Interview: Nick of Paradise Lost
Interviewer: Paul Hutchings
Formed in 1988, Paradise Lost have sold over 2 million albums during their 32-year career. The band has consisted of Nick Holmes, Gregor Mackintosh, Aaeron Aedy and Steve Edmondson since the beginning with a regular change in drum stool being the only line-up challenge. Current drummer is Waltteri Vayrnen who has been with the band for the past four years. The band have released 15 albums with ‘Obsidian’ their 16th. I was fortunate to speak with Nick a couple of weeks before the album launch was due.
The Razor’s Edge: Welcome to the Razor’s Edge. Thank you for taking the time to chat. How are you?
Nick: Yeah, I’m fine. All the conspiracy theories are starting now. I’ve only just got over Brexit!
The Razor’s Edge: I know that you’ve been doing interviews for a few weeks now. Do the band share them or is it mainly you and Greg that take the bulk? How do they get allocated?
Nick: Greg and I do them all. I’ve done about a 100 now. Telephone isn’t my medium at all. The video streaming, I hate it. It’s not the technology, I just don’t like it.
The Razor’s Edge: Would you usually be doing these interviews more face to face?
Nick: In Europe yes. We usually have a couple of weeks press trip. It’s nice because you get to see people face to face and they get to listen to the music, and you get to see their reactions; you can’t tell over the phone. The press trips are a nice build up to the launch so of course we haven’t done them this time. We have still managed to do all the interviews, but I’d rather look someone in the eye, chatting to them to be honest
The Razor’s Edge: And you must go back quite a way with some of the journalists who interview you?
Nick: Yes, especially for the magazines that have been going for 30 years, like the German magazines, they don’t change staff very often
The Razor’s Edge: I saw that Greg had been asked to give five essential items to survive the lock down. Are you getting more questions like that?
Nick: Not yet, it’s been very on point, there hasn’t been many ‘fun’ questions. If I can prepare for them, I like them. When it’s brought out of the hat I struggle.
The Razor’s Edge: It struck me when preparing that you’ve been together for 32 years, which means you have many fans younger than the life of the band! When you released Lost Paradise back in 1990, what were your ambitions at the time?
Nick: We were just massively into the music. Everything we did revolved about it. It was an obsession. A good obsession that didn’t hurt anyone. It was all over the world but an underground thing. Everyone was mates and there was the tape trading scene, I used to love all that; I’d get so excited when a parcel landed on the doormat. It was insanely exciting; I couldn’t get down the steps fast enough. I was like the dog when he’s going out for a walk! I think if you have a genuine passion for something that you can turn into a career then go for it, but it was never planned long term, you can’t plan ahead in the music business. Look at this year! All our plans have been shelved. We thought Brexit was going to hinder but it hasn’t yet. If you’ve got a passion, it’s a good start.
The Razor’s Edge: When you think of bands that have been together for that long, it’s unusual to have so few line-up changes. What’s the glue that keeps you together?
Nick: Initially the first ten years or so you are starting out and we were friends before and came together because of the shared love of music. We make each other laugh, which is the basis of any good relationship, humour is an incredibly important part. Some of my best relationships are founded on that. Outside of touring we rarely see each other, we can go a year without seeing each other, we chat online and stuff. The thing is, when you’ve been an established band for a long time everyone assumes you live together in a big house with interconnecting doors. Ha-ha! People think you sit down together like Francis and Rick from Quo! We all live in different parts of the country and our drummer lives in Helsinki.
The Razor’s Edge: I’ve seen you respond to fans directly on social media – e.g. Facebook. Do you embrace it or is it a necessary evil that is tolerated?
Nick: I embrace it more than anyone else in the band, I have a twitter page that I’m quite active on, I think Twitter represents me better than anything else because I talk absolute shit! I rarely talk about music, it’s mainly horror films of the 1970’s now! That’s my obsession now. I read everything, reviews, that is said about the band. To shy away isn’t healthy but you can’t take everything to heart either, the trolling that has accelerated so badly in the last five years and people try to become famous by trolling, by spoiling a thread you know, and certain individuals change their name all the time, that’s the new thing but you know it’s them. So, yes, I think it is important to see what people think about you. Before, all you had was reviewed in magazines and the only way you knew how the public had received the album was at concerts when you walked on stage. Of course, people can kill all the mystery which isn’t good but it’s up to them.
The Razor’s Edge: ‘Obsidian’ is your 16th album which averages out at one every two years. That’s an impressive work rate especially with other projects that you and other members of the band have. How does the cycle work these days?
Nick: We are all on the same management and working the gigs around. Some schedules are incredibly tight, but it would be worse if we had different managers. But it works about usually about three years including touring; you kind of get an idea when the label want a release and you work towards that. It usually takes 9-10 months to write the album, as this one did but we clear the calendar, I might have had a couple of weekend shows with Bloodbath in between but as far as Paradise Lost was concerned the calendar was cleared.
The Razor’s Edge: I’ve listened to the album many times over the past week or so. I’d like to add my congratulations as a fan because I think it is one of the strongest albums you’ve ever made. I interviewed Mikael Akerfeldt (Opeth) last year and he made the point that something doesn’t have to be all crashing riffs to be heavy. It’s the weight of the song that makes it heavy and I feel ‘Obsidian’ is a lot like that. Is that fair?
Nick: I know what Mike means. Just because it’s noisy doesn’t mean it’s heavy. There are moods which make it heavy. If a song makes you sad, that can be heaviness. Black Sabbath created that really heaviness without always being fast. You don’t have to play drums like Animal to be heavy. I agree with Mike. The last album was very much a one-dimensional death doom album which is what we wanted to do but this one is definitely different moods, different songs, and all under the Paradise Lost umbrella. There is still variation in there.
The Razor’s Edge: You’ve captured a running order which works well. ‘Fall From Grace’ as has been noted elsewhere feels like the links with Medusa but it also fits nicely as the second song. Was ‘Darker Thoughts’ always the natural opener for the album?
Nick: It was one of the last songs we wrote. Greg was writing an acoustic intro; we were going to do the standard acoustic intro that was all the rage in the 80s and I came up with a melody line, but it was a very spontaneous song. We wrote it very quickly, which is unusual because Greg and I often play tennis with songs knocking them back and fore. We’ve shelved songs and brought them back 16 years later. That’s what it can be like but with ‘Darker Thoughts’ everything I did Greg liked and everything he did I liked, and it just completely gelled. It’s nice when that happens because it doesn’t happen very often, and we are our own worst critics.
The Razor’s Edge: You’ve described it as an eclectic album which I think captures it perfectly. I was listening to ‘Ghosts’ when my wife walked past, and she is someone who loved her goth. She asked me if it was a new Sisters of Mercy song! I get what she means – it’s a great song drenched in atmosphere. The writing on the album seems organic this time. You’ve covered some of this already. Did the songs come easily?
Nick: It’s never straightforward. We use the jigsaw technique, Greg will send me a riff and say can you come up with something for this and I’ll do versions with clean singing, gruff singing and send him about six versions and he’ll usually write the song around what I’ve sent him. When I get the song back, I often don’t recognise it even though I’m singing on it. We did it years ago and it’s unconventional but it quite a good way of writing, especially for death metal, it’s great for writing death metal stuff, because you have a certain way of doing things and then someone else can change what you’ve done so that makes it quite unconventional. ‘Darker Thoughts’ was written very conventionally but sometimes its nice to chop things up and change everything around. Using digital makes it easier, whatever works helps.
The Razor’s Edge: Apart from ‘Serenity’ and ‘Ravenghast’, much of the album is frighteningly topical. Some of it obviously is a reflection on society and the pressures that people have put on themselves. Does society provide an almost endless supply of observational material?
Nick: It’s ambiguity. Everything I write. I go back to things I wrote about in my teens. I don’t like to be pinned down on stuff I write about. I don’t like songs about one subject. There’s a time and a place but more often I like to read lyrics that make me think, “what are they on about?” so ambiguity is the key. Also, it’s about what works with the music because when I am writing it gets into a place where the music takes me and where the music and words fit on the riffs and certain words work in certain parts.
The Razor’s Edge: I can’t avoid commenting on Ending Days, which couldn’t have been more relevant in the current times.
Nick: Originally it was about families having squabbles and losing contact for decades. Then you find out someone is ill you make contact again; the decades go by and you carry on with your life and you lose all those years. So, it’s about making peace at the end. It’s a waste, but that is how life is and it’s happened to a few people I know. It’s tragic but that’s how life is. It is probably the most specific topic on the entire album if I look at it lyrically. It’s a short song. I find how people reflect, it’s morbid but fascinating.
The Razor’s Edge: So, like everyone else, the summer schedule has been wiped out. Is it a waiting game to reschedule all the planned gigs?
Nick: I don’t want to write off the year yet. I know some bands have stopped all gigs for the rest of the year. I don’t want to be that negative, or is it realistic? We’ll have to see. We are planning on the gig in Leeds in September, which I hope can still happen. We haven’t lost as much as some bands as we didn’t have full tours booked, it was mainly festivals, building up for a tour which would be next year anyway. I’d planned to do the tour with Bloodbath in America in the next few weeks which has been blown out of the water. Yeah, the pause button is on and it’s hard to say anymore at present.
The Razor’s Edge: I wanted to ask you about your last gig in Cardiff about eight years ago. You spent the entire gig fending off the local cab firm over your radio mic.
Nick: Hahaha! Which venue was it?
The Razor’s Edge: It was the Students Union.
Nick: Ah yeah, I remember it.
The Razor’s Edge: It’s gone down in these parts as a bit of a legendary gig. Over the years how many cab companies have been put on your shit list?
Nick: Ha-ha! Its’ funny because when you are on stage, especially if you are not playing in a controlled environment, you have less control. So, a stadium or arena is more controlled. You have people making sure things like that don’t happen. In a smaller venue you must expect these things to happen. It’s quite funny most of the time, but if things happen all the time then it gets fucking annoying … I just thought of Bad News or Spinal Tap at that gig! It’s like falling over on stage, it’s always funny.
The Razor’s Edge: I was looking at the Omerch site yesterday and you now do Crown of Thorn socks. What one item of merchandise do you wish the band could supply that you don’t now?
Nick: Ha-ha! I don’t know really. We get proofs sent through. I quite like the idea of Crown of Thorns boxers to complete the set … but they’d have to be decent ones, nicely fitted, none of the 1980s style. You get some really weird suggestions and we asked, “are you taking the piss” and they turn out to be a best seller. Several years ago, there was a white all over print which was hideous, and I hated it and it was the best selling shirt we’d ever had. It was obvious then that my opinion wasn’t needed!!