The Power of Negative Thinking
An Interview with Peter Steele of Type O Negative
Gail "Christian Woman" Worley
I can honestly say that Peter Steele, vocalist, songwriter and bassist for Brooklyn’s metal gods, Type O Negative, is the first guy I’ve interviewed that I got to see naked. But then again, anyone who bought the August 1995 issue of Playgirl magazine pretty much saw the goods right in the pages of that magazine. No doubt about it, the guy has a slammin’ hot body and, at about 6’7″ tall, he’s a serious head-turner. But Pete Steele is not just another piece of man candy; the guy has outrageous talent and Type O Negative — which includes keyboard player Josh Silver, guitarist Kenny Hickey and drummer Johnny Kelly — just kick the ass of the world musically. They’re my favorite metal band. I don’t even have to think about it.
Having previously interviewed Josh Silver (for the release of October Rust in 1996) and Johnny Kelly (for the release of World Coming Down in 1999) I was excited when the band’s label, Roadrunner Records, agreed to hook me up with Pete so we could talk about Type O Negative’s latest album (I think it’s their seventh), Life is Killing Me, which was released this June. I called Pete Steele at his home in Brooklyn and we talked about his mood swings, his love of European culture, his stage fright, his penis, and the new album. It was a good time.
I guess what all your fans want to know is, why did it take so long for Type O to make this album? What’s been going on with the band since you released World Coming Down?
World Coming Down came out in 1999, and we supported it for quite a while. Then we did the After Dark DVD and then we did the Least Worst Of [CD]. Then Johnny, Kenny and Josh’s wives all gave birth, not at the same time of course but I guess within a year of each other. So, there was a need to take break. By the time we got back into the so-called swing of things — whilst at the same time trying to do our normal Halloween tours — two and a half or three years had passed. We got back to work, did a demo last year and re-recorded most of the music… and here we are right now.
When you look at all that, it’s not like you’ve been sitting idle.
Well, I’ve been kind of sitting and waiting because it was the other guys who really have more time constraints. I was just waiting for them to call me to say, ‘Let’s get back to work.’
Have you been doing a lot of soul searching?
[Sighs] I think I’ve changed a lot as a person. I feel that I’ve grown up a little bit and I’m actually ready to settle down. I mean, I wish I could find someone to spend the rest of my life with, and I’d like to have kids, but I’m not going to rush into either one of those things, simply because I don’t think [sighs] a father’s occupation should be “Rock and Roller.” I don’t want to be away from my wife and kid for “X Amount” of time and I don’t think they should come on tour either. There’s a lot of things that go on when you’re on tour that cannot be controlled. I’m not even talking about myself, but of course there’s sexual activity and drugs, fighting and language; it is certainly not a place to raise a family. If other people in bands want to do it, well, that’s up to them.
Yeah, look how the Osbourne’s kids turned out.
I wasn’t going to say that, but that’s what I was thinking. Ah, when other bands have their kids out with them, sometimes I’m expected to modify my behavior, and I just refuse to [do that]. [Laughs] Your wife and kid really don’t belong here. This is my home for the day, this is my occupation. I wouldn’t expect anyone to cater to me [in that way] and I’m sure that they wouldn’t.
A few other fans have said that Life Is Killing Me sounds like a good mix of older Type O and some of the more recent albums; with the humor of Bloody Kisses but the heaviness of World Coming Down. Was that intentional?
Actually, no. Since I had close to four years to actually write the album, depending upon my mood — and considering I’m bipolar — you have [a mix of] really fast, up tempo songs or very slow dirges. Sometimes, I write ’60s or ’80s style pop songs. We’ve been fortunate that we could choose, from all the songs I’d written, those that the band considered to be the best.
When I interviewed Johnny, which was in 1999, I asked him if he thought Type O was more metal or more goth. He said, “I don’t think Type O Negative is the kind of band that justly deserves to be categorized, because we have in the past gone, and will in the future go, to different territories musically and it all still sounds like Type O Negative.” Do you agree with that?
I have to agree with Johnny, but I think that human nature, and the public as an animal, just needs to categorize things. If we’re going to be dumped into, say, goth metal or something like that, I really don’t mind being called that. You’ve got to be called something and, believe me, we’ve been called worse things.
I think of Type O as the Beatles of Goth Metal.
Well, thank you. That’s a huge compliment. Of course they happen to be one of my favorites, and one of the all-time greatest — if not the greatest — bands to have existed. I do appreciate that.
I also appreciate how, in the midst of all the heavy riffs, the band is still very song-based and very concerned with having good lyrics.
That’s another problem I have with some of this “New Music,” where it seems like the bands have actually been fabricated by someone “outside” and the songs have been written for them. They don’t have any image, usually. One of the things that I liked about the Beatles [was that] even though they looked different from each other, everybody knew just by how they dressed and their language and their hairstyles that they belonged with each other. I’ve always been very image prone, along the lines of bands like Black Sabbath and even Devo. One of the things I’ve always personally tried to stress with this band was to have some kind of visual aspect and to be consistent with it — like, not to change. I’ve been wearing black pants and green shirts now for like thirteen years. It works.
In response to something Howard Stern said about Type O making, “Manly Music,” Johnny also said, “I don’t think it is very manly. Not to be taken out of context: I think our lyrical subject matter touches on subjects that most men are afraid to exhibit.” What are your comments?
I don’t know what “Manly Music” is or isn’t, or what “Womanly Music” is or isn’t. I don’t know what to say to that, but I have to agree with Johnny that, yeah, we do touch upon things that most men would rather not admit: That we feel pain, we cry, get sad and sometimes don’t deal well with disappointment.
I guess that’s just part of being human.
Absolutely, but in [our] society, men can’t cry, or shouldn’t cry. I’ve been told by people that it’s okay to cry but, you know what, it’s been used against me. So I don’t cry anymore, I just beat people up. It’s a lot more fun.
Another common observation about Life Is Killing Me is how it’s thematically similar to World Coming Down, in that the songs deal a lot with loss and regret and heavy, thought-provoking subjects. The thing that intrigues me is that despite all this darkness and negativity, you don’t seem like a sad person, and your sense of humor is very keen. How do you mix the darkness with the humor and get the balance right?
Well, darkness with humor…I’m not an extremely suicidal or sad person. Yes, there are times when I get extremely depressed and how I sublimate those feelings is through music. Instead of slashing my wrists, I just write a bunch of really crummy songs. As far as humor goes, I’ve always been a very insecure person and I’ve always wanted to be liked. I found that one way to do that was to make people laugh, even if it was at the expense of myself. If they weren’t laughing with me, okay; if they want to laugh at me it’s better than nothing. I guess having been thinking this way for forty-one years now, it just kind of comes naturally to attempt to instill humor wherever possible.
Do you think it ever comes off like a shtick?
I would think that some people might think that, but that’s not my goal.
If you weren’t in this band, what would you be doing to get all this stuff off your chest?
Probably utilizing sports more. I’ve found that to be great, especially when I was angry. Weight lifting specifically [is great for that]. I think aerobics are great, of course, but it just bores me out of my mind. I used to try to run five miles every other day, which I worked up to and I was doing it, but I was subjected to my own thoughts for forty minutes without any sensory input, and I couldn’t stand what I thought. That was very detrimental to my running practice, because I knew that I was going to have anxiety during the jog. It actually put me off of it.
You do weight training now?
Not as much as I used to, but yeah.
That’s how you keep that hot body of yours?
Oh yeah [laughs].
Let’s talk about some of the songs on the new record. “I Like Goils” is a pretty interesting song, are you afraid at all of some kind of backlash from the gay community because of the lyrics?
I think anyone who has an opinion, and voices it, will offend someone. If anyone is offended by that song, they probably need some hyper-sensitivity training. Not everything is an attack. What the song happens to be about is gay guys trying to pick me up, specifically after I did the Playgirl spread, seven or eight years ago, whenever it was. We did a lot of in-store signings around that time, and occasionally guys came up with that issue of Playgirl and wanted me to sign the centerfold. I have no problem with that, except that the pages were stuck together. They’d try to slip me their phone numbers and they could be very aggressive, you know, just like women can be aggressive. Finally I’d say, “Hey man, I like girls, okay? Thanks but no thanks.” [That song] is kind of tongue-in-cheek, but I’m not going to say which pair of cheeks.
I was going to ask you about Playgirl at the very end of the interview, in case you hung up on me. But since we’re on the subject, thinking back on that, would you do it again?
Ahhh… I did it for the wrong reasons, at that time. I was talked into it by the band’s management at the time, and also by the band members. We were on somewhat of a roll there and we knew this would get a lot of publicity. That’s obviously why you’re asking me this question, in fact, and it did lead to further interviews or longer interviews. When I was first asked to do it, it was just a facial shot. Somehow it got expanded to ‘waist up,’ and then it was three pages and then nine pages and it was full frontal. After having examined some of the issues they’d sent me — because I had never read one — I said to myself, “How come these guys are flaccid? Who wants to look at this?” So I said to them, “I’d like to be hard, do you have any problem with that?” There was one problem and that was that fact that they have a very large readership in Canada. There’s something in Canadian law or whatever that an erect penis has to be held to the side — I guess so I don’t poke anybody’s eye out. I don’t know. So I was like, “Alright, I can hold it.”
You’ve touched it before.
Yeah! And then number two was they said, “Oh, do you really think you can be hard?” And I said, look, “You keep your end up — you bring the check — and I’ll keep my end up.” That was kind of a challenge, but fortunately I was accompanied by my left hand. A little manual stimulation helps to complete the job, or at least to keep the job in motion.
I do think you actually broke some serious ground for that magazine, since they now show guys with erections whereas, before your issue, they didn’t do that.
I know, I don’t know what the deal is. I mean, some guys are growers and some guys are show-ers. I happen to be a grower. I don’t want to elaborate too much on the subject of my penis, but when it’s flaccid, it’s really flaccid. And it’s like, “I don’t want to show this. There’s nothing to look at here.” I told them I’d do it under this one condition or there was not going to be any photo session.
And I applaud you for that, YAY!
Moving on from that — and thank you for being so candid with me…
Does “(We Were) Electrocute” refer to some specific ’80s hair metal band or is it about a relationship?
It’s about a former ex-girlfriend. She was quite stunning, and people — older couples, actually — would always stop us and say what a nice-looking couple we were. I just came up with this word, “Electro-cute,” I don’t know how.
Another Pete Steele original!
There you go.
The saying “…a Dish Better Served Cold” generally refers to revenge. What inspired you to write that song?
It was exactly that. I cannot go into detail about the circumstances surrounding that song, but yes it is indeed about revenge.
I’ll leave it at that.
How did you decide to cover the song “Angry Inch” from the film/play Hedwig and the Angry Inch?
I watched the movie and then I went out and bought the actual soundtrack. That song was on there and I had specifically bought the album for that song, because the band was considering covering it.
The music is so good.
It’s fantastic. I listen to the soundtrack all the time.
I love the song she sings in the fish restaurant, “Sugar Daddy.”
Yeah yeah, right.
What does the acronym in the title of the last song stand for?
“If you don’t kill me, I’m going to have to kill you.” It was just too long to write out. That’s about one person who I cannot mention, but I’m sure there will be others [whom I feel that way about].
Which songs on the album are your favorites?
“Electrocute” I like and “How Could She”… Mmm… I guess those are my two favorites.
Did you sit down and make a list of all those female cartoon and TV show characters for the lyrics to “How Could She”?
Yes, I did.
Was that fun to do?
Was it fun? Ah, trying to get them to rhyme and putting them into some kind of rhythmic order was not fun. I don’t even know where I got this idea from, to list all of these cartoon women and TV women. Finding fresh song topics can sometimes be quite difficult. I want to stay away from politics, or else I’ll probably end up putting my size fifteen foot into my mouth. I stay way from that area, and there’s only so many songs you can write about love, sex and death. I kind of covered that subject with almost every song.
You could sing about food.
I was thinking about covering the song, “Food, Glorious Food” from Oliver.
That’d be good.
My former band, Carnivore was going to cover that song.
Speaking of Carnivore, would you consider doing another Carnivore reunion show if Lamour’s [a Brooklyn Nightclub] put up enough money?
Anything’s possible, but right now I’m kind of estranged from the other two guys in the band. One for financial reasons and the other over “feminine” reasons. I don’t really know, but since I wrote the songs, I could play them any time I like. Type O has done some Carnivore songs in the past, but that was before we had eight hour’s worth of [our own] material. We used to throw [Carnivore songs] into the set just because people wanted to hear them. When Type O formed, it was like, [people would always promote the band as it being] “Pete Steele from Carnivore,” so we more or less had to play some of the Carnivore stuff. Now, when Carnivore has played in the past, it’s more like “Pete Steele from Type O.” Things have changed.
The band recently returned from a tour of Europe to support the album. Have you missed playing live?
I don’t really like to play live. I don’t like to be on stage. I feel very self-conscious. At the same time, I’m going crazy here in the house, not really doing anything and pretty much having to be on-call, especially the last year or year and a half because of the album, interviews and trying to come up with some kind of video treatment. I really can’t go anywhere, except for maybe a weekend day trip. I’m looking forward to going to Europe simply because I am, in fact, European. I don’t think this country has any culture, really. The average person looks at a house from the 1800s or a grave stone and they’re like, “Wow!” I was in Sweden or Denmark or something, and there were grave stones from the year 800. That’s quite significant.
I like languages and I like different European cultures, because I happen to be Russian, Polish, Icelandic and Scottish. I also like to eat very much, so I like all different types of foods. Europe is a real nice place. If I wasn’t bound to Brooklyn, due to my own personal reasons like taking care of my mother and the fact that this is where the band is based, I would probably move to Iceland.
I’ve heard it’s really beautiful there.
Yes, it is. It’s very, very clean. The people there are tall, thin and kind of keep to themselves. I’ve noticed that, when I go to Europe, the farther south I travel the more people become “touchy-feely.” Nordic people are very stand-offish, but to go to Greece, Italy, Spain or Israel, men are all over men and stuff. That’s fine, but I’m just not used to that kind of social contact. I’ve also found that the more south you go, the closer people speak.
You mean, as far as getting in your face?
Yeah, as far as invading my personal space, or what I perceive that to be. I don’t like somebody one foot away from me. It seems to be that southern Europeans are just more intimate socially, whereas I like a lot of personal space — like, a mile from the nearest person is fine for me.
Well, you’re so incredibly tall. Maybe people feel the need to get close to you just so you can hear them, or so they can see you.
That may be, but I noticed also that in Nordic countries, when you sit down at a table with somebody they will sit across from you. In Southern countries they will sit next to you. God forbid I should look away for a second, and then they have to grab my arm because I’m not paying attention. I mean, I hear you, I am multi-functional. I can look out the window and listen to you at the same time, okay? I’m on the ball.
Let’s talk about your relationship with alcohol.
I’m a big fan of the effects of alcohol. I’ve always had really bad stage fright. When Type O Negative started to become more popular, there was a direct proportional relationship between the amount of alcohol that I had to drink before going on stage [and] the amount of people that were going to be there. It became more and more difficult after drinking beer, or while drinking beer on stage, to execute vocals in between burps. So, I simply switched over to wine because it was not carbonated.
That makes sense.
I didn’t realize it but it kind of worked into the whole band’s image in some way…like it’s a vampire look with the red wine and the romance and it’s blood, blah blah blah. No, I’m not a vampire, I’m a fucking alcoholic. I drink for the effect, because it loosens up the tongue a little bit.
What do you think of how Roadrunner has changed since Type O has been with the label? I know the band has always had some sticky issues with them.
Technically, at this point we’re no longer with the label; we’ve fulfilled our contract. We handed the masters over to them about a week and a half ago. At that point, we were free. I think every band has issues with their label. Even the Beatles had an issue with their own label, Apple. I guess I’ve learned that there’s really no such thing as a bad label, there is only a bad contract. I realized that no one forced me to sign that contract. I should have — or we should have — just hired a better lawyer, because I signed off to things that I cannot believe I was told was a “standard” contract. You know what? There is no such thing as a standard contract. That’s just want is handed to you, because you’re expected to compromise somewhere. As far as standards go, there is no industry standard for anything. If my manager wants to take fifty percent of my publishing and I offer five and I only give him five, well then, that’s my standard. It’s ironic that we’ve reached the end of the contract. My relationship — and the band’s relationship — with Roadrunner has actually improved somewhat. There’s a possibility that we will re-sign [with the label], but we have to go where the best offer is. After all, I’m not doing this for my health. If anything, it takes away from my health, so I’m open to all options.
I think you’ve made another fantastic record. I’d like to see it do well for you.
I think for the most part it really doesn’t matter how good an album is; I think it really comes down to musical climate. I’m sure if Sgt. Pepper or Highway to Hell or Stained Class or Paranoid came out today, it would not even chart, simply because people like this “Rap and Roll” shit, which I hate. It’s bad poetry executed by people that can’t sing. That’s my definition of Rap. I try to stay away from that. There are so many bands that I love, like Cocteau Twins, Curve, Lush, or Clan of Xymox. I would mention these bands to people, thinking, “Oh, of course you’ve heard of them.” And it’s like, “Cocteau Twins, who are they?”
I find that different types of music are good for certain activities. I like to listen to Cocteau Twins and trance stuff while I’m entertaining female company. I like to put on hardcore when I have to clean my apartment, which I hate to do, but it’s motivational. I like old heavy metal when I’m outside working on my car. Music has definite functions for me.
It’s nice to have a broad palette of tastes, which I think a lot of kids today lack.
When I was eighteen to, I guess, twenty-five, I was kind of narrow minded, too. I think that was because, especially back in the ’80s, for metal guys, if it was not metal, you were a pussy. I could never admit that I liked bands like Psychedelic Furs, Duran Duran or Flock of Seagulls. I just thought they were really good songwriters. It’s funny that my friends were calling these guys fags, but they were the bands getting all the girls. I was like, “You’re just jealous, man.”
What will the Type O Negative legacy be?
Meaning what will we finally leave the world with?
Yes, answer any way you want.
[Long pause] Ahh, I don’t know really. I guess, “an alternative to boredom.” That’s about all I can say.
Have you ever thought about writing a book, like “The Philosophy of Pete Steele”?
Yes, I have a title for it: Give Pete a Chance. I have tons of really funny, strange, sad and sick things that have happened to me that are just unbelievable. Like, stories about school or family or tour stories — just really funny and crazy things, misadventures. Maybe some day, when I get my head screwed on correctly, I will pursue this seriously.
Could Type O carry on as a band if one member left?
I think that we could carry on, but I don’t think it would be the same. We actually changed drummers — or replaced Sal, I should say, in 1992 or ’93 — so I guess that proves it could still work. Then again, the band was not nearly as established as it is now. Everybody seems to add something and I think I would greatly miss that person and his contribution to the group. It’s a very stable unit. I had a thought the other day that the band is together almost fourteen years, which I really — off the top of my head — can only name five other bands that have been together that long. Most bands don’t even last fourteen months let alone fourteen years. I think one of the things that has kept this band together is that we’re all childhood friends, we have very similar backgrounds, we all came from Brooklyn originally. Johnny and Kenny moved to Staten Island, so now they’re migrant workers. We have the same goals, the same life outlook, so it’s not like one guy’s from Sweden and one guy’s from Florida and one guy’s from Peru, with nothing in common. We have been friends since day one and that hasn’t changed.
Type O Negative: http://www.typeonegative.net