Brooklyn, New York-based band A Pale Horse Named Death was founded in 2011 by Sal Abruscato, yes, the very same Sal Abruscato who co-founded both Type O Negative and Life Of Agony. Abruscato is a well-respected multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and producer and the latest album from A Pale Horse Named Death is When The World Becomes Undone, which was released by SPV Records and Long Branch Records this month.
The new APHND full-length was mastered by Maor Appelbaum (Faith No More, Meat Loaf, Yes, Sepultura, Halford) while its artwork was helmed by Sam Shearon (Ministry, Slayer, Rob Zombie, HIM). Rounding out the group’s lineup alongside Abruscato are guitarists Joe Taylor and Eddie Heedles, bassist Eric Morgan and drummer Johnny Kelly.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Sal Abruscato by phone and highlights from that chat — which touched upon everything from writing When The World Becomes Undone, to his journey from drumming to fronting a band, to fighting depression, to the future of A Pale Horse Named Death — are below. More on Abruscato and crew can be found online at www.apalehorsenameddeath.com.
So, when did you start making the record?
Sal Abruscato: It began in 2014. I had the title and sketches of music came to me then. I was in a hotel in Europe somewhere, on-tour, and on some European news station, there was like crazy stuff going on as always. Based on the climate that was beginning back then with terrorism… I was just saying to myself, “Wow, I can’t believe this is happening and people are being killed and executed and getting their heads chopped off. Everything is falling apart.” It was, like, worse than ever…
The title When The World Becomes Undone just struck me, and it stuck with me for all these years. I am a true believer that if you remember a song or a piece of music or a piece of poetry or title and it sticks in your head for years, then you know it is good, you know you are on to something. Because usually if something is not that strong in your mind, you’ll just wander and think about other things, so I started building around that concept.
At the same time, I had a lot of personal things going on in my life where it felt like my life was coming undone at the moment and it all just intertwines. So, the record is very personal and it is also… touches a little bit about the global climate of things in an indirect way… It is just crazy with what is going on. I don’t like to get into politics and I think that things are crazy…
Behold, the title track from the new A Pale Horse Named Death record.
And how many songs did you write for the record?
Abruscato: I only scratched 1 song, so basically when I write, I don’t even bother putting the song together if the riff itself or the piece of music is not strong. I am not really one of those types of people that need to write 30 songs and then sit there and select the 10 best ones to make the record, I don’t need to do that at all. I know instantly in my head if I get a melody if it is going to fly or not…
So, basically, we ended up with 9 actual songs and 4 soundscapes, I believe. I think there was just 1 extra tune that I had recorded and I decided, “Nah, I don’t think this is going to make it,” and so I casted it aside. So, really, that was it. I knew if everything worked on a song and I was done arranging. I knew if it was going to fly or not and I kind of don’t waste my time making too much music… I know instantly if it is going to make it or not.
So, what was your journey from being behind the kit to being upfront. Because I know that you were creative all along in your prior bands.
Abruscato: It was an interesting journey, the concept of the band itself, which is actually now 10 years old, I came up with the idea of the band in 2009… I was always playing guitar and bass in my home and it was like coming up with ideas and doing things, but I was always one of those kind of “bathroom shower” type of singers I guess, someone that is very shy, very bashful and about that, because as a drummer it is different. As a drummer, I already broke that ice, I know what it took to go out there as a drummer, plus you’re kind of hiding a little bit behind the drums if you want. But a singer is very vulnerable, you know, you’re always in front, you get cigarette butts flicked at you. You know what I mean?
So, it was an interesting transition because this idea started out as like a studio project where I was playing everything and I had gotten together with Matt Brown, who thought the stuff was great and wanted to like do something with it. So, me and him worked together to record what ended up being the first pre-production of the album and the first album, and that was great and all and I was just going to be happy with maybe just printing up maybe a thousand CDs and selling them to my local fans and that was it. But, all of a sudden, the record made its way to the hands of SPV.
You know, it’s best to just “Love The Ones You Hate”.
First it was Napalm Records that wanted to sign us, but that didn’t work out. I didn’t like what they were presenting and then SPV stepped up and said we really want this, we think this is great… So, it worked out, the deal worked out, then the demand came and all of a sudden I had an agent friend of mine say, “Hey, do you want to do a show with this band?” I was like, “Oh my God, I don’t know, I start to shit my pants literally, and I was really what do you have in mind. Well, you know Monster Magnet needs an opening band in New Jersey for a show.” I was like, “What… Monster Magnet? Are you crapping me?” This was at the Starland Ballroom. That place holds 2,000 people and I was opening for them… All of a sudden I found myself singing for the first time in front of like a couple of thousand people, really nervous, and I know it showed. I was really worried about being laughed at or being put down…
People liked it, and it was a good reception, even though it was obvious I was new, it was a good reception. It went from there, and basically that summer we did 2 weeks in Europe and all of the sudden I found myself in front of like a couple of festivals, playing the songs and a lot of people singing… I was still scared… As it went on I got more and more comfortable in my skin and I realized, “You know what, I’ve just got to be myself. I am a funny guy and I am very entertaining and I can be charming… I’ve just got to wear my heart on my sleeve and be myself and I think I will be okay. I don’t need to put on some fake persona, I am not a rock star, I am who I am and that is that. I think people will appreciate that.” That is what I have been doing since then.
By the time we did the second record I had done a few big tours too in Europe, where I was on the road for like 5 weeks, so that really hammered me into shape into singing every day, and then you know you’re honing your craft. Like anything, practice, practice, practice, and then I did the second record and then I started dabbling with more harmony and then one thing led to another and then we did a 7-week tour with Danzig in the United States which was a big workout.
It was like a bootcamp type of mentality where we’re travelling all across the United States, you know I’m playing in front of Danzig’s audience which can be a tough audience. We were the most successful opening band out of the other bands, and they loved us, and up to this day people write to me, “When are you going to come back to this city or that city? We saw you on tour with Danzig and you were awesome.” It kind of went from there…
That definitely is a journey. Something that you said actually struck me when you said you are a funny guy. You are known to be very funny, but your music is always very dark. Do you have a comedy background in any way?
Abruscato: If you remember even in the old days Life Of Agony always had a dark sense of humor, but I was also a little bit more of the clowner in that band. In any band that I was in I was always the one that was witty with the jokes and I would have a quick reply all the time. Sometimes that would get me in trouble, but I never was in comedy. I don’t know, I think I would do well maybe if I was on a comedy TV show, but I don’t know about stand-up comedy, that is a whole other challenge. I don’t write like choreographed jokes that way. I am quick with my responses and I just come up with a lot of whatever.
But have this saying that I tell everybody, because everyone goes through a lot in their lives, and I feel like if you’re not laughing you’re crying. I try to laugh… I have a lot of dark holes I have to tip-toe around to not fall into. Me and my wife have had long struggling years, one of our daughters is disabled, and so we have a lot of pain as parents and as a family too. I try to avoid my traps, and I recently was in a big trap recently. My wife gave me a kick in the ass a couple of weeks ago and told me to like snap out of it. But I am fighting seriously dark suicidal depression all the time, and I was relying a lot of times heavily on things like cannabis and things to get me feel better, but it doesn’t work either anymore for me, so I don’t really do that anymore. I don’t drink because I was a horrible drinker in the ‘90s where I was just totally bad, so I don’t drink at all since the 2000s.
So, that is why, it is kind of like Robin Williams in the making for me… He was hurting inside all the time. It is kind of like that in a way, where you’re battling and trying to have this face to the world that you’re okay and you’re funny and happy, but deep down inside you have the things you’re battling all the time. Sometimes it is not based on the person or anything, it is just the chemistry, the disease in your mind, and it could be something that happened when you were a child that comes back or what you’ve put up with your whole life before.
Here is a full album stream of When The World Becomes Undone by A Pale Horse Named Death
I appreciate that honest answer right there…
Abruscato: I am not afraid of honesty. This is the problem with the world, people get offended and upset about honesty now, which is a freaking shame. I don’t think enough musicians around us, they are too busy trying to put on a facade, but these are younger people, younger people think things will have to be a certain way. I think honesty and telling people like it is in the end will gain you more respect, more love, and more appreciation for who you are because you’re telling it like it is.
I see that you have an upcoming Mercury Lounge gig in New York. Is there any chance of a U.S. tour for the band?
Abruscato: Yeah, we’re working on… We had to clean out house, we had to get rid or everybody, we had to fire our agents and we had to get new agents which we just solidified this week… We have 4 shows locked down in Canada and we’re going to do the northeast [U.S.] kind of thing… Basically, we’re going to try to cover the United States in 2-week chunks at a time, so it makes sense for all of our lifestyles and our commitments and families… People have been waiting for us to come back and like I said, I was kind of derailed, I was preoccupied, I was also distracted by having to do Life Of Agony and that record I wrote and arranged 9 out of 10 songs on that album. That was a lot of work for me to deal with, so that kind of sucked me out of this whole focus on APHND.
We’re also looking at South America at some point, and in the meantime we just have a new European, Asian, and Australian agent, but now we’re going to look into sort of finding the festivals and getting on the ball with that this summer. And looking into places like Australia and Asia and Russia, and trying to go further out with all of that business, because we’ve had lots of fans all over the world writing saying, “We would love to see you in Perth or Melbourne, Australia”… Toronto has been waiting 10 years for us basically and they are super-stoked about us now. The reception from the promoter was incredible that he wanted to keep on booking us for like 15 days in Canada, so that is what the plan is.
So, in closing, Sal, any last words for the kids?
Abruscato: Yeah, you know, be true to yourself, and be dedicated to whatever it is that you have a passion for in life. Don’t listen to the B.S. on social media, because I think social media is the core dismantling of society instead of bringing society together. It has divided us in many ways… Don’t listen to the naysayers or the people that might not support your ideas of what your passion is, whether it is art or becoming a lawyer. Whatever the case may be, always be true to yourself and your core belief and value in yourself and you will be okay. Don’t let people judge you and tell you who you are or knock you down and make you feel like crap, you know, you have to pick yourself up and be better.