"Are you as stoned as I am, dude?" Mina Caputo asks, laughing. "You sound pretty fucking stoned, too." I'm not, but speaking to the Life of Agony singer, I almost feel like I'm experiencing a contact high. She's been through a lot in her lifetime, but her tone is philosophical and exuberant, and our conversation easily flows from the darkness of suicidal thoughts to the everyday beauty she conscientiously seeks out and surrounds herself with.
At the time of our conversation, Caputo's pioneering NYHC-turned-alt-rock band is gearing up to release their sixth album, The Sound of Scars, the conceptual sequel to their beloved 1993 debut LP, River Runs Red. The original record follows an alienated teenager through the worst five days of his life, which — spoiler alert — culminate in him slitting his wrists in his bathtub, and the album broke ground with its unflinching look at abuse and depression, as well as Life of Agony's powerful, melodic songwriting. Narratively, The Sound of Scars picks up right where River left off, an ending that, according to Caputo, was always supposed to be ambiguous. The dripping noises at the close of River's final interlude "Friday" continue right at the beginning of Scars' first track "Prelude."
LOA bassist Alan Robert penned the lyrics to River Runs Red, which he has described as "basically my diary," and he did so again for most of The Sound of Scars. As she did on River, Caputo makes the words her own. On the single "Scars," she sings, "Scars are what we are," a sentiment that resonates particularly strongly when you know her story. Born to drug-addicted parents — her mother died of a heroin overdose when she was one year old, and her father abandoned her — Caputo was raised by her paternal grandparents in Brooklyn, New York, and physically abused by her grandfather, who also beat his wife. She grew up hating her family and hating herself, especially as she struggled with gender dysphoria at a young age. She found escape in music, but still, for years, would battle with depression and fall into substance abuse herself.
Things changed in 2011 when Caputo finally came out as a trans woman. A weight was lifted. She's since become a beacon of strength, individuality and LGBTQIA representation in the world of heavy music. She's not afraid to call out bullshit when she sees it, and spreads as much positivity she can. "If people knew the truth about people like me, they'd understand how humanity works and how fluid it can all be," she says. "We never got a manual on the cosmos. We've got an entire cosmos inside of ourselves, and I'm trying to bring that out."
WHAT MADE YOU WANT TO MAKE A SEQUEL TO RIVER RUNS RED?
MINA CAPUTO Well, the whole kind of [Pink] Floydesque conceptual part of it. [It's] more a sequel than framing a musical continuation — obviously, the band is in a completely different state of body, mind and soul. But as far as conceptually, and without giving it away because there was no conclusion on River Runs Red, Alan came to the band and asked if it would be cool if we put closure to this dialogue. The band has been through a lot in the past few years, and we felt as though it was time. We thought it was a great idea.
HOW DO YOU RELATE TO THE STORY OF RIVER RUNS RED NOW?
I actually relate more to [River Runs Red] now than I did back then when it was made. I can sing [those songs] knowing that I've kind of made it through that era of my life, of torture and life's cruelty. Whether I inflicted it on myself or the cards I was dealt and didn't understand, my personal life, my inner child world that we all have but people pretend is not there, or that people do a good job of hiding that vulnerable self because we're all the same self. I relate more now. I sing [those songs] with so much more love than I ever have, I think. I made it through some crazy times in my life, the most deliberate debauchery and a dark world. And now I can go back to that memory. I'm in a warrior state. That's how I sing my songs. I made it fucking through. I'm so happy, all the times I could've died — that was my wish at the time. I'm so much clearer now, and I appreciate what I've gone through. I'm so blessed to be still singing in a trashy, gritty, fucking dirty kind of band with something real to say. Something prolific for the throwaways and voiceless people.
WERE YOU WORRIED THAT COMING BACK TO THE RECORD WOULD STIR UP PAST EMOTIONS OR TRAUMA?
Nah. I'm more than just my music. I've learned over the years. I learned how to fucking slip trauma. Anything traumatic that happens to me in my life, I learn to bliss it out. Like seriously, I had to literally identify my dad's body because I'm his only family, and I laid on the floor with him. That's how strong I fucking am. I have to say ... I had the most enlightening experience. I tasted nirvana. I felt like his soul finally left his body when he saw that I was with him, and it was strange. But we don't understand anything about our lives in a sense, we don't know the origin of life, where we're going. We haven't even figured out the in-between. We know nothing, we can't put our finger on anything. I know I have angels guiding my way. I know I'm protected.
THE SOUND OF SCARS IS A PRETTY HEAVY ALBUM TITLE. WHAT DOES THAT MEAN TO YOU?
I guess, to me, it represents the sound of our wounds, in a sense. Whether its self-hurt, attempted suicide, living, getting tattooed, a psychological scar. I think each issue that needs to be looked at by yourself, there's a vibration to wounds, or hurt or pain. Memories of missing someone or a lost one. Whatever your issues are as a human being. The human condition, everyone experiences it differently. I did [a solo] album in 2007, A Fondness for Hometown Scars. Scars are always webbed in my lineage of work, or ours. It's funny, Alan wrote a song called "Right This Wrong" and I wrote a song with the same name years ago. There are always these weird synchronistic things with us like that.
WAS COMING OUT SCARY FOR YOU?
Yeah. Probably my biggest fear actually, sharing my vulnerability with the world and people who aren't going to understand. But that's a process you have to go through. I feel bad for those people who don't understand that biology constantly changes, that they're not able to reduce life to energy, frequency and vibration. It's all out there — everyone has a feminine and masculine side to them. It's an interesting complexity. The people that don't understand it are very uncomfortable with themselves. I've lost so many people. But do you know what that taught me? I love a human declutter. [Laughs] I had to get rid of so many people that were around me for the wrong reasons, living vicariously through me. But I'm constantly changing. It's all so mysterious to me, we're all beautiful people. I feel like I live between, where I'm blurring the lines. And if someone doesn't appreciate me for really putting out my real, authentic, gentle energy, then fuck off. That's cool. I'm not here to police anyone. I don't give a shit who understands what.
AS MUCH AS SOCIETY HAS PROGRESSED AND BECOME MORE OPEN AND ACCEPTING, THERE ARE STILL LOTS OF PEOPLE WHO ARE COMPLETELY BACKWARDS.
I know these highfalutin lawmakers are all hypocrites, at their hidden coke parties they've got boytoy slaves there, and the [politicians] are the exact opposite of what they portray themselves to be in this world. You'd think it works one way, but it doesn't. Same thing for the pharmaceutical companies and religion. It's very complex and it's like one big onion. You'll never stop peeling back the layers. You'll be 90 and still peeling back layers on what humanity has done to humanity over the years for their own purposes of control. People like me are bumps in the road, it's supposed to be one straight line. But look, this is fucking people, man. Deal with it, grow the fuck up. Try to understand, don't be an asshole. That's what it comes down to.
AND YET PEOPLE CONTINUE TO BE ASSHOLES. DOES NEGATIVITY, PARTICULARLY ONLINE, BOTHER YOU?
Dude, people are weirdly negative about fucking everything. [Laughs] Especially everyone who think their opinion is fact. You can't worry about pleasing the world. You really have to love what you do and just do it. If people naturally gravitate, then fuck yeah. If people can't get over the fact that I play with my gender … I'm loving life, being the free spirit and wearing my courage like a crown. I'm not looking to teach people unwilling to learn. I don't give a fuck. I don't waste my time thinking about what other people think. I did as a teenager and in my twenties, and that only led me to hating myself for it, hurting myself for it. Not living my full eccentric self.
ROMANTICALLY, WHAT'S IT BEEN LIKE SINCE YOU CAME OUT? HAVE YOU GOTTEN ANY TOUGH-GUY HARDCORE DUDES IN YOUR DM'S THAT YOU WOULDN'T EXPECT?
Yeah, of course. [Laughs] That could be layered, too. There are certain people that would only hook up with me privately and I really don't like that. I don't want to be no snake in the grass. I want to be with people who own what they like and not give a fuck about being with who they want to be with, and it's none of your fucking business. Who are you? Get the fuck out of here. But we've all hooked up with people like that, [and] in that respect it can be nice when people are open about stuff. And then there's straight-up creepy fucking assholes who don't know how to talk to anybody.
I SEE A LOT OF MY TRANS FRIENDS ALWAYS NAVIGATING PEOPLE THAT FETISHIZE THAT ASPECT OF THEM, AND IT BECOMES DEHUMANIZING AND IT COMPLICATES SEX AND RELATIONSHIPS, WHICH ARE ALREADY A MINEFIELD.
I mean, having a relationship with yourself is complicated, as well. For me, it's been. But I don't robotically live my life — I feel everything. I'm very empathetic, as well. But you know, people play games. Boys and girls, and other trans people. People play games. That's what people do. I think [Charles] Bukowski said it best: "People just are not good to each other one on one."