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Tag: The Bay Area Thrash Scene

DEATH ANGEL’s TED AGUILAR ‘More to Conquer, Relentless Touring!’ an interview

by on Aug.30, 2010, under interviews

The Bay Area Thrash Scene of the early 80’s has been well documented. The most successful metal band of all time, Metallica, helped define it’s sound, and give San Francisco it’s second major music ‘scene’ (the first being the flower power, hippy, acid rock scene of the 60’s). Bands like Testament, Exodus, Death Angel, Possessed, Heathen, and Vio-lence where at the forefront of the new scene.
Death Angel released three albums to much critical acclaim and built a very strong following. With the release of ACT III the band seemed poised to jump from a well known underground band to commercial success, but a bus accident at the beginning of the tour cycle sidelined the band with injuries, and they eventually separated in 1991. Fast forward ten years to Thrash Of The Titans a benefit for Chuck Billy, the singer of Testament, who was diagnosed with throat cancer. Many of the ‘old school’ Bay Area Thrash bands united and reunited for this epic event and cause. Death Angel was reborn with a new guitarist and due in part to the crowd response, and the persistence of a record label, Nuclear Blast, the band decided to hit the road and actually record an album. The last 9 years has seen three new albums, several successful tours, and a resurgence of the Bay Area old school Thrash Scene.
Ted Aguilar has been with Death Angel now since the Thrash Of The Titans show in 2001. And while the band was on tour with Soilwork this summer, I chatted with Ted Aguilar after their Raleigh, North Carolina show (and heated Galaga video game match!) about Death Angel, a proposed tour of China, the first ever ‘metal’ themed cruise ship, the soon to be released Relentless Retribution (September 14th on Nuclear Blast), what it feels like to be starring three years of non stop touring straight in the face, and how he was able to take the stage at Thrash of the Titans after only two rehearsals with the band (‘fuckin’ nervous man, fuckin’ nervous!’ was his response)

AWAY TEAM: This is ‘Slim’ Jim Keller with Awayteam.com and I’m sitting here with Ted Aguilar from Death Angel. I want to thank you very much for taking time out again for this interview. Congratulations on the soon to be released 6th studio album from Death Angel entitled Relentless Retribution.

TED AGUILAR: Yes!

AWAY TEAM: So how long have you been with Death Angel?

TED AGUILAR: Nine years now this is my 3rd album with them.

AWAY TEAM: Ok so when they reformed…

TED AGUILAR: Yeah I’ve been with them since Thrash of the Titans.

AWAY TEAM: What brought you on board to Death Angel? They reformed for the benefit for Chuck Billy called the Thrash of the Titans and it was the first time that they’d gotten together in eleven years to perform and so how did you end up in the band?

TED AGUILAR: Actually, I’ve known the guys for a long time even back in the 80’s. I’d been to majority of all their hometown shows from Ultra-Violence until Act III. And when the band started to reform I guess everyone was into it except Gus (Pepa) the other rhythm guitar player. And I mean he just wasn’t into it, he was in the Philippines at the time he just basically checked out of music, well heavy music in general. I’d known Rob (Cavestany), and Rob gave me a call and said, ‘Hey man you want to do it? Gus can’t do it.’ and at first I was like, ‘Are you SURE?’ I don’t wanna step on anybody’s toes since Death Angel was more of a family unit. He goes, ‘Nope Gus can’t do it.’ So in 2 rehearsals I had to learn all the songs on my own and you know I jammed out with some individuals just to kinda get some ideas of the structures of the song. We did 2 rehearsals like 2 days before Thrash of the Titans and boom did the show. It was fun man. I was nervous as a motherfucker though I’ll tell you! But it was fun.

AWAY TEAM: Kind of a big stage to take on for your first with only 2 rehearsals under your belt

TED AGUILAR: Two rehearsals and its Death Angel’s first gig in 11 years! You gotta be on your game! I was nervous as a motherfucker. These guys know the songs inside out I mean they grew up writing it so it was like second nature to them.

AWAY TEAM: So what were you doing before you got the call?

TED AGUILAR: I just played in a couple local bands nothing really big, just jamming around with friends and local bands just played around the Bay Area. And my band played with Rob and Mark’s (Osegueda) band Swarm at the time. We did a few local gigs together and that’s how I guess I got the gig. They never actually told me I was in the band they go ‘You wanna jam?’ and 9 years later here I am today man!

AWAY TEAM: Still waiting to sign the contract right!

TED AGUILAR: I’m still waiting! I didn’t even get a handshake! Put it that way.

AWAY TEAM: So your first album with Death Angel was Art of Dying. What was it at that show or shortly after that they decided or you all decided you should reform properly and actually do something with this?

TED AGUILAR: Well that show was supposed to be a one-off. I mean from what the guys told me Death Angel wasn’t meant to reform, they were just done. They went out on a high note of Act III and they started doing other various projects as The Organization, Swarm, Silver Circus and Big Shrimp and all that stuff. Right after we did Thrash of the Titans… I loved it, and the rest of the guys just felt the overwhelmingness of the crowd. Just very into the band. We didn’t realize how much Death Angel was missed. So after that show there was other offers coming about and I guess we decided let’s just do one more round of touring put out a live album and that’s it, call it a day. But as soon as we went to Europe the crowd was just amazing! The first time we went there we headlined the F&R in 2002 July of 2002 I believe then we did the Dynamo Festival and those shows are just like, ‘Holy Shit!’ I mean metal is big in Europe and again we didn’t realize how much fans around the world missed Death Angel. And we did that and went back out on the road again we got this offer to do two weeks in Europe on a festival with Testament. Nuclear Blast started coming around offering us you know… they wanted to sign us without even hearing new songs! They just loved the band, loved the legacy, ‘we’ll sign you!’ So from there on we just said well let’s give it a shot we did and we released Art Of Dying, we released Killing Season, now we’re going to release Relentless Retribution and it’s been a great ride and we still got more to conquer! More to conquer!

AWAY TEAM: Well you’re currently on tour with Soilwork, Swashbuckle and Mutiny Within; I saw maybe 5 dates left after tonight, what’s next?

TED AGUILAR: After this we’re going to go home and kinda hang out with family real quick. Just hang out and chill, then the album comes out as you know September 14th, everyone go out and get it!

AWAY TEAM: On Nuclear Blast. Find it on Nuclear Blast; pre-order it now you get a T-shirt with it…

TED AGUILAR: There you go! And there’s gonna be there’s a limited DVD too. It’s the making of the record which I kinda filmed, directed, and produced the whole thing. I had someone else edit it. It’s the making of the record from the first riff all the way until the last riff and into the recording studio and whatnot. And September we’re going to do the Mezcal Metalfest the last week of September with Twisted Sister, Destruction, God Forbid, and Obituary. Then in October we’re going to South America for the first time which we’re really excited about then we come back in November. December we’re going out to Europe with Kreator, Exodus, and Suicidal Angels and that’s going to be a thrash fest festival across Europe! Come back for the holidays then in the new year we pick up at that 70,000 ton metal cruise we’re doing with Testament, Forbidden, Exodus, Fear Factory, Uli Roth, Trouble, Swashbuckle, so many bands! Then right after that we start our headlining U.S. tour and who knows what’s going to come after that. I know next summer we still have to do the major European festivals so relentless touring, relentless touring.

AWAY TEAM: So springtime we should see you back in the States then on the road…

TED AGUILAR: Around springtime yeah around there.

AWAY TEAM: Early summer before the European festivals kick in?

TED AGUILAR: Yeah then go back to Europe for the summer festivals then maybe come back in the fall too. Relentless touring! Who knows? But that’s the plan.

AWAY TEAM: On this album you have two new musicians (Damien Sissom – bass, Will Carroll – drums) on it, has that changed how you guys write?

TED AGUILAR: Well it definitely changed this time around because we have a new rhythm section. Andy Galeon and Dennis Pepa are no longer with the band due to personal and family obligations. They couldn’t go out on tour basically so we got a new rhythm section and when we got them, before we even started writing a record, we went out on tour with them. Just played the old songs and we noticed they have a thrashier element. So it was kinda good to go out on the road with them and play some of the old songs and get a feel of what’s going on. I’ve known Damien and Will for awhile, I’ve played with them, so I know what their vibe is about. But it was good in a sense for Rob and Mark because it’s probably the first time in Death Angel history they got to jam with somebody who are not family, somebody totally new. So when we came to writing the album Rob kinda knew what styles Will played, he knew Will’s a thrash drummer, basically like full on thrash drummer, Damien’s a thrash bass player but with a sense of like, ala Cliff Burton, Steve Harris, all those great players. So Rob wrote accordingly to that. The band’s been through a lot of ups and downs in the past couple of years losing members and a lot of personal things going on internally and externally. So all that influence and jamming with new people helped create this record which is the most aggressive and thrashiest record since Ultra-Violence. You know a lot of double bass a lot of fast parts and it feels like a new band. When you listen to the record, for us, it seemed like a new band getting its first record deal, excited! Just going out there again you know? It’s kinda like they helped bring that excitement back which was kinda tapering off with Dan and Andy because they just weren’t into it any more. You can’t really force anybody to be into something when they’re not. And it was really hard for the band because those guys had been with the band since the inception and a lot of fans are like, ‘Oh man! What’re they gonna do?’ But this album’s going to really prove that Death Angel can go on and we’re happy about that.

AWAY TEAM: That’s one thing I’d noticed with the Art of Dying and Killing Season. Act III to most fans out there was the ‘be all end allDeath Angel album and it was probably the most diverse out of the three original albums, very funky, a lot of different styles woven through the basic Bay Area Thrash sound and with the Art of Dying & Killing Season and what little bit I’ve heard of Relentless Retribution it’s like you have gone more towards the straightforward thrash. Is that more angry or just…

TED AGUILAR: It’s a combination of things. I mean it was intentionally to do that and two it was like I said we’d gone through a lot in the past couple of years so all that vibe went into that, and Rob being the sole the chief writer on this one. Art of Dying was good you know it got our feet wet with the band discovering themselves again because it’d been a long time. Killing Season was a great record where everyone like pretty much honed in, but then again, like I’d said in the past couple of years there was tension within the band of collaborating. I mean collaboration is good sometimes you know and it works well when it works well and the past couple of years with everyone it was hard in a sense. And when everyone collaborated it made Death Angel, but this one was more Rob wrote everything. I mean he had the ideas, he had the thing, there was no fighting, there was no pushing and pulling. It wasn’t like, ‘No this has to be that way!’ ‘No this is that way!Rob had so much ideas, and so much to let out, that with our new rhythm section and we heard what Rob was writing and we’d go, ‘that’s it!’ You know he was feeling it, he had all this vibe and ideas, we just ran with it. It was easier for Rob to write. There was no pushing and pulling, he had everything, we just added to what he did. It’s like I said being a band, being in a first band, someone forms a band, ‘I got all these songs let’s do it, let’s do it, let’s do it!’ And when it came to the lyrics, Mark wrote the majority of the lyrics. There’s 12 songs on the record. Mark wrote 9 of them and Rob wrote the other 3 and it’s a heartfelt record. Mark finally got to release. Mark had a lot… you know we all went through a lot of stuff. We were all able to release, and that’s why the record’s more thrashy, more aggressive. It was purposely done that way. Along with the fact of what we went through, so we’re stoked about it. We’re just stoked. And it still has Death Angel elements in there. It doesn’t have the sing-along’s like some stuff on Act III, but there’s melody. It’s just aggressive melody. Who knows how well this album does. We could go on the road even longer. That’s something we want to do. It’s something a proper band should do. And that’s something we never got to do with Art of Dying and Killing Season. Due to the fact that a couple of the guys in the band either didn’t want to tour… we get booked a tour and go ‘I can do that first half but not the second half’ it’s like we gotta do it all! But now that those roadblocks are not there we are able to just tour and we need to tour to promote the record and to get in people’s faces. A lot of people want to see us live and they don’t want to wait 4 years for us to come by. So we want to keep comin’ and coming around.

AWAY TEAM: Yeah I’m getting tired of driving 5 hours to see you guys!

TED AGUILAR: Yes yes yes! We want to keep touring a lot so we can hit other markets where people don’t have to travel to. We’re hitting these markets where people have to travel because we haven’t come around a lot. The more we come around we can hit other territories. The word gets out ‘hey come over here instead of over there’. Cool. You know maybe hit your town so you don’t have to drive!

AWAY TEAM: So you’re doing South America and with the European festivals you’re hitting a lot of Europe, what is probably like the one market or the one place you guys haven’t played that you want to?

TED AGUILAR: Oh South America, one. Central America, probably want to go to Africa. I’ve heard they have shows in Africa. Morocco, Sepultura just did Morocco, they had a couple festivals in like Dubai. We’ve done the Philippines which is great awesome and …

AWAY TEAM: How are you guys accepted there?

TED AGUILAR: Great!

AWAY TEAM: I think you and Journey ‘cuz of their new lead singer…

TED AGUILAR: Yeah yeah!

AWAY TEAM: You guys are pretty much the favored children of the Philippines.

TED AGUILAR: Pretty much yeah! Well Journey more than us! We were accepted really well and the fans were awesome the people there were awesome. We want to go back to Japan, we’ve been to Japan, but I know there’s other territories. There’s talks of Malaysia, Indonesia, China, and you know Hawaii… There’s so many places, it’s just trying to get out there. It is hard but we’ll play everywhere where it’s feasible. If we can get out there without losing it, losing our asses, we’ll play! We’ll definitely play.

AWAY TEAM: In the age of downloading, you guys unfortunately don’t make a lot money anymore on the actual album sales. Labels and no offense to Nuclear Blast and some other great labels out there but the big labels we’ll say are slowly but surely crumbling. And if they don’t change their business model then they’re not going to exist in the next few years. Can you still exist and can you make a good living doing this full time?

TED AGUILAR: If you play your cards right!

AWAY TEAM: It’s about being in your blood and wanting to play. That’s one thing. But being able to survive in today’s market…

TED AGUILAR: A lot of bands seem to do it, I mean a lot of younger bands. Thing is to tour one, merchandise of course, you can download music but you can’t download a shirt. And we get people go ‘oh I’ve seen your YouTube performances’ great! And they come out to see us. Yeah you can see it on YouTube, but it’s not the same as going to a live show. Downloading does hurt and I’ve talked to people in bands and labels, it hurts but you gotta embrace the internet. I see it as touring, your merchandise, and just playing your cards right, and just embracing the internet. Don’t kind of shun it, it’s there, it’s not going away. The days of making money off platinum records seems to be over. Not even pop artists sell as much as they used to but…

AWAY TEAM: Which is good actually!

TED AGUILAR: Well in a sense, but for bands like us we gotta go out and tour. And the live show’s where people really see us. And the more we tour the more merch you sell or whatever and just gotta keep going. Putting out records cause the diehards will buy the records and in this day and age you got people like me and you who still buy records. The newer generations don’t seem to, a lot of the hardcore scene people kinda like download, but a lot of metal kids that I talk to, that I meet, have bought CDs and vinyl and want to sign it. So that’s good that they’re buying it. But it’s just touring and word of mouth the old school way.

AWAY TEAM: Well, used to be when you’re starting out you lived on the road. You lived in the back of a van and you toured incessantly just to get your name out there. Now you have to tour incessantly to put money in your pocket! As you get older it really starts to wear on you more, how do you keep up the intensity? Because you guys put on a phenomenal show! Like I was telling Mark (Osegueda – singer) before we started the interview, I’ve been following this band since ’87. I’m from the Bay Area originally and there was a high school radio station KVHS that played metal, and that’s all they played! That was my introduction to Death Angel in ’87. They played the Ultra-Violence and I was hooked instantly. I’ve seen you guys live, since you got back together, I’ve seen you probably 5, 6 times. And they are just amazing shows! And the intensity on that stage whether it’s a huge room or a very small room, you guys just slay. How do you keep up that level of intensity and that energy night after night being on the road for say another 2 years now?

TED AGUILAR: One we try to stay healthy eat right on the road a lot of us exercise a lot you know

AWAY TEAM: And a lot of Galaga!

TED AGUILAR: And a lot of Galaga!! We exercise a lot, we watch what we eat basically, and we’re not excessive drinkers. We don’t do drugs, an occasional puff here and there with the guys. Who doesn’t? It’s basically just really taking care of yourself. Plus when we play the songs that we play we’re just so into it, it just makes us go crazy night after night whether it’s a small crowd or a big crowd. We throw out the energy and the crowd throws it back at us. We love to do it, we love to go out there and perform. People come to see a show we’re going to give you a show! Plus we’re from the old school, where we go to a show and fuckin’ Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, old Metallica, all those bands they put on a show. KISS for example! So we kinda like are influenced by that, but how do we do it? We just rest, exercise, and try to work out and be cautious of intake.

AWAY TEAM: Well I thank you very much it’s been a pleasure again thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule

TED AGUILAR: No problem man thank you

AWAY TEAM: Good luck with Relentless Retribution and the next 16 months on the road and hopefully we’ll see you again in Raleigh in the spring.

TED AGUILAR: Raleigh or wherever you live! Hopefully you know the more we tour, and if the record gets pretty successful which we hope… Countin’ on you guys to buy it so we can hit more than just one city per state you know? So everyone can come out, we’re into it! Hope you’re into it too. Relentless Retribution September 14th via Nuclear Blast GO BUY IT! Come see the shows!

Thank you to Ted Aguilar for the time he took out of his Galaga match to sit and talk with me, Francois for ensuring the interview happened, Charles at Nuclear Blast for setting it up, and Melissa for her great transcription services as always.

Relentless Retribution can be pre-ordered here.

For more DEATH ANGEL click here.

Photos courtesy of Barry Knain

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