TYPE O NEGATIVE - Interview with Johnny Kelly [1996]

The name "Type O Negative" will conjure an array of descriptions as diverse as the people who number themselves as fans of the band. Type O Negative is not a musical group that can be fully understood at the surface level, thus characterizations of the band often revolve around emotional categorization, rather than genre classification. Type O's latest opus, October Rust, is due for release on or around August 20, and will likely lead the band to greater success than the quartet's last masterpiece, Bloody Kisses.

But don't expect Bloody Kisses part two, for an advance peek at the new songs presents alterations in Type O Negative, changes that new drummer Johnny Kelly describes as "a litle bit more musical, there's more layers involved . . . to create a surreal atmosphere." Type O has increased its focus on creating strong harmonies, but has cut back on the number of different melodies found in each song, leaving the tunes stripped-down and direct, but not always matching the power of Bloody Kisses' strongest moments. Despite a newfound appreciation for more subtle ideas, October Rust also features some of Type O Negative's most driven songs to date, epitomized in one of the strongest cuts on the album, "Love You To Death", which sounds more in line with Bloody Kisses, though armed with a vibrancy only rarely captured on previous soundscapes; "I just think that it takes you on a little trip, and it has different sides to it, not just something that can be taken at face value," says Johnny, noting that "everything's pretty much psychedelic. We've been listening to a lot of old Beatles and old Bee Gees . . . it definitely wound up on the album." The psychedelia is evident in the often-droning guitar riffs and notable lack of heavy metal bite, to which Johnny jokingly comments: "We're gettin' old. Playin' fast now kinda hurts the body more than it used to. You run out of breath."

So how to describe October Rust? While distinctly Type O in nature, this album shows the band grasping more ponderous tempos and stripping down its sound, carving out a niche devoid of aggression, though without coming across bland. It's a painful album, but one that Johnny feels "...is a better representation of what Type O Negative is really about." Violence has been shed in favor of emotional despair, thus ensuring that the band would not repeat previous outings, although failing to capture that dark passion in all its intricacy and angst.

Lyrically, the band sticks to the usual themes of "loss, sorrow, abandonment, [and] the love of women", once again writing a single, "My Girlfriend's Girlfriend", that will likely attract the outcry from the more conservative segments of the public: "I think it [the single] might piss a few girls off - I mean, if they lose all sense of humor, I think that they'll find something offensive about it . . . which is most of the time. That's what always happens with Type O Negative," says Johnny, "people that have always been in opposition to us, have never really been able to look into it and see it for what it is. And most of the time, it's just a joke, but everybody tries to look into it more because, y'know - 'oh they're a rock band, they must be trying to create some kinda movement or something'. Meanwhile, they don't realize that we're just four idiots from Brooklyn just havin' a couple of laughs, and they're like, 'oh no, there has to be something else behind it'. While discussing the nature of the lyrics, and whether they are based on real experiences or raw feelings, Johnny answers "I would say definitely a mixture of both. We really don't lead the most exciting of lives, so everything has to be exaggerated."

With the departure of drummer Sal Abruscato, there was a void in the band that needed to be filled, and Johnny, who had known the members of Type O for years, quickly called for an audition. "I was fortunate enough to know first hand that Sal wasn't in the band anymore, like, the morning after he decided that he was going to join Life of Agony. They asked me to learn quite a few songs. I had to learn "Unsuccessful", "Gravity", "Black No. 1", "Christian Woman". I went down there, I worked with them. They worked me - I think I was there for like two hours auditioning." Obviously, the entry of a new member into the fold can bring some changes, even subtle ones, to the music, and I was curious as to how Johnny would contrast his style with that of his predecessor: "Sal is very brutal. I really don't know how to explain that in a technical term, 'cuz we do have a lot of similar influences, and I've had to adopt a lot of Sal's technique to make myself work, to make myself compatible with Type O Negative. Sal was the foundation, and it would have been hard for me to just walk in and just change everything, to adopt my preference and my style of playing. I think that a lot of my playing is now a lot like Sal's, and I draw a lot of influence from a lot of different people. I've known Sal for a lot of years, so I know the kinda stuff that he was into growing up, and I was into a lot of that stuff . . . I was into different stuff, like him also."

Songwriting is handled primarily by Pete Steele, Type O Negative's bassist/vocalist/frontman, who has done much in cultivating the dark, often sensual nature of the band. Communication is an important part of the band's songwriting process, as "Peter will come up with ideas, and he tries to convey very hard to the rest of us what he's tryin' to say . . . I wouldn't say that I had input [with songwriting] . . . I mean, I had input in working on material," continues Johnny, "but I've never aspired to write a song. I always wanted to be part of a band and make music, but somebody has to write the music, and I'm just glad that it's not me - I wouldn't want that burden!"

The new album has added another layer of deception to the cloak of Type O Negative, further obscuring the body that lies underneath. So what is the ultimate indication of what Type O Negative is, was, or will be? "The ultimate indication? There's so many sides of Type O Negative, it's hard to just say, 'this is Type O Negative', because there are songs off the first album that still reflect the way that we feel about, y'know, situations like that. I think that, as far as a band song would go, I think "Love You To Death" is a great representation of Type O Negative - it has the things that I admire about it - it has the heaviness, it has the sensuality, I think it has good musicianship, and I think it has a strong melody, something that I can remember after hearing it just once."

The visual aspect has always been of importance to Type O Negative, for the music would lose some of its impact if not represented properly to the eyes as well as to the ears. Johnny comments that, "with this album, I think that the artwork that will be on it will reflect the mood of the music," and then pauses before continuing, " . . . y'know, I don't want it, nobody wants it to be this like . . . now that the band has gone gold, now we [are expected] to do something really outlandish, or uh . . . complicated. It was more of just, y'know, the music was done, and then the music pretty much just dictated what kind of artwork was gonna be on the album."

Type O Negative has always possessed a layered, lush sound, laden with keyboards and textured harmonies that would be understandably hard to convey in a live environment, so it's not surprising that the band takes the live and studio settings as "two different entities all in themselves. We definitely try to approach it differently. In so much of Type O's material, there is so much going on, on tape, that it would be virtually impossible for just four guys to reproduce it. So we try to take a different approach to it, and sometimes we'll only play, like, pieces of songs, medleys, that we feel would work well in a live situation. But it's never . . . we've never written a song with the notion of 'this'll be a good live song', or 'this song has to be live'. The songs are written, recorded, and then we worry about how it's gonna come out live." The band has had the chance to play some of the songs off October Rust in a live environment, and Johnny feels that "they went over pretty well. I mean, when you take a cowd of people, and you put them in front of something that they have no idea about, and it's hard to be in tune to what's really going on in a live situation. So we get the kind of reactions like . . . it takes a minute for it to settle in, and you'll get the obligated applause once you finish the song. And sometimes they go over really well."

Just as the band is musically dark, crawling through the lowest circles of Hell like some tormented soul from the first book of Dante's Divine Comedy (commonly known as Inferno), so is the outlook equally despondent: "We're all on the pessimistic side, and, y'know, in today's society it's really hard to be optimistic about anything - you see corruption in everything and, for a person just to be honest, morals and stuff like that, you wind up just getting shredded to pieces." This negativity is harnessed by the band and channelled directly into the musical output, wrenching the most angst-filled riffs and emotive howls from the bodies of the four musicians. The negativity goes right down to Pete Steele's advocation of "survival of the fittest", a catch-phrase associated with Social Darwinism (not exactly known for its positive view on human nature). Commenting on Peter's view, Johnny says, "well, I don't have the biceps [of Peter's], but I think that, y'know, in a certain way, you can reflect upon that [surviv of the fittest], and I would say that it is motivation - and I adopt that philosophy; I do have to be motivated to be a member of society, to keep myself up to par with my own standards, along with the standards that other people have of me. And if I'm not doing that, then I'm not carrying my weight - and I think that everybody should carry their own weight. I know people do get stuck in ruts and stuff like that, but then they become too dependent upon the hand that's helping them, instead of taking the burden upon themselves and trying to do something about it themselves. And it's hard for me to have respect for someone like that."

While the bandmembers' outlook may be similar, Johnny is quick to point out that "we really are, for a band, for people that work so closely together, we really are four unique individuals. Everybody is different from everybody else. There are no two people alike in the band. The only thing that we have are our common goals with music. We sit there, and we get into these psychobabble conversations at the end of the night, and we're always pissin' each other off because no one thinks alike, but somehow we make it work. Everybody pretty much has the same stigmas towards, like, Catholicism, and things like that. Y'know, some of it's a little more exaggerated than what it is. Y'know, it's just merely to piss us off, and piss everyone else off - you can't just sit around and do nothing, you have to throw curveballs, you have to catch 'em off guard once in awhile."

From Chaotic Critiques #6, Fall 1996. Interview, with drummer John Kelly, was conducted shortly before the release of Type O Negative's album, October Rust.

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