When ex-Type O Negative drummer extraordinaire Sal Abruscato unleashed Gothic Metal masters A Pale Horse Named Death upon a largely unsuspecting populace in 2011, few could have accurately predicted the brilliance of their full-length debut And Hell Followed With Me (2011). Having un-ironically joined forces with fellow Type O Negative alumni Johnny Kelly, the group quickly proved themselves to be a bona fide creative force not to be ignored as they issued their sophomore effort Lay My Soul To Waste in 2013. Now, with the long-overdue release of When The World Becomes Undone (2019) officially upon us all, the group's future once again appears impossibly bright. Recently, Abruscato, always a man of many words and interesting stories, was kind enough to speak with us regarding, among other things, his departure from embattled Alt-Metal veterans Life Of Agony.
Todd: What ultimately led to your departure from Life Of Agony? There has been so much overblown internet drama surrounding them. Am I correct in understanding you left them under 'less-than-amicable' circumstances?
Sal: “We had nothing in common anymore. I was 'ying' and they were 'yang'. I had written the music for and had arranged nine out of the ten songs on that last record (A Place Where There's No More Pain, 2017) hence why I got distracted from putting out another A Pale Horse Named Death record. ...I was riding in a van and people had nothing in common anymore. I'm into hot rods, I work on my cars and I do electrical and plumbing work in my house. I work with my hands. I'm basically a man's man. But I'm also an artist and a Renaissance man, so I can do a lot of things. Basically, I was sitting by myself in the van in my own world. I also felt that the band was becoming something else and I wasn't really happy. I wasn't really happy with all the shenanigans going on around me. I felt like I was in a three-ring circus all of a sudden. ...I had a lot of bad things happen during the year where I was diagnosed officially with depression. They tried putting me on medication, but that medication was making me nuts, so I stopped taking that crap. At the same time, my youngest daughter is disabled. She went through twenty procedures that year alone and I had to leave on tour two different times. So I'm at the airport with my wife who was pregnant at the time and with my daughter at the hospital while she was getting surgery, so I was getting very depressed. In the end, they became very shallow as band mates because they did not understand my situation and did not understand what it meant to be a father of a special needs family. It's been going on since 2013 yet all they cared about was their superficial, shallow Twitter posts. I felt like it was becoming two different things. They weren't happy with me and I wasn't happy with them. Then they started getting really nasty with me towards the end via E-Mail. And honestly, Mina Caputo is not who she says she is. She's actually a really nasty, nasty person. This preaching crap that she does is all a fake show, so in December, I said 'I had it. I'm out. I quit.' They already had their mind set on somebody else and I was like 'That's the thanks I get for literally writing ninety percent of your freaking record that made you have a successful comeback?' You can literally hear the A Pale Horse Named Death style guitar playing and writing that was in various songs on that record. Nonetheless, I was already talking to the other guys in the band and wanted to make another record. I think they had their hopes set on the fact that I was going to again be a fantastic ghostwriter on the next record for them, so it's two different worlds, dude. I like playing really heavy, dark and doomy stuff. ...I'm really not too fond of talking about them, to be honest, so I will just leave it at that.”
Todd: Taking everything into consideration, I would imagine it's not a particularly comfortable subject for you. I hadn't realized your relationship with Mina and the rest of the group had deteriorated and became so unpleasant.
Sal: “She went on social media and tried to destroy my career. She made an unprovoked tweet to her thirty thousand followers calling me anti-transgender, a bigot and a homophobe, all of which is all bullshit. I've never said anything about her online. She totally tried to have the mob show up at my house with torches and chat 'Burn the witch', right? It was like the Salem witch trial. To be honest, I'm all for people doing whatever the fuck they want. I don't give a shit. But people need to have the mutual respect to not shove their shit in other people's faces. Things were supposed to stay somewhat respectable and be a little conservative. What you do in the privacy of your own home is your own thing, but I don't need to have it force-fed down my throat every day. Basically, the band turned into a joke. It turned into a back-up band for this whole crazy movement she's been trying to do. And honestly, I think it's all fake. I think it's just like the people that get desperate to make it and get on the Ellen DeGeneres show and try to re-invent themselves. ...They're like 'Well, if I go this one way, I might get famous' or something. After a while, I was like 'I'm not believing in any of this at all' because I saw this really nasty person come out every now and then and it totally contradicted the preaching this person does.”
Todd: Let's explore the group's origins. Prior to A Pale Horse Named Death being formed, did you ever foresee yourself being in a group with (Type O Negative alumni) Johnny Kelly (Danzig, Kill Devil Hill, Seventh Void)?
Sal: “No. The thing is, when I made the first demo of the first record, I went to his house when he was living in Jersey. I put it on and a few days later he says 'Sal, you know what? I really like that stuff. If you ever do this live, I'd love to play it. It's like Type O Negative, so it's right up our alley.' And I was like 'Oh wow. Really?' I was surprised and shocked. I was like 'You'd really play with me and you'd be the drummer? Wow, this is cool.' And then I started thinking about it and I was like 'Johnny, do you realize how interesting this is? You're talking about the two drummers from Type O Negative getting together and doing a different band. This could be a good thing or a bad thing.' ...It's so natural in the studio when we play together. We have such a mutual respect for each other. He doesn't look at me like the drummer that he took over for. He looks at me as the vocalist and guitarist of A Pale Horse Named Death. And I don't look at him as the drummer that replaced me in Type O Negative. I look at him as an awesome drummer and an all-around awesome guy. He's very disciplined and very hard-working. He's really accomplished and I'm very proud of him. ...Honestly, if you were to have asked me that before I started the band, I would have been like 'I don't know what you're talking about', but I'm glad things happened the way they did because now we've done all these tours and shows together and have this cool thing we're excited to do again. It's a good thing because we both realize we're not getting. any younger. Our friends are passing away and sometimes they disappear from our lives, so we are appreciating each other more.”
Todd: Was it difficult for you to make the transition from drummer in Type O Negative to vocalist/guitarist of A Pale Horse Named Death? When I was first introduced to the group, I didn't expect to 'find you' as the frontman.
Sal: “It was one of those things where I would sing around the house and sing in the shower. I had this idea to make a cool new record, so... I was very shy at first, but then one thing led to another and it was like 'Holy crap.' And then an agent friend of mine was like 'Do you want to open for Monster Magnet in New Jersey?' and that's how I got thrown into my first show as a front man. I was singing in front of like two thousand people that were Monster Magnet fans and were there to see Monster Magnet. But I kept it together and it was definitely a big learning experience. As the time went on, every time I went onstage, I would discover a new part of myself. And then, when we went on tour, I was forced into discovering what it meant to take care of yourself so you can sing every day. By the time we did the second record, I was getting even stronger and was dabbling with using more harmonies. ...So it was a transition that was, I guess, natural, but it definitely forced me to muster up the courage to keep it together in front of lots of people. We were starting to do festivals in Europe in front of lots of people and it was like 'You know what? I love talking to the audience. I love breaking their balls, making jokes and showing them the the human side because I'm not a Rock star and I'm totally approachable'. I started enjoying being myself and one thing led to another and my vocals started becoming more natural and better. And now, when we did this record, it's all just second nature. It's not a big deal. I don't care if there's one person or a thousand people or ten thousand people. I still sing the same and give it my all. It's a hard to sing and play the guitar at the same time, especially with some of the new songs. It's definitely a challenge, but it's made me a better musician and makes me a better writer than I would been if I'd just played the drums. That's how it all is.”
Todd: The group has obviously undergone multiple line-up changes throughout it's existence. In hindsight, has there been a common or reoccurring factor behind them? Further more, have all of the changes been amicable?
Sal: “They've been amicable. When I started toying with the idea of re-activating A Pale Horse Named Death, I knew I wanted to do another record. I was getting countless emails about when we were going to do another record. I had asked (former guitarist) Matt Brown three different times. I said 'Dude, I'm going to do another A Pale Horse Named Death album' and all of a sudden, he didn't want to do it. He had different things going on in his life and I respected that, so I was like 'Okay, we'll get a guitarist to fill in his shoes' and basically, after a few auditions, we found (guitarist) Joe Taylor. It was hard to have someone different after eight years, but he's such a well-rounded, incredible musician that it was no problem for him. He plays with so much feeling that it was like 'Wow.' He ended up doing a great job with (guitarist) Eddie Heedles. They both did some amazing solos on this record. As far as the Production, the first two albums were Produced and recorded by Matt Brown and I, so when he left it was like 'Okay, that's one less person to do it with.' (Bassist) Eric Morgan, who's the basis of the band, is an Engineer as well, so what happened was Eric and I Produced, recorded, Engineered and Mixed the record remotely from our own two studios. We would fly things back and forth to each other and then finalize everything with our Mastering Engineer Maor Appelbaum (Dååth, Faith No More, Halford), so that's really the biggest difference. At first, I was nervous because I'd done a lot with Matt over the years and we were friends for a long time. I wish him all the best in life, but I had to do what I had to do. It's my dance, so I'm going to go write the record like I've always done. But then Eric stepped up to the plate and did a phenomenal job with me.”
Todd: With you personally handling the majority of the songwriting for When The World Becomes Undone, how do you 'present' everything to the other members of the group? Are you bringing finished material to rehearsals?
Sal: “I send all of the recorded demos and the pre-Production stuff. I send it out and then they learn it. I'll set up a guideline, as far as everything is concerned and then allow everyone to do add their salt and pepper spices to it, ya know? But the roots, the organization, the meat and potatoes is pretty much there prior. ...It's just like how (late Type O Negative vocalist/bassist) Peter (Steele) was. The song has to come from the source. The melody, the concept and the topic. And this is why I wrote the material on the last Life Of Agony record. Those guys, they're not prolific, so you find yourself stuck in a studio putting parts together and it's like 'How does this sound? No? Not too good? Okay. Let me force myself to think of something else. Oh, how does this sound, guys? How about we try this?.' And before you know it, you're in the studio for five hours, you've got nothing done and then you still have to worry about feelings getting hurt if you don't like somebody else's part. The reason why I started this thing was because I wanted to put on paper my idea entirely, my concept entirely because I believed in myself enough to be like 'I know I'm on to some good shit. I know I have a crazy mind that can really reach out there and tickle people's brains. I'll push you and go against the grain and make you look at yourself in the mirror and see the monster.' It's important that the source and the author stays consistent.”
Todd: Speaking as both a fan and a 'journalist', I've always felt that when a band isn't operating as a whole, it can have an adverse impact on the end results. Is that what happened on A Place Where There's No More Pain?
Sal: “There's no continuity and no fluidity. And I learned this attitude from Peter because he was the same way. He'd walk in and say 'Okay, this is how the song goes. Here are the parts' and that would be it. ...I used to argue with him about the drums sometimes, but at the end, it was what we had to do to make the song the song. And that's, at the end of the day. That's what it's all about. It's not about being selfish or egotistical, it's about doing what's right for the song. Sometimes it hurts to do the right thing. With Life Of Agony, there was always that odd, awkward silence in the studio. One day after we got back together, I was like 'I ain't interested in doing another record. We always have problems when we do a record. We always have a weird vibe and things are weird'. I finally got them to agree to do the record my way. I actually used Matt Brown to Produce that record. We recorded that record like we would record A Pale Horse Named Death record. Unfortunately, that album was the album that broke Matt's back and made him want to get out of the music business just about entirely. The musicianship is just not there. And that was one of the things that was stifling me and boring me in that band. Nobody progressed. People were playing the same way that they did since 1993. No one ever took lessons, no one ever took any music theory and it was like they were all one-trick ponies. I have my reasons why I walked away from that. I was making a few bucks with those guys, but you know what? Money isn't everything. I needed to keep my abilities and integrity stellar. ...I felt very bored and tired with them. I was stifled musically.”
Todd: You previously touched base regarding the difficulties of balancing your career and your home life. How are you able to 'further' a career while having a Special Needs child? I can only imagine how difficult it must be.
Sal: “Things got a little hairy for my wife and I in 2013 when our second daughter was born disabled and blind. She instantly had to go in for corneal transplant surgery. And she just finished the second round two days after Christmas. ...Basically, she's in a wheelchair and for a young family, that was a devastating blow. My wife has sacrificed so much to do everything we have to give her the best life we can. It's put me in a dark corner. This is one of the reasons I walked away from Life Of Agony. I had all of this going on where my daughter underwent twenty procedures in 2017 alone and I still had to leave on tour. I would be in the airport leaving on tour with them while my wife was pregnant with our third child, while our second daughter was having surgery. ...And the other guys are talking about stupid Walt Disney movies and can't understand why I'm depressed. I'm manically losing my mind because my wife's at the hospital with our second daughter and I'm at the Newark airport about to fly to Europe and try to have a good time. That's what they didn't understand and it put me in a dark place. ...My daughter is about to turn six now. Her name is Josephine, but we call her Josie. She's had the hardest deck of cards dealt to her. This kid was born into the world with a raw deal. She doesn't even know what it means to run and play in a yard. There was this frustration of not being understood by people, especially my band mates. And then they had the audacity to call me negative and toxic. I was like 'Wait a minute.' I'd been diagnosed as manic depressive that year also and the doctor put me on some medicine which made me nuts. And I also was diagnosed with a pre-cancer condition that year, so I was like 'I'm having a great year, guys', ya know? So I had no sympathy, no compassion and no understanding for them and I had to sit there and watch somebody talk about their fucking struggle trying to be a woman. You can understand why somebody would get just a little bit irate. I had a little girl that was struggling just to have a normal life, so there you go. It's some heavy shit, man and that's what influenced this new record. And that's what made this record become what it is.”
Todd: What are the touring plans for When The World Becomes Undone? Have a lot of new dates been booked?
Sal: “We'll be leaving March 20th for Europe. We're doing a three-week tour over there to kick things off and get our feet dirty again. Our American agent is now working on getting four Canadian dates contracted, so we're definitely building around that. We're going to do a two-week Northeast tour and then after that, we're shooting for the end of June to go into the southern United States. Basically, we're always going to do this in-and-out thing because I really don't like to tour for a long time at once. I have way too much going on here and it's way too much pressure at home. So we're always going to do multiple tours of two or three weeks at a time. ...We're going to be in the UK, Germany and Switzerland and when we will come home. I think everything is going to start in early May. Like I said, we're going to do a bunch of Northeast dates and then we're scheduled to do Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and Quebec City in Canada. We're going to get our feet wet again and then we'll start getting out there. We need to reach all the fans that haven't seen us in a long time and are dying to see us again.”
Todd: What kind of set list you be working with? Will you be trying to represent the group's entire discography?
Sal: “I think that's the fair thing to do. ...I think we're going to try to pull out three songs from the new record and add them to existing long set that we already have with the first two records. We're going to try to keep a balanced mix and I think as time goes on, we're going to start delving into other new songs. The band still has to get more in shape for doing the new songs live, so we'll be practicing everything. A few months ago, we did a bunch of shows, but we were only doing all the old stuff because we didn't want to have anyone film it and put it on YouTube. I think it would be fair to feed people three of the new songs from the record and go from there.”
Select Sal Abruscato Discography
When The World Becomes Undone (2019)
A Place Where There's No More Pain (2017)
Lay My Soul To Waste (2013)
And Hell Will Follow With Me (2011)
Broken Valley (2005)
River Runs Again (2003)
River Runs Red (1993)
Bloody Kisses (1993)
The Origin Of The Feces (1992)
Slow, Deep And Hard (1991)
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