Celebrating 30 years as a band in 2020, doom-death stalwarts My Dying Bride have released one of the best albums of their career, The Ghost of Orion today. The record is full of everything MDB fans know and love: a trove of catchy riffs and a mix of clean vocals and death growls, all lorded over by an intriguingly depressive, gothic atmosphere. There’s also a new vibrancy, a renewed sense of passion to be heard on the album.
Despite sounding fresh and revitalized, My Dying Bride actually faced a number of challenges in making the album, including the departure of two members of the band and lead singer Aaron Stainthorpe being sidelined by his 5-year-old daughter’s cancer diagnosis shortly after the release of 2015’s Feel The Misery.
Getting back into the My Dying Bride frame of mind wasn’t easy for Stainthorpe, who had to rise to the occasion and summon a new well of inspiration to match the fresh, new material written by founding guitarist Andrew Craighan.
Thankfully, Stainthorpe’s daughter is now cancer-free, and he overcame his challenges in the studio, eventually turning in one of his most impressive vocal performances to date.
In the full interview below, Stainthorpe talks about how he overcame his problems in the studio with help from Craighan and new producer Mark Mynett, his stream-of-consciousness lyric-writing approach, the serendipity that led to the band finding its new drummer, what it’s like to no longer be one of the Peaceville Three after all these years, and whether or not American fans of My Dying Bride might finally get a chance to see the band live.
I know you guys went through a lot of adversity and challenges before making this album and while making this album. Did all of that play into your lyrics or the overall ambiance or vibe of the album?
Well, I’m sure the overall vibe, most definitely. But what happened with me personally, I didn’t want to fill this album with that, because it would have meant I would have hated this album; I would never want to listen to it ever again, and I’d never want to play any of the songs live. So, I couldn’t fill the whole record with my recent experience.
But obviously, you know, that experience is going to influence some of the things I do. And there’s an obvious song called “Tired of Tears” which is a direct influence from that period. But the rest of the songs are kind of standalone, My Dying Bride regulars, if you like. But yeah, you write about the things you know about, and the music you create must be influenced by your experiences, because it is who you are. So, the overall feel of the album is the flavor of the last few years for us. So yeah, make of that what you will.
I just want to say, I do hope your daughter is still doing well and is cancer-free.
Yeah, she’s doing really well. She’s been to school today and she’s had a lot of fun. And yeah, things are alright, she can’t walk quite properly yet, but she’s getting there. That was more the radiotherapy rather than the chemotherapy. But yeah, she’s been cancer-free for a while now, fingers crossed it remains that way.
Yeah, that’s fantastic and I’m really glad to hear it.
So, I understand Andrew Craighan wrote all the music for the album and you wrote all the lyrics, right?
Yeah, that’s about right.
I know that you write kind of stream of consciousness and then distill the lyrics from there—is that fair to say?
Yeah, I mean, sometimes I sit down, and I listen to the music, and I think, ‘I am going to write lyrics for My Dying Bride right now.’ And then, if you’re not really in the zone, it doesn’t work, I still continue to write, but I just switch the music off. And I end up not having the constrictions of the music.
It frees up the chance for me to write anything I like, and it may become a short story, or a poem, or anything. And then I’ll put it to one side and I’ll wait for the moment to be right again, and I’ll listen to the music again and wait for some sort of inspiration lyric-wise, and then again put pen to paper, and hopefully it’ll work. But it doesn’t always work. You know, just ’cause you have to sit down and write lyrics for My Dying Bride doesn’t mean they always come out, but it also doesn’t mean the process is fruitless.
I end up with all kinds of weird and wonderful poems which have never made My Dying Bride, but My Dying Bride has inspired me to do them. And similarly, without any music at all, I may just start to put pen to paper and write any old thing, and then when I hear a piece of music that Andrew’s composed, I’ll know that I’ve got a little lyric somewhere that might suit that. And I’ll dig it out and I’ll have a look, see if it fits. And if it fits, boom, something that wasn’t intended for My Dying Bride is now a lyric for My Dying Bride.
So, there’s no set process, there’s no formula. I’m writing all the time; sometimes it fits in My Dying Bride, and sometimes it doesn’t.
So, when you’re working on the lyrics to an album, do you ever find that lyrical themes emerge that maybe surprise you, that you hadn’t intended to put in there, but they suddenly emerge? Or do you go into it with a theme in mind and try to shape lyrics to that?
I don’t normally go in with a theme, but I always try to make sure the opening line is the one that leads the rest of the way. And I’ve always got notes and ideas all scribbled all over the place, and quite often, I’ll fish into this book of ideas, and I’ll find a really killer opening line, and I’ll use that.
And it may only be five, six, seven, eight words, but I’ll use that as the sort of kernel for the rest of the idea to grow around, and then I’ll just wrap my brains and listen to the music, and think, ‘Right, We’ve got the starting line. Where do we go from here?’ And I just use my imagination and head off on a journey, start writing about it, and see what happens. And on the way, I’ll cross a few lines out, add a few more lines. And if the story’s really burgeoning, then I might write to Andy, email him and say, ‘Look, this riff here that I’m singing on works really well with the lyrics I’m writing, instead of playing it four times, can we play it eight times so I can get in all the words I need to say?’
And he’s cool with that. Sometimes, this is why some of the songs end up being eight, nine, 10,11, 12 minutes long because I’ve got a lot to say, and I’m asking Andrew if we can extend the songs in any way we can because I’ve got a lot of words to cram in.
I’ve read that you said you feel this album is a bit more accessible than previous My Dying Bride records. And there’s actually catchy bits on this record. Was that a conscious move on your part, or is that just sort of a natural progression for you at this point in time?
No, it was a conscious decision. Over the years, we’ve written some weird and wonderful lyrics, and we’ve done some quite technical things with our music. You know, instead of playing riffs in a comfortable sort of four or two or a six, we play riffs five and a half times just to be awkward.
And that’s fine when you’re young, and you’re trying to show people you’ve got clever ideas. That’s all good and well. But as we’ve gotten a little bit older and a bit more relaxed about our music writing, we decided, let’s just write killer riffs, and then when it feels like the riff is going to change, let’s change the riff into another killer riff. Let’s not cut it short, or add another half riff on, or any other weird little technical moment. Just go with the flow and make it feel good.
So, we did. I know some people are going to say, well this is captured because they’ve signed to Nuclear Blast, which is complete rubbish, because myself and Andrew decided to make something a bit more commercial when we were still on Peaceville. So yeah, I think it’s nice that as we’ve gotten on a little bit more in life, we decided to chill out and just write stuff that we think not just we will like, but that everyone else will like.
Because in the past, we’ve just written songs we want to write, and just hope that the fans like it, but didn’t really pay them that much care. But now we’re thinking, let’s write what they want to hear as well as us; let’s not be too technical. Let’s not be all weird. Let’s just write some good stuff and stop being clever about it. And that’s exactly what we’ve been doing.
You guys had a couple members of the band leave before this album was recorded, including guitarist Calvin Robertshaw and drummer Shaun Taylor-Steels. Did it really work out that Jeff Singer already had his drums in the studio, and you guys ended up just using him on the record?
Yeah, because he and Mark Mynett, the studio engineer and owner, he’s worked with Jeff many times. In fact, they were in a band called Kill II. This was many years ago. So, Jeff’s kit was already in the studio; he’d been doing some session music for some other band. So, when our drummer Sean left, Mark immediately got hold of Jeff, and Jeff came into the studio like the same day, listened to the music, and started messing around with it straight away.
So, it was just incredible, you know, he didn’t need to bring any gear with him. Despite the fact that Jeff was in Paradise Lost, and we gigged with Paradise Lost many times, we’d never actually met Jeff before. So, our paths never quite crossed. I didn’t really know who Jeff was, and when he came to the studio, you know, we’re all shaking hands and nodding and saying, ‘Yeah, nice to meet you, blah blah blah.’ You know, ‘Get on, Jeff, and see what you can do.’
And with a few adjustments, he recorded the album brilliantly, and he’s done an absolutely fantastic job. So yeah, when our old drummer left, it’s just a small hurdle, you know. You get back up; you dust yourself off, and you crack on. And that’s exactly what we did.
Is Jeff going to be joining on all live appearances?
Definitely, very excited about some of the gigs. One of the reasons I think he left Paradise Lost was because they toured all the time. They did a lot of gigs, and Jeff’s got a family. You know, when you’re away from your family for such a long time, it just doesn’t work for everybody. But Jeff knows that My Dying Bride only do about 15 to 20 shows a year, so he can easily handle that. So yeah, he’s coming around with it when we go on tour.
So, is he a member of My Dying Bride now?
Well, we haven’t actually discussed that. It’s the same with Neil [Blanchett], the guitar player. Neil’s not on the album. The finishing touches to the album were being done when Neil joined. But, Neil’s in another local band called Valafar, and we don’t want to take Neil out of his band because he loves that band, and they’re all our friends anyway.
So, we’re borrowing Neil to help us play live, and we’re not sure if we’re actually borrowing Jeff or if Jeff’s joined. I think, either way, it doesn’t make much difference. We’re going to pay them for the gigs anyway. But yes, I suppose we really need to clarify that.
Well, no time like the present. I could have a breaking news alert here.
Yeah, I think he probably is because he’s certainly enthusiastic. We’ve had some great reviews for the album, you know, and his response in emails is always ‘we’ and ‘us,’ you know, ‘We’ve got great reviews here. We’re doing great stuff.’ And so yeah, he’s pretty much in the band. He’s got to be.
Neil replaced Calvin Robertshaw, but he didn’t play on the record. So, did Andrew play all the guitars on the record?
He did, yeah. Calvin left quite early in the writing process, which meant it was pretty easy for Andy to make adjustments. And although Andy claims he doesn’t really like writing the songs on his own, I suspect deep down it must be quite a nice process because you don’t have to have anyone else’s riffs. You don’t need anyone else butting in and saying, ‘Can you put my riff in?’ even if you don’t really like it.
So, he’s got the opportunity to write all his own riffs and do it all his way. And obviously, he’s brought some of the music to the rest of the band to have a look at, you know, Lena [Abé] on the bass and the other Shaun [Macgowan] on violin, and they’ve worked together to get to where they are.
But yeah, Andrew’s done all the guitars on the album, and it was hard work, obviously. He’s recorded all the guitars; there’s no one else doing it, just him, but he really went to town. You know, some of the songs have got, like, 11 guitars playing all at the same time. So, it’s quite a lavish affair, and I think secretly, deep down, he’s really enjoyed doing it because it’s all his own stuff; no one’s telling him what to do.
When he brings the songs to the band, does it get workshopped at all, or does anybody else come in and say, ‘Oh, I have this great idea for this or that’? Or are the songs pretty much done when they got brought into the studio?
We do try to make sure they are mostly complete because it’s not cheap being in a studio. And if you’re making loads and loads of adjustments to your songs while you’re paying for an expensive studio, it’s going to be a quite costly affair. So, we try to make sure most of the stuff is 100 percent finished.
But that’s normally just at rehearsal; once you start recording things, you get to hear it really loud and really clear, and that’s when you think, ‘Actually, you know what, another harmony would be good in here. Maybe the violin would work with the guitar.’ Something we never tried in rehearsal. But, as I say, once it’s loud and clear at the studio, you suddenly start thinking ‘Hang on, we can bring a few more ideas to the table here.’
So, there’s always involvement, the thing isn’t rock-solid when we go into the studio; it evolves a little bit. And sometimes Mark, the producer, will say, ‘D’you know what; the second riff in this song is the best riff. Let’s make it the first riff instead. The first riff is great, but let’s just swap the two riffs around, and then you’ll start with this killer riff.’ Which we didn’t spot.
So, we’d have a go and we’d think, ‘Yeah, that works really well.’ So, you know, we’re always open to suggestions when we’re in the studio. It’s not a closed unit. And as I say, even the engineer, who we’d never worked with before, he’s perfectly welcome to constructive criticism, and there’s good ideas from him, too.
So, this was your first time working with Mark Mynett as producer; how’d that work out?
Really well, actually. We’d never heard of the guy until a friend of ours mentioned that Mark had a great studio and a great sound, and was local as well, which was just a bonus, you know. We would have traveled anywhere in the U.K. to get the album done properly, and thankfully Mark was only 20 minutes away from my house.
So, it was absolutely brilliant, and we went down, and he was very enthusiastic. And I didn’t realize this until later on in the recording process, but Mark actually has a PhD in music recording, and he travels around the world interviewing some of the world’s top producers to figure out how to capture the sound that they’ve got on some of the world’s best albums.
So, he’s really knowledgeable about music, which is why we were quite open for him to make some adjustments because he really knows what he’s doing. But it’s always a bit nerve-wracking when you’re working with someone you’ve never worked with before. It took a while to get into it, particularly me for the vocals, but it’s worked really well. And actually, Mark’s been such a great friend as well that he’s actually going to come on tour with us and do our live show as well.
Oh, wow, he’s gonna do live sound for you?
Alright, I’d say that sounds like it turned out to be a successful partnership.
Yeah. Definitely. He’s a really good guy.
You guys are on a new label, Nuclear Blast, after decades of being on Peaceville. How do you guys feel about that? Does it feel weird to you guys to not be one of the Peaceville Three anymore?
Well, I don’t know. Not really. Not yet. It’s not really sunk in, the Nuclear Blast deal, yet. Because, you know, obviously this is our first release, and it’s not actually out yet. So, it’s still early days. I think once the album’s out and we’ll see how it’s handled—and so far, it’s so good; we’re doing lots and lots of interviews; the press has been great.
So, it looks like the record label know what they’re doing, which is good. And I guess, yeah, until we’re a few months down the line, I’m not really sure what it’s like with Nuclear Blast yet. Obviously, it was great with Peaceville, but to be honest, we’d reached a level with Peaceville where they couldn’t really take us any further. You know, we’d play the same festivals at the same level; we’d appear in the same sorts of magazines.
And that was fine for a long time, but after a while, we realized we wanted more; we wanted to stretch our wings wider, and Peaceville simply couldn’t do that. They didn’t have the ability to do that. So, when the contract came to an end, we had to shop around, and we wanted Nuclear Blast, and it just so happens they had the best deal for us. And we signed to them.
And we’re hoping now that even after 30 years of My Dying Bride, we can still touch on other people who’ve never heard of us before. And hopefully, this label will get My Dying Bride into territories Peaceville couldn’t get us to.
I read where you said that you hope that Nuclear Blast is able to heighten your profile as a band. After 30 years and 14 records now, what do you feel like you really have left to accomplish as a band?
Well, we’re not in it for accomplishments. We achieved most of our goals in the first couple of years of our existence, which is pretty lucky. So, we’re not really striving for anything. We’re in a band because we want to be in a band, and we want to write this kind of music. It’s almost like we have to write it, like it’s some sort of personal journey.
You know, we don’t sit down and think, ‘Right, we must write an album that contains X amount of riffs, and it must sell this amount of units and appeal to this kind of an audience.’ It just doesn’t work like that. It’s like a hobby. You hope that you’re creating something that people are going to like, but essentially, we need to like it first. But we’re not aiming for anything except quality.
Obviously, you know, you want to write a quality product, but we’re not striving for any goals. You know, we achieved everything we wanted to achieve when we were younger, getting our first European tour, seeing our first record in a store, playing football on the Iron Maiden football team. We managed to tick off some really good stuff really early on. So, we, and it, sounds a bit weird, but we don’t really have any goals. We just carry on doing what we do because we’re very lucky to be in this position.
Speaking of having been a band for years, are you guys thinking about doing any kind of anniversary stuff? It’s all the rage these days, you know; people do some kind of anniversary celebration. Maybe in 2022, you guys could play As The Flower Withers [My Dying Bride’s debut album] in its entirety or something. You guys consider anything like that?
Well, funnily enough, we did do the Turn Loose The Swans gig for Roadburn Festival a few years ago. That was great fun; we played the whole Turn Loose The Swans album. But, we’ve no plans to do anything similar. But that doesn’t mean it won’t happen; it just means we’re terrible at planning. If someone comes up with the idea and helps us a bit, then we’ll probably go for it.
And although, yes, our 30th anniversary is in June, we’ve actually got no plans yet to do anything with that. I suppose Nuclear Blast can’t really do much because they’ll only have one record out. So, it’s not like they can do a special release. I suspect Peaceville Records might be able to rustle up a 30th anniversary compilation or something, but having just released The Harvest of Dread, they’ve pretty much released everything we’ve done anyway.
So, I guess we’ll have to do something, you know; we can’t let an anniversary of that nature just slip by. But we’ve just been a bit busy with the album and the promotion. But yeah, I think we’ve got to do something. Nothing concrete yet. We’re hoping Nuclear Blast will help us, even if it’s just a party or something.
You had a real tough time when you first got in the studio doing your vocals. How did you end up getting through that?
With help from Mark and Andrew. Because we decided to up the ante a bit and become better songwriters, when I went into the studio, because I’d been away for so long, I was still in old My Dying Bride mode. You know, I walked in thinking ‘Right, I’ll just do what I’ve done on all the other albums.’ But it simply wasn’t good enough, and that was evident on the very first song, when I started singing.
It just wasn’t working, and I couldn’t feel the connection. And Mark and Andrew commented, saying, you know, ‘This is a little bit below par. We need to really pull out all the stops here.’ Bear in mind, I hadn’t sung for a few years because of what happened to my daughter. I just wasn’t sure how to get back into it. So, with Mark and Andrew’s help, they coached me into trying some new ideas, some new vocal styles, different ways of recording.
And eventually, it worked, but it was tough because it was a bit alien to me, some of these new ideas. And I’m thinking, ‘Why are we doing this? Surely I could just sing how I used to sing.’ But, you know, it’s not good enough anymore. We need to be better than we were. And thankfully, with those guys constantly prodding and saying, Try this’ and ‘Try that,’ we nailed it.
And I think the results are brilliant, and I’m glad they kept pushing me in the right direction. Because, I mean, we could have still got away with a regular kind of My Dying Bride album, but regular’s not good enough anymore. So, I’m glad they pushed me because the results speak for themselves.
Yeah, they certainly do. There’s a lot of harmonies on here. Are you harmonizing with yourself, or is someone else singing with you?
Well, no, this is one of the techniques Mark had me doing. He would say, ‘Right, let’s start the first line. Okay, sing it in this key.’ So, I do it, and then he’d say ‘Right, we’re going to do it an octave higher.’ So, I do it again. And then he’d say, ‘Right, and then we’re gonna harmonize that.’ So, I do it again.
And by the end of it, we’d sung line number one eight times, and I’m thinking, ‘This is going to take a long time; there’s 40 lines to sing here!’ And it did take forever. But then he would mix it all together, and it would be very, sort of, almost like a choral approach, which is great. Although I’m not sure how I’m going to do it live. But it really gives the vocals a rich sound on the record.
We did it for most of them, even some of the death metal vocals we double- and triple-tracked. Mark’s just not happy with one single take. He wants lots and lots of takes because then you’ve got a chance to experiment, and if it doesn’t work, you strip it all back down to the best take. I suppose it makes sense to grab as many takes as possible because then at least if you’re only going to use one, there’s a gem in there somewhere. But if you’ve got the opportunity to stack them all up, there’s some creative sounds you can you can get away with there.
What are your plans in support of the album? And, specifically, I’m asking because we are a U.S.-based publication and you guys don’t get over to this side of the pond very often. Do you think you might come over here in support of The Ghost of Orion?
We’d love to; we’ve been trying to get over for years. Even though we get lots of feedback from the American fans, saying, ‘All my friends love you guys; you’ve got to come over,’ when our promoter in London looks at gigs for us all over the world, there’s not a lot on offer in the U.S. So, that’s why we don’t tour there very often.
We can’t go somewhere where there’s going to be five people at each venue. You know, I mean, it’s just not going to work. Now that we’re on Nuclear Blast, however, it’s obviously more plausible that we could get together with another couple of their bands and maybe do a package tour. Because, you know, we’ve never been to Australia or Japan for the same reasons. Even though some of the fans are screaming for it, in reality, when the maths are all written down, it’s not plausible for us to go to some of these places.
Now we’re on Nuclear Blast, putting a package together with some of their other bands, that sounds like it might work. So, I suspect yes, we will probably be coming to the States a lot more often than we used to.
Alright, that’s great to hear. Maybe that’s my breaking news alert right there. Because yeah, I feel like everyone I know who loves My Dying Bride, that’s the first thing they say, is, ‘They’re like the one band that I love so much, but I’ve never gotten to see.’ I live in New York City, and I’m certain if you guys were to play here in the city, it would be a packed show. But I realize how big America is, and you might have 10 million fans in America, but you’re absolutely right that you could go to some places where only five of them live.
We enjoyed our time there with Ronnie James Dio back in the day. It was ‘96, I think, ‘96, ‘97, I think, we played; we toured with Dio, and it was brilliant. And yeah, on the days off, I think we did New York City, and it was great. But yeah, to get there with our own music, we need to work hard on doing that, and we are going to be working hard on that with the help of this new label. It’s got to happen.
Yeah, you know, I was actually trying to do some Googling to figure out if and when you guys had ever come to the States. Is that the only time that you toured in the States was in the ‘90s with Dio?
Yeah. I mean we came back for the Deathfest.
Right, Maryland Deathfest.
That’s it, yeah. We’ve done that. But yes, our attendance in the U.S. has been quite sparse. We’re hoping to correct that in the future. Whether it’s this year, I’m not sure. But certainly, I mean, when the album comes out, I’m sure, you know, lots of other promoters —because I think it’s going to be a more commercial album; it’s on a bigger label; I’m hoping for bigger success—and with that, more promoters in the places we haven’t been to will prick up their ears and say, ‘Right, that’s a great album; let’s get this band over here.’ That’s how we’re sort of thinking.
Are you a big doom metal fan; do the members of the band listen to doom metal? Do you discuss the new bands and new things going on in the scene? And if so, is there anything particularly exciting to you right now?
No, we don’t. We don’t specifically aim at any genre. We like our metal. We all like our metal, from, you know, your Slayers right down to your doomy guys and anything in between. It’s not specifically doom. You know, you get into someone’s car and any old stuff can come on the radio—er, sorry, on the CD player or the MP3 player.
And, you know, we’re not 100 percent doom. I think that would be a little bit tiresome to plug along all the way. You know, I’m a big fan of Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds. I like a bit of punk. I like a bit of opera. And I think that variety is what keeps everything a little bit spicy and a bit nice. To have to listen to doom all the time, it would just be awful. It would be so gray and boring, and then I wouldn’t even want to write it because I wouldn’t want any more of it.
So, I think the more you keep your genre at arm’s length, the more you’re enthusiastic about contributing to it. Might sound a bit odd, but that’s kind of how it works for me.
My Dying Bride just released a video for the track “To Outlive the Gods.” Check it out here, and stay tuned for more coverage of their forthcoming record and news about touring and other developments.