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You'll have to listen closely to catch it, but My Dying Bride vocalist Aaron Stainthorpe's eight-year-old daughter sings on the band's new EP, Macabre Cabaret.
"[It's] so low in the mix that I'm not sure anyone's going to spot it. I'm fine with that," Stainthorpe says of the guest spot on the EP's title track. He does, however, have an alternate version of the track, with his daughter's vocals higher in the mix, to play around the house.
"She absolutely loves it. It's just sort of 'La-la, la, la-la' — it's not lyrics per se," he says. "When you hear a child doing that kind of vocal and then slow it down a bit and put it in the background, it's quite eery and a little bit horror film."
Due out November 20th, Macabre Cabaret follows the release earlier this year of Ghost of Orion, the U.K. doom pioneers' first album for Nuclear Blast — and the first since Stainthorpe's daughter came out victorious on the other side of a battle with Wilms' tumor, a childhood kidney cancer.
Even so, Stainthorpe didn't let sentimentality get in the way of his conclusion that her vocals as originally recorded didn't feel exactly right. "Despite the fact that it was my loving daughter, it just didn't quite sit with that particular track," he explains. "So we lowered it to the point where you can probably — if you've got your cans on and cranked it up — hear it. And it's probably quite spooky."
Macabre Cabaret is just one of My Dying Bride's many impending projects. Like touring bands worldwide, Stainthorpe and Co. are currently grounded due to the coronavirus pandemic, but they're still staying busy. A stateside run is planned for next year, and the band is set to film a full-length theatrical music video for "Macabre Cabaret" in the coming weeks. They also have their own beer coming out, a craft lager dubbed "Old Earth," produced by a local Yorkshire brewery.
"You're one of the first journalists to ever see it," Stainthorpe muses jovially. Unfortunately, the technology to transmit a pint through Skype has yet to be invented, but that didn't halt the remainder of our conversation.
DID IT FEEL A LITTLE BIT LIKE A VICTORY LAP TO HAVE YOUR DAUGHTER RECORD VOCALS ON "MACABRE CABARET" AFTER HER BATTLE WITH CANCER?
AARON STAINTHORPE Oh yeah, it was fantastic. But again, you know, one half of me is thinking, "Let her voice soar. Let everyone know she's there." Because she is here, you know? She was on the brink of dying, and she fought back and she survived. And it was amazing.
And another part of me, the more reserved part of me, is thinking, "Well, that's a really private, intense part of my life." I've never shared photos of her — ever — on Facebook, because I'm intensely private to that degree. So that in part goes with me reducing the vocal down, because it didn't suit the volume it was at. And then I didn't want to sort of shout about it too much.
I also didn't, cynically, want people thinking, "OK, it's great she survived, but now he's got her on the record. How much cheese can you possibly get?" So I think we've done the right thing. And as I said, I've got both versions, so, you know, she's happy singing the one we've got. And if you can spot it on the general release, that's fine, but I don't want to make a song and dance about it.
YEAH. I KNOW YOU EXPRESSED SIMILAR SENTIMENT BEFORE ORION CAME OUT IN REGARD TO "TIRED OF TEARS" BEING THE ONLY REFERENCE TO HER CANCER ON THAT ALBUM.
That's right. The whole album could have easily been filled with those terrifying moments that no parent should really have to go through. And it would have been an extreme album for sure, but it would have also been an album I would never have wanted to listen to ever again, and therefore never wanted to perform any of the songs in a live capacity.
It would become like a black stain on our biography and something I'd never want to return to ever again or talk about, because you've got to remember when you're producing something to be released worldwide, you're going to do a lot of press and a lot of talking about it. If I'd have poured my heart into the whole thing, I would have wept through every interview and been completely out of control.
It would have been too negative, but obviously I had to write something. It's like letting off steam — if you don't, you're gonna pop. So something had to go, and I knew one song was going to be about that subject, and it was, and I felt that was enough for this time.
I suspect on future releases, I'll touch upon that period again because it was a powerful, life-changing experience. As a musician and a songwriter, you write about the things you know about. And I know a lot about childhood cancer now, and it's awful. It's absolutely awful.
We still have to go back to the hospital for regular checkups, and you see children in there who are on the brink of dying, and you see their parents — who are gray and they've aged 10 years over the last few months — and it's terrible, you know? We've survived and we've come out the other side. Other people are just starting their journey, and we see them and we know what they're going through, and it's agony. It's absolute agony. And you can't reach out to them and say, "It'll be fine," because it might not be fine. So you just kind of nod and say, "Good luck."
THE EP HAS THIS THEME RUNNING THROUGH IT OF THE DANGER OF UNBRIDLED, ALL-CONSUMING PASSION AND THINGS OF THAT NATURE. HOW DID YOU ARRIVE AT THAT?
I rather boringly stick to similar themes for most of my recordings. There's depth and there's sex and there's grief and there's loss and there's love and romance and passion. But I'm quite old fashioned, you know? I'm a lover of Byron and Keats and the old dead poets. I fancy myself as a little bit of a poet.
So I write in that kind of style because I like it, and it's a great way of expressing sometimes some private thoughts without necessarily giving the game away. You can say something that's on your mind or something right from your heart, something passionate, but if you word it in such a fashion, it's not immediately noticeable as what you're saying. And only those diehard, dedicated fans who know me will read between the lines, join the dots, and they will start to form the same picture that I originally came up with in my mind.
But I like to disguise it in flamboyant wording because it's exciting. I think it takes you on a journey away from the heavy duty day-to-day we all have to live through. There's never any politics in my lyrics, because for me, music is a form of escapism — not just the stuff I listen to, but the stuff I write. When someone listens to My Dying Bride, I want them to put the headphones on and crank it up a bit, pour yourself a glass of red wine, and just relax and close your eyes and go on a journey with us. And it will take you away from the horror of today.
Admittedly, it will take you to a horror of somewhere else — but I never put dates on things because I don't necessarily want people to try and picture that era in their mind. I just want them to escape from here and go somewhere else, and see what other characters are doing and their behavior and how they interact with each other, And ultimately what happens at the end. I want it to be like a movie, and I want people to just to enjoy the journey. As traumatic as some parts of it can be, it's escapism.
Some journalists, rightly so, have described us as being very pretentious. And there's nothing wrong with that. I don't think that's a negative comment, because it is a little bit wild and a little bit fantastical at times. But that's who we are. That's how we express our thoughts. If you want your politics, there's political bands out there. Millions of them. It's just not my cup of tea. Music, for me, is a way to put my comfortable clothes on, have a drink, put my big comfortable headphones — not those little in-ears, the big, big, comfortable ones — and really turn it up. Because when you listen to music in the average ambiance of a household, there are nuances within the recording that aren't normally picked up.
When you've got the headphones on and you've whacked it up to nine or even 10, if you dare, you can sometimes hear the breathing of the singer before he sings. You could hear the scratching on the strings. There's things going on that you don't normally hear, and I love that. Quite often, when I am about to express, my first word, there's a normal drawing of breath — and it's a big sort of [gasps] — and then you sing.
That's normally cut out by the producer. I told Mark, "Leave all those in." Now, you're not going to hear it in your kitchen. Anyone who's got those headphones on, just as the music comes, you're going to hear it. And it's frightening when you first hear that, because it's something you won't have heard unless you've got it loud in your ears. I love all those funny little quirky things that are going on. It's in that environment where you might pick up my daughter's voice in "Macabre Cabaret."
WHAT YOU SAID KIND OF GOES BACK TO ONE OF THE THINGS THAT I LIKE A LOT ABOUT BRITISH LYRICISTS IN PARTICULAR — THAT THERE'S ALWAYS THIS SORT OF FANCIFUL, PROSAIC ELEMENT TO IT THAT I THINK BRUCE DICKINSON HAS REFERRED TO AS CREATING "THEATER OF THE MIND."
Yeah. We have a history of great, great writers — some obviously more well-known than others. Some are good, some are bad. I'm indifferent about others. I've recently been attending some — well before lockdown — spoken-word poetry evenings. I haven't gotten up and had a go of it myself yet. I don't have that kind of courage. But some of the performers do it from memory, and some of them will be reciting what they've written down.
There's a lot of people, rightly so, bitter with the world and the state of affairs. And a lot of the contemporary poetry they were reciting was quite visceral and angry, and it wasn't really my cup of tea, but I kind of appreciated what they were doing. It was well-written and delivered with passion, but I can't help hankering back to the old style, you know? "Thou art" and "thine" and words we don't use so much, very often. But that's just me.
When I was at school, I absolutely loved English literature lessons. Every book I read, I didn't just look at the pages and hope to get to the end as soon as possible. I absorbed this stuff — with relish. I really got into it. When a teacher gives you the book to take home to read, most people will flick through it as fast as possible.
For me, it was nourishment. I really enjoyed it and I couldn't wait to read it out. The next time we had English literature, most people, when the teacher says, "John, can you read a bit now?" They're like, "Oh God," and they stumble their way through it. I couldn't wait to be picked out to start orating to the rest of the crowd. And I was throwing my arms, hither and thither.
It's just me. And that's just how I like to write. And that's the environment I like to be in when I write. I ridiculously light candles and drink wine and wait 'til the early hours. There's practical reasons for that, because no one is going to ring. No one's going to call up the house. It's one o'clock in the morning. There's no distractions, and you sense that writing is afoot. You can feel it coming.
The wine helps, naturally. And then it just flows and it's warm and you're not questioning what you're writing. You're just going with the flow. And things are coming out which are nonsensical, but you know that when you can put them together at a later date, you can fashion something more out of it. It's almost like a jigsaw. You're writing phrases that pop into your mind. "Oh, that sounds amazing. I'll write that down." Totally unrelated is another line below it.
And in a couple of weeks' time, I'll go back to this scrap of paper with wine all over it and wax and everything, and I'll think, "That's gibberish. That's quite nice, though. And that will work well with something last night."
So I start to put things together like that. And when you read about some of the old poets a couple of hundred years ago, they were on opium and all kinds of things because to unlock the thoughts that are dormant during the daytime because we have to live our lives, the wine — or for those guys, the strongest substances — just opens that door and it allows thoughts that should be locked away out and to escape. And they're all over the place and you're trying to grab them and shuffle them together.
It's like someone spilling gold coins in front of you. You're delighted, and you're grasping. You're gathering things together because you know at some point there's treasure here, and treasure is good. For me, words are treasure.
HOW MUCH OF THE SPOKEN-WORD TRIPS INFLUENCED THE SPOKEN WORD ON THE EP IN "A PURSE OF GOLD AND STARS"?
No influence whatsoever with the contemporary stuff. I feel, as well, if I were to decide I had the courage to stand up and do some of the open mic stuff, would I be mocked for being so old-fashioned? You know what I mean?
My poetry is box of chocolates and roses. Theirs is politics and starvation and the way the world is, unfortunately. I just imagine them rolling their eyes and thinking, "Come on, granddad! Move on!"
I will go back, because the pub that they go to is lovely and the beer is amazing and they have candles, as well. It's a lovely, lovely environment.
I'm just hoping that someone does some old-fashioned stuff because it's a dead language. Let's face it, it's a dead language. No one reads poetry. It was the height of fashion a couple hundred years ago. Hundreds would attend poetry readings and pay good money, as well, and then buy the pamphlets afterwards.
These days, if I decided to start reciting poetry in our local historic marketplace, there would be nobody there, and anyone who passed would just think I was a bit insane. That's fine. The world has moved on. I just haven't quite moved on just yet. So none of that contemporary stuff had an influence on my current writing period. And I don't think it will, because as I say, that's quite political. It's very now, which is fine, but when I create something, it's not very now at all. It's way back.
ANOTHER THING I WAS THINKING ABOUT IN REGARD TO THE THEMES OF THE EP IS THEY'RE NOW KIND OF TIMELY IN LIGHT OF THE PANDEMIC AND EVERYTHING, BECAUSE YOU'VE GOT PEOPLE WHO BASICALLY ARE NOW KEEPING TO THEMSELVES A LOT MORE, WHICH IS GOING TO BREED A LOT MORE OF THAT LONELINESS, WHICH IS THEN GOING TO LEAD TO THAT SORT OF INTENSE DESIRE.
It is, yeah. I mean, obviously these songs were written way before the pandemic was ever here, but I think when you look at a lot of people's music, you can pick things apart and you can add things and take away things that are relevant to how you see the world today.
I have a lot of loners in my writing, and quite often, they perish. [Laughs] It's not a spoiler! I think most people probably would go along with that anyway. And I don't know why that happens. If you are broken-hearted enough, the physical pain can kill you.
We've all heard stories of a couple who've been together all their lives. As soon as one of them dies, within a month the other one is dead. You've lived with someone for such a long time, they're like your twin. They're like the other you, your living shadow. When that's taken away, you will have never experienced that in your life. And the shock to the system will destroy you.
I use things like that quite often in the things that I write because it's so powerful. It's like a sort of dark magic. You can't put your finger on why it happens. Is a broken heart really a medical condition? Can that really kill someone? I sort of think — do you know what? I think it can. Because the loneliness that is ahead of you is so overwhelming that you start mentally clocking out. It's not worth living anymore. And your body starts to slowly shut down piece-by-piece-by-piece. And you've gone because the love of your life is no longer there.
My literary works are scattered with perishing lovers because I think it's fantastically melancholic. I dwell in those areas, although I'm a quite happy person. I think I like to write about things that make your heart jump a little bit. And that's what I do.