Interview: Life Of Agony
We always felt like we were on the outside, we weren’t the picture perfect NYHC band or metal band. We didn’t really fit into anywhere really,
Fresh on the back of their first album in over a decade, the excellent A Place Where There’s No More Pain, New York’s Life Of Agony returned over to the UK recently for their first run of shows since the album’s release. Steve Fallows spoke to guitarist Joey Z about the record, their comeback and on being outsiders despite having connections to many different scenes.
E&D: First of all, thanks for your time. It’s early days in the tour but how has it gone so far?
Joey Z: It’s been great. We started in a little place called The Waterfront in Norwich, and you know what’s great about the crowd now when we do these headlining shows? That everyone there is in love with Life Of Agony. So if there’s 100 people or a couple of thousand, it’s always very electric and very energetic. I’ve always loved that about our fan base.
E&D: On the last tour, I was at the Manchester show, and I don’t think I’ve seen such an emotional show. There was a very powerful connection between the band and the fans.
Joey Z: Yeah, now more than ever. We go up there with a purpose is the best way that I can describe it. We want the crowd to have as special a time as we are having onstage. We want to play the ball of energy back and forth. We get up there now just like we did when we were young guys and just do it. There’s always a great trade off, and whatever we give, we always get back and more, and that energy is what keeps us going.
E&D: It’s the first real chance to play some of your new album live, how is that going down?
Joey Z: Really great. It’s a lot of fun. Any time you get to refresh a set with some new material [and it had been twelve years since the last album] it feels really good.
E&D: After the great reception the album got, it must be good to be able to share this music live with the fans now?
Joey Z: We were very happy with how the record ended up, and like you say, the reception it got blew us away. It’s great that the fans seem to love it as much as we do.
E&D: I’ve seen somewhere that Napalm Records contacted you about recording something. Is that an ongoing deal now?
Joey Z: Right now, we signed a one album deal with them, so we’ll see what happens with that in the future. We are trying not to think too far ahead. We’re the type of band that are very much of the now, and right now we are in Manchester and we are thinking about that show, tomorrow we’ll be somewhere different. When you try to plan too far ahead, it can be difficult to live up to that, and if things don’t work out as you planned, it can be very difficult. We just go with the flow. We are enjoying playing these songs live and well take it from there. If and when there’s another album, if it’s on Napalm…awesome, if it’s on another label…awesome, as long as it’s the right fit for us.
E&D: Is there more pressure nowadays to record with the industry changing so much or is it easier with you being an established name?
Joey Z: No, it’s harder. The way the industry has changed, what I think people don’t realise is if you can’t show the label that you are selling records, you don’t mean as much to them any more. The label wants to see the results in order for them to keep putting money into the project. If they don’t see those results, they close the wallet; and when they do that, it hurts us because we don’t get the promotional value. We make our money when we play live, we don’t make it from the records, no one does, so what we don’t want is for them to stop promoting and marketing the album. Labels nowadays throw an album out and promote it for a few weeks to see what happens and then the records done after a month or so and that’s not really enough. Years ago you would get around a year of promotion, now you’re lucky if you get six weeks. It’s gotten a lot tougher. Knock on wood, we have a solid fan base and we are so thankful for that because we wouldn’t be able to tour without that loyalty.
E&D: Musically the band have covered a lot of ground, with each of your albums having its own very different identity. Do you have a particular favourite?
Joey Z: I love this record because it all came together so well, and it’s a little bit of everything we have done before. Of course, River Runs Red is such a classic that it’s hard to say that that’s not my favourite. It’s such a timeless record.
E&D: I’ve never met a fan that doesn’t like a particular album, they just seem to prefer one over another?
Joey Z: We get a lot of that, and that’s a nice situation to be in. A lot of people love Ugly, and that’s cool, there’s some great songs on there. One of my favourite songs over the years is the title track from Broken Valley. The way it came out and the feeling behind it – that dark, powerful sound but at the same time punchy. I just love all our performances on that track. I’ve always liked how we’ve managed to combine that darker edge with an upbeat, driving sound, like on ‘Weeds’, ‘Last Cigarette’ or ‘World Gone Mad’.
E&D: Now you have been reformed for a couple of years, and have festivals, tours and now an album behind you, is it back to how it was first time round?
Joey Z: You know, we mature over the years, so we have evolved as people, and as a unit, you’re evolving together, but also as individuals. We have families at home. I have two little girls; Sal is about to have his third daughter; Alain has a little girl. We have wives, houses, so personally I think we have all grown so much that we don’t feel like we did back then because we were all free-minded crazy kids back then. We’re not like that any more. We’re more responsible about the band and about the business. I believe in the past we left it up to too many people like managers, and we kind of lost something along the way. Now we are doing it ourselves. We don’t have a manager; we manage our own band. Al does most of the emails, getting in touch with people and sorting things out, but we all do our bit. We’ve got a tighter relationship than before, but it’s a different type of relationship.
E&D: Do you think it was vital that it was the four of you that got back together. The first time I saw the band was when Whitfield Crane (Ugly Kid Joe) was on vocals at the UK Ozzfest in 1998?
Joey Z: When we were doing that it was almost like I was a cover band of my own band. That was a hard feeling to get over. I struggled with that every time we got up to play. We even tried to create some new music, but it just didn’t seem right for Life Of Agony. Nothing was fitting. It just didn’t feel right so we had to put it to bed. Whit was a great guy, and so much fun to be around and touring was so much fun, but when it came to recording for new music, it wasn’t the right fit for us, so we had to stop.
E&D: So now you have been together for while and the dust has settled on Mina’s transitioning, can you now just concentrate on being Life Of Agony again?
Joey Z: When we set foot onstage again in 2012 at a festival in Belgium, we were ready to be Life Of Agony again from that moment on. We were all comfortable in who we were and it felt great. We all believe in Mina. As soon as she said she was ready to do it again we just went for it. I’m her blood cousin, so I was 100% before we got back together. I’ve known Mina was transitioning years and years ago, way before it was made public, so this has been a slow ongoing process since she was a youngster. I’m used to it, and have been for years, it’s kind of who Mina has been for a while to me, so we went up there with a lot of confidence.
E&D: Do you feel that the media is now concentrating back on the band again?
Joey Z: We definitely feel that. Some people aren’t as open minded as others, so issues still sometimes come up. We may have lost some people along the way, but we have also gained a lot of new people. We were ready for it. Not just in bands, but in life you lose people, sometimes people don’t want to come along for the ride and that’s fine too. It’s not great, but as long as you’re not hurting my cousin, then I’m not going to have to hurt you back. If you’re getting the connection with the audience that we’ve been getting, then it’s all worth it. We all want to have a good time. We’ve all grown up, but that doesn’t mean we don’t want to have fun. As people, we never looked at ourselves as these untouchable beings. You see a lot of bands walking around like that. It’s funny to see bands not talking to anyone or not signing anything. I understand if that’s not your thing, but that will never be us.
E&D: I spoke to Tommy Victor back in the summer, and similarly to Prong, you were always tied to certain scenes, but you were always very different to each of the scenes you were linked too?
Joey Z: Yeah, I see that a lot with Prong. Tommy is an awesome guy. We had so many different influences from so many directions, even in the band as four people, we all had different tastes. We all feel and love great music. We always felt like we were on the outside, we weren’t the picture-perfect NYHC band or metal band. We didn’t really fit into anywhere really, but for some reason we played all these shows with all these bands and we kind of did OK. It was strange, but it worked. A lot of other bands back then looks at us and were, “What the fuck…? they’re good but I don’t get it. What are they trying to do?” We just did our own thing because our references were so different, that’s just what came out of us. Mina loved David Bowie, Annie Lennox, I was into Sepultura and Metallica, Sal was into Sabbath and Soundgarden. We had all this different stuff and we brought it all together
E&D: Finally, I did an email interview around the time that the album came out, and you said the aim of the band was to stay together for more than three years this time. Now you’ve achieved this, what’s next for the bad and other projects?
Joey Z: Well, with Life Of Agony we would like to continue with what we’ve been doing for the last three years. Sometimes, the industry can make it very difficult, and we are all dads and have lives outside. We’ve got to be careful and it has to make sense for all of us, that’s the hard part and it gets harder the older you get. Musically, I still produce records, I have a studio again and I have done work around the world too. I also have another band called Zyer’s War, which I plan to put out a record with soon. It’s me singing and playing guitar, a little heavier than this, drop tuned and pissed off. I’m looking forward to releasing that, we just got to sort some label stuff out. Then start planning festivals and head back over here with Life Of Agony. Just takes thing one step at a time and enjoy it while we are doing that.