PARADISE LOST (Gregor Mackintosh) INTERVIEW
One of my fondest memories of my childhood years is when back in 1990 soem trully blessed person decided to hand me a casette tape of an album called “Lost Paradise”, the debut release of the Halifax-based quintet Paradise Lost. That pioneering effort trully captivated my attention in no time and resulted in me becoming a devoted fan of their work ever since. If somebody was to tell me back then that twenty years later I would be conducting an interview with the band’s guitarist Gregor Mackintosh, I would have probably laughed in their face, but this is exactly what happened on the 20th of February 2011. The purpose of this interview was to talk about the re-issue of the band’s 1995 classic “Draconian Times” which we did, however through our long convesration we found the opportunity to talk about various other things, such as the band’s decision to explore different musical avenues round the end of the 90s and the state of the music industry as a direct result of illegal downloading.
By Yiannis (John) Stefanis.
• Hi Greg, thanks for calling. Shall we start with the interview?
Gregor: Yes, of course!
• Greg, it is a pleasure to be able to do this interview with you as I have been a fan of Paradise Lost for many years. There are many things that I feel the need to talk to you about however the main focus of this interview will be the release of the anniversary edition of “Draconian Times”. I am pretty pleased with that release as I believe, like many other people also do, that this is one of the most important Paradise Lost albums ever recorded. When did the idea of releasing this anniversary edition first come to mind?
Gregor: Well, the rights of “Draconian Times” were acquired by Sony/BMG and they wanted to know if we still had the two inch tapes from when we first recorded it and we didn’t but then we tracked them down and Simon Efemey who produced the album has them. The idea was to bring the production of the album to date so we got Jens Bogren who produced our last album to kind of remaster and do a 5.1 Dolby surround sound which really brings it to life. It really brings its production up to date without taking anything from the original. They also gave us freedom on the artwork, so we contacted Holly Warburton who did the original artwork and she ended up doing a lot of new work for the booklet of this re-release of the “Draconian Times”. So, it’s going to be a nice thing to have, you know, and we also thought that a few shows to celebrate its release would be a good thing too. We didn’t want to do a lot of shows, we didn’t want to turn this into a big tour – we simply wanted to do a handful of shows which is what will happen.
• Greg, many people believe, myself included, that the original “Draconian Times” recordings had a pretty good sound already – quite an earthy production. I have read quite a few reviews and most fellow journalists agree that it could easily compete with many modern day releases of this genre, even though music technology has advanced significantly over the years. How challenging did you find the process of trying to tinker with the sound in such a way that you would not alter the album’s character and soul?
Gregor: Well, we haven’t altered the sound of any of the instruments or anything like that – it’s still the original drum sound, the original guitar sound…it’s just things like…like you said, technology has moved on and now you can brought forward the ‘sonics’ of every instrument without the end result being too compressed, so it’s actually a more open sound to it. It sounds a lot bigger and a lot better – it’s not drastically, drastically different but everybody will notice a bit of a difference and I do believe that now it sounds a lot better, you know?
• When you first strted working on this anniversary edition what kind of feelings did you experience coming onto the surface? Such an endeavour is a trip down the memory lane after all, right? Did you feel at all nostalgic or anything similar to that?
Gregor: Yeah, kind of. It was interesting because we had to…we all had to write some liner notes for the re-release as well, so we kind of had to remember things about the recordings and stuff. Yeah, it’s kind of nostalgic and it is quite strange how times have changed and things in the music industry as well since then. Bands don’t go into the studio for months and months to record anymore. When we did “Draconian Times” we spent many months in a huge studio but we did very little recording as it was more about partying (laughs)…that would not happen in the music industry today, it’s kind of a different time now! So yeah, it is kind of fun to look back on and think about how things were back then, you know?
• As an artist that has had a long career, your skills are ever evolving, so when you hear these recordings today, how do you evaluate yourself? How does the Greg of 1995 sound to you?
Gregor: Hmm, it’s definitely a little different because I had to re-learn some tracks from the “Draconian Times” era, rehearsing for the upcoming shows. These were tracks that I had not played since I recorded them. It was quite interesting listening to some of my lead parts as I found that I was playing things which I would not necessarily play now. My playing style has definitely changed slightly over the years so…it’s just interesting for me to see how I used to play things in a different way – different scales from those I play today. I don’t know if that was because I was more inexperienced or because…I don’t know what it is. I think that being naïve sometimes has its benefits, you know?
• Is it possible perhaps that this was a period in your life that you still felt that you had to prove something to people with regards your skills as a guitarist, which today you no longer feel the need to?
Gregor: Well, I don’t thing that I ever felt obliged to do such a thing and that is because I have never really been that kind of a guitar player, you know? The song to me is always more important than anything else! I like lead guitar work but it has to make sense in the song, you know, it has to contribute something. That is the kind of the guitarist that I am, it’s not about how many notes you can play in the space of five seconds.
• I was browsing the band’s website earlier on in order to get a few ideas of how to better conduct this interview and that is when I noticed that both you and Nick Holmes (vocals) look towards “Draconian Times” when it comes to choosing either a favourite video or album cover from the band’s career. What is it about “Forever Failure” that makes it your favourite Paradise Lost video?
Gregor: I think that it’s because…prior to releasing “Forever Failure” as a video, when we first released it as a single, we were given total control. The record company told us “go and make the kind of video that you want, release whatever single you want”. We proved to the record label that we should never choose singles because “Forever Failure” didn’t work as a single! “The Last Time” worked really well as a single for this album but “Forever Failure” did not work at all as it was too slow and too moody! We liked it like that but obviously it didn’t work within the music business at the time. I still like it because it was kind of like my favourite thing at the time and it was something that I really wanted to do. We were pleased to be able to release such a Doom Metal track as a single but I don’t think that we would be allowed to do that today, you know?
• Greg, you mentioned the expression “artistic freedom” which I believe is a very important thing to hear coming out of your mouth, especially in the knowledge of the fact that when “Believe I Nothing” came out, you were pretty vocal over your disliking of it. I believe that I once read an interview where you mentioned that you do not even consider it to be a Paradise Lost album! Do you still feel the same about it?
Gregor: Some of the songs on it I believe are really good songs like for instance “World Pretending”. My problem with these songs is that I feel that they have been compromised the whole way through, from the writing to the recording and mixing process. This album was actually mixed twice before it was eventually released. These songs became a shell of what they should have been, a pale version of what this album was supposed to be about and I have vowed after this album came out never to compromise again in my life – just do what you want to do and never think of anything else!
• But how does a band of the status of Paradise Lost manage to reach such a stage? I mean it felt to us like between 1992-1997 you guys were totally invincible! It feels weird to know that you guys were forced to compromise in such a way.
Gregor: It’s because we experimented and we did that in a big way! That attitude divided our record label, it divided the band, it divided the fans and “Believe In Nothing” became that album that was supposed to in a way kind of ‘heal wounds’ but ended up doing the opposite, in my opinion. I have absolutely no apologies to make for releasing either the “One Second” (1997) or the “Host” (1999) albums – I think that they are both great albums, especially “Host” which is not a metal album but whose song writing is as good as any we have ever written, you know? It’s just one of them things where you think that you are making the right thing but sometimes you don’t, you know?
• I have to admit that when “Host” first came out I was shocked by what I heard, I am not going to lie to you. In retrospect, however, I do believe that it is a good album – it’s just that fans of metal music, especially during that era, were not renowned for being particularly open-minded! It took me personally a few years before I started thinking outside the box and now I am finally able to appreciate what it is that you tried to achieve with “Host”.
Gregor: I believe that at the time we kind of overestimated how open-minded the metal community was, you know?
• Looking back at the time “Draconian Times” was released, it did signal the end of an era resulting in “One Second” and “Host” moving in a different musical direction. Going back in time, do you remember yourself thinking “with our next album I will need to do something totally different”?
Gregor: Yes! It was partly our management and our record company’s fault that we changed direction because they made us go on tour and do recording for four consecutive years – we were away from home for four years! We wrote and recorded “Icon” (1993) and then we went straight on tour with Sepultura, doing shows in Europe, America…everywhere. While we were on the road we wrote “Draconian Times” and as soon as we got back from touring, we went into the studio and recorded it and then we went straight out touring it again! We were just like kind of burned out from that kind of thing, we felt like we did everything we could have on that style of music and we needed to do something different otherwise it would turn out like working in a factory, making the same type of thing over and over.
• “Draconian Times” was an album whose promotion was assisted by a few very nice videos, as we have alreday mentioned. Now during the mid 90s, video was still a very important medium in promoting ones music as the whole thing with the Internet had not quite kicked off. Do you still see a necessity in investing in that specific format? It’s not like MTV is still around…
Gregor: Hmm…we come from an era when videos didn’t matter at all; a time when people didn’t even know what people in a band looked like! With the advent of videos we realised that it was a nice idea but one which kind of ruined music in a way!
• Why do you say that?
Gregor: Well, mainly because it became all about the visual aspect of things and I believe that music suffered as a result! There are bands now that probably would never get signed by record labels simply because they don’t look good enough, but their music may be ten times better than that of whoever is in the top ten, you know? That is all because of that whole video generation which puts such a great emphasis of things looking in a certain way whereas when you look back at the classic Rock era of the 70s, no one gave a toss what people looked like. It was all about “is this band good, do I like their album”?
• In principal I agree with you, but if you take Led Zeppelin, for instance! Everybody thinks of them looking in a certain way and you cannot tell me that image did not play any role in both their evolution and perception as a band. Robert Pant always sported tight jeans and flowery open shirts and that is how people remember him after all these years, right? Image does, to a certain extent, play its role!
Gregor: Yes, but I do believe that this is an extreme example that you used. They were one of the biggest bands at the time and that had as much to do with Pop music as it did with Rock music at the time.
• I know exactly where it is that you are coming from as I am aware of your Punk background.
Gregor: Yes, we do come from that type of background where everything is pretty DYI. You cannot even sign autographs because it feels very weird, but this is indeed the kind of attitude that we have, you know?
• Ok, so why it is then that, for the few dates you have planned for promoting this re-issue, you are opting for VIP sessions with some of your fans? Was that something that you came up with as an idea?
Gregor: No, no. That was decided for by somebody else! I remember the first time I was exposed to such a thing was a few years back when we were touring with Nightwish and they were doing something like that. I remember thinking that it was a strange idea, a strange concept but it’s just something that’s becoming part of the music business – a business that is changing as a result of downloading. Certain things are having to be done instead of record sales, you know, but…I don’t know – it’s not something that I am that comfortable with. I think that this will only be happening during the “Draconian Times” dates as I don’t want this to become a regular thing at all!
• You have chosen to have a very interesting band supporting you on your European dates. Ghost have indeed created quite a fuss in the metal scene of late, haveing received some trully positive rviews and totally using their unique image to their advantage. Did you guys have any say in putting together this bill or were they “imposed” on you?
Gregor: It was actually us who asked for Ghost to support us on this tour. We have made many similar choices over the years. I remember back in 1993/94 we took Crowbar out and back then no one knew who they were and then we did a similar thing with Deathstars…there has been a lot of bands over the years that we asked if we could take them out on tour simply because we liked them, you know, and sometimes it works for them and they end up becoming big. I believe that Ghost is one of these bands; their music is pretty good and reminds me a lot of early Mercyful Fate, Saint Vitus and these sorts of things. I thought that it would be interesting to go on tour with them and hopefully people will get to appreciate them, you know?
• Hopefully yes and, I for one, am really looking forward to seeing this package on tour. I saw, however, that in Greece you will get a different supoport act, namely Scar Of The Sun. Though myself Greek, I was not aware of this outfit, so when I checked them out on the net I found out that they are heavily influenced by your music. Won’t that feel slightly weird, having a bands that sounds so much like Pradise Lost opening for you?
Gregor: Not really as this is something that has been happening a lot over the years. When we first used to play in England, I think that it was when we did the “Gothic” tour (1991) a young band supported us in Liverpool and they did a cover of “Eternal” on stage before we went along and played it and that band was Anathema!
• Are you serious?!
Gregor: Yes I am very serious! So it has happened a lot over the years, you know, and the same kind of this happened with The Gathering a couple of years later, so…yeah, it has happened a lot over the years so it is not something that we are worried about really because if you have been going on for a long time and you have done certain albums that have been fairly influential then such a thing is bound to happen at some point, you know?
• Ok, so what are the band’s plans after those few dates in support of the “Draconian Times” reissue?
Gregor: Well, we still have to tie up “Faith Divides Us – Death Unites Us” as we haven’t really finished touring it. There are some festivals to do and some places in the world that we haven’t yet played in support of it and at the moment we are also getting some ideas together for new material but it’s still very early days. The idea is to go into the studio maybe September/October this year if we have enough material by then and release something by early 2012, but that depends on how the song-writing goes really.
• Greg, we spoke about the way the music industry operates nowadays, how things have changed over the years and of all the problems that both well established bands like Paradise Lost and young outfits have to face. How do you see the future shaping up for any band?
Gregor: Well, I am hoping that there will be some kind of backlash to the whole downloading thing and I say that as coming from an era where people had a physical product and covers – covers are not important now, you know, not for my kids generation! Most of them don’t even know what the cover of an album looks like as they simply download it! I am hoping for a backlash and for people wanting again a physical product again, that they will want to see a good artwork and the whole package again instead of having a song here and a song there, you know? It’s probably not going to happen, I don’t know, but it will be nice if it did. I probably sound quite old now!
• Well I, for one, absolutely agree with you. You have to see the state of my room, though, as I don’t believe that there is space to move around anymore from all these vinyls and CDs that are lying everywhere…!
Gregor: Good! (laughs).
• Greg, I am going to wrap this one up here now. Thank you for doing this interview and, most importantly, thank you for all these years of good quality music, more of which I hope will continue to come out from you guys in the years to come.
Gregor: Oh, it’s my pleasure!
• If you were to offer one piece of advice to a young musician, to a young band that is starting its career now under this current climate, what would that be?
Gregor: It would be to…keep everything as much in their control as possible and follow their own path – don’t follow trends! We have seen the Rap Metal come and go, the Industrial Metal come and go and it’s…as long as you stick to your own thing and write on the side-lines I believe that the music that you will come up with will be more interesting, you know?
• Greg, thank you once again. I am looking forward to seeing the band live on the 1st of April here in London and I wish you all the best for the future!
Gregor: Thank you, thank you very much!
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