Type O Negative's 2003 record Life Is Killing Me celebrated its 20th anniversary this year. Metal Injection's Greg Kennelty caught up with guitarist and vocalist Kenny Hickey and drummer Johnny Kelly to discuss the shift in mood between Life Is Killing Me and World Coming Down, the influences you might not have expected on Type O Negative, the duo's favorite song, and more!
Check out the full interview below and pre-order our Life Is Killing Me anniversary vinyl right here, featuring all kinds of bonus tracks.
One thing I noticed, as I'm sure a lot of Type O Negative fans have – World Coming Down into Life Is Killing Me. Was that a weird transition? It felt like World Coming Down was overtly and emotionally dark, and not that Life Is Killing Me doesn't have that, but it has more moments of levity. It seems like a really interesting transition between records.
JK: Oddly enough, Life Is Killing Me was the low point of the band. We had gotten through everything with World Coming Down. World Coming Down was definitely a bleaker record, but to get to the songs and stuff, Peter didn't want to do another record that was so bleak as World Coming Down. He wanted to have a little bit more fun with it. So there was a little change in pace that way, musically. Personally? [Things were] definitely going down.
KH: Peter also resented World Coming Down a lot because a lot of the stuff dealt with actual, real issues in his life, and then he'd have to sing it and he'd get pissed off at us.
JK: We'd push him. We'd go "you gotta play this song," and he'd say "I can't sing that song every night."
KH: It had too much meaning. There was an element of escapism in Life Is Killing Me peppered with moments of reality, which we never really totally avoided in Type O. Even in our most kitsch moments. But there was a lot of chaos for that record. Even though World Coming Down was summing up all the bad shit that we went through, that happened to us, that happened to Peter in his personal life up to that point – in the interim between World Coming Down and Life Is Killing Me, things only got worse.
JK: Which is the irony of Life Is Killing Me. The record [what it's named] and what the end result was.
Wasn't Life Is Killing Me originally called The Dream Is Dead?
JK: There were a lot of records called The Dream Is Dead.
KH: That was the ongoing working title for every record. Death, Pain, And Other Acts Of God was another one. That was like, every fucking record.
JK: Prophets Of Doom was another working title for a few records. There were these standard working titles when the rehearsals for the writing would first start, and then it would grow from there. And then eventually…
KH: Until it revealed itself. Until the record revealed itself, what it wanted to be.
JK: And then we never had a record called The Dream Is Dead or Prophets Of Doom or Death, Pain, And Other Acts Of God.
So you said that was a tumultuous time in the band. What were some of the first songs to come out of those sessions given the mood? Was it the "I Don't Wanna Be Me"s of the album? Was it something like "(We Were) Electrocute"?
JK: No. "I Don't Wanna Be Me" was a little bit later. "Electrocute" was later. "The Dream Is Dead" was one of the earlier songs.
KH: "Life Is Killing Me" is one of the earlier ones too. I remember rehearsing that at [Systems Two Recording Studio owned by Joe and Nancy Marciano].
JK: ["Todd's Ship Gods (Above All Things)"] was early. Some of the stuff… I forget what I have demos for. Stuff from writing sessions [and] from [keyboardist Josh Silver's] house.
KH: I remember developing that stuff, we were going to Joe's studio at the time.
JK: Yeah, we were going in the studio. I think during [the sessions for] World Coming Down, some of that stuff was leftover. I remember hearing some of the riffs from Life Is Killing Me. Some of the stuff that became Life Is Killing Me. I heard it on some of the demos from when you guys would get together at Josh's house and he would make me copies of the cassettes from the stuff you guys were working on. Some of it was left over from that. I remember hearing it and thinking "oh wait a minute, that was on Life Is Killing Me."
KH: There's always shrapnel and holdover riffs – riffs that are left over – from the previous sessions. One thing about Type O, I gotta say – we were never short of material. There was always too much. It would transfer over, whatever was left.
JK: To clarify, nothing ever got kept. We literally worked for [the exact length] of the CD. 74 minutes. So once we had 74 minutes of music, that was it. There really wasn't too many extra songs or things like that. There were two songs that were left over [from the Life Is Killing Me sessions] that wound up on [the 2000 compilation The Least Worst Of Type O Negative].
That's always the question everyone asks bands too, right? Like, "oh, were there any secret leftover tracks that never made it anywhere?"
JK: I wish. I wish that there was stuff left over, but there wasn't. It was like, you clocked in – "alright, we got 74 minutes" – and you clock out. "We're done! On to the next thing."
Was that hard working in those parameters? Like, you wanting to fill up the CD and get that much music specifically.
KH: No. In Type O, a lot of it was that we would be doing slow dirge parts that were like, a beat per minute. Everything had to be four times or eight times. It filled in a lot of time.
JK: Songs would get trimmed because stuff at 60 beats per minute going for eight measures would be like, three and a half minutes long. And we'd be like "alright, we have to trim this down." So then the songs would get reworked after they got recorded. The fat got trimmed.
I wanted to go back to "I Don't Wanna Be Me" because that was the first song I had ever heard by Type O Negative when I was a kid. I remember hearing that and then hearing everything else and going "oh shit, this is way darker," and really falling in love with it. So there was a music video for that song that got big, it's your top song on streaming now – it's quote-unquote one of your bigger songs. How did you guys feel about that?
KH: I liked the song from the start. It was tongue in cheek but it wasn't ridiculous, you know? I liked the punk edge to it. It was a breakup for all the dirge on the record, and like you said, you came into it… that's really not a good representation of this band as the first song you hear.
No, it's terrible.
KH: I'd be like, "whoa!" That's like Tony Iommi then he tells that story of "Paranoid" hitting it big. Suddenly they had all these people in the audience that didn't know anything else, and they'd go see them and think "what's all this other stuff?" It's a cool song though, and it's a good breakup for all the heavy, dark dirge on the record. It was fun. It was fun to play.
JK: That was coming from the angle of Peter wanting to get away from the atmosphere that World Coming Down had. So that was a pretty big departure from the record before it.
KH: Peter could appreciate Roger Waters and The Wall and Pink Floyd, but he couldn't sit and listen to it. He did borrow from it, but it's too depressing. "That's too fucking depressing!" He couldn't deal with it.
JK: Too depressing for Peter!
KH: Yeah. So a lot of what Peter would create, and what most of us would create – we create what we wanna hear or listen to. So it was very much a barometer for his mood.
JK: Peter could go for stuff like that and then he would be listening to The Exploited.
KH: Madonna! Peter would warm up writing for a record listening to Madonna.
KH: I swear to god, in the back lounge. And then he'd go from Madonna to Laibach. Oh my god. This is back in the days when I was doing drugs in my bunk. I'm sitting in my bunk and he's blasting Laibach like [imitates Peter screaming] "Good morning!" What he would do – a lot of writers do that, too – he would listen to a lot of influences. There were no influences that were quite exactly like Type O, so he would throw a lot of stuff into his head. A lot of '80s stuff.
JK: Knowing what Peter was into, it's easy to identify what he was drawing from when I hear our music. It's pretty obvious. Some of it comes from left field, so most people that are into the band wouldn't be like "wow, that really does sound like Duran Duran!"
What were some of the other ones then? To me, the big one that I and I'm sure everyone else under the sun picked out is The Beatles.
KH: The Beatles were the foundation.
But what were the other ones that people wouldn't have picked out?
KH: Early Bee Gees.
JK: He loved the Bee Gees.
KH: Laibach had a very big impact. Devo had a huge impact on the Type O philosophy of the band. If you listen to "I Don't Wanna Be Me", it's just as friggin' satirical as any Devo song, right? And it's got a punk edge to it too. He was a huge Devo fan.
JK: And everybody [in Devo and in Type O Negative] looked exactly the same. And he was very into that, the image of bands like Devo. It was very important for him, the presentation of everybody needing to be the same. Kenny was a little bit shorter, but that was allowable. He got a pass.
KH: Their lyrics are brilliant. "Whip It" is actually… do you know what "Whip It" is about? It's about the optimistic ridiculousness of being American. Like, we can solve any problem. "Whip it good!" American optimism and making fun of it. But back in the day, when people were interviewing them about the song, they couldn't explain it to them. "What do you mean you're making fun of America? No! It's about S&M, right?" So Devo was like, "sure, it's about S&M." It leans into the comedy of the song.
So even Devo's sense of humor played a role in Type O Negative's sense of humor.
JK: Even the most tragic songs in Type O's catalog had lots of satire in them, lots of sarcasm. I mean, we would be laughing thinking "this is hysterical" but so many people wouldn't get it.
KH: Lots of slapstick and stupidity too.
Looking at most of Type O's albums up to Life Is Killing Me, they all had jokey intros, right?
JK: I don't think Life Is Killing Me had any of that though, like a "Skip It".
But you had The Munsters theme song [done as "Thir13teen"] up top.
JK: The Munsters theme, that's like our fight song. That sums up everything! The Munsters and The Honeymooners, and The Odd Couple, and Doctor Zhivago.
So to wrap this up – Life Is Killing Me. Favorites songs? Best memories?
JK: "Anesthesia" is my favorite song.
KH: Yeah, that's my favorite song. That was all of our favorite song. That's the only one we consistently played live, too.
JK: That pretty much stayed in the set from when the record came out to the last show the band played.
KH: It was very ambient. It was classically Type O. It was very ambient, it sounded good and we played it very naturally. And when we played it live, it sounded good.
JK: It seemed to sum up everything that Type O was at that point, and going forward too. It seems like that template made its way to Dead Again as well. That was where the band at that point had found their groove on the record. It was just a classic Type O song. It had all the marketings of a great Type O song, and it was. It was fun to play. It had great dynamics in it, great moods. It was a great mood changer in the set, too. It lent itself to the live set really well.