“It Was Chaos” Type O Negative’s Kenny Hickey on the Darkness of ‘Life Is Killing Me’

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Any band that sticks around for long enough is going to go through several transitional periods. Scenes change, rendering that which was popular obsolete. Playing music becomes less of a joy and more of a job. The old demons of drugs, drink, and depression catch up and tighten their claws. Life happens, but it’s not the life you wanted or expected.

These are delicate time periods to navigate through. Many bands see the proverbial writing on the wall and either try to adapt their style to current trends or break up altogether. In rare cases, a band soldiers on while staying true to their original vision. Despite their lives falling around them (or maybe because of it), they create some of their finest work.

“That’s our Corabi album!” laughs Type O Negative guitarist Kenny Hickey regarding their 2003 album, Life Is Killing Me, comparing the record to the low point in Mötley Crüe’s career. Given its high regard from fans and critics, this sentiment might come as a surprise. However, as Kenny elaborates on the circumstances surrounding the release, the analogy begins to make sense.

Life Is Killing Me was released ten years after Type O Negative’s commercial and critical breakthrough album, Bloody Kisses. The stakes in a record’s performance changed a great deal in the decade between these two releases. “The pressure really doesn’t come until the band becomes a thing and now, you’re all depending on each other,” says Hickey. “That’s when the pressure came. Before that, Bloody Kisses, when we’re talking about that, was all fun experimentation.”

Peter Steele, Type O Negative’s storied frontman and driving force, described this period of time in interviews by saying, “I guess I am going through some sort of midlife crisis being 41 years old now. And all the things I took for granted, my health, my life, people I love dying, people I loved walking away. I was with a girlfriend for 10 years but she left. It is like my dreams are dead.”

“I think Bloody Kisses was an inventive record. It was like our renaissance for the band inventively as far as writing in our style,” says Hickey. “It was inventive. In a way, it was a positive record even though it was made by Type O Negative. I would say that even October Rust was still very romantic, more inventive, keeping a positive outlook that maybe this could all work out and we could really realize the dream.

“Then it all went downhill after that, I hate to say it,” he continued. “The band was still inventive, still eclectic. Peter could always compose, he was still brilliant with World Coming Down, but that was the downturn. Now we started going ‘Okay, we aren’t gonna realize the dream, and this is what we have left.’”

Kenny goes into further detail. “Addiction had taken hold of me and Peter and even Josh at that point,” he says. “So now we’re starting to go back down into negativity, where we started with Slow, Deep and Hard. By the time we got to Life Is Killing Me, we were at that phase in despondence and addiction where it was just chaos.

“It didn’t have the vision of the other records. I mean, I have fans who will argue with me, but that’s how I see the record. It was chaos,” says Hickey. “There wasn’t a lot of vision, there wasn’t a lot of cohesive glue. It was going to the rehearsal studio and whatever came out came out, trying to piece it together amid addiction and chaos and hundreds of people hanging out that shouldn’t have been hanging out. That was the atmosphere.”

Despite his somewhat dismissive view of the writing process, Kenny acknowledges that Life Is Killing Me had its strong points, saying, “There are moments. There are some moments on every record. ‘Anesthesia’ is my favorite track on the album, by far. And that was the one besides ‘I Don’t Wanna Be Me’ that played the best live. It became almost a staple of our live set because we played it well and it always went over well. It was a great song. It is from reality and how Peter was feeling, you know? Everything came together. I love ‘Anesthesia.’”

During this period, the song “(We Were) Electrocute” appeared on the soundtrack for Freddy Vs. Jason. Of the experience, Kenny says “I remember our manager saying, ‘You’re on the Freddy vs. Jason soundtrack.’ Holy cheese. Bad horror movies, cheesy bands. That’s how I felt about it. I’ve never even watched it.”

Life Is Killing Me is considered a thematic and lyrical high point among fans. Regardless of the turmoil surrounding the composition and recording process, Peter managed to channel his inner entropy into beautiful and relatable poetry.

“He hated writing lyrics,” says Hickey. “I remember him so many times, in the bathroom on the toilet in the studio, right before he had to do the vocals, writing! And if you told him ‘Look, I think you can write better lyrics than this’ he’d make you sing them. Writing lyrics can suck because even if you have something to express, it’s being imprisoned by a certain amount of syllables and beats and timing,” he says. “You’re playing rock and roll. You could get away with a lot of stupid lyrics. Let’s face it.”

An undeniable high point on Life Is Killing Me comes in the single, “I Don’t Wanna Be Me.” The song’s undeniable hooks serve as a trojan horse for Steele’s misery. Kenny looks back and says, “I remember before he wrote it, I was like, ‘Dude, you write great stuff, but you can’t write a simple song.’ And that’s what he came up with. So, I guess he could write a simple song!”

Over time, “I Don’t Wanna Be Me” has become one of the biggest metal songs of the new millennium, which currently sits at 35 million streams on Spotify, the band’s highest. Speaking of the song’s continued success, Kenny says, ”Of course it’s a surprise. It started with one or two metal bands covering it, right? Trivium covered it. I mean, it was the single off the album but you know it wasn’t really a big hit. Yeah, I am surprised it gets so many plays, but that’s how things go, you know? Younger bands bring it to the younger generations. It’s all a series of random chaotic circumstances, you know?”

Time has been kind to Type O Negative, and the band is arguably more popular today than they ever have been. While grateful for the continued support, Kenny doesn’t feel the need for contemporary bands to live in the past by walking in his shoes, saying “I’ve heard some stuff, like exact rip-offs, not even derivatives. It’s like, what the fuck? Whatever, it’s cool,” he says. “And again, everyone’s keeping the band alive so, thank you. But I’m not gonna sit down and listen to something trying to replicate something that I’ve already done. I’m past it. Not past it exactly, but when you do something as an artist you don’t wanna go back. If you’re gonna go forward, it’s got to be mixed with something new. It’s got to have something added to it or it’s just irrelevant as far as you’re concerned, as an artist.”

When it comes to the future of music, Kenny is pragmatic and optimistic. As many of us age, we look down on the music of younger generations. It takes real wisdom to step outside of yourself and become open to new art, new sounds, and new ideas.

 “A lot of musicians put down EDM and all that stuff,” says Kenny. “But, you know, I’ve been to a few concerts around it, and I’m looking at these kids with their knapsacks, and when the breakdown happens they’re all dancing and like Crazy! She looks fun as crap, man! If I was 17 I’d be doing it! It’s fun.

“You gotta keep an open mind, you know, I have two young daughters so they turned me on to everything that is going on. They’re both musicians too, so they’re artists. I always try to keep an open mind. I’ve tried to teach them to keep their minds open because if you don’t, you’re losing an opportunity for learning and you’re losing pathways to reach out and get better and understand more. I try to keep an open mind, I do.”

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