Learn to Sing
||Death Angel is a thrash metal
band formed in the early 80’s by teenage cousins from the San
Francisco Bay Area, the youngest of which was only 14 years old at the
time. Today, its current members, Mark Osegueda (lead singer), Rob
Cavestany (guitars and backing vocals), Ted Aguilar (guitar), Dennis
Pepa (bass guitar and backing vocals) and Andy Galeon (drums and
Death Angel's recording career started in 1986 when Kirk Hammett produced their first demo “Kill As One”. Their debut album “ The Ultra Violence” soon followed and was released in 1987 with worldwide acceptance. It sold over
|40 000 copies in just four
months. Their sophomore effort, titled “Frolic Through The
Park” solidified their fan base while
introducing new sonic elements to their classic yet complex thrash sound. A few years later, they became the first
metal band of their genre to appear on Geffen Records’ roster with their third release “Act III”. That album continued to
push the limits of that genre, keeping the thrash elements intact yet adding more varied influences to the mix. Death
Angel also toured heavily between 1986 and 1990 and sold out at prestigious venues throughout the world. Following a
tragic bus accident and the long recovery of one of its members, the group disbanded. Members then went on to form
other bands throughout the 90’s only to reform in 2001 to perform at a cancer benefit concert for Testament lead singer
Chuck Billy. The wheels were then set in motion for the return of Death Angel and their fourth studio output “The Art of
Dying” released in 2004. Their most recent and 5th studio album “Killing Season” was released in February 2008 to rave
reviews. Visit the following websites for more details on their discography and touring information:
|Interview by: Valerie Bastien|
First of all, thank you for accepting to do this interview. I’m
going to dive right into the singing related questions because I know
you don’t have a lot of time. How would you define your singing
styles? Obviously Mark is the lead singer but you both sing well and
you both have very contrasting styles…
Mark: Absolutely! Mine is power rock based. The ultimate goal is to sound somewhat between Bon Scott meets Bruce Dickinson and Dio! It's a powerful base thing. A lot of times I just let my power take me where it wants to go. I can hold notes long and attack with a very resilient voice. I can't necessarily say that's where it's started but I'm fortunate enough that it has gone more powerful over the years where for a lot of people it’s gone the opposite.
Rob: It's a pretty good description! That's how I picture him when he's singing. That's why he's the lead singer and I'm the coming relief! We do have contrasting styles so we just have to reconcile in that way. I find it really difficult to sing the style Mark is singing, which I love but my voice just doesn't sing that way. My singing is more melodic. We speak alike because we grew up together but when we're singing we have two different colours of sound in our music to use.
Valerie: So you can complement each other
Mark: That adds another layer and a little bit more diversity to Death Angel than to other thrash bands.
Valerie: It's true. So how did you learn to sing because you were saying that you've grown as a singer?
Mark: Definitely, I just started off by knowing how to scream. I had to be loud! I had a very loud voice but that's just from coming from a loud family. I had an ability to scream. I had a very high register when it came to screaming. I was fortunate enough to grow up in an era where I was listening to Zeppelin, Aerosmith, ACDC and Sabbath. They were the singers I wanted to be. Rob wrote "Killers One" and he needed screams in it so that's just how I got the gig. Everyone progressed as musicians and to a great deal because they played instruments. It took me a bit longer because I didn't play an actual instrument.
Valerie: I think voice is the most difficult instrument!
Mark: Well, yes and no but you have to understand that we started so young that I needed to mature and I didn't take it as seriously as I should have until a little later in life.
Valerie: So did you ever take singing lessons?
Mark: Yeah, for a total of about 5 years. It was basically about technique, power and how to save your voice and make it last. I currently don't take them but it's been tossed around... I have a different voice then most people. Mine seems to be naturally scratchy than a lot of these... I guess rock singers... I'm dealing with younger bands of thrash and a lot of them don't even seem to sing at all so now I'm the one with the little pretty voice compared to these guys!
Rob: We have more of the singing going on... Lots have changed!
Valerie: So is it the same about you Rob? Are you pretty much self-taught with a little bit of singing lessons here and there?
Rob: Yeah, exactly... I was just singing along to records, radio and things like that. Actually at some point, I took lessons after Death Angel broke up. The four of us besides Mark, formed The Organization and I basically by default sang since I already did anyway with Death Angel. I started getting lessons mainly to figure out how to save my voice because I would just loose my voice immediately if I started to sing loud.
Rob: Those lessons helped though. You just develop some techniques and things that absolutely help in your singing, that help you get it out easier and preserve your voice. Still in the end, there is still another huge difference between Mark and me because somehow he either learned that thing much better than I did or in the first place his voice is just stronger because if I would go and sing one night time like Mark is singing ours, I would blow my voice out entirely. In The Organization, I was loosing my voice constantly. It was a pain because I was trying to do all the stuff that you hear about, like honey, not talk and all these things. Half the time it didn’t matter after a while. It was just very difficult!
Mark: It’s very hard!
Rob: In the other part, you just need to feel your song, think in your head about delivering words and some kind of message through what you’re expressing not just the technical stuff. And the melody…
Mark: I think we’re blessed because Rob will come up with a riff and with his tunes he’s naturally melodic. I don’t necessarily play an instrument but I see now why voice is an instrument. I can come up with melodies on my own as well. Melodies that I am proud of.
Valerie: Can you teach us a little bit of the technique you use for your screaming voice so that you don’t damage your vocal cords?
Mark: A lot of it is about the basics: breathing and power. It’s so second nature for me now that it’s hard to put into words! Basically, sing above your throat is all I can picture. I’ve always remembered all of my voice teachers saying pitch to the top of your head like a cathedral. You want it to reverberate off it… off the ceiling of your head. You’re singing so it’s echoing off the top of your head and already resonating before it’s coming out of your mouth. Don’t sing out of your throat so much! With the music we do a lot of times, you’ve got to find that fine line. To tell you the truth, I’ll try to find the happy medium between throwing a little bit of scratchiness in there just to give it that rock edge. Also, with years of doing it, you see when you’re doing it way too much because you blow your voice out and when you can do it enough that fortunately you could do it night after night, after night!
Valerie: So do you still warm-up before shows?
Mark: Very little. I used to but it’s odd… Everyone’s voice is different. With mine, as long as I relax my head and my jaws, and to a certain degree scream the flam out then my voice is there! If I do warm-up, it’s weird because it’s almost like it takes away. It does the reverse for me. By the end of the set, a lot of it has been used during the warm-up rather than peeking at the end of it. I know what I need to do before I prepare for stage: it’s to relax my entire being and relax my head. I stretch a lot my entire body; release.
Valerie: Is that how you keep your voice and body healthy because it requires a lot of energy to sing every night and to give that kind of performance?
Mark: Absolutely. And you know what, every voice trainer that I have ever had, has said from the get go that the best thing in the world to do for your voice is sleep. Which is very hard to do on the road but as I’ve grown, I’ve taken this a little more seriously. Especially with this latest album, it’s probably the most difficult stuff I have ever done, recording wise, to pull off live so with this tour more than with any other Death Angel tours and previous bands we’ve had, I’ve made a conscious effort to, even if something is really going on in the bus and it’s fun, turn the lights out early on myself. I never used to have the willpower to do it!
Rob: : I’ve been really proud of him! He’s been doing it all along on this tour! It’s much better! And his voice is benefiting from it! We are on our 5th date of 8 in a row right now so…
Mark: I did have an unfortunate incident at the end of the European tour; I caught some kind of bronchial infection. That was a completely different monster because you’re not dealing with your throat; you’re dealing with your lung capacity. That put a damper on the tail end of the Euro tour and the first couple weeks of the U.S. Tour because I kept trying to use home remedies. I’m not really big into anti-biotics… To a certain degree I’m all about Eastern medicine. I wanted it to work but I hit the point where I was 2-3 weeks in and I was still not projecting like I know I project. Fortunately enough, our soundman had anti-biotics so I took his for a week’s worth! Within three days all of a sudden my voice was back. Every now and than, you’ve got to find where the East meets the West and go with it especially for the benefit of the band and the performance.
Valerie: What about the new album “Killing Season”; can you tell us about that?
Rob: We’ve just recorded our 5th studio album with a producer named Nick Raskulinecz. He’s a great producer and we were very excited to work with this guy. We recorded at the Foo Fitghters’ private Studio 606 in Northridge L.A, California. They invited us out there to do our album. Nick produced the last Rush record and Dango Jones’ from Toronto…
Mark: That was our immediate connection actually; he was the liaison!
Rob: Just that alone for us was a dream because to be able to work with someone of that calibre and with the people in that studio was amazing. You learn a lot from these experiences and we were able to make an album that we are extremely proud of. Sonically and arrangement wise, we hit it off with the producer so well. Nick and us became very good friends. The whole thing was a wonderful experience. Just a total dream experience, to make a record like I wish it could always be: fun and exciting as that was. We thought we were so ready and this guy comes in and he takes us to an even higher place. It was just awesome. It’s my favourite record of ours. We tried to keep it as organic as possible. In fact, by the time the record was finished recording, we had a couple of trial songs that sounded quite different. What we ended up loving is the way it sounded raw from the board. It just got worse for us when these people mixed it so we just told Nick, can you just leave it like this? Can YOU mix it?! So he wasn’t originally going to mix it but he was so into it! He’s a fan; he’s a metal fan…
Mark: He’s got an amazing producing resume and he’s happened to be a Death Angel fan as well, which is quite rare to see in a producer with his credential. He was phenomenal to work with. His input and ideas were great and he pushed us with enthusiasm. He was just as excited about the project as we were.
Valerie: Because he cared about you guys! I heard Mark that you wanted to write the lyrics and record the melodies all by yourself, is that true?
Mark: Not necessarily true. This is probably the most lyrics I’ve written for a Death Angel album. It’s good not to be interpreting someone else’s lyrics basically. Otherwise no matter what, something will always give out. Although in all honesty, I truly always connected with lyrics Rob writes so it doesn’t seem like second age to me. For some reason a lot of the lyrics Rob writes, I’m right on but there is still this sort of intimacy between you and a song when you wrote the lyrics or came up with the melody.
Rob: That’s because you’re expressing words that you created.
b>Mark: Yeah, it’s easier. It seems like the band freed the reins a little bit more for me to explore what melodies I was coming up with. When I presented them with the initial melodies and lyrics, they were fond of what they heard. That eased the burden on them so they could concentrate on writing even more riffs. We had more stuff to concentrate on so it was good for the project as a whole. In the end, it was still a communal effort.
Valerie: It’s good for the creativity as well because if only a couple of people get involved, it’s not as productive.
Mark: Right! But even by the time we get into pre-production, me and Rob will always go in the studio with the stuff I come up with and we will record it, listen to it back and we’ll still tweak things a bit. We’ll try to make it better, try different notes; different ways to tweak them out and enhance it. It’s something that I’ve always been very comfortable doing with him. Other people might take it as an attack or whatnot or some sort of…
Mark: Yeah… With Rob, I’m so comfortable getting to that point that I never take it as criticism. I actually really feel a kinship when we’re writing something like that. I know that we all want the same end result: the best album we can get; from the drums to the vocals! We all just try to capture each other’s strengths.
Rob: Once the barriers are down, if you try not to step down on each other’s toes and try to be too careful, if you don’t want to make someone feel bad or you don’t want to feel criticized, you hide something and you feel vulnerable with it because you’re thinking: does that suck? Then it also depends on the way you work together because you could easily make somebody feel uncomfortable depending on how you respond to some stuff. The whole thing has to do with what we talk all along through experience and time. So it takes a while to figure these things out. We were to a point where we could just lay it out there and we don’t have to deal with this extra baggage about it. It’s all about coming up with some cool stuff. If you hear an idea over something, you just voice it out right then and there the person will hear you out and you’ll see if it sounds cool or not. It won’t be about your idea or my idea and why are you changing my thing, which does get in the way. If you’re concerned that someone is messing with your thing, you can’t get to the cool part anymore because you’re trying to work on each other’s stuff. That’s why we’re working together as opposed to writing all by ourselves. If you just open it all up, that’s when it can get crazy! So you’ve got to get in the light space and get it going. When you hit that, I think it’s really, really cool! Then you’re really coming up with a hybrid of ideas that would never exist unless you are able to open it up that way. You just try to hear the coolest thing and you have to keep listening and opening your mind from this selfless part. You’ve got to put some effort into it to open it up but then you can get these results.
Mark: : It’s taken us years and years of jamming together to get there. It helps that we were initially in Death Angel and then fragmented off to The Organization and Swarm. Its taken 20’ something odd years!
Rob: : I’m excited for the next album because of the level we’ve come to from this last album.
Valerie: You’ll have to raise the bar even more!
Mark: We’re going to take where we left off and take it further. Working in this mindset, we’ve never gotten to this point before. And it only started happening towards the end so it’s either going to be really cool or really f*** up!
Valerie: That’s exciting! Do you keep writing on the road?
Rob: So we say but we haven't done it yet! We went out on this tour and just went into chock. It's just been 10 weeks of playing and being on the road for now. But it will start happening…
Valerie: Rob, what about your solo album "Lines on the Road". How did it allow you to explore a different part of your personality as a musician and artist?
Rob: That's exactly what it is! It's completely different from what we are doing in Death Angel. I like all kinds of music and when I have time, I like to play different kinds of music too. It definitely gives me a break from metal. In the downtime that we had, I managed to get it together, do some recordings and put that up. I haven't been able to do anything with it since because honestly by the day that I got done, we just went deep into writing and pre-production with Death Angel's new album. I can only do one thing at the time because I like to put my entire self into what I'm doing musically. I got it recorded at my own home studio. Gus Papa plays guitar on it (he's the original guitar player from Death Angel), Andy put drums on there for me and I just played the bass and guitars. "Lines on the Road" is available through my myspace. I love that kind of music and I wanted to have a whole album of some mellower kind of sound: a lot of melody, a lot of guitars; acoustic and electric.
Valerie: It works; I love it!
Rob: Yeah, it's good for early morning or late night!
Valerie: What messages would you like to convey with your music?
Rob: We don't have an overall message; we have different songs with different ideals.
Mark: Truly, music is so far from one-dimensional. It's such a form of expression and an emotional outpoint. There are so many emotions. Well before anyone else in thrash, we weren't afraid of showing a vulnerable side of metal. It wasn't just about being the toughest guys in metal. When people were first telling me about EMO I was like: “What's EMO? Oh, it's short for emotion! So these guys with the funny haircut are the ones that first came up with emotional music?! What are you talking about?!” All music is emotional!
Valerie: I like what you said about showing some vulnerability. I want to know, when you interpret a song do you sit down with the lyrics and think about what you should sing for that part of the sentence or for specific words?
Mark: It really comes the opposite way. First, I usually tend to have the melody well before the lyrics. I'll have the melody based on the vibes I get from the riffs Rob wrote. He gives me the basic structure of a song and I'll listen to it over and over again. I'll be just scatting out what I think this riff brings out in me. I'll throw in some random words to give it some sort of pattern. A lot of times may be two words out of a phrase will stick and I'll go, ooh! Something I said and the riff brought out something that sounded kind of metal. I'll remember that word and base a sentence around it and build the words around the melody. I know people that have books of lyric sheets; I’m not that kind of person! I’ve got to be inspired by the melody and the rhythm first and than I’ll come up with lyrics that I think are cool.
Valerie: So is that how you decide as well if you’re going to use your screaming voice or a clean tone?
Mark: Absolutely! From the riffs and the structure of the song.
Rob: In all the different ways, there is no specific method. In the past, I’ve written lyrics without any music and then just add words. But lately, I’ll have the music first. I’ll have a couple of ideas that I’ve been thinking off that I want to write about and if it fits that sound of the music, I start going in directions. I might come up with a couple of lines for the first verse. I’ll start working on the lyrics and keep going with that idea, going back and forth with the music and doing half and half sometimes… Just singing out these words, rearranging parts to fit them in. So the way he’s exactly described that he doesn’t do, I’m doing it sometimes. It’s the other way around: putting the words in there into where the music is going based on getting started with something and start getting rolling trying to keep going for the whole song. Sometimes, you can get almost half way through the song. Then the other half is just repeating the same structure and finishing off the words. That’s often the hard part… I’ve got so many half songs; first verse then going into the chorus and then at that point I don’t have enough of that subject to keep going! It can also happen very fast; the whole entire song can happen in just one go and sometimes it can take a year to finish one song.
Valerie: Sometimes you have to put it to rest to come back to it later with fresh ideas.
Mark: One of the major highlights is that it’s our first U.S. tour in 18 years!
Mark, Rob and I continued talking about the ups and down of being on the road. I had to let them go so they could get ready for the show shortly after. Death Angel gave a powerful performance. Their energy on stage is incredible and you could tell the audience craved the old songs as much as they appreciated the intensity of the new material. Mark thanked the fans on a few occasions for their loyalty and Death Angel gave us their 300% in return. Make sure to check out their new album “Killing Season” and experience the madness live this summer while they are still on tour.
Valerie Bastien is a vocal coach, teacher, musician and freelance journalist.
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