Of Mice & Men: Mice Mice Baby
Sometimes a man just has to wash his dishes. That’s true of everyone, including Austin Carlile, frontman of Californian metalcore heroes Of Mice & Men. And it soon becomes clear why he has to get his multitasking in as best he can because Carlile is a busy, busy man.
“Oh, yeah. My entire life is extraordinarily busy. I’ve just been thinking about what I’m doing this year, what’s been going on with the band, and we’ve been really, really, really busy – and that’s totally a good thing, obviously, but it’s just kind of crazy to think about.”
It’s good to hear, because things were looking a lot different two years ago. In 2010 Carlile left the band he’d formed in 2008 with bassist and buddy Jaxin Hall because of his failing health, leading to open heart surgery and a long convalescence. His marriage disintegrated, leaving him crashing on couches. Pretty much everything that could fall apart in Carlile’s life did.
“Yeah, it did, and from the minute I joined the band again right until really recently it’s been kinda out of control, but luckily the last couple of months things have been great.”
Not that things got a lot easier when he returned to Of Mice & Men, mind. Hall had quit months earlier, and the band had struggled on with Jerry Roush as lead singer. Roush didn’t take kindly to being told his services were no longer required, explaining on Twitter that “after sacrificing a year out of my life to keep a band afloat and touring after they kicked out the original singer, I just got a call informing me that they are bringing him back… I think it’s a little odd seeing how they all talked epic amounts of shit on him the entire time.”
But Carlile wasn’t alone: he also had his new creative partner guitarist Alab Ashby, with whom he’d planned to start a new band when the discussions about rejoining Of Mice & Men began. This was a new beginning for the band. A year zero.
“Oh, it was definitely coming back to a year zero. And coming back to a lot of debt,” Carlile chuckles bitterly. “So it was kinda like starting all over again, but we had all this money we had to pay off because of poor management. So one of the first things we did was fire our management and say, ‘We shouldn’t play an entire Vans Warped tour and walk away with $400 apiece – that doesn’t make any sense!’ So we started working with [new management] Raw Power, did this European tour and things really got on a roll from there. But it’s something we all really enjoy: we’d rather be busy and we’d rather be touring across the world and being productive than just sitting around at home having time off.”
He also praises the way that Ashby’s presence reinvigorated the band.
“We just jumped right into the entire writing process. He met the guys and three days later he was in the studio recording a new album with them,” he explains. “Ever since we came back it’s been feeling like we’ve been building from the ground up again. I’m thankful to Tino [Arteaga, drums] and Phil [Manansala, lead guitar], while Al and I weren’t in the band they were just touring and touring and touring and keeping our name relevant and keeping on the road. I feel that was really necessary for the longevity of our band.”
It must have been frustrating being away from the band.
“Oh yeah! Absolutely! I lost my mind: I had my surgery and I was in hospital for about three weeks – because I actually got pneumonia in the hospital too, after I got my surgery – so I was in the ICU for a couple of days and the general hospital after that. And then I was home for I don’t know, two months?
“And shortly after I had recovered, I was living with my girlfriend at the time and her mother was taking care of me, and I found out that while I was recovering, that girlfriend – which I was married to as well, because in America we have a very, very, very fucked up healthcare system – but because of her health insurance I got my heart surgery, but then I found out she was cheating on me while I was getting fixed! So that all played out and added one more thing to the mix.”
Without drawing breath, he barrels on. “So in December  I left all that, and then in January the band and I all met up and decided that this was what we were going to do. And that was a hard period of time for me just in general, with my health and having to adapt to all that, but it made for a hell of an album.”
That album was The Flood, which put the band firmly back on the map – and forced a touring schedule that the band have maintained to this day. Which raises the question: how is Carlile’s health holding up?
“Um, yeah. It’s OK,” he admits. “I have good days and bad days. I get sick really easily and I have what’s called Marfan syndrome, it’s a connective tissue disorder, and I can’t do a lot of the things most people can do: I can’t sit Indian style, I can’t do certain sports. So it’s kinda rough knowing that, and having my heart thing – half of my heart’s fake – so I have a lot of things wrong with me.”
Touring must be incredibly hard – not just for Carlile but for the entire band.
“It’s actually kinda cool to see how the band has adapted,” he counters. “They check up on me – ‘Oh, Austin’s taking a nap, we’ll be quiet walking through the hallway’ – and they really work around helping me get healthy and helping me be safe. And that’s something that’s really cool about our group: they all know exactly what’s going on with me and they know that I have to take it easy. But lately my health’s been fine.”
“Yeah.” He pauses for a minute. “Well, OK, I got home from touring Europe about two weeks ago and I got the flu, strep and pneumonia all at once, which was a pain.”
Um, yeah. Yeah, that would be a pain.
“The flu I probably got from this girl I was with in Germany,” he adds, “but getting that on top of pneumonia was not a thing that anybody would look forward to.”
Should the band be touring at all, then? Surely every new destination is less an unexplored territory than a death trap of exciting new diseases?
“Yeah, that’s kinda how it is,” he shrugs. “Y’know, I take my medicines and I do what I have to do, and I just don’t think about it. I mean, I’m not saying I want to live my life in a state of complete obliviousness, but I’d rather be happy and do the things that make me happy and deal with what comes along than revolving my life around my health and what I can and can’t do. In my head, I can do anything, and I’m going to do everything I put my mind to.”
Warming to his theme, he continues “See, I know my health is going to give me problems, but it’s up to me to buckle through it and push myself. I know my limits: I know when its time to stop and when I need to slow down. It’s just a constant battle: me against my body; my passions and my dreams and what I want to do with my life, against what I’m physically able to do.
“My mom would always say my shell wasn’t as strong as what was inside when I was a little guy and I took that to heart and I live by that motto now. I have too many plans and too much I want to do and help and change and play.”
It’s a good policy to live by.
“Yeah – good things don’t often happen to me, which is a big thing to say, but really very blessed with who I am and blessed with my friends in this band and everything that’s happening with the future for Of Mice & Men, and for myself as well. I just opened a clothing store, there’s all kinds of good stuff.”
It turns out that this store forms the hub of an entire community project for Carlile, and he’s damned excited about it all.
“See, I got together with some of my friends and we have a clothing store at Newport Beach called Paper Alligator. My clothing line’s called Aspire & Create, after my initials.”
Currently the store is home to a massive amount of canned food. What’s the deal with the canned goods?
“I struggled with being hungry a lot when I was a kid, and it’s something I’ve always wanted to help people with, so we did a giant canned food drive and we actually raised 2,300 pounds of food,” he enthuses.
“And we’re doing a beach clean up at the end of the month, and a big toy drive – it’s something I’ve got a really big heart for, helping people who’ve been in the same situation that I’ve been in. I lived in an orphanage when I was a kid for a little bit and I know what it’s like to be poor and hungry and not have what you want for Christmas and not have anything positive I could do with other people, and that’s why I do the toy drive and the can drive and the clean up.”
And it doesn’t stop there either.
“We’re doing movie nights at a theatre down here because we want to give kids something to do other than go out and get crapfaced every Friday night with their high school friends, or get in trouble or get hurt, or get knocked up. I just thought it’d be cool to give them other options.”
All this, and a full-time, internationally-touring band? How on Earth does Carlile do it all?
“I have a big whiteboard!” he laughs. “I’m a very goal oriented person, and I like working hard. Nothing gets accomplished without working hard. You can wish for something all you want, but that’s not going to get you anywhere: you have to be productive.”
So having gotten through a childhood of deprivation and an adulthood fraught with disaster, is there some sort of a sense of responsibility in there – a defiant “I got through this, you can do it too” role model for troubled kids?
“Yeah, absolutely – I have that responsibility. I never really sought that, though, until this past year. There were a couple of songs that I wrote that were just really inspirational and gave people hope and I feel like Peter Parker in the Spider-Man movie, when his dad says, ‘With great power comes great responsibility’.”
That was his Uncle Ben, actually. But yes, point taken.
“The thing is that I have an opportunity and I have a chance to basically just help people. With what I do, and with what we’ve created with the band, we can do good things – and I feel like if I don’t do good things with that opportunity, I’m wasting it. And that’s something I don’t wanna do.”
With surprising sincerity, he concludes, “I’m 25 years old and I see what these kids want and I see how easy it is for them to have a musician who can give them hope, to get them through their parents’ divorce, to get them through bullying at school or whatever it may be. And I absolutely get no greater joy than talking to them or meeting them or reading their letters and being able to help them with difficult things in their life, whatever that might be.”
The Flood – deluxe reissue is out now on Rise/Shock.