First of all, how long did it take to write and record "PL X" and how did you find working with Rhys Fulber as producer for a second time?
The writing and recording took approximately a year. The mixing dragged on for a while after that, due to BMG Records rescheduling. Working with Rhys and Greg [Reely], the engineer, again was very relaxed, because we all know each other so well and Rhys liked where we were taking the music.
One thing which really helped the individual feel of each recording was the fact you used 5 different producers on the last 5 albums. What were the major factors in your decision to work with Rhys again?
I suppose it was a similar feeling between "Symbol Of Life" (2002, BMG) and "PL X" as it was with "Icon" (1994, Music For Nations) and "Draconian Times" (1995, Music For Nations), mainly a case of "if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it".
Along with "Host" (1999, EMI), another PL album which really divided opinion was "Believe In Nothing" (2001, EMI). Many fans felt that an excellent collection of songs was marred by a very disappointing production. How do you view the album, 5 years on?
"Believe In Nothing" wasn’t a very enjoyable time for me. When we did "Host", everyone was really excited about it, because it was so different. So when it didn’t reach expectations sales-wise, I virtually became the sole scapegoat. So there was a lot of back-biting. I still stand behind "Host", but "BIN" was one huge compromise, both within the band and with the label, which is a shame because a song like "World Pretending" deserves better.
Many long-time fans felt that the decision to move to major label EMI in 1998 was a bad one. Without wanting to start a debate on the merits of major labels, what do you think the band have learned from the overall experience?
[Laughs] Of course it was a mistake, but it’s a mistake that no bands ever learn from. Before we signed to EMI, we used to say "better a big fish in a small pond" and then we went and followed suit. Majors tell you what you want to hear, but bail when the going gets tough.
With this in mind, after the end of the EMI era you released "Symbol Of Life", which is regarded by many as a magnificent return to form. How do you think "PL X" follows on from that and builds on its success?
I’m very proud of "Symbol Of Life", it’s a very textured album. I look at "X" as the coldest, heaviest parts of "SOL" taken to the extreme.
Although many older fans argue that "Symbol Of Life" and "PL X" don’t really offer anything drastically different, there is a sense that on those albums, you’ve managed to combine all that you learned from previous releases. Do you feel that now, with "PL X", you have made the definitive Paradise Lost record?
That’s difficult to say, because with such a long and varied career, people may well have different opinions on what a PL record should be. We are quite hard on ourselves and I suppose every album just represents how we feel at any given time.
On "SOL" and "PL X", your lead guitar work has returned to the forefront of the band’s music, with keyboards now taking a back seat. Was this an easy decision to make, given the band’s desire in recent years to move away from the twin-guitar dominated sounds of old?
We just do what feels right. I got totally sick of the twin-guitar thing at one time and decided to do something different. Having had a break from that, it now feels very fresh to me and I am actually enjoying doing the lead and harmony lines again. Bottom line is, I have to enjoy what I do or there is no point.
Without dwelling too much on your recent health problems, how difficult was it to go ahead with (and subsequently finish) the PL X Tour, knowing you weren’t 100% fit?
It was very difficult. I was in constant pain and I wasn’t supposed to do anything from February onward. On the tour, I basically laid down all day, just so I could give it my all on stage but it did take its toll and I had a second surgery 3 weeks ago. So far, things are much better.
On the subject of touring, you seem to have gained a lot of new fans in Eastern Europe (ie. the old Communist block), thanks to your extensive touring there. Do you think there is still a lot of untapped potential for Rock and Metal in that part of the world?
We have been touring in various parts of Eastern Europe for most of our career and we are very lucky to have such a loyal fanbase. Some countries are easier to arrange shows in than others, but ultimately if we have fans somewhere, we want to play there. Fans in a lot of these countries have tremendous patience. I think there is great potential in these countries. A few more decent promoters wouldn’t go amiss, though...
In comparison, the band’s profile in the UK has dropped, despite the continued loyalty of a small hardcore fanbase. Is this still a source of frustration for you?
It’s not the fans’ fault. I think it’s more of a media thing. There are a handful of press people in the UK, deciding what everybody should and shouldn’t like. At least in the USA, there are numerous and very varied college radio stations which are a good source for reasonably unbiased views. In most of the rest of the world, there seems to be a decent enough magazine and press network that aren’t all controlled by the same people and have enough of a sales base to make a difference.
In recent years, the Gothic Metal genre you spawned has reached unprecedented heights of popularity. Are you surprised at this and what do you think of the current wave of Gothic Metal bands?
I am very surprised at how big it has become. They have rebadged it though, of course. It’s like breakfast cereal. Package it nice enough and anyone will buy it. The ones that have enormous popularity, like Evanescence, are an even newer breed. They have probably never heard of us, yet they are influenced by bands like Lacuna Coil, who were influenced by...us! But hey, if Nick [Holmes, vocalist] was as photogenic as Amy Lee [Evanescence vocalist], we would probably be multi platinum by now.
Having signed a new distribution deal with Century Media Records, which covers the UK and US, do you have any plans to build on the success of the last US tour with Opeth and perhaps return there soon?
I can’t wait. I thoroughly enjoyed the tour with Opeth and we have some great fans over there. From what I hear, we are already looking at a couple of tours of the US early next year.
For many fans like myself, when listening to "PL X", it feels like you have reached a plateau, in the same way that "Draconian Times" in 1995 brought closure to the old PL sound. Do you agree with that and if so, where do you think the band can go from here?
In one sense I agree. I think we should make a noticeable shift in sound on future material. But having said that, you can’t keep a good song down and if the material is strong enough, then you shouldn’t have to worry about boundaries.