"Through music, I get to hold a mirror up to people. I want them to experience the romance of life."
So says Mina Caputo: lyricist and vocalist for heavy music stalwarts Life of Agony, as we connected to discuss her latest solo effort, Love Hard—released independently at the end of May. If you know anything at all about Mina's career, you are aware that she's the furthest creature from same ol' same ol' as one can find. Even while fronting Life of Agony as "Keith" prior to the group's reformation in 2015, this compact siren exhibited an uncanny ability to infuse melody, depth, and substance into the oft-monotonous sonic worlds of hard rock and heavy metal.
More recently, Mina has taken her creative juices and poured them over 39 minutes of lush, rich instrumentation, accompanied by her signature vocal stylings to concoct a front-to-back-listen-worthy new long-player. Its nine songs are heartfelt and intense, albeit uncomplicated. The influences for Love Hard lie somewhere amongst The Beatles, The Pixies, and elsewhere. The album's title presents courtesy of a Bob Marley quote which struck Mina for all the right reasons: "Love hard when there is love to be had."
"I think Bob's quote—more specifically the words 'love hard'—is particularly poignant for the times we are living in at the moment," Mina offers. "It's all about separatism and segregation and oppression these days. People need to let more love into their hearts and their minds. It seems that with the generation coming up, no one knows how to be intimate anymore, and 'love' has become this misunderstood, abused, and taken-for-granted energy. I don't want to think it's lost, but sometimes I do. Like I say in the title track, 'When I love, I love hard.'"
For the first time in her lengthy recording métier, Ms. Caputo has stripped away the excess as it pertains to session musicians, save for longtime collaborator Andy Kravitz, who lent his drum and keyboard expertise to Love Hard as he did to Mina's 2012 affair, As Much Truth as One Can Bear. She performs virtually every note on the album. The singer submits, "I've been in such a good space and just decided to go about it on my own. I didn't feel like waiting around for anyone, or organizing other people's schedules." More specifically regarding the album's creation, Mina extends, "Andy tracked the live drums out in Venice, California and added sounds I couldn't possibly accomplish here with the setup in my apartment in Brooklyn. He's got the Paul McCartney microphone collection, he's got the B3 and the grand piano... I played bass, guitars, some piano, and some keys. We both love the production work of guys like Daniel Lanois and Sir George Martin, and Andy owns some of the gear used on Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon and Bowie's 'Space Oddity'. That's what this material was treated with, and it took on its own attitude."
Lyrically, Mina has consistently proven to be an extraordinarily emotive composer, and her creations on Love Hard are no exception. Ms. Caputo's capacity to effortlessly wrap light and beauty around dark and/or complex themes is a signature. She's been melding opposites in this manner for years. In addition to penning new material for the release, Mina chose to dip into her own songwriting safety deposit box for worthy additions to the tracklist. She explains, "Even though songs like 'Upturned Faces', 'Love Hard', and my interpretation of 'Bette Davis Eyes' (popularized by Kim Carnes in 1981) are new, I have vaults full of demos from over the years, and sometimes I go digging in search of ideas. I'll see which of those songs speak to me the most today. I've got enough material for 30 lifetimes, and I don't want to neglect that material, but I'll always write new songs to seal the deal."
Actualizing new music for public consumption doesn't come easy for any musician, and Mina Caputo knows this all too well. While Life of Agony may have been afforded reasonable production budgets along their lifespan, solo Mina isn't accustomed to such luxuries. "People don't realize that every sale means so much to me," she admits. "I don't care if I get thousands of 'likes' on Facebook. If a fraction of those people liking the post about my album actually buy it, I can make enough to keep putting music out there. I'm in a 500-square-foot apartment in New York City: buy my record [laughs]!"
Unless you've been residing in a cave, you probably know that Mina has transitioned to life as a woman over the last several years. While Love Hard is not her first accomplishment constructed while living with estrogen as her primary hormone, Caputo points out that what she chooses to write about may have been affected by her orientation. "When I was Keith, I certainly wouldn't allow myself to be as flowery or as vulnerable as I do now. I'm a fucking sissy, get over it [laughs]! I no longer have this masculinity or this manhood to protect. This is a transformation I've been dreaming of my entire life. As Keith, I felt like a caterpillar that was afraid to go into the pupa phase and transcend my whole self. There have been so many songs that I wanted to express with my female self but couldn't. I put them in a box and threw away the key. I no longer have to protect what I internalized for so long."
If Love Hard is the result of an artist in the midst of freeing herself from societal—in addition to self-imposed—emotional shackles, the future is going to be lovely for Mina, as well as music lovers everywhere.