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As rain hammers down over Chinatown, New York, Mina Caputo is huddled under an awning and contemplating Kerrang!’s “How are you today?” conversation starter. “It’s a very layered question,” she smiles. “Do you want the bullshit version or the real version?”
In reality, Mina is incapable of delivering anything but the real deal; whether singing on record or speaking her mind in interviews, she has long proven to be one of the most candid and inspirational singers of her generation.
When Life Of Agony emerged with their classic 1993 debut River Runs Red, Mina Caputo – then known as Keith Caputo – bassist Alan Robert, guitarist Joey Z and drummer Sal Abruscato spliced hardcore, metal, alternative and raw autobiography to stunning effect. It was both traumatised and traumatising.
“Pain was natural for me,” Mina told Kerrang! about the making of Rivers Run Red back in 2017. “That was all I knew. I grew up getting beat up all the time. I grew up pulling dope needles out of my dad’s arm. What childhood? You know what I mean?”
The howls of pain did not go unanswered. While Life Of Agony never achieved the huge audience they deserved, they cultivated a highly passionate cult fanbase loyal enough to withstand the band’s on-and-off-again existence. Everything changed in 2011 when Mina came out as transgender, after years of hiding her true self.
“I was busy dying my whole life,” she reflected on her time as Keith Caputo up to that point. “Now I’m busy living."
“I have the ability to change all my trauma, and the world’s trauma, into a very beautiful, creative energy,” she explains. “I’m here for wisdom, I’m not here for anything else. I’m not here for fame, I’m not here for money. I’m here to leave behind healing music so people have the strength to carry on.”
Now, it’s time for Mina Caputo to speak about life as she sees it...
Why did The Sound Of Scars make sense as the title of Life Of Agony’s latest album?
“Well, this band has always represented the outsider: the throwaway, the person with the most wounds. Society doesn’t have room for throwaways. They set up these institutionalised ideas and if you don’t follow them you’re thrown to the fucking side. Even in the music business, it’s all the same fucking shit. If you’re not following a format, you’re a throwaway. We based our careers on the throwaways, the outsiders, the suicidal people. Here you have another collection of songs for the people who don’t feel like they could ever be a part of these institutions. And in this band, we’ve all been through episodes in our lives that have created scars. I’m not just talking bodily scars. I’m talking emotional scars, intellectual scars, cellular scars. Fuck, man, all of humanity is one big scar trying to work itself out.”
Artists often say making painful music is cathartic, but is there such a thing as getting too personal for you?
“Honestly? ‘Too personal’ doesn’t exist with me. I think this band is very controversial on an emotional level and that’s why it still hasn’t achieved massive success. People aren’t ready for the real. They want gimmicks, masks and fucking make-up. They want bullshit. I mean, look at the [MTV] VMAs – they represented more YouTube stars than fucking music, man.”
For Life Of Agony’s Best Of, Anthrax’s Scott Ian wrote about how you should have become one of the biggest bands out there. Why do you think that never came to pass?
“I just think we were doing something so authentic and so out of the ordinary. We were never hardcore and we’re not really metal – I don’t even know how to categorise what we do. But the content of our stuff? Nobody was doing it and still nobody’s doing it. I don’t care how many records you’re selling or how much you’re being played on the radio, that shit doesn’t matter. I don’t want to tell that story, but I sometimes feel like the Van Gogh of rock’n’roll – I said that in the Died Laughing days [Mina’s 1999 solo album], because I thought that album was going to take me to mega stardom. Since then, I’ve always felt that I was creating colours in music. When I sing, it’s not even me singing, it’s God’s tongue.”
Do you have any regrets that you didn’t try to play the game to sell more records?
“Nah, I don’t live with regrets. We’re trying to reach the galaxy with what we’re doing. All of these fucking bands, man, they all sound the same – one’s worse than the other. We refused to play that game. You don’t take any of that shit to the grave. I don’t give a fuck if you sell 500 million records, you’re not taking your home or your material things to the grave. What you’re taking is your dignity or your lack of dignity. I know, as an artist, I’m sticking to my fucking bone marrow, regardless of what this shallow society expects or wants. So we give the blood, we give the guts. We’re giving the real, real shit.”
You’ve often spoken of yourself as a healer. Why do you think you’re a good one?
“I’m used to being persecuted my entire fucking life, even when I was living with my male self. I come from a lineage of fucking junkies. I’ve been abused physically, verbally and emotionally my whole life. I feel like I’ve been a shaman before, in another life. I feel like I’m carrying around my ancient lineage, like it isn’t just me in this body, it’s a million mes. I feel like the older I’m getting, the clearer my different selves are revealed to me. It’s like, spin the wheel, motherfucker, which one do you want? Do you want the butterfly? Do you want the warrior? Do you want the lover? I don’t even need a psychedelic to tap into the Divine Mother inside of me. That’s what I am, I’m a mother. A lot of people come into this planet without a soul. Then there are people who come in with a lineage of souls that… for example, with myself, I’m always experiencing all of them at once. I think that’s why I’ve been given a creative life: I get to go onstage and that’s my shamanistic dance. That’s my rain dance to let the love in and the fire out and to give people love and encouragement to help them love themselves.”
Do you consider yourself a healed person?
“No. I’m still working out my old programming and darkness. Every human being has a shadow self and I have many. The shadow self allows you to confront that negativity head-on. Lots of people don’t want to look at that, but when you are a true healer, a pure soul, you don’t have a choice.”
Let’s talk about the makings of Mina Caputo, both the person and the artist. You lost your mother to an overdose when you were one…
“Yeah, she died when she was 20. I didn’t even know the flesh I came from. I think I can feel that trauma as well. Not knowing the woman who held you in that ball of water, I don’t wish that on anyone. I feel like I’m trying to get back to the womb or a time before the womb.”
Do the searching questions you asked about your mother in Life Of Agony, songs like How It Would Be and Let’s Pretend, still linger in your mind now?
“Oh, yeah. I think about the mystery of birth and death. Before birth and after death is a very intense topic for me, constantly. I’m not thinking about the next Peaky Blinders. Well, I am (laughs). I like Peaky Blinders…”
You’ve said in the past that you’re not afraid of death…
“I don’t believe in the traditional ideology of what institutions sell you on what death is. I don’t even mourn death. In my heart, I celebrate it. When my dad died, I had to identify his body [as described in LOA’s 2005 song The Day He Died]. He was OD’d on the hotel floor, frozen for seven, eight hours. I threw the police and the medic out of the room; I needed a moment to sit with my dad’s body. And it was the most… It was almost like an Ayahuasca trip [an entheogen known for its strong psychedelic effect]. It was the most inspiring moment of my life, emotionally, intellectually. It was the most mystic and mysterious moment that I’ve ever experienced as a human being.
“You know what I’m afraid of? I’m afraid of leaving my dog behind! Like, ‘Oh my god, if I get shot in the head or hit by a car, who the fuck is gonna take care of my baby?’ But what I do know is that death is going to be just as magical as birth. I am fuelled by my imagination and my imagination tells me that death is going to be another planetary realm. Much better than this one. You want hell? We’re in it already. But it’s a matter of what you do with that hell. It depends on who you are and it depends on your perception. I love this life so much, it allows me to love death in a fearless way. I would want to live to 150 if I could because I love this life. I want to be here because I feel like I have a lot of work to do here on the planet. But if the gods want me then I will go with open arms because I know I will be nurtured. And I’ll be taken to another, even higher realm of living, because this is certainly not the only dimension that humanity lives in. I believe in hundreds and hundreds of dimensions.”
It’s hard not to think your reverence for life is down to the fact that you once said you spent a lot of years dying as Keith Caputo?
“Yeah. I spent too many years living like a dead soul, only to make other people happy. So now I couldn’t give a fuck about losing family or friends. It’s good to declutter, trust me. The more true you are to your heart, the more people you lose in this life. This is what I’ve been given and I’m trying to make the best of every moment.”
Years prior to coming out, you said you were “living in attempted suicide mode”. What kept you alive?
“The idea of living as my true, authentic self. I was the living dead, but I still had hopes to meet the courageous person that I am now. I’m happy I didn’t OD. I hoped that I would be taken away and just – like my mom, like my dad – fuck off. I was ready to leave, but I was doing it through drugs. I thought going to sleep and never waking up would be the best way. I didn’t want to get my brains bashed in. I thought drugs would be the most euphoric and transcendental way to leave my body. I just couldn’t take the pain of living the lie I was stuck in anymore.”
How do you feel now looking back on the period when you declared your authentic self to the world?
“Man, I’m still learning the lessons every day. I’m learning how unloving and loving people are. To be honest, 90 per cent of our fans have embraced me; the strangers in my life have embraced my true authentic self more than the people I grew up with.”
Did that support surprise you?
“Oh, yeah, I was ready to give up my career. Fear does that to you. Fear creates delusion; I was fooled by my own fear. But there comes a point in your life where you overcome many different fears. I’m much stronger than I was, but I still have work to do. I’m at a point in my life where I have more courage and more fearlessness than a billion fucking men.”
Your fearlessness also inspired other people. What did it mean to you to find out you helped Laura Jane Grace come out?
“I was honoured. I think I might have broken down in front of the computer; I kind of froze for two days, to be honest. I’m very empathetic and my imagination took me into the kaleidoscope of her life and the pain she must have been going through. And she was married and she has a kid, so she had a triple whammy, man; even more than me because I’m single and I don’t have children. I don’t have those lifelong commitments the way she does and as a mother I can’t imagine what she was going through, because it’s fucking hard. It’s not easy being yourself on a planet where everyone seems to be striving for conformity. It takes a lot of fucking courage to shine your light differently, because when you do, you’re fucking crucified. But she’s strong, man. She’s another warrior. Not only does she talk the talk, but she walks the walk. That’s why I fucking love her and that’s why I’ll kill for her, too. She’s a lifer for me. She could always come to me for anything, always. I don’t care if 10 fucking years pass and we haven’t spoken, I’ll be there for her.”
In coming out, your private life was made public. How hard has it been to restore the line between your public and private life?
“Private life (laughs)? In reality, there is no line for me. I don’t mind sharing my foot fetish, my ideas on sexuality or my ideas on life. I don’t care, if I can teach the world, I will. No matter how much you dig, you’re still not going to know it all. There’s so many layers to me, I don’t even know all of me.”
Do you think you ever will?
“I don’t know. I’m going to find that out. Ask me again in 30 years. I think the more you know, the less you know; the more you dig into shit, the more there is to find out. I still don’t have the answers. My only answer is very simple: to have fun and be creative.”
If you were to write a book about your life up until now what would the title be?
“Off The Cuff: How To Develop The Warrior Within – The Life And Times Of Mina Caputo. Or: How To Fearlessly Swallow The Galaxy. Or just Swallow The Galaxy! Something with that kind of energy (laughs).”
And if you had the ability to write the ending of your book ahead of time, how would you like it to finish?
“(Long pause) ‘Then she sighed, with a romantic wholeness.’”
Life Of Agony's latest album The Sound Of Scars is out now via Napalm Records
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