As I sit with a glass of port waiting for the phone to ring I am quite literally shaking. Let me get this straight, the person that I am waiting for a call from is none other than Greg Mackintosh, the man responsible for over twenty years of monolithic doom courtesy of Paradise Lost. As a result I am more than a little nervous and hoping that the dark red alcohol will calm my shattered nerves a little.
Paradise Lost. I first discovered the band in 1995 when they released Draconian Times and to be honest that discovery was more-or-less by accident. None of my friends listened to Paradise Lost, hell I didn’t, but I was returning to hard rock and metal after a few years flirtation with the wonders of grunge and the artwork was enticing. I bought the album and began a love affair with the band that has lasted to this day despite all of the commercial highs and lows and churlish criticism that the band have suffered at the hands of fans and press alike. On my CD shelf, alongside ‘Draconian Times’, copies of ‘One Second’ and ‘Host’ sit proudly and are played regularly. I have the new album on beautiful heavyweight vinyl and have already done my best to wear it down to the scratchiest condition possible and I have no doubt that the forthcoming 5.1 edition of the album will also grace my shelves as soon as I am able to get a copy – so you can forgive the odd set of nerves.
Of course the story is not the same for everyone. Fans argue as to their favourite album and fall out bitterly over the existence of ‘Host’. I can sort of sympathise to the extent that many exhibited the same sense of loss when Metallica cut off their hair and released ‘Load’ – Paradise Lost was their band, how could they change without permission? But the truth of the matter is that as much as it is tempting to ask one’s artists to stay the same, they have to evolve or risk stagnation or even disintegration. For Paradise Lost, it is arguable, the band had to undergo their musical journey so that they could arrive at the current, astonishingly creative place that they are currently in, and for many the journey has been a fascinating one that was worth taking alongside the band.
However, it is not a retrospective that we are celebrating, but Paradise Lost’s decision to perform their landmark ‘Draconian Times’ in its entirety over the course of a short tour that brings us here, and Greg Mackintosh to my phone. Read on and discover more about the creation of Paradise Lost’s magnum opus, the impact that it had and Greg’s feelings about the lengthy evolution of one of metal’s most original and unique bands.
Hi this is Greg here from Paradise Lost
Hi, I’d like to thank you, firstly, for taking the time and trouble to phone us and speak with us. I have a few questions (which you’ve probably heard a hundred times before) which I’d like to ask you.
Firstly, for a lot of your fans ‘Draconian Times’ is something of a milestone for the band. How do you feel about the album itself and the impact that it had?
Well at the time we did it all we didn’t really have time to stop and think about any of this because we were kind of away from home for about four years at that point because we did an album called ‘Icon’ and we wrote and toured that and then went out on tour straight away with it – we did a long European tour and then an American tour and we went on tour with Sepultura for ‘Chaos A.D.’ and their tour and we wrote Draconian Times while we were out on the road, recorded it and went straight back out on the road with that so there wasn’t really a time when we could sit down and think about everything. To me, ‘Draconian Times’ is a much more polished version of ‘Icon’ although some people don’t view it like that but it wasn’t until we got these 5.1 mix, that have just been recently done from the original 2” master tapes, that I thought it still sounds relevant. I thought that it would sound more dated than it did but I thought the song writing and musicianship – it was only the production with the updated mix and it sounds pretty fresh really.
As you say you recorded that off the back of ‘Icon’, now obviously one of the things about Paradise Lost is that you’ve made a lot of stylistic developments between albums but ‘DT’ and ‘Icon’ seem to work almost as sister albums – from what you’ve said would you agree with that?
Yeah, I mean that’s exactly it… well it was one long writing and touring and recording session whereas usually we’ll have a little bit of time off after touring an album to kind of collect our thoughts and think about the path. We didn’t have that around that time; it was just kind of carry on with the momentum but not really change tack if you know what I mean.
I called ‘Draconian Times’ a milestone at the outset of this interview but obviously you have a lot of fans who’d like to see you retread that ground, did it ever become more of a millstone than a milestone?
No, not at all. I think every band has an album that sells more than any other – that was ours. It was at a period just before downloading started and we came off the back of a couple of good tours and we gave a lot of press around that time – it’d be very difficult to sell that many again of a similar sort of album so it doesn’t really matter to us because downloading has taken away 95% of all possible sales so it’s not something you can try and recreate because it was of a time.
How has the development of downloading and the internet affected the way that you work as a band?
It’s helped us in some ways and hindered us in others. The good thing is we find it much easier to song-write now: we all live in different areas of the country and we find it much easier to write on a daily basis. When you’re away from home as well it’s much easier to keep in contact with everyone but, you know, the downside of that is the downloading thing and… it’s not just the downloading things and not buying it but it’s taken away a lot of the mystique of a lot of music. When I was a lot younger I didn’t know what people in bands were like but now you know everything about the from shoe size to God-knows-what and everyone is everyone else’s pockets. I mean I’m the only one in our band that refuses to do it. I don’t have any kind of Facebook account or anything. I absolutely refuse to do it because I don’t particularly like to socialise anyway so why would I want to socialise on the internet!
For me one of the things that appeals to me about Paradise Lost is that you listen to a PL album rather than trawl through randomly picking songs, do you think that the internet has damaged the way that people listen to and view music?
I don’t think the internet has, I think that was the MTV generation really. When we first started making music you wrote a complete an album and you thought carefully about what was going to be track five or, in our case, it would have been the first track of the B side. You actually planned how an album was going to flow, you didn’t think about what track was going to be a hit, whereas when MTV came along and that kind of fast food generation where people just want everything quick, quick, quick, it kind of forced bands, even within our genre, to think ‘right, well I’ve got a couple of good songs’ and just forget about the rest of the album. We tried not to subscribe to that because it’s not really helping anyone’s cause when it comes to the downloading thing – you need a good strong album that, like you say, you can listen to from start to finish.
Thinking, again, about the album rather than the internet perspective you’ve always had really strong artwork and I think that ‘DT’ particularly has a really stunning piece of art on the cover. To what extent is the band involved in that side of things?
We’ve always been very involved. We give ideas and get drafts back at an early stage and work through it until we’re happy with it and we’ve always been like that… [pause] well, except for the first album when there wasn’t much money around and Peaceville did that but from then on we have very much dictated how we want albums to look, what feel we wanted to go for. It’s a similar thing with the re-release of ‘DT’, we got in touch with the original artist, Holly Warburton, and she’s going to… well I’ve actually seen all the pages now and she’s done new pieces of artwork for a booklet for the re-release which ties in to that era but brings it up to date.
Obviously You’ve developed in terms of taste and style over the years but how do you feel Paradise lost have developed as song-writers and musicians over the years?
I think there’s a bit of coming full circle there- we started out very much as a metal band, very riff orientated, then structures changed a little and we started to become more guitar melody led just because that’s how our style developed and then we eventually became vocal melody led and then the song structures changed to kind of more of a pop format, but not really… We were studying song writing and all that and how to make the perfect song and we’ve kind of deconstructed that again now and gone back to roots of trying not to be too obvious within a song. I think it’s all part of growing up – we’ve literally grown up on record and you can hear where we’ve branched out musically because we’re getting a little older and then you can hear where we got a bit nostalgic and things like that so I think it’s all very honest, it’s not trying to appeal to any one sector of the community.
It seems to me that you seem to get little credit for having pushed the boundaries of what an ostensibly metal band can do…
We can’t complain at all and we’ve had what a lot of bands will never get and that is a career in music. We’re very grateful for that and we’ve got some great fans who will genuinely stick with us but we also lose and gain fans over the years depending on what we release. As far as credit goes I think it’s not something that worries us because if you become too famous it’s a fickle thing and it’s a long way to fall and we’ve seen it time and time again – we play festivals and you see a big genre come along like ‘rap metal’ and bands like Dog Eat Dog come along and things like that and they’re topping bills and the next year they’re gone completely and it’s happened time and time again – the industrial thing for example – and we’re quite happy to ride along on the sidelines and just have the fans that we have really.
How would you say your own musical taste has altered over the years and how has that impacted on the material that you write?
Again I think it’s a bit of a full circle thing – I started out, as most teenagers are, fairly narrow minded in my approach to music and as the years went on became more broad minded and started to incorporate lots and lots of different influences. It’s kind of come a little bit full circle because the last release (‘Faith Divides Us’) was a very nostalgic piece that has come back to the influences of the early days but tried not to rehash anything – still tried to make it seem relevant in the modern music scene.
With your last album, the vinyl and special editions featured two orchestral bonus tracks – you’ve had a very symphonic feel on quite a few of your tracks is that something you’d ever consider developing for a show or a few shows?
It’s something that I wouldn’t rule out because it’s a type of music that I’m quite fond of – I’m quite fond of a lot of classical music and things like that so it’s not something I’d rule out but it’s also not something that I’d actually pursue unless the whole band agreed that it’d be a good idea to go down that route. Yeah – who knows? I’ve worked with a couple of score composers in my time and it’s a very different way of writing and it’s kind of interesting to do that alongside of metal music but I don’t want to do something that’s too… I mean our kind of music is escapism anyway and there’s a fine line between being contrived and having emotion and I’m very, very aware of trying not to cross that line and sometimes you do occasionally but it’s a very fine line to walk – you don’t want to be cheesy if you know what I mean.
This particular tour that you’re doing is very popular and obviously it’s something that the fans have waited for for a long time – why such a limited run of dates?
Yeah, the dates came first – the idea for the dates came first and it was going to be a very short run and it was just something for the fans and then Sony got the rights to ‘Draconian Times’ and said that they had the original 2” masters and asked if they could do a remix and a 5.1 mix from the master and they were willing to put a lot of money behind it and they were willing to give us money to re-promote ‘Faith divides us’ if we were willing to back what they were doing so the re-release came off the back of the dates and not the other way round and that’s why it’s kind of a limited date tour but we might actually do… well we haven’t discussed this fully yet but we’ve discussed it as a band… we might do a couple of DT sets in a couple of festivals throughout the summer as well.
You’ve had ‘Faith divides us’ very recently and these tours as well but what is next for Paradise Lost?
Well, we still haven’t tied up ‘Faith divides us’ yet. We’ve still got things to for that, a few places to play and still quite a few festivals booked this summer and we’ve got the ‘Draconian Times’ thing to do, but we’re starting to gather ideas for new material. But that’s only pencilled in for a possible recording in September/October later this year if we have enough material by then so I’m guessing that’d be an early 2012 release maybe.
Do you have any specific ambitions now for Paradise lost?
I’m happy when we’ve done an album that I think is a strong album and the song-writing for me has always been the thing that’s very fulfilling so it’s kind of very cathartic and it’s something that I’d like to go on doing as long as I possibly can as long as it’s relevant – I’d hate to think it’s become too contrived and not part of what’s going on. I wouldn’t want to change style just to fit in with what was going on but hopefully the song-writing and things like that will continue to be good enough to fit and still be relevant.
Has it ever been difficult for you to reconcile your own musical and aesthetic development with the fact that many fans want their band to stay the same?
Yeah, yeah, but we kind of made our peace with that very early on because when we did demos we were in a very small scene and we were kind of more of a doom/death band but we were touring with bands like Napalm Death and Extreme Noise Terror because there were no other bands to tour with in that kind of genre and from a very early time – you know as soon as you get put onto vinyl, when we signed to Peaceville, we were ‘Sell outs’ and then we did the ‘Gothic album’ and that was too melodic for some people so that was ‘selling out’. Then the gruff vocals changed somewhat on ‘Shades of God’ so that was ‘selling out’ so you can never win and we’ve never tried to pander to that. We understand that metal fans gain comfort from stability as a genre, but I always felt there was movement within it and I think a certain section of the community is a lot more intelligent than that.
There seems to be a lot more movement in the metal community now with bands like The Ocean and Opeth who push the boundaries with what you can do as a metal band – so do you consider that Paradise Lost were perhaps ahead of their time?
Well, I don’t know if we were ahead of our time but what happens is usually a few years later people start to like what we did a few years before. The ‘Gothic’ album – Rough Trade were the people who released it in Europe at the time and they didn’t want to release it when we actually did it because they didn’t get it – they said “what is this gothic metal thing? It doesn’t fit” and I had to go to Holland with Hammy who owned Peaceville records at the time and it wasn’t until two or three years later that anyone started to say that it was a ‘groundbreaking’ album so I don’t know if we’re ahead of our time or that we’re just unfortunate enough that people don’t get it until a couple of years later.
And with that Greg is gone and I have a chance to sit down and conclude the glass of Port that had been sitting patiently throughout the interview. With the prospect of a new album as well as the excitement generated by the ‘Draconian Times’ re-issue, it would seem that Paradise Lost are set to continue their hallowed position as one of Britain’s best metal acts and for those of you who haven’t already charged headlong towards the various ticket agencies responsible for the tour you can click on a link for the band’s site here. Long may Paradise Lost continue and we’d like to thank Greg Mackintosh from the band for speaking with us.