(Photo Courtesy of I Am Second)
All That Matters
An Interview with Austin Carlile on The Next Chapter In His Career
By Sarah Komisky
For a while, music fans have asked the following question: where is Austin Carlile? Although the former lead vocalist of the group Of Mice and Men is no longer with the band, the question remains written all over the pages of Google. From various media outlets to fan comments to the music world as a whole, the consensus is clear – Carlile is missed.
Always wanting to make an impact for good, the singer used his music as journal entries working through the real issues, he himself faced such severe bullying, depression, loneliness, divorce, and suicide. Looking back, he now sees the fingerprints of hope he was able to communicate in an industry that is otherwise dark. Today, these songs live on, beloved by old fans and newly discovered by those who find them for the first time.
In 2016, the singer made a conscious decision to step out of the spotlight after his announcement of departure from the Metalcore group he founded in 2009. ABC, People, and Billboard all covered the story.
When the legendary magazine Rolling Stone caught up with Carlile shortly before he left the band, he closed the interview saying that his desire was “…to do something that makes a difference and that I love.” Today, these words still remain true to his purpose, engrained into the very fabric of his being and the reason he keeps doing music. Only now, the purpose has become refined as the artist who is now in his early 30s has gleaned from what life has given him with open hands. Spend some time talking with him and soon, you’ll discover a wisdom beyond his years that has not come without suffering.
In turn, many people wonder what happened in the space in between. For fans of his music, the silence could be deafening, lingering in the anticipation of the return of the artist they appreciated and admired. But for the singer who has and will always cherish the people who supported him, it was also necessary. Ultimately, the intermission was a vital time to allow God to do what Carlile felt was most important – rebuild his life.
On the other side of the coin, the season was a much-needed pause from over a decade of constant touring. But even more than that, the time to rebuild his fragile health undergoing a rare genetic condition known as Marfan syndrome (MFS) that affects all the connective tissue in his body and weakens his heart, lungs, ears, joints, muscles, legs, spine, and eyes. Marfan Syndrome overall causes issues with the whole body of everyone who has it, the major symptoms being chronic fatigue and pain.
Over the years, the headbanging metal rocker had world tours, parties, celebrity friends, money, status, and success in the music world playing with Metallica, Linkin Park, Korn, as well as Kanye West, and Imagine Dragons to name a few. He also mingled and had the attention of some of the people hailed “most beautiful women.” This too also became his identity. Eventually, he also had Billboard history peaking at the number four slot with his album, Restoring Force, which had a song co-written by Mike Shinoda from Linkin Park. It went against heavyweight competitor Disney’s Frozen in 2014. From the outside world, Austin Carlile seemed to have it all. Yet, in his words, it was all “empty.”
Having heart, hip, rib surgery, and a collapsed lung, Carlile was determined to still tour even though he was in fragile condition with depression, alcoholism, and addiction. Being in constant pain and advised by his doctors to step down from touring, the singer dismissed the advice and pressed on despite his weakened physical condition. As his body was falling apart, receiving epidurals, trigger point injections, and literally resetting his rib in order to perform and sing on stage, the secrets remained unspoken.
To understand the spiral is to trace steps back to the time 17-year-old Carlile stood outside the hospital doors cursing God for the first time. His greatest influence, his mom, had suddenly passed away. The unexplained death was soon discovered: Marfan syndrome. The pain was great for the loss of a woman he described as “Spirit-filled” and one he “really looked up to.”
Still carrying wounds from his fractured relationship with his disciplinarian dad as well as the pain of his parent’s divorce, Carlile, experiencing grief, lost hope in the Christianity that he was raised in and “snapped.” Questioning why a loving God would allow this to happen to those who followed Him, his faith seemed to not make sense anymore. He reflects, “I tried everything in my power to make God hate me just as much as I hated him.” Now, nothing mattered.
Without a support system and in severe pain and trauma, the angry teen ran away from God into a chaotic lifestyle. This was a 360-degree turn from the baseball-loving, good student, band-playing, hardworking, and a church-going kid. Carlile was catapulted within a 24-hour period into the unfamiliar world of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Formerly having the opportunity to play state and regional baseball, he now let go of the opportunity to play in college due to his diminishing health. Knowing he needed a change so he would not end up in prison or dead like many off his friends he surrounded himself with, he turned to music as a vice and his new god. His trademark scream would now be his outlet to pour out all his rage.
This would eventually lead to forming two bands where he placed his identity and continuously challenged himself to do more. Yet more, was not enough.
Fast forward to 2016, Carlile is in a new season. He releases a statement to fans as he makes his departure from the thing that had meant the most to him – his band. He wrote, “…2017 is going to be a new year, with new chapters. Remember your days are like pages, chapters unread, you have to keep going, keep turning, keep reading…because your book has an end…” While prepping for this interview I personally found old footage where I found out that this was a quote from his mom.
Since then, the singer went on to write several chapters, his favorites and most important being the day he surrendered his life to Jesus and got baptized with his friend and mentor, Ryan Ries of the Whosoevers. The inward reality of spiritual change was an outward declaration of his proclamation to the world of being “a new man.”
Two days later, he would go on tour with Marilyn Manson and Slipknot. He would go on to be an advocate for Marfan syndrome, travel to Costa Rica and reconnect with his dad, teach music, coach baseball, run sound for church, and speak in the church.
Throughout this time, he did a few interviews and released small pieces of info on social media about his future in music. Meanwhile, music lovers and the media like Loudwire and Rockfeed posed questions about his new sound and whether or not he would rejoin Of Mice and Men or newly join Linkin Park. Soon Carlile deflated the rumors and chose to leave his story open-ended, releasing a new recent 24 second piano clip posted on Instagram in March. All anyone knew was a new project was on the horizon.
My path crossed Carlile at an exciting time. Talking to him days before he would perform music for the first time live in the past two years. I was not one to get star struck, I was more concerned with getting to know the person instead of the celebrity. Connected through mutual friends for an interview, I was told that this was someone I needed to meet and I said, “sure!” There was no intention of receiving breaking news. In fact, to be honest, I had no idea who Of Mice and Men were. But what I did know was that he had an epic faith story and I was eager to hear it. Soon, he would tell me about his next chapter and the years of speculation and silence would finally be put to rest.
Little did I know that I would be the first to know what had never been disclosed to the world about his singing career, and in that moment, I knew I was being entrusted with a gift. My job was to tell the story of the One who was writing Carlile’s newest chapter and share about what he felt truly mattered.
But first let’s get to know Austin.
He’s laid back and gracious. Time isn’t a factor. He’s willing to give that in order to provide a quality interview for all who will read it. He jokes, has a good sense of humor, and is lighthearted. But also, he has a vulnerability about himself that is genuine, especially when he communicates his passion about what mattered most to him – Jesus.
Looking back at his faith journey, his quest for God began to be rekindled as he heard the redemption story of Korn’s Brian (Head) Welch. This also happened in another moment when his father asked him, “Where is God in your life?” Later, as the singer began reading the Bible and Oswald Chambers book. In his words he wanted to “clean up” before he came to God. So, he pursued sobriety from alcohol, marijuana, and OxyContin while recording a new album in studio. However, the artists’ failed attempts to get his life together was the thing that brought him back to God.
Since his albums have always been the outworking of his stories, the songs that naturally came out of him were spiritual in nature. Experiencing withdrawals, Carlile tried to write a song that wasn’t as religious and in that moment of frustration, put down the pen and surrendered. Knowing that he was done trying to get his life together, living in two worlds, and running away from God, He told God he was “so sorry for how He treated Him” and asked for Jesus to take all of Him and to use His life for His purposes. The beautiful thing was, God did!
This is where Carlile’s joy and excitement stems. His desire is for others to know that God is for everyone. He shares, “You speak Jesus to people, by showing Jesus to people. And the only way you can show Jesus to people is by letting Jesus live through you.”
Honesty about the problem of judging and being critical in the church is something Carlile is quick to point out as wrong.
“The only way for people to change or to see that they’re a sinner is for Christians to wear a sign around our necks that doesn’t say, ‘God hates you because of this,’ Christians should wear a sign around their necks that says ‘under construction,’ because everyone has sinned. God sent Jesus on a rescue mission for us so that we can come into a relationship with Him because Jesus took all that sin for us.”
Giving the example of the thief on the cross in the Bible, the singer shares that relationship with God starts with simple faith in God. For those who have tried to change on their own, Carlile reminds readers that it is not our job. He encourages readers with the truth that we can come to Jesus and find acceptance as we are, but we don’t stay there. Just like gold is tested and refined by the fire so the impurities in us are refined. He notes that God too rids us of our impurities through trials of life, molding us into His likeness. This according to Carlile is the only way we can reflect who God is. Just like gold.
“The powers at be want you to find your identity in something and someone to be happy. The way to find your identity is to find your identity in Christ. Once you find your identity in Christ, all that stuff starts to melt away.”
When asked how he might address the current generation of millennials and generation Z who view success as wealth, career, status, beauty, and popularity, Carlile’s answer might be surprising. While young people might look to him as the person who had it all, he is quick to admit it was miserable and it wasn’t what he thought it would be.
On the topic, he uses social media to illustrate.
“Instagram is a dopamine hit. Your brain gets a reward. You find yourself every 30 minutes, every hour, checking your likes and then you compromise to do more to get more likes and put more and more of that out. People are posting things that are going to get the most likes and everyone is guilty of it. It makes you feel good about yourself. Like, ‘Oh wow, 180 people like this, well if I do this, then 280 people will like it.’ That’s why this generation now of women and men are basically nude and showing off their bodies and trying to be better than the next person.”
From someone who knew Instagram models and celebrities, Carlile found the experience shallow when life revolved around the pursuit of popularity verses simply hanging out to have fun. In turn, it also caused Carlile to realize that people were not willing to get to know him. Instead, people wanted to use him to promote their own social status. A reality he discovered at an event where someone wanted to take a promo photo of him and a friend only to post on social media. After all it was said and done, the vain experiences caused him to pursue real relationships in real time.
He continues, “If you’re finding your self-worth in the likes that you get on a photo on an app or how much popularity you get off of an app, you’re not living in the real world. We’re at the age now where people don’t go and just enjoy, they have to document it, they have to take pictures of it. People don’t care about you. And if you changed your life the next day, you would lose them. People are going to hate you no matter what you do. So be you and be yourself.”
While the younger generation is quick to listen to the advice and opinions of those who have the most followers, Carlile says, the voice we should listen to is God.
“If your heart is saying, this Jesus thing seems this, but what are my friends going to think or I don’t want to go to this church because what if my friends are there? Your friend, they’re not going to be there with you for an eternity in heaven and your eternity. And your eternity is way more important than a social media app.”
Carlile speaks from his own experience to youth noting the popular opinion as not always the right opinion. To the youth culture he offers this advice, “Just because someone has a lot of followers on Instagram and hangs out with a lot of popular people and has an opinion about something, absolutely doesn’t mean you should listen to their opinion.”
Experiencing a drop in Instagram followers before and after his relationship with Christ, Carlile is still content, thankful for the people who have been there from the beginning and accept him for who he is.
His boldness comes from his deep devotion to a God who changed his life.
“The gospel of Jesus Christ has worked for 2000 years and that’s where I’m at. I’m going to stand up for this stuff. God just did so much in my life, and I want everybody to know. God gives us a choice to love him back or not. And that’s true love.”
When asked what he would tell the person reading this who is in that place he was at seventeen Carlile shares, “If you’re sad, depressed, angry, if you feel it, even for a split second, He [God] already knows, so bring it to Him. That’s why I work with kids so much now. It’s because instead of running away from God, that’s when I should have run closer to God, and I should have rested more in God and questioned why He did what He did.”
As an adult, Carlile expressed that his mom’s death was not about God taking away his mom but taking her pain from her. It was also her death that led the singer to discover his own illness and saved his physical life. Furthermore, it was his music, one song in particular written about his mom that became Of Mice and Men’s most popular song that gave many hope.
This statement brought me back to his mom and the quote she told him years ago. When asked what his current chapter in life would be, he paused and simply said, “Peace.”
In light of his return to the stage, I also had to ask about the live show and the new music on the way – questions that everyone wanted to know. Giving me the permission to include it in this interview, the artist slowed his dialogue and through the tears gave an emotional confession.
“I can’t sing anymore.”
The statement was unexpected. It caught me off guard and in that candid moment, we both cried. It was the first time I had done so in an interview.
After the singer tried to sing at church, he experienced a spinal leak and knew it was time to let this go saying, “I was working on music because I wanted to sing, and I can’t.”
On both ends, there was heartbreak. I knew it was also going to be in the moment for the many others who would hear his news for the first time. Yet, there was still hope. Even though Austin Carlile had endured more suffering than most including the loss of his health, his possessions in a storage unit, and now, his voice, all was not lost.
Carlile also relocated to Las Vegas as God has called him to work as a youth specialist at a church. Additionally, he is also happily engaged, something he chose to not announce for seven months so he could concentrate on developing a real relationship. A relationship where Carlile will continue to build a future with the woman he loves.
He also notes,“ When I lost all my possessions in my storage unit, I said, ‘you know, I’ve always wanted to learn how to play piano, so now’s a great chance,’ and I learned to play the piano.”
Tears were shed again, but this time we shed them out of joy. Life is not over for Austin Carlile and either is his music. As he works on a new book with a companion piano soundtrack accompanied by strings and a new album of original music, this is the unfolding of a new chapter. Bright. Hopeful. Beautiful.
He shares, “It’s peaceful and you can listen to it to sleep, to mediate, pray, whatever you want. And that’s like my form of worship because I can’t use my voice anymore. And I just feel like right now, I just want people to know my story because that’s how God works – through stories.”
Like an old building needs to be renovated, Carlile needed a spiritual renovation. He needed to be torn down to be built up again. Today he has a new responsibility as a musician to talk about the condition of the soul saying, “Saving your life means nothing unless it’s saving your soul.”
As our interview came to a close, Carlile shares his thoughts on the new music disclosing, “my new music is just my heart, just playing what it feels. I don’t read music, I don’t know what I’m doing, but I love doing it and I’m going to put out an album, and I want people to just hear it and to let it speak to them.”
As we parted ways, I thanked him for the opportunity. Austin Carlile is a human being I am forever grateful to have met and have a conversation with. This was a new man. A changed man. A man who experienced pain, tragedy, despair, and suffering, but now found what he needed most. What he desired to share with everyone.
“After all the terrible things that I did to God just because I was so mad at Him, He welcomed me back with open arms, and when my mom died, His arms were still there. When you’re a teenager you think you know everything,” he reflects. “I can’t say that I regret it because I know every step of my story was God’s purpose and it brought me to where I am now.”
Today, as his new chapter unfolds, I smile as I think of what’s to come. It’s a reminder that every story can have a new chapter. A reminder that what may seem the end is actually just the beginning.
Find out more about Austin by following him on Instagram at @austincarlile and check out our MM Instagram live Chat on 7.1.19 at 4PM PST where he will answer your questions on this interview.