About Me

Interview with Paradise Lost

Gregor Mackintosh and Nick Holmes are two immediately recognizable names for fans of the Doom / Gothic Metal scene. These musicians are the masterminds behind Paradise Lost, one of the best bands to ever come out of Yorkshire. Metal Imperium had the pleasure to chat with Gregor Mackintosh about their 16th album “Obsidian” and he opened his heart and soul to us… find out all the juicy details in here…
M.I. - Hello! How are you? How are you dealing with the social distancing?

It doesn't bother me at all because I'm kind of antisocial anyway, so I don't really hang around a lot of people. My days aren't much different when I'm home but, on a professional level, it's very strange because I've spent most of my life doing shows and gigs and travelling around and, for the last month or two, I haven't done anything. 

M.I. - So, you’re recovering your energy!

I would love to say that but, when I’m doing nothing, I feel a little bit unmotivated, it's strange.

M.I. - Art is usually not valued… at least, here in Portugal, it is underfunded in schools… however, in these days of quarantine, it is art that is keeping us all sane, be it in the form of books, music, paintings. Do you think art will be more valued from now on?

I think it's possible! I've been thinking about this recently, well everybody probably has! Everybody needs light, heat, a roof over their heads and food during situations like this, but the only thing that separates us from the animals is art, you know? It's the thing that feeds our brain! I think it is being underrated and underfunded in a lot of countries and, in a time like this, you realize that that's the thing that stabilizes your medical state. A lot of the time you can just listen to a piece of music, read a book or something like that and it can make you stable. So, I think it's possible they could do that! This whole thing is going to give people a lot of time to think and reflect and the only other thing that we are able to do is to appreciate art. So, I think it's possible.

M.I. - That's why you didn't take the opportunity to postpone to release of the album, right? Considering the Covid-19 situation, Nuclear Blast has offered you the opportunity to postpone it but you want people to listen to the new album while they're in quarantine!

That's exactly why! Nuclear Blast asked a few bands who were releasing albums around the same time whether they wanted to delay until the end of the year and I think only a couple of bands decided to delay because most people are in the same mindset, you know? It's more important when people have nothing to do, when they're locked in, and it’s nice to have things to do, things to listen to and things to read and watch. I mean, this whole situation will probably impact global sales within the music industry but that's just something you can't avoid. Plus, when you think about 70% of people get their music online now, whether it's streaming or buying from online stores, I just think it's important to get it out there! Nobody knows when this is gonna end, nobody knows when gigs and festivals are going to happen again, so I don't really see the point in delaying the new product.

M.I. - On Wednesday the 15th April, it was announced that all concerts and festivals until the 31st August would be cancelled… how has this decision affected Paradise Lost? Were you scheduled to play many festivals this summer? 

The first one that we had to cancel was about a month ago. It was the day that lockdown happened in the UK, we were supposed to be flying to Mexico to play at a festival and we had to cancel that. The first thing that we thought was “Oh we'll be back on the road again in three weeks” but what we're hearing from promoters now is “When it's gonna happen?”. We’ll be lucky if there are any shows this year. It's impacting everyone, some promoters will probably gonna go busting in some places. It's just something that’s gonna take a lot of patience from bands, fans, promoters, everybody, until the live scene gets back up and running, whenever that is.

M.I. - Yeah, but I believe you don't need to work to pay your bills as Paradise Lost is probably the only career you have…

Right, that's true! The live shows are a very big part of the music industry these days, bigger than it ever was because, when we first started out, most of income came from record sales. These days, because streaming's taken over, the live environment and live merch sales are quite a big part of the income. So, we're not in a terrible situation as maybe some bands are, but the music industry is going to have to change, it’s gonna have to adapt around this crisis that we are going through. 

M.I. - So, the album will be released as scheduled to brighten the days of the fans but its gloominess might contribute to some obscure and negative ideas… do you think it is the best soundtrack for this quarantine?

We don't know! People ask me “How do you like depressing music if you are depressed?”. It depends on what you like, what puts you in the right mood. If I had to listen to high-energy dance music all day, that would depress me! We've been writing about stuff like this, reflecting on our life and regret, what comes after and all the rest of it for 30 years, so it's something that we’re kind of used to talking about. It's interesting that now it's happening, I can't say it’ll be the best thing to reflect this crisis… I always used to think “Wow, I bet the whole zombie apocalypse thing would be really exciting!”. Now, 28 days later of this virus, and it turns out to be super boring! 

M.I. - According to some sites, Obsidian is a talisman of those who dare to see…the past, the future, or one’s own inner demons and darkest truths, for those prepared to look deep into the inner being, the subconscious, to reveal one’s shadow self… flaws, weaknesses, fears, all. Are you superstitious? 

Not at all really, I'm very much rooted in today. I don't think too far ahead, I try not to look too far back, because it's kind of overwhelming in anyone's life if you're trying to predict the future or rely on hindsight too much. So, no, I'm not superstitious, but it doesn't mean that I can't be interested in why people believe in things, why people regret, why people yearn for things from years gone by and whatever or worship certain things. That's what a lot of the lyrics on this record are about, that's what the band has often been about… this reflective inward-looking type and we've also reflected that in the artwork as well. The artwork for the album is all grounded in this kind of pre-Christian in pagan folklore, these icons, their symbolism, the crew heads, the coffin nails, that White Rose of York, things like that. So, it's all rooted in this superstition but, as people, we're not superstitious, it's just something that interests us.

M.I. - You are responsible for most of the melodies… how do you manage to still be creative after 30 years and yet keep a sound that makes it instantly recognizable as Paradise Lost? What inspires you?

Well, it's not something I plan to do, it's just something that happens. I either feel inspired one day or I don't, I suppose. Personally, I think of music as a mood, I never talk about music in terms of musicality. I usually talk about it in terms of how it makes me feel, so it doesn't matter whether it's metal music, classical music, pop music, whatever… it just depends on how it makes me feel. I think Paradise Lost’s music always has a certain feeling to it, this bittersweet melancholic reflective sound, so that's my interpretation of it. Inspiration wise it could come from all sorts of places… it can be a movie, a situation, it can be lots of things. Songwriting wise it's always been a big learning curve for me, it's something that I'm really interested in and that I take great pride in. I'm constantly inspired by new artists, new as well as old artists. I'm kind of obsessed with Bandcamp as well, I often find new unsigned interesting artists. I find it more interesting than the mainstream, because a lot of the mainstream already established acts play a little safe and, I think, sometimes on Bandcamp, you find some really interesting stuff that maybe you wouldn't think about. Yeah, to me, it's a constant learning curve. I don't class myself as anything different, I live and breathe it every day. I dream up a daydream about melodies and tunes and things like that and I just do the music. Sometimes people like it, sometimes people don't, but I think the sound of Paradise Lost comes from our style of playing as well. We all have our own quirks and little things that we do on our instruments, our style of playing. I have no idea why I play like that and I can't and I couldn't change it even if I wanted to, you know? It just comes out the way it does.

M.I. - When you go on Bandcamp and listen to music, do you limit yourself or do you listen to all kinds of music styles and genres? 

When I am on Bandcamp, it’s usually heavier stuff, because I find it hard to find anything that isn't heavy. Bandcamp is interesting, you know? There’s some electronic stuff in there which is pretty interesting, but, for the most part, bands seem to be aimed at the more extreme side to me anyway. In general, I listen to all kinds of music, I mean musicals, classical music, electronic music, just whatever takes my fancy. The only guidelines I have to it is that I don't like happy music, I like sad songs… it can be Simon and Garfunkel, it can be Dvorak, it can be Gary Newman, it doesn't matter, it could be lots of different things.

M.I. - The tracks in the new album have very dark and gloomy titles “Darker thoughts”, “Ending days”, “Hope dies young”… is this all about suicidal thoughts and feeling down? Would you say you're a depressive guy?

Yes, I am. As a kid, I was diagnosed with what was called maniac depression, they call it bipolar these days. I've been on medication most of my life and I’m still on a medication program but it's not something that affects me too much, if I don't think about it, because if I take the medication, I’m fine. It happens in people who think too much basically. I think I overanalyze situations, I overreact and small things become huge things and that's just something that runs in my family… my mother was exactly the same, my older brother has bigger problems than me, my uncle was institutionalized, it's  just something that runs in the family, but it's not something that I dwell on, because if I really begin to dwell on it, I wouldn't be creating music, it would defeat me a lot. When I’m really depressed, the last thing I want to be is creative, so it's kind of my release, the music and things like that. I get to put those feelings out there and capture things. Albums are like a snapshot of my lifetime and what I’m into at that time, I guess that's why I have these feelings. In a lot of our stuff, I think there's a glimmer of hope. If you really look at the video from “Fall from Grace” there’s this glimmer in there, it's about these crescendos in life. Life is light and shade and you have to take good with the bad… but it's always from this point of view of “What could I have done better? Could this have been different?” and it’s hindsight, a useless emotion, so it's just questioning… we have no answers.

M.I. - The track “Fall from Grace” was the first song written for this record and, according to you, it is the closest in style to the previous album 'Medusa'. So, what can we expect of the other songs? The teaser for the track “Darker thoughts” doesn’t really show much!!

We were told by the record label to choose three songs that we wanted people to hear first from the album, so we chose: “Darker Thoughts”, “Fall From Grace” and “Ghosts”. We didn't have an order in which we wanted to release them, it was the record label that decided to release “Fall From Grace” first and I think it's because they wanted something that was like a stepping stone, you know what I mean? If myself and Nick had it our way, we would probably have “Darker thoughts” as the first track people heard, but I can understand the label’s trepidation because that is a very different song, it's the first song on the album, it's the opening track and I think it's going to polarize people a little bit. I think some people will love it and some people might not even get halfway through and turn it off, because it's something very different for us. There's a couple of songs on the record actually, “Darker Thoughts” and “Ending days”, that are very different types of songs for us. Listening to them now I can’t tell you where they came from musically. A lot of the songs on the album, like the track “Ghosts”, is very influenced by early eighties gothic post-punk music but the two songs that I've mentioned, I have no idea where they came from musically. It's just myself and Nick experimenting and messing around and these songs just appeared, so it's gonna be a very eclectic record, a very varied record, quite refined, quite grown up in a wa,y if I can say that. So, yes, it's quite different as an album, it's quite different from “Medusa”… in fact, a few people have said that it's kind of an anthology of Paradise Lost, that a little bit of every year appears somewhere in there, but that wasn't intentional, it just worked out that way.

M.I. - Yeah, okay, so the track you mentioned “Darker thoughts” will be like a bit like “One Second” when you released it, right?!

Initially, yeah, it's a song of two halves. It's a strange song, but yes, when it first comes in, it's going to throw a few people off and they will wonder what the hell is going on and maybe they'll love it and it'll draw them in. But that's the whole point towards continuing to do it! Myself, especially, the only reason I continue doing this is because I continue enjoying it. I have to do things that are interesting otherwise it would be like working on a production line and that wouldn't be enjoyable for me. I question bands that stay the same for 30 years, I question their motives and if they are really into that kind of music so much, they don’t change, they don't need any variation? I don't know, maybe they are just different people.

M.I. - What’s the importance of a video in the promotion of a song? Do you think people pay more attention to them?

Generally, 50/50, I'd say. Personally, I watch videos by bands, they entice me in if they've got an interesting story-based video, it doesn't matter too much about the visuals as long as you've got a decent cinematography and you have a good metaphor within the videos. You get used to be good at this kind of things where you do a video and there doesn't have to be a lot going on as long as it's got a decent back story and a metaphor to it and, in that situation, I think it's very important, it really makes you like a song even if you don't like the song. That happened to me with a band called Portal from Australia and they had a song called “Curtain” and it's ultra extreme grindcore. This particular song didn’t mean much to me, it was okay, and then I saw the video and it just made me love the song. So, I think it can happen but it's difficult because budgets in metal music, extreme music, whatever, gothic music, they're not huge so you have to find a guy who's a good cinematographer and we have done it. The guy who directed the video, we've used him two or three times with Paradise Lost now, and I also used him on my project Strigoi. He's just a great guy, he thinks outside the box and comes up with these really great little metaphorical videos. You just need good cinematography and this strong little storyline and imagery. He's called Ash Pears and it was just by accident that we found him a few years ago and we’ve used him ever since.

M.I. - This will be the 16th album of the band… it’s like 16 chapters of a book that represents your life? What’s the chapter you enjoy the most? 

That's like asking what’s my favourite child! (laughs)

M.I. - I know, it's the latest, right?

Yeah! That's the only thing that keeps me going if I think the latest stuff is my strongest! If I thought for a minute that an album we did 20 years ago was better than the one we have just made, then I don’t know what we’d be doing here. I'm more into songs, I don't know albums and it’s the same when I listen to other bands. It’s the same with our band. I like some songs from this record… I'm the kind of guy that listens to mix tapes. I can't listen to the same type of music for longer than my attention span which is like 20 minutes. After that time, I have to switch it up and listen to something else. So, from our catalogue, I couldn't choose an album… you know, there's stand out songs to me. A great song I think is “One second”… it would be hard to recreate something like that, it’s a song that comes once in a career, it works, it's not something you can plan for. So, this is difficult, it depends on what mood you're in as well.

M.I. - What’s your all-time favourite track from Paradise Lost? 

A song called “Shine” I don't know if anyone will know it. It's quite an obscure song. I think it was about five albums ago, but it's an interesting song. I also like the song “Sweetness” which is a song we did but wasn't on any album, it was on an EP we did in about 1994. I like obscure ones because I don't hear them that much, so I don't get the chance to get bored over them. I could say “As I die” but I've heard it too many times, you know?

M.I. - “As I die” is wonderful really! Is there a song you regret having done? Is there any track that you’ve written and you’d like to change for some reason? 

Not really! Because I don't believe in regrets, there's no point in it, because everything I did up until this point, let me be sitting here now talking to you. You change one little thing and it might have a different result, for the better or worse, so I don't believe in regret. Sure, in hindsight, there are songs and things I listened back to and I think, because of experience, I could have done better maybe. There's a song called “Falling forever” on “Gothic” and it’s kind of widely accepted by the guys but I think “What the hell was I thinking when I was doing that?” but that's just hindsight.

M.I. - The band will be playing the new album in full on the 17th September at The Warehouse in Leeds… you have a long time to prepare till then. Why have you decided to do it? It’s kind of a release party that is taking place way too long after the release, right? 

Your case is as good as mine really! (Laughs) We watch our government on the news every night telling things are going back to normal but we don't know when, nobody knows, that's the truth! Because we're still planning for it, yeah, and if it does happen, fantastic. It was supposed to happen in May, obviously now it’s supposed to be in September. Realistically, it’s when I think we may be able to do shows in our own country again. So, the plan is still to do that gig and we're just gonna treat it like it is going to happen and, if something changes, then we’ll let people know in plenty of time. But it's one of those situations, with this whole Covid-19 thing, nobody has got any straight answers to when it's going to end, when people are going to be able to mingle again. Even when people can mingle again, a large gathering isn’t going to be allowed at all, like gigs, festivals. Then you've got things like the aviation industry, people flying around, is that going to work? I don't know, it's going to take a lot of patience.

M.I. - How do you manage to rehearse in this situation?

Yesterday, I was playing through all the songs again. I go through them about once every other day. We don't rehearse online, because having behind me the drummer or something like that, it’s so much noise! We’re rehearsing alone for now and, then, when we can get together again, we'll do that.

M.I. - The more albums you release, the more difficult it gets to choose the setlist for your live shows… who does that? Which tracks do you need to inevitably include? 

Nick makes all setlists and he sends them and then we make comments so if we think a song doesn't suit the set or if we think another song would be better, we say it and then he will change it accordingly. Generally, for festivals it would be more or less a “Best of” set, you know? With one or two songs from every album if possible. If we are promoting an album, obviously we do a few more from that record. Or if we just want to do something a bit different, we  throw in a few different songs then… we do that sometimes! 

M.I. - I first saw the band live in London in 1995 and it was insane! I think “As I die”, “Pity the Sadness” and “Ember's fire” must always be played live because they're awesome! You’ve been one of my favourite bands ever… 

Oh, thank you! Usually we do put them but we either play “Pity the Sadness” or “As I die”, because they're from the same album. 

M.I. - Doom masters and pioneers Paradise Lost, Katatonia and My Dying Bride all have new material coming out this year… it would be awesome to have a tour of these bands in the near future… has this thought ever crossed your mind?

It would be great to do it, yes! We have discussed things like this but it depends on timing and what each band is doing. Katatonia and Paradise Lost are managed by the same manager and My Dying Bride are our friends, so it is something that we’d be interested in doing!

M.I. - Paradise Lost’s music has been influencing the metal scene for over 30 years… did you ever imagine you would be such an icon and role model to musicians worldwide?

No, I still don't really know how much of that is true! I only get told it by some people now and again and it's very flattering, but every band starts somewhere so. Bands like Him or Katatonia said we were a big influence when they first started out, then they went off and did their own thing, and that's how we started as well, you know? Our early stuff was emulating people that we liked and then we went out and did our own thing. So, it's very humbling, I'm not good at compliments.

M.I. - How do you deal with the fans? When they approach you, do you feel embarrassed? Do you hate it? Or do you appreciate it when they go up to you? 

I don't know, it's not just the fans, it's people in general. Before I start, I usually have a couple of alcoholic drinks to make me more approachable. It applies to everyone, the person on the street, anybody… my wife knows this and she never introduces me to newbies, because I'm kind of scared of them. So, I'm almost friendly but I'm not comfortable in a lot of company. But that's just me!

M.I. - This year you’ll be celebrating 50 years of age. How do you deal with it? Do you worry or do you think it is just a number? 

I don't worry about it because it's just an inevitability, and death is just an inevitability and there's no point worrying about it so… I don't worry about it, but I also don't think it's just a number, because I could notice that my body and my mind are different to how they were when I was 20 or something. It's not great getting older… some of it is, some of it is not. It's just one of life's inevitability, I don't mind it.

M.I. - Have you achieved everything you wanted for you personally and as a musician? 

Well, I never set out to achieve anything. I never actually started with any kind of ambition or plan in mind. So, I've achieved a lot of things that I'm very proud of. There were nice surprises because I never set out to achieve them and I think that's the way I approach life. I don't think it too far ahead, don't worry about it too much and then you get through it… that's what you’re taught if you ever suffered from any kind of mental illness… it's what you're told by counselors… they said “Just live for the moment”. That's enough of a plan and that's all I've ever done.

M.I. - Now that we have all the time of the world, have you been creating much? Any new material for Strigoi or other projects?

I want to because I've got so much time, but it's like I said, it's so hard to get motivated, it's weird that now I've got all the time on my hands, and I have no motivation. Usually when I'm really busy, I'm working in the studio, but I've done nothing, I literally haven't done anything in these three, four weeks, apart from some interviews, you know? It's crazy, I do need to get into an inspirational mode and start writing something because I know Chris, the other guy in Strigoi, wants me to get working on some stuff… maybe over the next month.

M.I. - I hope you and Paradise Lost come to play in Portugal again soon and I wish you all the best with the new album.

Okay! Yeah! Thank you!

For Portuguese version, click here

Questions by Sónia Fonseca