It's been a decade since Orange County outfit Of Mice & Men became a beloved staple in the alt-metal community. Since their initial introduction into the scene, they've proven themselves to be a mainstay, despite adversities that would eventually come their way during their storied career as a band.
Plagued with line-up changes, they've held strong, and following the departure of frontman Austin Carlile in 2016 released their fifth album with bassist Aaron Pauley stepping into the role.
'Defy' certainly defied any trepidation of a post-Carlile world. With Of Mice & Men's first Pauley-led album under their belts, the group quickly went back into the studio to start work on the songs that would eventually become their sixth album.
'EARTHANDSKY' is their latest effort, and it's one that showcases the band doing what they do best: giving fans pure, unrelenting earworm tracks that you'll want to listen to over and over again.
To celebrate the release, Aaron Pauley discusses the record in more depth and offers an insight into what Of Mice & Men have "ben threw" (sorry) in their decade as a band.
'EARTHANDSKY' is your sixth studio album, and it's your tenth anniversary, too. How would you say the band has evolved in that time frame?
I came on board in 2012, and every year we try and refine our craft more and more, whether it's musicianship and the musical side of things with making records, or as live entertainers. Something we've always been trying to do is not necessarily evolve, but refine what we do more and more. You know, cause every time we play a show, every time we go on tour, every time we get in the studio, every time we start to write songs, we find that the process becomes easier and more fluid.
This is your second album leading the band. What has been the biggest difference from having Austin in the group to then releasing 'Defy', to now creating this one?
We always start with the music, and the music was always the four of us, so that didn't change. Then as far as when [Austin] was in the band versus when he's not, we would work on lyrics and vocals together versus now I work on them by myself. But overall, the process hasn't changed at all. That's part of what allowed us to get past all of that; it wasn't so drastically different. It was us doing what we knew and doing it the way that we knew how to do it.
Tell us about the recording process, how did that go?
As far as the release goes, that's meticulously planned. However, when we're in the studio, we don't try and stick to any rigidity or defined plan, or preconceived notion of what we want to accomplish. A lot of that is about the fluidity and how we're feeling in the moment. You know, what excites everybody when we're sitting down listening to things.
And what about the lyrical content?
That was harder for me than in previous records because of where I was at in my life, and also regarding my mental health. Through that kind of struggle, it produced something that has been a very fruitful and rich record regarding the emotional content.
Did you try experimenting at all?
I think this record was probably, at least since I've been with the group, one of our least experimental in regards to saying outright, 'okay, we're going to experiment with these sounds'. A lot of this record was us feeling more like we were settling into what we do best, which is making heavy, aggressive, emotive music. I feel like 'Defy' is a more experimental album in regards to the songwriting; this record is more potent though, overall.
Do you think fans will be surprised when they first listen to this record? What do you hope the takeaway is going to be?
I think that fans will probably be surprised at how unrelenting it is. Typically, in the past, we would write more emotionally dynamic records; we've always prepared our track listings to take you on a journey. We're going to take you on some ups, and we're going to take you on some downs. And this record is so much more unrelenting; it pretty much kicks your ass until it's over.
I think if people are paying attention to the fine details, and the lyrics, and the way the stories all intertwine without doing something as cliché as a concept record, if you find that thread and you follow that thread through, it offers a lot more than some of our previous records.
What themes were you trying to explore, and what do they represent to you?
A few of the songs have concepts, and I'd come up with a handful of ways that some of the songs could kind of interact, lyrically or somatically or musically with one another. That's another thing too; some of these songs musically interact with one another in a way that if you got creative and put them into some sort of studio app, you can kind of see that it's almost like puzzle pieces.
It's funny, but I think more or less, it was just about writing very honest, visceral music that makes us feel something when we're playing it. I know that sounds really cliche and corny, but that sort of innocent approach to creating something that somebody is supposed to connect with on an emotional level. I think it's lost in the studio because you're trying to think of how to make something good, and good is a quality. Good is qualitative. But having somebody feel something, there's no real way of measuring that, you know?
We tried not to think too much about it. The most thought that went into it was probably on the lyrical and vocal side. And a lot of that is literally me just sitting with the instrumental saying, 'What is this song saying to me?' Then figuring out how our story fits in with all of it."
You mentioned the record tells a greater story, can you explain how and what fans should be looking for?
I would encourage fans to watch our three newest music videos as they all tell a bigger story which will be revealed as the record is released. A lot of what we've done with the continuity of this record we've kept very subtle, and [we've tried] not to expose the fact that we've crafted something that definitely has a concept. I would definitely encourage people to watch the music videos and pre-order the album. And if you get the physical copy of it, that all ties into the videos and ties in with the songs and there's other content that you will get with the physical that you won't get with just the digital.
How has the reaction been to the new songs so far?
'Mushroom Cloud', 'How To Survive' and 'EARTHANDSKY', which are the three singles we've released from the record, have some of the best and craziest reactions [live]. It's a good feeling to be 10 years in and have a new album coming out and have people care about the new material rather than just saying 'play the old shit'. It's nice; it lets us know that in doing our due diligence and creating music that connects with people when we play live it connects and that's what it's all about.
What is the rest of 2019 looking like for Of Mice & Men?
New music, new touring. We'll be coming to a city near whoever is reading this.
Taken from the October issue of Upset. Of Mice & Men's album 'EARTHANDSKY' is out 27th September.
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