A Pale Horse Named Death: Sal Abruscato’s last chapter

When Sal Abruscato felt the end of Life Of Agony – the second project of his drumming career, after a brief spell behind the drums for Type O Negative – was near, he finally decided to step into the spotlight as a singer, guitarist and composer with his very own band. Thus A Pale Horse Named Death was born, and this year marks the release of the band’s second album, Lay My Soul To Waste, which goes even farther than the first one in terms of gothic doom, with rock, heavy and grunge orientations. Sal Abruscato confessed how happy he was with this band that took years in the making, and that he would not have created without the necessary experience. He describes himself laughingly as a tortured and depressed man, and talks about the darkest aspects of the world in a cynical way. According to him, the world is a horror movie whose soundtrack he delights in writing, happy to have left the drumsticks behind to take the reins of his musical destiny.

The frontman of A Pale Horse Named Death has but one fear now: that his project should not work as he intends, even if he’s highly satisfied with the way things are going on at the moment. Because, as he points out bitterly, the older you get, the fewer opportunities to start over you have. And Sal could well see A Pale Horse Named Death as a last, triumphant chapter.

« If I had to quit this business for some reason, I want it to be with what I’m doing because it’s what makes me very happy. »

Radio Metal: A Pale Horse Named Death can be seen as a mixture of Goth Metal and Grunge. Since you’ve played with Type O Negative and Life Of Agony, I guess it’s a mixture that came up very naturally from you, isn’t it?

Sal Abruscato (vocals, guitar): Hum, yes, it’s like right up my alley. I’ve always wanted to create dark music and there’s a little bit of my roots in it. That was a very natural, a very easy thing for me to do. I have a lot of misery inside of me! (Laughs) Yes it’s very natural for me to write this kind of dark gloomy doomy music.

Can we see A Pale Horse Named Death as a summary of your career?

Yeah, basically for me A Pale Horse Named Death is kind of the final chapter of everything I’ve learned over the years in being in other bands and learning and experimenting all that type of stuff. A Pale Horse Named Death is very much important and it’s basically like my final chapter, that’s why I want to do things the way I’m doing them, outside of my previous bands of course.

By saying that it was your final chapter, do you mean this band will be your last band?

Yeah, because I would like it to last a long time, but if it doesn’t that’s OK also. But I didn’t want to… You know, I created this band because I’ve always wanted to do my own music but also because I saw what was happening in the future with Life Of Agony: we were incapable of writing a new album. I was certain that what I was writing, I couldn’t use it in Life Of Agony. So I felt that you know, with Life Of Agony coming to an end, if I didn’t do something different, that was probably going to be it for me. So I created A Pale Horse Named Death so I can continue with a career, but in a different chapter and taking on new challenges, changing it up a little bit and giving it my 100% effort. I don’t have any interest in playing drums for anybody; I don’t have any interest in playing in any other bands… At this point, with the things that I’ve done, I can’t go backwards. I’m very happy with doing what I’m doing in A Pale Horse Named Death. So for me it would be highly unlikely that I would be playing drums for anybody or changing and be in other bands. I’d like to continue writing albums if everything permits, continue writing for A Pale Horse Named Death, continue putting out records and I can only hope for success…

Lay My Soul To Waste is more diverse than the first album. Do you think the band needed this after the first album?

I think it was a good natural progression. I wanted to keep the same recipe and the same kind of energy as on the first record. But I wanted to improve it, I wanted to make it better, I wanted the sounds to be a little bit more extreme in certain ways. I wanted to push the vocals more, we wanted to make it sound even bigger and better than the first record. So I kinda set out to creating interesting songs that still contain the dark side from the first record. I didn’t want to change too much, I knew it needed a little bit of change just to keep things interesting, because if we did exactly the same record as the first one, people would say it’s good but it sounds like the first record! I wanted people to be able to say: « Well, it’s the same style, you can tell it’s A Pale Horse Named Death, but it’s the next level. » So it sounds bigger and more orchestrated and the songs touch more diverse subjects and sounds. It was all intentional. So it was a nice natural step up from the first record. And I think it’s important to keep people interested and also get interested in the band those who might not have liked the first record.

We can hear a lot of Alice In Chains in this album, is it an influence of yours?

You know, it’s funny, it kinda blows me away. Everybody keeps on saying that… You know, I like Alice In Chains, I only have one record of theirs, it’s not like if I sat around listening to them… I always thought their vocals and their songs were great and that it’s a great band and I’m really happy to see them playing again now that they have a reborn situation, but at the same time, I don’t sit there listening to them! So I think why a lot of people tend to say that, it’s because for some reason, my range, in the way I sing, is very similar to the range of Layne Staley and we’re playing in a similar kind of key. So I think right away that I have a similar tone to them and that’s why a lot of people get that idea. At the same time I did a lot of harmonies on the record, which Alice In Chains does as well. So at the end of the day, for me it’s a great compliment when people say that. It’s not like it’s a bad thing. But I’m just doing what I’m doing. It just happens to come out the way it does and people are just identifying it with Alice In Chains.

« We’re such a disposable society, nothing is meant to last anymore. Fifty years ago, when they made products, they made it out of high quality materials that would last fifty years! »

« Killer By Night » is the follow up to « Serial Killer » and it tells the story of a killer that has multiple personalities. Did you get inspired by real serial killers?

Yeah! My wife likes to watch a lot of criminal investigation programs and programs about serial killers… So I always like to watch them too. And I always found fascinating the stories about these individuals and the fact that they can do the things that they do. At the same time, I battle within myself a multi-personality, as if I was coupled with different selves… (Laugh) And so we had the idea of creating a story about something that probably happens all the time, someone that is meant to kill, someone that is a serial killer. This is basically what was on the first record. The second records continue with the same individual but now he is married, he has a family, he lives like a normal man. During the day, he’s a normal person with a family and then doing what he does, but at nighttime he has this desire to go down south and go find a victim and kill him and be back before the morning. So I think it’s a really good story and I’m actually considering continuing it. I already have my mind on the third record, so I’ll probably continue the story on it. But I think it’s something that bands don’t do anyway. So I think it’s very different to have a song that goes from album to album, with the same story.

There’s a song called « Growing Old » on the record, is growing older something that worries you?

Yeah it sucks! There are certain things that, as you’re getting older, you’re not going to be able to do! You start running out of second chances, you start running out of time to do things over maybe the right way or to create or being involved in something new, whether it’s a new career or a new change in life. The older you get, the less time you have, so eventually you end up on that other side, where you’re just looking back and what’s done is done and there’s nothing else you can do! You’re looking at yourself deteriorating in the mirror, just coming to terms with the inevitable, which is getting older and dying.

You declared about the lyrics of this album, that you had to write about the depths of the darkness of mankind, that it’s a very dark work but someone has to do it. Why do you think that someone has to do this and why you?

Based on everything that’s going on, literally, if you just turn on the news, the only things news promote are death things, and misery, and negativity. As far as the state of the world goes, there’s so many stupid events, so many wars happening, all these problems in the middle east, all these problems with all those countries, all the problems around the world economically and we have the global issues with environment and health things… It’s changing year by year and very quickly. It seems like we have just become the ultimate parasites! We are sucking everything we could suck out of the planet. Everything is made in China and it’s made to be thrown away. Everything is plastic: we constantly make things out of plastic that keep on going in the garbage and into the earth without getting recycled, you know? We’re such a disposable society, nothing is meant to last anymore. Fifty years ago, when they made products, they made it out of high quality materials that would last fifty years! Now there is nothing you can buy that would last more than a couple of years! Even the phones, you know? You’re buying your phone, six months later there’s another new one and they’re putting pressure on you to buy the latest phone because you could do more with it. And it makes people so dependent on technology and electronics that if it would to shut down, it would be chaos! People would be lost without their internet and their phones! And it’s pretty sad, because we have become very dependent on all these devices that are very delicate. Any time the electricity can go down and people wouldn’t know what to do with themselves, they’d go crazy! They went crazy here in New York when we had the storm, you know… So I feel all that. I feel like for me it’s very easy to talk about the nasty side of humanity, whether it’s drugs, killings, apocalyptic endings and so on.

The songs on the album have sometimes a horror movie kind of aspect but, at the same time, they’re very inspired by reality. Do you think life is just a horror movie sometimes?

Yeah, I like horror movies and I think it’s influenced by horror movies. In fact, the song « When Crows Descend Upon You » from the first album, I wrote it the day after watching Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. A lot of people say that we have this kind of horror sound and again it was one of those things that I didn’t intentionally do, that sound comes naturally for A Pale Horse Named Death. It pleases me that people say that and we are all fans of horror movies and zombie movies, and especially the devils movies, and anything that has to do with « save my life »! (Laughs)

« I learned that collaborating in a room with four people to write a song is not usually a good idea: the song doesn’t come out that good. »

The bands you have been part of have always claimed coming out of Brooklyn and, at the same time, played a pretty pessimistic music. What is it in Brooklyn that makes you play this kind of music?

Hum… (Hesitating) I don’t know if it’s Brooklyn. To tell you the truth and be honest with you, almost none of us live in Brooklyn anymore! Matt Brown (guitars & backing vocals) is the only one who still lives in Brooklyn. This thing about Brooklyn, back in the early 90’s, is that we all kind of grew up going to school in Brooklyn and it was tough, you know. It was very easy to get into fights and into troubles… I guess it’s a tough town, a pretty tough city. And that has definitively influenced everybody’s mood. But I think that all this sound and style really come from within us, because there’s nobody else left in Brooklyn, there no bands left doing what we did back then. There’s not much of a scene. I don’t know what the new generation of bands is doing. I believe that that old style of sound was inside of us and it came out, and we happened to live in Brooklyn. I think that we could have lived somewhere else, it would have probably been the same sound, you know? Because we were all just personally tortured, depressed and miserable! (Laughs)

The artworks of both albums are completely green in color. Green is also the main color of Type O Negative. What is so special about this color that makes you come back to it?

Well, it’s the color of nature; anytime I see green it reminds me of life! Plants, trees, things that created the air that you breathe and the food that you eat. At the same time, green has a kind of a cruel, creepy kind of vibe. The first album doesn’t really have any green on it, the second one has a little bit of green in it and the vinyl is green. We thought it would be kind of cool to continue some form of a tradition, now that Peter (Steele) has passed away and Type O Negative is gone. I’ve always liked the color, Jon loves the color, we all like the color… It seems appropriate because it represents our roots.

You have described your relationship with Matt Brown as the « murder evil version » of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. What is that characterizes John Lennon and Paul McCartney relationship that we can find in your collaboration with Matt Brown?

Actually, that was just like a joke I said in an interview and everybody took it seriously. That just meant that Matt and I were having a good working relationship and that he understands me very well and knows how to work with me very well. He believes in me and we’re on the same page when it comes to recording the music. I have a good working relationship with him and we created in the end a good album and good music, and that’s what I meant. Lennon and McCartney did great songs with the Beatles. So I kind of was just joking around, saying that we were doing the same things but in an evil way, we worked very well together and made good music together.

The first album was only made by you and Matt Brown. Did Johnny Kelly (drums) and the other guys participate this time?

No, I did it the same way again. For one reason it was a budget problem, the second reason was time, and I’m very particular about how everything has to be played on the songs. There’s a lot of little details and to spend four or five months working with someone else, rehearsing to get them to that level, to record, was just too much time to add to the recording schedule. And being that I demo everything, write everything and do everything myself, it just happens a lot quicker if I just do it, you know? Because I know what it’s supposed to be and I know every little guitar slide, every little bend, etc. Every little thing that happens is deliberately planned. And it takes time for someone else who didn’t write the song to understand it and execute it the way it’s supposed to be very quickly. So we felt that we had a good formula on the first record, why not just keep it the same way? And especially with the second record, because I knew I was going to be more possessive and particular about the material.

« That kind of touch me how we were all, just one by one, laying a rose down on [Peter Steele’s] casket and saying goodbye. »

You began with Type O Negative in 1991, why did you take so long before fronting a band and what did push you to do so?

Well, I think that what kept me so long was that I wanted to gain knowledge and experience in writing music. I did write some songs and choruses for Life Of Agony. I needed a good kick in the butt, because basically I decided in 2009 to create this concept. I was already seeing the writings on the wall with Life Of Agony and knew we would never make another record, I knew that it couldn’t work in the same room to collaborate. And that’s why I do things the way that do them now, because I learned that collaborating in a room with four people to write a song is not usually a good idea: the song doesn’t come out that good. It really needs to come from one place, with one vision and be completely the way it’s supposed to be. So I took that experience and created A Pale Horse Named Death because I knew that Life Of Agony was going to break up, it was going to end eventually and that it would have been it from me. So I started A Pale Horse Named Death in 2009 to kind of create the next chapter of my musical life. And basically do things my way and write the music that I want people to hear.

And do you feel close to other drummers that have left drums to become frontmen, like Dave Grohl from the Foo Fighters or Phil Collins?

Yeah, I think it’s great! That’s what I said when I was doing it, that I’m going to do like Dave Grohl: I’m going to start singing and playing guitar, I’m tired of playing drums… I played drums for like thirty years. I know that I could sit and play drums any time. It’s just a matter of practicing a little bit but… I knew I needed a new chapter and I’ve been playing guitar for a long time and I always wrote music and I just wanted to go for it. Because I figured that if it’s the last thing I do, if I had to quit this business for some reason, I want it to be with what I’m doing because it’s what makes me very happy.

The song « Cold Dark Mourning » is about Peter Steele… Was it important for you to write a song about him?

It just came out naturally. I basically wrote the song about my experience at the cemetery while we were standing around his casket. And that kind of touch me how we were all, just one by one, laying a rose down on this casket and saying goodbye. I took that song, took that first verse and turned it into a story about a guy that loses all his friends and he finds himself all alone in the end and all he’s waiting for is to join his friends in some other universe.

Interview conducted by phone on May 28th, 2013
Transcription: Amphisbaena

A Pale Horse Named Death’s official website: apalehorsenameddeath.com

Album Lay My Soul To Waste, out since May 27th, 2013 via SPV / Steamhammer

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