Interview with Andy Galeon, ex-drummer of Death Angel
Death Angel – originally formed as Dark Fury – was the youngest band in the Bay Area back in the day. From a pure, traditional heavy metal act they envolved into a technical, brutal thrash metal band. Their excellent debut masterpiece The Ultra-Violence celebrates its 30th anniversary this year and former drummer Andy Galeon was so nice to speak to me about the album.
László Dávid: Andy, is it correct, that Death Angel was formed originally by Rob Cavestany on guitars and Dennis Pepa on bass/vocals under the moniker of Dark Fury?
Andy Galeon: Yes, thats true, that was the first name of the band for like 10 minutes.
L. D.: Did they audition some musicians before you on drums and Dennis’ brother Gus on guitars joined the band?
A. G.: Not really, they were in the embryonic stages, once songs were written I was the drummer and once Gus flew into the Bay from the Philippines, he became our second guitarist.
L. D.: What were your most important musical influences?
A. G.: For me as a drummer it was Peter Criss, Phil Rudd, John Bonham and Neil Peart.
L. D.: Have you ever recorded anything as Dark Fury?
A. G.: No, because I think no notes were played under that name.
L. D.: Did you belong to the first wave of the Bay Area metal scene along with acts, such as Vicious Rumors, Anvil Chorus, Control, Metal Church, Exodus, Trauma, Blind Illusion, Griffin etc.?
A. G.: The history books say we were part of the second wave of thrash along with Legacy/Testament, Vio-lence, Forbidden & Heathen. But we were actively playing with all those bands except Trauma and Griffin.
L. D.: You were the youngest band those times, weren’t you?
A. G.: Yes, I believe so, but Possessed and Sacrilege were around the same age bracket.
L. D.: Do you still remember Ron Quintana’s Metal Mania fanzine and the KUSF radio? Did they play an important and supportive role in the Bay Area?
A. G.: Yes, Ron was an integral part of the scene because his show late at night would play all of the local bands’ demos, which no one else was doing, plus he would play European bands that we would discover through KUSF.
L. D.: At which point and why did you change your name to Death Angel? Who came up with this moniker?
A. G.: Pretty much once we started practicing in my parents’ garage we were DA, Den and Rob saw a book at the shopping mall called Serramonte and it became our name, it fit the vibe we were turning into.
L. D.: Were you jamming mostly on covers or did you start writing own material right from the start? What were the very first Death Angel tunes and how did they sound like?
A. G.: Limited amount of covers, we pretty much wanted to make up songs and express ourselves musically. There’s a demo floating about called Heavy Metal Insanity, thats our first 4 songs ever written so you can imagine how killer they are.
L. D.: You released your first demo titled Heavy Metal Insanity, can you tell us more about this tape?
A. G.: It was our first recording experience, it was recorded and produced by Matt Wallace (Faith No More), and 2 weeks before the session Gus sliced his fingers on a table saw at Wood Shop in school.
L. D.: It’s well known, that all of you were cousins and in 1984 Mark Osegueda, a second cousin of you who had been working as your roadie, became the group’s vocalist and performed his first show with the band on a bill with Megadeth in April of that year (at one of the four Megadeth gigs to feature Kerry King on guitar). What do you recall of that particular gig?
A. G.: It was great! It was Megadeth, Exciter & DA at the Stone, we had played the Stone at least once before that so we knew the venue, we had also played Monterey with Slayer and Hirax beforehand and had seen Metallica at the Stone for Kill ‘Em All, so we were speeding up all our songs, and we knew we wanted to be a part of this new movement. We didn’t have computers or other hobbies to waste our time with it was always music and hanging at the underground clubs, that’s where we met all the bands that we ended up playing with, the only difference was we were underage drinkers.
L. D.: In 1985 you recorded your cult demo Kill As One (produced by Kirk Hammett). Did you turn consciously into a more brutal, faster direction or was it a natural development? How much did Kirk help you during the recording sessions? Did he give you some useful advices? Was the demo shopped around to attract labels interests? Did this demo open some doors for the band and did it succeed in drawing the fans attention to the band?
A. G.: Yeah, we were introduced to Metallica by Bob Gamber who owned a record shop called the Record Exchange by where Rob and Mark lived. He also turned us onto Kat Sirdofsky, our first manager. She got in touch with Kirk and he said he would produce our demo after we met them at a meet and greet when they were touring with Armored Saint. Kirk helped us to get a more honed sound overall, showed us how to focus on each individuals tone, and of course guitar crunch. It was a great experience and of course it did help us to secure a record deal with Enigma.
L. D.: At this point, so in the mid 80’s more and more bands started popping up, such as Desecration, Death Penalty (later known as Vio-lence), Forbidden Evil (they shortened their name to Forbidden), Mercenary, Führer, Heathen, Defiance etc. What were your views on this movement?
A. G.: It was great, we were already playing gigs with all those bands, we just happened to have come into the scene a little bit earlier, but it was all good. Friendly competition fueled a lot of all the bands material back then because you would hear everyones new songs live at the gigs, and would want to one up them when you would write. That’s why the Bay was so potent I believe, and all the alcohol.
L. D.: June 15-17, 1986 you entered the Banquet Sound Studios in Santa Rosa, California. Why did you have so little time to record the album? Were you perhaps forced to hurry with the recordings? What about the budget of the recordings? How did Davy Vain end up becoming the producer of the album? Were you prepared to record the material? How did the recording sessions go as a whole?
A. G.: We borrowed the funds to record TUV because no one wanted to sign us at first. We were restless and had the songs and didn’t want to wait. We had been playing the whole album live so they were tight and fierce by the time of the recording. Honestly, I don’t know what Davy Vain did as far as that album or Frolic goes. All I remember is when we wrote the songs, it was always Rob and me working on the music, along with Mark and Den, then when we mixed it, Rob and I went to LA, George Tobin Studios, and spent 2 weeks down there.
L. D.: The Ultra-Violence is one of the best debuts in thrash metal ever, a masterpiece in its genre, so I ask you to give us a song to song description! What do you think about, that there is perhaps no album that better epitomizes what Bay Area thrash was all about than The Ultra-Violence?
A. G.: Wow, thank you, we are very proud of that album as it marks so many great achievements in our lives. Many firsts, first album, first pro-recording session, first European tour, first North American tour, the list goes on. It was our first record, but there were like 2-3 years of unseen incubating to create that monstrosity.
L. D.: Every member of Death Angel, despite their young age, was at the peak of their performing capabilities, the production is raw and fierce, and most of the songs can be placed high on the list of thrash classics, do you agree with it? Is Death Angel the best example of age meaning nothing in terms of artistry?
A. G.: Again, we were a product of our surroundings. When you’re young and all you want to do is cut school, and only a small group of friends listen to metal and wear denim and leather, and all you listen to is Mercyful Fate, Metallica, Slayer, Iron Maiden & Rush, then you go and practice in the garage for hours on end with each other, with the intention to get tight and play as many gigs as you can with any and all bands. And in the early 80’s, I don’t know man, we were in the right place at the right time!
L. D.: Did The Ultra-Violence possess all features of a thrash metal classic?
A. G.: I totally appreciate all the kind words and I’m very glad people feel that way. It’s beyond words, because it’s as if you’re looking at our first child and hold he or she in that high regard. I would love that album the same if no one cared about it at all, there was a lot of hard work and hard partying done to create that record.
L. D.: Please tell us more about the cover artwork!
A. G.: The album cover was created by Kat’s father, but the idea was ours, an apocalyptic vision of San Francisco, CA after a nuclear bomb blows it to bits. We were going to use a mushroom cloud, but luckily, we played some shows with the Cro-Mags for their Age of Quarrel tour and received their album in the mail and when we saw it we rethought our vision.
L. D.: How do you view, that you were never able to recapture the spark that was shown on this album?
A. G.: Well, we grew a lot since we were so young, we didn’t want to duplicate songwriting formulas, and we were exposing ourselves to different genres all the time trying to push the boundaries of thrash.
L. D.: Its unfortunate that this album came along so late in the first thrash scene, what was the reason of it? Why did the release of the record slide so much? Were all of you satisfied with the end result by the way?
A. G.: It came out when it came out. The album was recorded a year before release not due to us withholding it, the industry was resisting the thrash assault takeover. It was way harsher than glam metal and heavy metal, it was more sinister and dark. Not all polished and shiny, it was dirtier and much meaner than metal before it, that scared some people and intrigued others.
L. D.: How much support did you get from Enigma back in the day? Were there any gigs/tours in support of the album?
A. G.: There was lots of support because we were their only thrash band at that point, our label mates were Poison and Stryper! We toured a lot, 5 weeks in Europe and 6 weeks in North America, so much crazy fun in a van and trailer. It was hellish at times but thats what makes you stronger and hungrier.
L. D.: What are your best and worst memories with Death Angel?
A. G.: My best memories about DA are all the great shows and all the wonderful people I’ve got to meet in our travels across the globe, there are too many to recall. The worst memories are being sued in a legal court of law by ex-managers and ex-labels. I know you need attorneys to protect you but I’m not fond of them.
L. D.: Andy, thanks a lot for your answers! Anything to add to this feature?
A. G.: In the last few years I’ve been a session drummer recording with local Bay Area bands on these albums and songs:
The Nerv: Trust in Fire
Toy Called God: Dirt on Your Coffin
Amongst Thieves: Untitled
Devil In California: Not for You
War Man’s Dance: Road Rage
War Man’s Dance is a band with John Menor (ex-D.R.I.), Mike Butler (Exodus) and myself. The full EP will be coming out this year.
L. D.: Thank you for your time and I hope nothing but positive things in the future!
A. G.: Peace!