Interview and pics by Arto Lehtinen
Transcription by David Groves
Back in 1987 Death Angel’s debut album called THE ULTRA-VIOLENCE catapulted five young thrashers onto the map of Bay Area thrash metal. The years were wild and a full of touring until Death Angel faced the end of the road in the early 90’s. Since the Thrash of the Titans co-benefit show (for 2 metal warriors battling against cancer: Testament vocalist Chuck Billy and Chuck Schuldiner of Death), Death Angel has been activate even though the line-up has undergone a few major changes. Despite these changes, the Death Angel is still flying high. Their newest album called RELENTLESS RETRIBUTION is due out September 3 in Europe and Sept. 14 in in The U.S.A. It was an utter pleasure to have a chat with the band’s frontman, Mark Osegueda, to speak about the new material and take a glance at the past.
CRISSCROSSING BETWEEN EUROPE AND SAN FRANCISCO
What do you think about Sweden Rock?
Brilliant! We’ve been wanting to play Sweden Rock for as long as I can remember. We’ve been trying and hoping that someday they’d contact us, and we were fortunate enough that the promoter of Sweden Rock saw us play in Finland. He was very excited about our performance and started approaching us and our booking agent. Originally he said we could play either Sweden Rock Cruise or Sweden Rock festival, not both, and then he changed his mind and let us do both. So it’s been a wonderful year.
You’re doing a few gigs in Europe right now here at Sweden Rock and then Sauna in Finland – Does it make sense to come out here for two gigs and then return back home in a short time before the tour with Soilwork?
You know, it does if you love music. I would have flown out here for one show if it was Sweden Rock. This has been something we’ve been wanting to do for a long time. So for the love of music, we push ourselves to the point of exhaustion to make it happen. Tonight we’re watching Aerosmith and they go until like 2 in the morning, and then we have a lobby car at about 5 am to go to the airport. But we’re going to do it, and we’re going to play tomorrow afternoon. All for the love of music…
I read your blog about your touring where you said it has been really rough by going back to San Francisco, then back to Florida and then back Europe. Do you ever get tired of traveling all the time?
I’m excited to be places, what I get tired of is the airplanes. I hate flying, and I get restless on the airplanes. But as soon as I get to the country to play, I get excited. Especially in Europe, I much prefer playing in Europe to playing in the States.
It seems like you enjoy doing festivals in Europe more, cos last summer you did a plenty of festival gigs like in Slovenia and of course Finland..
It’s hard to say ‘more’, I just love playing in Europe. The band does in general, we always have. I think it’s because growing up most of the bands we loved were from the UK or from Europe. So it’s always been a kind of affinity like ‘when we grow up we want to play there someday’. So we still have that kind of mentality. And I think European fans are so special and into music for the right reasons. We’re still very much affected by that. So when it comes to festivals or clubs, it’s hard to say. I’ve likened it before to dating identical twin sisters – you like them both!
In opinion Death Angel works better in the lights like in Oulu than in daylights, as people go crazy. Does it bug you when people only watch, not moshing and slamming in the pit ?
I love the live situation when we’re in a small club because the energy and the sweat – you can feel it – and the intimacy of it is amazing. But at the same time I love playing festivals because you’re playing to an audience of people who’ve never seen you before, a lot of times. My main goal is just to win them over, and I think we do that often. We’re not your typical thrash band who just stands in one place in front of the microphones and head bangs. We’re kind of all over the place. The way I see it is, people actually want to watch what we’re doing, and when you’re in the pit sometimes you can’t take the time to watch the band. I picture it that they’re just trying to absorb what’s going on. It’d be different if they were standing still and in between songs there was no applause. Where you could hear people in between songs saying ‘yeah!’. I really take the approach that they’re really trying to absorb everything that’s happening.
Are you able to control the audience while raging on the stage and headbanging your dreadlocks – Can you see and follow if some unexpected things happen there ?!
(laughs). Absolutely, I always watch the audience, and I always try to get eye contact with as many people as possible, whether they’re up the front or way up the back I always try to point out certain people.
NEW GUYS AND A NEW ERA
How has the touring been with the new guys in the band?
It’s been amazing actually. That’s why we can tour so much nowadays, because we’ve got two younger guys who have their life set up so they can tour. So now we get to tour more than we ever did and that was always the goal. Before we’d get offered tours we couldn’t do because Andy and Dennis couldn’t tour as much as these guys could and it was kind of affecting the progression of the band. But these new guys, I just say ‘these are the shows that are coming up’ and they’re like ‘alright!’ So now we’re touring like a proper band should.
You had a different bass player when last time you toured in Europe, what happened as he is no longer in the band?!
He’s a great guy; he’s one of my dear friends. But unfortunately the same kind of thing happened with him – I don’t think he realized the magnitude of the touring we were going to be doing. He has a kid and another kid on the way and it was just too difficult for him to be on the road. He’s still a very close friend of mine but he couldn’t do it. We realized that and within about 24 hours we had Damien. We’d already been scoping Damien out (laughs).
Tell me more about Damien.
Damien was in Ted’s other band Scarecrow with Will. And Damien’s been playing in the Bay Area for years, just a solid bass player but an amazing bass player, just out there, a journeyman, going for it. But he’s a younger guy, he has that enthusiasm, he’s an amazing musician and I think people will realize that when the new album comes out and they hear the stuff he’s doing.
What about Will, he has been playing with several bands in the local scene ?
Will’s been in the scene hashing it out for many, many years and this is his first opportunity to be in a band that’s actually touring constantly. And for as long as he’s been playing, the Death Angel album coming out is his first true album coming out on a label. So it’s very exciting for him.
Did Ted bring something new to the band when he joined the band?
He was the shot of enthusiasm that we needed. Ted is a great guy, a great player, and he is the man of the people, he’s out there with the fans at all times, he’s hanging with everyone, constantly networking on the computer and has friends everywhere. And he keeps the band in people’s faces, even when we weren’t busy. He was the one who brought the excitement back because he’s so enthusiastic.
NEW ALBUM – Relentless Retribution
Did the writing process change with the new members or has it been in the same way ?!
It changed a bit because there’s no more input from Andy or Dennis. It’s more streamlined now, Rob and I write everything now. Rob’s writing style changed a bit because Will’s much more of a metal drummer than Andy was. That’s why we toured a lot with these guys before we started writing, and got their styles. And then Rob started writing riffs more tuned to Will’s kind of playing. And it was great because it’s made for the most aggressive Death Angel album to date.
You have worked down in Florida with Jason Suecof who has worked with for example WhiteChapel, but could you tell us more about the new album? Last summer I asked about the album you said it is gonna be pure thrash..
It’s done, it’s being mixed right now, and it is definitely by far the angriest album we’ve done, it’s most technical album we’ve done in years, it’s aggressive, thrash metal. We pushed it to the limit on this one. It’s the most personal Death Angel album to date lyrically. Rob and I went through a lot making this happen, with the transitions of losing the two original members and Rob and I carrying a bigger workload. And also, we were taking out a lot of our frustrations in the music, and lyrically as well. There’s definitely some hidden double entendres in the lyrics, directed at certain people (laughs).
Every Death Angel has sounded different like rock elements, thrash and funk elements, what kind of elements will be on the new album?
With us there’s always going to be something different, because that’s just how we are. We’re a bit more melodic than a lot of thrash metal bands. As I said, it’s definitely the most thrash album we’ve done since The Ultra Violence. But we’ve progressed as musicians so much it’s still a bit more melodic. It’s going to be an album unto itself, that’s for sure.
Could you tell a bit about songs who wrote them ? Do you usually check them out at your rehearsals what guys have come up ?
Rob and I wrote everything, so Rob wrote every riff on the album. There are 12 songs and I wrote the lyrics for 9 of them, and Rob wrote lyrics for the remaining three. Rob usually writes the riffs and the vocal over the riffs, and then Ted and he would make the basic structures. Then they give me a CD, and I go over it and start writing my lyrics and melodies to that. But I think the new one is definitely going to regain us some old fans and knock down the door for a bunch of new younger bands.
The album is coming out in September, right?
Early September, yeah.
Are you going do any new songs at gigs or festivals to test how people will react to them ?!
We will do one song, but we probably do one or two new ones and that’s it. We don’t want to do too many different things because with nowadays with technology, the next thing you know the whole album’s out on YouTube, live. So we just usually do one or two. And only usually one a night.
THE RECOGNIZABLE VOICE
As for your voice, how have you progressed your voice during these 10 years of the second coming?
I think in a huge way. That’s always been my goal, to improve on what I’ve done prior…If I’d listened to critics and things people said I would have quit a long time ago. But if anything, it’s just fuel to the fire. I think that by practicing and really taking it seriously my voice has become a lot more powerful, I have a much larger range now – a lot of people over the years have blown their voices out but mine’s at ease, mine’s stronger than it’s ever been.
Have you taken some lessons how to improve your voice or how do you improve voice generally ?
Yeah, I mean I’ve been doing it for so long and I’ve been blessed with a very resilient voice. I took voice training for about 7 years, I don’t do it any longer but I still remember the techniques I’m working on. So I thinking it’s helping with the longevity of my voice. But also, I don’t do everything by the book, I definitely do certain things that my voice trainer would never let me do, they’d say ‘don’t do that!’ But as I said, I have a pretty resilient system and I’m fortunate for that.
Which singers influenced you in the first place a long time ago ?!
The first singer I really latched onto as a kid was Ozzy, but I don’t think my style is like Ozzy in any way, shape or form, but he was the first one, because I loved Sabbath. But I would say the main influences I’ve taken to on singing would be Ronnie James Dio, Bruce Dickinson and Steven Tyler.
What about nowadays, do you happen to discover new singers with great voice blowing you away?!
I don’t know about new, I still always go back to people. I always discover new voices but it tends to be people who’ve been around for quite some time. There are no new singers on the scene that are blowing my mind. That’s not to say they’re not good, they just haven’t influenced me. The guy from Muse has an amazing voice. But a lot of the younger bands rely on the roar, and that’s just not my style and it never will be, I can’t do that. And I don’t want to do that. So that never quite inspires me, it’s just rediscovering people who have been around – I guess the last singer that blew me away was Jeff Buckley.
Do you check out other support bands on the tour and at gigs?
Yeah, when we’re on tour I always watch the all the other bands.
Which bands have amazed you with their skills and a good singer?
It’s odd, because I usually love the energy, out of everything – that’s what I love, I love the aggression. But it’s usually never the singer, it’s usually the players, because the singers rely on that low growling thing that I just can’t do and I don’t want to do. So I’m usually more inspired by the drummers and guitar players, It’s so odd because I see it so much live when we tour, that when we get home I don’t see that many shows because I see so many bands when I’m away, the last thing I want to do is go to a show. If anything, if I go to a show it’s usually a band I’m a huge fan of.
Back in the day it is easy to recognize thrash bands because of they had the sounds of their own, whereas nowadays bands tend to sound like copycats ?
Absolutely. Yeah I definitely see that. I think it’s a great compliment that they’re influenced by certain people but they don’t do enough to add their own dimension to it. To tell you the truth I think one of the things that separates sounds of bands is the vocalist. A lot of bands lack a sense of melody.
When hearing the stuff of Death Angel I can recognize your voice as it is a trademark. But as for the metalcore stuff in my opinion they usually sound quite monotonous.
Yeah, it’s very monotone. They tend to have their two little singing voices, the growling one and the quick melodic one which is usually the same note (laughs). So it’s just not my thing. I love the energy, I think the energy is undeniable, but I tend to go back to the things I love, like Maiden or Sabbath. Or Metallica. I love Metallica and I love Slayer. They were the bands that I saw that were [great].
According to your personal myspace you listen to the other stuff for example Beatles Nick Cave?
Absolutely. I love it. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds is one of my favourite bands of all time. Tom Waits as well, I love it all. I love music, all types.
And even the jazz music?
In a huge way. I love Miles, Coltrane, there’s a singer Johnny Hartman who sang with Coltrane a lot, he was phenomenal, Betty Carter, Abbey Lincoln, they were amazing jazz vocalists. I love people that feel what they’re doing and have a passion for it.
Are you some kind of vinyl collector like when returning back to home, you put a jazz album on and relaxing?
Yeah. But I have my iPod, it’s so much easier on the road to bring your iPod, I’ve got about 14,000 songs on there. So I still love vinyl, but my vinyl collection doesn’t keep growing. But I definitely have some stuff that certain people would shit a brick over.
Do you have to have a balance in the music as you keep touring and hearing metal on gigs and then having a peaceful time and then listening to some peaceful and harmony music ?!
Oh yeah, I’d definitely listen to very mellow stuff at times. Today I was listening to some Beatles…I like everything. I need it – I need that dichotomy I think. I couldn’t drive around listening to metal 24 hours a day. It gets old. I love it, don’t get me wrong, that’s why I appreciate it even more when something heavy comes on I’m like ‘yeah!’ But I need that dichotomy.
HEADING OUT TO THE HIGHWAY
You are going to tour with Soilwork…
Yeah, you know, we’re doing clubs to small theatres so anything from 500 to 1500 seaters I’m guessing. And yeah, that’s going to be fun tour. I’ve known Peter for a while, great guy, great songwriter. Great player. He actually wrote a song we did for the Nuclear Blast 20 year anniversary – Peter wrote the music and I wrote the lyrics and melody. Peter and I recorded a song called My Name is Fate. And I’m glad he’s back in the band, it definitely gives the band something to be excited about, and I’m excited about it.
In my opinion Peter plays an important role in Soilwork.
I think so in a big way. He’s got his own style of playing. When you lose the principle songwriter, things are going to change. It’d be like us carrying on without Rob. We carry on without Dennis and Andy, and that’s fine, but if we lost Rob I don’t think we could carry on.
Where has been the wildest and the most insane crowd where you have played ?!
Yeah, I’d say three. The first time we played Finland was at Kuusrock back in 1988, that was insane. Otherwise, three gigs that come to mind were: the first time we played Hungary, it was insane. That was just mammoth. First time we ever played Poland, and the first gig we did after we reformed in Holland. It was the first European gig we ever did after we reformed. Those were the three mind-blowing ones.
It seems like both Holland and Finland are important places for Death Angel
In a huge way, we always had such a love for both countries, I have a lot of friends in those places, which helps. So we’re very excited about tomorrow.
Finland is close to your heart?
Always, it’s one of our fondest memories from the 80′s. I think it’s just a beautiful country.
Well the video “Guilty Of Innocence” was shot at Kuusrock, it is kind of tribute to Finland and Oulu.
Exactly, that video was done there. So we have such fond memories. So when we get to play there, it’s the best.
Thanks for the interview and hope you will enjoy Slayer and Aerosmith!
I will see Slayer and Aerosmith and Danzig.
Any last words?
Just keep an eye out for the new Death Angel album coming out on in September, it’s a beast, it’s a monster. And the thing about it now is that we’re touring more than we ever have and the album’s not even out yet, and once the album drops we’re going to go on tour (laughs). And once we’re done with this tour we’re getting back in the studio and we’re going to crank out another album and tour some more. We’re going to stay in people’s faces like we’ve never done. So keep an eye out, come see us live, and check out the album when it drops.
THE OFFICIAL DEATH ANGEL SITES