EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH JOHNNY KELLY OF TYPE O NEGATIVE AND SEVENTH VOID
As a part of goth metal OGs Type O Negative, drummer Johnny Kelley’s talents are often overshadowed by the low end sultriness and antics of bassist/frontman/nude model Peter Steele. But his graceful stickwork has been holding the band together since 1995’s October Rust, and the string of Type O albums that have come out since have stood shoulder to shoulder with the band’s prior material. Along with being Danzig’s drummer, Kelly plays in Seventh Void, a stoner/trad metal outfit with Type O Negative guitarist Kenny Hickey. The latter band released their debut on Vinnie Paul’s Big Vin Records in April. In an interview with MetalSucks, Kelly discusses Type O Negative’s future, working with Glenn Danzig, and his thoughts on modern drummers.
How’s life going?
It’s been a little chaotic.
Really? How so?
Well, there’s been a lot going on gearing up for the release of the Seventh Void record. It’s just trying to get everything sorted out.
Between balancing that, juggling the bands and family and stuff, it’s a handful.
I can imagine. Do you still manage to keep your head above water in all that?
I try [laughs]. Sometimes you feel like you’re taking on water.
Yeah, I can imagine. Can you tell us a little about being on Big Vin Records?
Yeah, we’ve never been really considering another offer or anything like that. It never crossed our minds. Vinnie suggested a couple of times whenever there were some setbacks with getting stuff taken care of on his end. It had taken so long to get the record out, to get everything together and stuff, up to that point it was like what’s waiting another couple of months going to do. There wasn’t any deadline or anything. The schedule is working out well.
Thankfully it’s not competing for anything as far as Type O Negative right now or anything else that Vinnie or anyone else involved won’t be able to devote 100% to getting this record off the ground.
How was the experience of making the record?
It was pretty casual. There wasn’t any rush to do anything. When we were able to get into the studio and record the tracks, we did that. We had sent the tracks down to Texas so Vinnie and Sterling can work on them. After they were able to put time into it, they did. It was nice not having anybody pushing you or breathing down your neck. “Time to deliver. You got to give this. You got to give that.” It wasn’t anything like that.
Would you say it was more of a positive experience than you’re used to as far as recording?
I wouldn’t say that. It was just a labor intensive. At times it was psychotic. It drains a lot out of you. Whenever you put a lot of effort into something emotional, it takes a piece out of you. It was, for the most part, a cool experience. It was at our leisure, so it wasn’t anything it shouldn’t have been but.
Are you still playing drums for Danzig?
Danzig? Yeah. I was in California in February and did a couple of shows on the West Coast, and we spent a day in the studio while I was out there. We got a little bit of work done.
I’ve been playing with them since 2002… So to finally get on a record, I’m really excited about it [laughs].
What would you say the difference between that and recording for Danzig was? Is it like a different experience?
Well with Glenn, the experience that I’ve had with him as far as recording is that I’m learning the stuff on the spot. I didn’t get any music before I got into the recording studio, so it’s literally setting up the drums, getting drum sounds and then he walks in with the guitar going “This is the song and I want you to go from this to this, and this is what I’m kind of looking for.” Then we’ll play it a bunch of times, and I’ll try different things and stuff and he was like “Alright whatever. That sounds cool. Do that,” or “I’m looking for more of something else.” It was very on the spot, old school and more impulsive than being able to sit there and think about what you’re doing and really getting into understanding the song. It was more spontaneous. And that’s kind of exciting too. It’s definitely more challenging to see what you can come up with like a cool pattern or something as structures are literally being thrown at you and you have to respond to it. So that was kind of cool in a way, another learning experience.
Experiences like that make you a stronger player then, right?
I think so. It helps you become more rounded. If you respond positively being thrown into those situations, then yeah, absolutely it makes you a better player.
What can you tell me about the Seventh Void record? What drove you to make it? What do you get out of playing in Seventh Void that you may not get out of playing in Type O or Danzig?
Shorter songs [laughs]. If you make the comparison, it’s more along the lines of playing in Danzig than it is playing in Type O. The instrumentation isn’t as elaborate, lush or orchestrated as Type O Negative is. Type O has a lot going on in a song at any time, almost at all times. There is always so many things happening at once. It’s very intense in that aspect. This is more of a bare bones, more about the rock than it is about textures and layers and stuff. The song arrangement is definitely simpler because they’re shorter. The foundations of both bands are based on the same thing – Black Sabbath, and well mainly Black Sabbath.
Type O is definitely doing something different than Seventh Void, but they’re are times in some of the songs that you can hear half of Type O Negative is definitely in this band. We wanted it to be a little bit different. You don’t want to do the same thing because then it becomes repetitive, and then it’s like why would we be doing this. If we’re doing the same thing as Type O Negative then just do it with Peter and Josh. We wanted to do something that was a little bit different, but there is really only so far that we would be able to get away from it.
Yeah, because Type O is such an established unit.
Yeah, but it has a very strong identity. I think it has a very strong character. You can tell right away on the radio if it’s a Type O Negative song, which is a really good thing. Every band wants that where you can hear it on the radio and say “that’s so and so.” If we wanted to step out of that bubble a little bit and do something a bit more rock orientated or something. Just something different. That’s it.
I know this is kind of premature, but would you keep focusing on Seventh Void?
Yeah, of course I would like to see it do great. I would love to see lots of people getting into it and stuff. It doesn’t mean that I don’t want the same thing for Type O Negative. I very much enjoy being in Type O Negative. We have a pretty cool dynamic, and I think that Type O Negative is still doing something that is pretty cool, especially for a band that’s been around for twenty years. Sometimes the work schedule gets a little slow, and you need to do something to keep yourself busy.
So that was pretty much how Seventh Void got started. There was a little bit of down time and it just built upon that.
Is there any news on the Type O Negative front at the moment?
We’re trying to hammer out the details of the next record with the record label and stuff like that. We need to get that stuff sorted out. Then we got to get the four of us in a room and start working.
I spoke to Peter the other day. He said he has a few things written, so that’s cool. I haven’t heard them yet, but it’s time to get back to work on that too.
How do you feel about your legacy with Type O Negative so far?
I really don’t see it as a legacy.
I still see it as there is a lot of work to be done. There are a lot of things that the band never really got to accomplish that I would like to see some of them happen.
What would you like to see the band accomplish?
Maybe going to new places like Japan or Australia or South America. There are a lot of places that the band has never been to. A lot of different places have opened up to music. Really Type O has focused, for the most part, on Europe and North America. We played in Montreal last year. It was the first time we’ve been there in ten years.
That’s because of legal issues with Peter. At the same time, there are a lot of places that the band hasn’t been to for whatever reason. It would be cool at this point in our careers to reach out and go to some new places. Creatively, I think what Type O does is pretty cool and unique in its own way. There are definitely some good records left in the band still. Nobody is looking at it like running through the motions and putting something out just for the sake of putting something out. The band still basically kills itself to make a record. A lot of work goes into it.
You still think that the band has a lot to say musically?
I think so yeah, absolutely. If we didn’t, maybe it would be time to seek out doing something else and putting it to bed. It doesn’t really get to that point. It’s still a challenge. There’s still fight left in the band.
From what I’ve noticed, just being a Type O Negative fan for as long as you’ve been in the band, with every new album I’m like “Well, this is going to be the album where they kind of finally scale it back a little bit.” Every new album has been . . .
[laughs] It is. I thought the last record was a pretty solid Type O record. I think it had all the elements that make the band cool in its own way. We put the longest song we have ever written on the last record. We’ve always been known for playing slow and dirgy and whatever. There was some stuff that was pretty fast on the record and then there was the longest song that we’ve ever done. It just feels like Godzilla walking slowly. It’s cool. It’s still stimulating.
As long as that’s still working.
Right, as long as there is still some kind of validity to it, and not just pulling a paycheck. There’s got to be something that inspires you and motivates you, and not just some financial game or some kind of shit like that. Yeah, making money is important. We need it just as much as the next person [laughs]. It’s just getting a little tougher to earn.
What do you think of the current music climate as far as the industry is concerned?
Just like everything, it’s taking a hit. The music industry was getting beat up before the country went into a recession or global recession. The music industry was getting pummeled to begin with. This just compounded the problems. It’s definitely harder to earn a living. The price of everything has gone up, except for the money that the band makes. That stayed the same [laughs]. Or got less. It’s hard to earn a living.
Would you ever consider giving it up because it’s getting so hard?
I go through that battle all the time. I think at this point in my life I’m pretty much committed. What the hell am I going to do? [laughs] Even now I’m still chasing the dream, still trying to reach that climax. I still enjoy it. I still have a blast.
It is. Nothing beats getting paid to do something that you would be doing if you weren’t anyway. You know?
Yeah. And I would say don’t let anyone know that you would do it for free [laughs].
What are you listening to right now?
I was listening to Jet earlier.
Yeah, with the record Shine On.
Yeah I was on the train, and I brought my iPod with me. I was going through my iPod and was like “You know, I never really sat down to listen to this record.” I take CDs, put them on my iPod and never listen to them. It’s like “Oh, I’ll get to it”. I have the new AC/DC record. I have the new Metallica in my iPod. I haven’t really sat down and given it a good listen.
Yeah. So I was thumbing through my iPod and was like “Oh let me check out the Jet record.” I had it in there for over a year, I might as well sit down and listen to it. I’m not going anywhere because I’m on a train.
What do you think of it?
I think it’s pretty cool for what it is. I really liked their first record. This to me doesn’t meet that. I wasn’t as blown away, but it’s a good record. It’s rock and roll. It’s played well. It’s sung well. It’s produced well and stuff. It’s a cool record. What else am I listening to? I’m trying to think what I have in my car. I have Sgt. Pepper. The Best of Badfinger.
[laughs] I always have on my phone Temple of the Dog, Superunknown from Soundgarden, and whatever I’m listening to on XM Radio. I listen to a lot of radio than I do CDs. What else did I listen to yesterday? Oh I was checking out the new Static X CD.
I was listening to that in the house yesterday.
What did you think of that?
I thought it was pretty cool. It sounds like classic Static X. I don’t know how he sings like that [laughs]. It sounds like a machine. It’s a trip. It’s definitely cool though. This record the drums seem very organic when listening to the mix and stuff. It’s a cool record. I like it a lot.
That’s cool. Who do you admire out there for drummers?
There are so many. There are a lot of good players out there right now. There are guys that are able to keep it simple, then there are other classic awesome drummers that are still out there and playing like Phil Rudd from AC/DC. Bill Ward, I always dug Scott Travis from Judas Priest, Tommy Lee and Tommy Aldridge. There are some younger guys that I dig a lot: Morgan Rose is a good drummer, Roy Mayorga is a monster. That guy is out of control. He is fucking awesome. Gene Hoglan. He’s in a class by himself. I feel so embarrassed to hang out with him [laughs].
The last thing I want to discuss is playing drums with that guy. It may not be my thing, but there are guys that are definitely doing some cool stuff that I hear on the radio. The drummer from the band Avenged Sevenfold is pretty cool. I forget his name.
I’m going to be honest, I don’t know it offhand either. He seems pretty good.
Yeah, he’s good. He has a few tricks and licks and stuff going on in there. It’s not just keeping the tempo like some of us older guys [laughs].
Do the younger guys, not to sound rude, make you feel pressured to stay on your toes?
Well, I guess there is always that healthy competitiveness, but I’m harder on myself than anybody else. I’m always trying to push to do the best job that I can. My thing has always been to try to be consistent and try to deliver the same or better and build up on that. Just to try to be more consistent and build more on top of everything that you’re doing. I’ve never really been into players who have been over the top with so many tricks and licks and whatever into four minutes. It’s so over stimulating that it bores me [laughs]. If I want to watch a drum solo then I’ll pick up my instructional video. It’s better than watching his drum solo in four minutes of whatever and putting it into a song because the song gets lost.
You mentioned that you still like the drummer from AC/DC still.
Phil Rudd. I challenge anyone to be able to do what he does as well [laughs].
It almost takes giving your ego the backseat I would assume.
It’s not even ego to have that kind of discipline and to be just so in the pocket like that. Nine out of ten guys can’t do it. The ratio is even higher than nine out of ten. Just to sit there and play in the pocket and be the rhythm section has become a lost art. You see a lot of that in pop music and stuff like that. In a metal band or hard rock it’s very seldom now. A lot of players are into being seen and being heard instead of writing a good song. That’s what AC/DC is about, writing great songs. Phil Rudd and Cliff Williams are just the rhythm section to a great song [laughs].
Do you think that ethos goes with you in what you’re doing in Seventh Void?
I think so. For me the biggest kick that I get out of it is hearing Kenny sing. Kenny has a great voice, and I think this is a good way to showcase Kenny’s singing abilities. So that’s the biggest charge that I get out of it. I think when people check it out, they are pretty surprised. Even when Vinnie first started helping us with the mixes, he said “I didn’t know Kenny had pipes like this.” [laughs] To me that’s the most impressive part about it. I think that’ll be the thing when people think “Oh wow, the guys from Type O Negative are doing this” and they’re going to hear Kenny singing, I think that’s the thing that Type O fans will get off on. A lot of fans have always dug Kenny singing. Sometimes some of them would say “Kenny should sing more.”