Silvertomb—Back From the Edge

Many Americans would say that 2009 was a difficult year for them. The country was in the throes of a horrible recession and the resulting financial difficulties led some to embracing their inner demons—drugs, alcohol, or worse. Jobs were lost, homes were foreclosed, cars were repossessed, and marriages crumbled. Shockingly, former Type O Negative guitarist and current SIlvertomb frontman Kenny Hickey was among those who spiraled. With Type O Negative singer-bassist Pete Steele too ill to work, Hickey’s bank account was quickly depleted. He imbibed too much and nearly split with his wife. Hickey’s solution: end his life. Thankfully, he failed in his attempt.

A decade later and his marriage is flourishing, his relationship with his daughters is thriving, and he has formed Silvertomb, whose debut, Edge of Existence (Long Branch Records), is garnering rave reviews. Still, it’s hard to talk about Hickey’s new band without talking about Type O Negative, who will forever be part of his DNA. Unlike most rock bands, who eventually run out of steam and grind to a halt, or crash and burn, Type O Negative disbanded following the untimely death of its charismatic and now-legendary frontman Peter Steele. Although former Type O Negative drummer John Kelly is part of the Silvertomb lineup, the band is not a continuation. It’s a new beginning. Of course, Edge of Existence has drawn comparisons to Hickey’s former band—his guitar was an integral part of its sound—but Silvertomb has also drawn comparisons to Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd, and early Soundgarden.

Hickey recently spoke candidly with The Aquarian about his personal struggles, almost leaving music, and starting over with Silvertomb.

Professionally, you were quiet for a few years following Type O Negative’s ending. Suddenly, a few years ago, Silvertomb appeared on the musical radar.

The last time I had been active was with [side-project] Seventh Void in 2011. That was after Peter passed. After Type O Negative ended, I decided to reassess my life; I was thinking about what I was going to do with the rest of existence. I didn’t know if I wanted to continue running around the globe pretending to be a rock star while I was in my fifties. I [briefly] gave it up. I just did not want to do it anymore.

During this time, what were you doing?

Nothing. I was just trying to figure out my life and move forward. I was thinking about a career working at Home Depot [laughs]. But I couldn’t stay away from it [for] long. It was nearly three years before I started getting [musical] ideas again. I never stopped playing [guitar]. My favorite thing to do is go in the garage and play my acoustic guitar. I play old rock ‘n’ roll songs and sing to myself at two in the morning.

How did that urge morph into Silvertomb?

I was going to continue Seventh Void, but I was down a guitar player—Matt Brown had left. That is how Joe James [formerly of Agnostic Front and Inhuman] entered the picture. He’s an excellent musician. The first song we wrote together, which ended up on Edge of Existence, was “Love You without No Lies.” In the beginning, the song had no keyboard [parts]. It was [intended as] a Seventh Void song. As we got deeper into [the songwriting process and composed] “Right of Passage/Crossing Over,” I started to hear orchestrated parts [in my head]: other instruments and other tones. I heard string sections and horn sections. I started hearing sound effects that would fit between songs. I needed someone who could pull this off. That is how we got Aaron Joos [ex-Awaken the Shadow and Empyreon) into the band. He [primarily] plays keyboards, but switches to guitar from time to time.

I was unaware you were friends with drummer John Kelly before Type O Negative’s formation.

I met Johnny before I met my wife, who I’ve been with for 31 years. I met him in 1985 when he was working at Sink the Pink studios on Flatbush Avenue. He worked the desk, and at the time, I was looking for a drummer. I had a falling out with my previous band, Powersurge. I was 19 and he was 17. That’s when we started playing together. I brought him down for the Type O Negative audition [after original drummer Sal Abruscato decamped for Life of Agony].

Kelly has become one of the hardest working drummers in rock ‘n’ roll.

He’s one of the Avenue I boys. He even did drum teching and drove for us when Type O Negative opened for Biohazard and Exploited in ’91. He drove when we did a show at the Los Angeles Palladium with Cro-Mags. One show. We drove cross-country from Brooklyn to California and Johnny was with us.

He has become indispensable.

We have played together for so long that it’s as if he can read my mind. He immediately knows what I want; where I’m coming from; what I want to do.

Why did you change the band’s name to Silvertomb?

With the Aaron addition, we had added a new dimension to the band, so I decided to start over. It needed to start off fresh.

It’s been a slow burn from the formation to the release of Edge of Existence.

The music [for the album] was written more than two years ago, though it wasn’t recorded. We banged around, looking at record deals here and there. None of them were really good, so we decided to record it ourselves. 

Where was it recorded?

At a ranch in Pennsylvania that this friend of Joos’ owned. I forget the friggin’ town. We went there for a week in July 2018 and began recording it. It was someone’s house in the middle of nowhere, but it was a nice open room studio. Our engineer-producer Ali J. Hassan brought his rig in and we got all of the basic tracks done. The overdubs, the secondary guitar lines, my guitar leads, and the vocals were recorded at my house.

Silvertomb has already toured.

Last September, Life of Agony asked us to tour with them for three weeks. It was a great opportunity, so we rushed out our first single, “Insomnia/Sunrise.” Then, we began the mixing process, which could drive anyone insane. [Deciding] which [instruments were] too loud or two low took months. [Because of that,] we didn’t master the record until this past January.

How did Silvertomb end up on Long Branch Records?

After the record was finished, we shopped it to a number of labels. We ended up on Long Branch because they seemed really into it; really enthusiastic about it. It has been a long journey to get here, but every new journey is a long one.

Do you consider Silvertomb a continuation of your musical journey or the beginning of a new journey?

It’s part of an evolution. We’ve added a lot of musical styles and possibilities to [this band]. I’m already 27 minutes into writing for the next record. I am going to keep going with Silvertomb until it hits a wall. Then I’ll stop this band and start another one.

Edge of Existence is a raw record, both musically and lyrically. It has been described as “dark and spiritual,” but I thinking it’s more brutal; an unrelenting barrage of musical punches to the face.

It’s raw because that’s what I’ve experienced since 2009, before Peter’s passing. I was having extreme problems with my wife. My marriage almost ended. Thank God, we got through that. I did some stupid shit. I went down the ladder pretty low [while abusing] alcohol. Then Peter passed.

Your drug of choice was alcohol?

It was always booze. It was the way I dealt with things, or at least I thought I did. I didn’t intend for this record to be about all of that stuff. As I was writing the record, I thought to myself, ‘Oh, my God! Now I need lyrics.’ What you hear is what came out of me.

It is certainly introspective; confessional.

When the words started coming out of me, I realized I had all of this compartmentalized shit; dealing with Peter’s death and all of the stuff I was dealing with. I didn’t consciously decide that I needed to define this—that I need [lyrical] therapy—it just came out that way,

As a creative artist, you will spill your blood on a lyrical page.

The album became an epitaph to my last decade. Once I realized what the record was becoming—halfway through writing “Eulogy/Requiem”—I saw the direction I was going in. It is like any record. You start by writing a few songs—play through—until it begins to write itself. It begins to express what it wants to express. Once I got to the point where I realized the record was either going to be a historical record or an epitaph to what I’ve experienced during the last decade, everything began to flow. The arrangements began to come together.

Among Edge of Existence’s song topics: suicide. Was that about Peter Steele’s well-documented suicide attempt or did you also try to take your own life?

I also tried. It was in 2009, before Peter died. I was going through my marriage troubles and I made a really stupid mistake. It shouldn’t have worked, but it almost worked. I had to talk my way out of being admitted into the psych ward the next day. It was a really low moment. My wife and I were experiencing financial problems and we almost loss our house. Peter was too sick to work. Everything was going bad. Thank God [my suicide attempt] was also a failure.

Before joining Type O Negative, Peter Steele tried to commit suicide by slicing his wrists.

I didn’t cut my wrists. I drank a bottle of whiskey and ate a bottle of Xanax. It was a horrible mistake and I am happy I didn’t die because I have two beautiful daughters with whom I now have a great relationship with. My life is too good now to be checking out early. Everyone has a breaking point and I reached a weak point. I consider myself a strong person and, despite taking a pummeling my entire life, I had never reached that low point before. It was a dark time. 

The title Edge of Existence sums up those experiences.

At the time, I felt like I was being pushed to the periphery of existence. I didn’t have a regular day job. I didn’t have a band anymore. I was getting drunk at 10 in the morning watching people going to work.

You are in a better place.

Oh, yeah. I am in a much more solid place. I have a beautiful family. I love my wife. We just finished paying off my house. I am done. I have a great relationship with my kids. They are both great musicians with great voices. I have a lot. I am blessed.

While you were a member of Type O Negative, Peter was a larger-than-life front man. Now it’s you, as the front man, who must stand in the spotlight. Have you found it overwhelming at times?

It is simply a skill you learn. I’ve had the good fortune to share a stage with [or tour with] some of the greatest front men of all time. I shared the stage with Peter for years [and Type O Negative toured with] Pantera’s Philip Anselmo and Hatebreed’s Jamey Jasta. You learn from their [respective] techniques. You learn to talk with the audience like you would talk with anyone else. What is difficult is coming up with new things to say to the audience. You can’t say the same thing every night.

You are telling your story on Edge of Existence. You could do a storytellers-type of show, where you reveal the inspiration for each song.

I usually do it tongue-in-cheek. I am going to do it with humor. I am going to make fun of myself.

Unlike Type O Negative’s trademark sarcasm, Edge of Existence is devoid of anything funny. Will Silvertomb’s second album contain humor?

I don’t know. I’ll have to wait until it is finished. Humor is certainly an element that is missing from this album.

Type O Negative’s debut, Slow, Deep and Hard (Roadrunner) was released in 1991. Time flies!

It certainly does. I can’t believe anything happened 30 years ago. And it was just supposed to be a demo. These days, I meet kids who ask me to sign things and they were not even born when that album was first released.

For New York City-based rock journalists of the nineties, the members of Type O Negative were more than mere rock stars; you were our heroes, who—following the band’s second album, Bloody Kisses (Roadrunner, 1993)—took a chance. You decided to give up your respective day jobs and pursue your musical dreams. And you succeeded. That’s why we will always root for you and support anything you do.

I hope so. We are playing at Saint Vitus on December 21st and I hope someone shows up [laughs].  We’ll see how much [our New York City brethren] are rooting for us on that night!

Be sure to catch Silvertomb at Saint Vitus in Brooklyn on Saturday, December 21!