How Of Mice & Men's Austin Carlile overcame his most challenging year ever

A photograph of Of Mice & Men's Austin Carlile in a very dark room, looking contemplative
(Image: © Justin Borucki)

Ask Austin Carlile to summarise his 2016 in one word, and he’ll pause, flash a wry smile, and slowly reply: “Relentless.” It’s the title of an upbeat song on new record Cold World, which talks of fighting to stay alive no matter what – and Austin has certainly done that. When we spoke to him at the end of 2015, he told us in great detail about the painful surgeries he’d had on his heart and ribs, as a consequence of the genetic condition Marfan Syndrome. Sitting backstage at London’s Forum before their show today, it’s almost like deja vu, as he describes cancelling some CD release shows in the States a couple of weeks back, due to a “small” upper respiratory infection.

“I really wasn’t feeling well, and then at the ER they misdiagnosed me, and they put me on a steroid and some other stuff, which made me even sicker and lowered my immune system even more,” he remembers. “I was stuck in Ohio for four days, and then I ended up flying to a hospital in Dallas, and they found out my T-cell count was really low, and that it was causing my heart to swell.”

He was given new medication and had a battery of tests before he was able to leave and play a show with Avenged Sevenfold. The weather was so bad that the set was pushed back, and mercifully cut to a handful of songs. “They were just hell for me,” he remembers. As soon as I went on, my chest ceased up. It was scary for a little bit, because I’d never had that kind of chest pain before from performing.”

As a result, Austin now makes a point of talking to venue medics, who take his pulse, give him oxygen and keep an eye on him as he’s playing. But after tonight’s show, Of Mice & Men will cancel their remaining European dates, and Austin will be taken into the care of his specialists at Stanford University hospital, stating: “I would never cancel unless a limb was falling off or it was endangering my life. Unfortunately it has become the latter.”

Despite his ongoing issues, Austin has approached his life with a positive new mindset in 2016. From January to March, when Of Mice & Men began recording Cold World, he came off his depression and pain medication. He also decided to publicly commit his life to God by getting baptised. The decisions brought him a new mental clarity, which he’s still enjoying today.

“No matter how many girls I met, or threesomes I had, or nights drinking I had, or going to Grammy parties and hanging out with celebrities, or having Taylor Swift come up and talk to me, or being on the cover of this magazine, or being on this billboard… none of it meant anything, because I was still hurt inside, and I was still broken inside, and I was still empty,” he says. “All of that was meaningless unless I was doing it for the right reasons.”

His new purpose propelled him to finish Cold World, before the band set off for their massive US/Canada support slot to Marilyn Manson and Slipknot, finishing up with their own headline European tour. Those final dates offered Austin a chance to celebrate the biggest victory of all – his birthday. As their plane came into London, he took to Twitter to say he never thought he’d make it to 29. Was he being flippant, or serious?

“That was kind of facetiously serious,” he says today. “I did it. You know, I’ve had some very close people in my life that have all passed away before their 30s. I remember being a kid, and when I first found out that I had all this stuff going on with my body, I was thinking that 29, 30, it sounds so long from now. And with how I felt for the past 10 years, I didn’t think I was going to make it.”

He celebrated by hanging out with some of the Britney Spears crew who were in town for her Apple Music Festival Roundhouse show, and cryptically reveals that the popstar inspired him to reassess his lifestyle. “I met her about three years ago, and she’s a very big part of why I stopped drinking,” he confesses. “I owe her that – she’s great!”

As the year comes to a close, Austin faces yet another period of tests and treatments and recovery, but is intent on becoming the very best version of himself, all the while holding on to his belief that God has a plan for him.

“I try to focus my mind on the future, becoming healthier, and thinking of situations that are going on with the world, and the person that I want to be,” he reflects. “That’s given me a really strong, concrete foundation to live my life.”

Of Mice & Men singer/bassist Aaron Pauley

Of Mice & Men singer/bassist Aaron Pauley
(Image: © Justin Borucki)

Restoring Thoughts

Clean singer/bassist Aaron Pauley explains how the rest of the band have coped with Austin’s big life changes this year

Do you ever worry about touring, given Austin’s health struggles?

Aaron Pauley: “I think a band is a brotherhood, it’s a family, and with a family comes trust. And if he says he’s good to do it, we trust him. And I think we’ve all come to the place where we’re OK with saying, ‘I’m not OK to do this.’ If I get incredibly sick or I blow my voice out and see an ENT, and he says I can’t talk for a few days, before it was, ‘I don’t want to let them down – let’s go do it.’ But now I’ll say, ‘Let’s reschedule it.’ We want to do this forever, and forever is not worth a single day, you know what I mean?”

Can you recognise the signs when he needs to slow down?

“I think definitely. And he’s the one who will push himself harder than anybody else. I think we’re all like that in a way. All of us individually will try to be tough. But we all know each other well enough now, and with that trust comes the ability to say, ‘I’m vulnerable right now. Maybe I can’t do this yet.’ And there’s no shame in that any more.”

Since Austin was baptised, have you noticed a change in him?

“Oh, definitely. I’ve seen him go from very analytical and critical to very… how do I word it… just an air of positivity. Being able to say the glass is half full rather than saying the glass is half empty. And both are true, but when you get so caught up in the measurements of everything, you kind of forget to live in the moment. And I’ve seen him definitely move into that realm of being able to enjoy the here and now.”

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