Sal Abruscato is a man with many stories to tell. He was in the original line-up of Brooklyn’s finest Type O Negative, still plays drums with Life Of Agony and has a fascinating new project called “A Pale Horse Named Death” which is his top priority right now. We caught up with Sal during Life Of Agony’s European tour in Vienna/Austria to talk about his time in Type O Negative, Peter Steele, Life Of Agony and A Pale Horse Named Death.
Here a few excerpts:
“There was things going on with him but I think death did surprise him at that very moment.” “The last time I actually saw him was when I touched his shoulder when he was laying there in the funeral home.” – about deceased Type O Negative frontman Peter Steele
“I thought it was pathetic to try to get this other fuck in and still call it Life Of Agony.” – about Whitfield Crane replacing Keith Caputo
“We are all very different and we all wanna do things in four different ways. So there is no fucking time! There is no time to be a real band because of people doing other shit.” – about the possibility of a new Life Of Agony album
“A Pale Horse Named Death” is basically my baby. I play all the instruments on the record and I sing, something that’s no one known about until now.” – about his new project A Pale Horse Named Death
And now for something completely different the whole interview:
When you were a kid, what made you want to play the drums?
I don’t know, I just fell into it. I don’t have any musicians in my family. I started as a little kid with the screwdrivers on a bucket, playing along to the songs. Then I begged my parents to buy me a drumset and finally I got a little one for my birthday. From then on I saved up my money and bought one little piece after another. In 1986 I put out my first independent record with a trash-metal band called Toximia.
How did you eventually get to know Peter Steele?
I was hanging out with Louie Beato from Carnivore, because when I was a kid I took drum lessons from Louie, he lived up the block from me. He was my idol when I was 14 and he used to take me to the Carnivore rehearsals and that’s where I first met Peter – in his basement, because that’s where they were rehearsing. I was like the little brother for them, they took me with them – it was cool. So I used to hang out with Carnivore, going to the shows, helping out … I was exposed to these guys from a very young age.
And how did you end up in Type O Negative after Carnivore disbanded?
When Carnivore broke up I asked Peter if he wanted to hang out and jam – and then it became this whole fucking craziness! We had like four different band names and then finally it was Type O Negative. The other options were New Minority, Subzero and Repulsion.
What do you remember about recording (Type O’s first album) Slow, Deep and Hard?
It was crazy. It was good. I was just happy to be playing with Pete, with a musician like him – that I was good enough to play with him. I was an angry kid too, I had a lot of issues at school and stuff, and so all that angry music and playing really hard and heavy and slow and fast it really was like therapy. It was nuts though – noone got it at first. At the live shows the audience was like „What the fuck?“ All this keyboard shit, jackhammers, chains and all the other shit. It was cool I learned a lot. We got together every week and rehearsed and did local shows … and when Roadrunner picked up our first record we did a tour with Biohazard and Exploited. That was just fucking chaos. My first fucking tour and I was like „Holy shit, this is nuts!“
Your first European tour with „Slow, Deep and Hard“ was not a pleasant one …
When we came to Europe more than half the tour was cancelled by the time we landed in Europe because everybody was afraid – venues were getting bomb threats from the left wing extremists because they didn’t get Peter’s sarcastic lyrics and thought we were racists. In Berlin it was the worst – there were flyers with Peter’s picture saying „If you see him, kill him“ … also the press was accusing us of being nazis. In one interview Josh said „But I’m Jewish“, but the interviewer was like „but there’s jewish nazis also!“ It was really absurd – I was like „Don’t you get it? It’s just music! It’s just a crazy idea from a crazy guy in Brooklyn!“
That was one of the best albums I ever played on! That was a big record. I had no idea that I’d be on an album that is almost considered Pink Floyd status in the metal world. It’s just such a fucking crazy record. During the recordings I had a feeling that as a musician I knew that it was really, really good. All the weird timing changes, the melodies and the sweet notes that were going on. We knew we were making a really good record – we didn’t know that it would bet hat big.
Nevertheless you left Type O negative after the release of „Bloody Kisses“. How did that come along?
From the time we started Type O Negative until the release of „Bloody Kisses“ – that’s about four years – we did two little stupid tours. „Slow, Deep and Hard“ didn’t sell well and it just looked like it wasn’t gonna go anywhere maybe. At the time of the release of „Bloody Kisses“ nobody knew what was gonna happen. And as I told you before, Peter didn’t want to give up his day job and we had many fights … What I regret about it is that we were immature, me and Peter. Both too proud to give in. Peter was very bossy and very demanding – he would want to dictate every little fucking thing and I had to fight it. On „Bloody Kisses“ I did all the drums on my own, I was doing what I felt. I was like „You are writing the music but I wanna do the beats that I feel complemented the music best“. We used to fight about lots of stupid stuff. When you’re young, in your twenties, and you’re doing an album, you don’t know what you’re doing. You got a big mouth, you fucking talk a lot of shit …
Did you ever regret leaving Type O Negative?
Yeah, sure! There were some times after I left that I thought „Ah man, now they decide to do all these big tours …“ The Type O albums after „Bloody Kisses“ started to sound a little bit the same, but that’s just how Peter wrote. He did what he did as an artist. But for me, „Bloody Kisses“ was the pinnacle. It had a lot to do with the chemistry at the moment, it became what it became.
Did you at any point notice that Peter had a drug problem?
Pete wasn’t doing drugs when I was in the band. That shit didn’t start until after I was gone. And I think if I was in the band, I wouldn’t have allowed it to get to him like it did. He used to be straight! All the time! He just used to drink a little bit. He used to criticise the rest of the band for smoking weed! He used to call us „hippie drug addicts“! When I heard about all that kind of crap (Peter’s drug problem) I couldn’t believe it!
When did you last see Peter?
I saw him in person in october when he did a show with Type O Negative. In February we were talking on the phone, because he wanted to do another version of Carnivore. And he had asked me to play the drums in that version of Carnivore. He wanted to play some shows in Europe now, in the summertime … so we were talking about that. Then I had to go to Europe for a couple of weeks with Life Of Agony. When I came home I got this phonecall … that he passed away. I was at the wake every day and I went to the ceremony because I knew his sisters for a very long time. The funeral procession … being at the grave, everything. The last time I actually saw him was when I touched his shoulder when he was laying there in the funeral home.
Did you think that Peter knew he could be facing death due to his previous drug abuse?
I don’t think he did expect to die. There was things going on with him but I think death did surprise him at that very moment. He was nine months sober and he was clean and he wasn’t drinking and he was really working hard to get back on his feet and back on top with Type O, Carnivore and everything … nine months really working hard and that’s when he died. That’s from all the years of abuse, things that went wrong. He had some things going on inside his head which people didn’t know. His mind was restless.
I met them first in 1990 when I was in Type O Negative and they (LOA) used to open up for us. Josh (Silver, Type O Negative keyboarder) was producing their first record and they needed a drummer – so Josh brought me in to do it. When I recorded the drums for „River Runs Red“ I only had three weeks to learn the songs. Later – when I was still in Type O – I filled in some shows for Life Of Agony. Some time later I started to have differences with Type O Negative, with Peter, and so I left and went with Life Of Agony in December of ’93.
What kind of differences are you talking about?
At that Moment Life Of Agony was doing a lot of touring and Type O wasn’t. I was young and I wanted to tour, I wanted to see what it was all about. I toured with Type O before but it wasn’t enough.
Although Type O had just released „Bloody Kisses“ there was no touring planned? Why not?
Peter had a job at the NY Parks department and he didn’t want to lose his job and I found that it was kind of selfish because everyone else was willing to go and do it. That was my frustration. We had many fights about that.
When you were recording „River Runs Red“ with LOA, did you think that the album would influence so many people in the course of 16 years?
No, at that time I was just concentrated on learning the songs – I didn’t even know that I was going to be in the band. But when we went to Europe we got so many young kids in the audience and we did the Dynamo festival … it was like holy shit, this is big! So I kept on going with Life Of Agony until 1996 and then that all fell apart and I was out of the band.
How did you and the other band members grow apart over the years?
There were many tensions during the recordings of (LOA’s second album) „Ugly“. The producer (Steve Thompson) was terrible. We were paying him a lot of money and he was just laying on the couch, reading the newspaper. He wasn’t really pushing the band, he wasn’t really doing what he was paid for. There was also issues with the songwriting. There was pressure from the record company to make „River Runs Red, Part 2“. Had we maybe had a different producer, one that cared – like Josh did – and pushed the band, maybe it would have been different – maybe not.
Do you think that those tensions led to you leaving the band and Keith (Caputo, LOA singer) also leaving the band shortly after?
Yeah. Everyone was a young buck but everybody was just kids. When you’re older you know how to handle situations. We were wild so we would say shit (laughs). And then that would cause tensions.
So that’s why you left LOA in 1996 …
It wasn’t really that I left the band, they just decided that there was issues with me and it ended with a falling out basically. So I think it was mutual. A part of me was relieved but on the same time I was a little bit upset about how the thing was handled.
Keith also left a little while later – what did you think about the band’s decision to replace Keith with (former Ugly Kid Joe singer) Whitfield Crane, which was a slap in the face for many fans?
I think they were really at the end of the rope. I thought it was pathetic to try to get this other fuck in and still call it Life Of Agony.
What did you do after you left Life Of Agony?
I disappeared for along time, for like six years. Then in 2002 I started Supermassiv with Matt Brown and that was the first record I did since „Ugly“. It seemed to go pretty good but then we had issues because the singer of Supermassiv was an addict and in 2004 he died from an overdose. Just as we gained a little bit of interest from the labels. But the singer was such a fuck up, unreliable, he would lie … the things that drugs make people do. Then at the end of 2002 these guys (LOA) called me up and proposed that we do a reunion. And I said yes.
Did you have to think about it?
No. I said yeah, let’s do it! People kinda grow up … so we did two nights in Irving Plaza and it was killer. A good comeback, that’s for sure. That was an emotional couple of nights. After a European tour we did the a new record („Broken Valley“) with Epic – and they fucked up big time. They didn’t know what to do. When the record came out, nobody knew about it, there was no promotion.
And yet you are still around, touring, and everybody still wants to hear the old songs.
Yeah, I’m fucking 40 years old and still doing „River Runs Red“. I love it, but I’m also the type of person who gets restless. I need to have challenges and I need to feel like I’m creating …
So why not make a new record with LOA?
It seems like it’s very complicated as far es everyone being available and being on the same page. Everyone being into what everyone wants to do. We are all very different and we all wanna do things in four different ways. So there is no fucking time! There is no time to be a real band because of people doing other shit. People ask me all the time ”When are you gonna do a new album?“, and the answer is: I don’t know. If there’s gonna be a new record, it’s gotta be really good shit. We would have to push the musicianship beyond what we do now.
In order to channel your creativity, you just released the first CD of your new project A Pale Horse Named Death (APHND), „And Hell Will Follow Me“.
APHND is basically my baby. I play all the instruments on the record and I sing, something that’s no one known about until now. I composed it all, co-produced it with Matt Brown and that’s probably the most important record for me. This is how fucking dark my world is and what I wanna be doing. I’m just a dark person by nature and I love that kind of atmosphere. I hope that I can tour with that record and that possibly a label will release it … who knows?
You have some mentionable guest appearences on the album …
(LOA singer) Keith Caputo did harmonies with me on four songs and he did a fantastic job. When he’s inspired, he’s great! And I also had Bobby Hambell from Biohazard do three guitar solos. He also wants to be in the live band if he’s available, as well as Matt Brown (Seventh Void). And we also had an appearance from Lou Reed’s saxophone player.
How did you come up with the band name and the music?
I came up with the name in january 09. I was watching a spezial on history channel about revelations … and as we know there are the four horseman, and death rides a pale horse. So I was like ”what if the horse itself is death?“. That’s how I came up with the name. And I was so sure of the name that before I even recorded the album I had gotten the name tattoed on my neck … because at the same time this all went down my ex-wife left me, like three weeks before I toured Europe with LOA. This was so heavy and I’d got so much anger and I knew I’d got to fuel this out in a good way rather than becoming self destructive, and so I decided to do an album.
How important is it for you to succeed with APHND?
This has to succeed so I can stay in music and do what I love. I’ve been playing drums for 30 years – 30 fucking years – so I like the challenge of doing something different. If Dave Grohl can do it and all this other guys can do it and change things around, why not me? Let me try and see how it goes, see if people like the music. I care primarily about Europe first. If the record does okay in the states, great – but I really want it to do great in Europe so that I can keep coming here and playing and just be myself and expressing a whole other side of myself to people! Because I’m multi-personality-guy, I got like three, four persons in my head – there’s a song about it on the record. I consider myself an artist and I just wanna do my art – whether it’s on the drums, the guitar, in singing, screaming, painting … whatever it is.
And why is it so important for you to be primarily successful in Europe?
I think people are more into music here. They are more into supporting a band they like. When people in Europe get into a band, they get into a band. They love the band and they follow you, they scream for you. In America it’s like one week they love you, next week it’s somebody else …