Latest Release: The Dream Calls For Blood (Riot/Nuclear Blast)
Finally returning to Australia in support of German thrash titans Kreator, the equally road hardened and rejuvenated Bay Area thrash legends of Death Angel are showing no signs of slowing down. Guitarist and remaining founding member Rob Cavestany can talk as fast as he plays guitar with a great sense of humour still intact. What he has to say about music reveals a wealth of global touring experience. Read on, thrashers and be sure to catch the tour.
The latest album The Dream Calls For Blood is pretty full on and brutal. Death Angel are a pretty aggressive band as it is but this latest one is more aggressive than usual.
It is, isn’t it (laughs). We had a lot to get off of our chests and more than usual, I guess. That was what was happening there and there were a number of factors leading to that. If you saw all of the circumstances surrounding the creation of that album, you’d see that things would naturally lead to that sound. I would say that starting off from writing the music it was done on the road and there was a lot of it too, more than I ever have before. Our last tour for the previous album, Relentless Retribution, was about a three years long tour. Yeah, that was incredibly long and awesome but incredibly long. Spending your life on the road for three years will do a lot to you psychologically, in both good ways and in intensely, not so good ways. So, everything that it did to the mind and our lives was expressed in the writing of this album. Added to that, we started touring for The Ultra-Violence Revisited [re-released debut album The Ultra-Violence for a 25th anniversary] and when we did we switched up our set to do the entire album on tour. Meanwhile, I was still writing music, so the vibe of the debut album with straightforward thrash metal was creeping in. That gave me subliminal influence. We had planned for two albums in a row without taking a break which meant coming off the road, into pre-production and then directly into the studio. Four days after our last show I flew out to Florida to record the album so there was all of the fire, energy and emotions of being on tour going into both the writing and the recording performance.
So would it be fair to say that the arrangements took on a live feel?
Actually, somewhat but not so much in the arrangements, it was more within the riffs and the parts themselves. The guitar riffs were based on the vibe of the tour and then the arranging would happen in the little gaps of time between the tours. We would come home and have a few weeks where I’d spend some time arranging the ideas and if we had time, we’d work on the songs in the studio before heading back out on the road again. So, the arrangements were happening in the studio at home.
There is also plenty of acoustic guitar on there as well which probably stems from your playing on your solo album, Lines In The Road with Gus [Pepa – ex Death Angel bassist]. So, how much time was spent on mastering your acoustic guitar skills?
Not as much lately as I would like to and I want to but I go in phases. There are points in time where I only play on my acoustic guitar. For months and months I’ll only play my acoustic and I love that for getting a different feel and it is good practice for electric guitar because it is like swinging two bats. It is harder to play, the strings are thicker and it is more of a work out on your fingers so I like doing that for getting my fingers stronger for playing metal. Also, I like the different flavour or emotion but lately we’ve been so busy that I haven’t had time so my poor acoustic has sat there looking at me saying, ‘touch me, play me’. I still love that sound and it not just for my solo stuff but on every Death Angel album there is some sort of acoustic guitar on it. It is a part of Death Angel’s signature in having a variety of sound.
It probably gives you a better edge than other metal players because you have to dig in.
Definitely so and it has a very percussive feel. I love percussion and drums. I only ended up a guitar player because I couldn’t practice drums at night. I started off playing drums and having drum lessons but it is loud and you can’t play it late at night at your parent’s house bothering everybody. So, I switched to guitar when I was a kid, just first learning how to play. When I play acoustic it brings me closer to playing drums. Even when I am playing electric guitar I do it in a percussive way but for the acoustic, it is even more enhanced.
There are some impressive guitar solos in the album and some harmony guitar as well. Is that your playing doubled or is it playing in sync with Ted [Aguilar – guitars]?
Ah, on the album it is me doubling myself because it is more efficient and if I’m there recording, I already know the parts and exact phrasing of what I’m doing. So I just find the harmony, double it up and move along as the idea hits me there and then.
Are there trade off solos with Ted on the album or is it that studio back and forth trick?
There are trade off solos and I have to say it is exciting because it is the first time that Ted has recorded solos on a Death Angel album. It might even be the first solos that he has recorded at all. He is not really a lead player. I mean, he is a good lead player but he just doesn’t do it. He focuses on rhythm whilst I am a lead hog in the band so he just lets me do my thing. We thought it would add a different flavour and be fun live to have him solo. We trade off solos on ‘Don’t Save Me’ where Ted goes first, then me and we repeat that. On the song ‘Empty’ we go fucking solo crazy with a bunch of them happening in a row. The first two solos are myself and then the next is Ted followed by Jason Suecof who produced the album with me and is a ripping, fucking amazing guitar player. Then after that there is a bass solo from Damien [Sisson – bass]. We all go nuts in that song.
Cool. What about the speedy outro on ‘Detonate’? What influenced your playing because Death Angel really came up, I guess, just after Metallica hit it big?
That solo was me. We were right around there [Bay Area thrash] and our band existed for years before we’d heard of Metallica but it was just that we hadn’t heard that sound of music. We were mainly inspired by the New Wave of British Heavy Metal [NWOBHM] and the classic rock or metal bands. We were just starting to catch onto the heavier shit coming out like Motörhead and Venom. We also got into hardcore punk like DRI, Discharge and GBH. Then we went to a Metallica show at the Keystone Berkley where Metallica played with Armoured Saint. The very next day after that show, we went to practice and evolved right then and there, we had to just crank it up. We were totally stoked hearing that kind of music and with the excitement and crowd involved, it changed our sound forever.
I wondered if your guitar style intentionally has the Michael Schenker vibe in there?
Oh absolutely. Before that I took some guitar lessons and wish I had stuck with lessons to know more about theory. Anyway, I played by ear and never stooped. I listened to Michael Schenker’s early UFO material. Strangers in the Night was the live album that I used to listen to religiously. That is one of my favourite guitar albums of all time. I also used to listen to the first two MSG [Michael Schenker Group] albums, especially the first one but it was UFO that got me hooked.
Death Angel has played stacks of headline shows and has also been included on numerous festivals. In your stage of your career, are festivals still enjoyable to do?
Oh, it is amazing. It is the other part of the dream, man, to step out in front of the open air crowd just like at the many festivals that you’ve been in the crowd watching. I can tell you that when you walk out on that stage and see the crowd, it is the feeling that you imagine you’re going to feel and then some. It is so different to a club show environment and I would not say that I like own over the other. They are totally different animals and they are both completely fucking killer. Festivals can be nervous with the sound much different to the indoor club because the wind can blow the sound around so you can’t stop to fix the sound at that point but it is all in good fun. To set the record straight, it was the Dynamo festival that solidified Death Angel’s reunion which was before we did Wacken.
You’ve got a couple of live albums. What were the difficulties doing the German live recording in 2009 [Sonic German Beat Down: Live In Germany]?
There actually were none other than the fact that the massive rain that started happening. It just started pouring with rain and so much so that it made the show wired for a bit. It was also kind of cool with lightning making it look gothic and extreme but we wondered if it was going to interfere with stuff. At one point, people had to take cover and shit and just leave the open area of the grass there because it was just going crazy. At the same time, you’re trying to remind yourself that you’re recording so you want to play tight whilst at the same time you’re trying to forget you’re recording so you aren’t constrained by thinking that you’re recording and not letting yourself go crazy on stage like you really wanted to do.
Have classic tunes in your set list changed a lot over the years of playing live?
Oh, they have definitely evolved. Some have done so on purpose to make things interesting playing live. We mess with things and time lengths depending on the set and sometimes it happens inadvertently. The drummer can be all hyped out and playing too fast and it’s like, ‘woo, take it easy!’ or in other cases you may be arguing with your drummer so they might fight you onstage by deliberately playing a part too slow to throw you off. That has happened in the past but it is not happening these days.
Cover songs are amusing for Death Angel fans. Kiss [‘Cold Gin’], I understand but doing a Steely Dan cover [‘Do It Again’] must have thrown a few fans.
Haha, yeah. That’s a rare and not well known fact. It did throw fans but at the same time, we were just dong what we were doing. That cover is on The Organization album [Savor The Flavor] which is not a Death Angel album. So, it is not really Death Angel even though it had four of the original members of Death Angel in it. Those two albums were much less pure metal and far more experimental or varied and musically grooving and melodic. So, it totally gave room for a Steely Dan song. We did crazy covers like Toto’s ‘Hold the Line’ or Tom Petty songs. Rocking out obscure songs is fun to do.
How was playing with Metallica at The Fillmore? That must have been interesting.
It was amazing and we were fortunate enough to have done that twice. That was actually the second time we’d done that about a year ago or so and it was and honour for us. When that happens, you are hand picked by the bands themselves. They pick the support bands that are special shows for their die hard, fan club members and the support bands are a surprise. For this last one, it was totally unknown until we hit the stage. That is the way they did the four nights and they had us doing to closing big Friday, party night celebration. Metallica introduced us to the stage for us to pop out and be a shock to the whole crowd. It was sick, being from San Francisco and at the Fillmore, we were warmly received by the crowd and it was an amazing experience.
You’re touring here soon and with Kreator.
It is in our absolute plan and I must say it has been way too long since we’ve been in Australia. We have only been there once and when we return it will be close to four years since that visit. We are just dying to come back and we haven’t been there simply due to logistics. That little bird talking in my ear about touring with Kreator in April will be so fucking sick to do. We are dying to come back and it’ll be two albums later. We skipped the entire Relentless tour there so we’re coming back with this new album under our belts and it is going to be so much fun to play songs from it live.
Death Angel is touring with Kreator this month:
16/4: Billboard, Melbourne VIC
17/4: HQ, Adelaide SA
18/4: Manning Bar, Sydney NSW
19/4: HiFi Bar, Brisbane QLD
20/4: Amplifier Bar, Perth WA