Life After Agony - A Conversation With Mina Caputo
Honesty, it's the greatest quality we can hope for from those around us. A simple enough theory, an easy enough goal. Yet you and I both know that it's not nearly that simple. Art, like people, should be honest as well. You cannot judge art or the artists who create it, it's all too subjective. That being said, I think it's fair to expect honesty in our art and from our artists. If nothing else, the following interview with singer, songwriter and vocalist for Life of Agony, Mina Caputo is an exercise in honesty, integrity and all that's real in the world of music.
SE: Mina, it's a pleasure to speak with you. I know you're busy putting the finishing touches on your next record, Love Hard, so thank you very much for your time.
MC: My pleasure.
SE: Where are you in the recording process and what we should expect to hear when you're finished?
MC: I'm finishing up mastering the record right now. Sonically this record is beautiful. It's romantic and edgy.
SE: On your last release, As Much Truth As One Can Bear, some of your musical influences are clear. I hear a little Bowie, some John Lennon and on a couple of tracks, A Perfect Circle. Are you usually aware of your influences when you're writing or is it just something you hear once all is said and done?
MC: With Bowie and Lennon, I grew up with that my entire life, it's unavoidable. The Perfect Circle comparison is interesting. I love Maynard and those guys.
SE: Are there any specific influences you can think of on Love Hard?
MC: There's a vibe to the lyrics, I feel the music and construct the chords around that. There's a cryptic darkness to As Much Truth which I didn't realize until after the fact. Love Hard is lighter but there's a mysterious spirit to these songs. The Rolling Stones and The Pixies come to mind...as well as My Bloody Valentine. The odd thing is I set out to create an ugly, dark, punk rock record like In Utero (Nirvana), a fuck off attitude. On As Much Truth I played 95% of the music myself, this record feels weightless though. As Much Truth was heavy, like Christ falling off the cross and getting back up, you know? I'm always growing with each record I create. I'm free to do what I want because I'm not with a record label. They're fucking clueless anyway. This record is abundant and rich with color, I can't wait for the world to hear it.
SE: Are there any plans to tour in support of its release?
MC: I'd love to but honestly I'm not thinking about that right now. I may do some shows in Europe. I have a very different career over there than I do in the states. America is very different for me...they're too busy with Kanye!
SE: HA! Unfortunately you might be right! That leads me to the next topic actually. In your career with Life of Agony, at least in recent years, you seem to play very large festivals overseas and more one-off type of shows in the states.
MC: Yeah, we recently did a festival in Vienna in front of about 8,000 kids. Back home though we did another festival down in Florida and we hadn't been there in about 15 years. We were wondering why the fuck we were headlining, but about 4,000 kids showed up and were pumped and ready to go.
SE: LOA came up in the NYHC scene in the late 80's/early 90's along with the crossover metal scene. Your debut album, River Runs Red is regarded by many as one of the best and most influencial records in that genre. All these years later, does that resonate with you at all?
MC: I'm very down to earth. I look at the right now and I'm constantly working on myself. I'm alwyas growing and changing. I don't walk around with all these badges telling me that I've influenced all of these million record selling bands. It is humbling though. We're all very real and genuine people in LOA. We now know how to have fun in the moment. We don't want to be in your face at all times. We smash and grab...we come in, destroy your living room and disappear again.
SE: There aren't many people who can say they've been able to live their passion for their entire adult lives, but you can.
MC: That's the word. Passion. You don't last this long without it. You know, we don't ever feel like we've outgrown all these other NY bands we came up with. That is not us. That never was us. When we were a very, very young band doing Sunday matinees and all the hardcore shows there were other bands putting us down because something special and magical was happening with us. Some kids and some bands and some gang members couldn't fucking handle it but we persevered. From the very birth of my career with these guys it was always about never doing the same record over and over again. But some people got mad that record one doesn't sound like record five, I don't understand those people.
SE: In my opinion, it's a very smart thing to do. It's nearly impossible to do better than "Iconic" so the best move is to go in another creative direction.
MC: Exactly. I think we were the best at what we did but when you fall into a formula you have to destroy it. That's what real art is about.
SE: Moving away from music for a second, your life has been very rough to say the least.You lost your parents at a young age and witnessed many negative things. You and I come from the same neighborhood in Brooklyn, NY, maybe about a mile a part from one another and we've both seen people go down some pretty dark paths. You seem to be in a very positive place in your life. You never did give into the negativity that surrounded you growing up. Why is that and do you feel lucky that you didn't?
MC: (Long pause) It's definitely not luck. It took me years and years to figure out what I'm about to tell you. I really, really cared about how I felt. I cared about how I felt as a child. I wanted to feel good, I wanted to do good things, I wanted to be happy. I lived with my grandparents and my grandfather was abusive. He was abusive to my grandmother as well. It was nuts. One time someone was breaking into the house and it turned out to be my father. So I saw my grandfather beat the shit out of my father. Other times I'd be sitting on my porch and my friends would be running down the block towards me saying my dad was in the street with a needle sticking out of his arm. I had to run down there and try and save my own father's life. I saw so much tragedy. But turning tragedy into blissful moments was my calling. Yes I suffered, yes I didn't know any better but life is about caring about how you feel. It's about vibrations. I never knew that as a kid. We are more than our physical beings, we are cosmic. I gave a shit about how I felt because no one else did. Plus, I knew I felt different, you know? As an eight year old kid I knew I was trans (transgender) even though there wasn't really a word for it. I spent a lot of time alone. I wasn't lonely, but I spent a lot of time alone. I was always in protective mode. I was introverted, I spent 2-3 hours a day practicing the piano at age 15. I was a very different child and SHE was already inside of me waiting to come out. I couldn't come out at that time though because my grandfarther would've literally killed me. We didn't have computers back then either so I was always searching for words to describe what and who I was. Kids today are lucky. If they're born one way but really know they're something different, they can go online and learn. I couldn't do that so I'm still somewhat of an angry person. The homophobia, transphobia, racism, that's the shit that really gets me fucking angry because I work really hard on myself to perfect an imperfect existence. I've worked hard and I'm still busting my ass and I'll be busting my ass until the day I die.
SE: That's an incredible story and I compliment you on being able to rise above such negativity.
MC: Thank you. You know, I don't want all that in my life. I want to feel good and do good things. I want to leave great things behind. And you know, I love my dad. He's my hero but he left a fucking mess. I had to ravel and unravel, I had to wire and rewire how I was taught and how I grew up in fear. I was a suicidal mess in my 20's and early 30's because of what I witnessed. But I'm closer to my dad now then I ever was. He makes himself known to me, I know he's always with me.
SE: Seeing as though you knew you were differnt from a young age, it had to be very difficult playing the part of Keith from Life of Agony knowing it was a lie. You and I had a prior conversation about that regarding your voice and why it may have sounded so strong and masculine on those early LOA records. You made a great observation, bascially saying that you knew you weren't ready for the truth to come out so to compensate for that you had to dial up the masculinity ten fold. Can you talk about that?
MC: I was like a volcano my entire life with pre-cum of lava flowing out of the hole. But now I'm building new earth for myself, a new surface to match the depth of my soul. I'm so happy that I'm, call it transsexual, call it what you want, I'm just so happy that I am who I am, I am what I am, why and how I am. I'm simmering in the art of gratitude.
SE: When you made the transition from Keith to Mina, you didn't have anyone to look towards for guidance. You didn't have a playbook. Today we see people like Caitlyn Jenner and Laura Jane Grace of Against Me! doing what you did very openly and getting help and encouragement from just about everyone. Does it bother you in any way that when you went through it you had to go at it alone?
MC: First of all I really love Laura, we're freinds, we've toured together. When she first came out she was asked about any influences and she did mention me as one. But you know, I'm not in a race. My time is coming very, very soon. I officially came out in 2007, don't listen to anyone who said it was 2011, they don't know what they're talking about. I came out to family and close freinds in 07 and I started hormone therapy in late 2008 or early 2009.
SE: I know how close you are to the guys in LOA. You've called them your brothers both in lyrics and in interviews. And in Joey's case (guitarist Joey Z), you're actually cousins. Considering how close you all are, did that make it easier to come out as Mina or was it more difficult because of the potential to lose that closeness depending on their reactions?
MC: At that time the band was butting heads a bit. Sal knew, Joey knew for our entire career, but I never really let the cat out of the bag to Alan. Alan and I interact very smoothly and kindly so after it was all said and done he was pissed off that I didn't tell him. But I'm the same person and they all love me. We have a ton of love and respect for each other. Everything isn't always perfect but we do a really good job of maintaining this mysterious musical quest that has been given to us. We all acknowledge the beauty of it, I mean we announce a show and it sells out in a fucking day. It's like holy fuck! Hey guys, you want to play with Kiss this year, we got an offer? And we're all like naaahhhhh, (laughs)... of course we do!!
SE: Talk about playing with a band like Kiss.
MC: It's crazy that Life of Agony played with Kiss, you know? I wasn't a super Kiss fan growing up, I love Paul and some of those songs, but we grew up with the Kiss baseball cards. Kiss was a part of our youth. So 30 some odd years later we're playing in front of 80,000 kids with Kiss's crowd, I devoured every one of those motherfuckers. It was mayhem. Just imagine, at least 10 to 20,000 of that 80,000 person crowd was just a sea of bouncing punk rockers dancing harmoniously. Suddenly, I'm in between the stage and the barriers because that's where I feel the most comfortable and out of nowhere a bunch of kids lift up another kid in a wheelchair and bring him closer to me and this kid asks me if he's a bad seed and I'm like no, I'm the fucking bad seed. That kid changed my life.
SE: Playing live is great, and I know you probably get this question a lot but I have to ask, is there any talk about a new LOA record? And if so, what will it sound like? Considering how long it's been since your last release and the fact that Keith is no longer fronting the band, it's now Mina, would that change the sound or the writing process in any way?
MC: If you're asking us if we're going to write another River Runs Red or am I going to sound like I sounded when I was 19 years old, that's not going to happen. But we will push each other as much as we can creatively to get the most melodic, most slamming songs that we could muster up. There would be this Tyrannosaurus Rex side of the band that would definitely want to turn it up.
SE: I have to imagine, considering your history and chemistry with each other, that once you're all in a room together writing new music, the heaviness that's in your collective musical DNA would organically want to come out.
MC: Oh yeah, of course! Even as Mina, I'd love the opportunity to get as aggressive and obnoxious as I can and also get as pretty as I can. We would totally go after the dynamics. We'd want really quiet moments and really fucking explosive moments.
SE: To bring this interview full circle, and again, thank you very much for you time and converation, when can we expect Love Hard to make it's way into the world?
MC: You're very welcome. There's no official release date, that's the beauty of being on my own, no one telling me what to do. I was with labels and management companies in the past and they're always like "oh maybe you should do this and do that", fuck off, you know? I will say this though, I plan on an Autumn release. The record just feels like Autumn to me. It feels like golden leaves, when the leaves turn orange and red and gold...it just feels like that. I can't wait for everyone to hear it, I'm extremely happy with it and I want to share it with everyone.
Honesty refers to a facet of moral character. It contains positive and virtuous attributes such as truthfulness and integrity. It's a value which cannot garner enough acclaim and it's glaringly absent from too many in the world, public and private alike. Mina Caputo is the definition of honesty. First to herself, then to others. If you're one of those people who doesn't agree with being Transgender (who are you to decide what's right for others anyway) put that aside for a minute and just think about the level of honesty it takes for someone to make that call. Seriously take a minute and think. Are you that honest? Am I? It's rare my friends, it's very rare.
Art and music surrounds us all in one form or another. It's gigantic for some and for others, perhaps it's mere background noise. Either way though, it's there, it exists. In whichever way you digest your art, make sure it's honest and make sure it's what you want it to be. If it's anything less, it's simply a waste of time. So when Mina Caputo does release Love Hard, give it a listen and enjoy the honesty.
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*You can catch Mina and the rest of Life of Agony on December 6th, 2015 at Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, NJ