Latest release: Evinta (Peaceville)
“This is a one off. It’s one of those projects where we allowed ourselves total artistic freedom to do something that wasn’t within the confines of My Dying Bride… or what is recognisable as My Dying Bride. It’s very unique. I’m not sure if we’re going to do it again. It was great fun to do. It’s very dramatic. It’s quite literally breathtaking and it’s quite tiring to do something like this.”
My Dying Bride vocalist Aaron Stainthorpe is talking about the death-doom pioneers’ latest venture, the epic Evinta, released on May 30 as a double album and also in a deluxe 3-disc edition complete with a massive 64-page booklet. It is by far the most ambitious project of the band’s two decade career, conceived to celebrate their 20th anniversary as a recording act. Featuring only Stainthorpe from the regular line-up of the group, Evinta is comprised of passages and themes from their previous albums reworked as dark ambient pieces, with string arrangements, classical musicians and operatic vocals from French soprano Lucie Roche.
“We basically looked at all the best moments in My Dying Bride’s history,” Stainthorpe says, explaining at length, “made a note of them, and then we got hold of Johnny Maudling from Bal Sagoth and a couple of classical musicians and vaguely said to them, ‘This is the best stuff that My Dying Bride has ever created. Is there any way we can replicate this with either classical instruments or as some kind of ambient, Vangelis-ish, Blade Runner replicant?’ and they were like, ‘Yes! This will be brilliant!’ It’s certainly not typical My Dying Bride.”
He speaks with a pleasant Yorkshire lilt that one probably wouldn’t expect when listening to his chameleon-like vocal style on My Dying Bride’s extensive discography, that now includes eleven full-length albums and numerous EPs and compilations. To develop Evinta, Stainthorpe and guitarist Andrew Craighan listened to them all, carefully extracting what they felt to be the best parts.
“We had pen and paper, making notes of what we considered the very best moments, be it guitar, keyboards, vocals or violins. It was hard work. We weren’t listening to it getting all nostalgic and weepy. We were analysing it, because we knew what we wanted to do with these bits. After this long, alcohol-riddled weekend, we had a fancy amount of paperwork with all these great ideas on, but no structure at all.”
That’s when Jonny Maudling came in. With his classical music background, the one-time MDB and Bal Sagoth keyboards player was able to reconstruct Stainthorpe and Craighan’s “best bits” into completely new songs, with new lyrics, that utilise familiar riffs and patterns from all the band’s previous albums. Stainthorpe believes that covers of their own songs would be a waste of time (and something they’ve already done). Evinta then is a total re-imagining of their works.
“We wanted cover versions of the best moments of My Dying Bride,” Stainthorpe says, “so that when you listen to one of these ten minute songs, you may hear the first riff of ‘Turn Loose the Swans’ immediately followed by the fourth riff of ‘The Dreadful Hours’, followed by the sixth riff from ‘The Light at the End of the World’, with classical instruments. It was a real mix-match, but I think it works really well. My Dying Bride fans who listen to it will be nicely surprised to hear riffs that they’re familiar with, which they’ve formerly heard with electric, distorted guitar, now performed on a cello.”
My Dying Bride has constantly tinkered with their sound since they first appeared, most notably with Aaron’s varying vocal delivery across albums and the integration of strings on their early releases (and again on the recent For Lies I Sire), to generally favourable response. However, the band’s most significant departure was 1998’s 34.788%… Complete, that incorporated electronic elements on tracks like “Heroin Chic” and aroused the ire of the fanbase. Despite the reputation it has, Stainthorpe reckons that, had it been marketed slightly differently, it could have been another story.
“That album,” he says, “put a different cover on that album… give it a dark, menacing cover and given it a more traditional My Dying Bride title, we would have got away with it.”
While many (perhaps unfairly) still regard Complete as the band’s one great misstep in an otherwise fine career, the singer remains unrepentant.
“We’re not a band that’s interested in record sales. We’ve been here for 21 years. We’re here for the music. And so we did 34.788%… Complete our way. Of course we knew we would get criticised,” Aaron says, “but we didn’t give a damn. That’s what we wanted to do, so we did it. It’s the same with Evinta. I expect Evinta won’t be quite as criticised, but […]: it’s in keeping with My Dying Bride.”
The idea behind Evinta was first conceived while original violinist Martin Powell was still a member, but shelved after he departed for Anathema in 1998. It wasn’t until recently, when Katie Stone joined and added strings to For Lies I Sire, that the concept was reconsidered. The result is a vast, sprawling affair that includes over two hours of music across three CDs. In spite of this, Stainthorpe claims he doesn’t ordinarily like double albums, even from his favourite bands, simply because there’s too much on them.
“The reason we didn’t release all three in one package is that if you give people too much of one thing,” Stainthorpe says, “they’re going to fast forward. They’re not going to be able to absorb it. So we split Evinta up. We’ve done like a special edition with three CDs and a mega booklet thing, for the real die-hards. We released Evinta I and Evinta II, which again is a substantial amount for certain people in one listen. The third CD, if you go and buy the big book thing, will be released early next year. It’s too much to give to people in one listen.”
The singer’s own reaction when hearing Evinta may come as a surprise.
“I was listening to it the other day,” he admits, “and to be honest: I fell asleep! Not because it was dull, but because it’s soothing and melancholy and it reminds me of some sad, depressing times. It tired me out, and I fell asleep.”
My Dying Bride’s romantic, dramatic death-doom is hardly the most uplifting of music, but for many that is precisely the attraction. Like other merchants of gloom and catastrophe, they can quite paradoxically be a catharsis for one’s own personal despair. Stainthorpe sees this same aspects in other bands that many see in his.
“One of my favourite bands is Dead Can Dance. Their music is as miserable as Hell, but I put it on, and I feel great! So I sometimes wonder, when I listen to My Dying Bride, it makes me feel sad, but that’s because I put a lot of my own passion and a lot of my own emotions into it. But when I listen to similar, emotional music, it makes me feel good, because I don’t have that emotional connection to it and I’m listening to it at face value. It’s uplifting. But when I listen to my own stuff, I know where it’s come from, and it’s not happy.”
Because of this, a cruise ship on the Caribbean is perhaps the least likeliest place you’d ever expect to find My Dying Bride. Yet as one of the confirmed acts on next year’s 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise, that’s exactly where they will be. Stainthorpe can’t hide his amusement at the idea.
“I wasn’t aware of this festival until it was offered to us,” he says with a hearty laugh. “So naturally I’ve gone out to buy the blackest Speedos I could find, so it could be the most eventful cruise! I’ve seen some of the online photographs and I kind of scratch my head a bit, and I’m thinking, Do these people know what My Dying Bride sounds like? Are bikini-clad lovelies really going to be into it? It could be one of those things that fail miserably, or it could be one of those weird juxtapositions where it just works madly!”
Even on Europe’s festival circuit where most of the major acts play outside, My Dying Bride prefers to play on marquee stages if they’re available, to more easily control the environment. Stainthorpe candidly admits that his band’s music doesn’t exactly fit the party atmosphere of the festival situation.
“We’ve been offered loads of outdoor stages, but we’ve turned them down because our music is not for parties,” he explains. “Festivals are full of drunk party people who want a good laugh and they want to rock. Our music doesn’t work like that, so we ask if we can play in the marquees where we’ve got control of the lights, the atmosphere. We’re not bothered if it’s half full. The atmosphere is everything. I’m hoping that when we do the 70,000 Tons of Metal, there may be a side room or somewhere inside where we can control the atmosphere. Performing in front of a swimming pool… well, for me that’s just a bit depressing.”
After twenty-one years, My Dying Bride is still playing the signature doom/death metal they helped to invent while contemporaries like Anathema and Paradise Lost have moved on, to varying levels of success. Stainthorpe can’t see that ever changing while the band continues to be known as My Dying Bride.
“We still enjoy it,” he asserts. “If we get bored of doing this, we’ll move on or we’ll split up. I can’t imagine us changing so much and still keeping the name My Dying Bride. I think if we move away from our roots, we’ll change the name to suit. Because My Dying Bride means something to a person, and it means something to other people.”
He has only admiration for those bands that did make the change however.
“[Paradise Lost] have taken a punt, they’ve risked it all to try something new. And it sort of worked, until it didn’t and they came back to what they were originally doing. You have to be brave to do that. It takes big balls to do something like that. We weren’t courageous enough to try it, but then we like what we’re doing. It’s not something we wanted to do. We’re happy within our own confines, and we’re not happy doing something we’re not familiar with.”
That obviously doesn’t mean that experimentation is out of the question, or else Evinta would not have come about. He refers back to the contentious Complete album again, with the explanation that it was something that they just felt they had to do at the time.
“We loved experimenting on 34,” he says, “but that was a small moment in time where we kind of let our hair down, we did some mad things… we knew it was just for that moment. We were never going to run with that. It was a moment of insanity, if you like. Enjoyable insanity for sure, but we needed to get those ideas out of our head and it allowed us to continue with My Dying Bride after that.”
After re-acquainting himself with his entire catalogue when developing Evinta, Stainthorpe admits nothing but pride for the band’s creative achievements from the last two decades. Even their earliest material provides no source of shame for the man.
“Some bands are embarassed about their early material. They kind of shun it a little bit and don’t perform some of early stuff live anymore because they’ve matured. We’ve matured as well, but I think we must have been quite mature when we formed My Dying Bride, because I’m proud of my early stuff. We’ve just done a UK tour, two weeks ago, and we performed some of the stuff off the first album. It was sort of our homage to that period. We like what we do, we’re proud of what we do, and we’ll never be embarassed about it.”
When asked if he thinks there is one song that defines My Dying Bride more than any other, the singer is at first hesitant. Then he puts his finger on perhaps one of the most soul-scarring and emotionally draining tracks of their career.
“For me,” he says at last, “for a long time, the actual track itself, ‘The Dreadful Hours’, defined My Dying Bride. It’s got the tinkling guitars, the rain, the thunderstorm, it sets it up. It’s got great, moving vocals, death metal vocals, this rapid riff going on, then slow parts… it’s got everything! It makes me cry on stage. It has to be the last song we perform on stage because by the end of it, I’m a wreck. The last show we did it, in Belfast, Andy picked me up off the stage. I was so wasted I almost crawled off the stage. I put 100% into that track, and it takes it all out of me. And when you look at that album itself, it’s got all the ingredients you expect from the My Dying Bride restaurant. It ticks all the boxes. I hope we can tick all the boxes on the next album as well.”
The band’s next doom opus is currently in the process of evolution. They have so many ideas, Stainthorpe says, that they’ll have “ shave off some of the good ideas for the great ideas” so they don’t end up with a dreaded double album. He can’t even say what the finished product will sound like because there is still much to be done, although he is hoping for a release early in 2012.
“It’s very fragmented at the moment. It’s like a jigsaw. We’ve got loads of great ideas, but they’re all over the place,” he says with a chuckle. “We need to get our heads together and construct really recognisable My Dying Bride songs with all these wonderful ideas.”
A wonderful idea from this writer’s perspective would be to see My Dying Bride in Australia some time. The group has been on the verge of heading here more than once, but for various reasons they’ve yet to make it.
“The rug’s been pulled out from under our feet several times when we’ve tried to get down there. I don’t know why. It’s politics or some shit like that. We’ve been trying to get there for years. It looks like we’re probably not going to be able to do it on our own, so perhaps a package with Cradle of Filth, Paradise Lost. It’s going to have to be a package thing. I was talking to Dani Filth a few years ago and he was like, ‘Yeah, Cradle, Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride. That would be fucking great!’ But it never materialised. Everyone’s got their own schedules and want different things and it’s hard to get it all together.”
Australia is a place that he does want to bring the band however, and he finishes with a solid promise.
“We’ve been dying to get down there and we will make it one day. This band will not split up before we perform in Australia!”