Terrorizer Speak To Death Angel Guitarist Rob Cavestany

By on 14 April 2014

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With thrash legends Death Angel currently tearing it up on tour in support of last year’s ‘The Dream Calls For Blood’, we decided this would be a fine time to catch up with the band and find out where they’re at. Joy Shannon sat down with guitarist Rob Cavestany to talk about the overwhelming amount of new music in the digital age, and why dedicating your life to The Riff is no walk in the park…

The legendary thrash metal quintet Death Angel came bursting out of the San Francisco Bay Area thrash scene in 1982, first gaining notoriety through their 1985 demo ‘Kill As One’ being spread through underground tape trading. Their storied existence saw the band rising to success in the ’80s with three albums which uniquely fused thrash, heavy metal and rock influences­ ‘The Ultra­Violence’ (1987), ‘Frolic Through the Park’ (1988) and ‘Act III’ (1990) before a tour bus accident injured their then drummer Andy Galeon and caused the band to go into a hiatus that lasted ten years. (I nostalgically remember watching Headbangers Ball with my older brother in 1990 when I was about eight years­ old and seeing Death Angel’s music video for ‘A Room With a View’ and thinking it was awesome.)

The band finally reformed in 2001 for a benefit show, and the response was so positive that they have maintained a rigorous tour schedule and have recorded four more albums since: ‘The Art of Dying’ (2004), ‘Killing Season’ (2008), ‘Relentless Retribution’ (2010) and their newest album, ‘The Dream Calls for Blood’ (2013). The record harkens back to the heaviness, intensity and passion of their 1987 debut album The Ultra­Violence, yet it shows their immense growth as a band and musicians, featuring more technical prowess and precision. In short, Death Angel have struck a beautiful balance between the passion of their youth and the knowledge of their years of experience.

Terrorizer caught Death Angel this past March performing in the Los Angeles area at the Orange County Observatory with Children of Bodom and Tyr, a show guitarist Rob Cavestany called “an amazing night… a great, great show.” The show saw Death Angel playing a near symphonic set, with a passionate crowd hanging on their every note. We sat down with founding member of Death Angel, guitarist Rob Cavestany, to discuss his influences, the changes Death Angel has seen over the years in the music industry and the future of the band. Ultimately, Cavestany illustrated where the title of this passionate new album comes from: the challenges of pursuing the dream of music…

WORDS: Joy Shannon

What are some of the most shaping memories of music you have as a kid that made you become a musician?
Rob (Cavestany, guitar): “My earliest fondest memories go all the way back to my dad. Growing up in the ’70s, I was subject to a lot of great music from mostly my dad. I can picture driving around in his Volkswagen van and him playing his favorite music and it subliminally going into my head. I would go through his vast record collection, looking at all the cool album covers. He would let me listen to his records as long as I didn’t scratch them, put them away and took care of them well. This was when I was 5 and 6 years old. A lot of the music I still love to this day is some of the first music I was listening to in my dad’s record collection: Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Earth Wind and Fire, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin­ oh wow, as Led Zeppelin’s on the radio right now­ you know… classic rock. It’s just a lot of ’70s music with good musicianship and well­ written songs.

“I started to then listen to records with my cousin Dennis who ended up being the original bass player of Death Angel. He and I would listen to his dad’s records and that’s how we came upon the Kiss album ‘Love Gun’. For me, that was my first experience of a rock album and I got excited and started to idolize the band. We were fortunate to see Kiss live in 1979. They played San Francisco as the original lineup on the ‘Dynasty’ Tour. We were full­blown Kiss fans at that time and I guess I was only about 11­years old. Our moms chaperoned a bunch of us cousins to go see them. That was the turning point… After that concert, we decided to learn instruments and form a band so we could do what Kiss was doing. That was the pinnacle moment where I knew I had to learn an instrument to be in a band.”

IMG_7579Did any of those bands influence your song structures or guitar playing style?
Rob: “I would like to think so because I really used to listen to those albums over and over again. I would imagine that the songwriting structure would have a subliminal effect on how I write songs to this day. I am a huge fan of great songs more so than that of individual instrument playing. Overall­ I am still a fan of the song itself and how it moves you emotionally and it transfers over into the metal songs we write today. I try to work on song­crafting as importantly as the parts themselves or the heaviness or the technical ability. I think a lot of actual song structure is lacking in heavy music. I try to incorporate that into the songs I write.

“Even in constructing our live set, that is something I take really seriously and I have a good time working on the sequence of the songs we are going to play on a given performance or on our albums. There’s an art to doing that­ to imagining how the parts are going to come across to someone that’s experiencing it­ the crowd or the listener. It has to do with listening to a lot of great albums back in the day and even until now and paying attention to that kind of thing. It could not be important to somebody, but to us and to me, that’s a really important part of [the experience of music]. It might not go over well with some of the “short attention span” kids of today, but I just grew up in another way, listening to entire albums like a journey, where it takes longer than one and a half minutes of your time.”

Do you feel like when you play a show it gets the concept of your albums across better than when a listener hears it on his or her own?
Rob: “In one way you can get sucked into a show, but it’s much more of a display of energy going back and forth between the band and the crowd. People tend to go nuts at this kind of a show­ stage diving, or getting in the pit, releasing their energy and venting out their trip­ so it kind of depends on your frame of mind at the show. It seems like more so if you sit down with the album in your own controlled environment­ in your car or at home­, you can go one on one with the album itself. For me, I can delve deeper into someone’s music, not really at the show, but instead listening to it on my headphones. I guess it really depends on circumstances.”

The show that I saw, the audience was really with you on the journey of your set.
Rob: “It was a really killer show. There was a lot of energy from the crowd. Then again, I’ve gone to see shows where it was that show that really turned me on to that band’s music. That’s what we are trying to do live as much as possible.”

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Is there anything you miss about the way you experienced music as a kid, in the industry today?
Rob: “Certainly a lot has changed in technology since I was a kid listening to music. There’s more of everything now. What people are missing now is what used to not be there. It used to change the experience because you used to have less stimuli. In a weird way, less was more. For instance, you would get an album, and you could only afford one record for however long your budget could last you. And because you spent the money you saved up for this one record, you would listen to this record over and over again. And you would know it back to front because you only had ten records in all that you could buy. Now, you just have unlimited access to all this music, which I think causes you to not focus and get everything out of one album that you could get. It’s cool and good that you have all the variety, but it causes you to miss out on details of great albums. There’s so much of great stuff, it’s almost overwhelming!

“Also, from my point of view, I miss out on listening to music as a kid from the pure innocent point of view where it was so easy to be amazed… when the few things you heard were so amazing and mind­blowing. While today, there’s just so much (music) and so many people that are just so great at everything that you get desensitized to how amazing something actually is. I miss viewing the world as a kid in general. You try to stay young at heart, but it’s never the same. You have to live with your experienced self.”

How has Death Angel navigated the changes in technology over the years in the digital age of music?
Rob: “We’ve pretty much experienced the same impact as any band who has been around long enough that they’ve come from the analog era and still survived into the digital era. You just kind of go through your waves of resisting and eventually accepting. We just try to use these things as tools and not let them take over our heart and soul and creativity. We do things as old school as we can meanwhile utilizing modern technology, in order to strike a balance between the two. We’re not trying to be a retro band from yesteryear. We come from yesteryear but we’re existing today. It’s a bit of a challenge to find that medium. I think we have learned how to do it pretty well. I am pretty proud of how we struck the balance between the two.”

I’ve noticed your band makes a point to allow for a lot of fan interaction with your band via your website and social media. This also comes across with how you perform and how your band interacts with the audience.
Rob: “We consider ourselves the “people’s band” and we are total music fans ourselves so when we do things as artists, we do it from the mindset of “if I was a fan…” We try to look at it from the point of a view from a fan.”

IMG_7594Do you find that you have some of your old fans from your early days coming to your shows still or is it a lot of new fans?
Rob: “We definitely are gaining new fans daily, which is really awesome. I think we have pretty much retained our old fans, who still follow the music scene. We never did anything with our music­ hopefully it seems­ that turned off the old fans. We want to welcome in the new fans and make them stick. Our old fans know we love them and respect them and basically do it all for them. We want to introduce ourselves to the new fans who are new to our scene.”

It’s interesting to see how much thrash metal has seen a resurgence over the years, do you have any favorite thrash metal bands of the last 10 years?
Rob: “There’s a band called Havok, those guys rock. A band called Revocation and a band called Battle Cross. Those guys are tearing it up. They really brought a great live show, very entertaining, very good with the crowd and great musicianship. They definitely earned my respect.

“To be quite honest, I do not tend to keep up with the new bands that are coming up. I tend to be focused on being the main writer of my band. I’m in the world of creating our music and maintaining our band. When I listen to music, truth be told, I don’t listen to newer bands of the same genre that I’m in. We’re constantly on tour, so I catch enough blasting new metal. It’s hard to impress me, I have to be honest. It’s a tough genre to kick ass in. The bands that I listen to are the bands that influenced me when I was younger. They are the gods that I worship when it comes to music. I check out newer bands here and there but I can’t spend too much time with it because I’m too busy listening to some Exodus or Slayer. It just moves me more. But the bands I mentioned really kick ass!”

How do you approach writing your albums? How does the collaboration work with your band?
Rob: “I normally make demos of a few guitar tracks playing all the way through and then I show the guys and we just start jamming on it. Usually in one jam we’ll already have pretty much the original structure of the song and  everyone starts throwing in their parts. I let everyone spend a little time with the CD­, take it home and spend time with it when they aren’t on the spot in the studio with everybody there. Then, everyone comes back with their revised parts and we work it out. Then, we eventually record it how we have it in a rehearsal studio, and then we analyze the parts and structure. Then, the vocals come on top of it. Mark (Osegueda) doesn’t usually start putting vocals down until we have a solid instrumental structure. That seems to work for the best in this style of music writing. This style of music writing is definitely based around guitar riffs and music. When writing the really heavy thrash, it seems to work better to get the music solid and put the vocals on top of it like that.”

What tends to inspire you when you write? Is it emotion or a concept?
Rob: “That’s a good question. I’d have to say, hands down, emotion… total expression of emotion that starts to blossom into a concept and take form into an entire piece of work that has lyrics and meaning. It starts definitely with me just jamming… trying to put into the music whatever I’m feeling about something. Trying to put words into sounds at first. Then usually it’s quite apparent what the vibe of the song is that by the time I give the music to Mark, when he writes the words it totally fits the music. We usually match up our emotions quite easily when we write. I like it to come that way. The music that I like seems emotionally inspired.

With Death Angel you experienced a lot of success quickly, but with the bus accident, there were about 10 years that your band was on hiatus. A lot of your band members had various music projects during that time. Were there enough musical outlets for you or was there a temptation to give up on music during this time?
Rob: “During that time, everyone pretty much stayed involved in music, but some more than others. For me, I was in music pretty much the whole time though. There were only brief stints where I tried to escape the claws of music. I never could… I never could! (laughs) It always just haunted me when I was just trying to do something else and think maybe I should stop obsessing over music and dragging everyone in my life into it with me. But I never could. So, I would always end up doing something else. Whether it would be the smallest thing, which would be jamming with friends and writing all kinds of music, working on whatever, just for the pure fun of it, for the release and the expression of it… just to get something off  your chest, just to keep doing it because when I wouldn’t play for a while I would just start going crazy. Others were in and out of different bands and then there were points of time where they were doing something and they weren’t playing music for a while. For the most part, we all pretty much could never get away from music.”

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It seems like you’re just born to be a musician because you started with Death Angel when you were super young.
Rob: “I’m trying to accept it. I’m trying to accept that that’s what I have to do no matter what. Sometimes it’s just crazy…  not just sitting down and playing music, but when you play music to this level and this extent. It’s your passion but it’s also your job, so there’s conflicting things that go on. It’s supposed to be something you do because you love doing it for the sake of art, but if it’s your job sometimes there are requirements going on around that can get overwhelming that make you not like music at some points of time. That’s when you think you’re obsessing over this thing called music and you try to do things that are not related to music for a while. But when you’re totally into something like this, eventually you just accept that you’re totally obsessed with it for life and you better just stop trying to analyze why you devote your life to making sounds.”

I’m starting to understand why your latest album is called ‘The Dream Calls For Blood’.
Rob: “Now you understand where we’re coming from! Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. The blessing of it far out weighs everything. It’s a dream to do this kind of thing for your life. I love music, I love playing, I love my band, I love everything there is to do about it… but it’s just hard, harder than other people think. At times it’s overwhelming and nuts, because it’s not just about “let’s jam!”. It does cause you to be away from your loved ones from long, extended periods of time, which is really hard on everybody, especially if you’re not making millions of dollars, and you’re still basically struggling to do what you want to do. But, you got to do something, I understand. So, you could be struggling doing this or struggling doing something you fucking hate. So, at least, I’m grateful for that. Inevitably you take all that emotion and you use it as inspiration to keep going at it. It’s the tragic circle of bleeding and living and dying for your art (laughs).”

Well, I know there are tons of people who are happy you’re doing your music. What are the future plans for Death Angel?
Rob: “We have plans to get to our new album sooner than the gap between our last two albums, because that was a long long touring cycle. I wouldn’t want to tour for 3 years straight on this album now because it’s extremely exhausting and we need to get to getting more music out there than just keep playing live. Our album just came out in October, so we have at least a solid year of touring ahead of us before we deal with another album. We just got off the road from the Children of Bodom tour. Next we head off to do shows in Australian and Southeast Asia with Kreator. We’re going to do a few weeks out there with those guys and that’ll take us to the end of April. Then we’ll get ready for the summer run with all the festivals.”

Are there any countries where you have particularly rabid audiences?
Rob: “They’re just everywhere. It depends what night it is. One night they’re just completely rabid crazy and the next night they’re not quite as rabid crazy as the night before. It can happen anywhere! It can happen in North America, Europe, South America, Asia, Australia. It’s the energy we get going at our shows… it just brings out the beast in people!”

‘The Dream Calls For Blood’ is available now through Nuclear Blast.

You can find Death Angel on Facebook.

About Kez Whelan

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