Art therapy for the abnormal

Life Of Agony

As a long time Life Of Agony fan, I was more than thrilled to get the chance to do not one, but two interviews with the band for this issue; one with Mina Caputo and one with Alan Roberts. Both interviews turned out so great, we decided to publish them both, as is, raw and uncut, giving you a great view of the current, wonderful mindset of the band, as they give their thoughts on their amazing new record “A Place Where There’s No More Pain”. Below you find my interview with Alan Roberts.

Thank you for taking the time to talk to us man, how are things in your world?

Things are good! We actually just got back from Europe. We had a press tour in London, Berlin and Paris for about a week!

Ah, so I just missed you?

Yeah, you did! It was action packed. We didn’t really have much of a breather to do anything else.

So, no time for sightseeing in Amsterdam this time.

No, not this time. We barely made our flights! *laughs*

*laughs* I know how that goes. You do enjoy visiting our country, right?

Yeah, it’s like a second home, really.

Amsterdam and it’s surroundings, yeah. I remember the old days, when you used to play there a whole lot.

Yeah, well I still have a lot of my very close friends that live there, so it’s always good to go back.

I bet, it’s always good to have you. So, “A Place Where There’s No More Pain”! The new album really blew me away. It brought me flashbacks to the times when I first saw you play in Amsterdam, and at the Dynamo festival.

Oh yeah?

Yeah, it really does. You can really immerse yourself in this music again.

Thanks a lot, that means a lot.

What does this album mean to you?

Well, it’s definitely a sense of accomplishment, because a couple of years ago I didn’t think we’d ever make new music together, so even if we ended tomorrow, I’m pretty proud of what we’ve done. And you know, this band has highs and lows, and periods of inactivity. It’s good to be playing back together again, and with such a passion. Since Mina came out as transgender in 2014, we kind of have a new life, and a new found heart. We didn’t know what to expect when we took that stage the first time, and ever since that moment, it’s just been a momentum of positivity, and our fans have really embraced her and the band, and who we are now. It’s so encouraging to see that.

Yeah, I bet.

Especially in such a high testosterone genre *laughs*

Metal is that, absolutely.

You know, I give her all the credit for having so much courage and bravery. It’s mind blowing how much positive energy we receive from everybody, universally. Everywhere we go. Also, to see my old friend Keith happy in this old skin. When Keith was growing up, I always noticed something was a bit off, as far as his confidence level, being thrown into the spotlight. Sometimes he was uncomfortable on stage. And now as Mina, it’s almost like throwing a switch of this new electricity, confidence and openness that I’ve never seen before. It’s something that I’ve always wanted for Keith to experience, and now I understand why Mina had to overcome that obstacle in order to be free in her own mind and heart. That’s something that I’m proud to stand behind.

Yeah, it really was a transformation. I’ve seen you guys play with the “Ugly” tours in Amsterdam, and he was on the stage there like a tortured soul.

Yeah, very much.

He was just in his music. Not too much crowd interaction, just pouring his feelings over the crowd.

Yeah, yeah.

And now I’ve seen you guys play Graspop last time you were there, and she’s all over the place! She’s interacting, having fun. What a sight, man!

Well, she’s come a long way. We just spent a week together, talking about this record and what it means to us, and it was interesting to hear her perspective on the whole thing. She looks at it almost like making up for lost time, because in a lot of ways, those years that we were active and she was quite miserable, she feels like she let the band down, and now she’s making up for that time.

There’s a lot of feelings in that one, absolutely.

Yeah.

For me, the sound on this album is more of a return to the “Ugly” and “River Runs Red” era of the band, and a little bit less of the, what I call radio friendlier stuff that came later. How would you describe the current band sound?

I would have to agree, although, while it has elements of that old material, we were actually striving to beat that material. Sonically, and from a musicianship standpoint. You know, we were young kids back then. I like to think that we’ve grown a lot, as songwriters and also as players, and so performance was absolutely a priority. To get the best performances out of everyone. Also, sonically, we would a-b the new material to the old material, to try and to get the bigger guitar sound, bigger drum sound, more clarity, more nuances in the production. We were very conscious of trying to achieve a bigger production than we had in the past, where we felt things could have been better, but we were almost to young and naive to know what we wanted.

In the past we were guided a lot by big name producers. A lot of them were assigned to us from the record label. This time we are in a different stage in our career. Thanks to Napalm Records for believing in us, and trusting us, we chose a producer and we worked tirelessly with him to get the sounds and the type of production we wanted. Part of our deal with Napalm was that we didn’t provide any demo material. At all. They had no influence on the music, and we actually delivered the final master product to them, and that was their first time listening to it. So, there was a certain level of creative freedom on this record, that we really could do everything that we wanted to do, without any outside influence.

They also really gave you their trust in that way!

Yeah! And I think that’s very rare, and they should get accolades for having faith in an artist that they signed!

I absolutely agree. I’ve talked to several people at the label, while arranging this interview, and they’re all so enthusiastic about this record. They all love it.

It’s great. We just spent a lot of time with them on the press tour, and we met some of them face to face for the first time, even though we traded several hundred emails over the last year, so it’s been really encouraging to put those names to faces and yeah. They are totally enthusiastic, like you said.

That must be a great feeling. Absolutely.

Yes, it’s been a journey, this process. We got into this whole new record talk without really wanting, or looking for a new deal. Napalm approached us, and we had just been doing touring, with no real idea to record. They presented an offer to us that we could make a record on our own terms, and that excited us.

I bet! It must be quite a different scenario than your previous records, like “Broken Valley”.

Oh, like night and day. And that really, that Broken Valley record, I kind of hold it to blame for the twelve years that since then, because there were a lot of expectations with signing to a major label, and I’m not sure of you’re aware of it, but when that album came out in 2005 it was one of several Sony titles that had illegal spyware on the disk.

*laughs* I know. I called it broken computer.

*laughs* Yeah. They literally, all of our records were literally taken off the shelves three months after the release, because Sony had lost a class action lawsuit. For the most part they re-released the records from other artists, like Neil Diamond and whoever, some Pop artists, but they never re-released our record. You could only get it digitally after that. I think that hurt the band’s momentum considerably, and it really was disheartening to work over a year, writing and recording a record, for it only to have three months of shelf life. It took us a long time to wrap our heads around that, how that could happen to us, and to get us energized into even thinking about new material, after going through that.

It’s one of the darker sides of the music industry you got to see there.

Yeah, so that experience definitely influenced this album, and the certain creative freedoms that we were looking for, specifically finding a label that was going to really have their heart behind it, and not just see us as a number.

That’s a breath of fresh air right there! Would you say that there’s a magic ingredient to your music, that if you take it away, it wouldn’t be a Life Of Agony song?

Absolutely. I think all four members being part of it is the magic formula. We have such diverse taste, and we each bring certain strengths to the whole, that without each one of us, I think something would be missing. We had the opportunity once. Keith had left the band in 1997 on “Soul Searching Sun”, we had the opportunity to record a new album with Whitfield Crane, who we toured with for a year. Once we demoed some new songs with him, it didn’t sound like Life Of Agony anymore, you know? The writing remained the same and intact, but we didn’t feel like it best represented this band’s legacy, and we decided to break up, rather than to continue. So, we’re very aware of our sound and what goes into the songs, and we take a lot of pride in that.

I actually saw you perform at the Dynamo festival with the singer from Ugly Kid Joe, and that didn’t really work for me *laughs*

*laughs* Yeah, yeah.

It was an interesting show, but me and my friends present all thought it was missing something.

Yeah, totally agree. That’s the emotional aspect of this band, the connection with this band and it’s fans. That is almost indescribable if you have seen some of the shows, like Graspop recently, and some of the headline shows we’ve done in the last two years. There’s an undeniable energy that is prevalent, even more now than in the past.

In the past there was already a whole lot of energy. I remember the Amsterdam club shows, it was just a sea of people that were all submerged in your music, and that dripped over onto the stage. Magic.

Yes, definitely.

It’s really great to see the band active again, and in such great shape. How would you say are your current band dynamics?

Oh, everybody is in good spirits. Especially with a lot of exciting stuff going on, bringing out music again, being creative in different media. You know, I designed all the artwork for the record, so that was a lot of fun, and just the fact that we’re all on the same page with everything these days is a breath of fresh air. Because in the past, we weren’t. We struggled to get along, just because of so many different things. Even during the “Ugly” era, we couldn’t even agree on a video treatment, so we never made one for that album. So for us, we’re in the process of wrapping up our second video, and the album is not even out yet. That says a lot *laughs*.

Yeah, that does say a lot. I really like the first video by the way. It really felt like one of the old club shows. That energy is in there.

Yeah, absolutely.

Where it comes to this album, are you still the main songwriter, or has the songwriting process also changed a bit?

I think it’s more of a collaboration. I have definitely written a lot of lyrics and melodies for these songs, but each song has a fingerprint from all the other members for it to get to this point, and every song has a different origin as well. So if there’s a song that I come up with, lyrics and melodies with a basic riff, once I hand that off to the other band members, it evolves and takes a different shape. Even if those lyrics remain in tact, you know? The music may get enhanced along the way. Sal was actually a big contributor to a lot of pieces of music, and I think you can tell from his “A Pale Horse Named Death” records how far he has come as a songwriter. He has definitely stepped up to the plate with this. And as far as lyrics and melodies, Mina and I, on some songs collaborated a lot. Sometimes I would hand off lyrics to her without any melodies in mind over a piece of music, and she would find her own melodies for those lyrics. And sometimes I would write a chorus with lyrics and melodies, and she would write the verse lyrics and melodies, and exchange like that. So every song kind of had it’s own development, and different style of songwriting.

In what ways would you say that Mina the songwriter is different from Keith the songwriter?

Ehm…

Has anything changed, let’s start with that! *laughs*

No, I don’t think so! I think she has a very abstract approach to songwriting, and as she calls it, I have a more sober approach to songwriting. I think that’s a great combination. It really complements each other.

So you also write a large chunk of the lyrics. Does that also mean that you also have a lot of pain in your life, still?

You know, it’s funny you ask that, because from the outside view I don’t look at myself as a very depressive person, and I have a lot of joy in my life, and a beautiful family, and somehow I still am driven to write these sad, depressing lyrics. And depression may run in my family, I am not sure, but even going back to “River Runs Red”, I wrote all of those lyrics.

Wow.

And a lot of “Ugly”. So, *laughs* I think there is something in the subliminal of my mind, that needs to release these types of feelings, even though on the outside, my day to day life, I’m very grateful for it. I’m not sure if that answers your question, but… *laughs*

*laughs* Well, it does! It’s a great answer. I have always really felt your lyrics. I was “Lost At 22”, for instance.

Right. Well, that comes from a very real place, and also the suicidal thoughts as well. There was a time when I just wanted to die, and looking back, it’s hard to imagine. You know, these thoughts, I can escape them, and thank God I did. I think there’s a lot of hope that people get from these lyrics, because they can relate to them, and they know that they’re not alone. I think that circles back to the title of the album, and my thoughts about what that meant to me, a place where there’s no more pain. I don’t believe that there is a place where there is no more pain, and I think it’s a common thing to strive for, and it’s what people are looking for, but I don’t know if that exists in this world. I think everyone goes through their own struggles, but it’s that search for peace in our own hearts that connects us. I think it makes it easier to know that other people are going through similar things, and that bond is unbreakable.

Yeah. I think it was Denis Leary who said “happiness comes in small doses”.

Yeah.

Would you say your lyrics and your music also helped to put these feelings in a better place?

Yeah. I mean, I know that it makes me feel good when listeners come up and say that these songs have saved their lives. You know, that wasn’t the goal when I wrote them. The goal was just almost cathartic, to get these feelings out of my own system, because a lot of times, once I write a song, I’m able to put those feelings behind me and move on. It brings me a lot of happiness to know that people all over the world have gotten something positive out of it, that these dark thoughts actually helped them.

Yeah, I absolutely see that. With depression it’s very important to see that you’re not alone, and this music helps with that. But you are a more happy man these days. What is your life like at the moment?

Well, I’m married, with a nine year old daughter. Outside of music I draw graphic novels and comic books and write them. I am currently adapting some of the books into film and animation, so I feel I’m overwhelmed with creativity at the moment, and that makes me happy.

I saw some of your art, it’s amazing man! It’s really cool.

Oh thank you!

Recently I’ve only been reading Walking Dead comics, but I’ll definitely pick yours up!

*laughs* Yeah. It’s funny, because I’ve been writing and drawing horror graphic novels since 2010, and last year I put out my first horror adult coloring book, and immediately went to the bestseller list, and actually sold more than any of my comic books! *laughs* So, that was surprising. I’m actually, it’s called “The Beauty Of Horror”, and I’m working on part 2, that will be released this September.

Coloring is hot right now man, it’s also a way for people to get things off their mind and just focus on something beautiful.

Well, you know, it’s interesting. The more I found out about it, it is a form of therapy and it brings people a calm in their lives, and they’re able to unplug and do something tangible with their hands. It helps you kind of zone out. I know that I zone out for like ten hours a day while drawing this book, and we call it art therapy for the abnormal *laughs*.

*laughs* I like that. That’s also a nice title for the interview by the way.

*laughs* Yeah, it is a good title.

All your side projects with the graphic novels and such, is that something that started in the period that the band wasn’t there?

Actually, I’ve been doing art my whole life, even before music. I started late with music. I didn’t pick up a guitar until I was sixteen, seventeen, and I had already been in art school preparing to be a comic artist professionally. It’s when I graduated art college, that’s just when we finished recording “River Runs Red”, and we had this opportunity to tour, and I didn’t really know if there was going to be much longevity playing music, but I wanted to give it a shot, I figured it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. So I put the art on hold, and true enough the music turned into a two decade long career, and it wasn’t until 2010 that I put out my first graphic novel.

Wow. You do have a lot of things to be grateful for. A lot of talent, and a lot of successes.

Yes, I am very grateful about that.

Is that where the opening track of the record comes from, “I’m ready to meet my maker”?

Well, I think it all goes to that theme of finding peace, and for me “Meet My Maker” is about facing the ghosts of your past and try to make amends, so you can leave this world with peace.

But that’s also about being content where you are right now, isn’t it?

Possibly, yeah.

What can you tell us about the other songs on the release, is there anything really personal on there as well?

There is a lot of personal stuff, especially the song “Dead Speak Kindly”, that song in particular. I lost a family member to brain cancer. She struggled for two years, and left behind two small children. It weighs so heavy on my heart, even now. I remember being at the grave site, looking at her son, and just trying to imagine the thought that was in his head as he looked down at the grave site, and the lyric “I’ll never see your face again” came to mind. That was the birth of that song.

Very deep, intense moments.

Yeah.

I think anybody who ever lost somebody can relate to that one.

Yeah, I agree.

What is your favorite live moment so far? I can tell you mine was the acoustic Lowlands festival show.

*laughs* That as a fun time. Honestly I think the one show that made such an impact on me, especially since it was the first time we ever played a big festival stage, was the Dynamo festival in 1994. The energy and the excitement, and the newness of just playing in front of a crowd of that magnitude will always stay with me.

It was a great show! I was lucky enough to be there as well.

Yeah, that was a great memory, for sure. And then you know, in 2011 I believe, or maybe 2010, we played the Polish Woodstock festival, in front of half a million people. You just couldn’t see the end of the sea of heads!

That is really cool. But you’re now off to new adventures, where will you be playing this year?

We have some dates around in the North-East, as the record is released in April, and then we have some dates in Spain and other parts of Europe coming up in May, and then we have some more dates scheduled that will be announced for August. And so, little by little we keep building these little runs, and we hope to get everywhere.

Yeah. Any dreams there, places where you still want to play?

You know, we’ve never been to Japan. I know that we have a lot of fans there. Japan, Australia, New Zealand. In fact, when “Soul Searching Sun” came out, the song “Weeds” was at the top of the charts in Australia, and we were never able to get over there. So it would be interesting to go.

Yeah. So let’s hope it’s possible then!

Yeah!

We’ll definitely keep checking your tour schedule this year.

Ah, awesome.

That leads me to my last question, and that’s do you have any last words for our readers?

I appreciate you take a look at the band. I know we’ve been around for a long time, and for people that maybe have preconceived ideas about who we were when we first started, versus who we are now, the only thing that I can say is that we are the same people, and we’re in this for the right reasons. If for nothing else, you know, we made this new album for ourselves, because we wanted to do new music on our own terms. And I think that you can hear the honesty in that.

I definitely can. A Great record. Thank you very much for your time, and we’ll see each other on the road!

Thanks, Randy!

Randy Gerritse