INTERVJU: Greg Mackintosh i Paradise Lost

Paradise Lost har snickrat ihop ett nytt album som bär titeln “Obsidian” För Rocksverige berättar gitarristen Greg Mackintosh om det nya alstret, men även roliga minnan av Peter Steele, om hans första skiva, om att fylla 50 och hur han en gång i tiden såg Messiah Marcolin stampa sig genom ett scengolv i Brafdord.


So, your first record was ”The kids from Fame”?

It was actually. I was probably about 8 years old. It wasn´t like I was totally into it or anything like that. It was more like “Wow, I´ve got enough money for a record! Now, what do I get?” That was about it.

Were you an avid fan of the TV-show?

Yeah, I loved it! I did. I mean, I was just the right age and the right demographic. Anyone who´s exactly my age or around within one or two years, it would´ve been their Saturday night TV. That and “Fall guy” and the “A-Team”


Did you know that the character Bruno´s dad (Carmine Caridi, 1934-2019) in the tv- show, was also in “KISS meets the Phantom of the park”?

Oh, really? I can picture Bruno but I can´t picture his dad. So there is a seven degrees of separation? (laughs)

Where did you go from there?

That one lasted for maybe a year or two and then I decided I did like music and then it was the single “Kings of the wild frontier” by Adam and the Ants, which is still a great song. Then I got the album shortly after that.

First metal record then?

Well, it was punk stuff really, because my older brother was into punk and Oi stuff and he had a huge record collection. I just used to go in and borrow stuff from there, so it would´ve been something like English Dogs or Discharged or some of the Oi records. They were usually compilation albums. Stuff like that. I didn´t even know about metal for a long time. Motörhead were kind of the one that crossed the boundaries I think, between the two.

Do you remember if there was a particular record that made you go “This is what I want to do!”?

From the standpoint of “Yeah, I really want to be on stage and do stuff!” was actually a single by a really unknown band called Ultraviolent. They only released one 7” and it was kind of a hardcore punk band and the singer went on to join the English Dogs when they turned metal. He was called Ade Bailey and I think it was that single, but I didn´t do anything about it. I kind of saved up for a guitar and I had to get a left handed one, so I had to get one from the second hand shop and it was terrible. I messed around with that but not seriously or anything. I guess after that it was probably something like Hellhammer/Celtic Frost.

You´re turning 50 in June. Any midlife crisis?

Oh, I´ve been having one for at least ten years. My side project is my Harley Davidson. Side projects keeps me feeling young I suppose. It´s hard to stop being a kid when you´ve been doing this for 30 years anyway. Since I was 22 I´ve never had, what you would call, a proper job. When I say it´s a hard day, it´s because I´ve been queuing to get on a flight or something. (laughs) It´s kept us kind of young minded, because all we do is giggle at things in airports.

When you were a kid, the age of 50 was kind of equal to death.

Oh yeah! I remember being 16 years old and I couldn´t imagine being older than 26. It was like “I´m going to end it if I get to 26.” 50 was just insane! You always have an age in your head that your parents are stuck at. Mine was 43 for my mother. She´s always stuck at that age in my head. It´s weird that I´m now older than that.

What is your greatest life lesson after all these years?

Life lesson, hhmmm? I don´t have any regrets because I think it´s a waste of time. If I could go back and tell the younger me something it would be “Lighten up a bit! Stop being so serious! Relax and enjoy stuff!” I guess most teenagers and young 20 somethings are, but I think I was really over the top serious about stuff and I couldn´t take a job too well and all that. The older I got… it´s been a trial, but it´s right up to the point where I don´t care about much really.

It´s been 30 years since your first album came out. How do you look at that one now?

I remember the first time we saw it. The unboxing as they call it. We were in the back of a van on our first kind of mini tour in Holland and a couple of cities in northern Germany or something. We were in the back of the transit van, laying on top of the gear and we got to somewhere like Enschede or Groningen in Holland and a box had arrived at the venue. We jumped out and none of us could wait to open this little box. We just couldn´t believe it. That feeling… obviously you don´t get that excited about every record, as with your first. But we´ve definitely have over the years tried to keep it just feeling like a hobby, especially now. It´s not like the 90´s where you could make crack loads of money. To keep doing it, it´s got to be interesting. There were plans to maybe go out and do just an anniversary show, a quick one and play the first album, but that´s all gone to hell now.

When was the last time you read something by John Milton?

I don´t think I´ve ever read anything. I´ve read pieces of the “Paradise lost” book, but it´s heavy going. I prefer to look at the pictures. (laughs)

You mentioned the excitement of that first record. You´ve been doing this for so long now, but there still has to be some kind of excitement for a new album, like with “Obsidian”, right?

Oh, there is! The creative process… I can´t speak for the rest of the band, but that is my whole reason for doing it. It´s such a thrill to come up with stuff, put it together and record it and then to see what people think. That can never really get old, unless people hate it. (laughs) It´s an exciting thing to do. To be able to do that and create something and see it come to life, I suppose. I don´t think that can ever get old really.

It has to be the ultimate feeling? You have a couple of riffs, it becomes a song, you play it live and people then sing it back to you.

It´s a great instant satisfaction. I wish I could go on stage without having a drink, because I still have a few drinks before I go on stage every single gig because I try to treat it like a Saturday night out. To keep the fun in it and to keep it enjoyable, but when you get to 50 and you´re on a tour for seven weeks and drinking every night, it gets a bit relentless.

Where did the title “Obsidian” come from? It´s some kind of lava rock, right?

Yes, it´s a volcanic rock. Nick (Holmes) just mentioned it to me because he liked the world. He said the word fit into the Paradise Lost universe, whatever that means. I kind of know what he means. He said “You know it´s very black, don´t you?” and I said Yeah!” and that was enough for him. When we looked up a lot of stuff about obsidian rock, it was used in a lot of British and European pre-Christian iconography. It´s an Erath stone and it wasn´t exactly worshipped, but it had special powers and things like that. They carved things out of it. Then we thought about this whole pagan pre-Christian iconography where they worshipped ravens and trees and god knows what. I mean, we don´t believe in all that crap, it´s just something that is quite interesting and the actual drawings from those times are amazing. The guy we got to do the artwork, that´s what he specializes in so it was like a match made in heaven and it was easy for us to communicate on it.

It´s funny. I´m an atheist, but I´m still fascinated by churches icons and so on.

I´m exactly the same. I´m so atheist it´s insane. I get angry about it all the time, but I´ve got great love of and interest in stuff like… even hymns and all kinds of things. But it´s more to do with history that, isn´t it? People thought these things at times because there was no greater explanation and it inspired people to create things like different art and buildings, sculptures, music or whatever it may be. It´s an interesting part of our history regardless of how horrific it was as well.

Are you into guys like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011)?

Oh, yeah! I´m obsessed with Hitchens. Me and my son did actually go and see Richard Dawkins and Ricky Gervais at a theatre in London. It was fantastic. Got the new book at the same time and got it signed and all that. From a scientist´s perspective, how can you believe anything else? I have to say I´m more of a fan of Hitchens because he just did it in a humorous way.

Have you seen the clip where he tried out waterboarding? He´d been saying it wasn´t that bad at all and then when he tried it he couldn´t take it at all.

No! I know what I´m looking up after I come off of this. (laughs) I thought I´d seen everything with Hitchens.

I´ve picked a few songs from the new album I thought you could say something about. Let´s start with “Darker thoughts”?

That was one that came about completely by accident, which is why it´s a slightly strange song maybe, arrangement and everything. Something a little bit different for us. I was writing something that maybe could be like an introduction to the album, not necessarily a song. I sent it to Nick (Holmes) and he sent it back to me with these vocal lines and it almost sounded like Fleetwood Mac or something. I was a bit taken aback and then we just worked on it and worked on it to bring it to what it is. Most of the songs on the album I can find a definitive musical influence of what I was into at the time I was writing the song, but this one and another track called “Ending days”, I have no idea where they came from on a musical level. It was just like messing around and they came together themselves. We changed our way of songwriting about three years ago and it´s very random and you come up with sort of interesting results and a lot more options to the songs that you would normally do.

Anything else you can say about “Ending days” then?

I had a very short piece of music, a few seconds, and we decided to loop it and just try lots and lots of things, like different vocal styles, different guitar styles and in the end we just had all these segments. It was fun to write and it was quite quick as well. Then putting it together and making it a song was the hard part. It was like a 1000 piece jigsaw with no picture to assemble it. We were really happy with the result. Again, it´s one of those songs that sound a little bit different for Paradise Lost. It´s nice to do things a little bit different. You keep it fresh for yourself.

Another one I picked is “Devil embraced”

That was the second song I wrote for the album. First one being “Fall from grace” I think you can tell that because “Fall from grace” is the closest to the previous and it´s kind of a steppingstone. In the “Devil embraced” is kind of where I realized what kind of path the album might be taking. Layers of textures and all kinds of post punk guitar… it´s more goth really. That was one of the longest to write I think, because we had a lot of sections but couldn´t put it together. It took a lot of time to get the right transitions in place to make it flow properly. I thin k that´s definitely one of the most complex ones for us to put together. I think “Darker thoughts”, “Fall from Grace”, Devil embraced” and “Ghosts” are my favorite songs and all for different reasons.

“Ravenghast” is my final one. What is that really?

I made it up! I usually have one-word titles when I´m working on songs. I´d been reading a book on all this pre-Christian stuff and “ghast” is like an old word for ghost. They though ravens were ominous, they brought bad luck on things. I just put the two together and made “Ravenghast”, sent it to Nick and he loved the word.

When you´re writing stuff, how often does it happen that you come up with things that doesn´t fit Paradise Lost? Does that ever happen?

Yeah, but it usually get thrown out fairly fast, because of the style we´re writing in. We have maybe five or six different versions of every song and then we just choose a path to go with that song. Like which works best. It´s really intuitive and far more spur of the moment results. You go down a path until you find the combination. We´re not one of those bands that have 30 songs and then picks the best one for the album. We work on each song until we got it right.

Looking back on your long career. Do you have a time or a moment in your career which you look back at as being your proudest moment or biggest moment?

Usually it´s when you´re at a place that then becomes kind of iconic afterwards. It might not feel like it at the time, but we played the last ever big Dynamo Festival. It was 1995 or 1996 and we were headlining and every band we knew from over those years were playing as well, like Anathema, Type O Negative, My Dying Bride. Everyone was just there in one group and it was just such a fun thing to be at. Years after it went down as a sort of folklore metal gig. I think it was something ridiculous like 80.000 people there. A similar thing with Donnington. We played the last ever Donnington in 96, I think. It was with KISS. I remember the first time we toured with Ozzy and he walked into our dressing room and said “Hi guys!” and we were all like spinning around the room and jumping up and down like children. Then someone came and said “Sorry about that. He walked into the wrong room.” So he hadn´t actually come to see us. (laughs) Lots of things like that over the years. Moments that you remember that are priceless almost.

You mentioned Type O Negative. Were you a fan?

Yeah! Before we actually played together and we played together many times over the years, but before we did that, straight after Type O´s first album… I remember Lee Dorrian (Cathedral) had their demo and we took Cathedral out on their first European tour and he was playing us the demo and we thought it was great. I used to love Carnivore as well. When their (TON) came out we became sort of pen pals, writing to each other and after a couple of years we traded albums. On our first tour of America I ended up getting off with this girl in New York and afterwards I found out she was the one that he wrote “Black No. 1” about. Tara was from Staten Island, a fitness instructor. The first time I actually met Peter Steele (1962-2010) wasn´t long after that at the Underworld in London and I was interviewing him and Josh (Silver) on camera for MTV´s Headbanger´s Ball. When I turned up he said “Mr Mackintosh, and I think we need a word!” and the word was about “Black No. 1” (laughs)

A fascinating guy.

Yeah, really lovely guy and a great sense of humor. And Josh as well. The only one I didn´t like was Kenny Hickey (guitar). He was a little dickhead!

In what way?

Just mouthy and trouble causing and he didn´t fit into that group at all in my opinion, his personality I mean. He was like… you know little man syndrome? He was very antagonistic towards everybody really. The rest of them and especially Josh and Peter were just really great guys. I remember on my 38th birthday we did the last English tour with them, I think. We were in Birmingham, backstage on my birthday and Peter said “How old are you now?” and I said “38!” and he answered “You´re a child! You don´t know anything yet!” and he was 47 I think.

Do you remember the first show you went to that really meant something to you?

When I started going to shows it was small hardcore punk bands and you´d get about 100 people. Stuff that was really small. Conflict was a band and I went to see them. I was very young and terrified. It was sort of punk fighting in the audience I was like shitting myself.

You mentioned KISS earlier. Did you ever get to meet them at Donnington?

No, we didn´t meet them. We just stood nest to them backstage when they were in their costumes and all that. It was so muddy backstage and their dressing room was only 20 feet away from the stage, but they needed transport because their boots would just stick in the mud, so they had to get transport to get 20 feet. I was never a KISS fan anyway. A couple of other guys in the band were huge KISS fans and amazed by it. The first time I knew anything about KISS I was a kid and I was wearing a Halloween mask trick or treating and someone told me that the mask I had on was Gene Simmons and I didn´t know that. I didn´t know it was KISS.

Any good Spinal Tap moments?

Yeah, lots and lots. Guitars falling off stage and such. I´ve seen a lot of Spinal Tap stuff as well. I saw Messiah Marcolin from Candlemass fall through a stage. He did his stomp thing in Bradford´s Queen´s Hall and he went straight through the stage. At the same gig he went outshopping before the doors opened, in his Bermuda shorts, and when he came back in there was no way to backstage so he had to go across the stage in the Bermuda shorts in front of the whole audience. I remember thinking “This is not the Candlemass I signed up to watch.” (laughs)


Text: Niclas Müller-Hansen

Foto: Josefin Wahlstedt