Just over a year ago, Of Mice & Men faced an un­cer­tain fu­ture af­ter the de­par­ture of front­man Austin Carlile. Now, they’re ready to start their next chap­ter

Metal Hammer (UK) - - Contents - WORDS: HYWEL DAVIES

can they stay on course with­out Austin cap­tain­ing the ship?

Aaron Pauley is in a good mood today, but we can’t help de­tect a wari­ness in his voice. It’s been just over a year since for­mer lead singer Austin Carlile left the band due to com­pli­ca­tions with the ge­netic dis­or­der Mar­fan Syn­drome, which dealt one hell of a blow to the Orange County out­fit and some­thing that they’ve been work­ing to over­come.

With Austin gone, it was up to Aaron to fill that void as front­man and take on the over­whelm­ing pres­sures that the role had wait­ing for him. In April 2017, just four months later, OM &M dropped their ban­ner-wav­ing sin­gle, Unbreakabl­e. It hit so­cial me­dia like a sledge­ham­mer to your mum’s favourite porce­lain cat. Un­de­ni­ably one of their most well-re­ceived sin­gles for a while, the heav­i­ness they un­leashed took a lot of peo­ple by sur­prise. The band were go­ing big and go­ing fast right out the gate. Was it a state­ment that they were still a force to be reck­oned with?

“For us, as much as that song was to show the world that we’re still here, a lot of it was about show­ing our­selves that we’re still here,” Aaron ex­plains down a phone­line from their dress­ing room in Berlin’s Velo­drom arena. “Change is not easy and change can be fright­en­ing. I would be ly­ing if there wasn’t any ap­pre­hen­sion, [it wasn’t] like, ‘Yeah, we’re just go­ing to go out and crush this,’ be­cause we didn’t know what the fu­ture held.”

The track would be­come the first re­lease from their new record, Defy, its ti­tle another strong dec­la­ra­tion of in­tent. Whereas Defy is full of mas­sive hooks and bold beat­downs, it’s a stark con­trast to 2016’s dark and se­ri­ous Cold World, an al­bum made while Austin was suf­fer­ing from med­i­ca­tion with­drawal and re­cov­er­ing from surgery. Aaron started writ­ing for it just a cou­ple of weeks af­ter Austin left, and they went into the stu­dio with pro­ducer Howard Ben­son (Motör­head, Papa Roach) in March, pick­ing up again at the end of July.

“This was the an­tithe­sis of mak­ing Cold World. That was a very sad and dark time for us, but this al­bum was the op­po­site,” he says. “I made sure that I was telling our story, be­cause it’s never been my story, it’s al­ways been Of Mice & Men, not Of Mice & Man.”

As well as be­ing one of their most dif­fi­cult al­bums to make, Cold World marked a com­mer­cial dip for the band. It reached num­ber 91 in the UK



charts com­pared with 17 for 2014’s Restor­ing Force, and num­ber 20 on the US charts com­pared with 4. They also toured in smaller venues as well as hav­ing to can­cel a num­ber of shows on that al­bum’s cy­cle. Recol­lect­ing one of the hard­est periods in the band’s history, the weight of the con­ver­sa­tion be­comes steadily heav­ier. Aaron re­mains cool, though we de­tect a vul­ner­a­bil­ity that he may be try­ing to con­ceal.

“You know, I think the real rea­son is be­cause we had to slow down,” he ex­plains. “Around the end of 2015 into 2016, Austin’s health re­ally took a turn. For us, he was pri­or­ity num­ber one, we’ve al­ways put fam­ily first in our band. It be­came im­pos­si­ble to tour as rig­or­ously as we were do­ing on the Restor­ing Force cy­cle, or to write any en­er­getic mu­sic be­cause of the toll it was tak­ing on his body. We slowed down and that was a con­scious de­ci­sion. That’s why this record is very en­er­getic, and it’s a very rein­vig­o­rat­ing al­bum.”

He isn’t wrong. Defy is clus­tered with an ar­ray of di­verse sounds that range from the mil­lion-kilo­ton brain-smasher War­zone, to the solemn, Ch­ester Ben­ning­ton-in­spired If We Were Ghosts. De­spite lack­ing Austin’s in­put, Aaron in­sists it’s been pretty much busi­ness as usual for the band. But lyrics like: ‘I won’t fade away… I refuse to walk into an early grave’ from the ti­tle track make us ques­tion whether his sub­con­scious was sub­lim­i­nally re­fer­ring to their for­mer vo­cal­ist.

“You know what? You’re the first one to think that,” he chuck­les. “But that’s cool, mu­sic is sup­posed to be in­di­vid­u­ally in­ter­preted. I wrote it when I was watch­ing some­thing on TV about the opi­oid epi­demic, which re­ally hits close to home. Read­ing it back, I think it doesn’t just have to do with opi­oids or that in­dus­try, it can do with any­thing or any­body that’s try­ing to defy you or to sup­press you. That’s what re­ally that song ap­plies to.”

The front­man has been on top form as we delve deeper than he may have been ex­pect­ing. How­ever, when we won­der if this al­bum was writ­ten to ap­pease a more main­stream mar­ket to keep up the band’s mo­men­tum, it stops him in his tracks.

“No, no, not at all! Ac­tu­ally, that’s the first time some­one has said that, be­cause from

Cold World to this, it’s a very heavy record.

I have to dis­agree with you there.” His pas­sion for the al­bum is clear, though he sounds a lit­tle de­fen­sive. “I think that el­e­ment just comes from just the level of fun and level of ex­cite­ment that we’re at now. Don’t get it twisted, you’ll come to a show and you’ll bang your head.”

They’re try­ing to keep that mo­men­tum up with ev­ery­thing they’ve got. As we speak the band are busy sup­port­ing Five Fin­ger Death Punch on their euro­pean run, and tonight in Berlin they’ll be play­ing to some 12,000 peo­ple. Back play­ing are­nas and earn­ing the re­spect from one of metal’s most de­voted crowds, their cam­paign is clearly head­ing in the right di­rec­tion.

“This is just the be­gin­ning,” Aaron tells Ham­mer, shift­ing to a lighter tone. “It’s just awe­some – we love the Five Fin­ger camp, we love their fans. They’ve been su­per-re­cep­tive to us and peo­ple are re­ally pay­ing at­ten­tion. The less we worry about the fu­ture, the less we have to feel like we have to meet that ex­pec­ta­tion. We like to fo­cus on ev­ery show, ev­ery song and ev­ery note we’re play­ing, and go wher­ever we want to go. That’s what’s re­ally go­ing to pro­pel us into the fu­ture.”


Of Mice & Men (left to right): Aaron Pauley, Alan Ashby, Valentino Arteaga, Phil Manansala

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