MY DYING BRIDE – Pleasure In The Pain
March 6, 2020, a month ago
For 30 years, England’s My Dying Bride have proudly waved the sombre sulken yet epicly brutal flag of death-doom. Their melding of classic doom tropes pioneered by early Black Sabbath and Candlemass, incorporating gothic elements and a death metal intensity, have made them a consistent and pioneering force in doom for over three decades.
After a lengthy hiatus brought on by a personal family tragedy for frontman Aaron Stainthorpe, My Dying Bride triumphantly return with their 14th studio album The
Ghost of Orion.
Stainthorpe caught up with BraveWords to talk the arduous and emotional studio experience, the evolution of doom, his inspirations in metal and much more!
BraveWords: After 30 years and 14 albums, do you still get nervous before a record release, particularly with a production that was as labor intensive and trying emotionally as this one was for you personally?
Aaron: “No, not really, because once it's in the bag it's out of my hands. And I wouldn't let it go if I wasn't 100 percent happy with it. It's not something that I kind of look forward to or am even nervous about. I've missed many a launch date in the past. Maybe we should have a party or do something a bit more memorable than just letting the day sweep by. But it's just one that I think, if people don't like it, well, it doesn't really matter because I've done the very best I can. Everybody on it has. And if a lot of people do like it I also don't want that to go to my head and I don't want to become some sort of egotistical rock star. So it will come out and I'll be aware, but thankfully we've already spoken to many journalists who've already heard it, so we've already received a lot of the feedback, admittedly not from the fans, but still from people who count.”
BraveWords: In terms of the production we know these last five years have been quite difficult for you in so many ways, with your daughter’s illness. Jumping back into the studio, I know you said it was probably one of the more difficult recording times of your career, if not the most difficult. Were there any periods where you thought maybe I'll let someone else take the reins on this album?
Aaron: “Yeah, I did think about it, to be honest, because when I'd gone back into the studio, I thought I was ready. And I thought, OK, I've done this a million times. This will be quite easy. Should be a bit of fun. It'll take a few takes because I've been out of the scene for a while. But you know what? We'll nail this. Give it two, three, maybe four weeks. And it was clear from the first day that things weren't going how I expected them to go. You know, with this album, the band kind of raised the bar a bit and I needed to match that. And I just thought I could just waltz there, do what I do, do a few retakes, put some reverb on it and job done. But it just wasn't like that. I needed to up my game. New studio, new producer, new drummer, and I needed a new Aaron as well. And we couldn't find one, so I had to continually go in day after day and it was just so awkward and difficult. And I was looking at these four walls thinking, what am I doing wrong? Why is there no connection anymore with the band? What's going on here? And it must have been after about the third week, and we still haven't even done one song. I was thinking, you know what? There are signs here. Maybe I shouldn't do this. Maybe I'm not ready.
“So perhaps some of the options are, we release the album as an instrumental or they get a new vocalist for it or they wait even longer for me to get my act together. Those are options running through my head, but they weren't options running through Andrew's head. The main songwriter, my compadre for 30 years, he came in with his cattle prod and basically said, just do it. You've done it before, but do it better and carry on. He was very encouraging and forthright with what he wanted and what he expected from me to do. And he kept saying, you know, we're not asking you to do anything you've not done before. You just haven't done it for a long time. Blow the cobwebs away and just crack on, and so I just cracked on, but it was hard work. It was horrible. And when it was all over, instead of sort of high fiving Mark, the studio engineer and opening a bottle of bubbly, I just drove my car straight back home and was just so relieved it was over. And I didn't even bother listening to the album when we got the final mix. I just couldn't be bothered because when you have to listen to a fragment of a song hour after hour after hour, as you industrially try and put your mark on it and fail miserably, that's torture. I hated all of the songs. The last thing I want to do is listen to them. So it's only quite recently I've bothered listening to the album because it was such hard work. I just re-lived those moments. And it was just horrible. So I'm hoping that when we record the next album that it's way easier because I'm not going through this again.”
BraveWords: My Dying Bride is the type of band who has always drawn self-pain and things in life that transfer into the music. And I think that's really what's helped you resonate with fans across three decades now. For you personally, is there a catharsis in that, particularly with an album like this?
Aaron: “There is with most albums, to be honest, and even things that don't turn out to be used for My Dying Bride because I write all the time. When you've got weird thoughts in your head, instead of just leaving them or mulling them over or allowing them to grow into something different, I like to write them down. It cleanses my head and I end up with all these notebooks filled with all these manic rantings, some of which I can convert into My Dying Bride lyrics and others just end up becoming poetry or like small novellas or something, which I'm compiling at the moment. I'm hoping to have a book out in a year or two. I write all the time because if I don't, I think I might go insane a little bit. When you do write, when you've got something on your mind, if you write it down it's like releasing a valve and you could almost feel the pressure leaving your mind. So it's a good thing to write things down. I often encourage people who are stressed out just try to write stuff to try and turn the negativity into some sort of creativity.
It doesn't always work, but it works very, very well for me.
“Whether or not the book will be any good we will have to wait and see. The lyrics seem to have turned out OK, and particularly on The Ghost Of Orion. I could have filled this entire album with my current experiences, but it would have been such a terribly black album. I would have never wanted to listen to it ever. And I would never sing any of these songs live. So I couldn't do that. And I didn't want to do that. “Tired of Tears” is a very obvious track which is related directly to what I've been through. But I just thought I was going to leave it at that, and on the next album there will be another song relating to the recent problems with my daughter. But you just can't release it all on one album. You would ruin the album for yourself. So I'm kind of drip feeding it a little bit. It is better to do it that way, I think, than just let it all out all at once, because this will be with me forever now. And as much as you might try and release it all at once, you never will. It will always keep growing and bugging you and annoying you. So with each album there will be little bits of that darkness topped here and there.”
BraveWords: With the bond with Andrew, this has been a 30 year deal at this stage. Members have come and gone, but I’d imagine the chemistry and the friendship that borders on family with him in particular must be so strong at this point.
Aaron: “Oh, yeah, definitely. We kind of know what each person is more or less going to think, particularly when it comes to the creativity of the band. We sort of take turns finding an artist for the album covers. Sometimes I'll have a go. Sometimes I can't see the wood for the trees so we invite someone else. If Andrew is doing it and he sends over a piece of artwork that some other person designed, if he doesn't get a response that means I'm not that happy with it. So in your own silence that can speak volumes. We kind of know that certain ways that we communicate with each other. You sometimes don't even need words. When you've been together such a long time you just know when someone's not happy with something. We've never, ever had a manager. Andrew and myself have managed the band from day one. Luckily, in the management side of things, we pretty much agree on everything. But when it comes to the creativity... because being creative is a very individual thing, it's not like filling in a tax form where it's just zeros and ones. Creativity is a different matter altogether. So that's where you're going to knock heads every once in a while. But I think that's perfectly healthy because it just means we're both after the very, very best outcome for the band. So I think that's quite a positive thing, actually.”
BraveWords: In terms of the heavier type of doom metal which you kind of occupied for 30 years, what's your take on the progression? Because it feels like there are so many great bands that have really taken the core ideas and the core style that you guys have championed for so long and have really taken that and ran with it.
Aaaron: “That often has its own downfall because there's almost too much to choose from sometimes. You get new albums by bands all the time and you can't take them all in. I mean, for me, when I get my teeth into an album I want to listen to it many, many times over the space of many weeks. And there are so many more releases coming out. There's gonna be a huge backlog if you don't get along with listening to this stuff. So I just don't. I stick to what I like. That unfortunately means I miss a lot of stuff, some of which I'm sure is very, very good. But I can only take in so much. I'm one human being with X amount of time on my hands. I don't want to spend 100 percent of my time listening to doom metal, as much as I enjoy it. I've got other things to do.
“It's nice that people cite, particularly Turn Loose The Swans, our second album as kind of a landmark piece and one that's been inspirational for a lot of younger bands. And that's lovely. You know, we never imagined it would be that influential when we did it at the time. We knew it was good because it was quite advanced for its period. But we didn't realize there would be such a flood of people saying, oh yeah My Dying Bride, we want to be a bit like those guys. And it really is lovely. And again, I don't want anything like that to go to my head. It can be easily done. You will not see me strutting around backstage at a festival with my leather pants on and my shirt open and my sunglasses swigging Jack Daniels. It just doesn't work. I'm not a rock and roll star. So when people mention and say you really influenced my band, it's very humbling. I kind of smile and think, well, that's great. That's really good. Thank you very much. And let's be done with it. It's absolutely lovely. And that's all it is.”
BraveWords: Is there a definitive heavy metal band or a favorite record that influenced you beyond all others?
Aaron: “It will be Nightfall by Candlemass. It came out before My Dying Bride formed. That album must be 35 years old now, if not more. And when it came out death metal was really starting to grow and everyone was into death metal. These Swedish guys had the audacity to release something that was running against the grain big time and I'd never heard of them. And it was only when I read the reviews in all the rock magazines that I used to subscribe to back in the day, they all gave it virtually 100 percent thumbs up. And I was like, OK, you need to check this out. So I did and I absolutely loved it. I'd never heard doom before. I was aware of Black Sabbath, but I wasn't really into Black Sabbath. So when I heard Nightfall, the vocals and the guitars and the lyrics I just thought, this is immense. I've never heard anything like this. It was mind blowing. I just thought I want to do something like this with the likes of Celtic Frost at that time as well. We all liked thrash metal as well. Slayer were great. Metallica were great. And we wondered if we could possibly match doom and death together or would that be suicide? Because if you've got too much doom, the death metal fans will hate you. If you got too much death metal the doom fans will hate you. But we somehow got the ingredients right and managed to span the doom and death and the gothic genre, which stands to this day. We played black metal festivals, we played doom metal festivals, regular metal festivals, and we also do the Gothic festivals as well. So I think we must have hit the nail on the head back in the day. And all thanks to, from my point of view, Candlemass.”
BraveWords: Hitting the 30 year mark for a group is no easy task. There’s been a fair share of ups and downs across the history of My Dying Bride, but you remain as strong and prominent today as ever. Did you honestly think you’d reach this point? Three decades later.
Aaron: “No, no, not really. Because as I say when we formed we weren't sure if it was going to last a few years. If we got the ingredients wrong it would have been a disaster and we probably would have folded. People seemed to be going along for the ride with us and we thought maybe we can take this a bit further. But we all had day jobs back then and the band was a hobby. We did it on evenings and weekends and to some extent that's still the way it goes today. And because it remains a great hobby I don't see any reason to give it up. You know, when you hit a hurdle you don't throw your arms in the air and think what do we do now? Because we don't rely on the band. The band is a bit of fun. So when there's a hurdle you just work your way around it and carry on. And it's as simple as that. There's no secret ingredient. As seriously as we do treat the band it's not the be all and end all. And hurdles are easy to overcome. You lose a drummer, you get another drummer. It's not rocket science. And when you lose a guitar player, you get another guitar player. We've had a few changes over the years, but we've been together 30 years. We're bound to have had a few changes. I know some bands miraculously stay together for the whole thing, but I think we've had a fairly good success ratio with the people (in the band). I can see at least another decade in us yet. It's not fun to create this kind of music. I certainly do it as part of a necessity because it's cathartic. It's good. It's good for me to do My Dying Bride. I kind of need it almost. I can see me doing several more years yet until I think it's fulfilled its purpose.”
BraveWords: How do you envision the next few months and this year going for My Dying Bride? Obviously it’s been years now since you’ve performed live and festival season is right around the corner.
Aaron: “We're hopeful that the gigs are going to be great. We've been away for a while and I think by the time we get round to doing the first gig this year, it will be three years since we last played live. That's quite a long gap. So we're gonna be nervous. I mean, we were always nervous before shows but I think we're gonna be extra nervous this time around because as you mentioned, some of the festivals, the big festivals, the well-established festivals, you've got to turn up with all guns blazing. You can't just waltz up and say, oh we've been away three years, it might be a bit ropey. You can't do that. You've got to be on mark straight away. Somewhat nervous about that, understandably. But we've been rehearsing and we're confident that things will go the way they're supposed to go.
“I think we'll probably end up touring our own stuff either at the end of this year or even into 2021. I suspect next year might be busier because this year is almost like a tentative let’s ease back into the scene again. And once we're happy with it and we've done what we needed to do at the end of this year, 2021 will be on us before we know it. And then I think the album will be well and truly out. Hopefully people will love it. I imagine 2021 will be a way busier year than this year. So yes, hopefully given a bit more time we'll be back firing on all cylinders again.”