Photo credit: Stephanie Cabral
Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Death Angel's Rob Cavestany Reflects On The Success Of "Humanicide" & "Giving Up My Life To Music"
Death Angel lead guitarist Rob Cavestany was more excited than a kid on Christmas morning when he heard that his band—who've endured impressive highs and commensurate lows—was nominated for a GRAMMY for Best Metal Performance for "Humanicide," the title track of the quintet's ninth album.
That excitement has only grown for the Northern California-bred metallers as the 62nd GRAMMY Awards show draws closer. We caught up with Cavestany right before the 2019 holidays—Death Angel was on tour, right up until their annual San Francisco hometown Christmas gigs. But the nomination was always in his head: "When you're a kid, this is like what you dream of in the back of your mind. I respect and love all kinds of music and so many of the people I worship in music have earned this achievement." Plus, he notes, "to top it off, Alicia Keys is hosting the GRAMMYs, and my love for Alicia Keys is well known."
Cavestany, who co-founded Death Angel with his cousins as a teenager in 1982, co-produced Humanicide. Lead vocalist Mark Osegueda joined in 1984; rhythm guitarist Ted Aguilar in 2001; while the rhythm section of drummer Will Carroll and bassist Damien Sisson, have been members for 11 years. If Cavestany's cousins are no longer members, Death Angel circa 2020 is very much a strong brotherhood, united by friendship, their fans and a passion for metal that includes cementing both DA's legacy and future. As the ebullient guitarist states: "We're not going to stop. This is what we do. This is what we live for."
How did you first learn about Death Angel’s GRAMMY nomination for Best Metal Performance?
I was in my bunk on our tour bus. It was literally like 5:30 in the morning and I was just starting to fall asleep because I’m quite the night owl and I also get insomnia. Mark, our singer, got the news from a friend. She texted him and said, "In about 15 minutes, they're going to release the information, but I just want you to know you're nominated." He had woken up to go to the bathroom and he saw his texts blowing up, and was like, "What the hell?!"
He came right over to my bunk and just started shaking me, "Rob, Rob, wake up!" At the very first I thought something terrible had happened. I could just see his face with the glow of his phone. He's like, "Look at this text. We're nominated for a GRAMMY!" Then we shook each other and we’re shaking hands and laughing. Then I just laid there going, "Am I dreaming?"
The song is "Humanicide," which gives the album its title. Can you tell me about the writing process?
The song has this very epic intro, so that's why it's the first song; it’s got this "saying hello" vibe, a very metal start to a song or record. I wrote that part when we were on tour with Slayer—us and Anthrax—for nine and a half weeks for our previous album [2016's The Evil Divide]. Being on tour with Slayer, you're inspired by some pretty heavy stuff. I watched their show night after night, being really, really impressed with their set and just how on top of their game they were. One of the nights on the bus, I wrote the foundation of the intro, the main, underlying rhythm. When we started writing for this new album, I was like, "Where is that thing I wrote on the Slayer tour?" I couldn't find it. I was searching like a surgeon! I found the piece started the writing off that.
And then Mark is the lyricist?
Then Mark got a hold of it and started working on the lyrics; I didn't hear the lyrics for that song until we were actually in the recording studio. The day he showed me the lyrics, right when I saw the title of the song I immediately knew it was going to be the title of the whole record. I was like, "What does that mean? 'Humanicide?' That's a great word, like, how metal does it get?!" I fell in love with the title before I even read the lyrics. I came into the studio and listened to what he sang, and it was one of those times where I just turned around and all I could do was give Mark a huge hug. I was like "Oh my God, YES!" The music and his lyrics and melody were just one of those natural pairings… boom!
One of the definitions of "humanicide" is the extinction of the human race by the human race.
And let it be known that we are a very, very, positive and positive spirit and energy kind of people and band. All the dark topics and brutal things happening in our lyrics or in our concepts are meant as a message or warning; a wake-up call kind of thing. We're not saying it should happen, but it's where we're going if we continue like this, so we need to do something about it, so that kind of thing does not happen.
Have you seen an increase in sales, streams, etc., since the GRAMMY nom?
I haven't looked at those stats yet, but somehow it just explodes in a whole network of promotion in and of itself. Tons of people are congratulating us and tagging us and it's given us this whole amazing push. We're on cloud nine every night. There's a great part in our set where Mark introduces a song off our album called "The Pack." Our fan club is called The Pack, and The Pack means us, our fans, the whole metal community. It's real inclusive; a unity kind of situation. When he's talking to the crowd, everyone's feeling it and all uniting in the spirit of metal. Then, then he drops it and says, "By the way, we got this amazing news that we've been nominated for GRAMMY!" And the way the crowd just explodes cheering for that! It's unlike any other, because they're so proud and they include themselves in it; Mark makes them included.
You've done a lot of records since 1982. What do you think coalesced in the world to make this GRAMMY nod happen now?
I guess it's a number of factors. I wouldn't say "Humanicide" is our best song, though it is one of my favorite of ours. But we also have a lot other f**king killer songs and killer records that could have been in this position. It was more of a combination of everything over the last year. This album came out about six months ago, but before that, as we were approaching the album, we ramped up everything; our work ethic, our whole strategy. We kind of had to clean house. We had a different booking agent; we got a new management team—and we're self-managed now, basically. Within the band, we've defined each person's strong points and their forte and what we handle between me and Mark and Ted, and the other secret weapon is Ted's wife [Tricia Aguilar]. She's the person who's not in the band that's helping us, she's an amazing, brilliant woman who is very, very well versed in marketing and promotion. Also, we started to up our [stage] production, we got a new light guy. We invested a lot of money and time into what we're doing here. We have a team that is studying social media and our visibility exploded massively, like by the thousands. We don’t do anything weird or conform into some thing that's not us, but we're trying to use the weapons of choice properly.
A difficult part of the Death Angel story is your 1990 tour bus accident. In Arizona, en route to Vegas, the bus crashed, and drummer Andy Galeon was critically injured, needing more than a year to recover. At the time, DA were slated to be the opening act for the 1991 Clash of the Titans tour featuring Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax, but were replaced by Alice In Chains. From 1991–2001, Death Angel were essentially broken up. I can’t even imagine the depression and anguish that must have caused.
Yeah, absolutely. That was definitely, definitely one of the darkest points of my life. The dark cloud that we were living under… you just kept going, "Why did this happen to us?" We were rising, at the highest peak of what we were doing. We got a real hardcore lesson about how the business is, where if you're not moving forward then you're falling backwards. We were trying to stand still and recover from the shock of the accident happening. Soon as we stood still, our record label [Geffen] dropped us because we didn't immediately replace our drummer and get right back on the road supporting our album.
I think ultimately the karma points you earned from doing that is a win, though I know it certainly didn't feel like it.
I agree with you. I've thought of that a million times, trying to process it, going through my mind and my soul. The only thing is how badly Andy, our drummer, got injured. We're all totally recovered, but he's got permanent scars. I could say "Yeah, everything happens for a reason," because who knows what would've happened had we continued on? I think we would've peaked out and faded and we would never have been able to come back together again. But because we were forced to stop too soon and broke up the band right in the middle of everything, it forced us apart from each other. It forced us to do other things in life that we wouldn't have done.
We were just starting to go crazy; looking back at that point, I was like a whole different person. I was definitely drinking a lot and running around and getting really crazy. Everything was becoming surreal. I was getting lost in the non-reality of being, you know, a "rock star." We were being put on a pedestal. We were rolling with two tour buses and hotel rooms every night and I had just turned 21 on that tour. I mean, we were already drinking heavily under 20, underage. But at that point, I was a party monster, and I think I would have gone down a bad road. When that accident happened, it shocked me so hard. I stopped partying; I stopped doing all that crazy shit. I don't know if I would have even survived or what kind of guy I would have been had that not happened.
Out of the five [bands] in there, I honestly have to say—and Mark says on stage every night—we're the ones that are truly representing the metal sound of the metal category. All these guys have a metal thing kind of going on. But when you put those five records together and listen to them, and our album is the f**king metal record in there, that's for sure!
With the GRAMMYs thing going on, this is the highest high and the best push forward we have had since we got signed to Geffen and we had that feeling that something was happening for us. It's hard for me to allow myself to feel happy because Geffen jaded me so bad, it made me have such a wall up to protect myself from being hurt. I'm so cynical; like I don't think something good could happen to us. I'm accepting our grind and like, "Well, this is what we do. It's punk rock forever, but at least I get to play music." I mean, even now, yesterday I just had my first shower in five days. We still live like that. We grind hard, but now everyone's in a really good mood though!
And if you win?
Again, we are so conditioned to learning how to deal with bad news and sh*t happening to us that none of us had even mentioned to each other the possibility that we would win. We're just happy to be nominated. However! When you're alone in your bunk, thinking about it, at some points I'm like, "Sh*t, I better prepare a speech, and what do we do win?!" Of course I've played it out in my mind. Like if our name gets called, I could just see us like f**king totally in shock staring at each other. We are going to be hilarious because we are such the underdogs that it would be amazing. But um, yeah, we'll prepare a speech and hope and pray.
And a room full of big names there!
F**king right. Barbra Streisand over here and Lady Gaga there and I'm just going to go crazy 'cause I love these artists. I'm definitely not a one-dimensional metaller. I just hope I can speak to actually say "hi" and not just sit there like freaked out so hard! To me it's all about catching mojo. Every person's hand I can touch that that has "it." Someone I respect and admire like that, I just want to get, get the mojo off them and give me some of that for whatever I do. Let me collect a little of the magic dust that's going around in that room.
Suits, tuxes, black jeans?
My wife is shopping for me right now. We've definitely discussed that amongst ourselves. We can't go in there like some damn chumps! This is the f**king night of our f**king lives and we're going to take it for all it's worth because we may never ever—probably ever—experience something like this again. This is a culmination of almost four decades of giving up my whole life to music and Goddamn if we're not going to enjoy the hell out of it!
Watch the 62nd GRAMMY Awards, airing live from the STAPLES Center in Los Angeles on Sunday, Jan. 26 on CBS.