More than 25 years and two breakups later, Life of Agony is ready for a rebirth.
The band has been back together since 2014, but not all was well. If Life of Agony was going to go the distance, it needed to make a change, as singer Mina Caputo notes in her sit down with Q104.3 New York's QN'A.
Replacing the band's longtime drummer Sal Abruscato with Veronica Bellino last year left Life of Agony re-energized and eager to move forward with a new chapter in its career. Caputo says the band decided to start by bringing "closure" to the unanswered questions from its influential 1993 debut album River Runs Red.
While Caputo emphasizes that the band's new album, The Sound of Scars (available now via Napalm Records), is not a "musical continuation" of River Runs Red, it revisits an essential conversation about depression, anxiety and suicide that Life of Agony sparked long before the term suicide epidemic became an evening news cliché.
All these years later, River Runs Red still holds up, bearing a dark, unsettling honesty about teen suicide delivered through the grit of a band that was itself barely out of high school at the time. Today, in the context of Caputo's 2011 transgender revelation, the album is just as relevant.
The Sound of Scars picks up where River Runs Red ended. The teen who tried to take his own life at the end of River Runs Red survived the suicide attempt, but he still grapples with the depression and shame that drove him to that point. In a time when Americans are taking their own lives at a devastating rate, The Sound of Scars takes on the suicide issue at an essential angle: what do we do for the survivors?
Caputo admits her own battles with depression worsened in the years following River Runs Red. That's part of what prompted her transformation in the first place — the need to be honest with the world about what was in her soul. As someone who's held the proverbial razor herself, Caputo is proof that on the other side of that dark spiral is light, clarity and love if you seek it.
Life of Agony has never been in a better place, Caputo says. The Sound of Scars is a new beginning for the band — it's best album yet and sign of great things to come.
What prompted the band to refer back to its debut album at this stage?
This isn’t a musical continuation [of River Runs Red]. Let’s not sell it wrong. It’s really just a continuation of the dialogue of this person’s life and story because there was no closure on River Runs Red. So we decided this time to give this story some closure.
The band is in a very, very different place spiritually, emotionally, intellectually, musically, soulfully. We just kind of permanently parted with our drummer [Abruscato].
After two or three breakups with him, we’re in a very, very, very happy place.
Musically, I can’t even really go back to listen. I mean, it’s a completely different thing musically. It’s a completely different band, really. We grew up writing those songs [on River Runs Red], and we sat on them for years and years of evolution and de-evolution.
The difference from River Runs Red to The Sound of Scars is that we had a couple of months to make the Sound of Scars. We threw ourselves into a room and made our deadline. Every day we threw things out, demoed and demoed and in a couple of months, we made our deadline, we finished our record.
You mentioned that River Runs Red ends on a question mark. In the years since that record, in the band was there a sense that you knew what happened at the end of that story? Was it ever discussed?
We didn’t really even know.
Why was it important to go back to that dialogue of River Runs Red at this point?
Well, like I was saying, we finally, permanently, broke up [with our former drummer], got a new drummer. New band, new attitude, new love, new songs, new music, new creative inspiration. We wanted to put closure to that whole personal side of that whole thing.
That’s what it is for me in a sense. Honestly, the whole [theme] of anxiety, depression, suicide, self-sabotage — people feeling [worthless], valueless. In this day and age, [those feelings] are growing.
We thought it was a good time to actually bring it up again. [Mental illness] is more rampant than it ever was. People being miserable and not loving themselves. There’s a big lack of love in the world, not only for diversity but for people and their own selves.
We’re losing a lot of great people through suicide, whether it’s our favorite rock star or our trans child that was thrown out of the house.
What’s the last time you actually listened to River Runs Red, or any previous LOA record?
Probably when I made them. I haven’t listened to River Runs Red probably since I made it, really. And that goes for all the Life of Agony albums, and that goes for all the Mina Caputo albums and the Keith Caputo [albums]. I probably have 10, 11 solo albums.
Life of Agony is on their sixth. I have many musical projects, from Freaks to this project I’ve been doing since 2008 called The Neptune Darlings, which is a very Brian Eno-crossed with — I don’t know — the Firemen, crossed with so many things that I listen to. Trying to rewrite the idea or the ideology of what music really is or should be.
Does doing that other work make coming back to Life of Agony that much more potent? Hearing the sound of the loud band and play heavy metal, or whatever you want to call it...
Yeah. Honestly, I call Life of Agony — if I were to categorize the band, it would really just be a hard rock, alternative, rusty, hard-edged rock band. We’re not really metal. We’re not really hardcore. We’re not really any of these.
We’re not anything, really. We’re just a bunch of cats writing great, great songs that save lives and heal people, generations of people.
We don’t really believe in genre, you know? We’re into the craft of songwriting.
I think it's really interesting how on The Sound of Scars, you captured the spirit and tone of River Runs Red but also wrote a group of new songs that don't sound like they're rehashing what you did 26 years ago.
No, we’re using that simple chemistry. That simple Led Zeppelin chemistry, in a sense. Big guitars, big bass and drum, you know, ‘go f--k yourself’ [attitude], intelligent and wise storytelling, penning the ideology of the human heart.
Yeah, we’re simple but we’re really complex, just like all humans. I think what the band tried to do was bring certain elements of what people loved about River Runs Red, whether we achieved that or not is a different story — I don’t know; I don’t really care. I’m not yesterday, I’m not tomorrow. I’m right here, right now.
Doing a concept album is a tall order. How much did you discuss about what The Sound of Scars needed in terms of signposts along the way to encompass the concept?
Nothing is really difficult with us. S--t is mad effortless, you know?
It was difficult when we had the other member in the band because it wasn’t an affectionate…
Not a supportive environment.
Right. It wasn’t supportive. It wasn’t affectionate. It wasn’t compassionate. It was a very competitive situation. That’s not us. We’re very loving human beings. We’re very open.
There’s nothing that we don’t like to discuss; we love to get vulnerable; we're not afraid to get vulnerable, like some people.
We’re the complete opposite of most people or most bands; we like to exploit our vulnerabilities. That’s what gives you power. That’s what gives you courage to be disliked. That’s what gives you courage to be hated, exposing your vulnerability, not making it comfortable for people around you, just to make their lives easier. F--k that, you know.
Be you; do you, full-throttle. Share your beauty; share your essence. We couldn’t do that in the other situation. We couldn’t make mistakes. We couldn’t have a laugh. We couldn’t take a piss.
We wanted to go into  lovingly — no baggage, no past bullshit. And that’s how we went into it writing, writing for this album. We needed to spread our wings, like that Queen song. … [A]s we did.
PTSD, depression, suicide — these are things Life of Agony has explored throughout its career. With River Runs Red being such an explicit way of tackling those issues, it made me wonder whether your own struggles with those things came before or after writing that album?
I think it was a before, during and after. And after, it got really worse. The older I got, the more damaging I became to my own physical reality.
And older, meaning, 20s, mid-20s, very early-30s and then I had to put the kibosh on the lie that I was living.
You've talked a lot over the years about being transgender, but do you feel there is undue pressure on you to be an advocate?
To me I’m just a beautiful, open, creative human being that sits somewhere in between … someone who’s happy living as a guy and operating under that role or set of rules — ‘cause that’s what it all is!
The idea of transsexual or transgender woman or transgender man, these are just made up words, again, to kind of conform people. This is the idea of language. This is what’s happening. This is what language is...
I’m just outspoken for the entire human condition. I don’t like little subcategories of s--t. We’re all in this together. Humanity is one big consciousness. One big awareness. We’re aware in our own awareness or we’re not. This consciousness that we’re all connected to is one great big consciousness. It’s the all-seeing eye. It’s the source, it’s what humanity has been trying to call God for eons.
I wouldn't even be asking that question if everyone was being treated fairly. Like, it's not that confusing of a concept.
It’s very frustrating, but what I do know is that 99.9 percent, most people are full of s--t. In public, they may frown upon a bisexual person or a transgender person, but those are the people that want to get with people like me the most. So a lot of people are full of s--t. Maybe in front of their family or friends, they won’t reveal their love for trans men or trans women or love for another man.
Yeah, people are too worried about what other people think.
You mentioned the impetus of The Sound of Scars being to bring closure to the River Runs Red story. But I don't feel like Scars has a full stop at the end of it either. What's your take on the conclusion of this latest album?
The journey is never-ending. There is not destination in what we do. The way is the way; it’s completely open. The Sound of Scars to me, personally, dialogue aside, story aside … it’s just about the music to me, to be honest with you.
I feel like this is an incredible, great beginning, a great new beginning for Life of Agony. There’s a great new chapter for us. The sky’s the limit. This is the birth, this is the beginning of the end, the end of the beginning. It’s a fresh start.
Photos: Gino DePinto