Home / Interview / Interview: Life of Agony’s Mina Caputo talks River Runs Red, The Sound of Scars, band chemistry, and more
LOA, 2019. Photos by Gino DePinto.

Interview: Life of Agony’s Mina Caputo talks River Runs Red, The Sound of Scars, band chemistry, and more

On October 12, 1993, veteran Brooklyn quartet Life of Agony released their seminal debut album, River Runs Red. The album’s sound contained elements of grunge, thrash, and hardcore – a combination that resonated strongly with alternative rock and metal fans alike. Coupled with a lyrical concept involving the motions of a struggling boy’s untimely suicide, the album highlighted a somber, and undoubtedly more realistic perspective of the era. From the initial cult-following having steadily accumulated after its release, the album would go on to earn considerable critical claim decades onward. In 2005, it became the fourth overall album inducted into the Decibel Music Magazine Hall of Fame, and in 2017, was named the 58th greatest metal album of all time by Rolling Stone.

Currently, the band is preparing for the release of The Sound of Scars, a direct sequel to River Runs Red, which will drop on October 11, 2019 – nearly the same day, 26 years later. I caught up with frontwoman Mina Caputo to discuss the band’s longevity, bittersweet nostalgia, as well as what they have taken away from their present, thriving chemistry on the new album.

I saw on the Life of Agony Famiglia page, you had great pre-release coverage for the new album.

Yeah! It’s been great, man. We’re really doing it, and we’ve been at it for quite some time. You’re reading it now?

Yup, and it’s amazing that you’ve endured, you sound fresh, and that you’re still rockin’.

Yeah. Music is a blessing for us all, isn’t it?

With your tour coming up, what are you looking forward to the most?

Being back with my band – my gang, if you will – traveling, playing for my people, of course, and playing for each other.

How do you like playing live these days?

I love the connection. I love to see people bleeding and healing right in front of me, you know? Not physically bleeding in terms of being wounded and blood gushing out, but people being so into the vibe and energy, and feeling understood. That’s all part of the connection that one feels with their favorite artist – whether they’re giving the music or getting the music.

In other words, you’re looking for that release, whatever it is.

Yeah, it’s like an ascending feeling that we all yearn for. It’s a different kind of orgasm, you know what I mean?

That’s the best way to put it.

Yeah. It’s a similar high that music gives off. Music is dopamine – all these emotions and all these feelings within the human system – your body, your soul, and your spirit, you know? Music’s heavy, man. Music has carried me through this life to this day – probably all the lives that my energy has lived, and the bodies that it’s been in.

Back when you were growing up, which artists really resonated with you musically?

That really shattered my whole soul?

Yeah, that spoke to you deeply.

Yeah – Billie Holiday, John Coltrane, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Doors, Beethoven, Chopin, Satie, Rolling Stones, Sigur Ros, Bad Brains, The Beatles, of course, Harry Nilsson, David Bowie – one of my top favorites, Queen, Freddie Mercury, Annie Lennox…

Essentially, all those artists not only influenced your singing, but your showmanship, too.

I mean, there’s no deliberate kind of show behind it; it’s not really theatrical. Maybe it could be, in a sense, but it’s almost like a shamanistic thing (laughs). For real! It’s like, I don’t expect people to understand, but yeah, music is wonderful. It can pull me out of any shitty, low, depressed mood, and I’m happy that, whatever I’m doing, it connects with people, and that’s beautiful. We’re really excited about this record we just did. It’s our first with Veronica Bellino, and it’s a special one, I think.

I agree, and I heard it’s the sequel to River Runs Red, which was your big album, in more ways than one. What can you tell me about the importance of that album, and what it means to you personally?

River Runs Red is like, and has been, the doorway to branching off into this level of imagination, for me personally. That was literally the portal into the world that I’m in now – this creative, abundant, solitary kind of life. Singing it now means more to me than it ever has, because I’m always going through stuff. Each band member has a different thing going on, but I’m a singer; I have lead singer’s disease (laughs). Hey, man, this is life! Life is all about changing, growing, expanding, and becoming.

Even before River Runs Red, the stuff that we were doing back then that nobody knew about was also very special. It was the key to the box – this imaginative life that I live, and that we all live in a sense. And look – no one’s perfect; there’s ups and downs for everybody; everyone needs help. We’re all fragile people.

For some perspective, that album came out on October 12th, 1993, and you were born in December 4th of 1973, so you were 19 years old at the time (still a kid, practically) when you started gaining momentum. In your experience, how was that period for you – the 90s, as a whole?

Well, to be honest, I wish I knew then what I know now, but it’s just what it is. It was just magical. Everything everyone was going through at the time. All different kinds of bands on all different kinds of levels. You know, bands like us, Type O Negative, Biohazard, Stone Temple Pilots, Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains, Screaming Trees – what Mark Lanegan was doing…

Oh, wow, you loved all of it!

Yeah! I love Mark Lanegan and that whole Seattle scene, you know, because I loved the Mother Love Bone era and that attitude, and I’ve filtered that through my personality as well. But I mainly grew up in the 80s, so I love the 80s, too. There were some great songs written in the 80s, like old school Bruce Springsteen (hums “I’m On Fire”), Pat Benatar, Tina Turner, Duran Duran, Tears For Fears, Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins, George Michael, Prince – I love, love the 80s, totally. I love artists that shatter those boundaries, in a sense, and I think that’s what I contribute. Even in my solo stuff as well. I don’t know how familiar you are with it.

Yup, I’ve heard your solo stuff. It’s stripped down in some ways, it’s very melodic, and I like how your voice matches the chords.

Yeah, dude! I love to sing. I understand how vibration works – how it operates through me, and how I get to control the vibration as well, because that’s what singing is all about. My favorite part of songwriting is writing the lyrics, creating melodies around those words, and sewing it all together; that’s where it begins and ends for me. The rest is just what comes along with it, but I can be happy just making music in general. If I didn’t have to hit the road every week in order to make money, I’d probably just disappear into my recording lab for 15 hours, just making art and making music, man.

In the late 90s, you left the band after the Soul Searching Sun album. What was that period like?

I kind of just wanted to get away from the world, the band, and the label, and I needed my soul back, in a way. At that time, it was crazy, man; it was a different game. We were nuts; we were out of control. It was still an amazing time for us, though. We lived all the clichés as a band, and I did on my own as well. And look, man, life just grabs you and change is inevitable at certain times. People have to follow their heart. In fact, I actually thought I was going to come out then, but I didn’t have the strength since we lived in a different time. I don’t know how old you are…

I’m 28, born in ’91.

Ah, okay, yeah, I was born in ’73, and growing up in the 70s and 80s, it really was different back then. I didn’t want to get murdered (laughs)! But yeah, [Soul Searching Sun] was when I had what I’d almost consider a mini midlife crisis. That was a heavy time for me, mixed with drugs and alcohol, touring, cocaine, and it just goes on.

I can definitely get a sense of what you’d gone through then, and like I mentioned before, it’s awesome that you’ve persevered so strongly up to this point. With The Sound of Scars being released soon, how did that album come about?

So, we did A Place Where There’s No More Pain and toured with that, we had the mutual split with Sal Abruscato, we got Veronica, and voila! It was time to get back in there, write a record, make the deadline, and boom! We wrote and recorded demos in Joey Z’s studio, then we went to Oregon and hung out with Sylvia Massy in the middle of the mountains – it was gorgeous. There were deer 10 feet away from us. Veronica did her thing and laid down the drums there, and we had a great time. When we came back to New York, we recorded other stuff and did vocals in what was once Method Man’s studio, in Staten Island. Howie Weinberg mastered the album, and Joey had his hands in producing and mixing, working day by day with Sylvia. It was crazy, crazy fun, and it was very special. We have a great team.

It seems like the effort between you guys was largely collaborative – very hands-on.

Yeah! But then, you know, with certain things, obviously, you can’t have 20 chefs all in the same kitchen. We had to give trust that we wouldn’t be on top of Joey every second for every little thing. When we weren’t present, we were sent the stuff to listen to. Decisions and changes were made, and that’s how it happened.

You have two of its songs out now – “Scars” and “Lay Down”. What inspired you to release those as singles?

We actually love all the tracks; they’re all our babies. When the label had their thoughts and feelings on the music and talked with everybody, they decided that these two were the most powerful, and they are great songs – no argument there (laughs)!

Ultimately, it’s up to them, right?

Listen, we don’t put out shitty music (laughs), so really anything they choose will be good no matter what. There’s really no argument; we’re all down with each other and for each other. It’s all about love, respect, putting out the best music we possibly can, and doing some damage on all fronts.

After making this album, what have you learned?

I’m always involved with making music, and it’s a passion of mine. This is a very patient game. There is no real designation in what we do. Well, there is and there isn’t, because when we think we’ve made that designation, there’s still a lot more to climb. The world’s changing at a very rapid pace. I think when it comes to patience, love, understanding, being gentle, and helping people, that’s who we are. Sometimes there’s heated discussion, but that’s the condition of being human, and you’ve got to be cool with that. You’ve got to exercise forgiveness to the other person – most importantly, yourself – and move on. Just be honest. Honesty is very important. And we all love making music together.

I understand, and I notice that, regardless, you’re still the same buddies you’ve always been.

Yeah! We have dreams that we’re trying to manifest – or that have already manifested – and have them aligned with every imaginative thought, you know what I mean? Like I’d said, there’s a design for everybody in this life. We’re just grateful every day. I’m happy to be healthy and here taking care of my dog, and potentially working toward something that I love doing, which is very important to me. Yes, I’m courageous; yes, I’m a warrior; yes, I’ve done unimaginable things, in a sense. But I’m not perfect, and I fall flat on my face every day. Life can be brutal sometimes emotionally, because a lot of our questions as human beings go unanswered, but it’s important to stand strong.

Lastly, anything you’d like to say to your fans?

Yes! Carry on, warriors, carry on. I love you. Thank you, and I hope you enjoy this new album. Even if you don’t, well, you’re missing out on good shit, man (laughs)! But I wish that everyone achieves their dreams, and makes smart decisions for the planet, and for life around us.

Life of Agony Socials:

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About Jake Kussmaul

I come from a family who is passionate about all things music. I learned to sing at an early age, and by 13, had my very own Fender Strat guitar. I tried my hardest at learning all that I could. Because I was born with cerebral palsy, I had to teach myself an adaptive playing style. I learned to write and record my own music, despite these difficulties. In college, I started making great use of my writing abilities by reviewing music, as well as copy editing. I guess it's best to stick with what you know, while welcoming a fair challenge at the same time.

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