THE BIG INTERVIEW: NICK HOLMES OF PARADISE LOST TALKS ISOLATION, ‘OBSIDIAN’ AND EVERYTHING METAL
18 May 2020
Paradise Lost, the pioneers of Doom and Gothic Metal, have just released their 16th studio album ‘Obsidian’, which MetalTalk described in our review as being a ‘class album from a class act’.
MetalTalk’s Dany Jones caught up with Nick Holmes, singer, writer and frontman of Paradise Lost, while he was in Skipton, Yorkshire, waiting for the world to re-open.
MT: Hey Nick, thank you for talking to MetalTalk today. We are very happy to have you. Where are you at the moment? Is it your house in Yorkshire and how is the lockdown treating you?
Nick Holmes: Hello, pleasure. Yes, I am in Skipton, Yorkshire, isolating with my family. It’s ok, we are kind of semi-rural here, it’s pretty quiet anyway. It’s kind of how everybody else that surrounds you acts that freaks you out a bit, like going to the supermarket. If I am not on tour, I am at home anyway, so it’s not too much of a stretch to be honest; we all spend a lot of time at home.
Its crazy like everybody was talking about Brexit and now we have all forgotten about it. Today people are getting back to work and the roads are getting busier, so we’ll see what happens.
How are you filling your time at the moment and are you in touch with the band?
To be honest, we have been mega busy doing promotion; I have never ever done so much promotion for an album. Usually, we do a lot of face to face interviews, maybe go off to Germany, France, then come down to London for a couple of days.
Now, we are doing a lot of Skype interviews, but I don’t think I have ever done so much promotion for an album in my life. I have seen interviews I can’t even remember doing *laughs*.
It has been absolutely full on for the last month. Greg, the guitar player, and myself, that is all we have been doing, really.
We were just thinking what is going to happen from now. The album has just come out on the 15th and, as far as gigs go, we have one booked on the 17th of September but I don’t know if that’s going to happen or not.
Once we can get together as a band, then we can think about how we can do shows, stream, whatever it is we have to do, but until we can actually see each other, there’s not much we can do really. We are not really the kind of people to do concerts from our bedrooms in our pajamas. We’ll see..
Obviously your guess is as good as anyone’s if that is going ahead, but wasn’t that supposed to be your launch on the 17th September?
So, the album was out as normal, that didn’t affect anything. The 17th September was going to be the first live at Leeds Warehouse and, fingers crossed, it may still go ahead. I am trying to be positive. I mean the outcome is going to be the same regardless, so it is no point to be negative about it.
I saw there was a NY journalist or writer and he was saying he has been terrified of everything that happens in life for so long, that now something really bad has happened, he is fine with it because he has built all the stress up for the small things. Now that it is a big thing, he’s like totally positive about everything. I am kind of a bit like that.
You have been around since 1988 and considered veterans on the scene as well as pioneers of the Gothic Doom genre. Apparently you have initiated a new subculture and inspired successors of the likes of Cradle of Filth, The Gathering, My Dying Bride, Lacuna Coil, Nightwish, Type O Negative, to name but a few. How do you feel about that label?
I think Gothic Metal, we very much coined that phrase; no one really did that before us. It’s nice that people take influence from you. It was very much the same when we started, ‘cause we were influenced by bands like Death, Trouble and Candlemass.
I guess when you start as a band, you tend to like bands that are four years older than you are and then you influence bands that are four years younger than you are. A lot of it is the luck of being in the right place at the right time. It is certainly flattering if people say that you inspired them or take inspiration from something you have done. It’s very humbling.
Well, you are on your 16th album, so it is certainly a great example of longevity and on how to do things right.
I think there is also an enormous amount of luck involved, in anything really, but particularly in this industry. There is an interview with Lemmy where he says “you have to be in the right place at the right time” and he is completely right. There are a lot of really good bands fallen by the wayside because it was the wrong time. There is a hell of a lot of luck involved for sure.
Did that happen to you guys?
Yes, I think we have been very lucky. We have had luck with record labels, luck with managers; definitely a lot of luck involved. You sail the ship the best way you can, but there is still luck involved without a doubt.
Who would you rate as a band and why in the current market?
I don’t know really. I can’t remember the last time I have listened to a new band. I kind of go through phases and I listen to a lot of music, but I usually have to be in a frame of mind for it. I kind of come in and out, It’s the same for reading. I like reading, but at times I don’t read for months. I tend to check new bands out, but I could listen to a hundred bands and not like any of them.
Straight out of the air, I couldn’t tell you of one band that I listened to recently that I have kind of felt ‘oh wow’, but that’s not to say it won’t happen. I don’t work like that when I listen to music. I kind of stumble upon stuff and I get obsessed with it, then it kind of dies off.
You have had a steady line up throughout the years, with the exception to the drummers. Was it a case of ‘self-combustion’ just like in the curse of ‘This is the Spinal Tap’?
Well, there is about a six year gap in between each drummer, so people seem to forget how long we have been around, but everyone says it, we even say it.
We started the band as five friends and we are still very good friends with the original drummer, but when you get older people get responsibilities. They don’t want to be away from home when they have children and most of the times when we have changed drummer, it was the case that they wanted to spend more time at home. That comes into place especially when you get a bit older.
The touring schedules when we were younger were mad. We would have been away for much of the time and it was very tough with little kids. Now they have grown up a bit. And we were young ourselves. We were in our early twenties and that’s the age you want to be out partying, but when you have children at home… It was a very tough age to be doing it, but we got through it.
Rumour has it that you initially picked Morris over Singer because he ‘had a pink drumkit’, even though later he worked his way in the band anyway. Is this true?
Yeah, pretty much, that’s the story. We always liked him, but it is first impressions, you know. It’s like someone you meet if they had a food stain on their jacket, you would notice that; it’s the little things.. A pink drumkit was a total no no for us at that point.
He loves that story though, he tells it all the time. He called it ‘Cherry Rose’ which is bullshit, it was pink!
You have been together for so long, clearly you have managed not to kill each other just yet. Who would you say is the biggest diva in the band and why?
Everyone has their moments and also people tend to kick off if, say, we have been travelling for 36 hours and no one has slept. I can’t point the finger at anyone individually because circumstances can trigger things. I have seen people go insane. I have made a complete asshole of myself backstage at certain points, but there has usually been a reason for it; like snapping at some point.
It’s usually when you haven’t slept right, that’s when it usually happens and it’s usually food related for most of us.
Do you get ‘hangry’?
Yes, we are obsessed with getting fed. Usually most of our complaints are food related if I am honest and it has kind of gotten worse as we got older. I am the most vocal of the band, that’s why I became the vocalist. What can I say, everyone has their moments.
There must be a good balance though, when this happens then someone else defuses
You just let someone blow off steam and then move on. Everyone knows what buttons to press at each other. We know that some people are good wind-ups and some don’t like doing that, they don’t like banter as much. We know what everyone else is like.
Also, when we are not touring, we don’t spend much time together. We all live miles apart and we’ve all got families. We never see each other unless it is band related, so it is quite nice to hook up, especially for the weekend festivals. It’s a bit like the ‘boys weekend away’, which is always good fun.
When you have been in a band for years and years, people just presume you all live in the same house like Slade. Everyone thinks you have got doors going into each other’s rooms, but it’s just definitely not like that.
Is everybody in UK then or are there some scattered?
Our drummer Walter lives in Helsinki, Greg lives far east, Aaron lives in London, I live up north and Steve lives 20 miles from me, but we are all pretty spread out I guess.
But let’s talk about the business. You have changed several labels. At some point signed to a major with EMI, which saw the release of ‘Believe in Nothing’. A different direction, presumably more control from the label.
What can you tell us about that?
It was a bit of a weird time. We were coming off the back of ‘Host’ which, regardless of the fact that I think that it was one of our strongest albums, it wasn’t well received. It’s not a Metal album and I can see why people didn’t like it, but if you think ok, it’s not a Metal album, then it makes more sense. With hindsight, it would have been better to do it as a project, but you live and learn.
So, we sort of came off the back of that album and we didn’t really know where we were going, but, at the same time, we had to do an album.
It was a strange time; there was a lot of stuff going on in our personal lives around those three / four years that also affected us. The fact that we had bees on the cover; I remember that was my idea but I have no idea why! That says it all, really..
I still think it’s a great Rock album, perhaps the production is a bit flat, but it is mainly because we didn’t really know what we wanted.
And now you are with Nuclear Blast. Are you happier?
They have been great, same with the Century Media guys, they are a great group of people.
We have been with them for years and we are still friends with them. Same with Nuclear Blast, they have been great. People working on the bands that are into the bands, that care about the music they are working on and don’t treat them as just a product. That is really important. They know how it works, they know how our fans work.
I think that a Metal band should be on a Metal label; when you start with the EMI’s of the world, it’s kind of a small fish in a big pond and it’s a lot harder. Unless you are selling millions and millions, then it’s different of course, but for more cult bands, Metal labels are the way forward.
Your new album ‘Obsidian’ was released last Friday 15th May via Nuclear Blast. Your label gave you the option to postpone the release date due to the global pandemic, however you have decided to go ahead with the original plan. How come?
Because people don’t stop listening to music, so we didn’t see the point in delaying it. The only problem is that there is a huge gap between the release date and the live performance, which we would probably play maybe around this time, so we have had to delay that, but I guess it’s just plenty of time for people to absorb the music and then really get into it for when we can play it.
I know that bands delay releases, but, personally, I don’t see the need for that. I still listen to music I liked when I was 13 years old. Music is timeless so I don’t think it matters.
16 albums under your belt. Started as a Gothic / Doom band, then catapulted to mass success with ‘Draconian Times’, which charted at no 20 in several countries, and followed experimenting with a more mainstream Rock and Electronic sound, introducing keyboards.
Following that, the last two albums ‘The Plague Within’ (2015) and ‘Medusa’ (2017) have seen a kind of going back to your roots.
Would you say that you have gone full circle?
It is probably a bit of a cliché’ to say that, but every album is a new chapter. I can think of a certain album and I can go back to specific times in my personal life, so I do reference albums as chapters.
Sound wise, it has gone full circle yes, but everything we do leaves a print going forward, so we always remember everything we have done, but we then write a new album, we don’t really reference back because times have changed. I mean, make an album like ‘Draconian Times’ now, it wouldn’t necessarily work because that album is very much of the time, so you’ve gotta keep an eye on everything you have done, but keep looking forward.
I don’t really wanna live in the past, although we do have a lot of past and you have got to look back at it every now and then, but always keep looking forward.
How would you describe ‘Obsidian’? Tell us about the writing process and do you feel accomplished with it?
The album before is always the reference point, so when we start writing there is always an element of the previous album in the first couple of songs.
The first song is ‘Fall from Grace’, which is very reminiscent of the last album and that was a very specifically Doom / Death Metal album. We wanted a bit more variation on this one, so, as far as the writing goes, we tried everything on this one, acoustic, growling vocals, clean vocals, in between; I mean, we tried so many different things and it is about what works ultimately. It’s about the composition of the songs, but certainly a lot more variation on this one compared to the previous one.
Yes, even your press release describes it as one of the band’s most diverse and devastating creations to date and then there was this very definition by yourself saying “we have all sorts and we have miserable songs, like REALLY miserable”.
Yeah, we love miserable songs, they are great, it’s pure escapism. There are some songs that make me feel like crying occasionally and I love that.
You have released two singles, the second video ‘Ghosts’ is a lyric video, however the debut called ‘Fall from Grace’ has a very strong message. Opens with a man, what looks like a white collar, crushed on the floor at the bottom of an office building. Back on the Doom, how did you get the idea behind it?
The lyrics, in a sound-byte, are about being something that you are not anymore; you don’t see the cracks. You think things are fine and that everything is the same as it was, but you are not anymore, you are not the person you were.
The video was done with that idea. The guy who is dead thinks he isn’t dead, but he actually is. That’s the kind of short of it and everything in between is his imagination.
We wanted the video to be very much like a short film and the song would be the soundtrack to it. We used to love the old Radiohead videos, which were like a 5 mins story and the song is the soundtrack. I love those videos. Performance videos are great, but we have done so many of them, so we liked a more cinematic kind of video.
You have obviously had a long and prosperous career. Toured extensively, had some great collaborations, including Cristina Scabbia of Lacuna Coil and Gus G of Ozzy. Headlined the Yagermeister Stage at Ozzfest, only last year headlined Hammerfest. Did you have many shows planned and had to cancel many due to the pandemic and what are the plans for the future, lockdown permitting?
Yes of course, we had to cancel a bunch of shows and festivals, but I don’t think we would have toured the album until next year anyway. A lot of festivals have fallen by the wayside, but luckily, we weren’t in the middle of a tour and then we had to cancel, like my friends in other bands, for instance. They had to deal with that, which is the worst predicament, especially when you are starting a tour.
We just have to take it day by day and see what happens. It’s the same for everybody around the world, so we will all start again pretty much around the same time.
How do you feel about temporary measures such as drive-in concerts and sit down shows with reduced audience?
We have done seated shows. I don’t know, I guess it’s like going to the theatre. You may perhaps rely on visual aspects and make it more theatrical. Say like Rammstein. When I watch Rammstein I am usually seated and it is a brilliant spectacle. You don’t need to be moving around to see them. I guess it would work, but if you add alcohol in the mix, things are going to change.
People like to have a drink. It is part of a night out I suppose for many people, unless you are driving. Adding alcohol to the mix is going to change how people react so, I don’t think any of these things are going to be the future. It’s just the case that it might take a long time to settle back to normal, ‘cause people are still wanna go see gigs in the normal situation.
I wouldn’t be against a drive-in to see a band, it would be a novelty perhaps, but none of those things are going to replace a proper gig, there is no chance. it’s like doing a showcase gig to industry people or a livestream, you just have to get used to it.
What is your favourite setting, intimate shows or playing to wider audiences?
It depends, I like intimate shows, but I prefer big crowds. When you are walking on stage to a 100,000 people it is such a great feeling. Even if they are not there for you, it doesn’t matter; the more, the better. The pressure is the same, I wouldn’t feel any different between a smaller or a bigger stage, but, generally, I do like a big crowd.
Do you have an absolute favourite? A show that was out of this world that you will always remember?
I think it was about 1993, we played in Poland in Katowice and that show was absolutely amazing. We had never played a show that big, it was our biggest show to that date. Everyone in the crowd was going absolutely nuts and then, in turn, we were going nuts because we never experienced anything like it and I remember that gig was a real game changer.
We usually say Dynamo 1995, that was also absolutely brilliant, a fantastic show, but Katowice was our first really big show.
You know, a lot people in our audience are in their 30s and 40s now and, generally speaking, you are not stage diving when you are 45, but even now, the Polish are very vocal; it’s great.
Do you guys normally do meet and greets?
Yes, we have done. At festivals it’s usually expected.
What is the craziest offering you have had?
A lot of times you get drunk guys who come and they don’t know who you are. They are fucking hammered, they just lay on the table and then the table collapses sometimes.
This guy once sat on the railings and fell over backwards and smashed his head on the floor. You get some guys who have been drinking in the sun and it’s like really hot and you know they started at like 11am and it’s like 7pm. It’s all done in good spirits.
In the Metal world everyone is very friendly and they are usually very friendly. It’s quite fun as long as they don’t hurt themselves.
Nick, I think that I have squeezed you enough with questions. You have been fantastic. Thank you so much for your time and is there anything you would you like to say to our readers?
Just that I hope that they will enjoy the album and that we will play as soon as we can, whenever that will be; we will try our best.