Sunday, November 16, 2008

Life Of Agony: The Lost Interview [2005]

From the moment I first heard them, there was something about Life Of Agony that connected with me, like really connected. As time passed that connection only grew stronger. There were songs on albums like 'River Runs Red' and 'Ugly' that I swear to god were about me...seriously, it was fucking strange, surreal and incredible all at the same time.

While the band changed both personally and musically over the years, I was always on board. Yeah, some of the later stuff was not exactly my favorite, but I was a faithful fan and always liked "my" bands to evolve as long as their initial foundation/style remained intact. Life Of Agony really did neither. Their foundation of an early crossover type band faded rather quick, but what they'd end up embracing, to me, was equally as poweful. Thus the connection.

Because of Midwest Metal, over the years I was lucky enough to strike up a friendly relationship with the band. I'd hang out with, say Keith Caputo when they were in Chicago and through this was able to see and hear things that most people didn't, or shouldn't. The guys as a whole were always super cool and their 1997 break up? I knew about that maybe a month before it happened. I'll never forget Keith asking for an "off the record" moment during an interview while he ripped into a venemous tirade on the state of Life Of Agony circa 1997. Soon after he was gone and while I had a chance to see Life Of Agony with, fuck I can't believe I'm writing this, Whitfield Crane (please stay gone), I just couldn't.

When they returned in late 2003 first for a few reunion shows and followed it up in February 2004 with a tour, I couldn't believe I was getting another chance. I had high hopes for their "comeback" album, 2005's 'Broken Valley'. It was released on Epic Records, it was going to get a massive push and it seemed their second chance would prove fruitful. It was not to be.

Dismal sales of 'Broken Valley' and unable to land the proper support tour, 'B.V.' fell off the radar, quick. Tours with Mudvayne and later on the innagural run of Dave Mustaine's Gigantour were trainwrecks. Poor attendance (Gigantour) and hostile audiences (Mudvayne) seemed to derail the LOA train and they disbanded once again. Being dropped from Epic was a no-brainer as I'm sure someone probably lost their job over the signing and ultimate [sales] failure of 'Broken Valley'.

Would it have been a different story had the band written a classic [aggressive and soulful, some balls out material] Life Of Agony album instead of a few great tracks surrounded by, what sounded like a poor man's Velvet Revolver? Possibly.

My thing with 'Broken Valley' was the band saw the way the people reacted to their reunion as well as the classic setlist that made up the 2003 live CD/DVD 'River Runs Again'...this I know. So why not try to recreate the fire of the material people stood up and devoured? Instead, like I said we got a watered down Alt-Rock album with bits and pieces of a Caputo solo album.

Don't get me wrong, for the most part I like 'B.V.', but it was a pretty dumb "career" move to think they could grab a whole new audience and sail off into the sunset. That's what they had to be thinking because the early Life Of Agony fan wanted nothing to do with the band and no new fans really cared.

The fall of 2005 saw the band on a short headline run. The second I walked in I knew it was over. 14 months earlier the crowd at House of Blues was electric and the place was packed. Now in Mokena at the Pearl Room; there was no one there, Caputo was out of his mind and the vibe of hope meets perserverance was long gone.

The following interview was done in May or June of 2005. This was both supposed to see the light of day in Issue # 28 and be a two part interview. It never printed as by the time it should've run the band was dead and gone, again. Part two never materialized as I'm sure Keith Caputo wanted to talk more about Life Of Agony like he wanted a hole in his head.

None But My Own: Hey Keith, what’s going on today?

Keith Caputo: Um, let’s see what went on today, I had a box of CD’s delivered to my place, my solo stuff that I handle on my own. I refined some lyrics and vocal melodies for a song that Joey Slipknot wrote for me, I’m actually recording that tomorrow…

Oh for the Roadrunner All-Stars album?

Yeah, well, I’m doing it for Joey and I’m trying to ignore the rest, it’s all about Joey. What else did I do today, I stretched for about an hour and right now I’m on my way to New York City.

Cool, so everything is good with you?

Right now, in the present moment I feel great. I had a bad weekend as it was Father’s day so I was kind of emotionally twisted. But right now I’m emotionally relaxed. I’m really looking forward to tomorrow as I’m going to hang out with my Uncle.

With the good comes the bad so I’d like to talk about the tour you guys did in support of Mudvayne.

The band decided to fight through it, you know? There was, well there were a lot of kids in Milwaukee that weren’t feeling us and that was the second night of the tour and was so bad that night that half the band wanted to leave the tour that night. Half the band didn’t want to so we put our heads together and thought it’d be the best thing to fight through it.
We have respect for the Mudvayne guys, Ryan and Chad were great guys, they were the only guys I spoke to, so we decided to finish it out. The way I feel, who cares if one thousand kids hated us every night?

Well that is the Life Of Agony way, the way the band always did things differently…doing your own thing whether people liked it or not.

I was the vocal outcast on that tour, but you know what? I liked it. I was always used to being the oddball or the bad seed or the outcast in some form or another so to me, it was home.
In a sick way, I can see that.

Yeah, and personally I wasn’t disheartened I was very challenged. Yeah some nights it really got to me, I’d walk off the stage and I’d be like “fuck you…you fucking fifteen year old kids don’t have a fucking clue.” I’d be screaming back at sixteen year old girls, it was ridiculous how young the audience was, it was a big radio crowd.

It was very tough to see you guys in that kind of environment, especially in Chicago where you’ve had some amazing shows over the years…

Oh man, that was a tough show I had a tough time getting into it, actually.

What were your thoughts on the tour before it started, was it just a matter of getting out there and hoping to pick up a few people here and there?

Well we kind of knew that it was the wrong crowd, going into it. But at the time that’s all that was being offered business wise. We were thinking about going out with Papa Roach, we just weren’t sure.

Here’s a good question. Whom do you see Life Of Agony being the most compatible with? I mean it’s like the band is too deep and heavy for the radio crowd, not heavy enough for the aggro bands so where do you see the band “fitting in”?

Two answers…either the band needs to “blow up” and be able to do its own thing like a Metallica or Evanescence where the cult following grows to amazing heights. With ‘Broken Valley’ I’d love to see Life Of Agony working with other bands like Queens of the Stone Age or Foo Fighters or maybe Audioslave, Velvet Revolver, bands of that nature. But it’s probably best if we were able to go a few times platinum and basically did our own thing…

And be able to call your own shots

Yeah, exactly and lived it like that. I just don’t think we fit in with anyone or anything in a way.

I’d like to back up a little bit, a few years really. Before the Irving Plaza shows you were based out of Holland and then every now and then you’d come to NYC and do, like CBGB’s basement and do intimate gigs like that. So in 2000, 2001, 2002 what was your mindset and how often are/were you thinking about Life Of Agony?

During that time I was still very determined, I worked with great people and had some great experiences. I worked with Gerry Leonard, who is now David Bowie’s band leader. I worked with him, what, five years ago before he got that gig. I worked with a couple of guys from Lenny Kravitz’ band I had Jeff Thall from the Velvet Underground, I had a lot of great players with me, I learned a lot.

Creatively I was in a different space. When I’d do a New York show it was just who I could get together quickly to spontaneously get on a stage it wasn’t something that was well thought out nor did I really want it to be, I really didn’t care it was just about filling up the room which I knew I could do. So it was just singing some real naked stuff when I was back home. But how often did I think of LOA?


Not that often, really. You know sometimes I thought I’d love to rock out again, maybe do another record, the right record. But it was all idle dreaming, I never thought, expected or anticipated to really get back with them. I was doing my own thing, living in Holland, I did a tour where Coldplay opened for me, I toured with Travis, I did the Rolling Stones Road Show there wasn’t a place in Europe where I couldn’t fill a room up. I got to play some great festivals with Pearl Jam, Nine Inch Nails, Neil Young.

So other than problems with Roadrunner and certain staff people, I was doing well. I was in a great mindset, I felt free I was moving on and moving along trying to survive. However at the same time I was going through some shit with my Dad who wanted to kill himself at that point so I was going through stuff with him.

He got locked up a few years later and during that time my Fathers parents, my grandparents were really, really sick so I got rid of my place in Amsterdam and I came back to take care of them because he couldn’t. I helped my Aunt basically clean my grandfathers shit, living with the live in nurse. The first night my father was free from jail was the night he O.D.’d. So that was when I kind of rooted myself back in New York.

I was selling my CD’s on-line, writing new music and just doing a Van Gogh. A Van Gogh is basically locking myself up, doing a lot of yoga, doing a lot of intoxicating myself, doing a lot of writing a lot of transcending you know? I have an abundance of songs that are very naked, Dylan style, very vulnerable stuff I’ve written over the years. I’ve gotten very Brain Eno on myself, discovered the world of ambience and just took my talents elsewhere.

Not radio friendly at all, I mean it probably could set radio trends but this world is too afraid of people like me. I have yet to meet an A&R guy who had the guts to take me on as a solo artist, someone who needs a lot of artistic time for the label to develop, because the artist itself is already developed.

It’s about rewiring the corporate mind, there’s still a lot of older people are still in the business, they have their jobs and as the (music) business shrinks these people that do not want to take cuts in their salary, it’s the more proactive people in the business that end up losing their jobs. I agree an artist, no matter what style of music they create will not be able to grow and prosper unless their product moves massive amounts, it’s sad, but simple. So tell me how the LOA seed becomes planted in your head.

It all starts with those reunion shows which were great. I was very, very, very surprised that Life Of Agony sold out Irving Plaza two nights in a row…because the last night of LOA’s “career” or whatever you want to call it back in 1997, the night before I left the band was at Irving Plaza.

And on that night we were very shy of selling it out so to come back seven years later and sell that motherfucker out in like ten minutes…I thought people were messing with my brain. People would tell me “see all these years you waited” this and that but, it was true.

But how do you dive, head first back into the whole…

Well at this point in my life I’m at a stage where I want to embrace all things. I want to display my compassion, I want to give my compassion, I want to serve others I want to make things work. As hard as things may become, I want to work at them. It’s easy. I’ve grown a lot, I’ve awakened myself a lot and I’m not as chaotically disordered as I was in the past.

As a young’n I was all about revolt, I’m still about destroying as well but I’m a bit more…if rationale does exist in my vocabulary (laughs). I’m not a practical human being, but what is practical? But back to the question, it was excitement! The band didn’t really jump right into it again, we did the gigs but we still weren’t a “band”.

At that point we didn’t label ourselves a “band” we didn’t know if I was going to go back to Europe, Joey was still contractually bound to Columbia, Alan had Among Thieves and Sal was in Suppermassiv and other things going for him so we did the two shows were like “Wow, we’re still capable”, you know? So all of these thoughts and feelings boiled for months afterwards so it wasn’t an overnight thing at all.

It took night after night after night of dreaming again and wondering inquisitively how it would be again and what would happen if we did these things. Shortly after our decision we did a four song demo consisting of “Love To Let You Down”, “The Calm That Disturbs You”, “Justified” and “The Day He Died” we did that demo in one day.

Shortly after I took Joey to a Velvet Revolver show and saw [ex-Sheer Terror guitarist] Mark Newman who’d been at Epic for like fourteen years, he heard we had a demo and he wanted one.

So of course we had no expectations and had nothing to lose so we got it to him and Ben who’s the vice president loved it and wanted to see us live, he came to see us at Hellfest, of all places! And then meeting after meeting they wanted to sign us. We had done an incredible sold out European tour where we got to play with Metallica, Red Hot Chili Peppers, David Bowie, the Pixies and we were successful, no matter where we went and who we played with. It was even bigger and better , more blood thirsty than it ever was and with that we wanted to write a new record, so we did.

How was it writing with the guys again? After all it’d been seven years and each of you had moved on to your own bands all of which were different, stylistically from one another. All of a sudden you’re working together again were there a lot of compromises?

We were very collaborative with it. Alan and I, we’ve never had a problem in the band and for many years even during the break up days, Alan was always the guy to go to and talk to, he knew about everything. He knew everything about me. There were never any secrets Alan and I have a great friendship so for this record we even went deeper with one another.

We went deeper with our talents of throwing words down on paper and we’d go word for word, chorus for chorus we just, lyrically dropped major bombs together on this. Just very meaningful stuff, real thought out Dylan type of shit. Musically, I brought in a couple of songs on my own that worked, some didn’t work. I had a song called “Paperman” that was a bit too poppy but Alan and I did the music together and I did the lyrics.

Joey and I did ‘Calm…’ together, Sal and I did “Junksick”. “Wicked Ways” and “Justified” was a lot of Alan’s music, I would change a verse here and there but it was really cool it was very open.

Now you guys went away to do the writing, right?

Yeah we went to Woodstock, NY to write…you know we had some tense moments you know? We’d start at like 11:00 am and write music until 8 or 9 pm and it can kinda get to you a little bit. At first, when things weren’t really working we didn’t know how to handle it, so we’d work it, rework it and then rework it again until we decided if it wasn’t working we’d just fuck it off completely and move forward. I’d say we were very detached from the whole process.

Some people say “people never really change”, I know this for a fact to be true. How was it personally working with each other again?

Yeah, yeah sometimes we all experience that with one another, and that’s OK. I mean we’re all different people and we handle ourselves and the situations differently. When Sal gets really moody we know how to handle it. When I get moody we know, when Joey gets quiet on and on and on, we know how to communicate now.

In the past we never really communicated why we don’t like certain things, now I think we talk a little too much to tell you the truth…

Do you think it all happened too fast? I mean 1993-1997

Probably…for me yeah, you know for everyone definitely. I almost went Cobain, emotionally I had just had it with everything.

I remember those days, I remember that period and I knew you were bothered by it.

You know, you want to do something good in your life and you just can’t understand why all this bad is coming to you…drugs, liars, thieves, crooked lawyers, empty promises, dickhead band members and you’re like “what the fuck is going on?” So at that point you start to think “Is this my calling or isn’t it?”

It’s strange to have things ruined by people who aren’t even in the damn band, you know?

Well at certain times in your life you handle things a certain way and you know what? In order to create you need to destroy. And I needed to destroy that to create a new path for myself, a new spirit. I gave everyone the greatest gift that one could give them, I gave them themselves because no one was themselves anymore.

I felt I needed to get back to where I came from and so did the other guys but no one wanted to “face the music”. No one had the courage to fucking make a change like that and I did. I wanted to follow my heart and I didn’t give a fuck who was working for us, what was gong on blah, blah, blah. I had to make a change for myself and it was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make in my life and I made it. I’m proud that I did and I don’t regret a fucking minute of it.

Of course you don’t, it’s been quite a journey up to this point.

The band wouldn’t be the band it is today and we wouldn’t have come out with ‘Broken Valley’ if I didn’t follow through. If I’m going to do something it’s all or nothing and I can’t pretend to have a good time on stage if I wasn’t so I fucked off.

I figured that my fans would understand that “hey, the guy’s unhappy.” Tom, it took a lot of people a long time to understand, I mean I was way over everyone’s head for a very long time. All the heckling I would get, all the disbelievers in my decision it was like, Do you know how many people I listen to, none and I am such a better person for it. Maybe we blew our shot? Maybe that [1997] was the shot?

Maybe if I would’ve held on just a little bit longer…maybe I could’ve flown you to do this interview somewhere!

Let’s move into the future and talk of ‘Broken Valley’. To me it plays like a concept album, is that intentional? Is this a concept album?

No…you just get the record, you know what I mean? The band has always loved Pink Floyd and loved ‘The Wall’, ‘Final Cut’ and ‘Animals’ and how those were parts 1-2-3 and 4.

We weren’t deliberately trying to make a concept record it just happened that way. As a whole when you intertwine everything there’s a lot of stuff going on lyrically about my Dad and the heartache he’d lived. There’s a lot of forgiveness in the record and it can intertwine, but it wasn’t meant to be like that.

It’s not a very long record, but I think that helps it stand out, it’s meant to be digested in full. But for your band that’s a scary thing because of the whole radio format and “hit single” shit.

It’s a great record, man. That’s what we set out to do, we didn’t want to come out with two singles and a bunch of filler. We did it old school style and when I say old school I’m talking Led Zeppelin, the Doors and really put together a record as a whole and it really has to say something.