Type O Negative's Pete Steele is even more multifaceted than his music. Jason Pettigrew gets sero-negative with the dark prince of gothadelic industrimetal. Test results by Melanie Weiner.
If you cloned Type O Negative's Peter
Steele several times and put him on the The Dating Game, you'd have a
Bachelor Number One is Petey Steele from the Brooklyn 'hood who used to clean parks for the city. He loves doting on his mom and five sisters, and going out for a couple of brews with the locals at night.
Then there's Bachelor Number Two: Peter, the sad, dark, introspective romantic yearning to travel back in time and help Emily Bronte proofread Wuthering Heights. When this Pete gave AP his 2Top Sensory Perceptions" for 1992's Top Ten Lists, he included "how blood and dry red wine complement each other" and "the howl of a winter wind through the branches of dead trees". This Peter will readily admit that he should have been born a thousand years ago when his six-foot-six, 220-pound frame would have been better suited for protecting his village from a Mongol horde than playing bass in a rock band.
Then there's Bachelor Number Three: that fuggin' dick Pete, the former lead shithead in Carnivore, the mid-'80 s hardcore thrash trio. This Pete pissed lyrical venom like "We fell from different cunts and your skin's an ugly color".
So which is the real Pete Steele? And which bachelor will be my escort as I join Type O Negative in Texas during their tour with Danzig and Godflesh? "I think I'm a blue-collar worker from Brooklyn", Steele says quietly in his Noo Yawk accent. His piercing blue eyes and sharp cheekbones that seemingly stop at his cerebrum contribute to his intense persona as he winds down on the tour bus. "This thing just fell into my lap and it is an opportunity to escape urban blight. I'm a social retard, and I have a hard time dealing with people. I don't like crowds, I don't like noise, I don't like people, I don't like being questioned. I just want to be left alone". You made a fine career choice, Mr. Steele. "It's an investment", he volleys back, adjusting his tied-back hair into a more comfortable position. "Anybody who has gotten anything out of life has had to work for it".
How uncomfortable are you?
"I'm ready to walk off this bus right now".
Type O Negative's weird synergy of
metal, gothic and industrial rock elements is stomping down modern rock's
well-established parameters. The band's recent Roadrunner album, Bloody
Kisses, bridges so-called exclusive musics in a swirl of sonic
schizophrenia. Keyboardist Josh Silver, guitarist Kenny Hickey, drummer
Johnny Kelly and bassist frontman Steele are merely a bunch of Brooklyn
louts who create compelling music subgenres who once jeered at each other.
Now these factions link arms and bang their heads. In the past two years
Type O have opened for the likes of Motley Crüue, Nine Inch Nails and
most recently Danzig. Okay, so they don't have the universal appeal across
the musical map like The Beatles. But the quartet successfully fulfills
the expectations of the fans of the bands with whom they've toured.
Steele's first serious group, Carnivore, broke up just as its momentum was escalating. He then went to work for the parks department of the state of New York. He took the entrance exam to become a police officer and scored high but did not purpose it. ("When you're a cop, you're a cop 24 hours a day. Plus, I realized that I'd be locking up most of my friends and family".) He stayed with the parks department, wrote songs and formulated Type O Negative with longtime friend Silver, guitarist Hickey and drummer Sal Abruscato. When Roadrunner released Type O's industrimetal debut Slow, Deep And Hard, Steele was at a low ebb in his personal life. He was depressed, reactionary and had attempted suicide. Art does imitate life, and songs like "Unsuccessfully Coping With The Natural Beauty Of Infidelity" (a.k.a. "I Know You're Fucking Someone Else") branded Steele a misogynist, while "Der Untermench" - the term the Third Reich used to describe certain "inferior" racial groups - was the metaphor Steele used for people who sell drugs to children. The band got their fair share of bomb threats when touring through Europe, and travelling through America with the likes of cartoon punks the Exploited made Steele wonder if the parks department was the way to go after all. "Some of the things I said on the first album were taken out of context and often misconstrued", explains Steele, playing with an ashtray. "We were labeled fascists because of 'Untermench'. 'Unsuccessfully Coping...' was about one woman, not all women. I have five sisters and I live to please women. That really upset me".
While Steele was deliberating about Type O's future, Abruscato left to join Life O Agony after agreeing to record Bloody Kisses. When Steele realized that there was a positive response to his work, he kept the band together and enlisted Johnny Kelly in the drum chair. The scenario of being "that close" to success was happening again, and Steele had the wherewithal to get his act together. "I've never taken any of my bands seriously", he candidly admits. "I've been sitting on the fence for ten years now. I don't blame Sal for leaving one bit."
"For a long tome, I did not know who I was, I did not know what I wanted. I was crushed by peer pressure, and I listened to a lot of people because I was told by a lot of people around me that I was a moron. And now I've realized that it's not me that's fucked up. It is the rest of the world. I'm certainly not a genius but I believe I've found myself." Bloody Kisses explores themes of dark sensuality and fatalistic romance, all cloaked in carefully orchestrated keyboard atmospheres, Black Sabbath dirge speeds and Steele's alternating somber/psychotic vocal. He will talk enthusiastically about all types of music, having a strong appreciation for much of the ethereal goth on the Projekt label, Dead Can Dance, Cocteau Twins, Cure and the like. (On a recent trip to the AP office, he discovered the languid pop of Low.) Steele also thinks that the band should be made up entirely of electronic keyboards because the scope of mere bass/drums/guitar is too limiting. He smiles casually at the juvenile comment of reactionary hard-line metal fiends who deem TON positively wimpy compared to Carnivore."I refuse to take the same path (as before)", he calmly states without any sign of rancor. "It's boring. I don't watch MTV, listen to radio and I don't care what the Joneses are doing. Unless of course, it's Jim Jones (insert rim shot here). One of the things this band has going for it is its brutal honesty. I will tell you people immediately that I think we all suck in this band. When someone compliments me, I can't respond, I can't agree with them".
So if I were to tell you that your record is a complete turd...
"I'd shake your hand and say that I have the utmost fucking respect for you for being an honest person. The I'd punch you in the mouth!" he says smiling enough to reveal a set of fangs. "Seriously though, people have done that to me. 'Pete, you suck, and your band sucks'. And I'm like, who the fuck cares what you think? I would be an asshole if I cared what you thought."
He begins to play with a note from a fan
that was left on the table. "I'm just enjoying the ride. Anybody
can do what I do. If you were born in my household, I'd be on the other
side of the table talking to you."
You're just a lovable old fuck from Brooklyn, aren't you?
"Something like that. That may be a compliment, so I won't respond to it."
At the Bomb Factory in Dallas, the band
does its thing. Steele is front and center with his bass strapped on with
several feet of heavy gauge link chain. His long black hair, and opened
white shirt makes him a shoo-in for a cover appearance on the Danielle
Steel pulp romance novel. The fans are headbanging and crowd surfing and
several "rock babes" are on the catwalk screaming "Talk
dirty!" and "Fuck me, Peterrrr!" (When informed of this
after the set, Steele deadpans, "Are you sure they didn't scream
'Fuck you, Peter?'") A mad dash for the t-shirt stand follows the
set's end, and by the war whoops and smiles all around, the crowd are
going to merely "tick around" for the headliners, much like an
exhausted lover lies back smoking a cigarette or searches for a cuddle.
"I'm into the orchestrated metal sound of (Type O)", says Bill, 28, a Dallas native who punctuates his comments by spitting tobacco juice into plastic beer cup. "It's really musical and not like that kind of shit that's real popular where they just pound out riffs. It's real songs and real lyrics. As far as talent goes, I think they're going to be around for a while."
"I couldn't describe Type O to anybody", says 24-years-old Caroline, sporting a form-fitting Damned t-shirt. "I'd just play them the tape. I like a lot of old metal and punk, but this is something much cooler."
Scott, 25, looks like a Skinny Puppy concession stand with a pulse. He adjusts the badges on his leather jacket and says, "I think that most metal bands are boring. The singer's voice is really cool, and I think that they're way beyond grunge or most of that headbanging shit."
"I like the darkness of it all", says Joseph, 25 (who, it should be noted, corrects me when I call him 'Joe'.) "I don't think they are particularly industrial sounding, but definitely dark like gothic and metal."
April, a 22-year-old housewife dressed in layered black lace offers, "I like that the singer's voice sounds like that guy in Silence Of The Lambs that kept the girl down in the well. It's really evil. I'm a housewife and mother, go figure!"
Later when I tell Steele that last comment, he rolls his eyes and smiles. "I'm glad she paid her money to come see us."
Walk into a room with Steele, and people
notice you. Heading towards the catering area at the Houston venue, Steele
is flanked by three fans: two males, and one female all in search of
autographs, a handshake, a hug, a nanosecond of attention, anything. So
Steele, the complete antithesis of the character in the third paragraph of
this story, hugs the girl, autographs one guy's t-shirt and happily gives
up his last bass pick when the other guy sheepishly asks him for one. "Sometimes
when somebody asks me for my autograph, I ask the person for theirs",
says Steele, munching on some spaghetti. "They immediately think
I'm fucking with 'em, but I'm really sincere. That person has a job, they
make money, and they want to give it to me for some reason."
"I think Carnivore was trying to prove to the world everything that the world thought I was not. How many people get paid to make fools out of themselves? There are times when I really like to be sarcastic onstage. At times people expect me to be a really nice guy, and then I'm a cocksucker. And vice versa."
"When I was eight, I used to paint my face green, get on my bicycle, light a smoke bomb under the seat and fly down the street, screaming as loud as I could just to make heads turn. I thought it was really funny how something out of the norm could make people stop and look. So long as nothing is affecting me, I don't care. I don't care what people look like, it doesn't matter. My parents were quite conservative and everything had to be a certain way. When they'd go to my aunt's for dinner, I'd change the furniture around. Just to see them react. It was harmless, but it really pissed them off."
But isn't being in a band an extension of that? People are transfixed for those 44 minutes to see something, whether or not that qualifies as "Entertainment". "Being in a band is a useless occupation", he continues, back on the bus. "If there were a group of people on a desert island - a carpenter, a doctor and a bass player - and there's only provisions for two, who's going to get the food? Not the bass player. I have a very strong work ethic. This", he gestures at the interior of the bus,"is not work to me. This could be a very long party, but I don't like parties."
Later after Type O's lugubrious yet intriguing set, chants of the band's name echo through the cavernous room, which looks like a gutted Kmart. The t-shirt stand is quite busy. All of this is lost on Steele, who's backstage listening to Godflesh's Justin Broadrick enthuse about "some really sick ambient music" that he promises to tape for him.
Heading back to the bus, the two of us are intercepted by two beautiful nubiles. The spokesperson of the two is about four-foot-seven with long permed blonde hair and is using a black lace bra as a blouse in the chilling night air, while her red-haired, black-laced confidante is nervously silent.
"We came to see you", says the blonde to Steele.
"Why thank you."
"We want to party. Can we come on the bus?"
"Well, actually I have to talk to that guy over there", Steele says, motioning at the three bands' respective drivers talking by the stage door.
"Hey, how much do you weigh?"
"Why don't you pick me up and find out?"
"Okay", he says picking her up by the armpits. "Wow! 80 pounds?"
"78", she responds proudly.
"Can we hang out with you? We can't get back in".
"I can get you back in, but I have to talk to this guy here", he says nodding at me. "He's from Sports Illustrated and they want me to pose with a fig leaf for a different kind of swimsuit issue. They've been getting a lot of complaints about being sexist. So me and him are going to go over fig leaf designs."
"Oh, okay", she replies, knowing that her shtick is not going to work tonight. "Maybe later?"
"Maybe. Hey thanks for coming."
Back on the bus, I ask why she didn't qualify as a participant for dark sensuality."I want to be with somebody who appreciates what I am internally", he says digging into a pie provided to him by the catering crew. "Not just someone who thinks I'm a cool pair of testicles." "Girls ask to suck my blood", he continues nonchalantly. "They aren't too shy about asking me. I can easily show you scars all over me where I've taken razor blades and opened myself up and let the stick their tongues into me. Which is no big deal, because essentially my only rule in bed is not to say 'No'."
How does one perceive the true Pete Steele? Not as a locker-room goon; not as the prince of dark rock whom crowds go nuts over; not even as the guy who's saving all his money from his rock and roll circus so he can move to Iceland and built a dream home with his bare hands.
Will the "real" Pete Steele ever make an appearance?
"Not unless you come to my house and see me in the corner sucking my thumb in complete darkness."
Josh Silver has known Steele since they
played in cover bands at the ripe old age of 13. Although Silver has a
definite stage presence with his hair flying around his bank of keyboard,
he is loath to play into the image of Rock Star. He's a triple-threat
player/engineer/arranger and he doesn't need the role-playing attitude
that goes with the territory.
"There's a lot of bullshit everywhere you go", he says, dragging off a smoke. "No matter where I go, I'll always be going through bullshit. It's undeniable. This is just chosen bullshit. If you're alive, you're suffering. I may as well choose my own suffering."
Isn't that sounding like a war story cliché?
"It's like a minor war, totally. When I watch a war movie now, I think, 'Hey, that's the situation we're in'. I feel for vets, I'll tell ya. When you go out on the road, you are wrecking your life. A lot of people don't recognize that and I hate to burst their perceived rock star bubble, but it is rough. You leave family members, friends, former girlfriends who would understandably never stand by you to do this. A band is always a path of destruction. What has saved us is that we, as a band, have dropped all our mental barriers that are supposed to be there. They have been stripped away. I think other people's optimism is merely being in denial."
Does all this work out in the music?
"I just think we made our own thing. I tell people we're gothadelic or to look in the 'T' bin. Personally, I want to do something that leaves its mark on music any way whatsoever. Damage it. Help it. I don't care. We're going to fuck something up. That's my goal."
Point blank, Josh: are you happy?
He looks up and takes another puff. "Let's say I'm less miserable."
Another day on the planet has expired. A
tired Steele accepts an offer from Roadrunner's radio director Mark "Psycho"
Abramson for a trip back to the hotel. We swerve around broken bottles and
other crowd debris to get out of the parking lot. People see Steele in the
car but are unsure what to do. So they keep drinking, smoking, making out,
and playing well-worn Bloody Kisses cassettes on cheap car stereos.
On the trip back, Psycho puts on a tape of "Haunted", an eleven-minute Type Opus penned by Steele for the soon-to-be-released movie The Addiction. Psycho has to make a stop at his hotel for a brief moment to pick up messages. While we wait in the car, I ask Steele what he's going to do for Valentine's Day.
"I hope I'll be spending it with someone I care about very deeply. I hope I will not be spending it with myself alone."
How have you celebrated in the past?
"As romantically as possible, getting the person I was involved with an appropriate piece of jewelry, a dozen roses, some real nice wine, a nice dinner perhaps. Which is how I like to treat women every day of the year."
As he finished the last sentence, he looks out the windshield towards the traffic and the streetlamps, as if he's thinking about Valentine's Days gone by, or desperately anticipating ones yet to occur. Until..."And I make sure I have a big bowl of those heart-shaped red hots", he offers, adjusting his policeman's cap. "You know, those cinnamon candies? Without those, it's just not Valentine's Day."
by Jason Pettigrew
Interview - Alternative Press -March 1995