For the guitarist of a critically acclaimed rock band, Life of Agony guitarist Joey Z seems at ease mingling through the crowd there to see him. Almost untouched by his group's cult status he blends in as we make our way to the band’s dressing room.

As we make our way through the maze-like Manchester Academy I remind him of the last time we met a few years back. It was my first interview with any band and I was let’s just say ‘in high spirits’ at meeting my heroes. Thankfully I’m spared embarrassment as neither he nor manager, Dan De Vita ,remembers.

Life of Agony came out of the New York hardcore/ metal scene in 1989. The Brooklyn band, consisting of bassist Alan Robert, singer Keith Caputo, guitarist Joey Z and then Type O Negative drummer, Sal Abruscato, soon attracted a cult fan base with their explosive shows and dark attitude to life.

Undergoing several line-up changes in their turbulent ten year history prior to break-up in 1999, the band still managed to release three poignant but none the less explosive albums, 'River Runs Red', 'Ugly' and 'Soul Searching Sun' which set the bench mark of what hard rock mixed with emotive music should sound like.

In 2003 the original four reformed to play for a one off sold-out gig at the Irving Plaza in New York. They became friends again and a successful tour without any record company backing soon followed. In 2004 Epic Records signed the band and work began on their first studio album in eight years.

Although a new album, 'Broken Valley' was released in the US some time ago, but their record company decided against releasing it in the UK. Not to be dismayed, the band soon found another distributor in the form of indie label, Hassle Records.

PB : How’s the tour going?

JZ : Great, we were looking forward to the tour. Europe has always been great to us. It’s been sold out mostly and we’ve had a really good time.

PB : What’s the meaning behind the album title ‘Broken Valley’?

JZ : Alan found a book on the history of Brooklyn. Brooklyn is actually a Dutch word meaning Broken Valley. The Dutch were the first settlers to populate that area. It also symbolises Valley meaning life so therefore it means ‘broken life’. At least that’s the way I look at it. You can look at it in many different ways.

PB : Where do you guys fit in on the metal scene because you seem to have your own unique sound?

JZ : We’ve never really tried fitting in. That’s the thing about it. We’ve never really felt like we needed too. But when you think about it our sound being our own it has probably worked against us all these years. In a way though, we’ve remained who we are and we are doing something different for the fans out there.

I think the fan base that we do have are dedicated cult followers so being different isn’t such a bad thing.

PB : How would you describe your sound?

JZ : I don’t want to call us emo because I know all of a sudden it’s the thing to be nowadays…

PB : The name Life of Agony does sound emo, a three barrelled band name.

JZ : Everyone says that we’re the godfathers of emo, the kings of emo and all this shit, that we’re the originators. I just think we play honest music with a nice melody and a heavy edge to it.

The way the music industry works is that they keep coming up with titles to categorise you so it’s easier to sell to a select group of people.

PB : Your tour as well as attracting old fans seems to attract a lot of new faces too, especially kids. Listening to the first three albums, they still sound contemporary in today’s musical climate. Was that something you set out to do?

JZ : I think our music is timeless. It doesn’t get old and that’s a very special thing for us. I think people today still want to hear what we’re doing. But it’s weird, the 'River Runs Red' stuff doesn’t seem to get old and people are still asking to hear it just as much as the new stuff.

We have a lot of different influences ranging from Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, and Pink Floyd to the Beatles and the Eurythmics. All these bands have created timeless music.

PB : I suppose being from New York helped?

JZ: Oh yeah, growing up we were big fans of the Cro-Mags, Agnostic Front and even Biohazard who are good friends. Biohazard influenced us a lot on our first record, especially the track 'Method of Groove'.

PB : Time and time again a friend of mine has compared you to the Stone Temple Pilots. Have they influenced you?

JZ : Oh definitely. Keith has the whole Scott Weiland thing going on. We’re all big fans of the Stone Temple Pilots. It’s a shame they not around anymore. They had great groove with great melodies. They were fucking great musicians.

PB : Favourite album?

JZ: I would probably have to say 'Purple'. When we were younger, we were touring in a shitty van when that record came out so it would be playing all the time.

PB : Your record company Epic wouldn’t release your album here. Did they give you a reason?

JZ : They didn’t think it was something that would sell. It’s strange because we have so many fans in the UK. Maybe it’s because we don’t sound like some of the shit on the radio over here but I think it’s crazy that they don’t want to release a record for a band that have a fan-base already. I mean automatically,you’re going to sell records.
Those are the reasons we heard but I think the problem these days is that too many labels don’t want to put the work in. They don’t want to work hard. They want the sure thing that’s going to sell so everyone keeps their job so nobody takes chances anymore.

PB : That’s weird because last time I saw you in Glasgow there was a massive crowd even though there was no prior promotion.

JZ: I know so why would the label not want to put our record ? We’re glad that Hassle Records gave us the option to release the album here.

PB: What are you listening to right now?

JZ : Currently I’m listening to Muse's 'Absolution\ which is amazing. I’m really looking forward to their next effort and I love the new Slipknot album. 'The Subliminal Verses'. so that’s the two records I’m listening to right now.

Keith and I saw them at the Curiousa festival with the Cure and they just blew me away. I’ve hardly seen a band that good. In fact I don’t think I’ve ever seen a band that good besides the Stone Temple Pilots that affected me that much. When the Cure came on we left half way through because we had had our moment. No disrespect to the Cure of course.

PB : Keith got involved with the Roadrunner Allstars project. Just how many side projects are you guys involved in ?

JZ : None at the minute, but Keith still has his solo career. He just wrote a new song a few weeks back. It’s awesome.

But we all do different things though in our off time from the band. I am opening a studio called Method of Groove Studios in Brooklyn which will be open to the public. Alan does web designing and has his own company called Vision Den.

PB : So the band's a part time thing?

JZ : No this is our full-time job but we can squeeze other stuff in.

PB : You have got to make ends meet somehow

JZ : You have too. In this industry you don’t make to much money man. People dream of being rich rock stars but reality is something different.

I still live in an apartment; I don’t have a house yet. But happiness doesn’t lie in that really. Happiness lies in you, in your family and true love. When you go to your grave, you only have yourself. You don’t have the material possession like cars and the money. You have the love of your family and friends and that’s cool for me.

PB : That’s a good way of putting things into perspective.

JZ : All this other bullshit, the rock star shit. I play music for fun these days personally. The whole rock star dream when you’re a kid, it changes as you get older.

As the interview was conducted on the anniversary of Pantera’s Dimebag Darrell's death we end talking about the great man and his tragic loss. I hadn't realised that they were friends, but Joey reminisces on some of the drunken nights spent with the Pantera guys playing blackjack and losing miserably. Joey speaks with sadness of losing such a dear friend and the affect it’s had on Dime’s family.

In a music industry full of egos and plastic boy bands more concerned with money and fame it’s inspiring to find a genuine character that isn’t affected by rock stardom. Life of Agony’s new album, 'Broken Valley', is out now on Hassle Records.

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