Paradise Lost : the idol isn’t always the one you’d think it is

Nick Holmes, Paradise Lost singer, is a guy full of contradictions: he hates idol worship while being himself considered as an idol by his numerous fans. He’s fascinated by religions even though he finds them beyond understanding. According to him, Paradise Lost is, above all, a metal band, but still according to him, one of the band’s most important records isn’t metal at all. Sadness doesn’t inspire him because he thinks it’s too negative, but then sad music makes him feel good, and is considered positive. This complexity is probably a part of what makes the artist’s subtlety and, by extension, Paradise Lost’s uniqueness. Maybe that’s when you’re torn between opposites in your urges, your ideas and your feelings that creative energy starts to flow.

If there’s a permanent feature that never, or almost never failed Paradise Lost, it’s creative energy, proof of this being their new opus Tragic Idol that’s being added to an already rich and exemplary discography. No style experiments anymore, but a real expertise that makes them more than ever the kings of gothic doom metal.

We talked to Nick Holmes on the phone a couple of days ago, and he answered our questions.

« When you worship someone, especially a human being, you’re always disappointed, because human beings can be only so good. »

Radio Metal: Tragic Idol was recorded in the Chapel Studios in Lincolnshire, except for the vocals, just as In Requiem and Paradise Lost were. I saw some pictures on their website and it looks like a nice chapel in the countryside. Is this kind of environment the perfect place for a band like Paradise Lost to record an album?

Nick Holmes (vocals): Yeah, we’re kind of old school in that respect. We’ve always been to a residential studio to record the albums, we’re kind of used to doing that. Nowadays, it’s not necessary, a lot of bands don’t do that. It’s very expensive to do that. I think the residential studio is a dying thing now. And it’s a shame, because it’s the best conditions when you are in a band. So yeah, it’s kind of important for us to be able to hang out, it’s good for bonding. Although this time, the pub at the top of the road wasn’t open, so it kind of changed the dynamics. We couldn’t go to the pub, so that made a big difference. But nevertheless, we still managed to make the album, so it was not so bad!

Tragic Idol is a strong album name. Do you think that idolatry is always paired with tragedy?

Well, yeah. When you worship someone, especially a human being, you’re always disappointed, because human beings can be only so good. I’ve never idolized anyone in my life, but I’ve admired musicians. And when I actually meet them, I’m always disappointed. So I kind of don’t want to meet anyone in real life anymore! Some people I really respect and admire, but I don’t want to meet them, because I fear I may be disappointed. Humans are just flawed, it doesn’t matter on what level. Whether they’re rich or poor or whatever, they’re just flawed anyway. Idolizing someone is like… I don’t know, it’s not something I’ve ever really done.

On the album there’s a song called “Honesty In Death”. Do you think people need to be confronted with death to truly open their eyes to reality?

People will be confronted with death, because that’s life. If you’ve got relatives – a mother and a father, grandparents –, you will be confronted with it at some point. It’s part of life, you know? I wouldn’t wish it on anybody, but everybody goes through it. They will have to deal with it at some point. I suppose it kind of makes you who you are. You go through life and you get shit thrown at you, and that makes you who you are. Death is part of that. I don’t think you’ll need it, but you’re gonna have it. It’s as simple as that.

Do you think death is the only honest thing in life?

Right now, yes! (laughs) At this precise moment, yeah, I do. But I might change my mind!

Paradise Lost’s music has always used religious terms and connotations. On the new album, you have titles like “Crucify”, “Tragic Idol” or “Fear Of Impending Hell”, that borrow from the religious glossary. Is it the connection between religions and death that fascinates you so much?

I just find religions fascinating. I don’t have any inclinations toward religion. There’s not a thing in my body that makes me feel like I need to worship something. I don’t even understand it, it’s kind of an alien thing to me. I don’t think it’s wrong; one of my best friends is very religious. I kind of admire how he hangs on to it. I think it makes him a better person, and that’s nice. But I find it fascinating: to think that when you die, something’s gonna happen – I just don’t get it. So obviously, it’s of great interest to me. I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing, but like I said, I don’t get it.

Gregor Mackintosh lost his father two years ago. He actually left the tour at the time, and as a reaction to the emotional state he was in, he created a band called Vallenfyre and did an album with them. Do you think the death of his father has also affected the creation of Tragic Idol?

I don’t know. Possibly, yeah. Everything that happens to you in life can affect the music that you write. Every album we’ve done kind of relates to what was going on at the time. I lost my father around the Host and Believe In Nothing albums. It was a significant period for me. When I listen to theses albums, it does remind me of my father. Everything in life obviously does affect your writing, consciously or not.

« We started as a metal band and we’ll finish as a metal band, because that’s what we are. »

Last year, you did some special Draconian Times concerts where you played the album in its entirety. Do you think that playing all of these songs again has had any impact on the way Tragic Idol turned out, in the extent that this album is probably the closest you’ve ever been to returning to the sound of Draconian Times?

For me, personally, not really. Maybe there’s some kind of subconscious influence. I don’t know. We were very surprised how much success those shows received. As a band, we’ve never stopped to reflect on our albums, on how much impact some of them have had on the public. When we did that tour, we were quite shocked to realize that the album was so significant to so many people. Very much like a real key album in people’s lives. It’s a really big thing. So maybe it was a subconscious thing. It’s not like we sat down and said: “OK, let’s do something like this”. We never do that; we never stop. If we stopped and started reflecting on our best years, maybe we would. But we’re like heavy metal cockroaches, we just keep going. (laughs)

Looking at the big picture of your musical career, since the last four albums, it looks like you’re going through of reverse evolution compared to the one you went through during the first half of the 90s. You progressively went from doom metal to a more melodic kind of gothic rock, and now each time you go back a step further down the doom metal road you’ve always been praised for, as Tragic Idol proves. How can you explain this surprising evolution curve?

We’re metalheads, we always have been. The Host album, like it or hate it, I still think it’s one of our best albums, regardless of the fact that it’s not a metal album. I still think it’s an incredibly significant album for us; I still love it very much. But at the end of the day, we started as a metal band and we’ll finish as a metal band, because that’s what we are. We wandered in different styles because that’s life, you get different stuff. Metal is what we are. We can wear a different jacket for a while, but then we will take it off! (laughs)

Does that mean you have definitely settled your style and that the band is done with experiments?

We haven’t done experiments in a long time. I was just talking about this with Greg last night. It’s quite a long time since we experimented, really. At least ten years. We were always all for experimenting, but it’s more about what you feel is right. You can only take things so far with metal music, you only really experiment so much. But for us, it’s only about writing good songs. I’m not into changing guitar sounds for the sake of it. I just want to have a good song.

I know that your last two albums have been really well received. Did that in some ways comfort the band that it has taken the right direction by going back to a heavier style?

I don’t know, we don’t really know why that is. For me, personally, each album is about deciding what we’re gonna do for the next three years. Because obviously, if you do an album that people like, you can tour more. It’s about doing something that, first and foremost, we’re happy with, something we can listen to and then say “yeah, that’s great !”. After that, chances are people will like it. I think if we did something we’re not happy with, people would see through it and it would fail. You’ve got to create things for yourself. After that, if people like it, then it’s great. We’ve done so many albums, people would hear it if it was insincere, or something we don’t feel passionate about.

Throughout the band’s career, sadness has always been a constant. Where do you still find so much sadness after all these years? Is this something you can never get rid of?

I don’t want to get rid of it. Darkness and sadness are an integral part of the band, it’s something I don’t want to get rid of. That’s what I like about it. It is what the band is, the fabric of everything we do. I wouldn’t want to get rid of it. The more, the better!

What do you like so much about sadness, then?

I find sad music uplifting. I only listen to music if I’m in a good mood. I don’t find sadness or depression inspiring at all, they’re very negative feelings. But sad music, I find it positive. There’s nothing negative behind it. It’s just something that makes me feel good. It’s kind of a contradiction, but I don’t know, it feels right.

« Real life is not music. […] It’s not gonna solve any problem. It’s just something on the side that makes life good. It makes life a little bit better. »

Since the last couple of years we’ve been going through a world crisis. Does that somehow help a band like Paradise Lost in writing songs?

Not really. The band is about escapism, forgetting about real life. You can make social statements in the lyrics, or whatever – to me, it doesn’t really matter. I don’t really care about people who think they’re gonna change the world through lyrics! At the end of the day, music is something you put on in the car, or when you want to get away from the real fuckin’ bullshit in life. I say that regardless of the fact that I spend a lot of time with the lyrics. But it’s about escapism. Real life is not music. It can help you through situations, it can kind of make things seem better. Especially when you’re a teenager: music is everything when you grow up. But at the end of the day, it’s not gonna solve any problem. It’s just something on the side that makes life good. It makes life a little bit better. It’s escapism and there’s nothing wrong with that.

I read you say in an interview that the Kiss song “God Gave Rock ‘N Roll To You” was very inspirational to you. Can you tell us more about it?

(laughs) I just like the lyrics. Kiss is such a… I don’t know what’s the right word. I’ve never been a Kiss fan, I kind of got into Kiss in the last five years. Their songs are like nursery rhymes, they’re very catchy, I can play them in the car, my kids like their songs as well. I don’t want to use the term “cartoon”, that’s just too harsh. I just find the lyrics of that song very, very true, on a completely commercial level. If you’re a musician, the lyrics are gonna ring really true.

Paradise Lost did a couple of cover songs in the past. Have you ever thought of covering this song? It could be surprising!

Yeah, it would be surprising! (laughs) You wouldn’t get Greg to play a Kiss song, that’s for sure. He doesn’t like Kiss! It ain’t gonna happen! (laughs)

He could change the song and reinterpret it completely!

Yeah, yeah, don’t hold your breath… (laughs)

“The Glorious End” is a song that really gloriously ends the album. Is it important for you, in general, to end the things that you undertake in a glorious manner?

Yeah, pomposity, we like that! We like dramatic stuff. As individuals, we’re kind of not like that at all. But we just really love dramatic stuff. The more pompous, the better! It’s like a soundtrack to an incredibly dramatic scene in a film. I wanted to open the album with that song, but it would have been difficult, ‘cause it’s written like an end song. I wanted it to open the album, but obviously, it wouldn’t sound right! Pompous is good, we like that.

In what glorious manner would like to see your life ending?

I just want to fall asleep in my bed. Nothing too dramatic, really! And a cheap thing, not too much money spent. Cardboard coffin! (laughs)

Finally, what glorious words would you like to say to conclude this interview?

Thanks for the interview. Check out the album. We had a glorious evening in Paris last night, perhaps one or two many beers, so we’re a little bit fragile right now. Check us out on tour, blah blah blah… All the clichés! (laughs)

Interview conducted on march, 12th, 2012 by phone
Transcription : Saff’

Paradise Lost’s Website: www.paradiselost.co.uk
Tragic Idol : Out on april, 23th, 2012 via Century Media.

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