by Alissa Ordabai
A few months after the release of Type-O-Negative’s last album titled Dead Again Alissa Ordabai was able to speak to the band’s drummer Johnny Kelly about the new record, Peter Steele’s vision for it, the band’s approach to playing live, and, of course, the fans. The interview was aimed to capture the spirit of Type-O-Negative on the road, to reveal their aspirations for the future, and things that inspired and drove them throughout their career from obscure beginnings in Brooklyn to heavy rotation on MTV.
With Peter Steele’s passing this week this will hopefully serve as a reminder of the fact that living in the now, like Steele has always done, is the ultimate way to stay creative for musicians of his kind. Musicians whose priorities are in exploring their own vision, expanding their perception and escaping the pattern. This Steele and his band have always been doing with utmost sincerity and conviction, showing that day-to day hype, superficial acclaim, and commercial success is not what is going to count when it comes to leaving one’s mark in history.
Johnny Kelly: I have no concept of time, like where I’ve been or what day it is…
Hardrock Haven: You’re a drummer, you should have a concept of time!
Johnny Kelly: Well, I kind of like to dispel a few of those myths! They call me the Chronicle of the Band because I remember all kinds of stuff like venues and cities, people… Especially given that we are carrying the torch for the old school way of touring.
HRH: All right!
Johnny Kelly: We are just completely hedonistic and we’re just terrorising everywhere we go.
HRH: Russian mystic Rasputin, also known for his hedonism, is featured on the cover of your latest album.
Johnny Kelly: Well, Peter has Slavic background and stuff, and he’s always been interested in communist history and the history of Russia and Central Asia, things like that, world history. When he came up with the artwork, the idea of using Rasputin on the cover, we found a lot of parallels between Rasputin’s character and his.
HRH: Hard to kill?
Johnny Kelly: Yeah!! Yeah! And the picture itself looks like he could be in the band! (Laughs). The beard! A lot of journalists were making comparisons of Rasputin to Josh! (Laughs). The beard, the stuff, and the long hair.
HRH: Do you think enough time has passed since the release of the last album for you to look at it from a detached perspective, or are you still very much attached to it and can’t start seeing it objectively?
Johnny Kelly: I always tried to look at the Type O Negative music objectively, like it is something that I would listen to. And there are some songs… I can’t imagine a band where everybody likes every single song they’ve done on an album and be convinced that it’s the best thing that’s ever been written. I’ve never looked at it like that. But there are some songs on the record that I think are some of the best of Type O Negative so far.
Before I joined Type O… I’ve joined Type O just before “Bloody Kisses” has been released. So before I joined the band I was a fan. My favorite record has always been “Slow, Deep and Hard”, which I wasn’t a part of, but it’s still my favorite Type O record. Mainly because of the sheer honesty of it and… So yeah, it would be safe to say that I look at the record objectively.
HRH: Which tracks do you like the best?
Johnny Kelly: I think where Type O really shines on the record is “These Three Things”. It’s an epic Type O Negative song, it has a lot of different elements and the way the song is structured is not like a typical rock song where you have intro, verse, chorus, whatever, bridge, then chorus, chorus. I just think that the band really shines on it. Like there is something on there that makes everybody shine at least for a minute and I love playing it live.
HRH: Do you?
Johnny Kelly: Yeah! I’ve been reading on the message boards where some people say they were bored with it, they are like “Ahhh…” You know, but with the internet people, you can’t win with them. The last tour we did, we didn’t play enough of new songs, and they were getting mad at us for that. So now this time we made sure that there is a good chunk of our set, like an hour and a half set that we play, there are 25 minutes of new material. Looking at it in a span of time, it’s a good chunk of new songs. And people complained!
HRH: You can’t reason with some people, especially when they have set ideas about how a band should work.
Johnny Kelly: Yeah, like they have their own view: “This is how I think a band should be.” And it’s like well, if you think this is how a band should be, then start a band and do it this way. If you have all the answers to what we are doing wrong, then take the initiative upon yourself and do it right! Start your own band and take it to the top of the world!
Johnny Kelly: Why pin it on us to do it? (Laughs).
HRH: Some songs on the album sound very mainstream radio friendly, I thought. Was that a mockery of the current trends or was that an attempt to draw the attention of the mainstream audience?
Johnny Kelly: No. Since “Bloody Kisses” there has always been a certain element of pop music in what we do. There’s always been the late 60s psychedelic stuff. There are a lot of things that we are influenced by and it all winds up on the same record, but it’s never a conscious decision to say “We’re gonna write a single, and we’re gonna write a single that’s gonna be a hit”. Really, when we start working on a record, there is no agenda or a goal other than “It’s time to make a record”. And really we just get into a rehearsal room and just start working on ideas and start putting things together, and it starts taking an identity of its own.
HRH: So there is no concept that you start with?
Johnny Kelly: Yeah, there is no concept or anything like that. The only thing that there is a concept of is when the record is done, Peter will try to get a visual aspect of what this record reminds him of and will try to come up with the ideas for artwork to go with it. And that’s it. And when it comes to making music itself, there is no plan or anything. With this record Peter said that he wanted to have a little bit more of hardcore influences like you know, when we were younger, stuff more like Carnivore. There are a couple of songs there that do fit that, but ultimately, the thing that’s the most important for Type O is that no matter what kind of song we make, it sounds like Type O Negative, not Type O Negative trying to sound like the Cure or Black Sabbath or the Beatles. Whatever we do is us doing it. The songs always sound like Type O Negative. To me, that’s the hardest thing for a band to do. To come up with your own identity. Like you know, when the radio is on, you can pick out that that’s a Rolling Stones song, or that’s…
HRH: Led Zeppelin.
Johnny Kelly: Exactly, Led Zeppelin!! Led Zeppelin was able to do things musically without getting categorized, they were able to go to all kinds of different places…
HRH: From reggae to blues to hard rock to…
Johnny Kelly: You name it! Folk music…
HRH: Heavy metal…
Johnny Kelly: Yeah, they basically have done blueprint for heavy metal. I see us in that same level of not genius, but I see us has having a capability to do that. To us as long as it sounds like Type O Negative doing it, that’s what we are more concerned with, not with like you know, “Well, this doesn’t fit on the record”, or you know. If we think it’s a good song, we’ll just put it out there, he-he! And that’s it! (Laughs). And then hopefully the fans will like it as well and it’s great when you get new fans.
HRH: You came into the band later, but do you think that the other guys, when they were just starting out as a band, could describe or anticipate their audience in advance?
Johnny Kelly: Before I joined the band I was friend with the band. Me and Kenny were best friends since we were teenagers. So I always knew what was going on. Everybody knew that the band had potential to do something, but it was always one step forward, two steps back. And finally we were able to make a commitment to the band where we were going to see what it was capable of. And we were on the road touring for 18 months to support “Bloody Kisses”, and then it was a slow, a gradual climb. I remember when I first joined the band, Kenny was saying about the record “We could get a gold record out of this”. I was like “Dude, this band is never gonna go gold, forget it! It’s never gonna happen!”.
Johnny Kelly: Yeah! I did! And then it slowly started… We were on the road and then started to get attention from the radio and stuff, the video started getting played on MTV and it slowly started building and building and building. And we went to do “October Rust”, and the expectations were so high for that record! I knew that we weren’t going to meet those expectations. I was like, “If we were able to maintain what we had, then I would be happy with that”. But everyone around us just thought that we were on a launch pad and we were going to go into the stratosphere. I didn’t believe it because we aren’t that kind of band. The band has always been strong when we were on the road. We would play any place that would have us. We played pizzerias, we played bowling alleys. We didn’t care. We were like “We’re on the road and we’re doing it!”. We were a lot younger then and little more care-free. We were having a great time on the road, we were going nuts and we were playing every night! And then it slowly started taking off. I always thought that the way the band was always represented or portrayed, I never really thought… We had our fan base that has always been very loyal and dedicated, but I never really looked at it like I’m set for life. Like you go out and buy a big-ass house and everything’s gonna be paid for and I’ll be retired when I’m 30! I was never like that.
HRH: Do an Axl.
Johnny Kelly: Yeah! And it takes 12 years to make a record! After “Appetite for Destruction” he could afford to stay home and work on a record for 12 years. I hope the record is great though, for their sake. I’ve been waiting for it! (Laughs).
HRH: I gave up about five years ago! So who were your personal heroes when you were growing up?
Johnny Kelly: When I was a kid, first definitely Kiss! Oh yeah! I remember my dad (my dad wasn’t even 30) brought home “Kiss Alive” and me and my brother went “Wow!” And we took the record and just ran into our bedroom, listened to it and went “Wow!”, we were so blown away. I was like seven years old, and I was like “That’s what I wanna do!”.
HRH: From that point on?
Johnny Kelly: From there! You know, when you are seven years old, you are only aware of so many things, but my dad was always a big rock n’ roll fan, and my nursery records were the Beatles albums and the Rolling Stones, and my dad got me into Led Zeppelin. In Brooklyn I lived in a two-family house. My family lived on the first floor and my grandparents lived on the second floor, and my uncle lived upstairs and he was a guitar player. I remember one day borrowing all of his Led Zeppelin records and bringing them to the other guy who lived up the street who taught me how to play drums and telling him “This is what I wanna learn how to do!”, and he was like “Wow, are you kidding?” (Laughs).
Johnny Kelly: Yeah, and I’ve got it on my arm! (Shows me his John Bonham symbol tattoo from Led Zeppelin IV album). You know, a little one.
HRH: Oh, a little Bonzo sign!
Johnny Kelly: Yeah!
HRH: He said once in an interview that he got this symbol from some beer label.
Johnny Kelly: Yeah, Ballantine’s! (Laughs). But this is also a Celtic rune and it means “Man, woman and child”. Since I have a daughter now it has an extra symbolism for myself.
HRH: How old is your daughter?
Johnny Kelly: Six years old. A maniac.
HRH: Is she a fan of the band?
Johnny Kelly: Yeah, she likes the band! She gets a kick out of it. Because she’s six she’s just trying to come to a certain level of awareness that her daddy plays in a band and he does shows and she knows what concerts are and stuff. Like I tell her over the phone “Hey, Finland today” and she says “Ooh, wow! When are you coming home?”
HRH: Has she ever been to any of your shows?
Johnny Kelly: No, I never took her to a Type O Show. The band hasn’t been on the road or performing for almost four years. Four years ago my daughter was two! (Laughs). So you know, she wouldn’t know, but she wants to come to a show now. So maybe, see what happens. If we do something at home in the summer or something that works out that’s close to home. I brought her to a sound check once though. But she says “Oh, I want Type O Negative t-shirts, bring home shirts!”. When I first got a copy of a finished CD of “Dead Again” I payed it in a car, and she likes the song “Some Stupid Tomorrow”. And she’s like “That’s Kenny singing singing, right?”. I say “Very good”. And she says “And that’s Peter, right?”. She says “Kenny sounds like Riff-Raff from Rocky Horror”. (Laughs). She loves the movie Rocky Horror. And I start dying laughing and I call up Kenny saying “Kenny, do you know what my daughter just compared you to?” He says “What”, and I say “Riff-Raff!” and he starts laughing.
HRH: Does it feel good to be back on the road?
Johnny Kelly: Yeah! There is a tug of war now because now everybody’s missing me at home and I miss them. But this is what I always wanted to do. And I love playing live and it’s something that I genuinely and sincerely from the bottom of my heart love doing and I’m so grateful, especially now, because I never thought when I was 15, 16, 17 years old playing in bands and stuff I never thought that I will be almost 40 years old and still doing it, and still enjoying it.
HRH: When did you first realize that you could make a living like this?
Johnny Kelly: I was always driven to pursue a career in music, but for years I have never made any money on it. Maybe a couple of dollars here and there, but there wasn’t anything so that I would be able to support myself. When I joined Type O Negative we all still had day jobs. And the first tours that we did, before that we rehearsed, went to work every day, took time off work, went out on to tour, the next day I got home I went back to work fixing cars.
Johnny Kelly: And then finally I was in a job situation where they were cool with it, my managers and stuff they thought that it was exciting, like “I’m not gonna stand in your way, it’s an opportunity of a lifetime, go do it!” And then we were on tour with Motley Crue and we were gone for a while and my boss who is my best friend said “Look what’s going on, we’re losing money because you are not here and the shop is closed. Are you coming back?” And I was put in that position when I was letting them down and just leaving them hanging, and I said “You know what, go find somebody else. And when I come home if it doesn’t work out, I’ll find something else to do”. And I was fortunate enough that for a very long time I didn’t have to worry about that. But the band has been around for a long time and now there is that situation where one year you make a lot of money, and then for a year or two you won’t make anything and you are digging in the couch for change and stuff!
HRH: I have one last question. A bit silly, but here I go. If you were granted an answer to any question in the universe, what would you ask?
Johnny Kelly after a pause: What’s my purpose of being here?
HRH: What do you think it is?
Johnny Kelly: I don’t know! I’ve always been a pretty easy-going person. There are a lot of things that I am not aware of. Not like an air-head but a lot of time I feel like I’m just going through motions. Sometimes I’m really thinking “What am I really doing with myself?” And it’s like yes, I got older now, I have responsibilities, I take care of my responsibilities but at the same time it’s like “What am I doing? What am I doing and where am I going?”
HRH: What’s the larger purpose.
Johnny Kelly: Right. Exactly. What is my purpose of being here. And if somebody had an answer to that, I’d be forever in debt to them!