For Of Mice & Men 2018 is not just a new year it’s a brand new chapter for the band on January 19th they will release their fifth album Defy. This new album is their first release since the departure of Austin Carlile and shows a band that have faced adversity and come out the other side all guns blazing. Whilst the year may have only just started Defy is fast becoming a new favourite of ours and features some of the bands most accessible tracks ever recorded. We had a chat with vocalist and bass player Aaron Pauley about the album and his excitement to return to Australia to play Download Festival in Melbourne.

SCENEzine
Firstly I’ve been lucky enough to hear the new album. You must be stoked it’s pretty damn awesome.

Aaron Pauley
Man I’m so pumped. I just want to leak it (laughs). I just want everybody to hear it already.

SCENEzine
How was the experience of working with Howard Benson?

Aaron Pauley
It was really awesome because in the past when we’ve done records a healthy part of the recording process and one of the more challenging parts is the friction. The friction that you have amongst your band mates and the friction that you have with the producer. It can very quickly and easily boil over into becoming a negative friction but friction in a lot of ways is how people make things shiny like diamonds. Or how people refine wood with sandpaper so friction is important. Funnily enough on this album there was such a distinct and noticeable lack of friction at the same time with where we were all at that was relieving. We recorded a couple of songs at the beginning of the year, put them out and then toured literally North America, UK and Europe extensively. We came home then took two weeks to do pre-production then we went right into the studio. So having a very frictionless environment was soothing in a way. So instead of sandpaper it was lotion (laughs) after a long time of being out in the sun.

SCENEzine
How was it going into the recording process after losing Austin was it almost like you were a brand new band?

Aaron Pauley
No it was 100% the opposite. The way that the music has always been done has been the four of us, so that part didn’t change. With regards to the lyrics a lot of times Austin and I would sit together and we would write lyrics or he would work on stuff individually and I would work on stuff individually. At the same time even when that was the case Tino wrote a lot of the lyrics too collaboratively and even Alan wrote a fair amount of lyrics on The Flood and he contributed to some of the Restoring Force stuff. So everything we have done as a band always has been collaborative. Even if something is not necessarily your instrument or what you do live everybody has the ability to bring their ideas to the table. We are a very egoless collective in regards to being in the studio and working on songs.

For us the songs take priority number one so whatever is best for the song. That’s kind of the reason why we got into the studio so quick because that process didn’t feel any different than it did in the past. We were able to use that therapeutically to kind of heal through that change and figure out who we are. A change to the line up of our band is a major life change for us. We are a very tight family orientated band so the fact that the process remained mostly the same allowed us to utilise that to heal.

SCENEzine
Was there a big change for how you would write lyrics in Jamie’s Elsewhere compared to Of Mice & Men?

Aaron Pauley
Oh yeah absolutely. The Of Mice & Men records are more personal, real and relatable. For me the Jamie’s Elsewhere record that’s a concept album. A concept album about a dream I had. So I just kind of wrote down what I remembered from my dream and then kind of embellished it over the course of eleven songs. Of Mice & Men lyrics are from my heart. From talking with fans, from talking with people that I’d never met that I would meet in a coffee shop in a random city somewhere in the world.

It’s more about the human experience than it is necessarily about being an art piece. For me back in those days what I was really thinking about was how can I present something to somebody lyrically that they can listen to and say man that’s awesome. I was never really thinking about how can I write something that someone will listen to and feel something. That’s part of maturing as a songwriter, wanting more connection. That might sound pretentious as fuck (laughs).

SCENEzine
Did the title track “Defy” come about fairly easily in the writing process?

Aaron Pauley
The instrumentation did yeah but the vocals I think I re-wrote it four times before I got it right. There’s a lot of trial and error with that. It’s not error that it’s bad but if you know it can be better then we will always deconstruct it and figure out how to make it better.

SCENEzine
“If we were ghosts” seems quite a personal song. Are you able to share the meaning behind that track?

Aaron Pauley
Chester Bennington served as a huge inspiration for that song because we’ve done a fair bit of touring with Linkin Park. We became very close. He was that dude that I would text randomly on tour, saying things like hey man my throat hurts what remedies you got for me. Or I would text him a funny meme, just random shit. We were all together working on music. I think we were working on “Warzone” in my apartment at my home studio desk when we got the news about Chester. Phil dropped his phone and we were like what’s going on? We all just kind of broke down it was a heavy day. It’s still heavy dude not only did he serve as a huge inspiration for why we all got into playing music but he was also our friend. We had just seen him a couple of weeks before that. At Hellfest we had dinner with him. He was heavily on my mind when I was working on the lyrics for that song.

SCENEzine
I was over in Germany at Hurricane festival in June 2017 and photographed Of Mice &Men and also Linkin Park. Chester actually came over to me after his set to shake my hand he seemed so down to earth.

Aaron Pauley
That was such a sick festival. He was the nicest fucking dude, super down to earth and just super real. The last time I saw him he was super happy, he was the happiest I’d ever seen him at the time. It just goes to show you that we have to be talking more about mental health. People have to be able to talk more about how they are feeling. I think we definitely took that to heart when we were making this record. A lot of the lyrics are not super fanciful or laced with metaphor and imagery they are direct a lot of times. Some fans will say it’s generic but it’s not. The dialogue is supposed to be direct. We really took that to heart because if we can’t talk about how we are feeling then what have we got.

SCENEzine
When you play festivals like Hurricane do you get a chance to watch other bands?

Aaron Pauley
Oh yeah all the time. I’m a festival lurker so once we are done I’ll put my hoodie on tuck my hair in and go walk around. It’s so much fun.

SCENEzine
It must be exciting for two reasons in early 2018 you release your new album but you are also playing the very first ever Download Festival in Australia?

Aaron Pauley
Australia is seriously one of the best countries in the world. People love the festivals for the festivals sake. It doesn’t really matter what kind of music you like you are always going to be able to find something at an Australian festival. The people that go it reminds me of California. So much of Australia reminds me of home. I’m pretty sure you could drill a hole from Australia to California on the globe. It’s always awesome I can’t wait to get back.

SCENEzine
Do you have a favourite Aussie memory from a previous tour?

Aaron Pauley
Definitely holding the koala at the kangaroo reserve. Definitely being hugely intimidated by what I remember as a 6 or 7 foot kangaroo (laughs) a big guy. I was like this thing would level me right now and I hope it doesn’t chase me. For me my first time coming to Australia was my favourite and having Pie Face (laughs) that was my breakfast and lunch everyday. I heard there’s only a few left which makes me sad.

SCENEzine
Can you describe the feeling of playing “Unbreakable” live knowing that the fans have really taken to that new song?

Aaron Pauley
Yeah it’s crazy that’s the best word for it. We wrote and recorded that song specifically to play live at the first festivals that we were going to play following Austin’s departure. Which was April/May in the US then June/July in Europe. So for us we really just wanted to play the song live. For us to be able to play that live and have it amongst our fans be a song that they cling to that they really enjoy but then also to see people who have never seen us before get more stoked on that song than even some of the songs that we’ve had on the radio and had success with in the past. It was very validating, we felt like if we continue to work in this manor we should really just write songs that are very live orientated.

Defy as an album is very live orientated even including “if we were ghosts” that’s a song we are going to play live. We wrote this album with the intent to play every song live. I think if you just make songs that appear on albums that’s kind of boring. Rock n Roll has always been about the live show and especially for us as a band. Everything that we write either we write it by playing it live or jamming it out first. We’ve never recorded anything before we’ve played it live together so we know that it works. You can make something really good in the studio but if we get together the four of us and start playing it if it doesn’t have that intangible magic to it then it’ll get scrapped.

SCENEzine
With the line up changes in the band you haven’t been tempted to put the bass down and purely do vocals?

Aaron Pauley
No It was only in Jamie’s Elsewhere that I didn’t have an instrument. I love playing music I love being part of the instrument so no I don’t think I will ever put it down. If anything I will just lift my strap and pull it up higher (laughs) so more people can see it. Lots of people have asked that like dude are you just going to be a front man like run around and stuff? I’m like no I’ve been playing bass in the band for five years I kind of want to keep doing that. It’s my longest running job (laughs).

SCENEzine
The video for “Warzone” turned out awesome. I’ve got a funny feeling it might not of been as fun to make as it is to watch?

Aaron Pauley
You are correct (laughs). Mainly because the water got really cold and dropped my body temperature quite a bit. I wrote the lyrics to that song after I woke up at three in the morning with a very severe anxiety attack. So that song is all about an anxiety attack and to me the music felt that way so it was important to make the video look that way. Essentially a lot of the black figures you see running around the camera while we are playing live those are our fans. Which is really sick because a lot of our fans got to hear the song before anybody else.

The black hands in the bathtub scene those are hired actors and actresses. When we were getting started I was sitting in the bathtub and the director was giving them the brief, keep your hands away from his eyes and mouth, don’t touch is face. He walked away and I looked at all the hands and I was like rough me up. If it looks too tame it’s not going to get the message across. they looked at me like are you sure? I was like yeah dude he’s the director but I’m the one in the bathtub (laughs). There’s a couple of shots that even made the video where they push my head down and instead of keeping my face level because I wanted my mouth to still be in the shot to get the end of the word it tilted my head back and all this water went in my nose, into my throat, some of it went into my lungs. There was a couple of times where we had to literally pause the video shoot for five to ten minutes because I had to puke water.

I’ve never had the experience before where it’s like pseudo drowning but I was puking water and could not breathe, could not catch my breath and all of the hands looked mortified. I wanted it to look real so in the scenes where it looks like I’m drowning I’m kind of fucking drowning (laughs). In the water we used these black bath bombs which smelled like rose petals but they also had a cinnamon smell I had all of that in my sinuses. The worst part is we shot that video then the next day we had to fly to Salt Lake City to begin the In This Moment tour. I started that tour so horrendously sick just from all of the stuff that was in my ears and all the way up my sinuses. It was pretty gnarly but to me it’s just another side of the art making it more real and visceral and a little more brutal with regards to what we will put ourselves through. It made for an awesome viewing experience.

SCENEzine
Is there a story behind how your cover of “Money” made it’s way onto the album?

Aaron Pauley
Yeah basically we write and record all of the time even when we are on the road each one of us has a demo rig. Most of the time we are just sitting around somebody’s computer working on ideas and working on them together. Just because we can’t be in a garage with our instruments jamming doesn’t mean we can’t all sit around a computer and jam. We were so well prepared when we went in the studio that we had booked six weeks and by week three and a half we were pretty much done with all of the instrumentals. So Howard was like you guys have all this extra time so why don’t you guys try and write a ballad which that became “if we were ghosts” then he said why don’t you guys also try to do a cover. We were like oh that could be fun.

We play cover music amongst ourselves all the time in our jam space. He said what song are you guys thinking about, what pops into your head right away. For some reason we were listening to Dark Side of the Moon on the way up in Alan’s car when we were all car pooling from Orange County to the studio. For some reason almost instantaneously after he asked I said what about “money” from Pink Floyd? Everyone kind of just looked at me like no they are in the pantheon you can’t cover. Don’t mess with Pink Floyd.

It was half tongue and cheek because I knew the reaction I was going to get when I said it but the other part of me was like I really like that song I think it could be sick. Howard’s exact words were I fucking love it so we were like alright let’s get to work on it. Alan grabbed his guitar and started playing the riff and slamming his foot on the ground and we were like yep that’s sick. We made a rocking version and I can not wait to play that at festivals because that to me has festival written all over it.

SCENEzine
I guess there will probably be a bunch of kids hearing it who may not even know the original?

Aaron Pauley
Oh my god there have been magazine phone interviews that I have done that are like can you tell me the inspiration behind writing the lyrics for “money”? (laughs) I was like yeah I was negative sixteen and I was in the studio with Pink Floyd and they were like what? Oh its a Pink Floyd cover I am so embarrassed. It’s okay if anything we are just sharing a great song with people who don’t even know that it’s Pink Floyd. So hopefully some more people will start listening to Pink Floyd it would solve a lot of society’s problems if more people started listening to Pink Floyd.

(interview by Christian Ross)

 

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