My Dying Bride – Dark, Shadowy JourneysTuesday, 24th November 2020
One of the biggest names when it comes to doom and gloom, My Dying Bride have long established themselves as a band that does things in their own fashion. The sense of longing and despair that their music creates has an artful and poignant feel that makes it quite recognizable as it tugs on the heartstrings and resonates from within. The band left their long-standing home in Peaceville for Nuclear Blast for this year’s The Ghost of Orion and are returning quickly with a new EP in Macabre Cabaret. We spoke with vocalist Aaron Stainthorpe about coming back to the band after his daughter’s successful battle with cancer (and handling during the current pandemic), the influence of British poets, the band’s legacy, among discussion of the upcoming EP.
Dead Rhetoric: Has it been a bit tougher for you, knowing that your daughter is immunocompromised, with the coronavirus pandemic?
Aaron Stainthorpe: It hasn’t been too bad, to be honest. Personally, we’ve been coping fine. When we had to lockdown in March, I spent all of my time homeschooling. I had my daughter from 8 in the morning until 8 in the evening, so I was really busy. A lot of people sat around having more time on their hands than they expected to, but for me it was the other way around. I was super busy! We were keeping her safe, and they are back in school now. Things seem to be okay, from that point of view.
As far as the band goes, we haven’t played live in a few years anyway. So 2020 was going to be our ‘comeback’ year, but that hasn’t happened either. So really, not playing live in 2020 is an extension of us not playing live in 2019 and 2018, so it’s not really affecting My Dying Bride in the same way that it would a band who is playing 100 live shows a year. For a lot of those bands, they have lost a big part of their income, and they are going to be struggling like crazy. But for us, even in a good year, we might do 12-15 shows. We don’t do that much. We have never relied on money from gigs, because it’s been such a haphazard business anyway, from that point of view. So Coronavirus hasn’t affected us in the same way that is has to many other bands.
Dead Rhetoric: Was it tough to go from a big, life-changing experience with your daughter and then go back into band mode?
Stainthorpe: It was really tough. I’m still not sure that I’m fully back, to where we were with the band. I didn’t take any part in the writing of the album or EP. Andrew [Craighan] did most of it on his own. Calvin [Robertshaw] had left before then as well, our other guitar player. So Andrew did the majority of it. I didn’t really get involved until they had already begun recording the album.
It was only when I realized that the clock was ticking, that I was going to have to say, “Yes I’ll do it” or “No, you are going to have to find someone else for this album” that I came in. I took me a year to do the vocals, because it just wasn’t coming. I thought I was ready to go back, but I just wasn’t. Nothing was falling together right for me. It was frustrating, and it was a really tough album to record. But it came together. You put the hard work in, and you reap the rewards. The reviews have been great, the feedback from the fans has also been amazing. So it was tough, but it was worth it.
Dead Rhetoric: So were the songs from the EP recorded at the same time as the album, or was this a separate recording?
Stainthorpe: It was all done at the same time. We knew that at some point in the future, there would be another release. So we recorded 11 pieces of music. We were bickering about which songs would go where, so we let Nuclear Blast pick the songs. So they picked “Macabre Cabaret,” “A Secret Kiss,” and “A Purse of Gold and Stars.” So the album came out with the other tracks on it, and then in the summer Nuclear Blast said we should go ahead with those three songs for the EP. Our producer, Mark Mynett, tweaked the sound of those three songs slightly, so that it didn’t sound like it was from the same album session – just to give them a bit of their own freedom. We got some brilliant artwork done by Bunker Artworks, which looks amazing. So now its all set for release in November.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you feel there’s a feeling or theme that defines the EP?
Stainthorpe: Well, I didn’t but I haven’t listened to the EP. I have all the tracks digitally from the studio, but they aren’t in any order. It’s not in the same order as the album, and these three songs are mixed in, so I haven’t listened to the EP as an EP. I just listened to MDB’s music, so I don’t really have a feeling for the EP.
A lot of other people, a lot of the journalists I have been speaking to, have been saying that there’s not a retro sound, but that the EP does lend itself to an earlier period of My Dying Bride. I don’t know if that’s because of the tweak to the overall sound, or if it was Nuclear Blast being very clever in picking three songs like they did – seeing that they were slightly different from the album. Perhaps it’s their doing? For me, I’m going to have to wait until it comes out and get myself a copy, and then see if I can hear that old world-y feeling of My Dying Bride is there. So I can’t hear it in the moment, but some people have commented on that.
Dead Rhetoric: I saw in some recent interviews that you have done that you hadn’t listened to The Ghost of Orion. Have you gone back at this point and heard it, or are you still staying away from it, due to the tough time with the recording?
Stainthorpe: I haven’t heard it. I have heard bits here and there. Even if we aren’t playing live, we still try to rehearse as a band. it’s not easy with various lockdowns happening. So I’ve heard a few live songs since they will be in the live set. But I haven’t listened to the album from start to finish ever. As I say, even if I did, I have them in digital form on my computer and they aren’t in album order anyway. The EP songs are mixed in too. But I will get there. It’s just, it was a tough old time. I don’t need to be reminded of it just yet. There will be a point where I will listen to the album, and I’ll probably thoroughly enjoy it. I’m just not ready yet.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s important in bringing about a sound that’s lonely and miserable in tone?
Stainthorpe: When we write songs, there’s not really any jolly riffs. It’s not very uptempo in places. People wonder why we create music like we do. But there’s loads of bands out there – look at Dead Can Dance, that’s a classic example for me. Their music is super depressing, but unbelievably beautiful at the same time. That’s very doable. I’d like to think that, to some extent, for My Dying Bride’s music. Yes, it’s hard work to get through, and it’s not what you might call pleasant. But I do think it’s beautifully put together. It doesn’t depress people. It’s the opposite way around. When people listen to My Dying Bride, they feel enlightened and refreshed. Ready for anything the world can throw at them. I think that’s great!
When we write songs, we kind of imagine that when people listen to them, people go on a journey with the music. We aren’t going to be firing political comments at you, there are plenty of other bands for that. We want to take you away from the haphazard world we live in. Want to take you on a dark, shadowy journey and let you kick off for an hour. When it’s over, you can join the rat race again. It’s escapism for us. That’s how it will always be for My Dying Bride.
Dead Rhetoric: You mentioned pretentiousness with a recent interview with Revolver. Metal has a lot of escapist qualities to it, and doom has some elegant vibes to it so it should be a good mix. It’s not happy, but it’s beautiful. People aren’t necessarily looking for an ‘every day’ sort of thing, they are looking for something that’s beyond the usual. A little pretentiousness can be a good thing.
Stainthorpe: Yeah, it’s like when you look at the movies that are coming out. Most movies are pure escapism. That’s what they should be. That’s what entertainment should be about. Some of them are great fun, and some of them are thought-provoking. We fall into the latter category, and I’m perfectly happy with that. In the early days, we struggled particularly with the British press, because they just found My Dying Bride way too pretentious and we were cast aside a little bit. That was the whole point! It’s okay being Carcass and Napalm Death, but we can’t all be like that, and we don’t all want to be.
Dead Rhetoric: Was it tough to leave Peaceville behind, given the extensive background you’ve had with them?
Stainthorpe: No, not really. We have worked with them for forever and we have a great relationship with them. They never gave us a deadline for any of our albums. We had complete freedom to do what we want. So you start to think, “How are we ever going to beat that? We’ll never get a deal as good as that.” But we kind of plateaued for a long time with them. We felt we had more to give, and wanted more people around the world to hear My Dying Bride. Peaceville’s arms were only so long. We needed someone with longer arms to stretch around the globe and let My Dying Bride, even after 30 years, be elevated to a slightly higher level.
So when our contract ended with them, we shopped around. We were obviously aware of what Nuclear Blast was doing. They are quite the mover and shaker. So to get a deal from them was amazing. We said to Peaceville that it wasn’t even about the money. These guys can really get our music into places that Peaceville couldn’t. So basically they said ‘fair enough.’ We are still working with them. I did some artwork for them recently. They are re-releasing Evinta, our classical music piece. We love Peaceville and we always will, but it was time to just see, if after all these years if we had a bit more get up and go together. In signing with Nuclear Blast, I think that we have proven that we do.
Dead Rhetoric: England has a history of great writers. Given the lyrical prose of the band, is there anyone you draw inspiration from?
Stainthorpe: I can’t help but go back to the old dead poets. The Byron, the Keats, Shelley – because at school, you had to learn the classics. My introduction was Shakespeare and what have you. At first, you are like, “What is this? I can’t even understand it. Even though it’s written in English, I have no idea what’s going on?” But I warmed to it really quickly and poetry became a real passion for me in school. I really fancied myself as a bit of a poet. In school, we fancy ourselves as all sorts of fantastical beings. It carried on a bit after school, but only with the main classics.
Then I got into a bit of rock music and when I heard “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Iron Maiden I realized that you don’t have to write three minute songs that are really catchy to be in a band. This was crafted from Coleridge’s classic and it’s a whole 13-minutes long of storytelling. I was compelled to do something similar! So when I met Andrew, Calvin, and Rick [Miah] at a nightclub in 1990 and formed a band, I knew that the lyrics that I was going to write were going to be nothing like what other people were writing at the time. The death metal scene in 1990 was really coming into its own. It was all blood and gore and splatter, and I was having none of it.
When I started writing, it shook the scene up a bit. I just love writing in that flamboyant style. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, I appreciate that, but for me, it’s what I do and what I love, and what I’ll continue to do.
Dead Rhetoric: So what is it that caught your attention with the idea of poetry?
Stainthorpe: The way that you can say something to somebody without being so direct that you could hurt their emotions. There’s a lot of reading between the lines in poetry. I like to do a similar sort of thing. The title track of the EP, “Macabre Cabaret,” is my sort of broad outlook on life and relationships. If was in a different band, the writing would be much more contemporary and you would get it straight-away. But I don’t really like people getting what I have to say right way, I want to be more intriguing. I have written about how people work and love together, and how love can be very strained, but I have written in such a flamboyant style that it’s not immediately recognizable as that subject matter.
It’s only later on, when people have had time to digest it, that you get the feedback on the social media platforms. People saying what they think it’s about, or what it represents to them. I like to see other people’s feedback. A lot of times, they come up with ideas way superior to mine, and I wish I had thought of them in the first place!
Dead Rhetoric: It breeds a more active response from listeners, as opposed to a direct response where it’s just, “oh yup, that’s what it is” and move on. With the added layers, people are more inclined to search for their own meaning.
Stainthorpe: That’s right, and there’s more of that on Orion and Macabre Cabaret because I had such a terrible experience. I didn’t want to write anything that had too much of an obvious narrative. I have done some lovely stories in the past where they clearly have a beginning, middle, and end, with defined characters and certain things happen to them. There’s no reading between the lines, and it’s obvious what’s going on. But for this session, my mind wasn’t quite with it and I couldn’t write anything like that. I had to go the more surreal route because that was my mindset at the time.
Dead Rhetoric: As you were mentioning, the band has been around for 30 years. What do you hope My Dying Bride’s legacy is?
Stainthorpe: I’d like to think that there’s some honesty going on. We could write a 3.5-minute, really catchy rock song if we wanted. It’s just not in us. We don’t want to do that. We want to write from our hearts. We don’t care that the songs might end up being 9 or 10 or 12 minutes long. We did a song a few years ago that was 27=minutes long and we didn’t bat an eyelash when we presented it to the record label – and neither did they! If we have a story to tell, we have to tell it, and not take any sort cuts.
So I think when people look back, they will say, “These guys threw the rulebook out. They wanted to tell tales. They couldn’t care less that they aren’t radio-friendly. Clearly, they aren’t going to make a lot of money.” That’s true, but when we formed our band in 1990 money was not on our minds, because we wouldn’t have called ourselves My Dying Bride, if we wanted to make a lot of money. We saw the bands that were making some money, and I don’t mind the fast and frenzied approach to some songs. I love “Number of the Beast” by Iron Maiden and those quick and handsomely crafted, almost pop-rock, and its fine. There’s lots of albums with that stuff on it. But for me, if I’m creating it, it has to be a bit more than that.
Dead Rhetoric: I think when it comes to genres like metal, you have the ones that look for something like that. But as I was saying with the lyrics, people want to be able to invest more and want some sort of story to take them from reality and things like that.
Stainthorpe: Again, comparing it to the movie business – even if you are a horror genre fan. The subgenres in horror are quite broad. Some people like jump-scares, other people prefer a slow burn or psychological horror. It’s similar with metal. There’s loads of subgenres and there is something for everyone. When you find your little niche, you can stick with it. It’s your comfort zone – you are getting the reward you are expecting from it. I hope that our music is rewarding enough for some people.
Dead Rhetoric: Are there any standout moments from the band’s career that spring to mind?
Stainthorpe: It was nice to be invited by Metallica to play a huge, natural amphitheater in Athens, Greece. That was out of the blue! We weren’t expecting that. We flew out there and put us in a 5-star hotel, and it was just wonderful. Of course, the audience was gigantic. We were terrified, as you would be – it’s weird to be standing there. It’s like a horseshoe-shaped mountain range, and we were in that, and there was probably about 100,000 people there. When you look to the right and you have Kirk and James watching us, you sort of thing that it’s a surreal moment and that you don’t forget the words! You just get on with it.
We toured with Iron Maiden and played on their soccer team. We toured the states with Ronnie James Dio. It was amazing, such a lovely gentleman. We have had some great moments. We might not be making any money in this business, but the treasure is all in the mind. I am happy with that.
Dead Rhetoric: You mentioned that 2020 was supposed to be your return back. Do you have anything planned for 2021?
Stainthorpe: Basically all of the shows from 2020 are postponed until next year. If we can get ahold of this virus, then next year could be one of our busiest touring years ever. Not only is it all of this year’s shows, but we were already booking shows for 2021. So there will be a lot of shows next year if this virus can be contained. If not, then we will probably end up doing one of those online performance things, because that’s the only alternative. A lot of bands are doing them at the moment. I don’t fancy it myself, because part of your performance is directly related to the feedback from the audience. If there is no audience, then there is no feedback. Your mannerisms on stage would be different. I’m not used to playing in front of nobody, but if we have to do it, if the virus continues into 2021 – and people are suggesting already that it could be not until next summer when gigs start happening, we may have to do an online thing.
I know Andrew is writing some more material, but we have no focus on any sort of release after the EP. We are just keeping ourselves busy. We are launching a My Dying Bride beer called Old Earth. That should be good fun. We are trying to keep busy and showing people that we are still around. We aren’t just sitting on our hands. We are just trying to do what we can, given the restrictions, just like everyone else.
Dead Rhetoric: It’s funny you mention the audience feedback piece. I’m a teacher and when we started doing class this fall, everyone was online. It was the weirdest thing to just talk to the computer to teach. Like you said, some of the response has to do with feedback. Not having that makes it a much colder and odd experience.
Stainthorpe: Yeah, even after all these years, I get really nervous before I go on stage. There’s hundreds or thousands of people who have paid their good, hard-earned money to come and see you and expect a good show. So the nerves are really intense. That nervousness is what propels me onto the stage and makes me do what I do. If there is nobody there, than that level of adrenaline is not going to be there. Where do I look? Do I say thank you after each song when there is no one there? I honestly don’t know what to do. If we have to do it, then I’ll do it, but it might look very different than a traditional My Dying Bride performance.
I’m in my own world when I’m on stage. Half the time I don’t know where I’m facing because I’ve got my eyes closed. I’m living the journey of each character in each song that they originally went on. You can feel the intensity all around you. I just wonder if there is no one there, will I just stare straight-ahead and just sing the words without throwing myself all over the stage. I just don’t know. We’ll have to cross that bridge when we come to it.