When New York crossover band Carnivore broke up in 1987, vocalist-bassist Peter Steele joined forces with childhood friend and keyboardist Josh Silver and formed the short-lived Fallout, then with the addition of guitarist Kenny Hickey and drummer Sal Abruscato, Repulsion, which changed their name to Type O Negative. The band's first album, 1991's Slow, Deep and Hard, in many ways picked up where Carnivore had left off — indeed, most of the songs on the record were leftovers from Steele's previous group. Type O followed a year later with the fake live album The Origin of the Feces (Not Live at Brighton Beach), which featured renamed and rearranged cuts from the debut. Many fans were expecting more abrasive punk-based songs when Type O Negative released what would prove to be their breakthrough album in 1993, Bloody Kisses. What they got was practically a different group.
While Bloody Kisses contained vestiges of the band's past in the punky "Kill All the White People" and "We Hate Everyone," most of the album features a strikingly innovative hybrid of Black Sabbath-style doom, early Sisters of Mercy-esque goth, hooky Beatles-inspired pop and experimental psychedelic rock across its bracing, gloomy epics. Steele seductively crooned about sex, heartbreak and death in a deep, baritone voice, Hickey complemented the vocals with slow, chugging riffs, clean, oblong licks, crystalline arpeggios and melodic solos. Silver crafted four instrumental interludes, which gave the album a weird, unhinged vibe. While the songs were catchy, they were also elliptical and multifaceted. Four were over seven minutes long, including the single "Christian Woman," which was originally 8:58 before being edited down to a four-and-a-half–minute radio single.
"Of all the albums I've worked, this is the one I'm the most proud of," says Monte Conner, former VP of A&R at Roadrunner and current President of Nuclear Blast. "Type O proved on that album that they're geniuses. The record is completely unique and it's so cinematic between the sound effects and the way the music flows together with all these Beatles-like harmonies and little hidden messages. It's a masterpiece. It's more than a record. It feels like a work of art."
Striking a chord with fans of various genres, and assisted by the endorsement of strangely influential Nineties and early Aughts cartoon headbangers Beavis and Butt-Head, Bloody Kisses was the first Roadrunner album to go gold and platinum.
To commemorate the 25th anniversary of Bloody Kisses, we talked with Conner about the band's ability to transcend genre, Steele's perfectionism, the conflict between Type O and Seals and Crofts and how the prospect of major touring nearly broke up the band.
BLOODY KISSES WAS SO DIFFERENT THAN ANYTHING TYPE O HAD DONE BEFORE. THEY CAME FROM A CROSSOVER/HARDCORE BACKGROUND AND BLOODY KISSES IS THIS CRAZY GOTHIC-METAL RELEASE.
MONTE CONNER Even calling them "gothic metal" doesn't do it service because it really is its own entity that sounds like nothing before and nothing after. There were two punk songs that could have been on the Slow, Deep and Hard record, so that's why I say they didn't make the full transformation until October Rust, which was, start to finish, the first Type O record that didn't have any jokey hardcore songs. Even so, I think Bloody Kisses is by far the band's best work, even though a lot of fans seem to prefer October Rust.
WHY DO FANS ARGUE THAT OCTOBER RUST IS THE BETTER RECORD?
Because Bloody Kisses has a few feet left back in the Slow, Deep and Hard days. But that brings up another point. Peter was the kind of guy that was never happy with the final result. I mean, if Peter was alive, he'd be in [the studio] right now, today remixing Bloody Kisses. He was one of these guys that didn't want to put anything to bed. He always wanted to redo things and that's why the record Origin of the Feces is the way it is. The songs they played from Slow, Deep and Hard have different titles and they're arranged differently. Basically, when Slow, Deep and Hard came out and Peter started touring for that record, in his mind he had already moved ahead and he had revised and changed the songs. Origin of the Feces was his way of fixing that album to the way he heard it in his head. The reason I mention that is because after Bloody Kisses came out we put out a digipak version with a different cover. It had the two hardcore songs removed. It had all the interludes removed and a song called "Suspended in Dusk" was added, which was more of a goth track. So the redone Bloody Kisses basically eliminated the past entirely to make the record cohesive and establish this new direction.
WHEN TYPE O STARTING RECORDING BLOODY KISSES, DID YOU KNOW THEY WERE PLANNING THIS SONIC TRANSFORMATION?
We did, and the reason is because Josh was the producer and engineer — the main knob twiddler. He had his own home studio and Type O Negative did these extensive pre-production demos there. After they finished demoing these songs, they sent them to us and it was about 80 percent of the record done in a professional-quality recording. Everything was pretty much the way it wound up on the album. Not much changed. When they presented us with that, we got very excited right off the bat because the demo started off with "Black No. 1" and "Christian Woman." We freaked out and realized, "Wow, we've got something here that could take the band further than anyone could have imagined."
DID YOU EVER CONSIDER USING AN OUTSIDE PRODUCER INSTEAD OF HAVING THE BAND PRODUCE THE ALBUM?
We were so excited by the demos that we actually said to the band, "Let's go in and get a real producer, spend money and really go to town on this." We were ready to roll up our sleeves and invest in the band to make a masterpiece. They objected because they were very DIY. Josh and Peter were a very insulated unit and didn't think they needed a producer. They felt like they could make it great on their own. So we had a little bit of a battle with them. We were like, "No, we've got to get a producer" and the only name they would give us was Jim Steinman, who had worked on [Meat Loaf's] Bat Out of Hell. He was someone they really respected. As I recall, we actually reached out and sent the demo to Jim Steinman or to his representatives and the word we got back was, "Why do you need me? It's all there. There's nothing I can add to this." We also got word back from other producers that the album was great the way it was, so we let the band do it. That was a pivotal point in the relationship between Roadrunner and Type O Negative.
Once the band had self-produced their masterpiece and it blew up, all of a sudden they had the power. They were very reluctant in the future to listen to us again and they wouldn't send us the pre-production demos for October Rust. Their attitude was, "We proved that we know what we're doing, right? You're just a record label. We will deliver the album to you. You sell it. Let us do our jobs." The success of Bloody Kisses put them in that position, which was fine because they did know exactly what they were doing and they continued to deliver the goods.
IT ISN'T JUST THE SONGWRITING AND THE "HITS" THAT MAKE BLOODY KISSES GROUNDBREAKING. BEFORE IT CAME OUT, NO ONE HAD MIXED METAL, GOTH AND EXPERIMENTAL ROCK IN QUITE THAT WAY.
It lives on many different levels and feels like something very, very significant. When that came out, nobody was singing like Peter, with that sexuality in his voice. There were people like Sisters of Mercy, but they didn't have Pete's level of sensuality or his ability to turn on a dime and sing heavy. And the way the album was recorded and mixed was amazing. Josh put tons of compression on the microphone, which is why you can hear every time Peter smacks his lips. It's like you're inside his mouth. It's all so immediate.
WHAT WAS THE FIRST SIGN THAT THE ALBUM HAD STRUCK A CHORD WITH THE PUBLIC?
The record didn't explode out of the gate. It was a process. We put it out in '93 and put a lot of guerrilla marketing into it. "Christian Woman" was the big single, which is crazy because "Christian Woman" doesn't even have a chorus. But it was catchy. There was a hook but not a chorus. It was a very atypical song.
DIDN'T THE FIRST SINGLE "BLACK NO. 1 (LITTLE MISS SCARE-ALL)" HELP OPEN THE FLOODGATES?
We worked "Black No. 1," but it wasn't a hit. "Christian Woman" was the one that connected, but even so, the record wasn't some smash No. 1 album. You kind of didn't realize it was a hit until the record went gold and you saw that radio had been playing "Christian Woman" for a couple years straight, just low in the rotation. It wasn't like we were selling a ton of copies of Bloody Kisses. Instead of blowing up and selling 50,000 records in a week, we were simmering and selling three to four thousand a week. But we kept that up for years straight. So there was never an explosion. It was more like a low-grade fever that continued and continued and continued until we had a gold record.
PETER PLAYED UP HIS MISERY FOR THE MEDIA. HE WAS WITTY, BUT EXTREMELY SELF-DEPRECATING AND HE SAID ON NUMEROUS OCCASIONS THAT THE BEST TIME IN HIS LIFE WAS WHEN HE WAS WORKING FOR THE PARKS DEPARTMENT.
He was perfectly happy with his life working in the New York Parks Department. When Bloody Kisses came out, Type O Negative were not a nationally touring band. They'd head up to Albany and maybe drive up to Boston and play from Connecticut down to Jersey. They did these little weekend jaunts. And Pete didn't want to be in a nationally touring band. He liked being at home. He liked his routine and he really liked working for the Parks Department, so it was a pretty big thing for him to quit. Pete was like the Jolly Green Giant. You can picture him going through the park doing his thing, saying hello to all the old ladies and probably bringing bagels for the homeless. He was a larger than life character to a lot of people, from his co-workers to the various vagrants in the park. There was a lot of pressure on him when Bloody Kisses started to happen.
DID EVERYONE ELSE WANT TYPE O TO TOUR NATIONALLY?
There was a lot of pressure for him to take the band to the next level, but he didn't want to quit his job, and that's the reason the drummer on the record, Sal Abruscato, quit. There was a point where it looked like the band might break up. In typical Josh Silver humor, one day green broccoli pizza pies showed up at the Roadrunner office. That was basically his way of saying that the band might be over. Well, that's when [drummer Johnny Kelly] came into the band and Pete was eventually convinced to tour and they became road warriors. Type O Negative did tons and tons of touring. But in order to go on the road, Pete had to do it on his terms. They had a bus and stayed overnight in hotels. And Peter brought all his gym equipment on the road so he could stay in shape.
DID PETER ENJOY TOURING FOR BLOODY KISSES OR WAS IT LIKE TORTURE FOR HIM TO BE ON THE ROAD?
I don't think Pete wanted to waste his time if it wasn't going to be real. He saw the band blowing up. He saw the attendance at the concerts. And so he saw that there was this means to an end and that there was a reason for upending his life. Obviously, he was getting success and other kinds of rewards with it. And as long as he had a lifestyle he was happy with, he seemed to adapt well to touring. Once he took the plunge, we didn't hear any complaints.
WHAT WAS THE MOST FRUSTRATING ASPECT OF WORKING WITH PETER ON BLOODY KISSES?
This is going to sound hysterical, but some of the biggest head-butting we did with Peter at Roadrunner was over the artwork because Peter was extremely picky about the entire presentation of the band, from the album covers to the sayings on there. The biggest joke was the colors. Pete was obsessed with the color green and having green on all the covers. And it had to be the right green. He would come into the office or sit down with the art director and look at these color-coated PMS books that designers use. Peter would literally spend hours looking through hundreds of different shades of green until he found the one he wanted. Sometimes we would generate a print on paper to make an example of something for him, and if it was the least bit off because of the coloration of that particular copy machine, then he would complain. He'd drive us way crazier about the colors than he did about anything having to do with the music. But in the end, the record had an aesthetic. The cover of Bloody Kisses was very noticeable.
ON THE ALBUM TYPE O TRANSFORMED SEALS AND CROFTS' LIGHTWEIGHT HIT "SUMMER BREEZE" INTO THIS BROODING MONSTER. DID THE BAND INCLUDE THAT AS A JOKE?
No, they did it because Peter loved the Beatles and other great pop songs from the Sixties and Seventies. He felt that the band could reinvent it and make it their own as they did with any songs they covered, including Black Sabbath's "Paranoid." That was part of the genius of Type O Negative. But Peter changed some of the lyrics of "Summer Breeze" because he felt he needed to add some humor and Type O references. He didn't know he needed the songwriter and publisher's permission to do that. We approached the publisher, who then approached Seals and Crofts, who clearly were not amused and rejected the request. So the band were forced to go in and re-record the vocals and they remixed the song to make it into a straight-up cover.
SO "SUMMER BREEZE" WASN'T A JOKE, BUT THERE IS AN INSIDE JOKE ON THE ALBUM THAT NAMEDROPS YOU.
Peter loved the Beatles and he wanted to do something like what the Beatles did at the end of "I Am the Walrus," where it goes, "Smoke pot, smoke pot, everybody smoke pot." So at the end of "Can't Lose You," it goes, "Everybody smokes pot, Monte Conner sucks cock." That was kind of surprising, but I wasn't offended. I was really good friends with the band and I knew it was a joke — a joke of love. It wasn't meant to be mean.