The first question is quite obvious, since you have just been to Russia. What about this adventure?
It was the first time for My Dying Bride in Russia, which is quite exiting. We went up to St. Petersburg first, which is a really beautiful city. It was obviously very, very cold, but it is nice to breathe the culture of another country. And Russia of course has a lot of culture. It was really good and the gig was great, lots of people. Plenty of enthusiastic fans… and then we caught the overnight train down to Moscow, which was kind of a nice adventure on itself. We had our own carriage and it turned into kind of a party train, which was nice. We had a full day off in Moscow; that was wonderful. We did all the usual stuff, you know: Red Square, the Kremlin, all that kind of stuff. We had a Russian guide with us as well, so it was great to learn a bit more about the country. The gig was on a Sunday evening and again, lots of very, very enthusiastic fans we met earlier in the day when we went to a music store to do a signing session. Hundreds of people. It was pretty amazing actually, the gig was great, the travelling was great, the culture was great. Thus it was a long, wonderful weekend away from home.
What a wonderful adventure, for the first time in Russia, I should be exited too!
Yeah and it snowed on Red Square as well, so it looked like a postcard. It was great.
Almost magic. Another thing we can talk about is the EP 'The Barghest O'Whitby'. I know it is a tale of superstition and folklore. Does it mean that you have found the tale somewhere or did you write a story like that yourself?
Well, I wrote it myself, based on rough stories that we have read about in the Yorkshire area. All old villages and towns in Europe have folklore tales of spirits and dark beings and fairies and things like that. And I had heard several different stories about large, black dogs, crawling the moors of Yorkshire. Now you never know if any of these are true of course; maybe they are just stories to scare the children or to scare farm owners to keep them off people's land. And I thought: “Well, we live in Yorkshire and we never really looked at our own heritage before in My Dying Bride lyrics. Let us look at this and see if we could invent our own story, our own Yorkshire folklore. And so I wrote a story called 'The Barghest O'Whitby' about a large black dog which, at first, it seems to crawl the moor land randomly killing people, but it does not. The lyrics tell a story of why this dog is doing what it is doing and its final victim is waiting up in the old sea town, the old fishing town of Whitby. That is where the final confrontation takes place and it is a story of revenge, but I did not really explain in the lyrics why the hound is doing what it is doing. I would keep a kind of mystery for now, but we will reveal it, possibly on our website in a couple of months.
So it is not possible to ask it now?
(laughs) I am not going to tell you, Vera…
Yes, let us keep the mystery save for now, I respect that. Another thing is that you did the artwork as well, so it may be a kind of reflection of your feelings of this story as well…
(minimizing) Yeah, the artwork is very simple. It is almost kind of old school. It pictures actually Hamish's dog (chuckles). Hamish (Glencross – their guitarist) has a big, black dog and I took a photograph of his dog and I embellished it a little bit in Photoshop. It is all my kind of artwork, pushed together to give a visual interpretation of what you might see in the lyrics. It is quite nice, no high art, but it is just an interpretation of what you are going to get inside the music.
It is beautiful as it fits the story, I think: very dark and minatory…
Indeed, very menacing, you don't want to see this animal in the middle of the night! The hellhound!
This EP also marks a kind of adventure in the studio, at least it was for both the Shaun's (Shaun MacGowan – viool en Shaun Taylor-Steels – drums)…
That's true yes. We brought back our old drummer, Shaun Taylor-Steels. He has been rehearsing with us and he may record the next album, but we are not sure yet, but he will not play live with us. He is not going to join My Dying Bride, because he is a committed family man. But he helps us out where he can and he enjoys it. We enjoy his company too. That works quite well, because officially My Dying Bride does not have a drummer. When Dan left we decided not to fill his boots. We use Shaun on the rehearsals and the recordings and we use David Gray from Akercocke for when we play live and it seems to be a good-working relationship. We had Shaun doing 'The Barghest O'Whitby' with us in Manchester in the Futureworks Studios. And yes, we had Shaun MacGowan now on violin, doing his best on the violin with some keyboards as well to bring in some atmosphere. I think he was very, very nervous, but we tried to relax him with lots of beer (laughs). No, no, we didn't. We try to do this professional, but it was quite exiting for us all.
You worked with Mags as producer again, but actually this is not a question, but a fact…
Yes, indeed. Mags owns the Futureworks, so that is obvious to go with him and of course comes with us everywhere. Mags his partner, Julia, is a Russian girl and she was the guide for us in Russia. Mags is virtually in the band, we should not do anything without Mags.
Last time we talked there were plans to go to South America and Ukraine. Did it happen by now?
Unfortunately South America did not happen. We booked some shows, but it was around the time when swine flue was within all the news. It comes from South America. So we were advised not to go for health reasons and we thought: well, we would still like to go, because we have never been there and do not want to disappoint the fans, but we got families and we just do not want to jeopardize our health just for a few gigs. We can play there again some other time. So we decided to cancel that and whenever things clear, we can go. We play in Mexico in January, so we are going to touch a bit of South American soil. We'll get back there… I don't know… maybe later on next year. It was very disappointing, but you don't want to kill yourself to play a show.
Now that we are talking, we should also mention 'Evinta'; the classical performances of snippets of your music. I know it was a very special and beautiful way to celebrate your twentieth anniversary of the band, but… how do you start such a thing?
Yeah, it is really quite difficult. Me and Andrew have been speaking about it for many years, but we never had the time to put it together. And then one weekend we got together with every single CD, every record we had ever made and we spent the whole weekend: Friday, Saturday, Sunday… listening to every single track and then writing down on a piece of paper the parts in each track that we thought were the best. Just fragments. When we finished after this long weekend, we had lots of pages of writings. Lots of different pieces and fragments from different songs. And then we thought: okay, let us put all these things back together in a completely different order. We'll take a riff from 'She Is The Dark' and we'll mix it with a riff from 'Turn Loose The Swans' and then we take a violin melody from 'For Lies I Sire' and mix it with something from 'Symphonaire Infernus'. A real sort of unusual mix idea. And then we approached Johnny Maudlin (Bal Sagoth) who has done lots of keyboards for us in the past and asked him if he knew any classical musicians as well as his keyboard playing, if he could put something together. So I kind of directed everybody and told them what I needed, what I wanted and embellished that. We also got Lucie Roche from France, a professional opera singer. She did the female vocals as well. I wrote some new lyrics too; but it is a very weird record. Some of it is classical music, some of it is ambient music, a bit like a Blade Runner soundtrack, so dark and mysterious. It just became a huge project and it was growing and growing all the time. It was a nice way to celebrate the fact that the band has been around for two decades. It is very unusual, because it would have been very easy to just cover our songs with an orchestra. Just give them the albums and say: “Hey, pick ten songs and do it.” That's too easy! It is better to really analyse everything, move all around into the shapes you desire and then work with the orchestra to bring out the very best of your music to it. 'Evinta' is old music, new music, reinterpreted music, new lyrics, opera singing. It is a real rich source of very moving, very emotional music. It is like a soundtrack to a dark, yet beautiful horror film.
In a sense it is also the soundtrack of your lives…
Yes, I think so. We have put all our passion and feelings into that project, a lot of hard work. It is a reflection, a part of my soul I guess.
And then a double CD, so it is a real huge project…
Well, it was three CD's. The full project was three CD's and now you'll wonder: why did you release two CD's and a special edition with three. Like I said it is an unusual project and if we would have released a triple CD, it is just too much unusual music for people to hear and I think if you give people too much, they might push the fast forward button and maybe skip a couple of tracks and we did not want that. We want the people to listen to everything. So we just released two CD's first and of course the diehard fans, they want all CD's. So we did a special edition of three CD's. But for the people who got the two CD's: the third CD will be released separately later next year (2012). If you enjoyed one and two, number three is on its way.
'The Barghest O'Whitby' reminded me sometimes of 'As The Flowers Within' and 'Turn Loose The Swans'. Can you agree with that?
Yes I think one of the reasons why people are thinking that, is this EP has not been overproduced. The last album 'For Lies I Sire' was produced, mixed and polished and it sounded like a modern album with a lot of money spent on a record. But at the moment we felt like: let us just plug the instruments in and play the songs live in the studio, with a few squeaks, a few scratches and a bit of feedback. Normally when we record an album, the guitars are plugged straight into an effect box and that goes straight to the computer. Very clean and you can edit it very easily. This time we, the guitarists actually stood in front of the huge cabs, massive speakers with the microphones in front, playing raw heavy rock guitar and recording it like that. There's not many people doing it like that these days, but we thought it was quite nice to do that, a bit of old school. We are probably thinking maybe we can do the album that way as well. We did it with 'The Barghest' to see if we liked it and we do. But this is an EP and you are allowed to play around with EP's. We will decide closer to the time if the new album will also be recorded in that style. It is not 100% yet, but we may record it live and noisy or we may produce it on a more professional level. We'll wait and see.
Will you consider to play that long track ever live?
(laughs) Well, it will be difficult obviously. It definitely will not be performed at the festivals, but we are playing the 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise and we are going to play five minutes of it. We have to play two shows: one show on the way out on the cruise and one show on the return journey. On the way out, we are going to perform the first five minutes of 'Barghest' and on the way back we are going to end the show with the last five minutes of 'Barghest'. So, that is already ten minutes of it, should be quite nice. It is just a difficult song to play live. If somebody should not like it, they have to do something else for half an hour. We can introduce it in parts in the show, but is unlikely to do the full song all the way through, but you never know.
That 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise must be something special, isn't it?
I never heard of it before until earlier this year and I thought: that's kind of strange. But we spoke to some of the other bands who played there and they all said it was great. It is quite common for bands to fly over and do the shows in Mexico first, because lots of bands doing the cruise ship will also play in Mexico. You fly over, do Mexico, join the cruise, have a day off at an island in the Bahamas and then you get on the cruise ship back to Florida. Very unusual, I am not sure how the dark music of My Dying Bride is going to work, but we will see. There are many European bands, I guess it is a good way to see many European bands in one time without going to Europe for American people. The bands are very diverse, so we deliver what we can deliver and hope that people will like it.
At least you are going to have a special world trip in the sun…
Yeah, better than standing in a cold, windy field in Germany (laughs)
Did you ever consider to release the long track on the EP as a part of your next full length album or do you see it really as something you wanted to release separately?
Oh no, this is not going to be released anywhere else. We were running out of time, because we were rehearsing for various other shows. We should have released the album and the record company said it would be great to release something before Christmas, so how about an EP? I said, yeah, we can do an EP. And normally with an EP, you record one or two songs from your forthcoming album to give people a sampler of what's coming. We thought: “We're not going to do that. We are going to write a completely new track for the EP.” Yes, the 'Barghest' will only be on the EP, that's all it is ever going to be. The new album will be 100% new material.
And what about that new album? How far are you in the writing or recording process?
We are about 50% through the writing process. I do not know when we are going to record it but I know the record label would like to release it around April or May 2012. They did say March, but that is too early. So I guess we are going to record it as soon as we are back from lying on the beach in the Bahamas. Then we will go from lovely sunshine to the dark cloudiness of the next album.
That will be a change of mindset…
Indeed, that will be a turn off, going from drinking out of coconuts to candles and red wine in the middle of the night.
Both mindsets have their charms. Are there still plans for the near future you want to share with us?
(thinks)The new album is right now the big thing that we are working on and setting our toes in South America for the first time would be good. We need to do South and North America quite soon and I'd like to think that when the next album comes out – we will always do European summer festivals and of course we will continue doing that – but we really must try harder to do North and South America, so I think next year is probably going to be one of our busiest years for touring. We have been quite lazy. This year we have done… maybe fifteen shows, maybe less and I think last year we did ten shows or something crazy. You know, we are the laziest band in the world! We want our shows to be very, very special. If we only play ten shows, these are ten very special shows. A lot of bands do two hundred shows a year, that's fair enough but it is not what I want to do.
We still kept on talking a bit about doing only selected gigs in order to keep it something special for the band and the fans, an exclusivity everybody cherishes with My Dying Bride. As exclusive as their music is and as great it always is to have a conversation with Aaron.