Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Metal's Trans Maiden: Mina Caputo on Sex, Drugs & Survival

Photo courtesy of Freeman Promotions 

As anyone who’s ever attempted to establish a long-lasting career in the music business will tell you, finding the right combination of musicians for a band is a daunting task. Although different incarnations of New York legends Life of Agony have existed over the years, no one can deny that true magic occurs whenever the classic lineup of singer Mina Caputo, guitarist Joey Z, bassist Alan Robert and drummer Sal Abruscato (A Pale Horse Called Death/Type O Negative) convenes in a recording studio. Released last month, the extraordinary A Place Where There's No More Pain is the band’s first album since 2005’s Broken Valley and their debut release on venerable Metal/Hard Rock label Napalm Records.

A lot has happened to Life of Agony since they first appeared in the then-thriving New York underground Hardcore/Metal scene in the late 80s. Referred to by many back then as “Biohazard with keyboards” thanks to early demo recordings like 1991’s brilliant The Stain Remains, the band elevated their unique sound to new heights with 1993’s River Runs Red, a undisputed classic that is still as intense and innovative as it was nearly a quarter century ago. Since then, they’ve gone through personnel bust-ups (including a short stint with Ugly Kid Joe’s Whitfield Crane replacing Caputo), extended hiatuses and – perhaps most notable of all – the 2011 announcement by Caputo, who was once known to world as Keith, that she was now living as a woman named Mina. While Life of Agony have experienced more than a few internal twists and turns over the years, A Place Where There's No More Pain proves that the group’s creative output remains strong after nearly three decades.

Late last month, longtime Life of Agony fans in Boston were treated to the live debut of the new album’s title track as well as another new tune, “World Gone Mad.” The sold-out show and playful onstage banter (which included Caputo jokingly introducing 1993’s “Lost at 22” as “Lost at 42”) made it clear that this was a band meant to survive.

As you might imagine, chatting with Mina Caputo is an experience as intense as listening to one of her albums with Life of Agony. It didn’t take much prompting on this end to get her to really speak her mind on topics ranging from downloading to drugs to how society has evolved in its acceptance and understanding of transgender people. With the exception of a few very minor edits for space/clarity, what follows is our conversation as it happened last month – tangents and all. My deepest respect to Mina for her candor – a true rarity in a world where pre-packaged/pre-rehearsed press interviews are far too often the norm.

I’m originally from New Jersey; I was around that New Jersey/New York scene in the late ’80s/early ’90s and remember when The Stain Remains came out. You’ve been around a long time now. You have the new record out, and you’ve been a functioning band again for a while now -

(Laughs) Sort of!

Well, at least you’re putting out records, right?

Yeah, and at least it’s quality work. It ain’t no piece-of-shit record; it’s probably the best record we’ve done together in our entire lives, thanks to all the life experience that we’ve had individually and of course collectively. That’s my opinion, anyway. I have the best taste in music, so I don’t believe anyone else! (laughs)

How would you describe the general mindset and relationship within the band now? How do you think that is reflected on this new record?

Obviously, we’re all getting older. The things you used to take very seriously when you were in your twenties and thirties are things you don’t really take so seriously when you’re in your forties. You can look back and laugh at all the worrying you did or arguing or all the fun you took away from yourself and all the bullshit that comes with Western culture. I think the band has been in a very empowered place or playground – very light. We’re trying to just not really give a fuck and have a good time. We’re not really putting so much effort into the machine. We’re saying no to a lot of things and really being selective of where we want to be, who we want to play with and where we want to travel to. We’re doing things our way; we fired everyone. The band is very close-knit now; we’ve weaved our way to the center of this machine in a sense - instead of everyone else being around us, making money off of us, robbing us, everyone who works for the band having their own personal agenda... All that’s gone. We’re just fuckin’ having fun; we’re just not taking life, music, this band or any of this seriously. If it happens for us, it happens for us; if we attain a new level of impact in the industry, and our contribution has more impact than what we’ve already done for our genre or whatever – or genres, because this band’s, you know… They call us Metal or Hardcore or this or that, but those are just soulless approaches to categorizing a band that’s so much bigger than all of these puny subdivision categories. We don’t fit in anywhere, and we know that. That being said, we constantly fucking threw down. We’re in a great spot; we’re arguing about cool things and things that makes sense – not even arguing, but just discussing. We just want to have a good time.

The boys are very much into their families and their kids. We’re focused on different things, and that allowed us, I think, to write the record that we actually wrote, rather than feeling the ball and chain and shackle of, ‘Who from the label wants to dive into the artistic preparation for the album?We were like, ‘Yo, we’ll do this [record] deal, and the most important clause for us would be that nobody steps into the creative process. Not even a fucking demo will be leaked.’ That’s the way we approached it, and we pretty much blocked out the label; we blocked out everyone – booking agent, management. We fuckin’ did our thing. We went to several different kinds of studios; we file-shared and did everything we could to make the songs the best that they possibly could be. I basically sang the record twice in a way, because I demoed everything first just to show the boys how alive these songs could get… Then, we would pick it apart from there – ‘Ah, that verse ain’t that strong; let’s go for a different one,’ or Al will send me lyrics or a chorus [and say], ‘Can you try this maybe, or combine the two?’ We’re very open; we have a good time. We were very detached from the creative process; we had no personal ideas or agendas. It was just like, ‘Yo, let’s really collectively hone in on this and do this and try to make the best possible record we can.’

I think some of the guys were jaded from the whole Broken Valley era as well – with Epic Records and the nightmare we went through with that dick, and the bullshit, the lies and all the money being spent in all the wrong different directions. It’s just a fucking headache with all these fucking people. People just don’t realize the depth; if they did, they wouldn’t steal music.

Yeah, you’re absolutely right! I’m 100 percent behind you on that one.

Absolutely, man! I’m fucking hate that; I’m sorry. I’ve never downloaded a fucking CD to this day, man. I fucking buy music, I buy movies and I support my fucking creative people, even though I don’t know them. And even if I did see a movie that I shouldn’t have [online], I’ll go fucking to the movie theatre and go see it. I saw The Revenant before it was out in the theatre, and this one and that one, but I went out to the theatre and spent my money on the arts anyway. I don’t want free shit. My boy [Howie Abrams] just wrote the fuckin’ H.R. book [Finding Joseph I: An Oral History of H.R. from Bad Brains], and I’m signed to the publishing company because I’m doing my own book. I’m just like ‘Motherfucker, I’m going out to buy your book! I don’t want a free copy.’ You know what I mean? You fucking buy three coffees for $20; you can’t buy a fucking album?

Well, look, I get electronic files of your record and everybody else’s record sent to me all the time, but I’ll go out and buy the hard copy if I really like it. That’s always been the way it’s been.

A lot of people don’t behave that way. They’re fucking just…A lot of people got the ‘gimme gimme gimme’ attitude in this life and in this world, and that’s why culture isn’t really our friend in a sense. You’ve got too many people who just need attitude adjustments. They just need a little alignment adjustment to get them back on an empowering road rather than a fear-based, ‘let me think what everybody else is thinking in the world’ kinda approach to life. There’s no unique, authentic, rare mind... It’s hard to come across that and a real creative individual in this culture.

How would you say societys ability to embrace the transgender reality has evolved over the years?

When I was growing up, Atari was our Mac. I grew up in a very different time. I already knew that we had this umbrella title called ‘transgender woman’ or ‘transsexual’ or whatever you want to call us...We’re a different kind of human being, and there aren’t just two [genders]; it’s just part of the farce of the institutions that are set in place for humanity to think. There’s tons of different kinds of human life on the planet, just like there’s hundreds of thousands of plant species. Just like there’s hundreds of thousands of amphibian, reptilian and bird species and mammals. Human beings aren’t just male and female; it doesn’t work like that. You need to fuckin’ open your mind. And I do think as time evolves, more and more people really don’t care. Everyone’s got their own story. I think everyone puts too much emphasis on what everyone else is thinking rather than what they should be thinking and making their own personal changes. Change starts from within; change starts from inside your own self. I wanted to see more people like me walking the planet, so what did I do 10 years ago? I had to come out, because it got to a half-hearted suicidal point where I was doing crazy fuckin’ drugs – heroin, coke – for weekends and weeks at a time, hoping to die at 25 because I couldn’t bear to live as a man because I knew I wasn’t. The soul, the consciousness – it’s alive; it’s big, even though science, the church and religion try to deny this stuff. All these institutions fighting against nature. That’s what they’re all designed to do – take your own nature away from you. But I do believe that progress is being made; we’re definitely in a safer environment than when I was growing up in the late ’70s and early ’80s. I couldn’t have come out; my grandfather would have put a bullet in my fucking head. My grandmother knew, but we couldn’t tell the family because my grandfather would have literally murdered me. He was a racist, he was homophobic and he was transphobic – he fucking hated himself. He beat the shit out of me and his wife my entire childhood – in fact, I never even had a fucking childhood. It was mothering my junkie father my entire fucking life. I always had that motherly instinct, hence why my wings needed to spread.

I think progress definitely has been made, but there’s still a lot of work to be done. I still think a lot of people are not afraid of people like me; what they’re really afraid of are their private selves. They can’t look at themselves in the mirror – they can’t enjoy themselves, they can’t enjoy their bodies, they can’t enjoy their sex, they can’t enjoy anything about themselves. They try every fucking minute to not look in the mirror... Transsexuals, gay people – we’re the most creative, open, empowered, giving, sentimental, loving and compassionate people on the fucking planet. But then you’ve got all these other motherfuckers who are running the fuckin’ planet trying to make rules, regulations and laws on why and how you shouldn’t be transsexual or gay – or you shouldn’t do this or shouldn’t do that. They’re telling you, ‘No, no, no, no, no!’ but meanwhile all these politicians and priests are all getting their hands dirty with little children and child trafficking and pedophilia. The world’s run by quote-unquote ‘faggots’ and transsexuals, okay? That’s the big fucking thing – the jig is up. Everyone needs to wake the fuck up.

I appreciate you sharing that.

Well, it’s my truth. It’s how I perceive my world. But there are seven billion people out there with seven billion fucking realities, you know? Also too, hon, listen…Not one neurologist brain doctor or fucking scholar – I don’t give a fuck if you have the heart, mind and scholarship of the Dalai Lama, nobody could map out, or precisely or sentimentally just explain neurologically, what goes on in our biochemistry for a genetic female to change her gender into a male and vice versa. Isn’t it funny how male-to-females are sensationalized in our Western culture and how female-to-male transsexuals or transgender men aren’t even talked about in the fuckin’ news at all? Everyone’s obsessed with the penis, okay? Everyone’s obsessed with the phallus. Bombs are made in the shapes of penises. That’s what we’re dealing with – penis fucking envy from politically ignorant, fuckin’ fear-based, power-hungry megalomaniac fucking monsters that are fucking running this planet into oblivion, basically. No one could explain the chaos of nature; let me put it to you that way. There are many fish [and] there are many insects and plant species that go from male to female to female to male later on in their lives. The clownfish does it; the male seahorse fertilizes himself and takes care of the young. If that’s not an homage to femininity and nature, I don’t know what is. Again, there are institutions designed to take the human being away from its own nature – especially religion, the fucking institution that claims love. Mankind’s been searching for this idea of God, but it’s all bullshit; it’s just another candy store, and people can’t see through the candy that they’re selling.

Basically, that’s what it is, hon; it’s very simple. Once you’ve lived years and you’ve taken the right drugs and expanded your mind and understand the whole scheme of things – and they’re not even drugs; I'm talking about marijuana or DMT or iowaska or the magic mushroom... Notice how even what they label as drugs are basically nature that expands consciousness? The reason why all these quote-unquote ‘drugs’ are on the list of Schedule 1 drugs above alcohol and cocaine is because they’re boundary-dissolvers. They open up consciousness; they open up the heart to love. 

You can see more art, more creation, more mathematics, more science and more astrology in the four hours that you’re laying on the middle of your floor tripping out…You can see more art and love in four hours than has been created in the past one million fuckin’ years. The authorities, the drug companies…please; they’re putting poison over the counter…These institutions are designed to create fear, separation, division…It’s exactly what’s going. Even part of the whole gender thing. Who the fuck are you to tell me about my own sovereign right and my own fuckin’ body, mind and soul? Who the fuck are you to tell me how I should experience my experience? That’s what they’re doing – from the stupid fuckin’ bathroom laws to whatever. It’s a fuckin’ joke, and it’s all designed to take man- and-womankind away from their own nature.

Photo courtesy of Freeman Promotions

EMAIL JOEL at gaustenbooks@gmail.com

Thursday, May 18, 2017

REVIEW - Roger Ebner: New World

Photo source: www.rogerebner.com 

Chicago-based multi-instrumentalist Roger Ebner is one of the quietest and most unassuming cats you’ll ever meet - until you let your guard down and he hits you over the head with an aural sledgehammer.

An avid musician for more than four decades, Ebner was one of the 30-plus musicians who comprised the “25th Anniversary” lineup of Pigface that brought magic and madness to audiences at Reggie’s and the House of Blues in Chicago last Black Friday and Thanksgiving. As seen below, his contributions to this most recent incarnation of the infamous revolving-door musical maelstrom ranged from the incendiary (the show-opening “Insemination”) to the serene (the transcendental “Closer To Heaven”). At times, his saxophone wails were just as powerful as the multitude of drummers keeping the beat throughout the proceedings.

Ebner’s participation in the Pigface circus was not just an opportunity to explore sound with a few dozen new friends; for him, stepping on stage for those two nights meant overcoming an obstacle that once threatened to destroy his life.

After suffering from a mysterious physical ailment that robbed him of his ability to play music for several years, Ebner was finally diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 2010. After a few months of proper medication and therapy, he slowly regained his ability to play saxophone (his primary instrument). Ebner’s extensive post-therapy musical output includes the fourth album by his long-running band Yeti Rain (Stars Fall Darkly), the Irresolution album by the Progressive Improv project Ebner/Kopecky/Walkner/Blake and collaborations with Chicago House DJs on the Pool House and Aathee labels. Along the way, he started Music For Movement, an entity founded to raise awareness and funding for Parkinson’s research. Most recently, WGN-TV hosted the below segment on Ebner as part of its Living Healthy Chicago series:

With a portion of the profits from its sale going directly to the cause, Ebner’s latest release, the six-song New World, is an extraordinary statement on the healing power of music and one man’s willingness to pour his passions, struggles and successes into song. Ambient and often quite relaxing, New World easily fits in more with the World music-driven Bill Laswell/M.O.D. Technologies camp (or the less abrasive side of the RareNoise Records stable) than with the typical aggression of Pigface. He is joined on the recording by guests Joe and William Kopecky (both of the Wisconsin-based group of the same name) and percussionists Craig Walkner (Yeti Rain/Fringe Character/Bascom Hill/Far Corner/Snarling Adjective Convention) and Dimitar Dimitrov (who credits include the Black Metal project Haiku Funeral with William Kopecky and the equally dark Corpus Diavolis).

Considering Ebner’s connections to the Chicago House/Industrial world, it’s little surprise that the excellent “Redline” (featuring Joe Kopecky on guitar) effortlessly mixes his Jazzy sax with a Wax Trax!-flavored electronic pulse. Exceptional (and often dirge-like) guitar work from Joe Kopecky, bass playing by William Kopecky (also of Yeti Rain) and percussion from Walkner and Dimitrov add considerable power to “As The Sun Rises” as it grows in intensity over seven minutes, while William Kopecky adds his low-end skills to the equally percussion-driven “Walkabout.”

New World’s finest moment, “Louise,” finds a completely solo Ebner delivering the same kind of Jazzy, smoke-filled-room-at-3am vibe you’d expect to hear on a really good Bad Seeds song, while a soothing piano/keyboard mix (augmented by some fantastic wind synth) drives the one-man-band title track. Ebner also completely oversees the exquisite “Morocco Night,” a nine-minute number highlighted by Eno-esque ambience and tasteful percussion.

One of the magical things about the Pigface experience is that there are literally dozens (hell, hundreds) of individuals involved who have their own unique stories to tell and musical gifts to share. Roger Ebner is among the best of the lot, and New World serves as a brilliant introduction to what he has to offer.   

New World is available at Roger Ebner’s official website.

EMAIL JOEL at gaustenbooks@gmail.com