Losing a band member could be a critical, but not damaging. Losing a lead singer, however, has the potential to be fatal. Music is riddled with bands losing frontmen and ultimately disintegrating. Few have rebounded to record, nevertheless tour behind material that their singer left behind.
Of Mice and Men are quickly proving they’re the exception — like Genesis or Van Halen — to that rule of thumb.
During the promotion of last year’s Cold World, singer Austin Carlile was open about his struggles with Marfan’s Syndrome, a genetic disorder that put his life in jeopardy. Touring became grueling, with the band having to cancel dates so the singer could recuperate. By the end of last year, Carlile left Of Mice and Men for various reasons and headed to Costa Rica for treatment for Marfan’s. As they saw his health decline, Carlile’s bandmates had a feeling a change was coming.
Picking up the pieces from Carlile’s departure, the band decided to soldier on. Instead of struggling and mulling over their future, the remaining members took a few days off to digest the magnitude of the departure and to decide the next steps. Quickly, they concluded that the best way to cope with the lineup change was to get back to work. Holed up in their Huntington Beach studio space, the now-quartet found themselves immersed — and even refreshed — in new material.
They debated bringing in another vocalist, but ultimately bassist Aaron Pauley took over that position. Previously, he was the main singer on tunes like “Would You Still Be There,” “Feels Like Forever” and “Never Giving Up.” Thus, handling all of the vocal duties was laborious, but not all encompassing.
“This wasn’t an easy undertaking,” Pauley says just before heading back into the band’s studio for another round of practicing. “It wasn’t about continuing on for the name’s sake or the brand. For us, it was to genuinely deliver these songs that mean a lot to us and mean a lot to our fans. It didn’t feel right to bring someone else in to replace him (Carlile) because it’s irreplaceable.”
Of those jam sessions of the past few months emerged a couple of new songs. Those first post-Carlile songs, “Unbreakable” and “Back to Me,” are just as thunderous and heavy as anything the metalcore outfit released before the lineup change. Rhythm guitarist Alan Ashby has taken over backing vocals from Pauley.
“These two new songs got us through the emotional turmoil,” Pauley explains. “At the same time, it allowed us to feel reinvigorated and to feel that passion that we sing about in ‘Back to Me.’ At the same time, it comes from a genuine place that we feel. That’s the underwritten language of music that fans connect with.”
It’s only been a few shows, but so far Pauley’s has adapted well to his new role. That doesn’t mean that it’s been without some minor inconveniences and pitfalls.
“The hardest adjustment I’ve had is not choking to death on my hair when I’m singing,” he admits. “There isn’t as much time for me to step away and shoo the hair out of my face since I’m singing all the time. There’s been a few occasions when we’re playing outdoors and the wind changes direction and I’ve got half of the hair in my mouth and I’m gagging.”
As Carlile gets treatment, and coaches youth baseball in Costa Rica, his bandmates are ready for what’s next. Having faced a potentially career defining crossroads, Of Mice and Men are anxious to begin the latest chapter in their existence.
“It’s like professional wrestling in a way,” the singer says. “It’s like when someone throws you into the ropes and you can bounce back or go over the ropes and fall out of the ring. I think in split seconds like that, I think you have a choice to get hit, fall out and get back in the ring and bounce back. That’s what we did, and it didn’t come without fear or apprehension. Music is all we have and we closed our eyes and helped each other through it and believed. So far, it’s been awesome.”