just because it breaks it up a little bit. You know, getting some speed. But it's still a heavy song, so. It reminds me a little bit of Say Just Words, but it's heavier than that, but it's a similar feel, I think.

Tobbe: Have the lyrics become more important to you than they were before?

Nick: No, they were always the same, really. I mean, for me it's about the singing line. That's the most important thing and once you got the singing line, then you write the lyrics. But I think I like writing metaphors more than ever before. That's more interesting now. I don't really like black and white lyrics about, you know, obvious topics. They're obviously about one thing. Sometimes that's OK, but I prefer to write about puzzles and things that no one knows what the fuck is going on. [Laughs]

Tobbe: In what way do you prepare yourself differently when you're about to sing a harsh vocal line in comparison to your clean singing?

Nick: As long as it's no kind of overlapping bits it's not that difficult to do it. But I mean, when you write the line you just know if it sounds right in the growly voice or the cleanly. But yeah, I can do both OK. I mean, I don't really sing them the same as I did when I was in my late teens. I've got kind of a man's voice now instead of a teenager's voice, which I had back then, so it's slightly different. [Laughs] I've had a lot of cigarettes since then, so.

Tobbe: A couple of songs, like The Longest Winter and the title track, have a different vocal pattern, I think, and was it a necessity to put different kind of singing to a couple of songs?

Nick: You know, last 10 years we've had a hell of a lot of songs with clean singing and, like, very melancholic, and we really like doing those songs as well 'cause you can get kind of melancholic with that kind of voice. Yeah, I mean, I wouldn't wanna completely get rid of that, 'cause that's become a real part of the band, I think. You know, the last 10 years especially, so.

(Greg:) It wasn't a plan to have this much gruff singing on the album anyway. It was just because of the way we songwrite now. Nick sent me lots of different vocal styles and I built songs out of that. So it's just: whatever fits the music I kind of put in. It just so happened that most of the stuff fit the gruff style more.

Tobbe: And your guitar playing still includes that, you know, tone by tone type of playing, so is it hard today to come up with new stuff in that type of playing?

Greg: I've never thought of it, about new stuff or old stuff. It's just when you come and write a record, throw everything else out. Just concentrate on what's there in front of you. Yeah, I guess it would be easy for someone to turn around and say "Well, you've played this before." and I'm like "Maybe.". I don't know. I don't really think about it, so. Well, hopefully not.

Tobbe: So how do you preserve your voice, Nick? Like, to this very day. 30 years of singing, both harsh and, you know, normal singing.

Nick: I mean, if you got a gig you can't go up high or anything. You got to think about the show, you know. Yeah, you just got to be careful. I'm usually just as quiet as possible. I mean, you can still have a drink, but you just don't talk, you know. But I mean, like, nightclubs and noisy pubs; I don't do any of that stuff. I think noisy pubs are the worst thing 'cause you kind of shout to hear yourself and when you shout loud is when you really damage your voice. So yeah, it's just avoiding anything like that, really, I guess.

Tobbe: The new record comprises only 8 tracks and you've never had so few songs on a record before, so why did it only become 8 tracks?

Greg: Because of the length of the tracks. 'Cause we come from an age of cassettes, where an album fit on one side of a C-90. So it fits that bill, even though it's 8 tracks. The title track is the first track on side B, so it's kind of from the era that we come from, really, that makes it like that, you know.

(Nick:) I think also albums can get boring when they're too long. Over 50 is too long for me personally. I mean, Slayer set the benchmark with Reign In Blood, really. 'Cause there's nothing to it and it's still a great album. You know, nobody complained about the length of that, purely 'cause it was just so good so it opened up, you know, everyone's eyes, thinking "Well OK, you don't have to do 3 hour albums to be good."

Tobbe: Did you also record a couple of bonus tracks for different editions and stuff like that?

Nick: Yeah, there's 3 extra songs. We re-recorded the song Frozen Illusion 'cause it's pretty much the oldest song we've ever written. Then we did 2 new songs as well. But I mean, we wrote 10 songs for the album and then we just decided to leave… (Greg:) Yeah, we thought it was gonna be 5 tracks a side, but it was just too long.

(Nick:) We didn't think "OK, we're gonna do a b-side.". When we think "Let's write a b-side.", they're usually really, really bad b-sides. So that's when we might do a cover version or so. A cover version is better than a shit b-side. So we didn't think in the B mood, so the extra songs are actually pretty good.

Tobbe: Yeah, because some of the B-sides you've done are kind of strange, I would say.

Nick: Yeah, there's some real shitty ones, yeah. There is a couple of good ones actually as well. What's that one…? Sweetness. [From the Seals The Sense EP, 1994] See, that's a good b-side there. It should have gone on the album, really. (Greg:) Well, it wasn't written. We wrote it while we were touring Icon [1993]. (Nick:) Oh, we did it after. Right, OK. That's why. The band Nirvana; their b-sides were always better than the album sometimes though, weirdly enough, but.

Tobbe: So if you wouldn't take music into account, then what inspires you guys today?

Greg: We're huge film fans, huge film fans. I mean, I don't know, I guess 5, 6 or 7 films a week maybe. We're constantly telling each other about… You know, "I found this one." or "I found that one.".

(Nick:) Yeah, and we've been doing it for so long. We don't really think about it, but I guess most people don't watch anywhere near as many films as we do, really. So yeah, I guess we probably are big film fans and without really knowing it we're just gonna fall into that thing we just watched. But I mean, obviously more of the horror genre. My tolerance level; I can watch some really shit horror films and think they're OK, you know. But my wife's like "What the fuck is this?", you know what I mean? My threshold for horror is pretty big. I do have a cut-off point, but I can still watch some pretty crap stuff.

(Greg:) I think it's 'cause some of the horror that we grew up with was low-quality, but we didn't realize it was low-quality at the time. So then you hold a bit of nostalgic element when you're watching something that feels a bit like that, you know.

Tobbe: About your records. Do you guys talk beforehand about which direction an album will have or does that just kind of happen?

Greg: It just happens. We just try stuff out and see what works. I mean, we may have a vague idea, like I said the Beneath Broken Earth thing, that might take us down a certain path. But then you have to still come up with songs that are of a decent quality. And if you don't, you have to try other things, you know. But I mean, the way this album came from that, in the same way, I think As I Die made us do the Icon album. Just that song, and I think that's exactly what Beneath Broken Earth did for this album. Just that song made us do this record.

Tobbe: Your new drummer [Waltteri Väyrynen]. He's not even half your age and he's also from Finland. So why didn't you just hire a British drummer in your own age?

Greg: He came through Vallenfyre, my other band. I just did online auditions and narrowed it down. I mean, there were a lot of people who played and it's amazing how many people, I guess I shouldn't be surprised 'cause it's drummers, but how many people couldn't even just do the brief. The brief was to play these particular 2 songs and send a video in, and that was it! And drummers being drummers; they were sending me their own songs, all kinds of crap. So it quickly narrowed down to 2 people and one of them didn't drink, so he was out.

So yeah, Waltteri got the job and then we toured with him a little bit with Vallenfyre and it just turned out we got on really well. And he's a great improvisational drummer, which we never really had before. We've had some great drummers, but not really one that can improvise around a song. I think this is a new breed thing. Kids that have grown up with YouTube and have all these different tools at their disposal. So when the job came up in Paradise Lost I put him forward for Paradise Lost and we tried him out and everyone really gets on with him, so it just worked out, you know.

Tobbe: Besides those couple of drummer changes, the 4 of you have been a cohesive unit for almost 30 years now. So what makes you to, you know, a cohesive unit still?

Nick: You do an album and then you tour it, and you write another album and you tour it, and the time just absolutely flies. I mean, it goes really quick. We get into a cycle and it's like a 3-4 year cycle before you know it. It's just a strange thing. I mean, I still can't believe it has gone that fast, 'cause it doesn't really feel like it and we don't really feel like different.

I mean, obviously our bodies are failing us and alarming red, but beyond that, in the mind, it's not that different, you know. Certainly not as sharp as it used to be, but. We also have a good laugh and we still enjoy having a few drinks and laugh, you know. When we started we were always like that. I mean, obviously it's not as crazy as it used to be. (Greg:) Similar sense of humor really helps. You have to be able to laugh at similar things. We take the music very seriously, but everything else, not at all. And I think that's pretty important.

(Nick:) I think a lot of bands take themselves too seriously and usually they always end up splitting up. There's always some guy who takes himself too seriously. It's important to remember that, you know, you're only a metal musician. You're not doing keyhole surgery. You got to put things in perspective. [Laughs] But fundamentally I think I might say that the sense of humor is a key thing. Ironically, as there's no humor in anything else we do, in our output.

Tobbe: Paradise Lost has never been afraid of change, so what really does trigger, like, your eagerness for doing different things most of the time for a new record?

Greg: It's not an eagerness to change or try new things; it's boredom from doing the last thing that we did. It's just: move on, try something, try something else, try something else. Otherwise it just gets a bit production line-ish, and that's no fun, you know.

(Nick:) Even little changes can make a big difference to it. You know, if you're just gonna do a carbon copy of everything you've ever done… I mean, a lot of bands do that and they actually are quite successful doing that, but personally it's just so fucking boring. I think about a lot of bands that stay the same. Really, like the same album every album. It's like "Oh, God.".

(Greg:) Well, then you become a legacy act and you don't even know it. I would hate that to creep up on me and not realize that we've become a parody of ourselves. You know, that would really annoy me. (Nick:) Especially like a lot of the death metal bands. Some of the death metal bands have just literally been doing the same thing for so long. No change, at all. It's like "Come on, dude! Put a cello in there or something!".

Tobbe: So as you have kind of returned to an older sound again, how will you be able to bring the fans along for the ride?

Greg: You can never guarantee that, with anything you do, and you shouldn't try to prevent it. Because if you try and, you know, second-guess your fans it's kind of a really insincere way to do it and then I think they would see through that anyway. (Nick:) You know, we still got the songs. If there's no song there, then it doesn't matter about ideas. You still got to have good songs, I think, and songs that's as good as anything written in the past.

(Greg:) It's not instant this record, as maybe the last record. You know, like the last record kicked in; the first song was instantly catchy, and this one isn't. I think it's a grower. I think it's one that you have to give a few spins to before you really get into it. You know, sometimes they could be the best albums, but the fans will decide that. Not us, you know.

Tobbe: I think a lot of fans think "What is the next step for Paradise Lost?" before they get to hear a new album. Because you never actually know what you will get before you listen to the record.

Greg: Yeah, but we don't. That's why we tend to just: until someone says "Write a record." we don't even think about it. 'Cause your attitudes change and you just don't know what you're gonna think, you know.

(Nick:) I think from my point of view I always think a lot more about playing live and that was something we never really thought about a great deal, particularly around 1998-2006. It wasn't really a massive thing we thought of much, but now performing live is very much… Well, it has been since we started, but now more than ever, you know. If you don't play live there's no band, you know what I mean? You can't be in your bedroom and expect to make a career out of being in a band. You know, you have to play live.

So all these bands that say that they have no plans to play live, it's like "Well, you might as well split up then.", 'cause these days, you know, it isn't gonna work, so. So yeah, from a song perspective, we wanna make sure we can play all these things live. I don't wanna skip anything 'cause I can't fucking hit that note or whatever, so.

Tobbe: On the last tour you played quite a few songs from The Plague Within and…

Nick: Yeah. Same again. Maybe we'll just do the full album, and then walk off. [Laughs] OK, all gone, I will do As I Die. But yeah, we got to do at least 4, I think. We'll do a lot though. You know, [Iron] Maiden have played a lot of new stuff on this new tour and personally I would have liked to hear old stuff. (Greg:) But Maiden are one of these acts. In my mind they have inadvertently, well, unbeknownst to them become a legacy act.

Tobbe: It's gotta be really hard now, with so many records in the baggage, like "Should we play the new songs? Should we play the old songs? Should we play for the fans?".

Nick: You know, our new stuff goes down as good as the old stuff does. That's the thing. You know, with the last album, even though we did a lot of new stuff, I think it went down well. If I felt it wasn't as strong or it wasn't getting across the same, then maybe we'd throw a few old numbers in. We did actually a poll to see what songs people wanted to hear. And there was thousands of people putting in maybe the top 10 songs that they would like to hear.

A lot of people actually did this, as an experiment, and the setlist that we came up with was pretty much what we do now; the festival setlist. It was pretty much that already. Because people always "Do this song! Do that song!", but the thing is: we've done all these songs, and they don't work. You know, we have experimented. I mean, we got a song called Colossal Rains, which is a good album song, but live it just went down like a lead balloon. (Greg:) We played it once at Hamburg Docks. 'Cause we did 2 nights there. First night, people were shouting for it, so we played it, and no one fucking cheered even.

See also: review of the album Medusa
See also: an interview with Aaron Aedy conducted one month later

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