Hot on the heels of the release of the lengthy behind-the-scenes video for the making of “Your Broken Shore,” a single off their forthcoming Nuclear Blast Records album The Ghost of Orion, we were privileged enough to speak to founding member and guitarist of My Dying Bride, Andrew Craighan, about his band’s album, guest artists, cover artwork, and the forgotten pleasures of fully investing oneself in a new record. If you haven’t yet watched that behind-the-scenes look at “Your Broken Shore” then you better get caught up really quickly…
Let’s discuss your new album Ghost of Orion. Now, this is unmistakably My Dying Bride (MDB). As soon as I started playing it back I thought, well, this is MDB. But is there any characteristic that you specifically think sets the album apart from the remainder of your back catalogue?
Andrew Craighan: “Yes, I don’t think it is necessarily musically or musical characteristics. I think the way we approached the album from a production point of view is for me the standout difference. We have been very deliberate in our previous albums with keeping it very sort of… having… an underground feel but an underground vibe. Very dark, not necessarily unpolished but lacking what we would consider a modern feel. On this one, we went in and we just decided to take the shackles off and just like… it was almost a ‘why not?’ moment. So we spoke with the producer and said this is more or less what we were chasing and oddly enough the examples we used were Rotting Christ and their Rituals album I think it is which is massively impressive and impressed on me… it’s a great album and great music and very professional.
Without losing anything or losing any of the soul of the band and the power of the band and he said well that, I know exactly what you mean because I’m working with Rotting Christ right now… So it was easy for me to tell him we just want a sound as good as that does and we really that was the example we used. Rotting Christ was the first one I think… it was Gorgoroth, who I love… one of their albums is called Instinctus Bestialis which is fucking brilliant, and even though it is black metal it is so well recorded and so well put together and we wanted our sound a bit more like that but absolutely a MDB version of that. And was the target I suppose, that what we aimed for whether we got there or not I am not entirely sure, I think we did. But that I think, musically we stood with what MDB does. We did not in many respects we might be or we might be guilty of allowing some of the songs to be a little simpler than what we would normally do for the sake of accessibility.
But I think overall the balance of the album from start to finish is very much what we would normally do. It is what if we haven’t signed to Nuclear Blast it’s what Peaceville were going to get. Or Century Media or Season of Mist if we had moved to them, they would have got this album. It doesn’t sound like it does because of anything else the band did, because this is what we sound like this time around.”
On that note of you keeping true to your soul of MDB, it is quite interesting that so many of the British heritage bands as I call them owe a stylistic debt to MDB. I mean there are sonic touches and characteristics that can really be recognized in the likes of Winterfylleth, SAOR, Fen… my list just goes on and on. And now you have spoken about Rotting Christ and Gorgoroth… What other bands, even non-metal bands, would you say could be influences in your constantly evolving sound?
“Did you say non-metal bands?”
If you have any…
“I think talking aside, the most non-metal band I would listen to with any real partial frequency nowadays would be Dead Can Dance. I am still very fond of them. I don’t think I listen to any non-metal bands apart for the odd classical CD when I am feeling so… I don’t know maybe just in a different zone I will put something on, but more as a background piece rather than actually listening to it.”
It is very interesting for me to hear that given that you have been in metal for what, over 30 years. And other interviews I have had there is always one or two non-metal influences that creep in with the people I speak to. It is nice to hear that you are fully grounded.
“To be fair, the thing is I am thinking from recent memory and I haven’t listened to Dead Can Dance recently, I haven’t listened to them for the last 17 months but I did play them in the car just a couple of days ago. But I was a big fan of Radiohead, believe it or not, but I have kind of lost touch with them recently, but I still love their music and I bought all their albums and I thought they really had something and it was fucking miserable and in truth, that’s what I really enjoyed. But I’ve kind of lost touch with that band. It would not be honest of me to say that they were a frequent or recent influence on my listening, that they certainly have been, but I was heavily into them for a while.”
It is interesting that you speak about the miserable… With you describing your album as heavy as hell and miserable as hell reminds me early to mid-’90s… I’m from South Africa originally, so it took us a little longer to get music and it was only around then that doom started raising up and there was a bit of My Dying Bride, there was Solitude Aeturnus, Paradise Lost. These sorts of things started showing up and at the time I couldn’t understand why they were called doom metal when I always thought it should be gloom metal. And that is something that bothers me to this day that nobody else talks about gloom metal.
“I think these purely and possibly the way the words sound rather than their underlying description because ‘gloom,’ the actual descriptor I think probably more represents the style of what was taking place both lyrically and musically, but it simply doesn’t roll off the tongue like the idea of doom. I think that probably if you would just sit down and just analyze it you are probably correct… The style is misnamed but that is just one of those things. Doom sounds cooler I mean, would the doom game that came out on the PC be better if it was called gloom? So I think you are probably barking up the right tree, but it is stuck with doom. So what are you going to do?!”
Would you say there is a specific MDB album or even an individual song that you think best serves as a primer for introducing someone to your band?
“Alright, well… it’s almost like which song would turn them off the least… (laughs heartily) Mostly I reckon if we were… I would think about the newest album just because it’s the freshest, I reckon it would be ‘The Old Earth’ on this album. I think if we are going to go back in time to antiquity it would be something along the lines… I’m probably wildly wrong, I will probably be criticized for this… I would choose something like ‘Return to the Beautiful,’ going very very far back, it is on the first album (As The Flower Withers). I think that song kind of sums up what we were trying to do… what we were trying to achieve. Mainly because of the power of the riffs in that song and the dual vocal aspect where the antagonist is arguing against, quite literally with his demon self throughout the song… I really enjoy that song… back and forth takes that place there…”
That call and answer is wonderful.
“Tastes of people that are into MDB can’t be known, but I get to listen to it while they frown…”
Ok great! I also appreciate that kind of ebb and flow in music. Even in slower music like MDB it gives this engaging feeling that you get drawn into.
“Yeah well, I am of an age where I grew up with songs like ‘2112’ which is now relevant in peoples mind because of the unfortunate, maybe relative passing of Neil Peart of Rush and that was a song that taught me that songs don’t have to be three minutes long and they can be a story. I mean it is an entire story in itself, start to finish. It is a phenomenal piece of work. And ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner,’ almost all of the Iron Maiden songs are stories in some respect. I think the ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ is one that stands out for me because it is epic in its execution and those types of songs and that type of thinking are what caused MDB to be… what allowed us to do what we do because bigger bands, significantly bigger bands than MDB did it and we were for intents and purposes trying to copy them in our own way and weave our own, ourselves through these narratives.”
It is interesting that you speak about Iron Maiden. I have recently been looking at a lot of their artwork on the vinyl coming out again.
“Well, their artwork is second to none… It is a scene in itself!”
And part of that is specifically with looking at the bigger reproduction now with vinyl making its comeback. And I have to ask now, in this modern era where the single is almost more popular than the album, why do you think metal is one of the only genres that still buys these physical copies of records?
“I don’t know… I have a theory but it only applies to the older generation. People of my age or thereabouts. It doesn’t really apply to people who are now presently18 or just picking up on the vibe and that are into the scene. When I was growing up, and this is how I understand it. When I went out and bought The Strong Arm of the Law by Saxon or Killers and that took some doing because I had to walk to where that album was, I had no money for buses or taxis. The meager amount of money I had as a kid, as a teenager, 12 or 13, had to be spent so wisely that those records were everything to me. Buying an album was such an experience when you took the album out you managed to read the lyrics, to it, the lyrics, you’d dissect the cover inside and out and look at the new ones. You just literally drink it all so very deeply and extract every ounce of pleasure you could from it, from the audio, from the lyrics, from the artwork.
Now I think we have lost some of that with CDs and certainly MP3s, which I would like to listen to that now, you could listen to it on your phone and you have invested nothing to get that result. Whereas in the past we had to go and physically get the album, physically take it home, physically put it on and then we had a great big 12’ sleeve to look at and read the lyrics and really subscribe to what was taking place. So I think we have lost that, but I think that those that know about it, the older generation, are bringing it back. Because they don’t want to lose it and they don’t like the present way music is… I don’t like using the word consumed. I think you know what I’m on about.
And I think maybe the idea of vinyl is being passed down onto the newer generations, who are also seeing the same things and the same values of owning something physical for their money rather than just having a digitized signature of something that doesn’t really have any essence to it. I am not sure if I am right, it is just my take on the resurgence of vinyl and how it may or may not be or why it is back like this as it is definitely back… it really is back with a vengeance.”
It most definitely is and my Paypal bill doesn’t love me for it but I cannot stop myself…
“(laughing) There you go…”
Speaking about great big 12” reproductions of artwork… your new artwork, Eliran Kantor’s work, is spectacular. But can you give me some insight into the actual creative brief that you gave him to work from?
“This was quite straightforward as it happens. There isn’t a massive amount to talk about. We sort of ran out of time on the album. And then when we realized… because we had lots and lots of long delays and there was a minor rush towards the end, which is typical but there you go. So we contacted Nuclear Blast and said that we were kind of struggling with what’s going on here… can we… or do you know someone who’ll do this and they had a long list of names to show and one stood out because Eliran had actually been contacted by Darren maybe a year or two earlier saying, look can I do one of your albums, I’m a big fan of the band, I really think I can do what you guys do justice. And his name stood out so Aaron said, ‘look I think I know this guy… let’s go with this one.’
So we just sent him the title of the album. Sent him the feel that we were going for. He did not receive any music, some lyrics and he came back with his interpretations of what our words meant to him, and we were just blown away. My first, I only saw it on the phone initially, it was late one night and I just looked and I just thought that it is so the right album cover for this album and it’s so MDB and it is almost too true that it’s come first time. And we made no amendments and we sent it back to him and said finish that and that’s the one. Done and done. Thankfully it was a very painless process. And I just love it. I just think it looks awesome.”
I am looking at it again right now as large as my screen will allow it and I cannot wait to actually get a physical copy so I can look at it in more detail because there is just so much nuance going on there that… I get chills almost…
“There is definitely something to it. It is a very special piece of work.”
I am feeling very jealous. I always get jealous of people that can translate one creative output into another so effectively.
“Yeah, this guy, this is something else. And as it happens our artworks are just one in a long collection of great pieces of artwork that this guy has done. He really is something else. I don’t know where or how he manages to do this, but well thankfully he is here for us to enjoy it. Generally… he could fill a museum himself of just album art… it is staggering.”
Well, that is a show I will definitely go and spend money on… With, as well as him, what other guest artists can you highlight as having really, really considerable contributions to The Ghost of Orion?
“There are two stand-out ones. Two ladies in fact. One is Jo Quail who played the cello and the other one is probably slightly more well known I think in the sort of metal word due to a band called Wardruna which she sings in, and that is Lindy Fay Hella. The Jo Quail link is fairly straight forward basically. I wrote a song, which became ‘The Long Black Land’ and the opening riff, I did this on keyboard initially, always had a cello intro. I wrote this cello intro and I really quite liked it even though I am not very good at keyboards but it worked. We took it to the studio and that is how we got used to the song. And then someone just said but we should get a real cellist, it’s a nice piece but a real cellist will really make it happen and then it just developed from there, you know.
The one minute we are talking about an intro the next minute we are talking about outros the next we are talking about we can put it in the middle of that. So we talked ourselves into putting cello on the album in the space of 30 minutes or something like that but we just did not know who. Then contacts and whispers came to our… we know Winterfylleth as we mentioned earlier quite well and they have a side project, I can’t remember what it’s called, I think it’s an acoustic type of side project that she may have played on… Jo played on. So we said well if it is good enough for Winterfylleth, those guys, they are no fools, she will probably be good enough for us.
So we contacted her and she said yes, I am really into this tell me what you want to do. So she came up, listened to the album and she said something that was just fantastic… and she said after she listened to it she was ‘Wow! It was almost as if everybody else is just pretending to play doom and this was the real thing.’ That was a nice way to put this!”
No higher praise!
“No one had heard the album! Well I mean, we had not heard anybody… the only people that had heard the album at that point were in the band and the producer himself. So to hear such positive words from the single outsider that came in and her manager, that was a great start for us. And a great… whether she was saying it for positive effect, well whatever, it worked. But then when she put the cello on, believe me, that was something else. Because we really struggled to take it back off. We would have her play on everything and we’d say just play. Get used to the songs. So she played on the whole album, in fact almost on all the album and we had to peel it back in places where we couldn’t use it and it was tough. It really suited the music so much so that we saw if we do another album in two or three years or whenever it might be that we will add cello and get Jo back in to do that again. It fit so well with what we do. So she is on and she features quite heavily in the single that we did called ‘Your Broken Shore’ and she does the outro which I just think is fantastic. We created a song out of the cello from that and made it the bookended the album with ‘Your Woven Shore.’
If you’ve heard the album you will have heard a very morose little outro piece that sort of glides you out of what the album is. And on the flip side to the cello bringing in Lindy Fay Hella was slightly different but more or less the same. We wrote a song called that became ‘The Solace’ and we didn’t really know where we were going with this song. We just knew that we didn’t want to put drums on it. That was it. We weren’t going to put violin on it. We wanted to see if we could get to where we just had lots of delays and lots of reverb on the guitars, we have never done it like this before.
And then we said what about female vocals? It seems to beg for that. The initial thoughts as usual with MDB was to go straight to the Dead Can Dance style. Very long-winded. Very operatic sort of Lisa Gerrard stuff. But when we tried that, we put some vocal lines next to it, it just didn’t seem to gel as much as we wanted and then our tour manager said…, our tour manager is a massive Wardruna fan, to the point where she’s probably classed as a stalker now so she said look try more about this style, Lindy Fay. She could sing, she’s very artful, very dynamic and I have seen Wardruna a couple of times and I quite like what Lindy Fay seems like. She’s not quite in this world when she is on stage. She’s sort of semi-in, semi-out.
As a performance, she’s mesmerizing. So I said you know what that’s… that might work because the song is so awkward and odd in itself, it might need awkward and odd to back it up. So we just tried our luck and we sent her an email saying, ‘we’ve got this song we don’t really know where we are taking it but we think your style of music and female vocals would compliment it.’ And she basically said send me what you have got and we can see what we are up against. She received the music and thankfully liked it, which is always a bonus. She says it’s really great and really strange, I’ve never heard anything quite like it from a male band, leave it with me.
So we left her alone and two or three weeks later she comes back and says ‘look, I‘m struggling a little with this a bit because I hear only one vocal line.’ Well, we only need one. There’s no panic. But she was really scared of saying, well, normally I want two and three, and I want to choose the best ones. I want one, two three but every time I come to it I hear the same one. She says, ‘I’m waking up hearing the same one.’ And I was thinking, well that’s the right one. Just do that one. It will be fine. But she was really concerned because she thought she was sort of not doing this sort of normal due diligence if you will to the song. We had not heard anything, we were just hearing what she was saying. And we were saying don’t panic, there is no panic.
Nuclear Blast were not pressuring us so we were not pressuring her. So we left her a little longer. She said it is going to have to be this one, it is the only one that comes to me. And we said fine, send it. And it is what you hear on the album. And we were just… it just… everybody uses this but it just blew us away. The power, the execution, the note choice, the harmonies and we were like holy…! Why would she panic about this, it is fucking perfect and we changed nothing. And I mean literally no… there were no amendments, all we did was put a little bit of reverb on and dress it with some delay a little bit and little bit of nuts like that… it was absolutely a direct hit first time.
We were playing it in the studio saying to Aaron, ‘what’s your take on this?’ How are we going to fit your vocals around this? And he just sat back and said look, that’s finished. That’s done. I don’t want to get… not that I don’t but he said, bravely as well, let’s just leave it as it is. The gaps, the silence, the way she does it, that song is finished as it is… it is finished. Leave it like that. So the song became what it was because… it just worked.”
Seems like there has been a lot of these happy accidents along the way for The Ghost for Orion. It has all worked out very well. So what do you plan for the live versions of it coming up?
“Well we are certainly playing ‘Your Broken Shore’ and I think there is… we are working on a ‘To Outlive The Gods’ as well as a video for that one being thought about and we are… maybe at the end of recording a video for ‘To Outlive the Gods.’ So those two seem likely for live right off the bat. I don’t know if something like ‘The Solace’ will ever be played live… because that would involve getting in Lindy Fay, and there’s three guitars on that and we are a two guitarist band… it is not impossible but I am not sure if that is something I want to take on just yet. All the rest of the songs are on the metal side of songs, they are all potentially live songs. We are just picking and choosing at the moment.”
Is there a tour on the horizon that we can look forward to?
“Not so much a tour… I mean we are still… we are not fully a professional band. We still have normal jobs, back at work tomorrow and those kinds of things. We will do as many gigs as our normal jobs allow. Whether that involves a proper tour… that if it is it certainly won’t be this year. We are just trying to find our feet first… so stabilize the members that are in. We’ve got some good gigs but it wouldn’t be classed as a tour. But certainly, we are back doing some shows. We have a couple in the UK… Glasgow, Sheffield, and London later this year and then some big festivals in Europe, some festivals everybody seems to enjoy. And we will just take it gig by gig and see what is what. We are trying to move back into Portugal, Spain… trying to get back down to Greece. I doubt we will ever get to South Africa but who knows… it is just funny how the world works.”
Well I am in the Netherlands now, so I am hoping to catch something over the summer festival season.
Craighan: “You’ve got two opportunities then… Graspop and something else… I think Eindhoven Metal Meeting… which I may or may not be allowed to say.”
Oh all right! Well we will see what happens. I look forward to it. I thank you so much for your time to talk about your album. It is always a pleasure to hear from the horse’s mouth as it were.
Craighan: “Thank you very much.”