Of Mice & Men are on the rise – but they're facing their biggest challenge yet
They're about to play their biggest shows and are due to release new album Cold World. But Of Mice & Men face one obstacle: their frontman’s dramatic health issues. Can rock’n’roll save them?
Five days ago, Austin Carlile was lying in a hospital bed in Chicago. He had received an epidural three days before in Cincinnati, where doctors had injected steroids and an anaesthetic into his spine to numb the nerves and ease his back pain. But something had gone wrong, and he lost the feeling in his legs. It was a worry, not only for Austin’s health, but for the band’s prospects midway through one of the biggest tours of their career, supporting Marilyn Manson and Slipknot across North America and Canada.
“I was scared, and I didn’t know what to do,” he confesses. “I have a lot of nerve problems down there, and I have the back of a 70-year-old with arthritis, and he did something wrong. The pressure in my lower back was insane. So we went to the hospital, and they ended up keeping me overnight, and they found out I had a bludgeoned disc. That’s pretty metal! With Marfans, you have to treat every day as it comes.”
Austin was put on a further course of steroids, and four hours after he was discharged he was onstage at Chicago Open Air festival.
Today we are chatting in a windowless room in the bowls of the Air Canada Centre in downtown Toronto, a concrete enormo-dome that’s home to the Maple Leafs hockey team and the Raptors basketball team, three weeks into the run. Sipping on a fruit smoothie, he apologises for being shirtless; he has just taken his daily 30-minute hot shower to help his muscles stay mobile, and his body temperature is still raised. A long, pink surgical scar divides his tattooed torso. He is leaning forward in his chair, hugging himself, his tall frame folded inwards. It is a position that makes the 28-year-old rock star look vulnerable.
But then, Austin has been through a lot. He was born with the genetic condition Marfan Syndrome, which causes the body’s connective tissue to excessively grow and stretch, and puts a strain on the heart and lungs. When he was 17, his mum died from the illness, though doctors at the time didn’t realise she had it. Over the years, he has had multiple surgeries to alleviate his symptoms, and a question mark has lurked in the background over his ability to keep going and carry Orange County’s rising metalcore crew into the big leagues. Watching him perform, roaring into a microphone and violently headbanging, you can’t help but worry he’s putting a deadly strain on his body.
When we caught up with him at the end of 2015, he was still recuperating from serious operations on his heart, brain and ribs. This January, he went under the knife to correct a long-term problem with his right hip.
“When I was born, I had really bad club feet, and I had to wear Forrest Gump shoes with the metal things. I was supposed to get surgery on both of my feet to help my hips, but my parents didn’t want me to be in a double cast for three months, so they only did my left foot,” he remembers. “As I grew, I couldn’t sit in a car for over 30 minutes. I felt like an old man. I hated it.”
Austin mimes the action of his overgrown hip socket rubbing against his thigh bone, and explains how the doctor had to cut away some of the joint before removing three cysts that had developed in his leg due to the constant friction.
A period of convalescence followed. He slept in a hospital bed at home, used a compression machine to massage his legs, and did lots of physical therapy. It was under these conditions of recovery that Of Mice & Men would enter David Bendeth’s House Of Loud studio in March, to record their fourth album, Cold World. While Austin had already toughed out multiple hardships over nine excruciating months, nothing could have prepared him for what was to come.