March 10, 2020 Interview – Aaron Stainthorpe of My Dying Bride
If Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, and Anthrax are The Big Four of Thrash Metal, then Anathema, Paradise Lost, and My Dying Bride are The Dreadful Three of Doom. All emerging onto the UK Metal scene around roughly the same period, with each taking their own path since, My Dying Bride continues to be the pinnacle of excellence in Doom Metal. Now celebrating thirty years together, they have sustained themselves independent of any management, built a highly dedicated following, and continue to put out powerful music.
Speaking of which, My Dying Bride are back with The Ghost of Orion, their thirteenth overall studio album and first via Nuclear Blast Records. A vital release in their legacy, the new album breaks a five year silence after Lead Singer/Vocalist Aaron Stainthorpe justifiably took time away to concentrate on his family. Trying times for all involved, now that the smoke has cleared, My Dying Bride lives on with some of their most dynamic songs in some time. Sitting down to reflect on it all, Stainthrope candidly spoke about the success of the band, how deeply he feels the music, the struggle of getting his head back into the band after a hiatus, plus a whole lot more.
Cryptic Rock – My Dying Bride has been together thirty years now. In that time you have released many albums and become one of the most important bands in the Doom Metal world. First tell us, how would you describe your journey as a part of the band?
Aaron Stainthorpe – It’s been a long one. It’s been tiring at times, but I think for the most part it’s been enjoyable. We’ve never had a manager and we still don’t have management; myself and Andrew (Craighan) pick and choose what we do. If anything goes wrong, the blame is ours. If everything goes right, well, then we’ll claim that as well.
My Dying Bride really is a hobby for us, it’s not the be all and end all. We do it on the weekend and evenings, which means we’re able to continue doing it for many years and still enjoy it. For a lot of bands, the band is the only thing; if something goes wrong they panic and it could be catastrophic, but not for us. When things go wrong we just hum-and-haw a bit, get over it, and carry on again. Really, there is quite a laidback atmosphere within the band. We take it seriously, obviously, but it’s not the most focused things in our lives.
As I say, without management, we have no one pushing us around telling us what to do. We pick and choose the summer festivals we’re going to play, we decide when we’re going to go on tour, how long we’re going to go on tour for, and we design our own t-shirts. When you’ve got that much more control everything is much more exciting, I think.
Cryptic Rock – Very interesting. Was it an asserted decision by the band to go the independent route without management?
Aaron Stainthorpe – We sniffed around a couple of managers in the past, but nothing really came of it. In fact when we were on tour with Dio in the States back in 1996, we briefly chatted with Wendy Dio about her managing us for a little while; it never really turned into anything, there was no contracts signed, and it fell away to nothing. We’ve dabbled, but no one has really shown that much interest. I think it’s probably because we don’t tour that much. Touring is where the money is, managers want to make money, and if the band is not doing that many gigs, there is not going to be very much money, I suppose. We only do about 15-20 shows a year, which is nothing really. Maybe that’s what is keeping the managers away, but we’re fine with that.
Cryptic Rock – Well My Dying Bride has sustained themselves and maintained a level of integrity within music; a lot of bands do not last as long as My Dying Bride has.
Aaron Stainthorpe – Well, I think they put too much emphasis on making it big, whereas we knew if we were going to call ourselves My Dying Bride and write really long, weird songs, we were never going to make it big. With that in mind, we’ve been happy just plugging along after all these years. We were lucky all our goals were achieved quite early on – having some vinyl released, seeing your record in a big store, going on tour in a foreign country. We’ve managed to check a lot of these things on our list quite early on. Having a number one single has never been on our list, and it never will be.
We’ve enjoyed it and we’ve never had to rely on My Dying Bride; it’s been there to have a bit fun with. Like I said, when things go a bit wrong, that’s fine, we’ll get over it, we’ll carry on. We’ve just enjoyed the ride and we’re still enjoying it right now because we’re steering the ship.
Cryptic Rock – And a lot of compelling, deep music has come out of it. Every My Dying Bride album has its distinct qualities. That said, the music is very dark in nature but you come across like a very happy person. What goes into the writing of the music?
Aaron Stainthorpe – I only write when I’m feeling low, because I think your emotions are heightened when you are just feeling in a different mood. When I write it’s pretty genuine and it’s very cathartic, because when you get a head full of negative thoughts, it’s best to get them out of your head. I put pen to paper and start writing. Sometimes I end up writing a poem, a short story, or a lyric for My Dying Bride. I don’t know what it will be until it is finished, but it’s just something I need to do.
I’m always writing things down, because when you feel the ‘blues’ coming on it’s time to put pen to paper and prevent it from filling my head with dark chaos. If I didn’t have an outlet for it, I think I’d go mad. What you read in the lyrics and what you see on stage is genuine. But because I’ve been able to clear my mind of those thoughts, it leaves me during the day to day feeling quite happy, positive, and looking forward to the next morning.
Cryptic Rock – Right. It is therapy, self-soothing, and like detox.
Aaron Stainthorpe – Yeah, I think more people should try it. I know it’s difficult when you’re feeling low, trying to be creative is the last thing on your mind. Somehow I’ve managed to hone that down and it really works for me. I think more people should try and do it because something really creative just might come out of that darkness.
Cryptic Rock – Agreed. My Dying Bride’s music has changed from album to album, and you have always mixed the vocals up. Do you let the songs dictate the vocal style used?
Aaron Stainthorpe – Yeah, most of the time Andrew will present the music to me and I will listen to it. Obviously if there is a pretty aggressive sounding riff, that will inspire me to write the more aggressive vocal line knowing there is probably going to be Death Metal vocals linked. It doesn’t always work, there have been some pretty chunky riffs in the past where I thought I was going to do Death Metal vocals, but while rehearsing/making demos, you suddenly come up with another concept which works better than Death Metal vocals. It can be unexpected at times.
Sometimes you can just hear when a Death Metal vocal should be there. It’s great fun to do it; I still enjoy doing Death Metal vocals after all these years. Hopefully I’ll continue to do it. If the music warrants it, then I think it’s definitely worthwhile. There is no point in screaming and shouting over some lovely violins, that just doesn’t work – although sometimes that juxtaposition does work. For the most part, if the riff calls for it, I’ll put some Death Metal vocals on it.
Cryptic Rock – Makes perfect sense. My Dying Bride are back with their first album in 5 years, The Ghost of Orion. You had a personally trying time with your daughter being ill, hence the gap between records. Was it hard to get back into My Dying Bride after all that had happened?
Aaron Stainthorpe – It was unbelievably hard. I thought I’d just step straight back into it because I’d been doing it for such a long time. I thought when it’s time to get back into My Dying Bride, it’ll be easy – it’s like falling off a bike, you just get back on again. It was nothing like that, it was so hard. While I was recording the vocals I thought I had lost the plot. I was on the verge of just quitting, and deciding maybe they should just get a different vocalist for this album. Or maybe they could hold on for another year so I can connect with the band again, or maybe release the album as an instrumental, because I can’t do it right now.
Thankfully with the help of Andrew and Mark, the new studio producer/engineer, they kind of helped me along a little bit. We really raised the bar with this album. Andrew really went to town with the guitars. We’ve got cellos on it, there are female vocals, and there are violins; there are lots of layers, it’s very lush. I stepped in to do my old-school vocals and it just wasn’t enough; I hadn’t raised the bar yet. With Andrew and Mark’s help, we raised the bar together.
It was such hard work; everyday it was like banging my head against the wall. I tell you, when it was over, on the final day of recording, I just picked up my bag and walked off. I never even bothered listening to the album, because it was just full of dread for me and torment. Obviously I’ve listen to it now and I understand what Andrew and Mark wanted, and I’m glad I did it their way now, but it was so hard. Thankfully it’s over now and I don’t have to record another one for some time.
Cryptic Rock – It had to be very hard. One can imagine it’s hard getting your head back into wanting to be creative after having such a stressful time in your life.
Aaron Stainthorpe – Yes, my daughter took up my focus completely. I essentially left the band and Andrew knew this, then he continued writing the music. Andrew realized we’ve got to carry on a bit. He continued writing, and every month or so he’d send me a riff to listen to it once and go, “Yeah, it’s fine.” I just wasn’t into it, and that’s fair enough, my focus was elsewhere. It continued on and on until the album was almost fully recorded, and I was aware it was being recorded. I never saw a single person record anything at the studio because I just didn’t go. It was the same when Andrew announced Calvin Robertshaw had left, I just shrugged my shoulders. Then when our drummer Shaun Taylor-Steels had left, I just tutted a little bit. They didn’t mean anything to me, not the people, the moment they left, I mean; I had bigger fish to fry.
Eventually I had realized the whole album is done except for the vocals. Thankfully at that time my daughter got the all clear, so I could shift focus back to My Dying Bride again. But it never shifted back as quickly as I thought it would, and it’s still not shifted back. We’ve rehearsed some songs for doing some live shows and I’m still not feeling the vibe. I guess time is a great healer and in a little more time maybe I’ll probably be fully connected back to the band. I pretty much don’t have that much more to worry about with my daughter – she still has to have scans and will be having scans for the next 5 or 10 years. I can’t worry about that all the time; I have to move on a bit. I’m trying to get back into My Dying Bride, but I’m not quite there yet.
Cryptic Rock – That is completely understandable. It is great to hear your daughter is free and clear of cancer, though. The new album does have an energy. Prior to the release you put out the music video for “Your Broke Shore,” which is quite theatrical. What went into the production?
Aaron Stainthorpe – It was done by the same director who did our last music video, “Feel The Misery.” I stayed in touch with him after that last shoot, and I got in touch for this one, as well. He was very happy to do it. His name is James Sharrock. It worked out pretty much as well as we expected it to. One shoot was in a nice old building one day and the second shoot was out in a forest, in a river pouring with rain; it was freezing cold. It’s wasn’t a nightmare at the time, but it wasn’t much fun. I think the results speak for themselves – the video came out really well. There seems to be a lot of people loving it, so it looks like everything worked out quite nice.
Cryptic Rock – It certainly did and it was a great re-introduction to My Dying Bride after five years.
Aaron Stainthorpe – We recently did another video, as well. I set off on a train journey to the very south coast of England where we shot a video for song number two on the album, “To Outlive The Gods.” This is out now.
Cryptic Rock – Yes, and it came out very well too. We spoke about how My Dying Bride only does 15 to 20 shows a year. That is not very many shows a year, so what is the story behind that? Do you not enjoy touring?
Aaron Stainthorpe – I don’t like it at all. The rest of the band love it, obviously the fans love it, but if I had it my way, we wouldn’t tour at all. That would be super selfish though and I couldn’t possibly go down that route. I just get too emotional with the gigs. When I write the songs I’m quite an emotional person and when I have to re-sing the songs in a live capacity, I become that same emotional person. The gigs are mentally tough for me.
Physically they are not so bad, I’m quite fit, but mentally, they are so taxing. I wish I could shrug that off. I want to run out on stage and say, “Yo, everybody, are we all ready to rock!” and enjoy myself on stage. It’s just not like that, it’s the opposite. Before a gig I’m so nervous because I know what’s coming, there’s a big emotional battle coming. I have to do it in front of hundreds, sometimes thousands of people. I don’t even know. It’s so tough – you don’t walk on stage and tell people what’s going through your heart. It’s too emotional.
With the help of the band and their super heavy music, I just about get through it. After each gig I’m just so drained, exhausted, and think, “Thank god that’s over, that was so tough.” The rest of the guys are loving it! They are chatting about the girls in the front row and all the rest of it, and I’m just oblivious to all that stuff. It’s such a shame because I want to enjoy my art form, not suffer for it. Unfortunately it’s just the way it turned out, I didn’t really have a choice.
Cryptic Rock – It is interesting you say that. There are other artists who feel the way you do, you are not alone.
Aaron Stainthrope – I think people are really passionate about their art form and can get very emotional about it. They see it completely differently because they helped create it. It’s like your children: your children are always the best. It’s a similar thing. People will look at some of our songs and say, “Yeah, they are emotional, but are they that serious?” Because I’ve created them, they are that serious and I like to treat them with that seriousness.
It seems that over the years people have realized Aaron doesn’t like being on stage because he is going through this mental torment. Therefore, sometimes the audience is totally hushed when we’re performing a song. Part of your brain is thinking god they hate it, and part is just carrying on with the song. Then when you’re finished there is a small gap of silence and then a roar from the audience. Some of them are on the same journey; we always have people crying in the audience. I just think it’s great that My Dying Bride fans don’t just rock up expecting to be entertained, they’re going to go on a journey with me and we’re almost holding hands in that atmosphere. They’re feeling it like I’m feeling it; it’s quite powerful. That’s why if I played 200 shows a year I don’t think I’d survive.
Cryptic Rock – (Laughs) Well it makes it that much more special when the band does come around. You have visited the States a little bit in recent years, too.
Aaron Stainthrope – We’re hoping to come back. Now that we’re on a bigger label, with a bit of luck, we might be able to team up with another Nuclear Blast band and do a package tour. We’ve been trying to get to the States to do a headlining tour for many years, but it just seems we don’t have that big a following there. I know our fans are always saying, “You’ve got to come, we love you,” and from what we get from the journalists, we seem to be very popular. But when our agent contacts the agents over there, they’re not that bothered – My Dying Bride just doesn’t mean that much to them. If we can get on with another Nuclear Blast band or two, and maybe tour as a package, we’ll get off to the States a lot quicker and easier.
Cryptic Rock – Hopefully that will happen. You probably have heard this many times, but fans would love to see My Dying Bride, Anathema, and Paradise Lost do a tour together.
Aaron Stainthrope – That would be great. We did two gigs together, one in London and another in Paris for Paradise Lost’s 30th anniversary. It was absolutely great. All three bands got on like a house on fire; it was great to catch up on old times and the audiences were great. For some people it’s the ultimate gig. Whether or not that will happen in the future, I have no idea. It would be great if it would. I know Anathema has changed quite a bit, I’m not sure if they would be interested anymore. Whether or not they would be up for it, I don’t know, but certainly Paradise Lost would be up for it. It’s still plausible.
Cryptic Rock – It would be fantastic to see. So what are some your personal musical influences?
Aaron Stainthrope – I’ve been a big Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds fan for a long time. Because of that, obviously, Leonard Cohen also. I still like my old classics. For me, some of the bigger bands, when you discover their music, that particular album becomes the seminal one for you. For me, Master of Puppets (1986) by Metallica will always be one of the greatest records ever made, because that was the first one I heard by them and it stuck with me forever. It is the same with a lot of other bands.
I like Classical music, I like Psychobilly as well. There is a Psychobilly festival going on, and I’ve not heard of any of the bands playing, but I just like that genre. I like all kinds of weird and wonderful stuff.
Cryptic Rock – Right, you want to try different types of music. That is the spice of life: trying new things and expanding your horizons.
Aaron Stainthrope – Yeah, I know you get a lot of fans saying Metal forever! Fair enough, I’m in a Metal band, but not 100% all the time. You need a break from a distorted guitar every now and again.
Cryptic Rock – Absolutely. Last question. If you are a fan of Horror and Sci-Fi films, do you have any favorites?
Aaron Stainthrope – I have so many. You should have let me know beforehand, I would have written a load down. I subscribe to a magazine called SFX – it covers all Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Horror, and all that sort of stuff. It’s funny because every time the magazine shows up that’s when I have bath night. I draw a nice hot bath, get a glass of wine ready, read my magazine and I love it! It’s a once a month thing and it’s really enjoyable. Because of it I’ve been exposed to so many great films and books over the years.
It’s hard to remember all of them, it’s easier to remember some of the more recent ones. I just watched Annihilation (2018), and that was very good. I’m trying to get to see The Lighthouse (2019). I like interesting films. If a film gets a great review, I’ll generally try and go see it. The same with a book: if books get great reviews, it must be good, I will try and read it. I loved Sin City (2005) when that came out, I thought it was very dynamic. Obviously Blade Runner (1982), I liked the new one, as well. I’m missing tons of great films, but anything that is highly recommended I will look at.
With Horror, like my albums, I keep harkening back to the old days. Modern ones are alright. I like The Ring, but still love stuff like Friday the 13th (1980). Night of the Living Dead (1968), Dawn of the Dead (1978) and Day of the Dead (1985), as well. Sam Raimi’s early material too. I’m not so fond of Slashers, I kind of like jump scares. I liked The Woman in Black (2012), that was pretty cool. My partner won’t go and see Horror films with me, so we don’t go out to see them that often.
Again if it’s well made, I’ll see it. Poltergeist (1982) scared me witless. That was a day in England when we didn’t have 24/7 television, we only had 4 channels if you can believe it. When the broadcast stopped around midnight, it just turned to white noise. We always made sure to turn the television off before the white noise, because we were terrified what was hidden behind that white noise. The old ones are just classics.