Kenny Hickey: A Rock and Roll Fables Conversation

Watching a Silvertomb show, featuring former Type O Negative guitarist Kenny Hickey and drummer Johnny Kelly, is equally a transcendent and cathartic experience. Rounded out by Joseph James on guitar, Aaron Joos on keys, backing vocals, and guitar, and the indomitable Hank Hell and his fierce stage presence on bass, the sound is simply massive. A sum of all its’ parts, Silvertomb is a Doom outfit in the vein of Type O Negative with Kelly’s thunderous drumming alongside Hickey’s signature riffs and uncanny voice.

Playing tracks from their forthcoming debut album, all unfamiliar to fans save for “Insomnia” which just recently premiered, the quintet made their Beantown debut at Brighton Music Hall last week while touring as direct support for Life Of Agony.

Sitting down with us before the set, Hickey elaborated on when his first post-Type O outfit Seventh Void ended and Silvertomb began:

“So, the last time Seventh Void had toured was 2011. Peter (Steele, TON vocalist/bassist) had just passed. Type O was over. I ran out of gas. I didn’t wanna go forward anymore. I didn’t wanna get in a van or a bus…I just didn’t wanna fucking do it anymore. So I put it (Seventh Void) on a shelf for a couple of years.”

“Then I got the urge to start playing again. I came up with two songs maybe and Joe James joined the band. Henry (Hank Hell) brought him in because Matt Brown (guitarist) had left. I’d say there are about three songs (On the Silvertomb debut) written for Seventh Void. Somewhere during the course of writing, I felt the need to say something about Type O and Peter and capture it in some way. And I came to this part, where I said to Johnny, I can hear a lot of orchestration going on…and now that Type O was gone, this is what we missed. So I was just like ‘fuck it, go for it!’ and it came out good!”

“There were these cellos and all these different elements and stuff so then we found ourselves in need of a keyboard player. Enter my good friend, Aaron Joos, who didn’t know shit about playing keyboards. I love him so much and he kinda freaked out on me, too. I showed him the parts, and the parts are easy. I could play the parts. He got overwhelmed and called me a week later ‘I CAN’T DO THIS! I CAN’T’ (laughs) (Editor’s note: Joos was standing in the room as the interview was conducted) Anyhow, he’s become quite the player, man. And that’s how it evolved. There’s still the bluesy/doomy edge behind it. It’s just become a wider spectrum.”

As for what sets Silvertomb apart from Seventh Void, Hickey detailed his songwriting style versus that band and even the Silver/Steele aesthetic:

“I think that it’s the same influences I grew up with. I came from the same generation. Well, Peter and Josh were a little later generation but it was all built around Black Sabbath, Zeppelin, The Beatles…I guess where the sound comes from is what I want hear, what I love, what I grew up with. I have no direct approach to songwriting. Sometimes it’s a riff, sometimes it’s a mood I’m trying to capture. Or a mood I’m in. But there’s always beer. That’s the only mainstay. Usually it’s very solitary. I have a small studio in a walk-in closet at my house that I lock myself in so I can scream at three o’clock in the morning without waking my wife and kids. It’s never lyrics. Lyrics never come first. That always comes after.”

As for switching from lead guitarist with a side of vocals to full fledged lead vocalist AND guitarist, Hickey can’t actually pinpoint when he knew he could do it but sheds some light on what he was looking for:

“It’s kinda gray now when I look back at it. With Seventh Void I knew what I wanted vocally and I just went for it on the recording and it happened. And that was a process, too, because I was used to just singing parts of a song then go back and  playing my guitar and now, I have to fill in all the non-moments of lyrics and all that with adages and all that shit so that was a process in Seventh Void. Plus, I’ve also shared the stage with some of the greatest frontmen in the world: Peter, Phil Anselmo, Jamey Jasta. Just incredible frontmen. The formula of how to do it was in front of me. It was there. It took awhile and it always can be better.”

Working yet again with drummer extraordinaire Johnny Kelly, Hickey is quick to point out that the continued collaboration with the basher of skins is a no-brainer:

“I’ve been working with Johnny long before Type O. I met Johnny probably in 1986. Type O formed in 1989 so we were already in a thrash band together. Basically we grew up and learned everything the wrong way together and had to work it out over the course of the years (laughs). For me, it’s completely natural with him. We got better at it! Dude! You do something for 35 years I hope you’re getting better at it.”

Pressed on how he’ll “share” Kelly with fellow TON alum Sal Abruscato’s band A Pale Horse Named Death and their upcoming album and touring cycle, he continues:

“We don’t know yet. We’re gonna see how that goes! (laughs)”

Commenting on the current climate of instant gratification in music as opposed to the early days of long, drawn out promotional periods he weighs the pros and cons:

“I think for a band with a history like Johnny and I have and Joe James with AF, Agnostic Front, we already have a fanbase. We could just drop a record and everything is at the touch of your fingers. The good aspect of that is that feeling of complete control and I can look and see how many people are listening, like, I can get all this information which the record companies always held away from us before. The con is that having a record company back in the day, they set up everything for you and all you had to worry about was music. Recording. Getting it right. The right producer. Whatever it is. Get the music done and they set up the promotional tour and all this bullshit. I mean, it costs! Obviously. That’s why I’m not a millionaire today. Amongst other reasons. I kinda like the power and control over your own music. But you still have to have the talent. You have to have a talented producer, a talented engineer. It takes at least 4-5 good people to make an album.”

Speaking of an album, Hickey goes into when fans can expect more music from Silvertomb in the future:

“We’re mixing the rest of the record right now. We just released that one song because we had this Life Of Agony tour, which they were good enough to give us. I mean, we didn’t have a record or nothing and these are old friends that go back from the beginning. Joe was the one who really pushed: ‘We’ve gotta have something out there!’ Or something that they know so we rushed that mix out and the rest of it is waiting on a shelf. As soon as this tour is over, we’re gonna get down to mixing the rest of the record. I’m hoping January. Right now, “Insomnia” is doing so unexpectedly well without any record company. Now we’re getting phone calls and we’ll see what we’re gonna do. Who we’re gonna choose or if we’re just going to put it out ourselves. At this point in my life, I don’t give a shit! We make music and we’re gonna move forward.”

“We’re not going to tour again until this is mixed and dropped and released. Might do a show here and there, locally, y’know? The reaction has been really good. Some of the stuff we do is, I would say, a little off-the-wall, and a little different. Sometimes you see the question marks on their face when I’m screaming at them. It’s all a part of it. They’ll get it once they know it. And once they know it they’ll know how much I’m fucking it up on stage (laughs).”

For the latest on Silvertomb, including the most up-to-date info on their upcoming debut full-length and any shows in the interim, head here. “Insomnia” is available now and can be purchased here and here or streamed at any of your favorite streaming sites.

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