Anyone who knows me on a personal level also knows that Peter Steele has been an object of my admiration for nearly a decade. Finally, I was given the time and space to pose some of the questions that I thought might be of interest to his other fans out there. In the couple of weeks prior to the release of the band’s first greatest hits compilation, The Least Worst Of, Type O Negative are playing some East coast dates, looking forward to the holidays, and the arrival of some new members of the Type O Negative family – via Josh Silver and Johnny Kelly – both are soon-to-be fathers.
In this interview, I went the more personal route for the most part, and allowed Peter to talk about where he sees his life heading, as an individual, and as the front man for Type O Negative. Knowing that the band consists of four of the most self-critical musicians on Earth, one has to be curious what possessed them to put a ‘greatest hits’ compilation together at this stage in the game but Peter had plenty to say about this latest compilation. And seeing as how he generally hates the scrutiny of being interviewed, I felt lucky to have the opportunity to talk with him so openly. Peter Steele is nothing if not a gentleman, however, and he was no less charming and hospitable as he was in our past encounters during this “official” chat.
The rock n’ roll lifestyle definitely has its ups and downs – money-wise, health-wise, not to mention the toll it takes on personal and family relationships. The world keeps spinning while band members are on the road away from loved ones, sometimes losing touch or losing them altogether.
How’s your mother?
She’s doing okay, and I say “okay” in that she’s not getting any worse. I try to spend time with her and cheer her up, and talk about nice things, or funny things, or old memories, you know. Because I don’t know how much time I have left. She’s 78, and I learned from my father’s death, and even though he’s dead 5 days, it still feels like it happened yesterday. There are so many questions I had for him that I wished I had asked him, like where was his first date, or how did he feel about my mother when he first met her, you know, things like that. So you know, now I make sure that I spend time with my mother, having learned this lesson from my father. I try to spend time with her every day. If she needs me to do something around the house, I don’t even think twice. I do it out of my love for her. It sounds disgustingly Christian, but you think if a person goes through his or her life asking the question of ‘what would make me truly happy’ and I think that I’ve found the answer. I’m happiest when I’m making the people I care about happy.
That’s a good answer. Has your mother heard “It’s Never Enough”? (The song is one of the new tracks from The Least Worst Of, which was written about his mother.)
You know, I’m kind of embarrassed to let her hear it. I don’t think she would appreciate “Fuck You, God”. I think I would have some explaining to do. If there is a God, I mean, I’m pretty pissed off at him for killing all the people I love. So, I don’t think she’ll being hearing it.
Why a “greatest hits’ CD at this point?
There was a 3-year gap between October Rust and World Coming Down, and I think that the label was afraid that that was going to happen again. They wanted to put out a product somewhere between World Coming Down and our next album, just to keep the momentum up.
There was just way too much time between albums.
Well, you guys work hard at what you do. It’s not like you’re going to go in there and come out a week later after giving the fans some cheesy, K-Mart quality piece of junk.
Thank you for giving us the benefit of the doubt, but in truth, we were just kind of sick and tired of each other. I mean, after having toured from ’94 to ’97, with relatively few breaks, we needed time off. And what happened is that we really didn’t do anything for a while. But we’re gonna see what happens, and do a tour that is going to coincide with the record release of The Least Worst Of and then go back into the studio and start working on a new album.
With so many major changes happening in everyone’s lives right now including two new babies on the way, and Peter’s more optimistic outlook on things, Type O fans will be quite curious to hear what the new material will be like. Could it be, dare I say, a more “positive” feel to an otherwise “negative” history? “Who knows? Peter jokingly replied, “It could be an album of nursery rhymes!”
Garnering a solid reputation of forever being their own worst critics, one also has to wonder if the band members actually realize the impact of their music on their legions of cult member-like followers. Peter Steele’s response to this question? “I’m not too thrilled with my songwriting”, he said. “I’m not too thrilled with my lyrics. I don’t understand why people continue to support Type O Negative. I think it must be mass psychosis. Maybe they’re all just masochists. Maybe they just have money to burn.”
Positive or negative, the topic of being labeled ‘gothic’ always seems to follow Type O Negative like a dark cloud, and at least in the past their signature dark and sinister musical overtones, and doom-laden lyrical content, the band maintain a high level of respect from their easy-to-spot-in-a-crowd fan base of black-haired, black-clad male Doc Maarten’s wearers, and their female cohorts dressed in velvet and black lipstick. Peter Steele’s gothic-metal roots are evident in his own art though, and if asked whether the band finally feel worthy of the loyalty and attention from his fans, and if this greatest hits CD finally acknowledges that…
Well, that’s why we called it The Least Worst Of. We don’t think we’re great at anything. For most bands, when the label releases a greatest hits album, it’s usually the last nail in their coffin, but in our case, it’s the first nail. It’s not such a bad thing. I’m glad that we put some new songs on it because it gives it a lot more selling potential. And I do need to mention that all the other songs on there, you cannot find on any other Type O recording. So, it’s not just a ‘best of’ or singles, but it’s also rare and hard to find things.
Good. People really dig that stuff.
Yeah. I agree. When I was really into Sabbath or into Deep Purple, ACDC whatever; if they put out a greatest hits album, and it was songs off of like, uh Paranoid or Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, I would probably buy it anyway, you know, just for the product, and because I was a fan, but at the same time, there was a small part of me that felt like I was being ripped off a little bit. And I’m sure that most fans would, like, wanna blame the band itself. But, I never blamed Sabbath for We Sold Our Souls for Rock n’ Roll. I never thought that it was the band trying to get over. I figured it was just like, the legal department at the label saying “Hey! We can rip off the fans one more time!” by putting different artwork or putting some pictures in there or.. blah, blah, blah.
Speaking of which, who are the 4 little old guys inside the new CD?
That was just a public domain shot.
Yeah, it was.
I was just curious, because I think the little old men are cute. You know, the ones who wear the hats and have canes, or the little old ladies that wear hats and gloves. The little old guys were so cute; I was curious which one you thought would look the most like you when you get old.
Type O Negative has been in existence for over 10 years now and there’s no end in sight. So, I guess that’s a glimpse into the future. It’s not a clear shot. It was just an arbitrary decision.
Do you feel that you’re going to live into old age?
Wow. Well, you know, I’m 38 and I feel like I’m 18. So yeah, I think I’m doomed to live a very long time.
Old enough to see your grandchildren?
Well, I better get to work soon since I don’t even have any kids. It’s a really strange thing that I’m actually jealous of the rest of the band Because I do want to settle down. I do want a wife, and I do want kids and a house, you know. I really thought that my life was headed that way, and I found out recently that I was kind of wrong about things.
Do you think you’d be a good father?
I actually think so, yeah. They say that people who are good with animals are good with children. So..
Well, you’ve lived with the guys in your band, if that’s any indication.
(Peter laughs that laugh.)
That’s right. You’ve been on the bus; you’ve been around them. You should know.
Nah, they’re not so bad.
Aww. I know. Little kids run up to me, and cats like me, so, you know, I think I’d be okay.
Do you have pets?
I have two cats.
Do you? Me, too. So you’re a cat person.
Well, if my life ever calms down, and I don’t have to go on tour for months at a time, then I’d like to have a dog or two, but dogs aren’t like cats. They’re much more dependent.
Unless you could have tour dogs.
Yeah, if it’s work in the country that would be okay. But shipping them overseas and stuff, I wouldn’t want to do that to my pets. You know, putting them in a cage for 8 to 10 hours.
Yeah, that’s no fun for them.
What CD in your opinion is the most definitive of Type O Negative?
Either Bloody Kisses or October Rust. I those really define the band. You know, songs about women, fire, sex, paganism, death, suicide, drugs.
I know those things have been fascinations of yours, but what would you say really scares you?
Yeah. I don’t like to be cheated on. I don’t like to be left.
That’s the first thing that comes to mind?
Absolutely. You know, I’m not gonna be a macho guy and say that I’m not afraid of anything, or that there’s nothing that really scares me. (long pause) I do have a fear that when I’m with somebody that they’re going to find someone better. That they’re just gonna walk out of my life. It’s happened. Actually, I just had that recently happen. And uh… (Peter lets out a deep sigh) this was a person who I felt I was really in love with, and she was just not the person I thought she was. And, you know, my head’s still spinning, and at this point, I don’t think I’ll ever love anybody, ever again, just because it’s not worth the pain.
In the past, would you say that you’ve fallen in love easily, or has it been more of a slow process?
You know, there were times that I thought that I was in love, and I said that I was in love, but I think I was in love with the idea of being in love. And so, it wasn’t really true. It wasn’t really accurate. But, I was with a girl for close to 10 years, and yeah, I really did love her. But she made me fall in love with one side of her, and there was another side I guess I didn’t see. So, I’ve learned my lesson.
Pretty serious stuff coming from a man who is perceived to be the epitome of a rock god. He’s on the road all the time entertaining the attentions of a barrage of attractive women on a nightly basis; he once even posed for Playgirl. So who IS the ideal woman? “Elizabeth Hurley“, he answered, within a split second, “She’s fucking amazing.”
Amazing indeed. And we all know what she’s been through! If Liz Hurley could take the tabloid coverage of Hugh Grant’s escapades and still stick by him, Peter Steele’s antics would be child’s play. Weird coincidence that the name of Peter’s ex was also Elizabeth. This is a big man with an even bigger heart that fell that much harder when things came crashing down. But, let’s lighten things up a bit…
What’s your best feature?
The fact that I was born, and that I’ll die someday.*
*(That was a quote from the After Dark video, for all you Type O trivia enthusiasts out there. Watch for it being re-released on DVD with new footage! Yes, this has been a shameless promotional plug by the writer.)
Come on, Peter. There has to be something that even you can appreciate when you look in the mirror. What’s your best physical attribute?
Best physical feature?
Yeah, something you see about yourself that you think, “You know, I’ve got a pretty nice…”
I’ve got a pretty big dick.
(lots of laughter)
So, that’s your best feature?
Uh, it’s the best because it’s the one I can hide.
That’s fair enough.
(Peter had no idea how brightly I was blushing over this one. Thankfully, we were on the phone.)
Okay, I have to ask this question because I’ve always appreciated your very sarcastic and very dry sense of humor. Step back to World Coming Down for a moment – in the song “Everything Dies”, there is a line that sounds like you say “I LIKE VITAMINS!” and the crowd chants “WE LIKE VITAMINS!” One of my best friends asked me to be sure to inquire about that line. Is that really what you’re saying?
That is exactly what I’m saying.
(an outburst of laughter ensues)
I wanted it to sound like a totalitarian speech. Like Stalin or Hitler or something like that, and I thought it was funny that if like, Hitler got up there and he screamed “I like vitamins!” that the crowd would scream back “We like vitamins!”
That is really funny. I feel like I’ve known you since long before I met you.
Yeah. And you were the first person to get it.
After all this time? I’m honored to be the first one.
Yeah, although once someone did say that it sounded like “no black firemen.”
So, who are the members of the Bensonhoist Lesbian Choir?
Well, ever since I was in Carnivore, I’ve always invited my friends down to our recording sessions, just to help out with backing vocals. So, the members probably number close to 100 now, just because I have a lot of friends. I can’t really recall exactly who sang what, but it’s all these guys from Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, and sometimes girls, and I like having my friends in the studio with me because it gives it kind of like a party atmosphere.
On the subject of atmosphere, would you be interested in doing a soundtrack or a movie score?
Yeah. I think either a horror or science fiction movie would be great, yeah.
There has always been something about your music that is so vivid, it makes these little movie scenes play in my head.
I think it would be a real challenge to have a director hand me a film and say to me, “Hey, come up with something.” Because I always right the music first, and then those little scenes pop into my head. It would be much different if I had a scene first, so I would be quite curious to see how that turned out.
Have you ever been approached to do any acting?
Uh, minor things. I would love to get into acting. Especially horror films, because they could save a lot of time and money on make-up.
Forever the sarcastic one.
Well, I don’t know how much longer I can do this band thing, because I’m not a big fan of touring. But yeah, I’d like to get into acting. Even commercials or cartoon voices!
That would be fun!
Yeah, that would be great.
You really do have a great sense of humor, although, not many people catch you smiling.
I’m actually just grimacing; I’m not smiling. I’m covering my teeth.
I remember when I first met you and we were all hanging out on the bus watching those videos and listening to the “Red” tapes, and we were all laughing so much. I remember watching you, and it was so endearing the way you would physically try to hold it all in. But when you couldn’t do that anymore you would finally just let out this huge laugh.
I think it’s that whole laughing in church attitude. Some things are just so funny, and I’m just dying, and it feels so good to finally just let it out.
Yeah, maybe that’s it then.
It’s like a laugh-gasm.
You also introduced me to a bunch of new music when we first met. What have you been listening to lately?
Pretty much the same old stuff. I’m not into new music. I don’t like rap n’ roll. I hate that shit. That’s just what’s really common right now. I guess being 38, and not being too fond of the music scene that 18 to 23 year-olds listen to, I would imagine that when I was 20 years old that my peers who were in their 30s didn’t think very positively of what my music was either. So, you know, I think I’m just getting too old for this. Rock music is for youth. It’s about rebellion, you know. If you’re listening to something, that doesn’t upset your parents or it doesn’t upset the church or the school system, then it’s not rock.
Personally, I’m a complete conformist. I don’t like to upset people that way. I don’t hold society responsible for my shortcomings. If you wanna blame someone, don’t blame your parents, don’t blame the priests, don’t blame the school. Look in the fuckin’ mirror.
If we’re all equal, and you don’t like your life, get up off your fuckin’ ass with the baggy shorts hanging down, and look in the mirror.
Do you listen to music or prefer a certain scenario when you write?
I don’t really make a concerted effort to say, “Okay, I’m gonna sit down and write a song.” It’s usually when I’m doing something physical.
Yeah, and I’m thinking about what might sound interesting, and then when I get a chance later in the day, I’ll sit down at my keyboard and of course, my big left hand will be bass and the right hand will be either guitar or keys, and work out harmonies and see if the riffs sound as good to my ears as they did in my head. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
Do you consider yourself successful?
Uh….. no. I’m not.
I still define success as being financially independent. I’m not broke, I’m not poor, but I’m not at the point where I can live off the interest in my bank account, which is what I’m working towards.
What is the biggest misconception you feel people have about you?
That I’m this completely suicidal, depressed guy all the time. That’s not really true. I mean, yeah, I do get depressed sometimes, but I take this side of me and exorcize demons by writing songs about negative things. It’s sonic therapy for me. I’m actually just an average guy that happened to be in the right place at the right time.
You think so?
I think so, yeah.
How will you be spending Christmas this year?
Hopefully with my family. I have 5 older sisters, and usually we just meet at someone’s house, and have Christmas dinner there. I do actually go to midnight mass. Of course my skin crawls as soon as I walk in the door, but it seems like the right thing to do.
I understand what you mean. I went to church on Easter for my boyfriend’s family, and I feltlike Satan, but I did it.
How would you like to sign autographs in church?
Are you kidding?
That’s got to be the worst.
It makes me look hypocritical, thus the term “hypochristian”.
What goals does the future hold for you personally, as an individual, instead of as the frontman for Type O Negative?
Well, I do have to include the band in this answer.
I don’t see any end in sight for Type O Negative. I mean, I’m not gonna say that we’ll last 50 years, but I would not be surprised to look into the future and see Type O Negative still together.
Like the Stones?
Yeah. Because they’re friends, too. I think that’s one of the main things that makes us unique is that we were friends even before the band was formed. Like I said earlier, I hope I’m with somebody that I love, and hope that she loves me the same way. It kind of scares me to think about loving someone again, but I want kids, and I hope that my life is much less hectic. Hopefully that’s not too much to ask for.
Ready to settle in and age gracefully?
Pretty much. I want a family. I don’t want to be a 60 year-old man with a 10 year-old son. When that happens, the generation gap is so large that communicating with each other and trying to understand each other’s points of view becomes more and more difficult. My father had me when he was 39, so by the time I was 18 and into Black Sabbath and fast cars and even faster women, he was over 60 years old.
Yeah. Even if you remember being there, it is like going through it in a completely new time, in a new era.
So, we had nothing to talk about then, nothing in common whatsoever.
I think the thing that’s scary about having kids is thinking about what kind of world they will grow up in. Technology is a scary thing.
Yeah, every year technology seems to take this great leap and who knows what it’s going to be like in 10 or 15 years down the line.
Well, let’s hope we’re both around to watch what happens then.
Special thanks to Peter Steele for the always stimulating conversation, to Jamie at Roadrunner, and to my best friend and Type O buddy, Ryan, for paying attention to the lyrics in “Everything Dies”.