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Interview: Nick Holmes (Paradise Lost, Bloodbath)

Photo by Levan TK
Photo by Levan TK

OK, after this I’m going to shut up about Paradise Lost, I swear.

Alright, that’s a lie, but can you blame me? Sure, singer Nick Holmes joined supergroup Bloodbath to sing on Grand Morbid Funeral last year, and fronted the band’s first US show at Maryland Deathfest this year. And even if Paradise Lost’s new album The Plague Within is an album of the year contender. Surely we’ve covered them enough.

Well, the band just got added to next year’s Maryland Deathfest lineup—they’re actually one of the big draws in what many people are considering a kind-of weak lineup—so there’s another shot at relevance.

It may be that 2015 is Holmes and company’s redemption shot at touring in America. I discussed that, and much more with him during this follow-up interview.

Note: This interview was conducted before the band’s Maryland Deathfest 2016 confirmation.

— Joseph Schafer

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I actually wanted to apologize because I sent that tweet in Maryland when you were in Bloodbath about the dress. In retrospect, the next morning, I thought, “Hmm. That might have been a little bit tasteless.” So, I wanted to apologize for that.

[Laughs.] Which was the tweet? I kind of vaguely remember something. You’ve got to have a thick skin if you’re going to go on stage like that, so it’s not a problem.

Well, yeah. But, I usually don’t think of myself as the sort of person who makes fun of rock stars — especially rock stars who make music that I adore. So, I sort of woke up the next day and thought to myself, “Why did I do that?”

If I had a penny for every tweet that I wish I hadn’t put… It’s okay, man. Mixing the Internet with alcohol is always a bad idea, you know?

That’s probably true, but it’s also pretty much my job. How about that Bloodbath set? I really wanted to talk more about Paradise Lost, but I’ve got to say: I had so much fun at that Bloodbath set.

Yeah. That’s the point: It’s a bit of a tip of the hat to the early days of death metal. We just thought, “Well, why not? What the hell? Let’s start from where we left off last time.” The thing is, early death metal has got a lot of good songs. When they asked me, it took a while to sink in. I wa really happy to take it on and I was aware I would have to do all the old stuff, as well. It was a great gig. It was a brilliant gig, in fact. It was probably one of the best I’ve ever played in America. So, it was a really wicked good show. We all enjoyed it. We’re still liking the gigs — we had a great show the other day in Copenhagen. It’s good fun, you know?

I talked with Greg earlier in the day that day and he had mentioned [how] your history in America is a little spotty — it’s like you guys are cursed.

Yeah. I mean, it’s too little too late with Paradise Lost. In the ’90s, we went over and we had such a bad time that we didn’t really want to go over again. Little did we know at the time that everything that kind of sucked about it was just touring. But, we hadn’t done much touring up to that point. Eventually, you get used to it. Now, I completely regret that. The only thing I regret with the band is that we didn’t spend longer in the States. But that’s life, you know?

This is just something that I’m getting from my other metal writer friends, so it may not actually be indicative of the listenership as a whole, which is a danger in my line of work — when your friends do the same things you do and you’re all listening to the same records, sometimes our perceptions get skewed, so I may be off-base. But, it seems to me that The Plague Within is kind of a redemption shot. I’ve seen a lot of people who weren’t on board with Paradise Lost before — Americans who weren’t on board before — listening to the new one and saying, “Yeah: this one. This is the one. Now I like it.” Or, “Now I like it again,” rather.

Yeah, I don’t know. I think part of it is generally music’s a lot easier to get a hold of now. It’s a lot more accessible. You can look up a track on YouTube and decide if you like it or not. Before, you’d have to go listen to the CD at somebody’s house or in a record store. You don’t need to do that now. So, I guess it’s easier to check it out. If there’s any kind of upswing in the States it’s probably linked with the fact that it’s just a lot easier to listen to us now. You don’t have to particularly do much to listen. It’s the same all around the world. We’re getting more interest in Australia and Asia purely by the fact that it’s easier to listen to music and people want to do that.

That’s part of it. But, I think the other part is [that], obviously, a certain subset of fan is just really happy to have you growling again.

There’s bound to be a little bit of that. For us, we’d taken everything as far as it could go on the last album. We did a few albums like that. Obviously, if the singing’s harder than the guitars and everything can be harder. So, it’s more about having more tools in our armory than anything. Therefore, I guess it’s almost like a breath of fresh air, in a way.

Yeah. Part of the narrative that people said about Paradise Lost — I don’t know if it’s true or not and I was hoping that you could sort of hammer it out for me — is, you really do hear all the time about these musicians who blow their voices out and do vocal damage. So, I think a lot of people thought that you just couldn’t growl anymore — that that would never happen because it was something akin to a sports injury. But, apparently that’s not the case.

No, no. I just started to find it very one-dimensional. We did it for a long time. It was a good few years. It was probably the best part of maybe five years. We did the Icon album. By that point, I’d kind of gotten a bit bored of doing it. I’d be into death metal for a long time up to that point. We all were into it. I found it very restrictive and I just got kind of bored of doing it and hearing it all the time. It’s like anything. I’ve had, like, an 18 year break or whatever, so it’s been quite refreshing to come back to it. It’s also kind of different now, anyway.

My voice is kind of different now, isn’t it? My voice is definitely different. I guess it’s because I’m ancient now. It’s like anything. I wanted to explore the vocals in the same way that I’m doing now with the growl. It’s almost like a full circle, I guess.

Is there one thing that you prefer to do over another? Is there one thing that you think expresses you better? You’re a pretty good rock singer even without growling.

Well, thank you. I find the singing a lot harder to do than the growling. It’s way harder.

Really?

Well, it depends on the environment. In a controlled environment, singing is okay. But, when you’re in a live environment, it’s not controlled. Sometimes, you don’t know what’s going on. If you try to sing over that, it’s sometimes a nightmare. With the growl, all you need to be able to hear is the kick drum. It’s ironic because I don’t usually want to hear the drums at all. So, it’s kind of a strange thing. When I started playing with Bloodbath, all I wanted was to hear drums. So, it’s much easier: growling. The live environment lends itself much more to growling. It’s kind of crazy and more in your face. It’s definitely the environment.

So, on this new record, what was your — this is such a cliche question that I sort of hate asking it — lyrical inspiration? Sometimes, I wonder if it’s difficult to keep writing morbid lyrics. Is your life even that miserable, man? Seems like you’ve got a pretty good lot in life.

Sometimes, I get very melancholy. When I get melancholy, that’s when I tend to write stuff down. I go away to my cellar, write [the lyrics] for the song and get into my own little world for a few hours. Then, I come out of that world and it’s got nothing do with what I’ve been writing about. I like those poetic centers. They don’t necessarily even have to make sense, either.

I hate how everything has to be pinned down. I also find that quite boring. Especially in metal music, people like things to be very pinned down to a specific subject, et cetera. I’ve never necessarily been about all that stuff. It’s easy to talk about when you do that, for sure. But, a lot of the time, I might write a few lines of a song and then come back to it, like, three months later. So, it’s not always that black and white. I guess getting older and looking at things in retrospect [contributes] — where we’ve come from with being teenagers to now. The band life runs parallel with our personal and private lives. Obviously, we’ve gone through deaths, divorces, marriages, children, blah blah. All these things. There’s always new inspiration coming in, whether it’s positive or negative.

So, what comes first? Is it the hook first? The melody or the lyric first? What do you work around? Where does your mindset as a writer begin?

It’s got to be the melody. I mean, yeah: every time, it’s the melody. I’ve wrote lyrics outside of [music]. Sometimes I’ll kind of write it on my phone, or something, and remember it for later on — a song title, perhaps. But, the melody is kind of always the most important. It doesn’t really matter how good the lyrics are if the melody is crafted. Then, when I’ve got the melody, I’ll attempt to put the words together. The way we’ve written with this album is, a lot of the time, Greg’s taken the melody and written a different thing with what we have. It confuses things, but it’s also a new, kind of strange angle to the songwriting, as well. You couldn’t tell by listening to it, but it’s kind of shaken up how we really write.

Did having Adrian in the band change the way you wrote things? It’s weird — I’ve always liked the band but I didn’t really care too much about the drum patterns until Tragic Idol and I think that’s because Adrian’s such a consummate professional. He’s got all this experience writing for different kinds of bands. I wonder how much effect he actually had.

No, I’m talking about the actual songwriting. Obviously, we demo the songs on the computer and you can get it to a pretty professional level even with the sampled drums. We don’t spend that long with it because it’s not necessary. But, obviously, when it’s being played on a real kit, you can hear what you’re doing. He picks it up way fast. Like you say, he’s very professional about it.

With the actual songwriting itself, it’s nice to know you can put in practically anything you want and you know he can play it. He’s not going to be like, “Oh, we can’t do that,” because he can do it. I suppose someone that’s got that ability is going to [have] a positive effect. But, lots of our drummers have been very good players so it’s never really been a massive issue, I don’t think.

Fair enough. At the same time, I would imagine that having Adrian in the band is kind of a mixed blessing. His touring schedule has got to be so busy — especially now, with At the Gates back being sort of active again, I guess.

Yeah. Well, he’s currently not working with us until the end of the year. He’s busy with At the Gates. So, we’ve got Waltteri [Väyrynen], who’s currently in Vallenfyre, now playing with Paradise Lost until the year. That’s just kind of how things are at the moment, I guess. He’s taking on as much as he can, I guess. The time’s just not so working out, I suppose. But, we feel very lucky that Waltteri said, “Okay, I’ll do this.” So, we can still tour, you know? I can’t pronounce his full name.

I can’t either. I’m going to be honest with you. And I’ve met the guy.

He’s 20 years old and his playing is incredible. He really is a great player. I mean, when we were rehearsing the songs with Paradise Lost — he can do them with his eyes closed. He’s a great player. We’re very fortunate that he said he would help us out for the tour.

So, about rectifying things with the United States — is that going to be in the cards? Am I going to finally get a chance to see you?

I don’t know. It depends. It’s obviously expensive to tour the States unless you live in a van or something. We’re kind of getting a little bit old for that kind of thing. So, I don’t know. It’d be nice. A headline tour would be amazing. It depends. The financial situation is the thing with the States. I think it’s the thing with most bands on a certain level, you know? But, for me, it would be nice if we were able to do a headline tour there. We could probably play in the key states and do reasonably good gigs. You know: New York, Chicago, Los Angeles. But, [with] anywhere else, it probably wouldn’t be cost-effective for us to do it. But, who knows? Who knows? It’d be nice to get the chance to go over again. I think the last time was 2012.

Yeah, that’s correct.

Fingers crossed, you know?

Yeah. I mean, my fingers are definitely crossed. I’m talking an awful lot about the music and around the music, but I’m not getting a sense of what direction you see the band going in now. I’m not talking in terms of further music. Are there any goals left in Paradise Lost? Is there anything left on the bucket list that you’ve wanted to accomplish that you haven’t, or something like that?

Being able to tour the States. Beyond that, we’ve been all over the world, but there’s a lot of places where we still haven’t been. There’s still work to be done there. Like I said before, things have changed now. People can hear stuff. So, there’s definitely a lot more touring. There’s places in the world we could play, I’m sure. Beyond that, we’ve never really looked ahead that far. When we started the band, we didn’t think we’d be doing this in 30 years. We just stared as kids into death metal. Now, we’re still doing it. We’ve been very lucky, as well. We don’t have a plan. But, I don’t think you can have a plan, especially now. You’ve just got to do what you do, write some hopefully good tunes and see what happens, you know?

Do you look back at all? Are you very much a sort of retrospective person?

I’m not actually. It’s kind weird because when I write lyrics I can get, as you said, melancholy. But, as a person: no. I’m not at all. In fact, I constantly look forward. My favorite Paradise Lost albums are always the new albums. I can pick out ones that I’ve liked in the past but my favorite is always the newest one. So, I think we’re all very driven forward. We don’t necessarily want to live in the past. I think [with] everything that happens, you’ve got to just embrace it, accept it and move on, you know? Downloading, not making money from albums, et cetera. All these things. It’s not going to change. You can’t change it. So, we just keep moving on.

Your favorite’s always the new one. So, how do you feel about your time as more of a pop band?

A failed pop band. During that period of time, we were probably in a really bad place as people, you know? We were going through a lot of personal problems. It did, in fact, try kind of badly on the band. I don’t necessarily blame anyone for what happened. We just got sort of in a bit of rut. I think we were just touring too much prior to that. We just wanted a big change, you know? But, the music and albums from that time are still very miserable and I’m kind of proud of that fact. I think the Host album is still one of our best albums.

I like that album, too.

Then again, we can view it differently. But, I think there’s good songs there. It’s nice and miserable. It’s not like we kind of went happy pop. Every album represents where we are at the time, be it good or bad. Everyone fucks up in their life. I wasn’t necessarily a fuck-up but you still think, “Maybe that wasn’t a good idea.” But, that’s life, you know?

So, I openly like those albums. I’m willing to speak with people about how much I like the pop records. Symbol of Life kind of loses me, but the rest of them, I really really like. I think it’s this strange sort of thing where like a lot of metal fans or Paradise Lost fans will cross their arms and say, “Well, I only like the old stuff.” Then, you get a few beers in them, [and they’re] like, “Okay, I do like the new stuff. I just don’t like to talk about it.” I wonder why that is. I’ve never felt the need to do that.

Yeah, I know. Me neither with that sort of stuff. I guess it’s interesting — people not accepting you. You know, I’ve always been a fan of the Smiths. I’ve always loved the Smiths. When we did Draconian Times, I still loved the Smiths. I didn’t mind saying that. I guess some metal guys would never admit to that. I don’t know what it is. I think, being a musician, a lot of the time it doesn’t matter how good your music is. You’ve got to have luck as well, you know? You’ve got to be in the right place at the right time. I think, around that time, we had a lot of bad luck — in our personal lives, as well. Like I said, you win some and lose some.

It’s funny that you mention the Smiths because — and this guy’s not like you guys at all — I know that Phil Anselmo likes the Smiths. They’re one of those bands that isn’t a metal band but has common emotional ground.

There’s a lot of music from that era where it kind of reminds me of growing up, before I had any responsibilities. A lot of the songs are very minor-key. They were very dark. I think the lyrics and subjects are very dark. When I listened to it at the time, I didn’t like it. I wanted to listen to — I don’t know — Venom, or something. But, when I got a little bit older, I could sort of appreciate where they were coming from with it. A lot of it reminds you of being younger and there’s kind of nothing wrong with that.

No, there’s nothing wrong with that. Although, I’ve got to ask, since the Smiths came up — what do you think about what Morrissey’s been doing?

He’s kind of doing things all the time. What is he doing now? Has he done something else?

He’s constantly announcing shows and then canceling them for strange reasons.

I mean, I don’t think he’s well, is he? Was he diagnosed with cancer, or something?

I think he was. I’m not sure if he’s still in treatment, but I don’t think so.

Maybe he’s kind of feeling not good. Who knows? But, yeah: he’s kind of famous for doing the shows and then pulling out last-minute. He’s a strange guy. But, he’s kind of interesting, as well. I think the world’s a better place with someone like him around, you know?

Yeah. I can see that, definitely. I think, a lot of times — and this is something I’ve always appreciated about Paradise Lost — newer bands that I listen to try to bury the personalities of the people inside the band. It’s definitely the black metal thing: isolate and don’t let anyone know what you’re like as a person. But, you guys have never really struck me that way.

No. We’re probably too open, actually. It can be a bit of a burden, I guess. Trying to seal things — I wouldn’t want to be like that. It’d be hard work pretending you’re something you’re not. I’d find that harder than just being yourself, really. I guess, with a lot of the newer bands, there’s a boy-band mentality.

What exactly do you mean by boy-band mentality? Just so I know exactly what we’re talking about.

You might get a band that’s shielded. They just want to promote their image and talk about certain things to make it a bit exciting. So, they’re almost like superheroes to a younger audience that are looking up to these people who mention this or that. That’s what I would regard as kind of a boy-band thing.

Yeah. The problem with that — and this is sort of a theme in your music that I like, too — is that, eventually, everyone’s inner humanity comes out, right? Eventually, human nature rears its ugly head whether you really like it or not.

I mean, if you stick around long enough, for sure. Sooner or later. This is one thing Greg and myself always talk about. We kind of miss the mystery of bands like Celtic Frost [from] when we were kids. You see the gatefold album sleeve and you didn’t know who these guys were. Tom G. Warrior was always surrounded in mystery and there was no way of accessing this guy. All you saw was the imagery and that was an exciting time, I thought. That’s kind of dying, now. When you see Danzig buy cat litter, you know that it’s kind of gone.

Did you know he turned 60 yesterday?

Who did, Danzig?

Danzig did. Six-zero. Yesterday. And that stupid cat litter photo went up all over the Internet again.

[Laughs.] When I saw that, my heart kind-of sank. It’s kind of the most un-Danzig image you can think of. But, oh well.

But, in a way, I think it is almost classic Danzig, because he’s totally the sort of person that would have a bunch of cats.

I guess so, yeah. I know where he lives in Los Angeles. His house is kind of near a road that everyone goes down. Everybody kind of knows where he lives. So, we’ve driven down the highway and said, “Oh, that’s Danzig’s house.” You can see his black car parked in the driveway. So, that’s kind of surreal as well.

I’m surprised he doesn’t drive a hearse just for the sake of it. You still live in England, right?

Yeah.

But, you’re not a city boy.

I can fit in wherever. I live in the countryside in a beautiful part of England. I really love it here. I think that, even if I left, I would still want to come back. But, yeah. I don’t know what I feel like too much because I’ve always lived in this sort of environment. I’ve spent a lot of time in London, though. After a few months, you kind of get pissed off with it. So, maybe I do prefer the countryside. The air is better where I live.

You’re not the first person I’ve heard say that about the frustration of London.

Yeah. I kind of like going down there but I never feel as lonely as I do when I’m London, especially if I’m alone for a week, or something. Nobody talks to anybody there. It’s kind of a strange place. But, I like it in a way. We don’t go down too much nowadays. In the old days, before telephones and the Internet, we used to be down there every weekend. But, now we don’t go down too much. It’s good for a night out, for sure.

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