Q&A: Lizzy Borden Talks New Album My Midnight Things

Lizzy Borden

Veteran heavy metal act Lizzy Borden has officially ended his self-imposed exile from the music industry with new album, My Midnight Things. Borden, who started in Los Angeles in 1983 and went on to release celebrated and influential albums like 1986’s Menace to Society and 1987’s Visual Lies, is active again. Not just on the touring front—in Europe, he’s a certified draw—but also on the recording front, where he’s produced his first album in more than a decade.

My Midnight Things follows Borden’s usual predilections for the theatrical, the catchy, and his ability to weave and thread the very things that made “Me Against the World,” “Love You to Pieces,” and “Generation Aliens” great into his new work. Songs like “My Midnight Things,” “Long May They Haunt Us,” and “A Stranger to Love” are tried and true Lizzy Borden brought screaming into the present. The modern production hasn’t diminished Borden’s unique heavy metal approach. In fact, it has enhanced it. Things don’t feel dated or throwback, but rather fresh and vibrant.

Decibel caught up with Borden to learn what prompted his return to heavy metal, why it makes sense to write and record albums again, and his dedication to songcraft.

There’s a long gap between 2007’s Appointment with Death and the new album, My Midnight Things? What brought Lizzy Borden back from the shadows?
Lizzy Borden: Well, the two albums before, Appointment with Death and Deal with the Devil, were just thrown out there, with no fanfare or intention of hitting our target audience. Nothing really happened. I thought there were some good moments on those records. It was because the music industry basically died at that point in time, so I thought there was no point in making records. I figured I’d just continue to tour. I didn’t tour North America but in Europe I’m playing to younger audiences, so it’s the first time they’re seeing us in certain markets. As for today, I did miss being a recording artist and Metal Blade figured out how to make it profitable both for the record label and the artist. They work with everybody now, completely involved. Brian Slagel actually pitched it to me. He said it was a different ballgame now. I showed him a couple of songs that I was working on. He loved them. That’s how I got back into being a recording artist. Thanks to Brian.

What were the deciding factors then, continuing with Metal Blade and taking the risk of being a recording artist?
Lizzy Borden: I missed recording, honestly. That whole cycle was natural to me. You write the album, you record the album, you create the stage show, and you go out and tour the world. Then, you come back home and repeat the cycle. To me, that was a free experience. It made sense. To take two of them off the table—like creating the art itself—it felt lopsided to me. I love touring. But I also love writing songs that stand the test of time. For example, when I go out on tour—anywhere in the world, really—and I play “Me Against the World” people respond in the same way when I first released it. I miss trying to find those types of songs that have that effect. That was the deciding factor.

The Lizzy Borden show was always a draw. The theatrics of it. The mystery of it. And frankly the absurdity of it. All very surreal in parts, which fits heavy metal quite well. Alice Cooper, KISS, Arthur Brown, and early Genesis used theatrics to great effect. Will the show return with your return?
Lizzy Borden: Number one, the first concert I ever saw was KISS. Once you see that it’s over. I mean, the second concert I ever saw was Bad Company. There’s a big contrast between KISS and Bad Company. [Laughs] I will say I’m a performer. Most bands don’t put on a stage show. They’re musicians. They don’t care about performing. That’s not on their radar. But I’m an entertainer. I perform. That’s what I do. I write the songs ahead of time and get someone else to play them for me. It’s freeing and fun! I don’t want to recreate the album. I need the stage to be fun. I’m not sure I’d have any interest in just going up on stage to sing the songs. I need to go the extra mile. It’s me. I’m hoping that I find the right audience that likes what I do.

For the new era of fan, writing music is still centered on the song. Unlike the ‘80s where heavy metal fans almost exclusively were heavy metal fans, kids today are into or have access to everything. The lines have completely blurred. Were you considering that wider, deeper exposure as you wrote My Midnight Things?
Lizzy Borden: I never try to keep up with the Joneses. I try and look at the people who inspired me. The songs they wrote are still around today. They’re around because they have a certain magic to them. They were written perfectly for multi-generations to have the same response to. I look at those great songs and ask myself, “How do I do that? I do I write songs that stand the test of time?” It’s really hard though. The magic is fleeting. Everything has to be right for the right song to be created. I try to rise to those levels. I want songs that will live beyond the first generation. Ozzy plays “Paranoid” last every night for a reason. Cooper’s “School’s Out” as well. They were written for multiple generations. And their inspiration was the Stones and the Beatles. It goes on and on. I don’t look to what’s happening now. I look at what happened before and what’s happening to the same song. The songs are alive, to a degree.

Do you think you’ve broken the mold of Appointment with Death by not repeating the obvious or easy stuff on My Midnight Things?
Lizzy Borden: I go out of my way to do that. I’ve done seven records so far and I don’t think I’ve repeated anything that I’ve done. I still try to write a good hook, a great riff, or a catchy chorus—those are the main goals, right?—but none of the albums sound alike. With this one, I purposefully omitted guitar things I did on Appointment with Death. In fact, I went out of my way to make sure the new album was nothing like Appointment with Death but still and always Lizzy Borden.

Are there things you feel are too tried and true or old hat at this stage? From a heavy metal perspective.
Lizzy Borden: Ah, it’s hard to know. Like if you listen to Ghost there’s a lot of stuff in there from the ‘80s, but it’s done in a different way. Some people notice it, some people don’t. I mean, I hear Blue Öyster Cult. Others don’t have that frame of reference. But there’s a ton of other things in their sound that makes sense for this era of music. I mean, if Ghost were from a different era they might not sound like they do today. The separation of ideas they’re using is unique. They’ve figured out a very difficult thing, actually. What was old hat has now been twisted into something unique. We’ll see if that takes hold or not, but so far what they’re doing is interesting.

But there’s a consistency to your career. There’s an arc from the early ‘80s to today that makes sense. To be honest, I think the majority of people have missed out on Lizzy Borden. The quality of it.
Lizzy Borden: Thanks, I appreciate that. That’s what we’re hoping for. Metal Blade loves the record. Brian loves every song on the record. That’s never happened before. He’s liked songs of ours, but not the full record. We’re old buddies. He’s never gone gaga for a full Lizzy album. He likes this one so much we have a second video greenlighted. That’s never happened before either. If we did a second video in the past, I paid for it. [Laughs] He told me everything was different now and that’s proven to be true so far.

What’s different now then? When you were ascendant in the ‘80s compared to now, industry wise?
Lizzy Borden: Our biggest record was Master of Disguise, so that’s pretty close to the ‘90s. But you could see things were changing then. People were jaded in the music industry, especially people running the labels. They were looking for something weird to throw a wrench into the gears, but more often than not they wanted clones. Easy money. If you were doing what I was doing back then—Master of Disguise had a 40-piece orchestra on it—there was no interest. I don’t think people thought I was crazy, but they didn’t want the risk. Of course, Cooper did it before me and now many artists have worked with large orchestras after me, but at the time we weren’t cool in their eyes. I was trying to do breakthrough things, but there was no traction. When the natural order of things got mucked up later on, the system went down quickly. I think Metallica wouldn’t be as big as they are if they didn’t open for Ozzy. They’ve done the hard work no doubt, but the spark was with Ozzy, who was absolutely massive. Same thing with Mötley Crüe. And Iron Maiden opening for KISS. The doors were opening for those bands. Theater bands turning into arena bands. Which is what we all wanted, right? That level of recognition and success. It’s different now. I see it. I sense. Not every record company gets it, but Metal Blade does. They’re more successful now than they’ve ever been. 100 times over, actually.

For My Midnight Things, you brought on industry heavyweights Greg Fidelman and Tom Baker to mix and master, respectively. Was this a big guns or nothing approach?
Lizzy Borden: No, it was more about quality than names. In fact, Fidelman was the fourth person to try to mix the new album. We had three other guys who gave it a shot and all three times I didn’t like it. I was in Vegas with Brian, who was playing the new Metallica album. I said to him, “Wow, this sounds really good!” Brian said to me, “Well, let me call him to see if he’s interested.” Long story short, Fidelman said, “Hell yeah!” That’s how it started. Off the cuff. I had gone through three other guys and thought, “Where do I go from here?” Fidelman had a different take than what I had in mind, but everyone seemed to like it so I went with his mix. As for Tom, he did the Lizzy remasters and Appointment with Death, so I’ve used him before. And I’ll likely continue to work with Tom. He’s awesome!

What did you want to project sonically?
Lizzy Borden: Well, I didn’t use cliched heavy metal guitars. I wanted it to be big, full and open. If I started to chug, it would isolate things, make the sound smaller. I didn’t want that. I knew there would be keyboards and a ton of vocals. I didn’t want the guitars dwindled down into this little thing, so that’s why the guitars are more big, open power chords. Of course, the guitars are the biggest thing on any rock album. I wanted them to be there without wrecking the whole thing. That’s what I told Fidelman. I want the Lizzy record to be big but I don’t want the guitars to get in the way of the mix. So, that was the challenge. Fidelman does have his trademark on the new album though. The louder you turn it up the more high energy it sounds. The more you can hear the little things in there. He did the same thing with Metallica. He mixes so people listen to it loud.

Did you consider how people listen to music today? With in-ear headphones over streaming platforms?
Lizzy Borden: Yes, actually. I approved the mix using in-ears. That’s how people listen to music. I guarantee, five out of 10 people have headphones and those headphones are in-ears. I wanted to make sure I was listening to it the way it was being consumed. I knew Spotify, Youtube, and iTunes would be big pieces of selling this album compared to any album in my past. So, this is the first album that I’ve done that has entered into this world. I grew up on radio, so this new world is very different. I think it’s cool.

** Lizzy Borden’s new album, My Midnight Things, is out now on Metal Blade Records. Lizzy’s new album is available on CD, LP, and Digital, available HERE for the initiated. Also, while you visiting the link, check out the array of Lizzy’s back catalog. To wit, if you don’t own Menace To Society, the reissue is a must-have.