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Interview with Type O Negative (2)

I haven’t been in touch with Type O Negative since the beginning of their tour last October. This time, it was the last night of their tour in support of ‘World Coming Down‘. The band was excited to play, but also anxious to return home to their friends and families in New York. Johnny Kelly and his beautiful wife Anita had plans to remain in L.A. for a Los Angeles after the show, but after that it was back home to Staten Island.

Kenny Hickey was supposed to join us, but as bad luck would have it, the band was playing the Palladium, which lacks suitable space to conduct interviews (among other things) and ultimately threw us off schedule, making it impossible for Kenny to be a part of this interview. My apologies.

Great sport that he is though, Johnny suggested that we take a seat on the steps outside, to sit in the sunshine and talk. That is exactly what we did. I threw some off the wall questions at him, mixed with some serious stuff – and he was good enough to elaborate on them all. I could have sat and listened to that endearing New York accent all night…

So, are you ready to rid yourself of some of the chaos and relax for a while?
Nah, I enjoy the chaos.
Well I guess you’re in the right business then.
Definitely in the right business. I love it. I do.

All right, well, now that you’ve survived another tour as a band, what’s next?
No idea. Hopefully, we’ll get something happening for the Summer. I think the record still has a lot of life in it. There are still a lot of places that we haven’t been to yet so hopefully, we’ll be able to do something.
Maybe jump on one of those mini-tours, maybe? (Rumor Mill: Danzig have supposedly asked Type O Negative to tour with them!)
I don’t know. Hopefully, we can work something out and bring the record to some new people and hopefully some old people that we haven’t seen.
Maybe some 60 year-olds, too?
Oh, I don’t care! That’s cool, too! Yeah! We’ll be doing a tour of geriatric wards all over the U.S. Watch for that.

What have you been listening to while you’ve been out on the road?
What have I been listening to… well, I just got my copy of the Black Crows with Jimmy Page – Live at the Greek Theatre. Looking very forward to hearing that. One of the guys from one of the other bands has a couple of songs from A Perfect Circle. That is just phenomenal.
I know. They’re mindblowing. We just saw them the night before they went out with Nine Inch Nails, and they were unreal. You’re in for a treat when you see them and hear the rest of the CD when it releases.
Yeah. I know they’re from here. You’ll get to see them a lot. It’s great, right? I’m looking forward to it.
Maynard’s the man.
Yeah. He’s a cool guy. You know, I’ve hung out with him a few times.
Have you?
Yeah. He’s really cool. I really like him a lot. He’s genuine, you know. There’s no facade there.
I’d like to meet him sometime. I know a lot of my friends would, too. He’s got a lot of respect and admiration out here.

So, tell me…how many bottles of shampoo does the band go through in a month?
Actually, uh…’cause Josh has such a … HUGE head of hair.. I’d imagine that Josh goes through more shampoo than I do by far. I guess I’d use about a bottle every month or so?
You cut your hair. You cut a lot off.
Yeah I got it cut about a month ago.
Well, it looks good. Looks healthy.
Well, it just got so long while I was touring. It got so long that it would get caught in my drumsticks and it was becoming a hazard. So, I hadda cut it.
I can see how that could be dangerous.
Yeah, like, it would wrap around a drumstick and start pulling my head towards the tom!
Oh yeah! That’s why I cut it!
Well, what goes? The hair or the stick? What would you do?
Just… my head goes with it!
So people probably just think you’re really into the music then and you’re like, banging your head!
Yeah, wow! He’s really into it! Look at him!
Yeah, you’re literally connected with the music!

How do you feel about the future with corporate labels and bands, as opposed to the huge influx of independent artists that are becoming successful without the corporate support?
I think it’s just a matter of time until it’s just one record company.
AOL Records?
Heh. Yeah. There’s gonna be like, one record company, one radio station, and like, one promoter.
Do you think that would simplify things or is that scary?
I think it would make it scary because it’s like, you know.. it’s one person deciding the fate of many people.
I think there will always be independent labels, stuff like that. A lot of it just comes down to money, unfortunately.
Yeah, unfortunately it does.
Whoever has the most money will be able to get their message out there easier.

How do you think the tour went this time around? Were you happy?
Sometimes I was impressed with it. Sometimes depressed. Like I said, kinda like dealing with one company. A company that has the budget to arrange this tour, the ROAD RAGE tour, some of the venues were unrealistically humongous.
I mean, we played a 7,500-seat hockey rink in Toledo, Ohio!
Good God. What a mistake. Is that intimidating or..
Nah, not intimidating. More or less a pretty good reality check! Like, if anybody thought they were bigger than Jesus Christ -like the Beatles were at one point – well, it certainly put things into perspective!
I guess it would, yeah.
We’d go into venues like that, and the pre-sales weren’t that strong, and I’d just call that nights’ show “Reality Check Theatre”.

You got a new drum kit just before we talked last time. Are you happy with it, now that you’ve broken it in? (Literally.) How did it hold up?
Yeah! Yeah! I love it! I have good techs; they maintain it well. The sound man is really pleased with it. I like the way it sounds, I like the way it feels.
I know you were really excited about it, so..
Yeah. It was the first time I ever bought my own drum set. All the years I’ve been playing drums, I’ve never had to buy a kit. I managed somehow to get free kits, so this time was the first time I ever bought one. So I was like, “Oh, I hope it’s special.”
That’s cool.
I’m impressed with the finish. I like the way it sparkles. It has really good tones.

What helps you fall asleep on the road?
Uh. The bus running.
Yeah. Being on the bus. I had a lot of problems sleeping in the hotels this time. I had a few bouts of insomnia, and anxiety attacks and stuff.
Yeah, and normally, that’s not really part of me.
I know, that’s not you at all! No! You’re so mellow.
I was nicknamed ‘The Hammock’. Because I would just fall asleep. I would be in the front lounge with one of the guys having a conversation and I would just.. fall asleep!
There were times on this tour, like in New Orleans, where I just couldn’t sleep. I would be up until like, 7:30 in the morning. And it wasn’t from drinking or drugs or anything, I would just be sitting there with my eyes wide open, flipping out. The heart beating and all of that. And that happened a couple of times, so that was pretty weird.
But uh, some of those times I would just go down to the bus. And it would be like “Fuck it, I’m not gonna sleep in the room, I give up.” I would get on the bus and I’d be able to fall asleep in 10 minutes.
You think your Mom drove you around to get you to fall asleep when you were a baby?
No! My parents didn’t even get a car until I was 12 years old!
Really? I thought maybe you were regressing or something..
No, I think it’s just a culmination of everything that’s going on around me, and stuff like that. It’s been a bit of a turbulent time for the band. In between management and all..

Do you feel that the management split affected the band’s performance at all, having that occur during the tour?
I think ultimately it does. When you don’t have somebody that can like, pull the reigns. Be that authoritative figure. Leaving musicians to make their own decisions and stuff like that is insane!
I guess you’re right.
Yeah, but our tour manager (Mike Amato) helped a lot. He helped keep everybody together.

Do you feel like you’ve realized your goals as a musician, or are you still working towards them?
(Johnny becomes very introspective. Long pause.)
I think I’ll always be driven to try to be a better musician. I’ve never really been satisfied with my playing. I really don’t have the self-confidence in my playing that I guess some other people have. I just don’t have it. There are always things that I hear on our records, that I think I could have done better, or that I could have done with a little more flair or been more dynamic or something. I’m always nitpicking and stuff like that. You always want to do it better than you’ve done in the past. Every time you reach a plateau you have to keep setting your goals higher and higher. I do that all the time. I do it every night. Every time we get on stage, I want the show to be better than it was last night.
Well, there’s nothing wrong with that. At least you’re motivated by what you’re doing.
I guess if you’re not motivated by anything then what are you doing out here, you know?Go work in a mail room!

Who is your all-time favorite musician?
John Bonham. John Bonham and Tommy Lee were huge influences for me.
Interesting combination there.
Yeah, I remember when I was like 15, and ‘Shout at the Devil‘ came out and I was completely blown away.
I remember that, too. We’re the same age.
I just flipped out.
He did have a really cool sound.
It was more about the things that Tommy Lee brought to drumming and performance. I’m not really so impressed with the antics, and all, or the hydraulic upside down stage thing, really.
The drumstick spinning?
No! The stick spinning I LOVE!
Can you do that? I don’t know if I’ve seen you do that.
I used to be able to! I don’t do it anymore. (sad expression)
Well, no – I spin the sticks out of habit. Like, before we go on. I think I got like a nervous twitch.
But, uh.. the spinning risers and stuff like that… It was more the way [Tommy Lee] would approach a song.

How do you feel about the co-headlining thing?
I think it’s fine. My ego isn’t that fragile. I don’t give a shit. I don’t care what time I go on; whether it’s daylight or dark of night. I don’t care if we’re the first band, or the 10th band, or the 3rd out of 10. It doesn’t matter. It’s our… It’s our moment. We’re there to make an impression on as many people as we can. Hey, Type O Negative’s here. You know?

What are your plans immediately following tonight’s show?
Staying in Los Angeles for a week. I have family here. I have my Mother-In-Law here, and my wife is from here originally. So she flew in last night, to Vegas, and we’re staying here for a week. Tomorrow is my Mother-In-Law’s birthday and she doesn’t know that we’re here so we’re going to surprise her. We’re just gonna hang out for a week. We’re together. It doesn’t matter where we are. New York or Los Angeles.

Have the two of you considered having kids or do you think that’s selfish?
No, I wanna have kids. It’s just uh.. I’m a typical male. I’m afraid of it. We talk about it. I have no problem. I’m pretty comfortable with the idea of it now. I figure, I’ve come to terms with that you’re never gonna be ‘ready’ for it. There’s never enough planning, you’re never gonna have enough money, so you might as well just do it.
You know, I see how much Kenny gets off on having a kid.
Yeah. He misses her bad, too. I could see it when I talked to him earlier. He was like, “Aww, man, I gotta get home.”
Yeah. But uh, on the flipside of it, I think I’d be okay with if I never had kids. I don’t think my whole life revolves around, ‘You’re here to have children’ or to live my life vicariously through my children. I’m somewhere caught up in all that. Yeah, I figure you know, maybe within a year.
Would you encourage your kids to get into this business?
Uh.. only if it’s what they really wanted to do. If they wanted to be in music for the right reasons. If I had a son and he just wanted to play in a rock band just to get laid, I wouldn’t encourage that. I didn’t come from that. If he really loved music and wanted to make music, then of course I’d encourage him. If the kid has passion, you know. I know a lot of people at home, they don’t have passions for anything. They just walk around like a zombie. If somebody has passion for something you’ve gotta be supportive of it.
Especially if it’s your kid.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a rock star.
Did you really?
The whole time?
The whole time. That’s why I always had shit jobs. I don’t have much of an education. I mean, I finished high school. Uh, yeah. You know.
Did you try other instruments first?
No, it was always drums. My Dad brought home ‘Kiss- Alive’ when I was 7 years old. I flipped out, so did my brother. My brother wanted to be Ace Frehley, I wanted to be Peter Chriss. There was a guy that lived up the block, I guess he was a teenager, and he was like “Hey, you wanna learn how to play drums?” I was 11 years old and I was like, “Hell yeah.”
He taught me how to play a couple of beats and stuff. After that, there was really no outlet for me to play music or you know, my parents didn’t have money to buy me a drum set or anything like that. So, there was really no way to pursue it. The I found out that there was this studio literally around the corner from my house. And a friend that I hung out with who played guitar was in a band and he told me his drummer quit, and he asked if I played and I told him I played a little bit. And he invited me in. I was 15 years old, and I’m still playing.
And you don’t have confidence by now?
You’re a good drummer. People must tell you that all the time. You’re a great drummer.
Well, yeah but a lot of times you don’t know where it’s coming from, you know? I mean, I’ve gotten compliments from peers and stuff like that, where it’s really meant a lot to me. But, in this band there aren’t many pats on the back. We all pretty much feel inadequate.
Well, sometimes it’s easier to be critical, I guess. I dunno.
Yeah. You know, I guess that’s what drives me though. It keeps me trying to improve.

So do you think there are a couple of records left in this band, or do you feel like you’re winding down? (I hope not, of course…)
No. I think there’s still something to be said. Peter’s actually pretty eager to get home, and he wants to start writing.
Has he done any on the road?
Not that I know of. I mean, I’ve heard him fiddle around on his bass a little bit. A couple of notes here and there. But I haven’t heard any actual songs.
Do you usually collaborate. or is it more centered on what he is doing?
It varies. Like, on ‘October Rust‘, he pretty much had that entire album written by himself and he was like, “All right. Here’s what I have, and this is what I’m trying to go for”, and then we all just got our teeth into it. On ‘World Coming Down‘ we all sat in a room, and we were like “All right, what do you have?” and he just said “Nothin’.”
He was like, “I don’t have anything.” We just started jamming. There were nights when we would sit in the studio for hours just playing the same thing over and over again, just to see where it went and let it go on its own. I guess maybe that’s why it took so long, too. We were writing and demo’ing for like, a year.
It’s an intensely personal collection for him.
Yeah. Which kind of backfired on Peter. It’s like looking in the mirror of yourself and seeing what you are and what’s going on around you. And the record isn’t exactly the most cheerful.
I don’t think anyone comes to Type O Negative for sunshine and lollipops, anyway.
Yeah. There are a lot of reminders on [World Coming Down] of what he has to face, and it’s pretty hard on him sometimes. You kind of have to detach yourself from in to be able to go out and play stuff like that every night.
It’s really exposing. Maybe that’s the therapeutic aspect though.
But, I’ve never really been a songwriter so, I can only relate to it to an extent. Seeing what he’s dealing with.

Well, admittedly, I can’t help but look forward to what’s next.
Yeah. I don’t know what to expect though. As long as it sounds like Type O Negative that’s pretty much the only thing I’m concerned with.

The show was intense, moody, and just what I ‘expected’ it would be. Prior to the band taking the stage, I caught Johnny’s eye and we exchanged a knowing look because he was standing behind his drum riser, anxiously spinning his drumsticks.

Special thanks once again and as always to Maria Gonzales at Roadrunner Records.

Lesa Pence

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