Since their incendiary debut album River Runs Red debuted dropped, way back in 1993, Brooklyn’s Life Of Agony, despite many well documented problems, have been a staple in the metal scene ever since. They’ve just released their most accomplished work to date with A Place Where There’s No More Pain and are feeling re-focused and re-energized. Mass Movement spoke to bass player Alan Robert in his New York home.
Interview by Chris Andrews
MM: Hey Alan, how are you?
AR: Real good man
MM: So where you at the moment?
AR: I’m in New York. I came back this week, for the record release.
MM: Okay, so it’s good to have you guys back, how does it feel to back and in the studio again?
AR: Well it feels like, even though we have had a couple of years on hiatus, it feels normal to us. It feels good to have something brand new and and after Broken Valley I never thought that we would do it again, you know, we had such a terrible experience signing to a major label. The old cliché.
MM: Yeah that’s right, I mean you guys practically broke up after Broken Valley right?
AR: We really took a big kick to the gut with that,
MM: Yeah, I heard there were problems…
AR: We had a lot of hopes, we were finally being recognised by a seasoned company that was going to invest in us and for the most part and on paper, uh it seemed like things were going great ya know, we got to work with Greg Fidelman producer, who did Metallica and Slipknot and lots of other great artists. We recorded in one of the most famous studios in L.A in Sunset Sounds, where Led Zeppelin and loads of legendary bands recorded.
MM: That’s very cool…
AR: We did pre-production in Hangman House with Scott Baylor who’s a great guy, so on paper, it looked like everything was going to work out fine, but it turned out the label didn’t put a lot of faith in us and they kinda wanted to mould us into a radio rock band.
MM.I heard that, I mean that’s not you guys at all…
AR: That’s right, I mean it was constant distractions throughout the whole process, they tried to micro-manage us, so that kinda put a lot of pressure on us and then ultimately, the thing that wasn’t in our control was Sony released the record with illegal spyware on it. I’m not sure if you aware of that.
MM: No, I didn’t know that, really?
AR: Yeah and 3 months after the record came out all of them were pulled off the shelves because in the States, customer filed a lawsuit against Sony, because they released about 12 different artists with that spyware on it and they ended up pulling thousands of records off the shelves as part of the settlement.
MM: Wow, that’s unbelievable. Crazy stuff!
AR: Yeah, we had spent a year and a half writing and recording this record, just for it not to be available
MM: So given all those issues you had with the last record, do you feel that the band are in a better place now then and are you looking to sustain the band for longer this time, get some momentum going?
AR: Yeah definitely. There’s a world of difference to where we were in 2005 and also 2005 was a different time in all our lives and obviously Mina has come out since and she’s in such a better mental state. She’s such a positive human being and just completely fearless and you can see it on stage and you can hear it the new tracks.
MM: Were you surprised by the positive energy that surrounded the band when Mina came out, because some of the crowd responses you got in the States after that, were incredible…
AR: Yeah definitely, you know from watching my old friend Keith kind of cower behind the microphone on stage and not really be that front person, and not like that role really, such an introspective person you know. But once Mina came out and there’s nothing left to hide, she’s just in everyone’s faces with full on intensity and emotion, you know, she wears her heart on her sleeve and is just very honest, it’s such a, as a long-time friend, one of my closest friends, just to see that emotion is so empowering,
MM: I imagine it must be..
AR: So when we started doing shows again in 2013, you know she came out in 2011, it took us a couple of years to kinda re-group and just process the whole thing, it’s such a huge announcement you know, so by 2013 we were on the same page again and willing to put ourselves out there, with Mina fronting the band and it’s just been this upward climb to where we are today.
MM: So was Mina coming out part of what motivated you guys to get back together then?
AR: Absolutely yeah, it was just an overwhelming positive embrace to how powerful her story is, who she is, her enthusiasm to be in this band, which I think is more so now than ever before, and I think she just needed to get over that personal hurdle and to come clean with all of us for her to be herself. And that’s just that, I think if if a lot of people could just be more honest with themselves, we would have a happier planet. So since 2013, it’s just been a natural progression of doing things that make us have fun and really having a hands on approach. We got rid of all our entourage that we used to travel with to tour, it’s really just the band now and a driver, it’s a lot more intimate, a lot more punk rock, when we are playing now, you’ll see me setting up my own pedals.
MM: I see so back to basics then?
AR: Yeah, back to what we enjoy doing. We all have a strong work ethic you know, maybe coming from Brooklyn, you know, that’s the stuff that makes me smile now. There’s no hiding behind the curtain so to speak, we play down n’ dirty hard rock and that’s it. It’s just very real.
MM: So you’ve been the main lyricist on previous albums. Is that the case on this album?
AR: Yeah we definitely collaborated-the whole album is a collaboration, but for the most part of I wrote a tremendous amount of lyrics for this record and Mina contributed lyrics, even when sometimes I come up with lyrics and melodies for a song, sometimes those melodies don’t work out for whatever reason and I’ll hand off a set of lyrics to Mina and she’ll write her own melodies to the words that I wrote. Lots of different ways each song came together.
MM: Is that the way Life of Agony has always written, or was it different this time?
AR: It’s just been an evolution. For River Runs Red I wrote all the lyrics, Ugly Mina started to write very personal songs like Let’s Pretend, How It Would Be, but typically I wrote the rest of the lyrics on Ugly and then with Soul Searching Sun, we really started to collaborate, so it’s been a growing evolution and now we are at the point where it’s really about all 4 band members loving every moment of every song, every note, every word. And so that’s not something we’ve done before, there have been songs in the past that made it onto an album even though you might have one member kinda on the fence about it. So basically before we starting writing this record, we agreed that everybody had to be 100% thumbs up, otherwise it didn’t make it to the record, we had a bunch of other material that was submitted between the 4 of us, that we would weed out, just based on it not getting the universal thumbs up from everybody in the band and that made the material that much stronger I think. Because we became our own worst critic and every part had to be just as good as the one next to it and it pushed every part to its full potential.
MM: So going back to the beginning of Life of Agony, I wanted to ask you about you came out of the New York Scene and you were featured on the East Coast Assault Compilation. I always felt that you offered something different to that scene as did Biohazard. Did you feel that you were a part of the New York Hardcore scene?
AR: Well we’ve got a lot of friends in the New York Hardcore scene and we would always, as fans of the scene, we would always go to the shows and I think, especially early on, we were part of a lot of hardcore-and I use that word hardcore in quotes, because I think our generation was a little bit after what I consider real New York Hardcore
MM.The mid to late 80’s NYHC scene. Was that your generation?
AR: Yeah, well we first performed in 1989, so I think we just missed it, so we were like the new kids on the block, know what I mean?
MM: Yeah, you just missed the golden age by a couple of years.
AR: But there were a lot of bands that we played with, that were considered to be New York Hardcore like Merauder etc, so we would play on those bills, because those were the only kind of bills that were offered. There wasn’t a big metal scene in New York, it was mainly hardcore, but I think the hardcore in the generation we were a part of, was more metal influenced, more metallic sounding guitars than Youth of Today had and we were heavily into Carnivore and Type O Negative
MM: Didn’t Joey (LOA guitarist) play with Carnivore when they reformed briefly?
AR: Yeah that’s right and we had a lot of other types of influences like The Misfits and that kinda stuff. So sure we started it out in the scene because that was the scene that was established and even though we evolved, even by River Runs Red, you listen to that, it doesn’t sound like a hardcore album. There are some elements and I think that the biggest element even to this day and that has its roots in hardcore, is the honesty and the message behind the lyrics. But as far as the sound, I think we evolved into some kind of metal crossover hard rock band, more so than a hardcore band.
MM: Well my way of giving somebody an overview of Life of Agony, is to have them listen to track 5 from every album. You can hear the changes in the style and sound (Through and Through/Lets Pretend/My Mind is Dangerous. How would you sum up Life of Agony to a new listener?
AR: Ha-ha honestly, a real hard rock band with honest emotion.
MM:You also keep yourself busy with other things, including Spolier NYC, which I’m a fan of…
AR: Oh cool
MM: Any plans to record with any side projects?
AR: Well I spend a lot of my down time drawing these days…
MM: Yeah, I’ve seen some of your work. It’s really good stuff…
AR: Thanks, so the last few years I’ve been writing and illustrating graphic novels since 2009 pretty actively, including a series with IDW Publishing.
MM: I’d read about a possible collaboration with Doyle from the Misfits. Is that right?
AR: Yeah, I put him in as a character in one of my books called Killogy and Marky Ramone was in it too. Actually if you go to Killogy we did a 6 minute animation based on the comic book using all their own voices
MM: I’ll have to check that out. What about the colouring books, any plans to do anymore?
AR: Oh those are going phenomenally well, they’ve sold more than my comic books… Became a number 1 best seller last year and I’m working on number 2 now and that should be out around September.
MM: Excellent! What is your favourite Life of Agony song to play live?
AR: Probably Through and Through because I start the riff, ha-ha. Always a big moment when I start that.
MM: In my experience, that’s always the track that ignites the pit…
AR: Ha-ha, yeah, you know it’s gonna come. Always fun. But we’ve been practicing the new stuff to add to the set and I’m really excited to play the new stuff live, especially World Gone Mad, which has so much energy to it and also the video for that was released today.
MM: So finally back to the new album, it’s getting lots of positive reviews, are you happy with how it’s turned out?
AR: Well it’s the first time I can listen to one of our records, as a fan. For the first time in a long time we’ve done everything involved with this record on our terms. The label, completely left us alone and let us do our thing, they didn’t get in the way. They didn’t even ask for demo material. The first time Napalm heard this record, was when it was complete and I give them a lot of credit for having that much faith in us and trusting us to deliver a kick ass Life of Agony record. It’s a big deal you know, artists need their creative freedom, to make this stuff happen.
A Place Where There’s No More Pain is out now.