We’re speaking with Life of Agony frontwoman Mina Caputo as she celebrates both her birthday, and the release of new album The Mones. In a reversal of roles, Caputo has gifted the record to her fans, asking only that people donate what they can but gladly offering it for free to people unable to pay during the current economic crisis.
It’s one hell of a gift; the album is both dark and hopeful, honest and raw. It’s blessed with a rare lyrical depth, with a few twists of thought. Caputo doesn’t think like everybody else – she’s a free thinker. She’s lived a rare life, fronting New York hardcore/metal crossover band Life of Agony since 1989 (with a break in-between). Mina came out as transgender in 2011, and the title of her new album is a reference to the hormones she takes.
“One minute I can be extremely happy and the next I wanna jump out the window and I’m always like, the fucking ‘mones, man!” she says. “The hormones. I don’t know if I should call it the neurological power or cosmic power to allow you rise and then just fall.”
It would be tempting to think that the same themes, of transition, carry through the record. In fact, it’s not as straightforward as that.
“There isn’t a conceptual destination on the album and there is no straight journey to some arrival point,” she says. “I don’t look at life like that, I don’t write music like that. It’s just very open ended. It’s like life. It’s very bizarre and mysterious. It’s wonderful and amazing. It’s terrifying. It’s enlightening. It’s a miracle. But we still don’t know who we are, why we are where we are. What this life is, what it’s supposed to represent, where we’ve come from, everything. That’s how I write my music – there’s no plan, there’s no destination. If I can evoke some kind of emotion from you, and if you can relate – whether you’re trans or not has nothing to do with anything, we’re all human here.”
The Mones is Caputo’s seventh solo studio album (not including acoustic, live, demo albums and EPs) and her first since 2016’s Love Hard. Caputo says that she’s grown in a positive musical direction in those four years.
“With every album, I’m carving some deeper niche into my work,” she says. “I think it’s quite brilliant. I’ve used digital and I finished it all analog. We have Space Oddity Bowie outboard gear from the ‘69 sessions, we have Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon outboard gear that we bought. We’re gear junkies. I have a Paul McCartney microphone collection; I have drums from 1918. Usually, I like to go for that vintage feel and sound. I’m a big fan of Harry Nilsson, John Lennon and George Martin. All the old school productions where they had less but they created it in a way where it sounded like they had more. The less manufactures, the more real and authentic, the better. I don’t write to fit into any kind of genre.”
Between those solo albums, Caputo’s band Life of Agony put out a new album, The Sound of Scars, last year. The singer says that, while the band has taken a couple of breaks, they’re working together comfortable now.
“More than ever, we’re enjoying each other and we’re enjoying being a band again,” she says. “We couldn’t for a long time, there was so much bad blood. Every band goes through it with members. Now we’re back to being a band again, being in the same room, loving and enjoying each other’s company. Rebuilding relationships. A lot of shit went down behind closed doors that people really don’t know and it’s not worth glorifying that negativity because it’s yesterday’s news and it doesn’t matter. We’ve started writing a new record.”
It’s clear that Caputo is in a rich vein of creative form, as she aims to put out a record every year. She enjoys working with talented people and offering them creative freedom in the studio, as she strives to grow as a person and an artist.
“People are free to surprise me,” she says. “And that’s how I live my life. My only requirement is honesty. If you want to fuck another girl, go ahead but just be honest. Either invite me for a threesome, or just be honest. It’s all cool. No regulations, we’re here to be free. We’re here to discover our deepest insatiable desires. That’s how I like to work, and that’s how I like to play. My work is play anyway.”
In the hyper-masculine worlds of metal and hardcore punk, a trans singer still raised eyebrows nine years ago, and she continues to do so. We ask her if she’s seen any progression in attitudes within the community, and she replies “yes and no.”
“There’s a duality, there’s still a yin and yang, and I think that’s necessary,” she says. “You’re free to think how you want. Let’s talk, maybe you give me a new idea or I see something in a different way. I still think it’s a very masculine, testosterone-fueled world. The males still dominate in the industry. I segregate myself from all of these puny, tiny, human ideologies. When I was living as a guy, all the radio DJs used to play us. As soon as I came out, the same radio DJs are nowhere to be found. We had meetings with people. People say, ‘There’s no transphobia or homophobia in metal or hard rock’ and it’s like, ‘shut the fuck up, you have no idea what you’re taking about.’ That shit is rampant, every fucking day.”
Moving forward, into an uncertain 2021, Caputo says that she’s planning a video and a vinyl release of the album. Touring is on hold of course, but she’s staying busy.
“I play classical piano so I’m studying 40-50 hours a week,” she says. “I have about 2,000 books in my library – I’m obsessed with reading philosophy and poetry. Anything deep. Stoicism. Music biographies. Books on consciousness, the creative spark, shamanism. A part of me just wants to go back into the jungle and live with the indigenous people, never return to western culture. Those are the true successes. We’re not making progress. When an asteroid hits the planet, western men will be illuminated. The people in the forest will survive. This world will be in a hellscape if food is off the shelf for a few days.”
Mina Caputo’s The Mones is out now.