With a long-lasting career that spans over 25 years, there’s no question that Life Of Agony’s music still holds up. Through the release of colossal studio efforts like River Runs Red and Ugly in the ’90s, these New York hardcore icons have instilled many uplifting messages that touch the hearts of many devoted fans, and are still relatable to blooming adolescents who are currently searching for a sense of belonging in this world.
Reuniting in 2014, a newly revived Life Of Agony played multiple festivals overseas, and also preformed their only North American show of the year at the Starland Ballroom in Sayreville. Continuing strong with an exclusive run of dates throughout this year, Life Of Agony recently headlined the annual East Coast Tsunami Festival in Pennsylvania. Uniting the hip-hop community and the hardcore scene together with a bizarre mash-up of acts, this two-day festival included the likes of Wu-Tang Clan, Mobb Deep, Indecision, Madball, Body Count, Wisdom In Chains, and The Eddie Leeway Show, among many others. As Life Of Agony gears up to play in the UK and in Europe at the start of next year, it is definitely certain that the band won’t be slowing down anytime soon.
About a month before Mina Caputo’s upcoming “Birthday Bash” at the Starland Ballroom, I had the opportunity to chat with Life Of Agony bassist Alan Robert about their return to the iconic Sayreville venue and their deep-rooted history with the Garden State. Not only did I have an enlightening discussion with Robert on the band’s direct, personal impact on both their fans and their influence in the hardcore scene today, Robert also shared with me his longtime passion for animation, illustration, and the creative process of his latest comic book series, Killogy.
So, Mina Caputo’s “Birthday Bash” is almost a month away. Was this an event that Mina had a lot of interest in doing from the very get-go? Or was this show planned out amongst yourself and the rest of the band as a surprise for her?
No, it was actually all Mina’s idea. You know, we love playing Starland and for the Jersey crowd. We always leave there with smiles on our faces, so what better time to have a birthday bash? We’re always very excited to play there. They [Starland] treat the bands really well, and the crowd is just high intensity, and we love it.
Since Life Of Agony’s only U.S. appearance of 2014 was held at the Starland Ballroom, tell me a little bit about your relationship with New Jersey’s music scene. Over the course of your career, did Life Of Agony consider New Jersey as a home away from home?
Well, you know, our very first show was in Keansburg, New Jersey, back in 1990. From then on (laughs), we loved playing Jersey. We used to play the Birch Hill Night Club when that was still around. We used to play the Cricket Club, The Stone Pony and Studio 1… I mean, we’ve [played] them all over the years, you know? We outlasted them (laughs).
I should also say too that we always loved doing shows with [89.5 Seton Hall’s Pirate Radio] WSOU. As you know, they [played] our first demo on their Street Patrol Program for unsigned bands. So, we’ve been longtime friends with WSOU, and they’ve been supporting us for 20-plus years. And here we are again with WSOU, presenting the show. So, we’ve come full-circle.
Back in September, Life Of Agony had the opportunity to play East Coast Tsunami Fest in Pennsylvania. What was like it like be a part of a festival with such a diverse lineup—where you had the chance to share the stage with Wu-Tang Clan, Body Count, Turnstile, Indecision, Madball and Mobb Deep all in one weekend?
Yeah, well, it was a bizarre mash-up of bands and hip-hop acts. It was something that was really cool and different. We see a lot of that going on when we play the European festivals. You know, in Europe, back in the day we’ve played with Björk, and Neil Young, and David Bowie, so it was kind of bizarre lineups, but somehow it works. With all of these different types of fans of different types of music, I think they’re coming more acceptant other types of sounds.
And for us, we’ve played with Madball tons of times overseas, so it was great to share the stage with them again. I know [vocalist] Mina Caputo and I grew up listening to Wu-Tang Clan, so it’s always cool.
Very cool! It must have also been a great chance to share the stage with many younger bands who looked up to Life Of Agony as well, correct?
Absolutely! And you know what, it was cool to some see the old cats as well, like Eddie Sutton from Leeway. [Guitarist] Joey Z. and I especially used to love Leeway play in Brooklyn all of the time. We were in the pit back in those days, dancing to Leeway, so, it brought back a lot of memories from when we used to see Eddie.
Also, [former Misfits guitarist] Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein played, and you know, we [have] a long relationship with the Misfits and “Doyle” especially. He was in my comic book, Killogy, recently, so it’s always great to see those guys.
I know many friends who personally look up to Life Of Agony and have come across tons of bands who are highly inspired by your music. Considering the impact that you’ve made on many over the course of your career, how would you say that Life Of Agony’s music is still relatable and influential to the hardcore the scene in 2015?
Well, I think there is something to be said about the message and the music. When a lot of those songs were written, especially lyrically—you know, River Runs Red… I was probably in my late teens writing those songs. It was all about dealing with depression and struggles growing up, and you know… just taking in everything that we were all going through in our families, and also dealing with troubles socializing things.
And these are all common themes even now. Kids today, I think, are still going through these problems—maybe even more so, because you know, now that technology is in everyone’s hands, it almost isolates you even more in a way. And these are common themes in all of our records, especially on the Ugly record. Themes like, “Feeling out of place,” and, “Feeling like the ugly duckling,” basically, and, “We are the black sheep.”
These are just common issues with growing up, and I think that some of these personalities gravitate towards hardcore music and metal music because it’s still kind of on the outskirts of mainstream, and it’s kind of going against the grain of what’s expected, and I think they find community there. I know I did growing up, and going to shows to let out some angst, and anger, and turn it into positivity—I think that’s been the whole message of Life Of Agony from the start.
Whether we realize it or not, we started out as these angry, depressed (laughs) kids, and by venting through our music, we created a community we’re accepted in, and we can bond with people who were going through the same emotions.
That is the “hardcore” aspect of the music. There’s a lot of “metal” type of sounds and guitar riffs, but as far as the “hardcore elements” in Life Of Agony, the honesty and the purity of the message that we were trying to communicate was trying to basically lift someone up when they’re feeling down, and let them know that you’re not alone out there.
Time and time again, we have fans coming up to us from all over the world thanking us for making the music that we do because it saved their lives, and that means the world to us because we knew how it felt to be alone when no one was listening. Here are these kids listening to our music, knowing that they’re not alone, and that no one else feels the same way that they do.
I couldn’t agree more. I know for a fact that, no matter what kind of music I listen to as of late, I will always turn back to the bands that have made such a prominent impact on me growing up. It’s within these moments, I am always reminded why I strongly connected with hardcore and punk in the first place. So I can definitely see where you are coming from with that message.
Yeah, like I said, it wasn’t intentional. I think we were just trying to deal with our own emotional troubles, and this was our way to get it out. Over time, we started to realize when people would come up to us, that we were making a difference.
I think that made everything we sacrificed to do what we do—whether it would be touring for months and months and leaving family behind, or struggling by for very little money just to make it happen, you know, all of those things that bands do, as all bands do, it became all worth it.
Aside from your longtime role in Life Of Agony, I’ve also discovered that your comic book series, Killogy, is being adapted into an animated television series. What was it like making that transition from playing music to getting into the comic book world?
Well, it’s funny, because even before I picked up a guitar, I picked up a pencil and was drawing and creating characters. Up until college, actually, I went to college at the School Of Visual Arts in the city, and I wanted to be a comic book artist.
While I was in college, I met Joey, we started the band, and by the time I graduated college, we had signed our first record deal with Roadrunner Records to release River Runs Red. So, once I graduated, I had to make a choice to either go out and jump in the van and support this record that we just recorded, or try and get a job at Marvel, or DC Comics, and take my portfolio around. I decided, “This music thing was probably a once-in-a-lifetime chance, and I’ll see where it goes”—and sure enough, it turned into 20 years of a long career.
So, I guess around the end 2009, and in the beginning of 2010, I got really obsessed with getting this story I’ve written called Wire Hangers out of my system, and I was all ready to self-publish this comic book that I came up with. I happened to meet IDW Publishing on Twitter, and they were interested in publishing it and decided to publish my first series.
Ever since then, I’ve been putting out a new series through IDW every year. I have Wire Hangers, a series called Crawl To Me, Killogy and my upcoming one called The Shunned One. Each of these different properties are in different stages of being adapted for live-action feature films for animated shows.
Nice. You know, before I discovered underground music, I also drew a lot when I was younger and had childhood dreams to become an animator myself. It’s pretty cool how both the comic book world and the hardcore scene are sort of connected in their own way.
Yeah, there’s a lot of crossover—especially within the “horror” genre because a lot of these comic books I make are based in horror or psychological thrillers. I should say too that all throughout playing music, I was always designing the t-shirts and working on the album cover art, stage design and all of that stuff. I was doing the art consistently through the music, but I wasn’t really storytelling with it. So now I get a chance to do both, and it’s awesome.
Very cool! On one final note: To ring in the New Year, you will be heading over to Germany—followed by a small run of UK dates in March. Now that Life Of Agony has been slowly getting back into playing shows again on special occasions, do you see Life Of Agony playing a lot more shows in 2016 after these dates overseas?
I do! I think ever since the summer of 2014 when we kicked this back up again, it’s been so much fun and the energy has been so good between us and the people everywhere we go that we want to keep it going, we absolutely do; we’re having a great time. And I think now that Mina has come out, she is free as a bird, and there is no holding back. It’s just so great to see, not just as a band member, but as a longtime friend, to see her really comfortable in her own skin. I’m just really proud of her for her bravery, and everyone’s been so accepting and so positive that it’s really encouraging to see.
Come join Life Of Agony as they celebrate vocalist Mina Caputo’s birthday at the Starland Ballroom in Sayreville on Dec. 6. For more information, go to lifeofagony.com.