Mark Osegueda of Death Angel
Interview by Luxi Lahtinen
On/offstage pictures by Terhi Pihlaja
Much thanks to both Silke of Tough Enough Promotion and Flo for setting up the interview with Mark
Death Angel – among so many other Bay Area thrash metal acts like Testament, Exodus, Vio-lence, Heathen, Forbidden, Defiance and so forth, has come a long way from the times of their monstrously wicked thrash debut, THE ULTRA-VIOLENCE. Many people still consider their best album to dat when the band seems to spend months on tours, just like back in their old days.
It’s been almost 30 years since the formation of the band and Death Angel´s engine is still in excellent shape, just like their energetic live performances have proven for many of us lately. Witnessing Death Angel playing live at Sauna Open Air Metal festival in Tampere, Finland on Friday, 11th of June, simply kicked each and everyone of us fully awake in the venue. These fine Cali-thrashers seem to get better as they age over the years, just like an old wine.
I managed to hook up shortly with the band´s always polite and smiling frontman Mark Osegueda in the dressing room of the band after the show – and naturally I couldn´t help but ask him some details about their 6th studio, titled RELENTLESS RETRIBUTION, which by the words of Mark himself, contains some of ´the most technical and aggressive´ stuff they´ve ever recorded since the classic ULTRA-VIOLENCE album. Of course the old times weren´t left untouched completely either…
(: This interview was done in June 11th 2010)
So what can you say about your set tonight?
Ah, man, we had a blast – I mean, a blast. It was, you know, challenging a bit because of how slippery the stage was. So, I mean, I definitely felt- I had an amazing time, I thought the show was great but because of the weather, it affected some of the electronics and stuff was cutting out a lot. And I felt compromised about how much I usually move or would do stuff on stage because of how slippery it was. But, you know, it’s all about the music anyway. And we had no sleep because we came here from Sweden Rock last night. But, you know, once you start playing music, all of a sudden, you know, all those problems kind of go away.
How was the Sweden Rock Festival just a couple of days ago that you also played at?
Sweden Rock was great! It was great! Great festival and one we’ve wanted to play for many years, and we did. And, you know, same thing: it rained – of course, during our set. That’s what happens to us. [laughs] But it went wonderful. The crowd was very receptive, very responsive, and we just had a wonderful, wonderful time.
MEMORIZING THE TIMES ABOUT BEING IN FINLAND
You also did Jalometalli Festival in Oulu, Finland on August 15th last year, which was a great show from Death Angel. It also looked like you had so much fun there…
YEAH!!!! That was a fun one, huh?
Yeah! What kind of memories do you have about this little northern city?
Exotic ones! [laughs] I’m joking, I’m joking. I’m joking – I meant erotic ones. Now I’m joking too. It was wonderful – that festival was just great. The night before we were at the rock bar drinking with everyone. And then the show itself was just phenomenal. Just, you know, the response was just great. And then, you know, we partied with everyone after. The harsh part was we had to be at the airport the next morning at, you know, five in the morning, so that was just brutal. But we’re fortunate that this time we have tomorrow off here so we can just relax.
The first time you played in Oulu happened at Kuusrock Festival in 1988…
Kuusrock – oh yeah!
That was your very first experience playing in Finland. Can you still remember some of those times?
All of it, man! It’s one of the most memorable shows we ever did. That’s when airport security wasn’t what it used to be, you know? So we literally landed and, you know, we were parked just off the runway, so you’d have to walk off the plane to go to the main terminal. And there were kids out there with Death Angel stuff, like, right when you got off the airplane. It was just amazing. And hell, we were kids, so it was like peers but they were fans. The fans and us loved the metal. So, you know, we went there and then played the show and just spectacular, spectacular memories from that. That was a couple days experience. Definitely some of the most memorable moments probably ever touring for us was the Kuusrock Festival. The Finnish friends we made back then – and we still have a lot of them that we encounter now.
This actually wasn’t the first time for you guys to play in Oulu. You played here before when you had a tour with Forbidden – this kind of mini tour in Finland. Do you remember something of that tour when it was done in 1991?
Yeah, of course I do! I still have photos from it. I have photos from it and I was looking at them the other day and I was like, goddamn, this is that Forbidden tour we did – us and Forbidden in Finland. We did about four or five club shows as far as I remember. That was great.
I personally attended to 2 of these shows – and filming them with my video camera I had back then…
Oh, that´s nice! Yeah, we were talking to- I remember, because the Forbidden guys and never been to Finland and we’re like, “Wait ‘til you go to Finland, man!” It’s, it’s- WOW! And it’s still WOW!
TOURING AND DOING FESTIVALS IN 2010
From here you are going to travel back to the States, right?
Yes. The day after tomorrow we go back to the States.
And you’re going to start a tour with Soilwork?
In about two and a half weeks we start.
It’s gonna be a pretty long tour for you guys, I assume?
Yeah, it’s a long tour. The first, I believe – eight or nine dates are headlining shows. So we´re headlining, you know, down through the South and then we meet up with Soilwork at, I believe, the tenth show in Jaxx – I don´t know where the hell that is, but it’s on the East Coast – and then we do a lot of dates with them. So, yeah, it´s an extensive U.S. tour, definitely.
Have you played with those guys before at some festivals?
We played with them at two festivals, actually. We played with them at Jalometalli festival in Oulu – we played with them there. And we also played with them at With Full Force and I think Graspop before. But, you know, great band and I’m excited they got Peter Wichers back. You know, Peter’s a great guy, a great songwriter, so I think it’s going to be a good tour – a good mix.
Are you going to have your own headlining tour coming up after that or are you going to try to— Actually, you’ve mentioned that – how you’re going to have your new album out in September, right? And then you’re planning on touring again?
Yeah, we’re actually playing Mexico City in September and then in October it looks like we’re doing South America and then November/December we’re coming back to Europe – twenty-five shows – and it’s actually… Well, I’m not supposed to say, but I don´t rat´s ass, I’m gonna say. We’re doing twenty-five shows; it’s Kreator, Exodus, Death Angel, and Suicidal Angels. Twenty-five shows all throughout Europe and I believe there’s one Finnish show.
That would be cool. Perhaps either in Oulu or in Helsinki?
I think in Helsinki.
70´000 FUCKING TONS OF METAL
Oh, okay – that’s cool. As far as playing live is concerned, in January 2011 you guys should be doing a pretty unusual gig at the Royal Caribbean ship, as a part of this “70000 Tons of Metal” cruise, which leaves from Miami, Florida – and goes all the way to Cozumel, Mexico. It´s a 4-days all-ship heavy metal cruise, so it´s really something totally unusully cool for you guys to do, I guess.
Oh, yeah – Hell, yeah! 70000 Tons of Metal. We’re doing that – that should be crazy.
There´s supposed to play about 40 or even more bands in that very same cruise…
Yeah, that’s gonna be crazy. I mean, hell, we did the Sweden Rock Cruise a few months back and that was, oh my god, so much fun! So much fun! And that was just one night. And multiply that by four? Forget it. Forget it! [laughs] Can’t even imagine!
So was it a very easy decision for you guys actually to be a part of that Metal cruise?
Yeah. You know, yes and no – yes and no because Rob [Cavestany] gets seasick really easy so, you know, he’s still always leery about any show on the water. But, you know, the way I see it is you have a few drinks, you get your sea legs on and, you know, booze is better than Dramamine… and more evil.
Such legendary bands as Saxon, Sodom, Raven, Forbidden, Testament, Uli Jon Roth and so many other bands are also going to be a part of that trip, too.
Uli Jon Roth? Yeah!
Are you planning to see some of those bands live, too?
Of course! Especially, I mean, the ones I’m really excited about. I´ve got to be honest with you, I want to see Uli Jon Roth in a huge way. And I am actually a huge early Raven fan. I love all the early Raven stuff, you know, all the albums up through ALL FOR ONE – those albums, I think, are just amazing. All those first few ones, just brilliant. So I´m very excited about that. I already saw them play a club show and they were great. They were great. You know, so I´m excited about that. And then, of course, you know, I´ll see the Exodus guys, the Testament guys, and blah, blah, blah, blah, I’ll see them. [laughs] C’mon, we’re good friends, so… I’ve seen them so much, by that time I just might be out on the deck, you know, “Exodus is playing!” “Well, tell ‘em I said hi!” [laughs] I’ll see them plenty in November.
Then talking about your next album a little bit, it´s supposed to come out in September via Nuclear Blast, and you have stated that your new material is ´the most aggressive and technical music you have written in years´. Did you try to find the same vibe back to your new songs that you had on your debut album THE ULTRA-VIOLENCE, which has sort of become a real landmark release for the band over the years?
Absolutely! It´s, you know, it´s definitely the most technical and the most thrash album since THE ULTRA VIOLENCE. And I think that mainly has to do with basically all the crap me and Rob went through in the last few years losing, you know, original members and trying to keep this thing together and just the anger behind it. Also, the players that we´re playing with, you know, the newer members – we were fortunate enough that when we got them in, we did a bunch of live shows first. So we did so many live shows, we got to see their style of playing and mainly Will [Carroll] – because Will´s much more of a metal drummer than Andy [Galeon]. So we did so many shows with them that we got their style and then Rob, you know- Rob wrote all the riffs for the album so Rob, you know, I think not only because he was pissed off about everything that had been happening over the last few years but also, he started feeling out Will´s style of playing and Rob started, you know, writing riffs – angry riffs – that he thought would suit Will´s style so Will would shine even more so on this kind of, you know, aggressive writing and technical kind of stuff. And it´s shown through and that´s what Rob did and it made the album a much more aggressive, much more thrash-based album which I think is going to be a breath of fresh air to a lot of Death Angel fans that might have went, “Yeah, you know, but I like THE ULTRA VIOLENCE. I like THE ULTRA VIOLENCE – are you gonna play anything off it?” This new album is definitely just… It’s an aggressive, technical beast. But, you know, with us it´s always, you know- We´ve all grown as musicians and, you know, there´s always our melody – we have a sense of melody that, you know, I think a lot of thrash bands just lack. So it´s still pissed off, but there´s catchy things that, you know, that just naturally come out of mine and Rob´s style of writing metal. Rob writes the riffs and then he usually- You know, they´ll come up with the basic structure and they´ll give me a disc and then I´ll, you know, I´ll write the lyrics and the melody. It’s a good formula now. There´s less, you know, people to compete with for the writing.
JASON SUECOF THROWING 4 ACES IN
You actually were working with this producer, Jason Suecof, and he’s well-known right now and a very hot name because he has previously worked with such bands as Trivium, Whitechapel, Devildriver and so on.
Exactly! And August Burns Red, who just played.
How did he help you to accomplish the sound you were looking for this new album of yours? Did he surpass all the expectations you had toward him when you were recording your new songs with him?
Well, because he produces such extreme music, that a lot of producers- You know, one thing about Death Angel is we always with all our albums try to get big rock sounds and that´s what we like, you know? And when we started writing this, we knew it was going to be a much more metal album and we´d need a metal producer. Rob was actually giving guitar lessons and one of his students came in with an August Burns Red record and Rob started learning the stuff to teach to his student because his student wanted to hear some of these songs. Rob realized that these guys were good and he burned me a copy and I was like, “Yeah!” But the production was just so clear and crisp and aggressive, yet very metal and we knew that for this album we needed, you know, that kind of sound. And I think what´s great about it was usually producers kinda hone us in, like, “Alright, let´s take it to this tempo,” where Suecof was pushing tempos, “You guys got to step it up – more beats per minute,” so he definitely pushed making it even more metal. [laughs] So, yeah, we had our vision and a producer that pushed it even further.
You actually did play one new song during your show tonight… What was it called again?
Yeah, that was “River of Rapture.”
Yeah, that one. And then you have this other new song that I have heard about…
That´s “Into the Arms of Righteous Anger.”
How would you describe that song? Does it have the same, sort of ´old-school-ish´ vibe as there´s in “River of Rapture?”
Yeah, actually, you know, the thing about “Into the Arms of Righteous Anger,” actually, that one’s even more one of the mid-tempo ones. It´s, you know, it´s just a driving, pissed off song. I mean, the album’s very- It´s a very angry album and it’s the most personal, lyrically, of any album. You know, before it was easy to write stuff I was pissed off about. With KILLING SEASON it was based on, like, the oppressors and, you know, the world leaders and whatnot. This is much more about, you know, people close to us that let us down and pissed us off. So, you know, that helps bring fuel to the fire as well. [laughs]
How was it to work with the songs for this new album, let´s say, compared to your last studio album KILLING TIME that came out 2 years ago? Was it kind of easier and more relaxed, as you have learnt some certain routines over the years regarding how things tend go and work out as far as writing and recording new stuff is all concerned?
Well, I don´t know about relaxed because we were really trying to cram it in to get as much stuff written before we went into the studio. But there was definitely a lot less tension and bullshit, which seemed to really be a part of the writing process back in the day because, you know, we all respected each other as musicians with the original members, but that meant that everyone had a say and everyone had their songs they wrote and everyone had their riffs they wrote and everyone wanted their things on the album and it just made for, I think, a lot of not as concise records from beginning to end. And that´s something that- I think this album is definitely more of a statement from beginning to end and it´s much more concise where the other ones were a little garbled. I´d say definitely THE ART OF DYING was very garbled because we were just finding our footing. I think KILLING SEASON is more straight ahead and makes more sense, but it´s definitely still more of a- it´s an angry album, but it’s a more mid-tempo, pissed off album where this one’s just aggressive and furious.
Do you have any plans to shoot any video for one of the songs off this new album? Do you already know what song you might do this video for?
Oh, we´re definitely going to do a video for this album. We haven´t decided which songs. There´s twelve songs on the album and we actually are doing a headlining tour right after that 70000 Tons of Metal – we´re doing a U.S. headlining tour – and prior to that though we’re doing a lot of touring, probably more touring than we´ve ever done and the album isn´t even out yet. So once the album drops, we´re planning on actually going on tour. So, I mean, it´s cool, but right now it´s torturous because, you know, we´re excited about the new songs and pretty much because of modern technology we can´t do too many new ones, so we´re just doing one new one a night because we don’t want to do a bunch of ‘em because next thing you know, then it´s on YouTube and your whole album´s out on YouTube before the album´´ s actually released. That´s the downside of modern technology.
OLD TIMES – CRAZIER TIMES
Since Death Angel was started back in 1982 – and 5 years from that your got your debut album THE ULTRA-VIOLENCE out in 1987, and then going on the road for playing live to promote the release of that album, it´s naturally easy to claim that the touring and playing live was a whole lot different back then when comparing it to the current times. You guys were younger, crazier and had obviously lots of funny times when being on tour some 20 years ago. So, could you tell from your own point of view, what kind of things have actually chanced since you hit on the road with the band for the very first time?
Yeah, but you know, we still go pretty damn wild on stage, I like to think. But tonight was a tough one because it was so damn slippery on that stage from the rains – we were all kinda watching our footing. So that kinda made it a little difficult. But, you know, we’re definitely more aware of what we´re actually playing, so we´re very conscious of that. And the ironic thing is, one thing we can do now that we never could do before, now that we´ve got Damien [Sisson] and Will, is we can actually tour like a band should tour – non-stop. You´ve got to keep in people´s faces to be relevant and that was one of the downsides of having Den [Dennis Pepa] and Andy – they couldn´t tour as much. And you know, you come out with a record and you want to stay in people´ faces, but unfortunately, with their families and whatnot, they had too many obligations at home that they couldn´t. So it just kinda made us seem like, we´d tour here… need time off… kinda tour here… need time off. It´s just like, you know, you´ve got to stay in people´s faces and keep hitting and that´s what we wanted to do and now we´re finally to that point where we can.
How´s the club scene in San Francisco these days? I guess since the heydays of thrash in the 80´s, it has changed quite a bit – some clubs closing down, and some still keeping their faith for booking metal bands to play at their clubs. I think DNA Lounge and Slim´s are still two of those clubs that actively book metal bands in the Frisco area, correct? Any other places for metal bands that you might recommend for a casual turist in the Frisco area?
None of the 80s clubs from the original heyday are open. They’re all gone.
But you still have some clubs like DNA Lounge and Slim´s there that still keep their doors open for booking metal bands to play there, right?
Well, now that metal’s getting big again, yeah. [laughs] They’re not doing it because they love metal, they’re doing it because they like money! But we’re just fortunate enough that we do have places we can play. So, you know, it’s the clubs. But we are blessed with that. And there´s some, like, gritty bars that let bands go in there and rock it out like a place called Thee Parkside. Benders is another bar that lets shows happen. There was a great little gritty bar there called The Anti-Social Club, which just closed, unfortunately, about three months ago, but they were letting a lot of metal shows happen. But because of the resurgence and us with a new album coming up, Exodus playing non-stop with a new album coming out, Testament, you know, Metallica releasing their most metal album in years, the Bay Area seems to be growing again and it’s great.
There seem to be lots of these young metal guys at their twenties these days - coming out and forming their own thrash bands – and some of them even making an impact on record labels that are eager to to release albums with many of them. You know, bands like Warbringer, Lazarus A.D., Fueled by Fire, etc. I think it´s kinda crazy indeed. At least one can safely say that thrash is back!
It is – it’s wonderful. And, you know, wonderful for us and wonderful for the kids and I totally understand why they love it. It’s such a release and such a- It´s a great genre of music, if you ask me. There´s the technical aspect but yet that aggression that you can get out of your system, which is just a wonderful thing, especially when you´re a teenager. [laughs] You´ve got a lot of stuff you´re pissed off about anyway and a lot of it is probably just hormones but you´re pissed, so it´s great to have some sort of outlet and thrash is a great outlet to have. And, you know, the way I see it is, the young bands coming out, it´s going to make for more well-rounded shows with us and the younger bands. So I´m very, very into it – very, very supportive of the younger thrash scene. And I´ve seen the effects already just from Death Angel club shows. The face of the Death Angel crowd has changed dramatically. There´s still the old fans that were there from, you know, ‘87/’88, but now you see up front these kids that are just, you know, wearing the patches and their denims and just banging and, you know, the whole outfit that we wore back then. Yes, it´s great – it´s great to see and it adds to your enthusiasm for playing.
LOVE FOR THE MUSIC
You left Death Angel in 1991, and returned back to the band in 2001, when you were supposed to do your sort of ´one-time reunion´ show at the “Thrash of the Titans”, which was held for Testament´s Chuck Billy in order to raise money for Chuck´s battle with his chest cancer at that time. I guess since then you haven´t much looked back, and regretted that you joined the band again?
Not at all. No regrets whatsoever since we reformed. It was supposed to be for a one-off show and it just snowballed from there. It’s what I live to do – I love, love music so much and I love to perform live and I love doing it with this particular band. With every album I will work harder and harder to improve and, you know, try to push it to another level and with every performance I always try to give it my all. That´s just the love of music.
Also, a funny thing now is they are going to get this “Big Four” back again. They are going to have Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, and Anthrax playing in Poland and they are going to broadcast it for the whole world and you can go to the movie theatre to see the whole thing live.
I´ve seen that.
I think it tells us something about how much people still value thrash metal overall, and how thrash is back here to stay.
Oh, it is! And here´s a great thing too: I´ve heard about The Big Four, and with 70000 Tons of Metal we’ve coined it a new thing because it´s the first time the ´Not-As-Big-Four´ are playing together. [laughs] The ´Not-As-Big-Four´ is Testament, Exodus, us, and Forbidden – all on one ship. We’re the ´Not-As-Big-Four!´ So there you go! [laughs]
Ok, our time is up so I wanna thank you Mark for your time for doing this nice conversation with me, and best of luck for your forthcoming tour.
Thank you, thank you. It was a pleasure talking to you.