Life of Agony are alternative music legends. An impressive career sprawling over twenty five years, they have broken barriers and left their mark not only on metal, but on music. In April 2017, I got to speak to bassist and founding member Alan Robert about the band’s latest album, A Place Where There Is No Pain, their career and influences; as well as Alan’s work with graphic novels and upcoming tours.
Jack: Alan, how is everything going on with Life of Agony at the moment?
Alan Robert (Bass): Really great, we’re very excited about the record and the feedback we’ve gotten has been fantastic. We have a new video out soon for World Gone Mad so we’re excited about all the momentum building.
Jack: A Place Where There’s No More Pain came out at the end of April, how does it feel to be releasing your first album for 12 years?
Alan: It’s exciting man. I never thought 12 years ago we’d even be talking about something like this. When we put out the Broken Valley record in 2005, it was our first major label experience and it was not a good one, very stifling.
This time around we had complete creative control over the album, Napalm Records had full faith in us that we’d deliver a true Life of Agony album with all of the components that make a Life of Agony album; the heavy grooves, the emotional lyrics, the dark feeling and underlying sense of hope, and I think we were able to accomplish that without any distractions.
When we signed the deal with Napalm, they didn’t require us to submit any demo material, in fact they didn’t hear one note until the album was completely mastered and delivered. So I think that says a lot about them and their faith in the band and us, having the ability to be true artists and to lose ourselves in the record and the whole creative process.
Jack: Speaking of the creative process, was it strange getting back into the process after twelve years’ time? Did you feel any pressure given your big legacy?
Alan: Well, I think we had a certain standard for ourselves and we had a lot of conversations leading up to even writing a new song together about the type of record we wanted to make, the intensity we needed to have, the sonic bigness and getting back to some of the heavier material and style of writing. Going down to even the specific things such as what type of tuning we’d write this record in and Sal [Abruscato, Drums] had a great suggestion of a new tuning, something we’ve never done any of our songs in and that inspired us to go down this path of writing in the same mindset.
I think the communication was the most open on this album compared to other albums, we were able to share ideas and be honest with each other when we felt a song could be better and really for the first time not settle on anything. We had one rule with this record, if anyone was not 100% with all the parts then it wouldn’t be used and that was a great way to go about it as no one had any regrets. I think in the past in a way we compromised ourselves a bit to just keep the peace in the group, even when we thought maybe parts could be better or songs could be better, we didn’t criticise each other so much.
I don’t think we were mature enough back then to be open to that internal criticism. This time we pushed each other to the limit and we didn’t really have an outside producer to put their own spin on things. We brought in Matt Brown, a great, fantastic engineer and a good friend of ours to help produce this album with us. He’s known the band since we were kids; so we’ve had a lot of faith in him to be able to capture the types of performances we wanted to make. But we had a more comfortable experience as we already knew him, we knew his abilities, we trusted him so this was a very hands on record for us.
Jack: Was it a hard recording process at times given the personal nature of Mina Caputo’s lyrics?
Alan: Well, actually, I contributed a lot of lyrics to this album like I have in the past, some of the songs we worked on closely together. I think the dynamic of the songwriting was really about everybody contributing the most they can and the pieces that were submitted that everyone responded to were worked on and it was as simple as that. There was plenty of songs I had submitted to the group that one or two of the members were like “what else you got?” if they weren’t inspired by that. It was about pushing each other to make the best album we could together and not getting so personally attached to certain ideas and being open, changing things and seeing where we go.
Jack: Would you say there is a theme to the album at all?
Alan: I kinda do, looking at it now that it’s all complete; I think there is this theme of struggling to overcome obstacles and this search for peace in your own art. I think that’s the common thread that ties a lot of these songs together and that goes back to the message of this band from the beginning. Really, it’s been a cathartic experience to write these songs on a very personal level and to have listeners all around the world to relate to these feelings; listen to the music and get them through some really dark times and personal struggles and finally when we are in the same room together, or a festival stage or wherever we’re playing. You can see with your own eyes and feel all around you the energy of this positive release from the band, feeding off the fans and likewise. There’s no barriers between this band and it’s listeners and that connection is what has given us this longevity for these decades.
Jack: When writing and recording this album, did you look to any bands for inspiration?
Alan: I think we all fall back on the things that we grew up listening to, the old masters such as Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, even a lot of the grunge artists, you know, Alice in Chains and Soundgarden and things that just inspired us on the way. I think that those bands and those ideas are kind of in our DNA, the stuff that inspired us to pick up instruments in the first place and that those stuff stays with you, you know.
Jack: How would you say it’s different to your previous material?
Alan: It was a completely different experience writing and recording it in 2016 versus back in the day where we would lock ourselves in a room and bounce ideas around in a rehearsal space. This was more done through technology. We would write ideas, record them on our own demos and send them over email and give each other the space to listen to the ideas a little bit more formed. It gave us the ability to sit and listen to each others’ ideas in a safe environment and then be able to say “hey, I love that idea” or “hey, I think it could be a bit better, why can’t we try it like this”.
So, a lot of it was trading files over email, for us being a little bit older, a bit more seasoned musicians, we’ve all produced are our own albums outside of Life of Agony. Everyone is very comfortable recording demos on our own, that was the way that made the most sense for us this time round and it worked out great. We were also a lot more open with each other about which ideas we liked and which ideas could be more developed.
Jack: The finale of the album, ‘Little Spots of You’, is very different to the rest of the album, what inspired it?
Alan: We really wanted it to write a funeral march outro for this record and she (Mina – vocalist) had this theme, a friend of hers was a cutter and she wanted to write lyrics about that and I think it’s a great ending for the record because the whole record has so much energy and that’s a great track to let you down and ease out of the experience. I think it’s a great final note.
Jack: Has any of the new material been played live yet, if so how has it gone down?
Alan: Yeah in fact on the last European tour we tried one track called ‘Dead Speak Kindly’, and it got a fantastic response every night, it’s one of the more slower, heavier, sluggish songs on the record and it made a really good impact last time. We’ll be playing more when we come back out in May.
Jack: Did you ever imagine Life of Agony would have been around for more than twenty five years, and achieved the success you have?
Alan: Honestly no, if you told me back then that we’d be putting out a new record in 2017 I would have laughed. It’s really hard to imagine doing anything for this long. We’ve actually been a part of this band longer than we haven’t been at this point. It’s amazing and we are really grateful to have the opportunity to keep doing something that we love and that helps so many people in life.
Jack: You’ve do so many amazing things such as touring with Sabbath, Ozzy, Megadeth and playing with so many other amazing bands. What’s your proudest achievement?
Alan: I think coming back out on stage with Mina fronting the band at the Alcatraz Festival in 2014, I think that was our proudest moment. I think it showed a lot of love, honesty, respect for one of my dearest friends and she was so fearless to do that after everything that she’d gone through and to go out with such a spotlight on her.
You know it’s hard enough for people to be honest in this world, when everything seems you know like you’re gonna be accepted, but to be so brave and not know the outcome of how the metal community was going to respond to her, showed such a fearlessness and we didn’t know what to accept but honestly we didn’t care.
We were proud of our friend for being so brave and the universe responded with open arms. That really sent this band on a positive upward trajectory and got us to a place where we wanted to make new material together. I think it really gave us the inspiration that we had a lot more to offer still.
Jack: Is it hard to comprehend you’ve sold one million albums?
Alan: I don’t really think about that kind of stuff, it’s not something I focus on to be honest with you.
Jack: River Runs Red is 25 years old next year, will you do anything special for the anniversary such as playing the album in full?
Alan: Well we’ve done that before, but when these anniversaries on the albums come up, they kind of take us by surprise as we’re seeing time fly by and we haven’t really planned for that type of thing. But we have played River Runs Red in its entirety on past anniversaries so I wouldn’t rule it out. I know we have got a lot of requests to play Ugly in its entirety and that would require a lot of time to relearn a lot of these songs that we never play.
Jack: I know you’re involved with comics and colouring books outside of the band, is it hard to balance the two?
Alan: For me it’s great, as the band gets busier it gets hard to sit down and draw for ten hours at a time, but in the weeks leading up to tours it’s a pleasure. It’s something I can really lose myself in, the creativity and the colouring book The Beauty of Horror came out last year and it was a huge successful for me. I’m really grateful people reacted to it and I’ll be releasing The Beauty of Horror 2 this September and I’ve been working really hard on that everyday on pages for that and leading up to the LOA tour. So so far I’ve been able to balance it and it’s been so much fun being able to do that.
Jack: Would you ever consider doing a Life of Agony inspired graphic novel or similar project?
Alan: I have thought about that in fact and there might be an opportunity to do that down the line. I’ve always wanted to turn road stories into comic books and not just from Life of Agony but from other bands. I think that would be a lot of fun.
Jack: What’s next for Life of Agony?
Alan: Well we have a new video out for ‘World Gone Mad,’ out on April 18th right before the record release on April 28th and we’ll be playing in New York City on the release date for a big record release party. We have a bunch of dates in the North East in April and May, and then we head overseas in May and then we’ll be releasing a bunch of August dates. We’re eager to get out of there and start playing the new material for people.
Jack: Will you be coming back to the UK soon?
Alan: Possibly in the fall we’re looking at.
Jack: What makes the UK such a good place to play?
Alan: The snakebites. [Laughs] You know we have such a great connection with the crowds over there, I wish we could go back over there even more frequently. We went back last year and we played London, Wolverhampton and we had some great shows.
We actually hooked up with our video director Lee Brooks from Fire Belly films and he shot the show in London and then we ended up doing our first music video for ‘A Place Where There Is No More Pain’ with him and he just did a fantastic job on ‘The World Gone Mad’ video. He just started out as a fan of the band years a go, reached out to us online and asked if it was okay if he shot the show in London and after seeing his work we were blown away and asked “absolutely.” We became good friends and he’s really kicked ass for us making these two music videos for us and it’s been a pleasure working with him.
Jack: What was the reason for the shows to be filmed, was it for a DVD?
Alan: We actually shot that for a teaser for the new album and he flew out to Hamburg to shoot ‘The Place Where There Is No More Pain’ video, he shot ‘World Gone Mad’ in London on a sound stage.
Jack: Finally to wrap it up, I know you’re a big Alice in Chains fan, Layne Staley passed away today (5 April) fifteen years ago. What do Alice in Chains mean to you?
Alan: Well I will never forget the first time I heard the Dirt record, it was an eye opening experience and I had it on repeat for weeks. It was exactly the type of band I wanted to hear at that time in my life. I grew up with them and a lot of the grunge scene bands like Soundgarden and Nirvana. I know Kurt Cobain died on the same date as well, didn’t he?
Jack: Yeah, Cobain died today as well.
Alan: Eight years apart on the same day I think?
Jack: Yeah, it was the same day.
Alan: Layne was a big influence on my own songwriting and also the guitar sound and the layers, definitely can be heard on the new record for us. Alice in Chains has always been a big influence on us.
Jack: Thank you for your time and I hope to see you in the UK!
Alan: Cool thanks so much Jack.