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Track By Track: Of Mice & Men’s ‘Earth & Sky’

Maddy Howell
Maddy Howell 26 September 2019 at 13.10

"Sometimes the music speaks so loudly that it’s almost hard to put language over it - I think that music is a language in itself and so the words you put with it have to be symbiotic." - Aaron Pauley.

Of Mice & Men's brand new album 'Earth & Sky' is only hours away from release, and it's a body of work that is both introspective for frontman Aaron Pauley, while also taking aim at some of the more toxic pieces of modern society. To get the full picture of 'Earth & Sky', Aaron talked us through each of the tracks on the album, one at a time. Over to Aaron:

“The majority of the songs on this record started out as instrumentals that we then began to refine, then from the instrumentals we had we picked the ones that excited us the most and started putting lyrics and melodies to them. With ‘Gravedancer’, the instrumental begins with a distinct sound on an instrument called a dilruba, which is a bit like a guitar - it’s a sound we all felt gave an intriguing and exciting opening to the record. It’s a pummelling track that takes you through patterns of self-destructive behaviour, seeing things through the eyes of someone who is engaging in those but is also aware of the situation, you could call it social commentary or a personal reflection. I think everyone has at least one self-destructive behaviour, something that keeps them afloat and dancing around the grave.”   

‘As We Suffocate’
“’As We Suffocate’ coming directly after ‘Gravedancer’ was a very intentional placement - it’s a track that is not only a machine inching its way forward, but it’s also a commentary about those same self-destructive behaviours. The narrative comes from somebody with a different mindset though - they’re two sides of the same coin. ‘Gravedancer’ takes the opinion that self-destruction is just destined to happen, that you just keep shovelling your grave until it comes time to get in it, whereas ‘As We Suffocate’ is a commentary about the same situation, but it takes a stance of control rather than letting fate decide. It tackles the idea that we can change what happens, but also questions if we actually want to change at all.”

‘Taste Of Regret’
“’Taste of Regret’ is one of the most aggressive songs on the record, and it’s our take on the idea that silence is golden. I think especially given the social media age, now more than ever people just need to know when to shut up and when the appropriate time is to speak - voicing your opinion can just as easily ruin your life as it can make you feel heard. Maybe it’s just me getting older and becoming more of a curmudgeon, but I think that people have such an inability to communicate these days. Social media does have a lot to do with it, but even aside from that people just don’t know when to speak and when not to speak, and I’ve watched it ruin people’s lives - even people who are close to me. Generally, the people it affects are also the same people who will then come crying to you like, ‘Why me? What did I do?’, and it’s simple, you opened your damn mouth when you shouldn’t have!”

‘Mushroom Cloud’
“This track is definitely the most manic on the record in regard to the overall song and chord structure. It was recorded as an instrumental originally, and just sat in my Dropbox for a while because I didn’t know how to put words to it. Sometimes the music speaks so loudly that it’s almost hard to put language over it - I think that music is a language in itself and so the words you put with it have to be symbiotic.

"So that song remained unfinished until I had the worst two weeks of my life where I wasn’t sleeping, I wasn’t eating, and my mental health had just completely deteriorated. I had an increase in irrational thoughts and suicidal ideations. I was contemplating whether to take my own life, and it wasn’t until I sat down to track the vocals and heard the completed version of this song that I thought to myself, ‘Man, I’m not okay’. It took hearing that song to realise that I was in a place I neither wanted to be, nor was a safe place to be in. I am a person whose mind is not a safe place to stay in, and that’s exactly what ‘Mushroom Cloud’ is about. Sometimes seeing it written down on paper and hearing those thoughts out loud helps you realise that you need to take steps to handle things. I think a lot of songwriters are stuck on that narrative of, ‘Well I was feeling bad and then I went and recorded this song and I felt better’, but I didn’t have that. For a long time after I recorded ‘Mushroom Cloud’ I couldn’t listen to it, it would make me really upset. I’d get about three quarters of the way through it and would have to turn it off, but it’s something that I understand was a catalyst in pushing me towards ways of catharsis. It was a bit of a damaging one, but that’s what perspective is all about.”

“’Pieces’ is a quick-moving song with a big melodic chorus - something that we’ve become known for doing. It’s about the feeling of depletion, about feeling like you’re running on nothing. At the time that I wrote it I felt like a candle burning at both ends, or maybe just the ashes of a wick, and I realised that those feelings are like a sickness that slowly spreads. It’s not even that I was feeling empty, I was just slowly being stripped of many feelings of happiness and had no time to refuel myself, those are the overwhelming emotions of the track.”

“History will look back at the 2010s and just call it the decade of cognitive dissonance. I think that we’re surrounded by pathological liars, and this culture buys into their pathological lies as well as the lies of other people. I see more and more of that in 2019 than I have in my entire life - I don’t know if that’s just because I’m older and my perception is more attuned, but that song for me is a commentary about that. The same people that scream ‘Why did you lie to me?!’, will then turn around and perpetuate that lie or create their own. Whether it’s politics or interpersonal relationships, now more than ever we are in an era of deception and because of that nobody trusts anybody anymore, nobody even trusts the facts anymore. People are as quick to trust Wikipedia as they are to trust their teachers, so I think it’s something we need to talk about.”

‘Earth & Sky’
“This is definitely the most experimental song on the record in terms of musicality - it takes you through a trip of different time signatures and tempos. The song felt like musical growth for us - we don’t usually experiment with those things, we like to think of ourselves as just a straight-up head-banging band. But even though the sound is a little different, it’s just a new expression of the same language. I don’t think the musical language we’re speaking in or our sentiments will ever change, but it’s exciting to experiment with a new syntax in our phrasing. I think our fans can relate to that growth.

"A lot of this record has to do with ideas of perception, and I wanted to explore the concept of two things that are completely different, but you can’t think of one without the other. The earth and the sky are so vastly antithetical, but you can’t have one without the other. You wouldn’t have a sky without the earth being there, it would just be called space. I’m so interested in this idea of having opposites that can also define one another and also how to live with that. As a 31 year old now, having made music since I was in my late teens, I’m thinking more about my place on this earth. When people talk about their existential crisis, I think for aging musicians our existential crisis is figuring out both where we still fit in with this changing world and working out how we measure our personal growth when we live a lifestyle that’s so different than most people. So, this song is about me talking to myself and my self-doubts as much as it is something other people can relate to.”

‘The Mountain’
“The mountain that we reference in this song is an ideation of a person’s monolith of identities that they create for themselves. If you think of a social media profile, or the face that you show to the world, that is very much a curated version of yourself. While that person is still you, it is a specifically designed version of you, because you can’t or don’t want to fully open up because it’s not the right time or place.

"Along with that, this song focuses on empathy, and how for somebody like me, empathy can be just as much of a curse as it is a blessing. I tend to, for better or worse, assimilate pain from the circumstances and people around me - I can’t see something sad happen to somebody else and not feel bad. But conversely, I can decide to turn myself into a stone-cold mountain and not feel anything - it’s always possible to turn yourself off but you risk losing yourself within that. I don’t like to think that my songs are about me - I’m more of a storyteller, and from that perspective, the subject that I’m talking about loses themselves within their mountain, they lose who they are in the cold identity that they have designed so that they don’t have to be open to compassion and empathy. I feel like people are doing that more and more, and we have more mountains in 2019 than we have people.”

“Who doesn’t love a good meltdown, right? I don’t know how often anyone else has a meltdown, but I have one at least once a month, like clockwork. For me, there’s a lot of solidarity in that, for better or worse. Musically, the song is like ‘Would You Still Be There?’ if it was written and directed by Michael Bay and Steven Spielberg - it’s just such a larger-than-life sounding track and we had a lot of fun making it.”

“'Linger' is about losing people - I lost a group of people in my life this past year to either suicide, drugs or accidents, and this song is as much of an ode to the people that we have lost as it is a song of reverence and respect to the pain surrounding that. The pain never goes away, it always lingers. Loss is like a sword - it cuts really sharp and deep at first, and the longer you live with it the duller the sword gets, but it’s always there. The blade may get blunt, but the sword itself never relinquishes its weight, you’ll always feel it and those emotions won’t ever leave. I think it’s a feeling that almost everybody can relate to in one way or another.”

‘How To Survive’
“This was the first single we released from the album because it’s such a fun song and it has a real positive message. I am somebody who has been bullied my entire life. I’m a softie, I leave myself open to it and I open myself up to people and they can either choose to chew up and spit out that faith or nourish it. The songs that I write about encouragement are just as much to encourage myself and make me believe those positive affirmations as they are for anybody else listening. Words of empowerment are meant to be said. Some people say their morning affirmations to themselves in the mirror, I say mine into a microphone in front of people. Writing these songs is something that I do for myself and something that I hope benefits other people.

"‘How To Survive’ is the last song on the record because it’s the first song that we put out, there is no other logical reason. Working retroactively, we could say that this record takes you through a trip of what it means to be unsure in the world but to still keep taking steps forward, and ‘How To Survive’ is the swan song and the battle cry to taking your next step in life. You can take an hour of your life to sit down and listen to the record, and then once it’s over and you have to start living your life again, that’s the affirmation you hear right before jumping back in. That’s what the conman in me would like to say, but really this song closes the album because it’s been out since early April and it’s the song that people have heard the most!”

Of Mice & Men's new album 'Earth & Sky' is set for release September 27, through Rise Records.

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