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Death Angel: Full Throttle - Exclusive Interview with Guitarist Rob Cavestany

By Peter Atkinson, Contributor
Tuesday, February 26, 2008 @ 11:46 PM

“We’re constantly, ridiculousl

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When Bay Area thrashers Death Angel decided to give the reunion thing a go for real, they did so somewhat cautiously. And after what the band had been through during their first go-round — not to mention the fact that they were much more of an underground act than fellow resurrectees Testament or Exodus — it’s hard to blame them.

Their 2004 comeback album, The Art of Dying, was a bit tentative, as if they were reluctant to really cut loose. And it was supported with sporadic touring that included only a handful of U.S. dates. But the response Death Angel received was enthusiastic and then some, which kept the ball rolling and bolstered their confidence.

And with the second effort, Killing Season, out Feb. 26 on Nuclear Blast, all the prior restraints are off. With its balls-out combination of thrash metal ferocity, hard rock groove and more focused songwriting, Season is arguably the band’s best album, top to bottom, yet. And they are readying for steady slate of roadwork that will keep them out through the summer and beyond. For a band that regrouped, originally, as a one-off, Death Angel MkII is now full-on.

Had it not been for the hideous misfortune of Testament frontman Chuck Billy’s cancer diagnosis, the story of Death Angel probably would have ended under equally tragic circumstances. In their case, a 1991 motor home crash that nearly killed drummer Andy Galleon during a U.S. tour for Act III effectively curtailed the band’s whirlwind eight-year run.

Formed in 1982, the Filipino-American school-aged cousins — drummer Andy Galeon, bassist Dennis Pepa, guitarists Rob Cavestany and Gus Pepa and frontman Mark Osegueda, a second cousin — had their 1986 demo “Kill As One” produced by Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett. By 1987, Death Angel had a record deal with Enigma that yielded The Ultra-Violence when Galeon was just 14. After a second album, Frolic Through the Park, Death Angel scored a big-label deal with Geffen and in 1990 issued Act III.

As a result of the accident, it would be another 14 years before a fourth act would be in the offing. By the time the crash happened, things were already starting to unravel for Death Angel. Legal issues resulting from the label change were becoming a drain and, in a cruel twist, the band discovered Enigma had issued the live album, Fall From Grace, without their knowledge or consent by stumbling upon it in a Tucson, Ariz., record store the night before the accident. And when Geffen tried to press the band back into service with a new drummer while Galleon recovered, Osegueda split and Death Angel was done.

The remaining members formed the funk/rock/metal-tinged The Organization, which released two albums before splitting up in 1995. Over the next decade, the fellas pursued a host of musical projects, most notably Swarm featuring — Cavestany, Galeon and Osegueda — that toured the United States in 2001 supporting Alice In Chains guitarist Jerry Cantrell.

But at the organizers’ behest, Death Angel — with guitarist Ted Aguilar taking over for Gus Pepa — regrouped for the landmark 2001 Thrash of the Titans benefit show for Billy. One thing led to another — and the rest, as they say, is history.

On the phone from San Francisco, guitarist Rob Cavestany spoke about the band’s resurrection, their renewed passion that has been buoyed by some recent good fortune and the lessons learned from growing up in a metal band.

KNAC.COM: Now that you’ve got a couple weeks of dealing with the press, how’s the reception been?

CAVESTANY: We’re totally stoked on the reaction that we’ve gotten so far, the way the album’s turned out, everything. It’s been great. What I’ve heard so far is totally blowing away what we got last time. We’re getting album of the month and 9 out of 10s in album reviews. I’m really curious to see what’s going to be coming out in the next month when the album is released because what I’m hearing so far has been pretty awesome.

KNAC.COM: Did people seem receptive to the last album, or did you run into a lot of “What are these guys doing back?”

CAVESTANY: We were really happy with the way it was received. Our fans were totally into it, we were into it and it was a great time. We had the usual suspects talking shit here and there but if you judge it by the shows and the response from the fans, it was awesome. The response that we got was beyond expectation. It was great. As long as we’re able to get in there and get our piece of the action with our music we just hope that we can take it further. We’re glad that we’re still able to do this and we’re still into it and we still have so much fire underneath us right now with this new album.

KNAC.COM: Since this is your second time around, how would compare your mindset now to what it was back in the day?

CAVESTANY: Your mindset has to progress from the time that you’re 16 years old, there’s no way to have the same mindset. Back then your entire mindset of life is music. As time goes by, the desire to play music stays the same, the fire, the hunger to jam and want to play, to get out there in the world, that remains constant but everything else around that is constantly evolving.

Now you think about what it takes to have the best team and your best game plan to do the most you can with what you have. Back then we didn’t even think about that, we didn’t think about anything but playing music and partying. But we also didn’t have any other responsibilities in life, so you didn’t have to think about things like that. Although, looking back, maybe we should have (laughs).

KNAC.COM: By the time most people are getting out of school and trying to make their way in the world, you already had your careers literally crash and burn. That’s a hell of a way to grow up?

CAVESTANY: Yeah, it was (laughs). But at the end of the day, we’re not complaining. It was actually killer and it was a good experience for us. We had done three albums and we had been playing together for eight years or something. We were on a major label, supposedly at the height of your career, climbing up the ladder.

It was weird because in one sort of way, they didn’t know how to market metal but in the same case they had the major label money, they had other ways they could have pushed us out there instead of sticking us in a van and letting us fend for ourselves. But we were just rolling what was happening, because we didn’t know any better.

KNAC.COM: Have you heard of this band from Florida, Black Tide? They’re doing the retro-thrash thing and have a big-label deal — and their frontman is only 14. I don’t think any of them is 20 yet. Since you has much the same experience, what advice could you give them?

CAVESTANY: It’s tough because it’s hard to tell somebody that age anything (laughs). I don’t want to preach to someone, be like “have a seat and listen to me boy, I can tell you some things.” But seriously, for one thing, enjoy what you’re doing, because it’s hella fun and you don’t want to lose that perspective because you’re going to go through a lot to stay in the game. You can’t be who you’re not, so have a good time.

And if you can, have somebody you trust looking after your affairs. That was the biggest thing that messed us up in the end of the whole thing. At parts of our career we were being mismanaged and taken advantage of and we just didn’t care because we weren’t paying attention. We just wanted to have fun.

Work really, really hard at your music, work harder than you think you have to. But don’t lose sight of the fact that once you’re dealing with managers and agents and promoters and stuff, this is a business.

KNAC.COM: Working with veteran musicians like Kirk Hammett and Davy Vain on your early recordings, did you take anything in from them or were you literally not paying attention to anyone?

CAVESTANY: We did listen to them when it was about the music, and at that time all we were about was the music. The stuff that had to do with the business we really were disinterested in. We didn’t think about what we had to do with our money, which had to do with our future and survival and existence. We thought that was a pain in the ass. But when it was something that had to do with music and studios and recording, we were always checking it out. Especially myself, I was always interested in the recording process.

KNAC.COM: If the accident hadn’t happened, how long do you think you guys could have kept things going like that?

CAVENSTANY: That’s the interesting trip, because at that time things were starting to get out of control, but in another they were going really good. It was a weird situation. Who knows what would have happened in any circumstance, you can make yourself crazy with all the what ifs. It sucks what happened, but we have to accept what happened and that things happen for some kind a reason.

At that point we were climbing up the ladder, and there was stuff on the horizon. We were supposed to be on the original Clash of the Titans tour, and Alice In Chains ended up filling our spot and look what happened with them. And there was also talk of us supporting Judas Priest on a European tour that was coming next. So we were certainly going up somewhere.

But on the other hand, we had been doing nothing but recording albums and touring for three albums straight and we were still really young. I, myself, was 21 at that point, and already I’d been working my ass off for eight years. All we had been doing is partying and playing and had no regard for reality, we were road mutant crazy.

I don’t know how long you can keep going like that. There was tension going on behind the scenes, when you spend that amount of time with the same five people in close quarters, working with people, you need some elbow room. Plus we’re all family, so there’s really no escape. And there was no end in sight. Our management was working us like horses, which really didn’t think about because everything to us was day to day to day. So we were on a course for a collision of some sort — unfortunately that’s literally what happened (laughs).

KNAC.COM: The realities of the business end you kept trying to avoid were also rearing their head, right?

CAVESTANY: Yeah. There was other shit going on behind the scenes. There were lawsuits happening with our previous label and management. We had jumped onto Geffen and just kind of split from our original deal, we didn’t do it the right way, we signed the deal with Geffen and went on. So we were going to all these meetings about the lawsuits and we were hating it by that point. All the business shit we were so sick of. So I think it would have been too much at some point and we would have ended up hating each other or who knows what. But because of what happened, the way we look at it, we just got cut off at the height of the whole thing. So we never had a chance to hate each other, we never had the chance to put out shit albums or change our style and start doing weird shit. We did other projects to explore other kinds of music but we didn’t fuck up the Death Angel name or style.

And now that we’ve gotten back together and we’re on our second album, we think that we’re doing everything for all the right reasons, we’re totally into it now. We’re rejuvenated. And four out of the five of us from back in the day are still in the band — there’s not like one or two of us just trying to keep the name alive.

KNAC.COM: Had it not been for the Thrash of the Titans show in 2001, do you think Death Angel would have gotten back together of its own accord?

CAVESTANY: It’s hard to say, but to my belief, no. We were not even going there. When we declared it done, I so much did not want to be one of those bands that fucking jumps on the reunion train to try to cash in on whatever pity your fans have left for you. That’s weak, man. So I can honestly say we reunited to play for Chuck Billy’s cause and that was it.

What happened next and next and next was sheer crazy demand of the fans and how stoked we were when we played and how killer it sounded and how the chemistry was there. And we just had to play one more show and one more show and it kept going on and on and we naturally came back together.

KNAC.COM: That was some show, it brought you back together, Exodus back together and got Testament rolling again. And since then Forbidden and Defiance have reunited. It’s like the late ‘80s all over again.

CAVESTANY: Yeah, is kind of interesting. There’s definitely something in the air right now. I can’t really explain it. But you know, here we all are, let’s have fun.

KNAC.COM: And now there’s all these new bands like Warbringer, Skeleton Witch and 3 Inches of Blood that have that old thrash metal sound.

CAVESTANY: The thing is is it’s a ripping kind of music, it’s a killer style of music, it just kind of got shoved off here and there, but it couldn’t be killed. Now there’s more of it coming out, new bands and the original bands. And the original bands, if you’ve still got the fire in you you just consistently get better as musicians.

What can happen to people, and I think what did happen to some of the old bands, is they lose the fire. They may be really good technically but they are nothing like they were earlier when they were just so much more filled with energy and just that oomph! But if you get away from all the bullshit, do other things, give yourself a breather, that fire can come back. And if you can combine that with the fact that you can play better, then you’ve got an even deadlier weapon and that’s how we feel about our shit right now.

We have as much fucking fire going as we did back then, just in a different way. How we know how to write music and play our instruments and the way we know how to play as a band, we are just so much more homed in on that now.

KNAC.COM: The new album’s got a real swagger to it. It’s has more of a rock vibe than a straight-up thrash vibe.

CAVESTANY: That’s what our style has evolved to. We play thrash, but our sound of thrash has other elements. It’s a different flavor of thrash and that has to do with how our songwriting has matured and how confident we are as musicians.

KNAC.COM: Your producer, Nick Raskulinecz, has done mostly rock albums, did that play much into vibe of the album, or did he just capture what you guys were putting out?

CAVESTANY: Some of both. Not only did he capture what it is that we want, but he captured us at our best. That’s really the job of the producer, when you’re working with a band like us who really knows what we want with our sound. In our case, the role of collaborating with the producer was just that — to collaborate to bring out the best of our sound as opposed to wanting a producer to make us have their kind signature kind of sound.

When we met up with Nick, he and I basically co-produced the record together, we just hit if off from day one. One thing is the chemistry has to be there, right there it can make or break it, and even though he does mostly rock he’s a full-on metalhead. The whole reason we ended up working with him is he knew our music.

A friend of ours named Danko Jones, who did his last album with Nick, he came to one of the recording sessions wearing a Death Angel hoodie and Nick was like “Dude, Death Angel,” and he picked up a guitar and started playing “Seemingly Endless Time” and “The Ultra-Violence.” So Danko got a hold us and was like “dude, my producer knows your guys music, you guys should hit him up.” And when we realized who he was, were like “no way.” So we sent demoes to him and he called us the next day and was like “dude, this is the sickest Death Angel album to date.” And we were locked in from that moment on.

KNAC.COM: You mentioned collaboration, you had the material and an idea of how you wanted it to sound, what did he bring to the table?

CAVESTANY: The thing that he brought that we wanted was the ability to get these incredible tones, a sound that is thick. A warm, rich, organic and fat kind of rock tone, but with our sound, our style, our music. And he when he started working with our songs and our music, he was pulling for us to playing crazier and more aggressive. He’s the one getting us to play more thrashier. He was trying to get crazier with our shit, and this is a guy who had just got finished working with Rush. It was a blast.

KNAC.COM: I’d imagine it took a lot less time to get your album together than a Rush album?

CAVESTANY: Oh yeah, we also had a lot less budget (laughs). But the thing is if he had gotten involved sooner, we would have spent a lot more time with him. It just worked out that it was like a last-second thing. We had pretty much all of the songs written before he came into the picture. This came out of the blue when Danko called us. Because right before that we were going to go another route, maybe save money and either produce it ourselves or work with a good engineer.

We’d been toying around with doing it around here at home and we didn’t know any producers around here that we didn’t think were out of our range — and he would be one of them. So we just lucked out. He was into it, he had a two-month window right then and there to do it and within two weeks he had flown to San Francisco and we were in preproduction. It was just amazing timing. It was exciting and it really brought the whole level up.

And he wanted to work at Dave Grohl’s studio [Studio 606 in Northridge, Calif.,], so he talked him and then called us and said “Grohl is totally into you guys, I asked him about it and what he said was ‘Death Angel, those guys are legends. Totally invite them down here, have them do the album over here.’“ So were like, ‘what the fuck.’ Needless to say it was awesome.

KNAC.COM: Were you happy with the way the last album turned out, or does this album better represent you?

CAVESTANY: Without any discount to The Art of Dying, there definitely are some songs on there that will always be a part of our live set, there’s some crucial songs on there. But as a whole, yeah, we were rediscovering each other and getting back together and you can’t possibly put it up against what we just did because this is a whole different band. It’s the exact same guys, but years deeper into rehearsing and touring and knowing what we want to do with our music. And then the producer and the studio. If someone were to ask me to pick an album the best represents us, I would hand them our new album instantly.

KNAC.COM: You’ve got a couple shows coming up with Forbidden, but do have tour plans set up after that?

CAVESTANY: They are still in the works as we speak. But the general game plan is to go to Europe in April, come back to the states in May, then go back to Europe for the festival in June and July and then hopefully come back to do the states again in maybe August. So we plan to do a lot of touring, we’re just getting all the plans put together at the moment. Our mission is to tour for this album beyond any touring that we’ve ever done.

KNAC.COM: Since the Thrash of the Titans show was such a monumental thing, have you all ever talked about doing a full-blown tour together, a Testament/Exodus/Death Angel old-school thrash-o-rama?

CAVESTANY: (laughs) There’s constantly talk of it, but its so hard to make it happen because it takes all parties to tango. We are all on the same label now, ironically enough, but there’s a lot circumstances, prior commitments and whatnot to contend with. And Testament sort of works on and off because of all the other stuff Alex Skolnick does. From our point of view, we’d love to do it, we’re into it, we’re game to play and to me that’s a great lineup. But talk of it is always happening and there’s talk of it still. I’m hoping for it myself.

KNAC.COM: Obviously touring now is a hell of a lot different than it was on your first go-round?

CAVESTANY: A lot of it is different, but a lot of it is the same. Technically, things are very different. We toured so long ago that it was an age where there were no cellphones and no computers, so trying to travel around Europe for six weeks at the age of 16 or 17, that was totally strange. If you even get lost, which happened a couple of times, disconnect from everyone else, that’s it. All of a sudden you’re trying to ask people for directions and they don’t speak English, you don’t know where the bus is, there’s no phones to call, it’s scary. But now you have everything, it’s easy to get in touch and the world seems a lot smaller and safer.

But the energy of the show, the excitement of getting ready to go on and hit the stage, interacting with fans, hanging out with fans, meeting people, that’s all unchanged. The vibe is the same as it ever was. It’s total excitement, people are rocking and thrashing. We’ve been lucky to uphold a reputation as an ass-kicking live band and our shows always go off. No matter what country or what city or what era, our shows are always fucking ripping. It’s killer.

The one thing that is more difficult about touring these days is everyone has families and that can make it rough after time goes by. Back then we basically had lame girlfriends that we argued with from the road and that was it (laughs). But now at home there’s real shit going on, so that can make it harder to leave, it weighs on your heart and mind.

KNAC.COM: How about the traveling, has the accident made you nervous about that?

CAVESTANY: Oh yeah. The “bonus” of having been in an intense bus accident on tour is that whereas before we were used to riding around on the bus and not tripping, now, when you’re laying in your bunk, every time you hit a bump or something the whole band just snaps up. We’re constantly, ridiculously paranoid and scarred for life from the fucking moment that we rolled in that bus.

That kind of sucks because we’re not as into riding around and lying around as much as we used to be, so the touring tends to wear on us a bit more now. Sometimes, when the driver’s got a heavy foot or we’re in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night, I’ve got to go up and sit by him, talk to him to make sure he’s not getting sleepy or something. I’ll be laying in my bunk envisioning this guy nodding off at the wheel and it’s like “I can’t take this, I gotta go talk to this guy, ask him ‘hey dude, you all right.’“

KNAC.COM: That’s what caused the accident, the driver fell asleep?

CAVESTANY: Yup. The driver fell asleep, as basic as that. Fell asleep doing something like 80 miles an hour and then veered off into a ditch and woke up as we were going into the ditch and freaked and tried to overcorrect back out onto the rode and it caused us to flip over, so we were flipping over sliding down the road on the side of the motor home that we were in. It was ruthless; it was brutal.

Everyone was injured, but our drummer Andy got hurt real bad. And this happened in the middle of the desert at like 6 in the morning with now way to call anyone for help and finally this trucker came by and radioed for help. It was hours before anyone showed up. It was crazy. They had to call in a helicopter for Andy to get him to the hospital, because he was injured critically. It was total madness.

KNAC.COM: At least you got a second life — even if it took more than 10 years.

CAVESTANY: Totally. We take our shit in a deep way with our music and stuff. You’ve gotta take what you can out of an experience like that, like I was saying, things happen for a reason. That’s our whole fucking trip for putting all of our lives into this band, this music.

KNAC.COM: Are you guys in it for the long haul, or taking it album by album?

CAVESTANY: Our other guitarist Ted is always asking me “So, are we in full throttle now?” Because we were at a stage where we were taking it here or there, and I was always like “Nah, we’re not really a full throttle now, not at this point.” But at this point, my answer would be, “Dude, we are now at full throttle.”

So we will be going at it as hard as humans can, touring as long as it’s possible to do, as long as it makes sense, and then going immediately into our next album and fucking throwing it out there and delivering as big an ass kicking as we can for as long as we can. We’re making up for lost time, we’ve got shit to get out there so we can’t be fucking around at this point.

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