When the news broke of founding member Austin Carlile’s departure from the band for the second time, the metalcore community was divided by the question on everyone’s lips: ‘Can Of Mice & Men produce an album worthy of their following without their former frontman?’
Carlile, who came out recently in support of his one-time band mates, was forced to leave the band after revealing he had three tears in his spine, rendering him unfit to scream and in need of several surgeries, due to suffering from the genetic disorder Marfan Syndrome.
Now, after months of intense anticipation and the release of three razor-sharp singles - ‘Unbreakable’, ‘Back To Me’ and ‘Warzone’ - many people have made up their minds. With their fifth album Defy about to drop, we sat down with the man who stepped into Carlile’s role of lead vocalist, bassist Aaron Pauley.
“We believe we did make the right decision by continuing on because it’s something we talk about all the time,” he says. “I often ask, ‘Guys, can you believe we’re here?’ Just thinking back to the end of last year, it was all pretty crazy, but we knew we had each other to help get us through, and in a way it’s brought us even closer together.”
To Pauley, Defy is a middle finger to all the naysayers who thought the four-piece should have disbanded. “While we did want to make a positive uplifting record, we didn’t want to make a shiny bubblegum one either, you know what I mean?” he says.
“Today our society tells people, ‘If you’re sad, turn it around,’ but sometimes it’s good to acknowledge the way you feel, and I’ll be damned if every single person on earth at one time or another hasn’t felt that to the outside world they seem strong, but on the inside they were crumbling.”
Track nine on Defy, ‘On the Inside’, is particularly meaningful to Pauley. “I suffer from anxiety, and clinical depression runs in my family, so I think it’s important not to be ashamed of it,” he says. “At the same time, you can be encouraging to other people - sometimes just being able to commiserate with somebody is uplifting enough.”
In a lighter moment, Pauley goes on to use a ‘90s comedy film as an analogy for the bond he shares with his band mates. “Making this record, we became hyper-collaborative to the point where it was so much fun, and with that kind of mentality nothing really ever seemed insurmountable,” he says.
“Have you ever seen the movie 3 Ninjas? Well, there’s a corny scene when they talk about four strands of rope, because it’s the three of them and their grandpa, and they talk about how individually the rope can break, but if you take those four strands and you braid them into a rope, suddenly the strength is even stronger with all four combined,” Pauley says. “That’s how we feel now about the release of Defy.”
Earlier this year, OM&M released a short documentary, named for one of the lead singles on the album, ‘Unbreakable’, that took viewers behind the scenes during a recent tour across multiple continents. A highlight of the film, directed by Johann Ramos, shows Pauley, drummer Valentino Arteaga, and guitarists Phil Manansala and Alan Ashby in a ritual all-for-one chant, side of stage.
“Alan typically does the chant every night, and now it’s very much a staple in our live show,” Pauley says. “I’m a perfectionist and I always get a lot of nerves, but when I’m screaming, ‘Rock ‘n’ roll,’ with all hands in, all of that melts away.”
Defy is due for release via Rise Records/BMG on Friday January 19.