Type O Negative
David Lee Beowülf
Type O Negative burst onto the metal music scene way the heck back at the beginning of the decade with what, in today’s words, would be unclassifiable. Back then (back then?! That was nearly ten years ago!!!???), the best description for an album ( Slow, Deep and Hard ) of slow, extremely heavy, depressing ten-minutes-plus songs with titles so long they couldn’t be said in one breath was “radio unfriendly.” Wait, let’s correct that, as the band gave their songs alternative, shorter names, most likely for the purposes of easing the headaches of DJs. For example “Unsuccessfully Coping With the Natural Beauty of Infidelity” was shortened to “I Know You’re Fucking Someone Else.”
What made them one of the most distinguishable acts of the 1990s, though, was 1992s release of The Origin of the Feces , an extremely abusive faux live recording featuring bomb threats at the venue and rousing choruses of “you suck” aimed at the performers, Type O Negative obliterated an envelope they were already pushing way too far with their 1993 full-length release, Bloody Kisses . This album, however, posed a serious problem for the band; founder and front man Peter (for information on his other his other band, Carnivore, see Tipper Gore’s book Raising PG Kids in an X-Rated Society , page 54) Steele (interviewed in October 1993 and April 1995 Ink Nineteen ) who previously had a morbid hatred of touring, now found himself in possession of an album with genuine hits in desperate need of promotion. That is, round-the-world tours and such.
Bloody Kisses , after its second issue, had a serious worldwide hit with “Black No. 1,” a song about “goth” girls who dyed their hair black (black No. 1, that is). There was a video, too, and whoa! The word was out: the Goth metal of Type O Negative was original (according to Steele, “…all we did was rip off a few Sabbath riffs and rework them… I have no talent at all…”), good and addictive. Pete quit his job as a Brooklyn garbage man and took the rest of the band all over the planet, toured with Mötley Crüe, and posed nude in Playgirl , just like a real rock and roll star.
In 1996 they released October Rust (see an interview with guitarist Kenny Hickey in the August 1996 Ink Nineteen ) and an accompanying tour and media blitz. In addition to a Type-style cover of Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl,” two hits resulted: “My Girlfriend’s Girlfriend,” a work of disco about a menage with a couple of lesbians, and “Love You To Death,” that sung of an orgasm so intense that it brought death to one who experienced it. A successful tour and first-stage appearances at Ozzfest followed.
Now, after a three-year drought (barring a few singles, compilations like N.I.B. , movie soundtracks like Blair Witch Project , et al., and a home video), the band is releasing its fifth full-length album, World Coming Down , on Roadrunner Records (making them, excepting Sepultura, the longest, continuous Roadrunner band). I spoke with drummer Johnny Kelly (all I need is keyboardist Josh Silver and I’ve completed the whole band! I am too cool…) about what Type O fans the world over should expect.
As the drummer for Type O Negative, what is your input to the songs both lyrically and musically?
Johnny Kelly : Lyrically, I kind of stay away from it. That’s a personal matter with Peter. He’s the main songwriter and lyricist, but you can recommend little bits here and there. In arrangement and production, I put in my two cents. Guitar parts…I play a little guitar, but I don’t get behind it and say, “hey, why don’t you do this?” Honestly, I’ve never aspired to be a songwriter, but [that] may be my demise. But there’s the joke: When does a band break up? When the drummer says, “let’s play one of my songs.” I’ve always liked being a team player. Every team has a quarterback and there’s a defensive line and an offensive line. Everyone has their part. I’m an offensive lineman. Just like I’m satisfied with my position in the band, I don’t have the ability to articulate myself in song like Peter does and I personally wouldn’t want to expose myself like that.
Lyrically… Like that either, you ain’t seeing me in Playgirl !
Whenever you’re featured in the Type O Home Video, After Dark , there’s some banjo music in the background. How come? Is there a banjo coalition in Brooklyn somewhere?
That’s because I’m a redneck! A redneck at heart!
Are you actually not from Brooklyn? Are you from West Virginia?
I’m from Brooklyn, I’m just disappointed with New York. I’m not a big fan of New York.
How does a redneck fit into Type O Negative?
Because I’d rather be that way. I’d rather be out there. It’s more of a play-on joke. Like Josh not shitting in six weeks in the video…
Oh? Did he really not move his bowels for six weeks?
Ha-ha! No, not six weeks.
Maybe not that long…
Must’ve been rough to tour with him being ready to let go at any minute.
It keeps you on your guard!
Getting back the music input, as the drummer, what’s up with the percussion?
Everybody works. Peter has a certain feel when he writes a melody, I mean, he’s looking for something. And you take it from there. You go with your own thing. Peter isn’t too drum-oriented, it’s not on his list of priorities on a song. But if the drums sound like shit, he notices it!
Does that happen often?
When did you get involved with these, as some have called them, “thugs”? Others have called them “the Lords of Flatbush.”
I came into the band two months after Bloody Kisses came out [September 1993]. I stepped in to replace Sal [Abruscato], who joined Life of Agony. I came from the same neighborhood as Sal. I played in a bunch of local bands for a number of years.
How was it stepping into Type O Negative after Bloody Kisses when everything really took off?
At first it was kind of easy in terms of there really wasn’t much going on. Peter did not want to tour. At the time is was like “we’re going to do some gigs on the weekends, don’t quit your day job and we make music.” And I was like “OK, I can live with that, it sounds like I can make the adjustment. Hey, Christmas is right around the corner, make some Christmas money and get my name on a record! “
What was your first gig like?
The first gig I played with them was in November 1993 at Lamours [the rock capital of Brooklyn], sold out. It was kind of awkward at first and I’d never played in such big clubs — well, I’d played Lamours before, but there was not nearly the number of people there. So it was exciting, but I was really concerned with being able to play well, and the band was really popular in Brooklyn, so you don’t want to fuck up in front of that kind of crowd. Plus I had a lot of my friends there.
You, of course, did excellently.
It could have gone a lot worse…
But they kept you!
I used to play in a band with Kenny when we were teenagers and we used to go see Carnivore, so I knew Pete. Kenny and I made demos at Josh’s house, Josh was like the local guy who had the studio, so I knew Josh a few years before I joined the band.
The Brooklyn thing is like a family. Everyone is someone’s cousin. There will always be someone who knows the band to replace someone leaving.
Brooklyn is like the biggest small town you’ve ever been in, everybody knows your business. Like when the going’s good, it’s great, but when something goes bad, you don’t want everyone knowing.
It’s been three years since October Rust came out. How did you handle the hiatus?
When we first finished touring two years ago, the first couple of months were great and we got a well-deserved break, we’d toured pretty much non-stop from when I joined the band. Ozzfest was pretty exciting, but a lot of that stuff is like “you have a job to do” you have to go out there and get to work. We were only home for a couple of months to make October Rust and then we were on the road again. Then we got together and started writing songs and recording demos. During that time, we did the home movie/video. Then we started recording in April, and here we are in July and I can’t believe we’ve been home for two years and it’s already happening again!
What are the negative effects of touring?
I have a wife, she doesn’t come out, maybe once in a while. If we’re going to be at the same place for a while then, hopefully somewhere interesting, then she’ll come out to a show. She’s from California. It’s always worked out that when we’re in California there’s a couple of days where we’ll be playing close to each other, Los Angeles, San Diego, somewhere in between. Her tolerance is about three days. That’s about it, after three days is up she’s ready to go home. It’s really not that exciting. It’s not like we’re able to take in the cultures of the areas and different places we play. Most of the time when we have a show that day, we have to wait around the venue and can’t venture off. It gets kind of boring for her and I can’t blame her for not wanting to come out.
What about the southern venues for a redneck, then? You don’t get to experience any of that culture?
I like the food. I don’t like New York City, the pace. It’s like a fucking ant farm! Coming from Brooklyn, well, I can’t say anything bad about Manhattan (New York City), because it’s like a melting pot… Brooklyn just seems very trapped; it’s a great motivator to go out and try to do great things. I like getting out and playing. I’ve always loved playing. If I was able to play a show every day — in front of my own house — I would do that.
And the best crowds are where?
New York, of course, because we’ve played the most here; they’ve been with the band from the very beginning.
My favorite song off Slow, Deep and Hard is “Gravitational Constant, G = 6.67×10-11 N.m2/kg2.” It’s one where I can just stare at the ceiling and it starts to move… What’s it like playing music that’s removed from what Bloody Kisses was about, song-wise?
I don’t necessarily feel that way. I think that there’s a strong correlation between all the records. Musically, song structure-wise. I think they all sound like Type O Negative. Each record reflects a side. You know, like people you don’t want to be considered one-dimensional. I like playing songs off all the records. The songs are like satellites around this one thing which is Type O Negative.
It seems this overwhelming suicidal feeling on the first two albums progressively gets less and less with Bloody Kisses and October Rust … I like “My Girlfriend’s Girlfriend,” but that song is almost disco… What can I expect from the new album, World Coming Down ?
It’s like [Black Sabbath’s] Master of Reality !
That’s the kind of head I was trying to get into when we were doing it. It’s very riff-oriented and pretty heavy.
How’d you get into doing the old Sabbath feeling?
It just seemed like where it was going and it just is how it happened. When Peter was coming up with riffs and stuff that’s where it was going and that’s the impression I got from it and that’s what I tried to drawn upon for inspiration.
What’s your favorite song off that album?
That’s a tough one. “Into the Void” or “Lord of this World.”
So you’ve gotten into pounding, relentless rhythms…
Sort of. More like the just “go for it” attitude Sabbath had with that record. I mean, of course the production, it’s 1973, they don’t have a lot of money, they’re not getting big budgets to make their records but there’s something about it; all those early Sabbath records have that certain attitude that’s like “fuck it, this is what we are, take it or leave it. ” And especially with the drumming, it’s just very primal.
So, are you into the whole “stoner rock” movement?
I dig stoner rock. Black Sabbath, as a band, is probably one of the most influential bands of the last twenty years. I mean, the Beatles, Stones, Led Zeppelin, those are all my favorite bands, those and Kiss, everything else you can throw away as far as I’m concerned… Without [Black Sabbath] as the nucleus, you don’t have anything else. Black Sabbath has influenced so many different types of music, and you can see it. To me, it’s just so plain that, like you listen to most of the bands that are popular now and you can just see through it. Sometimes it frustrates me, but “what is the next big thing? What is going to be new? ” I was listening to Clutch, and that’s like the epitome of stoner rock. I just like that jamming kind of thing.
Are the new songs going to be really long, then? Are they like ten, twelve minute opuses?
Yep! The title track is twelve and a half minutes. That’s my favorite song on the record, too. But it doesn’t seem like it’s twelve and half minutes long. As opposed to a “Haunted” from October Rust that goes on really long. It kind of moves at a pace that’s faster, which I appreciate. And it kind of embodies everything that Type O Negative is about. That’s like what I really appreciate about it. There’s nothing like “My Girlfriend’s Girlfriend” on it.
What you’re telling me is that you’re going in any direction you want.
It’s always been different. This just felt like when you got down to the core of what it was, this just dictated what direction we had to take it in. This is the state of mind and being we’re in, this is what best represents us.
What were the recording sessions like for World Coming Down ? Were you just jamming hour after hour?
That’s what the writing was like. I just hope that Type O Negative fans enjoy it. It has a lot more of a jamming feel to it. That’s the way Type O Negative has always been, we’re not in the position to see what the next big thing is, the only thing that we know how to do is take an honest approach, and an honest approach will always do better.
World Coming Down is now out in the stores and the band has made appearances since September. I expect a huge, grueling tour with much media attention, abuse and the other associated things Type O Negative must suffer through…