Metal Edge, December 1999
There’s a lot to be said for a band that names the first song on their album “Skip It,” treating the listener to the sounds of a CD skipping for 10 seconds. They obviously don’t lack in the sense of humor department, clearly don’t take themselves too seriously, and none are too afraid of letting a good joke cloud the dementia of their art. “We are a tragic comedy,” comments Type O Negative keyboardist Josh Silver when asked about his band’s subtle sense of humor. “The best songs Type O have ever recorded are tragic comedies…”
“Like, ‘I Know You’re Fucking Someone Else,’” chimes frontman Peter Steele – the band’s vocalist, bass player, pre-dominant songwriter and principal de-composer of songs – citing the bluntly titled track that opens 1992’s The Origin of the Feces.
Truth be told, there’s not a lot that Type O Negative do that doesn’t reflect their collective wit and dry take on the world around them. In 1991, their Slow, Deep and Hard debut opened with “Unsuccessfully Coping with the Natural Beauty of Infidelity” and closed with The Misinterpretation of Silence and its Disastrous Consequences” and “Gravitational Constant: G = 6.67 x 10⁻⁸ cm⁻³ gm⁻¹ sec⁻²”. Not bad for a bunch of Brooklyn boys in a heavy metal band.
A year later, Feces featured a Type O take on the Jimi Hendrix cover “Hey Joe” - dubbed “Hey Pete” – and depicted the 6’ 6” Steele holding a standup bass in the album art. It was the same bass he would later play in the “Black No. 1” video, from 1993’s Bloody Kisses. With the unexpected commercial success of Kisses, Type O got their first lesson in the hazards of allowing the American intellect to interpret their art.
“After the ‘Black” video, people were coming up to me after shows and asking, ‘Where’s the big bass?’” laughs Steele, with Silver making sure his implications were clear: “Everyone misses the humor, it goes right over their heads.”
But in the band’s eyes, their Bloody breakthrough led to something far worse than a few missed gags – their success got blown out of proportion by their record label.
“We got a few records sold under our belts, and instead of letting the band be a band, the label saw it as a platform to do even more commercially successful things,” recalls drummer Johnny Kelly. Once again, Silver details: “Instead of just letting us do what we do best, they’re trying to make us something monstrous and commercial. That’s the one thing that this industry can’t understand about us, and now they just keep making the same mistakes over and over again.”
“They’re trying to homogenize and pasteurize us,” chimes guitarist Kenny Hickey. “And that’s the most terrifying thing about it,” says Kelly. “I think in the end, that’s ultimately going to hurt us.”
Not if Silver has anything to do with it; “It won’t, because we won’t let that happen.”
Says Steel, summing up the dogma that is Type O Negative, “We’re an answer... looking for a question.”
Sitting in an artsy Manhattan hotel room with the members of Type O Negative is hardly the place to find that elusive question., especially given the extreme mid-summer heat and inhumane lack of air conditioning. But the more we talked, the more the same issue was raised: How do you market a band that defies any of the neat subgenres that cloak the hard rock and heavy metal communities?
“It doesn’t pay to be trendy,” advises Steele, “because by the time you rip off Limp Bizkit and the album comes out next year, there are going to be new trends.”
So rather than ride the trends, Roadrunner Records urged Type O to create their own with their follow up to Bloody Kisses, 1996’s October Rust. The album was arguably their most defining artistic statement, but somewhere between the recording and the album’s release, it lost the raw, primal power of their previous outings. It was art, but on a canvas, and Type O fans were accustomed to sketchings on the insides of cavernous walls.
“October Rust is a heavy album, but when you try and put too many layers on it, in order to fit everything sonically, you have to some of the heaviness of it,” explains Steele. “I just don’t think the album was congruent with what was going on at the time. It wasn’t trendy at all. I don’t think anything we have ever done has been trendy – for us to be trendy would be like trying to hit a nail in the fucking dark. It’s a matter of luck.
“We’re the square pegs,” adds Hickey, with Steele cutting back in: “I do admit that the last album was a little formulated, and I/we should not have listened to the record label when they said ‘Write some stuff for the radio, they’ll make you fuckin’ rich.’ The funny thing is, as much as October Rust is still my favorite that we’ve done, it’s just not radio friendly – even though we tried to make it that way. So now, we’ve just stopped trying.”
“You’re being too hard on the album now,” adds Hickey. “I think there were some very complex songs on that album, melodically and stuff, and that threw radio. There was just too much shit to listen to at once.”
At this point in the conversation, voices start to raise over the intentions of Rust, Steele trying to tread a diplomatic line, and Kelly getting frustrated with his bandmates’ defensiveness towards the album. “There were a lot of awesome songs on that album, and I’m tired of people fucking beating it up. So much so that we’re doing it now, we’re even beating it up. It’s very frustrating!”
Silver agrees. “That was not a shitty record. It is what it is – you take a musical risk and you go out on a limb. That’s life. If it’s too much for the average person to digest, and people don’t get it, fuck ‘em.”
“The planets really just didn’t align for us on that album,” Kelly continues. “It was really tough, we were on tour for a month after the album came out and people were still coming up to us and asking when the record was going to be released. Some of the radio stations didn’t even know we had singles.” In addition to general disarray at their label, the band were also between managers, interviewing candidates pre-show while on tour, and without anyone to go to bat for them with the Roadrunner powers that be.
Which leads to the September 21 release of World Coming Down, the latest canon in the Negative collection. The Band has signed with Andy Gould management whose artist roster also includes Rob Zombie, Monster Magnet and Drain S.T.H., and new personnel at their label indicate that there might be reason to be optimistic about the future.
“Optimism?” repeats Steele when the word is uttered, Silver deadpanning in response, “That’s nonexistent.”
Hickey: “Personally, I’m just closing my eyes and jumping into the fire.”
But they do have one hell of a record.
World Coming Down is Type O Negative sporting their most comfortable dark and dirge-y tones, numbing the senses with the diabolic sounds of music as somber as its creators. Clocking in at over eight minutes, “White Slavery” is haunting and surreal, a penetrating voyage to the inner banks of the mind’s most remote corner. Still left with a glimmer of hope? “Everyone I Love is Dead” follows, harder hitting than its predecessor, with the buzz of guitars lifting Steele’s vocals to majestic heights and providing the song with glorious depth. The title track carries the album to complete sonic overload, a troubling and disturbing nosedive of extended sound and distorted equilibrium. It’s more than music, it’s a mood and it’s what Type O convey more brilliantly than any band that could be considered their peers.
“We really just wanted to do something heavy again,” says Silver, hitting the proverbial nail on the head. “It was back to the basics, ripping off Black Sabbath again.”
“Actually, we tried for something simpler on this record,” adds Kelly. “The production is half of what we used on the last record.”
Says Steele: “The object was really to sound more like four people than 40. We made a conscious effort not to do three different guitar tracks or out three different keyboards on – the other reason we’ve gone back to this style is it’s really hard to reproduce some of the stuff from October Rust live. It’s very lush, and we’re only four guys… We didn’t expect to get two singles off of Bloody Kisses, it just happened [“Black No. 1” and “Christian Woman”], so this time we just concentrated on making the songs, then we can always edit them down.”
“We’ve done it the hard way our entire life, and we’re going to do it the hard way this time – radio is something that’s not about this band, and trying to make us that takes away our soul and is a waste of everybody’s time, Especially listeners,” continues Silver. “I think a band that’s done the most right is Ministry. They’ve kept their integrity, sold well, never sold out the mainstream, and they’ve done it over and over again. Instead of being greedy and going where we don’t belong, I know where Type O Negative does belong, and it’s not modern rock radio. When you support Type O Negative you need to support art.”
“Art?” chimes Steele, obviously uncomfortable with the serious turn the conversation has taken. “Was someone thinking of art?”
“I was thinking of Art Carney,” drop Kelly.
“Art deco?” questions Hickey. But Steele has already found the answer he is looking for: “No, Art Carney… That’s the other thing that is happening now, a lot of our comedy is coming from TV of the late ‘50s to the late ‘70s, and kids today – they could be our kids – they don’t get it. We’re quoting The Flintstones, The Munster and Abbott and Costello, and we think it’s fuckin’ funny, but the kids are looking at us like, ‘You aren’t funny!’ “
So is it discouraging that a lot of the band’s subtleties go over the heads of the audience, and Type O are often tagged as little more than a proverbial “goth” band?
“It is, but this vampire goth thing isn’t something we’ve made up,” begins Steele in response, “it’s something that we’ve been tagged with.”
“Tagged with?” But you have FANGS!” snaps Hickey, as the room bursts into hysterics all around.
“It doesn’t matter! Just let me finish! Once we found our niche, we just kind of exploited it a little bit…” but Steele can’t hold his laughter back – “What was the question? Did I mention that our next video is going to be a cartoon? Johnny in his car running over the Road Runner.”
As Steele segues into a humming medley of television theme songs, attention diverts to Hickey, who at the interview had been sober for five months.
“It has changed my approach a lot, in that I’ve sobered up and now I can play better.” Confesses the guitarist. “I was a wreck last tour, but I was sober for the entire recording, and it’s the best I’ve ever played.”
Steele reemerges in the conversation. “I wish I could say that. I remember about three minutes of recording the demos – trying to tune drunk, that’s about it. There’s nothing good to say about drugs and alcohol other than that some fun can come out of them. There’s nothing good about them, just stupid adolescent humor.”
For Hickey, being sober has meant a new focus towards his music. “Now, I look at it as I have to make money to support my family and to give my daughter a good future. I never looked at cash dollars, ever. I just wanted to get in a bus and tear an asshole into the world. Now it’s a lot different. I’m preparing for the future and I have a college fund started for my daughter. I didn’t even give a damn about anything before, not even myself. Not that it effects the way I think about the music now, I would never want to sell out to make money, or anything like that, but now I look at it like a career rather than a fuckin’ circus or a giant comedy.”
“Basically, he’s doing the same thing he always has, but now he’s scared,” smiles Silver. “Do you think you can start me a college fund, too? I can use college…”
Did Hickey’s sobriety contribute to the delays in recording the album?
“Actually, the first factor was that we had been on tour for four-and-a-half years, so when we came home we wanted virtually nothing to do with each other for a long time,” explains Steele. “After like six months, we decided it was time to get back to work, but we had gotten older and life had gotten more complicated – Kenny and Johnny got married, Kenny had a daughter, and there were setbacks, personal problems came up. We’d take two steps forward and one step back.”
“When you leave your life for five years, then suddenly come back, you have a lot of catching up to do. You start remembering that you’re human again,” details Hickey.
“The other thing,” continues Steele, “was just trying to write quality songs. We had three or four left over that just weren’t up to par, then you open your equipment for the first rehearsal in six months, and you don’t even recognize it. It’s difficult to just start right up again. We could have been sitting here eight months ago, but we would have had a subpar album with the first 10 songs we wrote. We needed to get back into the swing of things.”
“It’s like squeezing out a large turd,” notes Hickey, demonstrating that fatherhood hasn’t stripped him of his penchant for colorful detail, “sometimes it takes a while.”
There’s little doubt that the album benefitted from the extra time, as “Creepy Green Light” punches through with a flair that borders on mid-‘80s Euro-pop – undeniably Type O while shining as the albums more effervescent cut, a diversion from the down-trodden spirit of “Everything Dies.” “Pyretta Blaze” flirts with a mid-song keyboard run that is reminiscent of early U2, while “Hallow’s Eve” drop the sound right back to the familiar TON underworld, paving a path for a spellbinding cover of the Beatles “Daytripper,” which – like “Summer Breeze” and “Cinnamon Girl” from previous releases – sets the standard for maintaining the integrity of a classic song while giving it the full-on Type O treatment.
Full on Type O treatment? We asked each of the members what the most important element of Type O Negative is to them.
Hickey: “Our look.”
Kelly: “Our hair.”
Steele: “Our smell.”
Silver: “Truth and emotion go a long way.”
“That’s all right, image does count,” says Steele seriously, “but the only way to be really successful is to follow your heart, hope that your work is put out there and marketed properly, and hope that people jump on it.”
It’s back to that marketing question… If all goes well, we’ll be seeing Type O Negative in arenas like their hometown Madison Square Garden, but they don’t need that kind of success to be happy.
“I’d be happy to play my back garden,” pans Steele, “the one behind my house.”