Interview – Gregor Mackintosh (Paradise Lost, Vallenfyre)
America hasn’t always been kind to Gregor Mackintosh, guitarist of Paradise Lost and guitarist/vocalist of Vallenfyre. His first and foremost band, one of the earliest gothic doom metal groups, has never been much of a market force in America even though they push 50,000 units in Europe. Paradise Lost’s first tour on this side of the pond was so disastrous that they didn’t return until the aughts; their last US tour was for a half hour support slot before Devin Townsend.
Things might be turning around for him. Vallenfyre played on the Decibel Magazine tour this spring, as well as a popular set at this year’s Maryland Deathfest. Better yet, Paradise Lost’s newest album The Plague Within, out today, features the group’s first death metal vocals since the ’90s, and may finally break the group though to US audiences.
Then again, he did sustain a nasty knee injury, and may need serious surgery.
Invisible Oranges sat down with Mackintosh at Maryland Deathfest to talk about Vallenfyre, The Plague Within, and how much of EMI’s money he spent (hint: it was a lot).
What was the best time you had at the label?
The best time I ever had — and the worst time I ever had — was being signed to EMI in the late ’90s because we basically abused their hospitality as much as possible. We were doing press trips, we were flying first-class flights everywhere with all these businessmen. I’ve never smoked in my life, I don’t smoke; I was smoking expensive cigars. I don’t like cognac; I was drinking the most expensive cognac. When we left EMI — or got ejected from EMI — we owed them a million pounds. I guess, at the time, possibly two million dollars. And they just wrote it off. It was like, “Well, at least we had a good time. We didn’t really sell any records but we had a fucking great time.”
The late ’90s stuff didn’t sell? That’s the most accessible stuff you’ve ever done.
It did sell, but not in EMI terms. It’s like we were Robbie Williams’ tax bill for that year. I’m glad I did it but I would never fucking go there again.
It seems like it’s the dinosaurs. They’re going to die out.
It’s already died out. 90-something percent of record sales globally…
Gone. So, these huge guys at the top of their towers, they’re all fucking tumbling anyway.
But you seem to be weathering the storm pretty fucking well. Vallenfyre is more popular than I thought it would be when I first heard about it.
Me too, me too. I didn’t know anyone was going to like it.
I love Paradise Lost, but I love [Vallenfyre], too — for different reasons.
I think it’s about not really giving a fuck whether it goes anywhere: that’s the only way you can get ahead out here. You can’t preempt any audience. If you’d have asked me 10, 15 years ago, I would’ve thought I had all the answers. And then you just realize that you constantly learn and you never know what the answers are. It’s a constant learning process. I just wake up everyday and think, “Ah, well.” That’s it! There’s no great plan, there’s no fucking inside. I wish there was.
So, how’s your knee doing?
I was three feet in front of you in Seattle when you fucked it up. I got a great photo of you, mid-air, jumping. I thought to myself, “Oh my god, he’s got the body of a man that’s younger than me!” Then I was like, “I brought this [injury] into existence by thinking that.”
I was jumping around like an 18-year-old. I was loving it. And then my body told me, “Get crashing back to Earth.” I’m a 45-year-old guy. I don’t know if you know what happened, but the leg popped out, it went like that. At an angle completely dislocated. I smacked it back in. I felt it going back in. I thought, “Yeah, I can get back up and do the set.” Fuck no. Everything’s fucked.
You were still pretty energetic today, though.
Yeah. I’ve taken it off now, but I had this fucking weird brace thing on, so the leg didn’t fly off into the audience or whatever. It’s all good. You’ve got to be energetic; you’ve got to get into it.
Is it going to be okay? How’s the prognosis?
I find out on June 11 whether I’ll need an operation on it or not. But who needs legs? When I was a kid I always wanted to be a pirate with a wooden leg with a map in it, so maybe I’ll get that dream.
Few people at Maryland Deathfest have a sense of humor, but you were funny.
I was just speaking from the heart. I’m not trying to fucking trick anyone or be over-the-top funny or anything. It’s just whatever pops into your head. Whatever I see, it just pops out of the mouth. It can either be amusing or you can just get people giving you fingers. Fortunately, today it seemed to work in my favor.
You’ve got to be doing something with this Paradise Lost album. What are you going to do with it?
It’s out June 1, June 2 here. It’s kind of a weird time to bring it out in Europe because it’s the middle of festival season. So you can’t tour at that time, you have to just go to festivals. We’re booking a European tour for the fall, and then we’re looking at Japan and the States and Australia.
So you are coming back to the States?
We want to. We’re absolutely looking at it. It’s just about getting the right offer.
Pardon me for overstepping my boundaries, but it seems like you’ve had a tough time establishing a reliable visitor base in the US.
I know exactly what you mean.
Why is that? Why is the United States a problem?
Oh, we fucked ourselves in the ass in the early ’90s. We did our first tour in ’92, I think, with Morbid Angel and we fucking hated every minute of it. I can’t describe how horrible it was for us. We played Detroit: Blondie’s.
I hate that venue. I was a Detroit guy before I moved to Seattle.
No one was on the dance floor. There was one guy in front of Nick with his finger up the entire time, and that was the gig. And a lot of the rest of the tour wasn’t much better.
You want some good news?
That venue’s bulldozed.
Oh, good. Good.
I was happy, too.
There’s some karma. So, after that, we were like, “Nah, fuck. We’re not going back to America.” We got offers in the ’90s, but we said, “It was fucking horrible, man. I don’t want to go back there.” And this was well before the internet and stuff, so you don’t know how things are moving on. You just have people’s words. I don’t regret any decision, really, because it is what it is. But I think we were definitely our own worst enemy as far as Paradise Lost’s career in the States goes.
We metal writers, even though we all live hundreds of miles apart, we’re really all just a bunch of gossiping fucking hens.
So, I can tell you people love the new record. I like it too, but I’ve liked all the records.
Even the electronics?
Some, yeah. I think One Second is my second-favorite record of yours. I’m like the only guy in the United States who’d say this, but you could have half of your set just be One Second and I would feel like a kid in a candy store.
That’s very kind of you to say. It’s very strange how — I’ve noticed this from many years of doing this — you can bring a record out and everyone hates it, but 10 years later it’s kind of cool to like it. I mean, our Gothic album, our second album ever, we couldn’t get a release for that in Europe. Me and Hammy (Paul Halmshaw) from Peaceville Records had to travel to Holland and beg the people to put it out. They said, “What is it? It’s not really death metal or doom metal. I don’t know what it is, man.” I’m like, “Please put it out.” A year or two later: “Yeah, this is a fucking important record. So influential.” So where were you when we were fucking trying to put this shit out?
I was three. That’s where I was: I was three years old.
Well, then I can’t blame you for that one. But you know what I mean? It’s right time, right place sometimes. Like I said before, you can’t preempt the audience. Our most successful album sales-wise was Draconian Times. And that’s just right time, right place. That’s it. It was before Internet downloading, it was the right time in metal when that kind of shit was going on. And yeah, I guess they are quality albums, and they still sound good, but we were very fortunate as well.
After the electronic stuff, you picked your guitar back up and things started getting heavier. I listen to the self-titled frequently. I listen to Faith Divides Us, Death Unites Us frequently. I thought Tragic Idol was maybe your best. I really like the stuff with Nick singing cleanly but more of a metal background. And The Plague Within is even darker. So, if you come back to the States, what are you going to do? Is it going to be just Gothic and the new album?
It depends on what kind of slot we get. If you get offered a half-hour set it’s like, “Uh, I don’t know.” But the last time we went out in Europe, we did things back to back that were complete opposites just to polarize the audience. We did “Rotting Misery” from the first record — a death/doom song — straight into “One Second,” the song.
I personally think that’s one of our greatest achievements. We’re one of the only bands I know — in Europe, at least — that can play an uber goth festival where it’s mostly bats in black . . .
People who like Morrissey.
Yeah. We can play that and the next day we can play an ultra underground black metal festival in Norway, and we can go down equally well at both. And I think that’s an achievement in itself.
It is. Maybe this is part of the reason American writers seem more excited about the new record: somewhere in America I think it became not cool to do the clean singing thing. Nix melody. People were just like, “No more. We want everything to be mean.” I’m not that guy. But why bring the evil back now?
It just felt like the right time. Obviously we keep getting asked, “Is it because of Bloodbath? Is it because of Vallenfyre?” It’s not. I established Vallenfyre in 2010; it could’ve come back way before now. With Bloodbath, he only agreed to do the vocals after we’d already started writing this record. So, neither of them were directly responsible for any of this.
I’m going to interview Nick [Holmes, vocalist in Paradise Lost] and I’m going to ask him the same thing.
It just felt like the right time. It took a little bit of persuading Nick to do it. I must admit, I just wanted to try stuff out. I was like, “I don’t want to shy away from anything. I don’t want any boundaries for the writing of this record.” And there was some electronic stuff within the writing of this record, as well. It could’ve ended up very differently.
Well, there’s some electronics on the record. The last song (“Return to the Sun”), right?
Yes, true. But there’s a lot of stuff that didn’t make it to the record, too. It’s just the path that we took, song by song. And that was because we said, “Anything’s game. We can do doom/death, we can do black metal, we can do electronica, we can do whatever we fucking want.” That was the approach that we had.
You don’t do vocals on it. Honestly, when it came out, I was like, “That would be great if I could get both of them growling at once.”
We didn’t because we thought it would be too expected and trite. We try to do not what people expect. And Nick did a great job. I didn’t feel like I could add anything at all to the mix. Everything he did — the blend of styles, the way that it’s done — it’s perfect. I can’t add to that.
You played one of my favorite songs today, “Bereft.” I adore that song. What’s interesting is you don’t play the guitar line on that song, but the melody on that song seems like something you would write.
I did play it on the record. It was a contentious issue within Vallenfyre whether we should play “Bereft” or not.
Especially third or fourth song in, because it’s like bright sunshine, everyone jumping around, every other band’s kind of full-on. And I just said, “That’s exactly why we should play it.”
I don’t know if you noticed, but all the crowd-surfers went up for “Bereft.” It was calm, and then there were people launching themselves.
I know. And then we did the thing that we do on the record: straight into “Instinct Slaughter,” a one-minute blastbeat song. And that’s the dichotomy. That’s what I like about it. Who gives a fuck whether everyone thinks it’s this style of music or that style of music? You do what you feel good about.