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Of Mice & Men: “We Live and Breathe This”

In an emotional interview, frontman Austin Carlile speaks about battling chronic pain, the recent loss of a fan to cancer and what it’s like being a born-again Christian supporting Marilyn Manson.

On a rare day off between shows on their current North American tour opening for Marilyn Manson and Slipknot, we caught up with Of Mice and Men frontman Austin Carlile to discuss new album Cold War, the recent loss of a fan to cancer and his own battles with chronic pain.

How’s the tour been going so far?
It’s been awesome. Last night we played the Pepsi Centre in Denver and I’d obviously never played there before, but I’ve been to a lot of Denver Nuggets games and Avalanches games so it was really cool to be on the other side of it and be able to be backstage and see all the stuff.

The Pepsi Centre filled up surprisingly quick because we played about an hour after doors. Before we went on it was looking a little empty in there but by the time we were done with the first or second song it was fully packed and the rest of the show was amazing. It was one of the best sets of the tour. It’s been really cool playing in front of new fans and especially in front of new fans that are Slipknot fans. And then to have Slipknot putting us under their wing and kind of telling their crowd of 15,000-20,000 people a night, “This is Of Mice & Men, we want you to listen to them, we want you to take away something from this.” Corey talks about us on stage – the whole nine yards. It’s been a really great experience.

It was reported that you were baptised and became a Christian recently. Has that caused any conflict while touring with Marilyn Manson?
No, it hasn’t caused any conflict. One of the biggest reasons that I did get baptised before this tour is because it’s a good chance to be the light in the dark. There’s a lot of great people who work with these teams and a lot of great people that are in the bands that are involved, and their fans of course. The fans don’t know about hope and some of the stuff that I do, so it gives me more of an opportunity to bring things like that up. It’s something that I’ve been a part of for a while and it’s become who I am, so I’m used to situations like that.

Have Marilyn Manson’s fans been accepting of the band and yourself?
Yeah, it’s always really nerve-wracking every night getting up on stage and just wondering how many Of Mice & Men fans are in the crowd or how people are going to be perceptive to us, but for the whole tour it’s been great. We’re not up there preaching. We’re not up there talking about politics or this or that. We’re up there to play our music. That’s what we’re here to do. Aside from “God Bless and Goodnight” that’s about all they get from my faith part of it. If they want to know more they can talk to me afterwards, but we’re here to play music. We’re here to play our music and especially our new material in front of a bunch of people who may not have ever heard of us before. So we go out there and give it one hundred per cent every night and let the music speak for itself. I think that’s something as an artist I’m really glad that I do. I’m not very vocal about a lot of things but I let it speak through the music. That’s why I’m even more excited about our new record [Cold World] coming out because I had the opportunity to touch on it and talk about a whole lot of issues that concern me, that upset me and disgust me. I was able to talk about those through the record and through music, instead of having to take to social media or write a blog or whatever. In my world I get that out through the music and music is very cathartic to me in general.

A young fan and terminally ill cancer sufferer named Cassy got an early preview of the new album back in May as part of The Living the Dream Foundation. Can you tell us a bit about that day?
Yeah, um… [getting choked up]. Cassy’s great. She had become a big part of our lives after originally meeting through the Make a Wish Foundation and then kept in contact through the Living the Dream Foundation and… excuse me [fighting back tears]… her and I kept in contact through texting – she had my cell phone number and I had hers and we would text and sometimes she wouldn’t text me for two or three weeks, and I would text her and tell her I miss her and she needs to text me more often. So she was really respectful about that. She was a huge fan of the band and we became really close with her [voice breaking up].

We flew her out to the studio and had a really cool dinner with her and took her to the studio and we got to show her all of the new songs. It was really funny sitting there with our producer listening to the new album with her, knowing some of her favourite songs were some of my favourite songs, and some of her favourite songs were the ones that my producer and I were kind of arguing about. And in a joking way I’d be like, “I told you our fans would like this one!” So it was really cool to hear her opinion about it and just get to be there to hear her experiencing the record. We actually recorded her hand claps on the second song on the record [“The Lie”] and they’re actually on the CD so we can forever embody that experience and her in our record, and that meant a lot to us.

That’s really nice. And how is Cassy going with her brain cancer battle at the moment?
Um… [silence followed by crying] I don’t know if we should mention it or not but she actually passed away this morning. I’ve been in really close contact with her mum and her step dad and everybody involved. That’s why we didn’t have our conversation the other night because I was on the phone with her and it was one of the only times I could actually speak with her, and then yesterday I got on the phone with her and I talked to her, prayed with her, then cried… [laughs] cried – I did cry – I sang to her and she couldn’t respond but her mum had the phone right there, so yeah, it’s still really fresh.

I don’t really know what to think about it. It’s been a pretty bum day. I had a whole bunch of plans and now I’ve just confined myself to the hotel room trying to see what I make out of all of it. Our fans mean a lot to us, especially when we meet someone like this who had such a spark and just an aura about her. She was just a sweet girl. It’s sad to see anyone go through that, but especially when it’s someone with such character that’s such a sweet person. It makes it that much worse, but as is life, it’s the nature of the beast.

That’s so sad. We certainly appreciate you taking the time to do the interview under such trying circumstances…
Yeah, well this stuff’s important to us too. We’re not the Jonas Brothers or the Backstreet Boys. Press is great and all but there’s other things I could be doing. But, at the same time, it’s important to us to get our voice out there and for more people to know about our music, to know about our story. We want the most people that we can to know how much we care about this and how much this is our lives. We live and breathe this 24/7.

Moving on to the new album, there’s a lot of different sounds and styles on there. Was there a particular aim when you started writing?
Not really. We went into the studio with a few demo tracks we recorded in our lockout studio where we would literally press play and all five of us would stand in a circle and record the song. We had a lot of demos that played out like that and once we got to the studio we knew the album would pretty much write itself as they always do. We kept that in mind when we went into the studio and ended up having to scrap a bunch of ideas. We reworked a bunch of ideas and there’s songs like “Like A Ghost” where I had two or three verses I’d done, but on the last day at the studio I literally scrapped them all and completely did the entire thing on the last day we were in the studio. We tried to make the most of all the time we had while we were in there. We were in there for three and a half months but there’s always things that need changing and always stuff that you want to work on and we just kind of wanted the album to come together while we were there instead of trying to force different things. We let the songs write themselves.

Vocally, with Aaron [Pauley, bass/vocals] and I, we’d lend our voices to whatever would sound best for the song – not, “Well, I have to sing here” and this and that. We would do whatever was best for the song because that’s what’s most important to us.

How would you say Cold World differs from your past material?
I’m singing a lot more. I’m letting my voice out a lot more. Before I’d just scream my face off. On Restoring Force I got into the habit of playing with those sounds of my voice a little more often. Then with Cold World the guys in the band pushed me to go for it so there’s a lot of singing on the record and I’m doing a lot of stuff vocally that I’d never done before. Cold World is a mix between what 20-year-old Austin would want to listen to and musically what I hear in my head.

On the opening track, “Game of War”, Aaron sounds a lot like Maynard from A Perfect Circle. Are you guys fans?
Yeah, we love A Perfect Circle. With “Game of War” Aaron actually wrote that song the day of the San Bernardino shootings that happened here in California, which we’re pretty much neighbours to. We wanted to put that song as the first track on the record because it kinda sets the tone for the album and everything that we’re touching on with the record. From “Game of War” right into “The Lie” and moving on through the rest of the record, we wanted to put our listeners in a mood, put them in a sound space. We’re big fans of listening to an album from the front to the back and enjoying the record as a whole, and that’s something that we really tried to do with Cold World because we’re fans of music and we’re producing something that not only we like and we’re proud of and we’re fans of, but we hope our listeners will too.

It’s cool to see how the Of Mice & Men fans have been reacting to our first song we released [“Pain”]. All my favourite songs on the record aren’t even being released as singles. In my head I’m like, “Let’s go! Hurry up! Get it out! I’m tired of putting out these singles. I want people to hear the record.” But we’ve just got to wait and hopefully our fans just keep pumping them like they always do and hopefully it builds us a lot of new listeners. That’s something we want to do – especially on this Slipknot tour – is gain new fans and have new people wondering what we’re about and wanting to go and pick up our music.

The song “Pain” is quite heavy musically and lyrically. Is that song referring to the health issues you’ve had?
Yeah, definitely. I was born with something called Marfan Syndrome – a genetic disorder. I got it from my mother who actually passed away from the same thing.

From about the age of 18 I found out that I had this disease and was going to have chronic pain for the rest of my life. So it’s something I’ve had to learn to deal with and learn to live with. You can’t change who you are and a lot of times you can’t change your circumstance, either. But you can change how you deal with them and even how you perceive the problems that you have in front of you can help a lot – putting your mind in a state of, “I’m gonna get through this, I’m gonna get through the next 24 hours.”

It’s hard having Marfans. From people like Cassy to other fans I’ve met with cystic fibrosis, to cancer, to spina bifida, you name it… a lot of our fans are affected by these disorders and by the poor medical system, or just from poor diet, or poor genes, or just luck of the draw. It’s something that I feel like I was really passionate about and really wanted to talk about and really wanted to let people know that I wake up every day and I’m in pain, I go to bed and I’m in pain. Every day hurts for me. I know that there’s other people that go through the same thing and I don’t want them to feel like they’re alone – that they have someone on the other side of the world that’s speaking about it and going through the exact same thing. It’s important to me. It’s something that I’ve always kinda kept quiet and tried to be tougher than and not really accept the fact that that’s who I am, for whatever means I was doing it. But now after all that I’ve been through and after this recording process I really felt the responsibility to talk about it and openly share my story, and pain is just a part of that.

‘Cold World’ is out now. Of Mice & Men are touring Australia in December with A Day to Remember.