When chatting with Death Angel founding guitarist Rob Cavestany, we spoke about a number of different topics from the band’s latest killer disc RELENTLESS RETRIBUTION and how they managed to land a guest spot on one of their songs to the history of the band who are closing in on 25 years in the game.
The new album is so thrashy. You guys always were a thrash band, but when you worked with Nick, the last couple albums didn’t have the same kind of impact, it had a different kind of impact. How did rekindling that flame come about?
ROB CAVESTANY: Totally. I know exactly where you’re coming from. We weren’t really focusing on the thrash frame of mind at that point in time. It came about quite naturally. In between Killing Season and Relentless Retribution, a lot has happened within the band and a lot has happened outside of the band with people we know and things that we’ve gone through. We channel all that stuff into our music and when we start writing and creating, I think just a lot of this stuff just came out. We just had to vent out a lot of this angst, and when that started happening, it starts lending itself to the sound of the music, combined with the fact of us looking back at our previous albums and checking out the whole picture of things. We recognize that we ventured a bit away from thrash and into various other forms of metal and rock and music and stuff, which is fine. It was whatever we were doing at the time. But at the same time, we also listened to our fans and we can tell that a lot of our fans are hoping for to hear more of the thrash style that we play, so it was a no brainer and we easily embraced that opportunity to deliver the goods from there.
The band changed producers recently, going with Jason Suecof this time around. What’s different in his process in making an album?
It was a whole other trip working with Jason. It’s a different trip every different person you work with, but with Jason it was very interesting. In a nutshell the guy’s a fucking genius maniac…he’s a fucking nut. He’s a nutcase. But he’s extremely talented and also at the same time a hilarious fucking dude. A couple things happened because of that. I’m a bit of a maniac myself if I don’t say so, my own self, so getting together with somebody like that could have very well been completely disastrous, or it could have been really cool and luckily it ended up to be really cool. Normally, I need somebody to put the organization into what I’m trying to do and when I’m just kind of spazzing out and throwing things out and need somebody to kind of put it all together and help out in the structure of things. Whereby Jason is as spontaneous and spazed out as me, if not worse! So in our first two days of working together, I was thinking “Oh man, I don’t know if this is gonna work out ‘cause we’re just like both just hyping out and fucking throwing out”. But then soon enough I realized that it just worked great, our personalities completely clicked. He works in spurts and then suddenly just checks out mentally for a minute and then checks back in at weird random times…a definitely complete polar opposite style of working than when we worked with Nick, who is very organized and very structured, and in his own way a very fucking cool guy. I’ve remained good friends with Nick ‘til this day as well. It’s just a total different personality and style of working. Jason’s studio is much more modest than the studio we recorded Killing Season in. And it’s just kind of like more attacking the project in a just kind of– it’s hard to explain, but just in a maniacal way that it was just like not as structured but yet it worked out for the urgency of the album, I think, is what ended up happening. We were just kind of going at stuff and just throwing down things and stuff’s coming out real urgent and spontaneous, not overly analyzed I guess is the way it is of going about it, capturing a lot more of the feeling and the vibe. In the end, the balance of trying to achieve the perfection of performance that we were trying to do versus trying to capture the feeling onto the recording ended up the right way, if that makes any sense. And again, the fact that he’s constantly spurting out the most bizarre fucking comments and weirdest jokes and just the freakiest sounds and screaming and singing the weirdest shit out of nowhere. At first I was thinking, “is this guy taking anything seriously? What the hell is going on here?” But I realized in the end that I think it’s sort of his strategy and style where by it keeps you loose and not getting too serious, over-concentrating and trying too hard, whereby you’re just kind of having a good time and in the end the whole process was a really fun time. And I guess that kind of ends up in the recording.
Talk a little bit about how you corralled Rodrigo and Gabriella to appear on the track “Claws in So Deep”.
That was incredible. I’m big fans of those guys and I ended up meeting them over the last couple years and come to find out that they’re fans of Death Angel. So that was right there, a mutual mind blowing situation when you meet people and find out you’re fans of each other’s work and we just kept in touch ever since, ended up going to a few of their shows and hanging out with them. When we started working on the album, we kept in touch and kept each other updated on what we’re doing all the time. And at one point, they hit us up in a joking way saying “I can’t believe how you’re hurting our feelings but not asking us to do some kind of acoustic part on your album or something.” When he said that, I just fucking blew my mind ‘cause from the first moment I met them, I wondered if I would eventually be able to work the relationship up into a musical one where we would eventually collaborate somehow. I didn’t know it was gonna happen as quickly as that. Suddenly they just threw that out there, so I jumped on it immediately. and said, “Well, I hope you’re not kidding ‘cause I’m hereby inviting you guys to do that.” And they certainly did that. They even came up with that whole thing while they were on tour. They were touring, we were in the studio, I sent them the tracks that the music was gonna go in between and the idea for the vibe and everything and they just ran with it and one day in my inbox was an mp3 of a demo of it. I just downloaded, hit play and pretty much just sat there in amazement with tears streaming down my face by hearing that most beautiful thing that they wrote to be on our album. I still can hardly believe it. It’s amazing.
Did you decide it was going to be at the outro as opposed to the intro from the get go? Or was that something predicated by feel of what they did?
It was kind of by the feel and the way that we were going to put where the tracks separated. I always had the idea that it was gonna go as an interlude connecting two songs but I just didn’t know if it would be the intro of “Truce” or be the outro of “Claws In So Deep.” It’s both at the same time ‘cause it connects the two songs but just for the sake of where you can go from track to track, where you thought it would be the best idea is that “Truce” it would start from the first note instead of having that long intro in front of it. That’s how it landed.
It’s an incredible collaboration and I hope that it gets you guys both the props it deserves, man.
They have hit this niche. They’ve got this particular way that is really working for them. They’ve just been blowing up recently. The last couple times they’ve played out here in the Bay Area, I mean they played big shows, man. I was like, “What? This many people?” I mean packed with people and every kind of– it’s a mix. You definitely see a lot of metal heads there though, mixed with college types, yuppies– I mean just a weird fucking mix. I’d say 75 percent of the crowd is guitar players. It’s a cool crowd, it’s a good mix, and it would definitely be nice if we turned some new DA fans from their fans discovering us through them. When they were out here the last time, they were on stage and at one point it was awesome. Rodrigo was talking about having some friends in the crowd and stuff and he just starts ripping into the riff of “Bored”, and he’s playing for a while. He didn’t say anything about it, he just played it and I look around and I just see the whole crowd just grooving to this riff. I’m like, “They don’t even know what the fuck this guy is doing,”
You think no one really knew? You don’t think ten percent of the people knew, maybe?
Some people probably did know it. But the thing was, I didn’t know he was gonna do that either. I was just in the middle of the crowd and I just heard that happening. In fact, I went to the show with Gus Pepa, the original other guitar player of Death Angel. We always hang out and play acoustics till this day. He and I just looked at each other, and we were like, ”what?”
How is the touring climate different these days? What have you seen that you can’t believe that you see these days? Or what have you seen that, like, you say, “Hey, that’s awesome” these days?
It’s so funny ‘cause when we start talking– definitely when you talk about stuff like that it makes you feel like whoa [OLD MAN VOICE] “I remember when we used to have black and white TV.” Makes you feel like a 90 year old man talking about [OLD MAN VOICE] “When I used to walk to school back in the day.” But it’s kind of like that, dude, because I mean one of the main things that cracks me up with the bands we tour with haven’t been touring since back then are just very accustomed to and completely dependent on all the fucking technology. We have memories of touring where not only did you not have wi-fi on the bus; there was no wi-fi., there was no fucking computer, home computer, no laptop. There wasn’t even a fucking cell phone.
It was rolls of quarters and Atlas maps.
You got it brother. Those fucking maps, dude. And you’ve got all your change and everyone’s lined up at the pay phone, six dudes just waiting to call home and see what is going on. And that was the way it was. I remember we went out to Europe for the first time in ’87 and at that time we were only 17 I think. I mean Andy, our drummer, was like 13 or 14 or something like that. All of the sudden we go to Europe for eight weeks with practically no connection to home, our parents, anything. Somebody couldn’t even figure out using a calling card, and even if you could figure it out, your 15 minute phone call was gonna be very fucking expensive, thousand something dollar phone bills coming home and everyone just freaking out on these phone bills that we’d have and trying to deal with that. Plus, just being completely disconnected and getting totally lost. There’s no GPS or any of that. I can remember this one time we were in Leon in France, and a fan let us use their car and me and Gus and Andy took off in this car and just started driving around and checking out the town. We drove for like an hour, and of course we had no idea where the fuck we were, and almost never made it back. I don’t even know how we ended up back at that venue somehow. But when we got there the band was already on stage just sitting there. And we were like 15 minutes into our set time. And we just ran up on stage like that and barely made it. But I mean there were a million incidents like that where something was just whacked out because you had no communication and people getting lost and all kinds of shit like that. So these days, when I see people complaining about little shit about their phone signal it’s just like funny because you think these people would never have even been able to survive to try to go on tour back then. That’s really the main thing. Other than that, the vibe is pretty much the same. You tour, you play a show, you do your best, you get tired, you don’t sleep enough. You end up staying up really late a lot. Good fucking time.
Now it must be a pain in the ass to do a set list for you guys at this point.
It gets painful to cut songs now.
Are there old songs on the do not play list that you’ll probably never revisit for another five years that you’ve just worn out? Are there songs you’re roaring and ready to play? What’s the breakdown percentage of like new versus old? What’s it like to dissect that and try to figure out what to play, what not to play? Do you guys get into heated arguments?
We definitely used to, but these days our line up is far less argumentative…
And far less related?
And one seems to go with the flow and it doesn’t– there isn’t much of an argument ‘cause it seems to be that it’s pretty obvious what we need to do. We want to walk the balance of satisfying the crowd and also ourselves, so in the end it just ends up to be a long set. All we can do is be ready with most of our songs and just mix it up night after night; it’s the only thing we can really do, because otherwise the stuff’s gonna be the same every time and because we think we have to play those particular songs all the time. We make a base set, the kind of songs that we can’t live without playing…we have to play these songs. And then there’ll be the interchangeable songs, depending on the night and we’re just trying to feel out the crowd and see what’s going on and see what the crowd wants to hear. On particular nights, certain songs will apply. You just kind of feel it out it. We walk around the crowd before, while opening bands are playing, talk to fans, fucking see what’s going on and then we make up our set list night after night like that.
Really? So it’s sometimes it’s audible calls and pretty much tailored by night?
Definitely. That’s definitely that’s how it’s going to be when we’re headlining on the tour. When we’re doing support, we don’t have enough time to fuck around like that. We’ll only be able to play eight songs usually or something when we’re not headlining. So when it’s down to that, we don’t want to keep just screwing around with the set and tweaking it out because we pretty much, like to run through the set and connect songs. So when we have a headlining set, we’ll definitely have a lot more fun with the set and with the crowd and tailoring the set to the night and stuff like that, different songs on different nights, especially if we play in cities that are somewhat close enough where sometimes fans will go from one show to the next– they’ll go to the second show, then we’ll be sure that we’re gonna mix it up big time so that the people that actually made the effort to drive a couple hours or whatever to get there will have other songs that they’ll see.
That is so refreshing to hear.
Oh man, you gotta. You gotta look at it– well, I mean you don’t have to, but we do…it keeps it fun and it keeps it fresh and we’re really appreciative to the fans, dude. It’s come to the point that we really know that it’s because of them that we’re able to still do what we do. So we want to make sure that people get their money’s worth and they leave happy.
Obviously you still see all the ex members and what not, being related?
Well, the funny thing is that I’m the most caught up with Gus who’s the first member that wasn’t in the reformation. And he and I are like really, really tight these days, which is a trip, ‘cause for many years we just got disconnected. But I’m so glad we reconnected ‘cause we have a really good relationship, a really good friend. Right now unfortunately we’re not really in touch with Andy and Dennis. It was kind of recent that they left the band and at the time it wasn’t the worst thing in the world but it wasn’t the greatest thing either. I think that it’s still sort of kind of really too fresh for us. It kind of sucks, but it is what it is. It’s just we’ve really, I don’t know, we avoiding each other or what? But for me it’s not really like I’m avoiding them, I’ve just kept on going with Death Angel and that it just takes up my every fucking second of my life where anything I have left I try to hang out with my family, my kid and my closest friends that are around. And then after that, there ain’t much connection happening with anybody else.
And so since they became disconnected with the band, I also think it’s kind of odd for them too. Because the only thing our relationship was based upon, even though we’re a family, was based around the band and the schedule of the band. So yeah, now, you know, I don’t know. I mean I– I definitely wish them the best. But, we’ve become disconnected for now. It kind of sucks. I just hope in the future we’ll reconnect again. The saddest thing is that my kid and their kids aren’t close now because of it. It’s kind of a bummer right now. And like they haven’t gone to each other’s birthday parties for a while because I just think that, because their parents, which are us, are uncomfortable around each other, and so we’re just avoiding each other. And henceforth, unfortunately the kids end up not knowing each other because of that. But, you know, they’re still young. Hopefully, like I said, time will go by and as they say, time heals man. So, you know, things will just become a thing in the past and whatever. But for now it’s still a little bit fresh. So we’re just on so much on fire with the band that I don’t really know what to say with those guys about it.
What’s the touring itinerary looking like from here on in?
We’re rehearsing the set for our first South American tour. We got three weeks in South America starting mid October and then when we get back from South America I think we’ll barely have a week or two at home until we split out to Europe. And then we’re gonna do this thrash fest tour in Europe which will go through November and December with Kreator and Exodus, Death Angel and Suicidal Angels. So that’s gonna be a amazing tour out there for sure. Then we get back right before Christmas and just chill for the holidays a little bit then get ready to head out. Start with that 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise. And then when we get back– when that cruise comes back to Florida with that first day starts our US tour that will take us through February. And then March will bring us back to Europe for an Eastern Europe tour.
Any summertime plans being bandied about as of yet?
For the summertime, we’ll be probably out back in Europe doing the festival run ‘cause just– you can not pass up those fucking amazing festivals that are happening out there. So we’ll have that going and hell, now you’re almost talking a year already from now. So that’s pretty good so far. I mean that’s definitely just the first wave of the touring from this new album. And then at the same time, we recognize that next year, 2011, will be the 25th anniversary of our debut album, THE ULTRA-VIOLENCE. So we’re really trying to get THE ULTRA-VIOLENCE re-released through Nuclear Blast records, and if so maybe we can do some kind of 25th anniversary silver edition thing. And then maybe we can do, it’s in the back of my mind, of doing some kind of special tour where we do an in its entirety type thing.
Maybe a one off in San Francisco with all the family?
Oh man. You never know. You never know. It’s a long ways away from now, so we’ll see where we are by then.
How do you feel about The Big Four shows?
Well, you know, I thought it was cool that finally they eventually played. That was pretty killer. I mean funny enough, but the reality of it, it’s like the big one and then the other three. But I guess you can call ‘em the big four. But yeah, I don’t know, I mean it’s hard to say because at the point in time we were possibly gonna be in that whole thing. We were definitely gonna be on the Clash of the Titans tour, but we got in a bus accident and that just derailed us and took us out of the whole fucking picture. So that was kind of weird. And it is what it is. I don’t know. Everything happens for a reason. Maybe we– you know, it was fate to have our real action now. I don’t know. But that’s what it is and I just think it’s cool that everybody is doing their thing, people are getting together and trying to make the scene stronger and it seems to be happening because, you just hear a lot more and more of thrash. It seems to be having a nice time right now, the entire scene. So fucking power to it, man. The more the merrier. The better it is for the industry and the genre that we exist in.
Be sure to pick up RELENTLESS RETRIBUTION from Nuclear Blast Records and follow the band on the web at www.deathangel.us.