Reunions seem to be the order of the day, but we normally embrace them with open arms. Life of Agony's 2003 reunion was all the hype, and now with this year's 'Broken Valley', the first release since '97's 'Soul Searching Sun', the band are again in the spotlight and put to the test. Metal Update had the chance to chat with bassist Alan Robert about the band's triumphant return, the Whitfield Crane era and where Life of Agony sit on the vast musical map.
Interview with Alan Robert oon 6/27/05.
Metal Update: How does it feel to get a second bite at the apple, in terms of getting a full second go-round through major label music industry world with this reunion?
Alan Robert: You know what, if you would have told me that I would be making another Life Of Agony record with the original line-up on Epic Records I would have told you that you should stop smoking the strong stuff cuz you're out of your mind. It really is a blessing that we were all humble enough to let go of all the past baggage to reunite and make this record. This is the album we always wanted to make. With the help of producer Greg Fidelman (Slipknot, JET, Audioslave), we captured the best performances of our career. Our fans have stuck by us the entire time we were apart, and we owe everything to them for this second chance. They gave us the real spark to do this all again.
MU: When you reformed, did you think there was a chance that there would not be major label interest?
AR: We had no expectations. We were hoping that a great major label like Epic would pick us up, but the industry is so fucked up these days - we really had no idea what would happen. At the end of the day, it's great to know that were at a new home with a fresh start. We didn't want to be treated like a "reunion" type band, because that's not how we treat this at all. Yes, we broke up for a while but we resolved our differences and have picked up exactly where we left off. The music that we're doing now is new and we're not living in the past. Epic signed us on the strength of our new material, not on our history.
MU: If there hadn't been major label backing for the reunion, would you still have done it?
AR: I think so. I think we all really wanted to see how a new Life Of Agony record would sound. We were really excited about the new songs we were writing, when we were demoing them before the deal. There was a great energy in the studio because we were collaborating like never before. Everyone felt part of it and that was a great sign of how things would be between the four of us moving forward.
MU: What is your favorite Life of Agony song?
AR: Out of any record, it would have to be "Wicked Ways" off of the new record, 'Broken Valley'. I wrote those lyrics based on someone close to me that was raped. Her story really broke my heart. I know that a lot of people out there have gone through that horrific experience or molestation growing up, and this song hits home for them. Musically, it came out better than I ever imagined it to. To me, this song really encompasses what Life of Agony is all about. The song tells a sad, real-life story that touches you in a way that somehow uplifts you in the end. That has always been our message through the music - turning negativity into strength. We always tried to achieve that through our music, and with that song in particular I think we achieved that goal.
MU: The lyrics mean so much to a lot of people. What are some of your favorite Life of Agony song lyrics? What is the most personal to you?
AR: Like I mentioned before, "Wicked Ways" for sure. "The Day He Died" really goes deeper lyrically than anything we've done previously. That song is so detailed and descriptive of the events surrounding Keith's father's death, it's almost like it paints a picture right in front of you. Keith and I really collaborated on that one. He wrote the chorus that inspired me to write the verses. We worked on the bridge lyrics together - right in the recording studio. It was really awesome to tap into that creative pulse together.
MU: If you were "Lost at 22," do you think people feel the same at 32? 42? Is that feeling a product of age or an overall state of mind?
AR: It's a state of mind for sure. We're always in a confused emotional state, it doesn't matter how old you are. We're emotional creatures with complex moods and thoughts. I wrote those lyrics when I was 22. Now I am 33 and I can still relate. Keith often announces that song live as "Lost at 32"!
MU: What is your favorite Life of Agony album?
AR: 'Broken Valley' hasn't left my car stereo since we made it. It's actually the only LOA record that I can listen to from start to finish without skipping any songs. The older records seem to bring me back to those times when we recorded them, when I was usually in a bad space. This new record uplifts me.
MU: How does 'River Runs Red' differ from 'Ugly' and from 'Soul Searching Sun?'
AR: 'River' has a guitar heavy sound to it that is consistent throughout the record. It had a lot of anger and intensity intertwined within every track. It told a story from start to finish and really was our attempt at making a concept record. The album was recorded in like 2 weeks, and producer Josh Silver had a unique vision for what the record would sound like in the end. He really put his heart into producing that record with us, which made it really special. We had a limited budget and that added to the grit and personality of the tracks. 'Ugly' was just that, an ugly time in our career. We felt deceived, mislead, and used by the industry and the business people we were involved with at the time. We began to all turn into introverts and kept all of our problems to ourselves and the music reflects that. It is a very lonely sounding record. 'Soul Searching' felt like we trying to compromise between two different writing styles. That was the time period when Keith was starting to think about going solo and taking a different approach to music. A lot of the songs on 'SSS', I feel did not live up to their full potential because we were not really pushed by a producer to work on them. We basically recorded all the songs we wrote at that time. There are a few songs on that album that I still think are good songs like "Weeds", "Heroin Dreams" and "Desire."
MU: Why did Keith Caputo leave the band the first time around?
AR: I think it wasn't one single event that made him make that decision. In hindsight, I'm glad that he did. At the time, it felt like my world was falling apart but now I see it differently. I think that it was a lot of things building up in his head over the years. I think he was also changing as a person. We had been a band since he was like 17 years old, so a lot had happened in between 17 and 25 years old when he split. We had toured the world several times, made 3 records together, had multiple managers, drummers and producers. Life on the road was not easy, and life as a musician in general is a big risk with little reward. I think he was at the point that he felt limited creatively because of what we had built as Life of Agony. He was frustrated with the business and with the idea of being in a "heavy" band. At the end of the day, I think that he felt that if he was going to invest all of his time and energy into music, it should be the music that he loved. And that's what he did, he left to write and create his own music on his own terms.
MU: In hindsight, was it a mistake to try to go on without him?
AR: I have no regrets. Everything that we did was the best solution at the time. We gave it a shot continuing as LOA with a different singer because we were not quitters. We had a lot of heart and passion for what had built with Life of Agony and tried our best for ourselves and for our fans to make it last. We also had enough sense not to make another Life of Agony record without Keith because it wouldn't have worked.
MU: How did you end up settling on Whitfield Crane as his replacement?
AR: We put an ad in the back of "The Aquarian Weekly" looking for a new singer - which ironically had a picture on the cover of the band with Keith that week! (Soul Searching had just come out.) We received a ton of packages from singers in the area. We auditioned about 10 guys - none of them could hit the notes on 'River Runs Red.' Some of the guys were real cool and big fans, but Whit flew in from L.A. and hit the notes. He was confident and had experience in front of large crowds. We had already confirmed a Megadeth tour when Keith was still in the band so our time was limited to find a replacement. It seemed like it would work at the time. We toured with him for about a year. We did some big stuff like Ozzfest '98 with System of a Down and Incubus, 2 tours with Megadeth, 1 tour with Anthrax and a bunch of stuff in Europe together. When it came down to writing new material we knew it wouldn't work.
MU: What do you remember about the tour with Megadeth and the second-stage Ozzfest tour you did with Whitfield Crane as vocalist? How did the fans react?
AR: Whit was a good frontman. He always got the crowd going. He didn't know the lyrics that well so he asked me to make him cue cards on big sheets of paper. He laid them all over the stage. It must have been pretty funny if you were watching from the balcony! He had a blast on Ozzfest. He made a lot of friends with the other bands and ended up in a band with Logan from Soulfly/Machine Head when we parted ways.
MU: Why did you then decide to call it a day as a band?
AR: The new material with Whitfield on vocals sounded more like Ugly Kid Joe than LOA. That's when we knew it was pretty much the end.
MU: What is Whitfield Crane up to now? Have you spoken with him about the reunion?
AR: We speak every now and then. The last time he called me was when Dime was murdered. We were making our 'Broken Valley' record in L.A. at the time. He heard about the reunion and was sincerely happy for us. We always got along well and it's always good to hear from him. He's a nut.
MU: Did you notice any bands you thought were influenced by Life of Agony over the years since the breakup and before the reunion?
AR: I know a few bands have mentioned in interviews that LOA influenced them like Drowning Pool and Disturbed and I hear it in some other bands as well. It's pretty cool to know that we made an impact on other musicians. Especially when the other musicians have sold 10 times more records than we ever did!
MU: What did you think of the various other projects former LOA band members were involved with through the years?
AR: I thought they were all solid bands. Supermassiv (Sal's band) had some really cool songs; Stereomud (Joey's band) was tight and totally pro. Everyone involved were solid players and they had a good run on Columbia. I always loved Keith's solo stuff, especially 'Died Laughing.' Right now I design and maintain his solo website http://www.keithcaputo.com. My band Among Thieves released two albums in Japan that we recorded independently. We had difficulty landing the right deal in the States so we decided to end it. It was a great learning experience for me and kept my chops up as a bassist and songwriter in between LOA stints.
MU: How did the reunion ultimately come about?
AR: Metal Edge Magazine wanted us to perform as surprise guests on their 2003 New Year's Eve bash in NYC. The show ended up falling apart but we decided to do our own NYC show. Irving Plaza sold out in less than 20 minutes so we added another night, which sold out just as quickly. We ended up filming and recording both nights for what became "River Runs Again: Live 2003" double live CD/DVD on SPV Records.
MU: Who created the set list for the original reunion shows?
AR: We all decided on the songs together.
MU: How did you pick the songs you are playing on tour now?
AR: We try and play a good mix of old and new material. There's a lot of 'Rivers' stuff and a bunch of 'Broken Valley' songs in there mixed with a few from the other 2 albums.
MU: Do you think old-school fans of LOA are more pumped-up to hear certain songs rather than others? Are people generally clamoring for 'River Runs Red' material, for example?
AR: It all depends where you go. We've gotten great reactions to new songs like "Love To Let You Down" all over the country because kids have been hearing it lately on the radio or have seen the video on Headbanger's Ball or FUSE. Sure, in NYC/east coast you're gonna get the die-hard 'Rivers' fans but overall, in the rest of the country it's different. Even "Weeds" from SSS is pretty popular in some places.
MU: With the rise/success of metalcore and hardcore today, did you feel pressure to make a really heavy, punishingly brutal album or to otherwise "return to the 'River Runs Red' sound" with this new studio album?
AR: Not at all. We have never followed trends and aren't interested in starting now. We never cared about fitting into popular music. We never want our music to sound dated. We have a lot of older musical influences like Led Zep, Sabbath and Floyd - all timeless bands. You can hear Sabbath influences on the new album on tracks like "Junk Sick" and "The Calm That Disturbs You", and Zep influences on the title track "Broken Valley."
MU: What are the expectations for this release? Massive commercial success? Radio airplay? Lots of new fans? Or simply satiated old fans who have long-clamored for new material?
AR: We really have no expectations. The business is so unpredictable these days it would be silly to think you're going to be the next big thing. If we happen to have great success with this album it will give us the opportunity to keep doing what we're doing on our own terms. We're just interested in being true to ourselves and our fans and trying to spread our message to as many people that will listen. We will continue to tour and support this record with all the passion that we put into making it.
MU: I've always liked the different versions of songs you do. Give us your thoughts on recording or performing multiple versions of the same song. Do you prefer the mellow "Let's Pretend" or the heavier version?
AR: Different versions of songs can be cool. We're working on a few acoustic versions of some of the newer songs like "Love to Let You Down" right now.
MU: Is Life of Agony a metal band? A hardcore band? A rock band? An amalgam of the three?
AR: I think there are elements of all three categories in Life of Agony. On 'Rivers' we were always considered a hardcore band because we toured with a lot of hardcore type bands, but we always were a bit different. We always incorporated a lot of melody in the music and vocals while hardcore bands generally had screamers. There are a lot of metal type riffs in the older material especially. Over the years I think we added more of a hard rock feel.
MU: This interview is for the Metal Update. Do you like metal? What are some of your favorite metal bands? What old-school bands do you like? What newer metal acts do you like?
AR: I grew up on metal. The reason I picked up an instrument in the first place was because I heard Metallica's 'Master of Puppets'. I had two cassettes that never left my walkman - Slayer 'Reign in Blood' and Metallica's 'Master.' I also loved hardcore growing up like Cro-Mags and Sick of it All. New metal bands that I love are Bloodsimple - those guys are great friends of ours and everyone should go pick up their new record.
MU: I've heard rumors that LOA will appear on the second stage of the Gigantour. Is this true? If so, how do you feel about performing with Megadeth? Dream Theater? Dillinger Escape Plan? Nevermore?
AR: We're psyched to headline the second stage on GIGANTOUR! It's gonna be a great tour with some great bands. We were honored that Dave Mustaine asked us to be part of it.
MU: Was there ever talk of LOA doing Ozzfest 2005?
AR: Not really.
MU: Tell us about the tour opening for Mudvayne? Did the audience get LOA? Was it weird to be the opener?
AR: The Mudvayne crowd was very young for the most part and to them we were a brand new band. It was definitely a challenge to win them over but I think we made a lot of new fans on that tour.
MU: Tell us how the death of the guitar player for American Head Charge affected you and the rest of the tour.
AR: It was a sad, horrific day. We weren't that close or anything, we were only about 2 weeks into the tour, but it still affected everyone on the tour everyday that followed. We watched them take his body off the tour bus. I don't think I'll ever get that image out of my brain. It really was a shame.
LIFE OF AGONY
Review of Broken Valley
Review of River Runs Again: Live 2003
Review of River Runs Again: Live 2003 DVD
Review of River Runs Red Again 2003 Reunion Concert
Review of Keith Caputo in Concert
Review of 1989-1999
Review of Unplugged at the Lowlands Festival '97
Review of Ugly
Review of River Runs Red
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