Up from the ceaselessly rumbling, garbage-truck-choked avenues of Brooklyn, New York; spawned in the midnight blackness of iron-latticed parkscapes in the ultimate gothic city; falling sonically somewhere between Sisters of Mercy, Black Sabbath and the Cocteau Twins, comes Type O Negative.
Garbage trucks? Hold that thought.
Over its four-album career, Type O (Peter Steele, Josh Silver, Kenny Hickey and Johnny Kelly) has variously been taken to task for: racism, misogyny and forsaking its hard-core-punk roots (no, really) to become crass, neo-goth rock poseurs. And it's managed to sell more and more records as it's gone along, thank you very much.
The band's obvious creative and aesthetic center is bassist/vocalist/songwriter/co-producer Peter Steele. And one look--or listen--will tell you why. First, there's his voice: deep, booming and husky enough to give Peter Murphy and Andrew Eldridge a serious run for their money in the "how low can you go" goth Olympics. Then there's his look: Steele is huge (six-foot-six, 240 pounds), with flowing, jet-black hair. There's no denying his dark, erotic presence. Straight boys can safely participate in the same veiled, homoerotic worship as jocks ogling a Sports Illustrated football photo spread ("Wow, look at the arms on that guy"), while rocker chicks can just openly lust after him, especially the visual aid of Mr. Steele's much-celebrated August 1995 Playgirl magazine show-all.
Oh, yeah--the garbage-truck thing: Apparently, Steele supported himself during the band's lean, early days as a driver for the New York City Department of Sanitation. His former truck's engine is sampled on the band's most recent album, October of Rust (1996).
The accusations of misogyny leveled at Type O are based primarily on the band's avowed fantasy to watch two women get it on. The cover of its previous album, Bloody Kisses, shows two goth babes giving each other just that, and the title of Rust's semi-hit single "My Girlfriend's Girlfriend" speaks for itself.
And the racism? Well, this is four white rockers from Brooklyn we're talking about. Why is anyone surprised to hear the same tired, antiwelfare rants (Bloody Kisses' "Kill All the White People") that Guns N' Roses raised a ruckus with long ago? Or the PC-baiting, pseudo-Aryan militarism of "Glorious Liberation of the People's Technocratic Republic of Vinnland by the Combined Forces of the United Territories of Europa"? One is reminded of Rob Reiner's "rockumentary" interviewer asking members of Spinal Tap if they thought the presence of only white, teenage males in their audience indicated a sort of inherent racism in their music. Well, no shit, Sherlock.
Also, to be fair to Type O, the Spinal Tap comparisons stop there. These guys are not self-important rock stars with an overinflated sense of their music's significance. They themselves have called their output "junk rock" and admit to being "prostitutes [who'll] do anything and everything that's put in front of us." So there. They're in it for the money . . . and the fun.
Type O Negative is scheduled to perform in the flesh at Electric Ballroom this week, so interested parties can sample the calculated, lighthearted debauchery live. In the meantime, New Times recently discussed with keyboardist and co-producer Josh Silver the band's fascination with lesbian sex and its ill-fated headline spot at last October's U Fest.
New Times: There's a quote on the inside cover of October Rust that reads "Functionless Art Is Simply Tolerated Vandalism . . . We Are the Vandals." Is it safe to say you think most rock musicians take themselves too seriously?
Josh Silver: Way too seriously. In fact, I think most musicians are even less important than the average citizen. We're lucky in the sense that we get to try to make a living at something that has good moments, but at the same time we realize that we're just four assholes from Brooklyn. We started that way, we'll end that way, and we're still that way.
NT: On October Rust, you lean more toward the lush and ethereal end of the sound spectrum and less toward the thunderous and thrashy, even compared to Bloody Kisses. Has that simply been a natural progression, or a conscious effort?
JS: I think it's both. We didn't sit down and say, "This is going to be ethereal," but I think when you hear the material, it instantly gives you a vision of what it should be, and that's the vision it gave us. So, conscious? Yes. Evolution? Yes. But just because of the material itself.
NT: What's up with the women-having-sex-with-women motif? Is that an interest you all share, or is it mainly just Peter's thing?
JS: Hey, I don't know any male that doesn't share that fantasy. I find lesbians, I guess, somewhat sexually attractive; not that I plan on having a relationship with two women, 'cause I can hardly handle one, to tell you the truth! But I think it's just a general male thing.
NT: But why don't you hear of women wanting to watch two guys get it on?
JS: Well, I do, actually. But you're right, it's not as common. That's a social thing, though, not a sexuality thing. That's just what's expected of women in the United States--not to be outgoing. A guy fucks a million girls, he's a hero; a woman does, and she's a slut. That's completely ass backwards, but that's America.
NT: Last October, Type O Negative was scheduled to headline the U Fest at the Blockbuster Desert Sky Pavilion, but a riot broke out during the Deftones set and you didn't get to play. We heard your band got in a brawl with the Deftones at a local bar later that night. Care to tell your side of the story?
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JS: No. I'd really just rather leave it at this: People should try to have more consideration with each other when they're doing very tough situations. When you have a show that's going to have 20 bands playing, that's a logistical nightmare. Even musicians should learn to be nice to each other. But I've never met a musician I liked, so far.
NT: Anything you want to add?
JS: Just my deepest apologies, brother.
NT: To whom?
JS: Anybody in the future who may be offended. It's nice, you know, to just get it in ahead of time.
Type O Negative is scheduled to perform on Wednesday, February 12, at Electric Ballroom in Tempe, with Sister Machine Gun, and Drain. Showtime is 8 p.m.