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Greg Mackintosh: “That is the funny thing about doing this project. Trying to make tragic sounding pop songs.

In 1999 – right before the turn of the century – Yorkshire’s gothic doomsters Paradise Lost released their controversial album ‘Host’. It happened to be a no-nonsense flirt with gothic and new wave from the eighties. Nowadays Paradise Lost has returned to their original darkness, heaviness and gloominess, but you cannot erase the memories of the youth from masterminds like Greg Mackintosh and Nick Holmes. Thus a new project Host was launched at the world with their debut album ‘IX’, a tribute to the music that relished their juvenile testosterone. We had an in-depth chat with Greg Mackintosh about his personal memories on and experiences with this time.
Vera Matthijssens Ι 27 februari 2023

In addition to your main band Paradise Lost and projects like Strigoi, we now have Host. How and when did this actually come into being?
The idea for it started maybe four or five years ago, because of two things: we had the whole album ‘Host’ by Paradise Lost re-mastered four or five years ago. So I ended up listening to it again, which I didn’t for a very long time. At the same time we did the show at the festival in Norway, in Bergen and there’s a lot of black metal guys there from the old days. I was talking to the guys and they said they liked the ‘Host’ album, but they weren’t allowed to like it at that time and now they are allowed to like it. So it was interesting. So about four years ago I started writing stuff in the vein of ‘Host’. I did not want to do anything with it, it was just instrumental stuff. And then when the pandemic came and it was lockdown, I asked Nick if he wanted to do something on it. Maybe make it more song-structured than rather instrumental. He said yes and I guess we just messed around with it over the course of few years. And now ‘IX’ from Host came out of this.

It is nice that you have a totally different approach, but I did not expect it from you, because you said you were so happy that Paradise Lost returned to the doom oriented things. Now it is the other way around, but I guess that is two facets of your personality of course?
It is refreshing to do something different now and then, because I wrote the ‘Obsidian’ album for Paradise Lost, then straight away I moved into the ‘Viscera’ album for Strigoi. This is like a pallet cleanser. So yes, something different can be really refreshing.

I can understand, because I looked into my old vinyl collection and I appeared to have two albums of A Flock Of Seagulls, the band you covered with ‘I Ran’…
Yes, that was an idea from Nick, I was thinking about covering a Siouxsie & the Banshees song, but then Nick said: have a listen to ‘I Ran’ again, and I remembered it from the eighties, but my memory of it is that it is a little bit too poppy and happy, but then I listened to it again and I thought: ‘well, if we can just take the vocal line, the vocal line is quite sad. So then if I can make it much darker, half time and make it more cinematic, then it will work and that is what we did with it. The original is still more catchy. It is a pop song, but our version is more darker, you know.

This interview is interesting, because I think it reflects how you grew up in a way. I listened to the radio in the eighties and bought some of those records as well…
I think when you grew up in those years, it left a mark on you forever, when you grow up with this music. I got into music in the very late seventies, early eighties when I started collecting records and probably in 1982-1983 I started collecting records. Before that I listened to my brother’s records, he was a couple of years older than me. He had lots of different things. He had Tubeway Army – you know, with Gary Numan – we had metal stuff, all kinds of things. So that is where all my music influences started from.

In the early eighties, one band that was coming up is The Police…
Yeah, with The Police I always liked the verses, not the choruses, because they have happy choruses. Sad verses nevertheless (chuckles).

It is a tendency we always have I think: sad, doomy… let us call it melancholic…
Yes! Let us call it melancholic! Bitter sweet.

You have written a lot of stuff on your own. Can you tell a little bit more about this writing process?
Yes, some of the songs I had already written before Nick got involved, more as an instrumental thing. With Nick on board we started to nail down the hooks of the songs. And from once we did that, we took it one step further. We produced them while we wrote them, it was not a recording session when the songs were finished and entering the studio. We did not do that. We built them up as we wrote the songs. Some songs started with an acoustic guitar and some songs started with piano, others with a synth and you can hear it on the record. You can hear which songs started in which way. Some of the things are very raw on the record, like the bass guitar, I recorded it in my home studio with a mic in one take and that is on the record. Other parts are very polished and cinematic. I kind of like that, the contrasts of dirty raw sounds and very polished sparkly cinematic sounds.

Maybe it was given you a feel of freedom when playing not only guitar, but several instruments…
Yes, obviously I play all the instruments on the record. There are three songs we put some live drums on it. I recorded everything and then we got the guy who mixed it, Jaime Gomez Arellano, played live drums on three tracks. The rest was all programmed by me. There are some live violins on three or four songs, played by a girl called Alice. So apart from me, it is Gomez and Alice playing violins and drums on a couple of songs and the rest is just me, while Nick did the vocals on it of course.

Should it be possible to do this live?
It is possible. It all depends on how the record does actually. If it sounds okay and we get good live offers, then we can take it to the stage. Because I think to do this live, we need something a little more special, with projections, so we just have to see how the record sells I guess.

Paradise Lost has evolved towards a more doomy style again and I am aware of the fact that people really like that. Isn’t it a bit dangerous to come up with something different now?
I am never worried about things. If you are worried about things, you end up in compromising what you do. You just got to do what you feel like and then go with the flow, you know… It is the easiest way I think, less stress that way as well.

Was this record a product from the pandemic, when you could finally focus on it?
Well, the idea for it and the work on it began so much before the pandemic. I don’t think we would ever have it finished if it wasn’t for the pandemic, because of the time. We never get the time to do concepts like this. So I think having all that time in lockdown helped to give us the time and space to be able to concentrate and create it.

Can you tell something about you playing piano, instead of being famous as the guitarist of Paradise Lost?
Oh I started playing piano in the mid nineties. I played a lot of stuff on Paradise Lost records. I already did it a long time, since ‘Draconian Times’ and after that. In Paradise Lost it has never been the eye-catcher of the sound, but with Host I can go all the way. It is something I have been interested in for a long time, sounds, synths and film and cinematic layers. I have been working on it long before my son went to the university for some design and film, so I helped him with all that and that made me being interested all over again. It was always interesting, because at the university he had to do… I remember one of the things he was due to set: you had to paint a picture of someone who was sailing in a boat down the river sailing to the sea and you have to reverse that into sound. So I tend to help him with all that kind of stuff. I tried to include that into the Host project, because you can hear a lot of different things going on.

What is your favourite song at the moment on the record?
At the moment, oh my God… let me have a look… a song called ‘Divine Emotion’ is one I like at the moment, because there’s a lot of different things in one song. It starts as a piano ballad almost and then it goes into kind of really Über eighties goth and then it is kind of like almost a stadium rock chorus. So it is like a mixture of different things in one song, I like that kind of things.

How did you approach the visual presentation of this?
We knew it was always going to be a cold thing, you know. So we had to do cold, brutal, black & white maybe. Then I found a place on the east coast of England, there is a manikin (mannequins) graveyard. I never knew things like this existed. Then I found it and we went there and it is literally many of thousands of manikins, from all department stores and some from the 1920’s, some from the 1960’s, some from now, new ones. All in this place. So I started taking photos of it, the video we made about it, the cover artwork, the imagery for the first video for ‘Tomorrow’s Sky’ is made at this place, the manikins graveyard. Well, then we just added some symbolism to it and made the imagery for it. I liked how the manikins were in different states of decay. Some are really broken down or some are departed by fires and some were brand new. Making photos of it was a kind of reflection of society.

And very confronting…
Yes, it just gives a very interesting artwork I think. Some people may disagree and think it is boring, but I think it was very interesting. I don’t know if you have seen pictures of the artwork, but I think it gives us a very interesting view on society. That is the intention anyways.

But on the other way around, the music is rather joyful let us say…
I think it is sad. I think it is kind of bitter sweet. And I think a lot of bands in the eighties did not really well. Some of them did, like ABBA, they did really well initially and it is pop music. It is very challenging and difficult to do. It is something that is upbeat and catchy, but it is also sad. It is kind of a challenge to mix those two together and come up with a catchy song which is also reflective and bitter sweet.

Yes, because ‘The Winner Takes It All’ and ‘The Day Before You Left’ were really great songs…
(enthusiast) Yes and ‘S.O.S.’ Very sad.

And ‘Fernando’ that was also melancholic…
(laughs) YEAH! That is the funny thing about doing this project. Trying to make tragic sounding pop songs.

So many artists also had a second life in the eighties. They were troubled and sad behind the mask of their commercial success…
Yes, it is a kind of lost art. It is not something people did after the eighties actually. But so many bands wrote great songs in that style in the eighties, which is why so many bands still cover songs of those bands today. That is what we are trying to do, that kind of thing, but in a modern context. With Host we are trying to do it. I don’t know if we did it, but we are trying to do this lost art. The tragic pop song, you know.

I am glad that you release this under another moniker, Host. Maybe the album should also be released as a side project instead of being a Paradise Lost album…
You mean the original album ‘Host’? No, I don’t. I know a lot of people think that, but for me it is done. I wouldn’t be talking to you today if it wasn’t for doing everything the way that we did it. If we hadn’t done the ‘Host’ album, we would not have learned the lessons we learned. We would fault in the way that we did. If we had done ‘Draconian Times’ part two, part three and part four, maybe we would have gone in a different direction or maybe we wouldn’t. Everything led to this moment in time now, so I don’t think anything would have changed and I don’t want to change anything.

That is good, very positive. What is ‘My Only Escape’ about?
Well, all the songs are very similar in content. And it is all about reflecting back on your life. The whole album is very reflective, all the lyrics that represent us too. It is all about reflecting on your life and questions about what could have been or what should have been or how things have turned out.

Does it mean that you have written down your history?
No, it is not all black & white, more shades of grey. I think about the Host project as if you are on a long train journey, looking out of the window and thinking about things that you have done. It is kind of memories and reflections and some of it are good, some of it are bad and some of them are questioning yourself, you know.

When I see the title ‘Hiding From Tomorrow’ it seems like fear for what is going to come…
Yes. I don’t know if you have seen the video for it. It is about a woman, thinking about the highlights of her life, the things she did good and well and the things that did not go so well. The things that she regret, so I think it is kind of scary for tomorrow, but quite optimistic, you know.

Is there also a reflection of nowadays society in the lyrics or is it only going back into memories?
I think it has more to do with our age. I think we couldn’t have written stuff like this and about this when we were in our twenties, because there is not a full life to look back on. It is all about the experience, you know.

And the world always changes of course, for the good, for the bad…
Yes it is weird. Everything around, it changes, but it is weird how the time now is very reflective of the period that influenced this record, like the mid eighties, the end of the cold war, the end of the industrial revolution… this kind of society has affected the youth. It is weird how right now it is very similar to that.

Yes maybe, but I think when you are younger, you are not so aware of it.
No, you just want to drink (chuckles). You don’t care at all. Some day when you get older, you start reflecting on things, thinking about the consequences and stuff like that. Well, that is the joy of youth, isn’t it? Nothing matters, because there might be no tomorrow.

What do you think about the style of nowadays news?
The news at the moment? O God, it is depressing. I try not to watch it. I don’t take any notice of it now, because it is just negative. There is no good news. It is kind of like the world is going crazy, so I try to ignore it. A few years ago I got very involved into the news, almost political and now the opposite. Now I am not interested in politics, I don’t want to know what the news is about anymore, because it just seems like anyone who has got any kind of power (miss)uses it. I prefer just doing my own thing and not even taking any notice, you know. It is better for me. I just don’t know what to believe anymore, I am confused when watching the news. Everything raises questions in me, so I try not to listen to it anymore.

What are your plans for the near future with everything?
Obviously with Host, we just wait to see how the record goes. This Summer we have the whole festival season with Paradise Lost, some concerts with Strigoi as well, but at the moment I am just starting to write new Paradise Lost stuff, which I will do most of the year and after that we will start recording something new at the end of this year or early next year with Paradise Lost. So it is all good, it is nice to be busy.

That is true, it can remove your mind to better places…
Absolutely. Even if I did not do the Host thing or Strigoi, I would still be doing something else on the side, because I like my mind to be active. I don’t like to think too much about things that affect me, the best thing to do is putting energy into artistic projects.