Interview: AARON STAINTHORPE of doom metal legends MY DYING BRIDE on THE GHOST OF ORION, the journey of resilience and more.
With 30 years of music under their belts since they formed back in 1990 and a new contract with colossal label Nuclear Blast, MY DYING BRIDE are back with their fourteenth studio album THE GHOST OF ORION on March 6th, 2020. It’s been five tough years for the band since they dropped Feel The Misery back in 2015.
Our editor-in-chief Alex had a fabulous opportunity to have a chat with vocalist AARON STAINTHORPE who took some time out of his busy schedule to talk about the journey of resilience against the trials and tribulations the band has gone through in the last five years. Aaron opened up about the mindset behind overcoming the challenges fronted as a vocalist and his personal sphere of creativity, photography and poetry. We discussed the details of the writing and creative process behind THE GHOST OF ORION, the lyrical inspiration and new label Nuclear Blast. Aaron also shared his point of view on the current metal scene and the experience of being a guest vocalist for other bands.
- Hello Aaron! It’s been five tough years for you as a person and for My Dying Bride as a band. I would love to discuss a little bit of the journey of resilience against the trials and tribulations you went through and how you‘ve also changed as a person.
Yeah, it was tough. Five years since our last album, that’s the biggest gap we’ve ever had between albums but then circumstances got in the way and life went on hold for a little bit, certainly band life. And we’ve just signed a new contract with Nuclear Blast as well, we promised them a new album very soon and then found out my daughter got cancer and so I effectively left the band and concentrated on looking after her and helping where I could. Obviously we told the record label, and we had to tell some of the promoters because we had some gigs lined up, everything was cancelled. The record label were fantastic, they never gave us a deadline for the album, they sent over toys and all kind of stuff. So they’ve been really good. And I didn’t really take part to this album until it was fully recorded. Everyone in the band took a break and after a few months Andrew decided to carry on writing the album with the help of Lena and Shaun Macgowan, our violin player. Those guys put together a really strong album and when it was recorded, then obviously I needed to go in and do my part and I thought I was ready to do it, but I really wasn’t completely focused on it. So I went into the studio anyway and I tried my best and it wasn’t great so I needed a lot of help from Mark Mynett, the studio engineer. Andrew helped out a lot. They just encouraged me to try different ideas, see what happens, see what work and what doesn’t work. And because we didn’t have a deadline from Nuclear Blast, I could spend more time figuring out the best way to approach the album. After a while I got there in the end, which is good. Now the album has come out and everybody seems very happy with it. It seems to be doing pretty good. And yeah, I’ve changed as a person you know, because when you go through a life changing event it is life changing. I’m a much more relaxed person now, I don’t get stressed out about silly things, I drive more sensibly, I don’t get carried away or too excited when things go wrong. So yeah I’ve changed, I think I’ve changed for the better and I think I’ve learned some new skills in the studio as well. So generally, since our last album, things are going pretty good at the moment. That’s great to know.
- As you mentioned, specifically you went through some personal challenges as a vocalist and setbacks during the recording process. Is there a particular mindset that helped you overcoming those technical obstacles in the studio?
No, just a lot of work. And the studio engineer Mark, just saying „Do this, do that, try this“ and he would play piano along with the music and I would sing along to the notes on the piano. Stuff I never done before, but Mark is a great engineer and producer and he’s got lots of great techniques to try and get the best out of the musician so with Mark’s help we managed to do it. But the vocals took nearly a year to record, on and off, you know, not completely. But I kept getting it wrong in the beginning, I thought I just walk in and sing how I used to sing and everything would be fine. It wasn’t like that because Andrew had raised the bar with this album, his writing skills had improved and so I needed to improve, otherwise I would have been left behind. So I needed Mark’s help and Andrew’s help. Lots of retakes, lots of edits, I don’t mind admitting that. Finally we got there. It’s the toughest album I’ve ever recorded. I hope the next one won’t be as though. I know the next one won’t be as though, because while I was recording this I hadn’t fully connected with My Dying Bride again, but when the next album comes out it should be a lot easier I hope.
- Aaron you’re not just a musician, you’re also an artist, you enjoy photography, poetry and art. And you’re also the master creator of the album covers with a dedicated website for that too. What’s your approach to the art of creativity and how does this actually contribute to your music?
Well, I think we’ve all got a little bit of artist in us, it’s just that a lot of people don’t have to express themselves or even if they do they think it might be pointless because there’s nowhere to put their art. I’m lucky that as a writer and a photographer and an artist I’ve got a band who can swallow up all my weird and wonderful outpourings. So sometimes I write lyrics for the band, and sometimes I decide that I’m not gonna use these lyrics for the band, I’m gonna keep them as a poem for myself. You know, other times it works all the way round, I write a poem and then I think Oh, this would work really well as lyrics for My Dying Bride“, so I get in touch with Andrew, send him the words and he writes the music and suddenly what was a poem, is now lyrics for My Dying Bride. Other times I just sit down and write when I feel the urge to write, I just do it because the words in my head, they’re driving me crazy and I need to get them out of my head. So I write them all down and it leaves me feeling refreshed. Photography is different, because it’s more technical and you’ve generally got to get out of the house, which I’m doing much at the moment but I’ll get back into my photography at some point. My visual creative arts, that kind of went on hold as well when my daughter got sick and I haven’t really felt the urge or the desire to create an image, because you can’t just create something because there is a demand, you have to do it because your soul and your mind and your desire drive you to do it. I’m still not fully 100% back in the whole My Dying Bride music business thing yet so I haven’t felt any inspiration to create anything, but I do it in a similar why when I write words. Sometimes if I want to create an image I start on it, it’s something that’s in my mind and I have to get it out. Sometimes they’re quite abstract, but it’s useful that I’ve got somewhere to put these thoughts and it’s called My Dying Bride. Each time I create something, it clears a little part of my mind up and leaves me feeling less confused and disorientated. So I urge anybody who has weird things going on in their mind to try and look for a creative outlet, even if you don’t think it has to go anywhere. I write loads of stuff down that goes in a book and I just shove it at the bottom of the drawer and it does nothing. It’s just for you, yeah. Yeah, it’s just for me. I mean, over the years, I’ve written so much that I have decided to put all these stuff together and try and make a book. At the moment, I’m in the process of finding all of these bits of paper and old books and typing all these stuff into the computer and when I’ve done that, I will see if I can find a company willing to publish it. But that’s not for another year or two yet.
- As you mentioned, you signed with Nuclear Blast, which is an amazing label. So what are the feelings and expectations behind that?
We wanted a bigger label to help us, Peaceville were great, that’s why we’ve been with them for so many years but we felt we needed a bigger platform for My Dying Bride now. We spent too long in once place and we needed to spread our wings. We’ve got more to offer, more to give the world. And we know there’s still a lot of people out there who have never heard of My Dying Bride or they’re a bit indifferent about My Dying Bride so we thought, if we can get onto a bigger label this might help. Our contract with Peaceville came to an end so we looked around, lots of other record labels came back to us and thankfully Nuclear Blast was the one with the best offer so we signed with those guys. And so far, they’ve been fantastic. I know it’s still the honeymoon period at the moment, but so far the correspondence I’ve had with them it’s been great, because I’m doing most of the promotion of this album. I’ve been in touch with the American branch of Nuclear Blast, the British one, the European one, the Australian one and these guys were all great and super professional. So I think it was the right decision to sign with this label.
- I would love to discuss a little bit of the creative process behind your album. This record has a different approach, it‘s something different from the materials you brought out in the past. It’s still dark and heavy but it’s a little bit more accessible too. As you declared in the past, it’s easier on the eyes, easier on the ears. Let’s talk about the writing process and how it’s basically changed since your previous record Feel The Misery.
In the past, particularly when you’re younger you want to impress people, you want to show off a little bit. We did weird riffs and weird timings, just because we thought it was good to be a bit technical and that was fine, we had a cult following for a long time. After we’d finished Feel The Misery – and that album got fantastic reviews, that got the best reviews of our carrier up till then – me and Andrew got together and said “Let’s make our next album even more accessible”. Instead of playing riffs 3 and a half times and then changing to another weird riff and playing that 7 and a half times, which is very awkward to listen to, let’s play a great riff four times. And when it feels like it should change, let’s just change the riff into another great riff and play that four times. Let’s keep the numbers simple and have a more relaxed album, don’t be so technical. And we’ve decided this before we even signed to Nuclear Blast. So we did it, Andrew wrote some killer riffs. There are still some technical riffs in there and again some of the songs are a bit long, which is fine, that’s typical My Dying Bride I suppose. We purposely put Your Broken Shore at the beginning of the album because we felt that song contained all the elements that you would except from a My Dying Bride song, it had the violins, the cellos, the clean vocals, death metal vocals, slow parts, quicker parts, so it made sense to put that right at the beginning and do the video and show people we’re still here, we’re still heavy, we’re still miserable but we can actually write fairly decent songs. So with that accessibility, I think more people around the world will get to hear My Dying Bride, which I think it’s quite a good thing.
- The title of the album The Ghost Of Orion is coming from your line „A Ghost Crawls Out of the Mouth of Orion“. That’s quite interesting, tell me more about the full story behind that.
I’m not going to actually. [both laughing] Because it’s too early to reveal the actual meaning, you know it’s similar if you made a film, you wouldn’t give away the ending because it’s kind of a spoiler. And I don’t want to give away the beginning, because our fans are very creative and already there are discussions on the internet about what the title means and where it comes from. Our fans are coming up with some wonderful descriptions and I love reading this. They do it with all our album titles. Not so much with Feel The Misery, because that was quite basic, but The Angel and the Dark River, A Line of Deathless Kings, all these titles are analyzed by the fans and they come up with the most amazing descriptions of what they think the album titles means. So that’s why I’m not giving away the album title yet or the meaning by it. I want people to absorb it, and I want it to become theirs, their own thing, what they think it is and in a year or something I might reveal in an interview my idea of why I gave it the album that particular title. I’ll keep my eyes peeled. Yeah, for the time being, just let the fans enjoy it. Ok, that’s cool.
- What’s the personal value added to the lyrical themes, the direct influence from what you’ve been going through on the lyrical inspiration?
Only on one song, Tired of Tears, because I didn’t want to fill the entire album with songs like that because the album would have been too dark for me and I would never want to sing any of the songs when we played live. So I couldn’t fill the whole album with the troubles that I’ve been going through recently, it would have been a nightmare. But I had to write something because I had to get it out of my system. On the next album there will be a song from this period, and on the album after that there will be a song from this same dark period, but just you know, smaller steps. I just can’t fill a whole record with this, it would be a nightmare. And the other songs, I guess you would call them typical My Dying Bride subjects. There’s a lot of religion in there, people always expect that because I’m kind of indifferent when it comes to religion, I understand that some people need the Church to get through their busy hectic lives, and that’s fine, I’m not gonna tell all of them they’re wrong. But you know, organized religion has a lot to answer for. Although I’m not politically antireligious, I think the Bible has got some great pieces in it, it’s a wonderful book in places providing you don’t believe every single thing you read. And so I’ve written some of the songs in a biblical style because when my daughter was sick, I was questioning a lot of my life, is there a God, because when we were in the hospital, my daughter’s five years old fighting for her life against cancer and she was the oldest child in the ward, there were babies in there with cancer. And that is very very difficult to look at, and so when you see this happening you wonder how can there be a God. The other tracks are not directly influenced by what I did but they kind of skim the very surface of how I was feeling, they’re questioning religion in some way but I have done that on every My Dying Bride album, it’s just my style. There’s a little bit less love on this album, there’s a little bit less sex, because my mind wasn’t there at this time, but I’m sure that those subjects will come back on the next record.
- What’s the most experimental song on this album and why?
There’s a few actually. We’ve actually recorded eleven songs. Eight of them are on this album and three of them will appear on an EP later on in the year. And on that EP there’s a very strange song called A Purse Of gold and Stars, and that’s a very unusual track. The title track Ghost Of Orion is a very unusual track, some people have heard it and they didn’t realize there was even vocals on it because the vocals are so low in the mix. That’s a track where you really need to put some good quality headphones on and listen to it like that. It’s a very quite song and you need to be peaceful I think when you’re listening to it. We asked this lovely musician called Lindy Fay Hella if she would like to take part on the album, she’s from Wardruna and Andrew wrote this beautiful piece of guitar music and we sent it to her and she put this amazing vocal on. And when I heard it, I thought “Ok I’m not singing on that because I will simply ruin it”. So we left it as it is and that’s called The Solace. Again, it’s a very unusual song but it’s very beautiful, It doesn’t need anything other than guitar and her voice. So it’s not all heavy, dull, guitars, we’ve always have weird and wonderful things going on. Again, with every album we put something in there to almost give the listener a break from the crushing guitars, but still keep the feeling of intensity and passion high. Still got to keep that level high. So we come up with strange instrumental pieces with unusual vocals to break up the uberdoom as it were. And I think it works quite well, the fans seem to like what we do.
- I would love to know you point of view on the current metal scene, how important or not important is it to evolve beyond metal as many bands are doing nowadays for whatever reasons?
Well it’s tricky isn’t it, because if you change too much and lose sight of your roots there’s a danger you would lose all your diehard fans, ok you might win some new fans but you may not. So although we’ve diversified enough to keep our albums still interesting, we’ve never lost sight of our roots. You know these doom-death foundations we set back in 1990 are still with us today, because we like doing that and we have never felt the urge to change our music so drastically that we no longer recognize our origins. Some bands have done that and they never play their old stuff live, and that’s seems a shame to me but that’s their decision. You know, when we have a gig coming up and we’re trying to pick the songs we’re going to play, we’re trying always to look back at those early albums and try to pick at least one song from all our albums. It gets harder of course because we’ve written over 200 songs, so trying to please everybody is impossible. But yeah, it’s a brave thing to do, some people might say it’s a stupid thing to do to change your music style to chase the dollars, because if the dollars aren’t there and you return back to your style, the fans might still hate you for it. It’s a difficult one, but luckily heavy metal is a massive genres with so many subgenres as well, that you can almost get away with anything. There are bands who play death metal festivals, like for example, here in Yorkshire we have Damnation Festival every November and it’s quite extreme metal bands, and yet there was Jo Quail playing, and she is a solo artist who plays the cello – we like her, so that’s why she’s on our album – and the whole audience was captivated by what Jo was doing, and it’s not even heavy metal but it’s a heavy metal audience. So I think a lot of metalheads are quite broad minded and will accept music from different styles if it’s powerful and honest. And Jo Quail’s music is powerful and honest and so she plays heavy metal festivals as well as classical festivals. So I think heavy metal is great, it’s so big there are still parts of heavy metal I’ve never heard and are yet to discover.
- Got a last quick question for you. Amongst others, you‘ve featured a dark doom metal band from Tel Aviv called Tomorrow’s Rain on their single Fear. So how was the collaboration set up in the first place and how does it feel like when some other bands reach out to you for a featuring and the experience of being a guest vocalist for other bands?
Yeah, that one was done a long time ago actually, I can’t remember how long ago. You know, I get every couple of days to take part on someone else’s record. Sometimes when I get the initial question “Will you do some guest vocals?”, if I’m not in the mood that day I’ll just say “No, but good luck and thanks for asking”, if I am in the right mood and I have the time then I will say “Ok send me some of your music, I need to know who you are, what you’re doing, what you’re train of thought is” because you might hear some music and say “Yeah that’s great, I’ll sing on your album” and then you realize when the album comes out, these guys are Nazis or fascists and then you think “Holy fu*k. Massive mistake” [both laughing] That’s tricky. You know, you got to be careful what you do, because if it’s released in the wrong way, you name becomes s*it. And for the last year I suppose, I’ve been so busy with My Dying Bride and this new album that I’ve just turned down all offers, because I just will not have the time, I’ve been doing interviews almost every day since the beginning of January and you would think, now that we’re in lockdown I would have much more time, I actually have less time because the schools are closed and I need to teach my daughter all her maths and English and science. That’s every day from 8 o’clock in the morning till 4 o’clock in the afternoon and then I cook food, then I give her a bath, we read stories, and then it’s bedtime and I’m so tired I’m going to bed as well. It’s a full time job, isn’t it? Yes, I have very little time at the moment. I’ve already had a couple of offers this week, I had to say no because I don’t have the time. Obviously, there are times when someone sends me a song and it’s terrible, I can’t say: ”You song is sh*t”, you know it’s rude. So you just say “I’m terribly sorry, I’m very busy at this moment” and I am actually genuinely very busy in this moment with all these interviews so I won’t be doing any guest vocals for many many months to come.
So we’re done Aaron, it’s been a pleasure, thank you so much for your time. All the best of luck for your record. Hope to see you live soon. Yeah, thanks very much. Most of the gigs are probably gonna be cancelled for this year, but there’s still next year so we’ll probably see you next year!
My Dying Bride – The Ghost Of Orion tracklisting:
1. Your Broken Shore
2. To Outlive the Gods
3. Tired of Tears
4. The Solace
5. The Long Black Land
6. The Ghost of Orion
7. The Old Earth
8. Your Woven Shore
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