Greg Mackintosh Discusses HOST’s Debut Album IX
On February 24, HOST’s debut, IX, will finally be available to the masses after teasing the world with three successful singles. Comprised of Paradise Lost legends Greg Mackintosh and Nick Holmes, HOST is a nod to that band’s 1999 album of the same name. Even if you listen to IX without knowing who’s behind the music, you can intuitively feel that it’s the work of musical heavyweights. Despite the nostalgia that this ’80s-inspired offering evokes, IX is an easy recommendation for anyone looking for a refreshing new album this season.
With the album release quickly approaching on February 24, we sat down with Mackintosh to discuss HOST, the new album, and more.
Congratulations on the upcoming release of IX! I really love the album! Could you please tell me a little bit about the songwriting process for this record?
The easy way to write these songs is to write a hook first. You start with very-very simple piano chords, really — so, maybe three or four piano chords. Then, send it to Nick, our vocalist. He’ll come up with a couple of melody lines and send it back to me. Once we’ve got to the hook, the main — I guess you could call it a chorus line, but it doesn’t have to be a chorus, it’s just the ear candy, whatever sticks in your head at the end of the song — then we start to add the sprinkles and make it something more interesting to listen to or more moody or add some atmosphere.
I believe that Nick wrote all the lyrics. Were there any that you wrote as well?
No, we sat together discussing song titles, the album title, the imagery that was going to be involved, what the lyrics were going to convey, and he wrote all the lyrics. We wanted something that reflected the music, so it’s all very… I mean, that’s the word: “reflective.” The lyrics all look inward on the human condition almost, even on love, mortality, and things like that. You know, some of the lyrics are kind of repetitive, but that’s to reflect the music as well because in a lot of the songs we’ve used repetition as a focal point.
Yes, and it couldn’t be more effective. What was the biggest challenge you encountered while making IX?
Well, I mean, the hardest thing is writing this style. Is it a style?! — I don’t know, but it’s a mixture of styles. You’re writing kind of upbeat, almost pop music with hooks and catchiness to it on the one hand. And then, you want to make it sad. You want to have some tragic elements. You want to make it bittersweet. And there’s kind of a dichotomy there. So, the hard thing is to marry the two and make something that’s catchy and upbeat — something you can move to and something you can hum along with but that is also very sad and atmospheric. That’s the hardest thing for me because, in theory, it shouldn’t really work. But you can learn from people… I mean, the kings and queens of sad pop were like ABBA, you know. And lots of music from the ’80s, pop music, was like that, and that’s why it gets covered to death. But people don’t do it that much these days because it’s kind of a difficult thing to do — to marry those elements together.
You did it perfectly! As you said, IX is so catchy! Do the songs haunt you all day because they’ve definitely been haunting me?
Well, there is the thing sort of about ear candy — about having that hook that is the thing that comes first. It has to be some kind of very simple line that stays in your head, but it’s also — it has to be melancholy. That’s the thing. It has to be something that takes you away somewhere. And yeah, there’s sound design involved in the production as well… That’s the sprinkles on top if you’re listening on headphones or a surround system or something. But yeah, there’s songs that stick with me more than others and stick in my head more. But I think the album is an interesting mix of styles. I know the label wanted to try to pitch it in with the synthwave stuff, but it’s not really anything to do with that. It’s a mixture of all kinds of stuff: goth, synth, cold wave, even stadium rock from the ’80s all kind of mingled together and hopefully translating into a way that speaks today.
It certainly does! It feels incredibly fresh! Like you just mentioned, this album was obviously very heavily ’80s-inspired. I also read that you wanted to start this project a while back. Do you feel that waiting and maybe getting some perspective made the result even cooler?
Well, it’s always nice to have an idea and then live with it for a while to see how the concept of it develops in your mind. I mean, the idea for this came along about five years ago maybe… A collection of a couple of things started my interest in doing this again. We did a remaster of the Paradise Lost album called Host, which made me listen to those songs again. And that in turn, made me get in touch with what inspired that, which was a lot of things from the ’80s and growing up in the alternative clubs around the area that I lived in. And also, because it became more acceptable within marginalized and extreme music forms to like other things. For instance, 20 years ago, you weren’t allowed to like something like this record if you were in the metal scene. But now, it’s kind of okay. So, I think it’s kind of waiting for the scene to catch up almost, you know.
Why do you think that is? Of course, I love Paradise Lost’s Host album, for example. So, I thought it was funny that on Into the Necrosphere, you shared a story about how you were at a black metal festival and some black metallers came up to you and [roughly] said: “I love the Host album.” And you were like: “Since when has that been okay for black metal people to like that kind of record?!” But when you look at things, a lot of the musicians like Euronymous — he actually liked a lot of different kinds of music. So, why do you think it’s the case that metal fans are more closed-minded than the actual musicians themselves?
I think it’s maybe because they’re not creating it every day. I’m only surmising here, but, to me, it starts to turn into a treadmill if you’re creating the same thing over and over again, you know. It turns into a production line, and to keep yourself happy as a creator, you have to diversify. It’s funny you speak about Euronymous because he was one of the people I used to tape trade with back in the ’80s.
Yeah, we used to trade demos, and Nick used to trade with Dead… People think of it like it’s a big scene, the tape trading scene, but it was a handful of people in each country. I mean, literally 10-15 people in each country, and we were all connected, and we all used to just send each other demos. It wasn’t all extreme metal. I mean, some of it was, but some of it was real off-the-wall stuff from Japan or whatever. It was very strange stuff that we used to trade with each other. And yeah, I can vouch for that: Euronymous was into various things. He sent me demos with some bizarre stuff, and I sent him stuff as well… But then, when you start to get signed by a record label, and you get some kind of notoriety or following, then that becomes a set audience almost. So, you’re kind of instantly pigeonholed, and it’s difficult to break those barriers. You don’t have to break those barriers. But I just mean it’s kind of difficult to diversify from that and keep the respect of the audience you’ve already built.
Wow! I’m really surprised that you used to tape trade with Euronymous, but that makes sense because there’s some black metal in Strigoi, which is a project that I really enjoy… But I heard that you were having trouble getting the word out there. If they haven’t already, I really recommend that readers check out Strigoi’s incredible albums Viscera (2022) and Abandon All Faith (2019). They should also know that the Strigoi track “The Construct of Misery” is going to come out as an exclusive through The Decibel Flexi Series. So, is there anything you’d like to say about Strigoi?
Yeah, I mean, it’s very extreme music, and it’s quite experimental within that as well. So, it’s kind of marginalized twice almost. I’m under no illusion as to why it’s hard to get it out there because it’s something that, you know… There aren’t that many outlets for it. So, what I would say about it is we’re going to be doing some shows this summer, some festivals. We’ve actually gotten the Hellfest lineup, which is great, and a few of the big festivals. The plan is with it — we just want to play as many countries as possible and get the word about because I think it’s something different. It’s very atmospheric, almost film sountrack-ish, and very-very-very-very-very dark. So, it’s not for everyone. But hopefully, we can get word about and get some shows with some people.
Yeah, it’s fantastic! And I don’t see why it shouldn’t be for everyone because I think it does have a little something for everyone in it. It’s terribly cool! You mentioned touring. Do you have any plans with HOST in that regard?
That’s an evolving thing because the album isn’t out until next month, the HOST album. There’s been a great amount of YouTube hits and some very positive comments on the tracks that have been released so far, but we have to wait to see if that translates into album sales. In turn, we have to wait to see if that translates into decent offers for gigs and festivals. And then, we have to take it from there, so it’s a logistics thing. We just have to wait to see, going forward. We want to do live shows, but we have to see what the interest is, I guess.
I would guess that there would be a big interest because I did see, like you said, that there was a huge positive reaction to “Tomorrow’s Sky” and “Hiding from Tomorrow.” And “My Only Escape” is coming out on Friday [January 13]. So, to take a step back with the questions, I read that HOST started out as your solo project: It seems only natural that you would ask Nick Holmes to join, but I was wondering if there was a certain moment that swayed your decision to make HOST a duo.
Well, it wasn’t really a solo project. It was more of just a hobby, a palette cleanser, because I was writing so much heavy music at the time — I was writing the Strigoi album. I’d just finished the last Paradise Lost album, Obsidian, and it was something, a reprieve almost, you know, something to do. But the initial concept of it was instrumental almost. It was kind of much more about the sound design side of it. And then, the pandemic happened. I was talking to Nick about the fact that I was doing this thing, and he said: “Can you send me some stuff?” And then, we started to turn it into something that was a little more melody-based and pop-based. Then, it just evolved and just became what it is. I mean, I guess it’s the same with a lot of bands. You know, over the pandemic, not being able to tour, you just spend your time trying to be creative.
Yes! Do you think that HOST will affect the direction of Paradise Lost?
I don’t think it will affect it because we always… Well, whenever I come to do anything new, I try to approach it with an open mind and a clean slate. It’s much more difficult with Paradise Lost because there is that history there. You know, with something like HOST, nobody asked for it, no one was expecting it, so there was no pressure to go in any given direction. With Paradise Lost, there is that history there, so you do have some kind of boundary. But, again, we try to keep the slate as clean as possible, think with an open mind, and just think: “What am I into right now?!” So, hopefully, it won’t influence it, but I can’t say for sure that it won’t.
I did ask you about touring, but do you have any plans with HOST for a second album, or are you just going to see how things go?
Yeah, I mean, I already have ideas, but it’s not something that I want to make concrete just yet because everything’s on a time frame when you’re on record labels. So, I have to start thinking about new Paradise Lost stuff first. And then, when I’ve done that… Well, if and when that gets done, then I can concentrate on other things: Strigoi and HOST and stuff.
Do you think that new HOST material will be stylistically similar to IX?
Moving forward, it’s hard to say because when we wrote this album, IX, we approached it a song at a time. So, each song was quite different in the demo stages, and when we got in the studio to record it, we had to make it so that it gelled as an album. So, I imagine it’ll be different again. I think it’ll probably move, evolve, and change, and other influences will come in. So, if we did another album in the future, you know, a few years down the line, it will probably be… Yeah, it will be different again.
I was wondering what your biggest joy is right now in creating.
It’s always — it’s like a dopamine release for me. I gave up drinking about two years ago, and I know the vices now, and it’s kind of boring. So, music, for me, right now, is the dopamine release — when I’m working on something and to get it to come to fruition. For instance, you know, the song that’s coming out on Friday — I can think of that from like a year ago when that song first started to come together in its raw form. And then, when it comes out on Friday, that’s the big dopamine release for me — to see how people react to it and what they think! You know, it’s not the be-all and end-all, what people think, because it is a very personal thing, music. It’s very subjective, but it is a nice feeling when you think people understand what you’ve been trying to do.
Definitely. And I think that people are definitely going to understand IX because it’s such a phenomenal album! Again, based on the reactions to the singles, it looks like they already have! Thank you so much for your time, Mr. Mackintosh, and for your music!
(HOST’s IX drops via Nuclear Blast on February 24. Pre-order your copy here!)