Death Angel interview (Rob Cavestany)

"After our accident, we were forced to learn really quickly the brutality of the music industry"

11/10/2013 @ 11:31
After overcoming the mishaps that deprived them of the opportunity to reach a really big success, Bay Area veterans Death Angel have now returned solidifying themselves as one of the most reckoned bands among the ranks of modern thrash. On occasion of their new release, spoke with mastermind of the Californians Rob Cavestany, seeking the background behind "The Dream Calls For Blood", the accident that has negatively marked their career, the departures of the original members, as well as the sacrifices that are required by such an intensively active thrash band and many more interesting stuff.

Death AngelHello Rob, how are you?
I’m good, thank you. How are you doing?

I’m fine!
You are in Greece, right? What part of Greece?

Athens, the capital.
Nice! I can’t wait to return!

We'll be waiting for you! First of all, congratulations for bringing out another straight thrash Death Angel album.
Thank you very much, thank you!

It has been three years since "Relentless Retribution" and this period of time was dedicated in touring, right?
Yes, that was the longest tour we’ve ever done.

Death AngelYou went to Southeast Asia for the first time, Southern America for the first time, Japan first time in seven years. What was the feedback from all this touring?
Also, we played in Greece for the first time!

Of course, we’ll come to that later!
It was amazing for us to finally visit and perform our music, meet the fans and see these great places, these wonderful countries. We knew that these people have heard of us for many years but we never had a chance to go there before. It’s just a really amazing experience for us and we are very thankful to have made it there and we are also thankful for our fans, for being there for us.

You practically composed the new album while being on tour, is that right?
Yes, at least the music. I wrote most of the music while on tour.

Death AngelHow has that affected the new material?
Well, I think it’s evident when you listen to the album. It made the album much more ...everything! Much more aggressive, faster, more fierce and lively at the same time. And there’s also a lot of pain inside that album, as well. Because you go through a lot, when being on tour for three years. Not all of it is fun, for every minute of fun there’s also a minute of some kind of pain that you’re enduring for being away from home for so long and live in those conditions for that long.

On the contrary, how much different is this in compare with taking as much time as you like in the studio?
Well, we never have enough time in the studio, even with enough time there’s still not enough time! Because we use every minute of it and we’re really trying to make the best thing possible. So I’d rather not sleep and just keep working and trying to make it better and better, as best as it can possibly be. We leave a lot of space to be creative in the studio, so we go in there with an album that’s basically ready to record, but still we allow ourselves to change parts and work on things as it comes, especially with the vocals. A lot of the lyrics were written in the studio, new ideas would come off, you know, one idea leads to another, we’re just trying to be creative while we are already in there. So, I was there for two months, ‘cause I’m a co-producer of the album, Jason Suecof and me produced it together, so I’m there from the very first day till the last day, for every instrument and every part of it. And it’s a hell of an experience! The two months in the studio somehow almost feel like the three years on tour. And we were working every day, I think we had just two days off out of two months. But out of that whole time we were pretty much working all day, twelve to fourteen hours a day... You have no idea how crazy we are in the studio, we’re like mad scientists in there!

Death Angel - The Dream Calls For BloodAs about the sound and the style of your new album, which are the main differences between "Relentless Retribution" and "The Dream Calls For Blood"?
There are definitely some similarities, because we recorded in the same studio with the same team, we used all the same people to do the album. But the creation of the album and the inspiration for the music that we wrote was entirely different. It was based on what we went through over the three years of being on the road, in all the good and all the bad that happens while being on the road for that long. It was a heavy time, a very intense experience for us to tour that long and that hard. All the intensity, all the emotion and everything that goes with being on the road that long is inside of this album, because it was mostly created while we were on tour. You’re having a completely different influence of writing when you’re surrounded by that, when you ‘re in that world. Because, for me, my life consists of two different planets; there’s the planet of me in the band -on tour and in the studio- and there’s the other side where I’m at home with my family and my friends. And unfortunately there’s a big line separating the two, so it’s really confusing to go back and forth, trying to adjust from one life to the other. And usually when we’re writing our album it’s when we’re at home and taking a break from the tour we just finished and before we’re gonna start back up again for the next cycle. But in this case we never stopped, we didn’t take a break, we didn’t rest from the last tour. We’re in a plan to do two albums in a row without stopping. And that gives a whole different feeling to writing the music, when you’re writing it while you’re in that side of the world.

Death AngelCutting to the chase, I would say that "The Dream Calls For Blood" is for sure faster and darker.
To me it definitely is, yes. Faster, darker, angrier, deeper, more intense and more aggressive. But at the same time I think that the songs themselves are catchier and yet also more technical for us as musicians, it’s more challenging technically to perform the songs. At least for Death Angel who’s not really a technical band, but for our realm of technicality it has definitely pushed the envelope of our playing.

As you have already mentioned, the whole team that worked on your previous album also worked on your new one, something that’s happening for the first time in the band’s history. Is that a simple case of the ‘never change a winning team’ motto?
Yes, well that’s another thing that’s different about this album, sure. We used the same team to make the album, as well as the same line-up. And that definitely makes a difference too, because we had a great experience doing "Relentless Retribution", we enjoyed it. And we thought that as that we’re familiar with these people and the studio and now that our band is that much tighter after playing together constantly for three years, we should repeat that. We just had a feeling that, if we went in with the same scenario but with our new songs and our different mindset, we would challenge ourselves to do better on this album than on the last one. We were gonna outdo ourselves and have a direct comparison because we were not changing any of the team. Also, we wanted these albums to be like part one and part two. So, "The Dream Calls For Blood" is a little bit like a part two for "Relentless Retribution", there’s kind of a connection between the two albums. They’re the evil wicked stepsisters to each other, but the youngest is even more evil than the oldest!

Death AngelNevertheless, Andy Galeon and Denis Pepa, founding members and the rhythm section of the band, had left after "Killing Season". How do you think that fact has affected the band?
It affected us in a great deal when it first happened. It was a really dark period of my life, I was really sad for that fact and the way that they left was not the best way either. It broke my heart because they’re my brothers in the band and they’re practically my brothers outside of the band. It really ruined our relationship in a personal level and in the band. There was a moment where we considered that maybe it was a sign that we should just stop the band, like that should be the end. But after a little while of letting it sink in, thinking about it for a while and seeing how it felt, me and Mark came to the conclusion that we were not ready to stop. We still had a lot of fire in us and we thought we could see how it goes if we jammed with other people, give it a try. If it didn’t feel right we would just say ‘fuck it’ and forget it right there, but if it felt right we would keep going with it. And I’m very thankful that it felt right. In fact, after some time went by it started to get really great because we realized that towards the "Killing Season" era and the end, right before the guys left the band, it was getting kind of dark inside the band, because they were already not happy about being in the band and going on tour so much. We weren’t really seeing each other eye to eye, we were arguing a lot, there was a lot of disconnecting happening inside the band. And now, the band is the strongest that it’s ever been since the very beginning. It’s just an amazing thing that we were able to come through the fire and come out stronger on the other side.

Death AngelHas it been their decision to leave? Was there an argument so they had to leave?
It was their decision to leave, first Dennis quit and then Andy quit. There were a lot of different reasons, a lot of personal stuff, they had their reasons and I had my own why I feel they left for. I think that it’s a combination of the two, but in the end it had to be done. Because their hearts weren’t into it anymore, it was just very difficult, it was a struggle. It was mainly a big financial struggle and a life struggle. They had two kids at home each, and I only have one kid but I can see how difficult it is to do this. And once they had their second kids we had all these plans to go on tour for so long. And it was not like we were making any money doing it to come home after many months, leaving our families behind. It’s very difficult, it’s practically impossible when you have to abandon your family and risk making no money. I don’t blame them for their decision, you know, it’s just that unfortunately the circumstances when they left wasn’t really the greatest of situations, so that’s what caused the relationship to become a bit fucked up...

During these last three years, you shared the stage with all of the ‘Big 4’ bands. Could you see yourselves doing something similar? Perhaps a ‘unified Bay Area bands tour’?
I’d hope so! We’re good to go for stuff like that. If that would happen, it would be amazing, you can count us in. It’s just hard because, out of all these Bay Area bands that would be in a tour like that, everyone is usually doing different things at different times, we’re at different stages of the cycle of our touring or our recording. So, for all us to line up at the same time would take a great deal of timing, so we can just wait and see. But we would definitely want to do that, yes.

Rob Cavestany (Death Angel)Death Angel is among the bands that reunited in order to be a part of the ‘Thrash Of The Titans’ festival in 2001. How important would you say that this one gig has been, both for you as a band and for US thrash metal in general?
Yeah, that definitely planted the seed for the resurgence, right then and there on that day. As far as for us, it was absolutely important, that’s the reason that we reunited. If it wasn’t for that, none of this would be happening, none of those four albums we just made and everything we’ve done would have happened if we didn’t play that show. So, that was very important for us, we only reunited to play that one show and the fact that we went on even anything beyond that one show was just unbelievable, it was not planned at all.

Death AngelSpeaking about thrash metal in general I would say that, if every type of music relies on specific feelings, thrash metal would be the best representative for anger. Isn’t this kind of restrictive, though?
Yes, it can be, and that’s why it’s not for everybody! But, depending on what kind of life you lead and the way that you take out your aggression, it’s an amazing cathartic and a wonderful release of aggression and anger and everything else that you can let out in a positive manner. I mean, there’s many different ways of doing it and lots of people have pent up aggression that they got to let out. So, fortunately -or rather unfortunately for us as humans- we’ve got a lot of it to let out. There’s a lot of fuel to the fire to create and perform and exchange this energy with the crowd. But the thing is that people have to understand the feeling of metal and thrash, what it’s all about and the point behind it. It’s a point of releasing your aggression and like blowing off steam, but in a positive way. Some people don’t understand what’s going on in the pit or during stage diving, all the violence behind it. It’s a controlled positive violence and it’s hard to explain it to somebody who doesn’t understand it. But for those who get it, they know that you go there and have a good time doing it, but at the same time you’re blowing off steam and letting shit out. It’s comparable to working out at the gym or something like that, like boxing or hitting a heavy bag or practicing fighting arts or whatever... It beats breaking your hand by punching a whole on the wall!

Rob Cavestany (Death Angel)Yeah, I definitely agree. For you, as a composer and musician, where does this anger come from?
Well, it comes from its own self, that’s the weird thing about it. Because for me, my life in music is absolutely a blessing, but the funny thing is that it’s definitely a curse at the same time - without complaining, I’m just explaining here. I mean, I’ve got a lot of close people, my wife, my kid, my parents, my good friends, and because of my life in music I’m forced to miss out on their life, my experience with them. My kid is growing up fast, when I come home from tour he’s so much bigger, and I missed out so many things that I can never get back. Like the first time he does these things and experiences with other people, and I just hear about it and I realize I miss it. I’ve missed half of his birthdays, I’m not there for his events at school and all these things. Life is going by and even though I’m experiencing wonderful things, I’m also at the same time missing other things and causing pain for other people who’s missing me. I’m not there to help out at home, my parents are getting older and I’d really want to spend more time with them. You know, just things that happen and you’re unable to do something. I mean, when you’re on stage it’s fucking awesome, when you’re doing the actual thing you do. But being on tour for years and years, when twenty hours of the day is just travelling and waiting and wasting time that you could be doing something that’s more important for you at that moment. So that alone is enough emotional intensity for me to work my hardest and let it out into music, it gives me a lot of aggression. And not only that, there’s other things that happen to us that I don’t need to say, you know, personal shit that you’re dealing with. And if you focus on that and what it’s doing to your life, you can easily get a couple of fucking songs out of it.

Death Angel - Act IIILet’s go back to the past. What really happened in 1990?
In 1990 we were on tour supporting our album, "Act III", which was our third album and our first in a major label, Geffen Records. We were definitely at the height of our career at that point of time, things were getting really big for us. We were pretty much blowing up at that time, as far as our band getting bigger and stuff. We had major plans to be on the ‘Clash Of The Titans’ tour with Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax, and after that we were supposed to be supporting Judas Priest on their "Painkiller" tour in Europe, all these plans were set. And at the end of November we were on tour, travelling from a gig we just did on Arizona and heading to a show in Las Vegas, when the driver of the vehicle fell asleep and we had a very brutal bus accident which almost killed our drummer, Andy, who was unfortunately severely injured. And luckily he survived but that definitely stopped us dead in our tracks right there. After he had surgery and pulled through the accident, we learned that he wasn’t gonna be able to play drums for at least a year, he had some serious recovering to do due to his really critical injuries. And so, that was it. It was a major shock for us and in our eyes we were just gonna support him in his recovery, be around for him and when he has finally gonna get better we were gonna pick it up from then. But, of course, the machine doesn’t stop like that, we were forced to learn really quickly the brutality of the music industry, whereby they were telling us that we had to replace him and get back on tour immediately. But we were not gonna do that, we basically told everybody to fuck off, so then they all told US to fuck off. Then we got dropped by our record label, we got a big lawsuit from our manager, and all this was happening while we were still in shock from nearly dying in this bus accident, we just couldn’t believe all that negative shit that was happening to us after that. And so, when that was happening it was just a really horrible dark period of life to experience, it was very confusing. And then, in the middle of that, Mark, our singer, just had enough of that shit and told me he was quitting the band and metal in general, he was just getting away from this whole fucking scene and moving to New York, in the other side of the country. And then I said ‘That’s fucking it. We’re not gonna try to get a new singer, we’re still waiting for Andy to recover from his injuries...’ So, we just got together and agreed to lay the band to rest, forever, and that was it.

Rob Cavestany (Death Angel)Are you happy with the music you’ve made with Organization and Swarm?
Yes, very much so! That was the recovery period of my life, whereby that’s what brought me out of the extremely dark time and the dark cloud that was over me with what happened to Death Angel. And when Andy started getting better we were thinking that soon he was gonna play drums again and we would all start jamming again. And so, the four of us without Mark would start to jam out and hang out, little by little, and in the year that passed in that point of time it was kind of nice to not be Death Angel anymore. Because the same time we were working so hard and we were still so young that we really didn’t understand what was happening to us. We just felt kind of a freedom from all that shit and from just the whole scene. And that enabled us to explore music and discover other sides of ourselves and of music that we were kind of unable to realize in the confines of Death Angel. So it was a very good time to get out of our system all kinds of other things, musically and otherwise.

Death AngelSo, what are your plans for the future? You’re getting soon back on the road, I guess.
Oh yes, we’re rehearsing very much right now to begin our tour that starts on October 17th in San Francisco, our hometown, with two shows at home which kick off the North American tour. The same week that our album is released, we go on the road and do a month in North America, then we turn around and go out to Europe for another month.

Would you like to come back to Greece?
Of course we want to come back to Greece! But I don’t think there’s any shows in Greece on this upcoming European tour. It’s not that long, we’re not doing all of Europe but only some of it. But that’s just the first leg of our tour there, so after that we will come home for the holidays and start 2014 strong with much more touring. I’m sure that it will be compared to what we did on the last tour, you know that we’re dogs on the road, we love to be out there and we’re gonna be back there plenty of times, we definitely must come back to Greece.

Rob Cavestany (Death Angel)Back in 2008 you got a personal invitation from Dave Grohl to record "Killing Season" in Studio 606 in Los Angeles. What did that experience mean for you as a musician / producer?
It was an amazing experience! We did "Killing Season" in 606 and Dave Grohl was there plenty of the time as well as other guys from Foo Fighters. And working with Nick Raskulinecz, who’s an amazing producer, was also a great experience. The studio was fantastic, everything about it was like a dream, being there in that environment, and the learning experience of that album was an amazing time and a dream that came true for us. Unfortunately, from the band’s point of view, we were going through some weird times within the members of the band, and when it was starting to unravel, that ended up leading to Andy and Dennis leaving the band. But, for all it’s worth, I’m really fond and proud of that album, it has its own feeling and darkness to it, in the vibe that I think is a moment in time captured and just a really great experience. I’m very fortunate to have that in my lifetime.

Thank you very much, Rob. I wish you all the best with your new album as well the upcoming tour schedule and I hope to see you soon in Greece.
Ok, thank you very much Theodore, thank you for supporting the scene and Death Angel. I look forward to seeing you in Greece as well very soon!

Vangelis Evangelatos - Theodore Xouridas