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Of Mice & Men Talk Moving Onward and Upward After Frontman Austin Carlile’s Departure

The American metallers’ bassist/vocalist Aaron Pauley discusses taking on frontman duties and their new single “Unbreakable”

Riddhi Chakraborty May 16, 2017
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OMAM 2017_credit Lindsey Byrnes (1)

[L-R] Phil Manansala, Aaron Pauley, Valentino Arteaga and Alan Ashby. Photo: Lindsey Byrnes

Since the last time we spoke to Of Mice & Men, the metalcore act have lost one band member but are now ten times more determined to keep going. While ex-frontman Austin Carlile’s departure from the lineup came as a blow to fans and the band alike, it wasn’t much of a surprise; the vocalist’s ongoing battle with Marfan syndrome (a rare genetic disorder) had kept him hospitalized for several months in 2016 and the risk to his body eventually forced him to withdraw from the band he had co-founded. But for the rest of the members, finding a replacement wasn’t an option.

“When we decided to continue the band and once we started jamming, one of the things we had discussed even with Austin was somebody filling in [for him],” says bassist and vocalist Aaron Pauley over the phone from his home in Southern California. “You know, he brought in a couple of people and we kind of threw the idea around, but in reality I don’t think that it would ever feel right for us to have somebody take his place.”

Instead, the band decided to continue as a quartet; Pauley took the reigns as lead vocalist alongside lead guitarist Phil Manansala, rhythm guitarist Alan Ashby and drummer Valentino Arteaga. Ashby contributes to backing vocals now as well. “Everybody stepped up,” Pauley says. “When we decided to continue the band, the one thing that was really important was that if we were going to do it, we had to do it right and we had to be able to deliver a live show that was better or on par than what we’ve done in the past.”

As of now, the band seem to be on the road towards achieving this goal. Their first single since Carlile’s departure, “Unbreakable,” steps away from the darker themes of their previous record Cold World and dives into a more positive aesthetic last seen on their 2014 album Restoring Force—a move which has gained them a lot of praise. “I think a lot of what made Of Mice & Men resonate with a lot of fans is that this band has always been about the fight,” says Pauley when we discuss the success “Unbreakable” is seeing on social media. “When life gets hard, that’s when you need to need to fight back the hardest. Whether it was related to Austin’s health—how he literally put his body on the line when he went onstage—to finding a way to reconnect with people… It’s always been about the struggle and finding the strength to carry on.”

In an exclusive interview with Rolling Stone India, Pauley discusses moving on without Carlile, the process of writing their new single “Unbreakable,” working on new music and the band’s itinerary for the rest of 2017.

Congratulations on your comeback with “Unbreakable”! It crossed one million views within days of its release. Were you nervous about the reaction fans would have?

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t. At the same time, we tried not to worry too much about that because sometimes it can make the creation process a little more difficult. So we just tried to be very true to ourselves lyrically and try to write a song that was very true to our feelings and that could reinvigorate us.

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Can you tell me a little bit about the process of writing “Unbreakable” and what it’s about?

 For “Unbreakable,” it was [written] around the time that Austin left the band. A few days afterward we had got together in the studio just to jam out, you know? For us, music is how we deal with things and it’s how we communicate with the world, it’s how we kind of try and make sense of things.  So we got back in the studio and we were jamming through some of the old songs, just messing around with some new metal riffs. So then that song kind of blossomed from that. Lyrically, it’s very much a reaffirmation. It’s very much about telling yourself that when you’re afraid… you’re unbreakable, you know? We felt it was important to convey that message that the band as it stands now, the four of us, we are unbreakable as a family.

“Unbreakable” is very different from your sound on Cold World [2016]—it’s a little bit more reminiscent of Restoring Force [2014] instead. Did you have the intention of going back to that sound?

For us, when we had written “Unbreakable,” a big, crucial part of that was just trying to find elementally what in our music in the past had really excited us and really excited our fans. Cold World is a very kind of dark more ominous, sad record. I think Restoring Force and past Of Mice & Men records have tried to be more exciting and lively. For these new songs, that was really important to us; do these ideas excite us? Do we feel like they’ll excite our fans? More importantly, lyrically, do they matter? Are we saying something that’s important? We’ve just been trying to tap into that more genuine, creative side of us.

Is there an album in the works already? Do you know what themes you want to explore next?

I think an album is definitely forming. We’ve got a ton of songs; we’re always writing and we’re always creating.  What we like to do is have a ton of songs and then from that kind of whittle it down and almost try to discover the threads in between rather than starting with the thread and weaving the songs through them. I think that in a way surprises us a lot more than just coming up with an initial theme. We discover that maybe we were trying to say this all along. Maybe it’s too early to say that an album thematically has taken shape, but as of right now the songs we are putting out are very much about continuing the fight.

You’ve taken on both clean vocals and screaming on “Unbreakable”— How does it feel to return to it since the last time you took on both was when you were in your previous band Jamie’s Elsewhere? Did you personally feel pressured to bring the screaming in because it’s so much a part of OM&M?

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When we decided to continue the band and once we started jamming, one of the things we had discussed even with Austin was somebody filling in [for him.] You know he brought in a couple of people and we kind of threw the idea around, but in reality I don’t think that it would ever feel right for us to have somebody take his place. We felt this new era should be different and not try and necessarily to recreate something from the past. Because ultimately it’s about the songs; it’s not about the band name, or the branding or anything like that. I definitely felt pressure, although I tried not to let that distract me. I kind of just wanted to push it aside so that we could objectively create things instead of feeling the pressure like, ‘Okay we need this song to do this’ or ‘We need this to be like this because of this,’ and we just really tried to focus on what we wanted to say and how we wanted to say it. So far it’s been awesome. I really do enjoy doing the screaming vocals. My mom enjoys the singing stuff a little more though. [laughs]

How was the process of taking over as frontman?

You know what, it’s actually been really fun! It’s definitely been a learning process, just getting used to being able to play the bass and do all of the lyrics at the same time. Alan’s now got a mic, so he’s doing backup screams and stuff which is new and he’s doing awesome at it… So it’s been cool to see everyone rise to the occasion and it’s been nice because fans have been really receptive.

Austin had stated after leaving that he didn’t get to write what he wanted with OM&M. Do you have any comment, or is there anything you want to clarify from your end?

Alan clarified it pretty much immediately afterwards. We never really even discussed new material until he [Carlile] left the band. We never started working on that stuff. We had just released Cold World a few months before he had to leave and so I can’t really comment on his comments. Of Mice & Men has always been a very collaborative process and he and I always worked on lyrical stuff together. Everyone in the band can write and we love bringing everyone’s different ideas into our rehearsal space. I think that’s how we end up with albums like Restoring Force that have a lot of different sounding songs but a very common, core theme.

Can you tell us a little bit about the rest of your plans for 2017?

We’re doing festivals Stateside right now in May and come June and July we’ll be doing UK and European festivals. In the summer we’re going to take a little time to work on some more music. There’s no concrete release date for an album but we’re definitely working diligently on it. And there will be more worldwide touring fall onwards. From then on out we kind of want to play shows everywhere and reconnect with our fans.

Click here to check out the digital edition of Rolling Stone India. 

Listen to Of Mice & Men’s new single “Unbreakable” below:

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