INTERVIEW: Death Angel’s Ted Aguilar on Bay Area Thrash Past & Present

Ted Aguilar has been playing guitar for thrash metal legends Death Angel for 16 years. Though not an original member, he was a fan of the band and fixture of the Bay Area scene during the band’s heyday and later played in local bands. Joining the band for 2001’s Thrash of the Titans benefit concert for Testament singer Chuck Billy (who was fighting -later beat- cancer), Aguilar has gone on to record on all of the bands subsequent albums, including last years’ The Evil Divide. 

We caught up with Ted prior to Death Angel’s gig at the Gas Monkey Bar n’ Grill in Dallas, Texas to discuss all things Bay Area thrash, writing guitar licks with Rob Cavestany, and their current tour with DevilDriver.

the void report: There was a lot written about 2016 being a great year for thrash metal, but it was also a particularly good year for Bay Area thrash with you guys releasing The Evil Divide and also albums by Testament and Metallica. After 30-some-odd years of “Bay Area Thrash” being a thing, is it just a coincidence that we’re still talking about it today?

Ted Aguilar: It’s surprising. I grew up with thrash and I didn’t think it would last this long. Thrash died down and death metal came up, then there was the grunge movement, then the nu-metal thing came about and then thrash came back up. But, it’s really cool to see all the bands from back then still going. It’s great, it’s great. The mentality is “If you can still do it, do it. Life is too short.” Everyone from the Bay is putting out some good stuff, I think. It’s really cool.

the void report: Well, I’ve got a few question about the Bay Area scene that I thought you would have an interesting perspective on..originally being a Death Angel fan and part of the scene when you were younger…

Ted Aguilar: Yeah, from the outside looking in type deal…

the void report: Yeah, exactly. I like to talk history.

Ted Aguilar: I do, too. I’ll try to remember as much as I can (Laughs).

the void report: (Laughs) Growing up in the scene, were the other bands supportive of each other? Were there rivalries within the scene? That may have been positive or negative…

Ted Aguilar: I saw both positive and negative. The negative cause you’re young and it’s “keep your guard up around these guys.” But, in a way it was good because it made the bands want to do stuff that was really killer. You know what I mean? But, back then when the bands weren’t on tour you would see them at the shows. Like Death Angel, Forbidden, and all that. But, me and Will (Carroll, Death Angels drummer) were in a local band, we were in the third tier. You’ve got the first tier that was like Metallica and Exodus and you have the second tier of Death Angel and Forbidden, you know? And then there was a third tier of local Bay Area bands. And that was a good time, because back then it was pay-to-play. The clubs would make you sell tickets to play the show. But, the good thing about that was it made all the bands come out, because they were at your show trying to get rid of all their tickets. And when they were playing a show you were there trying to get rid of your tickets, so it was a healthy scene. So, talking from that third tier…that was good support.

But, yeah I saw rivalries between other bands. I think Death Angel had their rivalries with Vio-Lence. “Oh yeah, We’re better than you!” “No we’re better!” (Laughs) But, it made for good albums being made. I look at it that way.

the void report: Rivalries don’t always have to be negative…and of course, when you’re young…(Laughs)

Ted Aguilar: (Laughs) Yeah, the hormones kick in! Macho-ness. But, like I said that was the more negative part, or whatever, and I saw a lot of that. But, the positive end of that was they wrote some great stuff.

the void report: So, back in the day could you see Exodus, Testament, and Death Angel on the same weekend?

Ted Aguilar: Yeah! Or at least within the same month if they weren’t touring. Early on I was able to see lots of shows. I got to see Exodus/Forbidden and Death Angel and Forbidden or Testament. Back then when touring you’d do the states and do Europe and then do another record. It was a different time, the industry was different back then. Now it’s like everyone is constantly on the road so its hard to see everybody. But, back then you saw lots of good shows. Every other month or so, but you also had the local bands. It was a great time.

the void report: I imagine it was inspiring being a young musician and around all of that.

Ted Aguilar: It was! Thrash was new and just coming up and it made everyone want to be them and aspire to be a musician in a band and that made the scene healthy. Really, healthy. And it was cool because bands like Testament and Death Angel, when they play home town gigs and locals play and you see the rivalry among local bands trying to get on the bill. It’s cool.

Death Angel @ Gas Monkey Bar n’ Grill. Photo by J. Kevin Lynch, 2017.

the void report: Was skate and punk culture much of an influence on Bay Area thrash? I ask that because the Dead Kennedy’s were in their prime back then, was that anything that influenced you guys or was the scene more divided?

Ted Aguilar: Oh yeah! There were punk shows and yeah there was some divide. But, it slowly came together. Probably because of Motorhead, because they were both punk and metal. But, at first, early-on in the 80s I saw it. I went to punk rock shows. Punk is an influence on thrash. You had like G.B.H., Discharge, the Exploited, early C.O.C. (Corrosion of Conformity). All that stuff was a big influence on thrash.

Skateboarding…it was a past time back then. If you weren’t jamming, you were skating. You were skating in the day and jamming at night or going to a show at night. But, everyone was skating. It was a big thing. That all influenced thrash…skating, punk, and the New Wave of British Heavy Metal.

the void report: Last year, I saw you guys when you came through with Slayer and Anthrax. Obviously, that’s a great classic thrash metal bill. But, now you’re on a package that’s actually quite eclectic (DevilDriver, Winds of Plague, The Agonist, & Azreal). It seems like The Evil Divide is a great album to branch out to fans outside of thrash. It’s a thrash metal album, but it’s not just a throwback.

Ted Aguilar: We liked doing that Slayer/Anthrax tour and it’s great for the fans. But, it’s also great to get on a lineup like this. It’s good to get exposure in front of fans that aren’t necessarily thrash metal fans, they’re metal fans. But, it’s exposure and how do you get your music exposed to different people if you’re only doing the one? There’s always the argument that thrash should stick with thrash, but why aren’t you guys exposing yourself wider? For us, we always want to step out of the box and try something different. It’s how you grow. You keep doing the same thing you’ll get the same results. We want to do it all. We want to go on tour with DevilDriver and we still want to go out with thrash bands.

the void report: How long is the set on this bill?

Ted Aguilar: 40 minutes.

the void report: Are you doing more material from The Evil Divide?

Ted Aguilar: A couple songs. We’ve got 8 albums, it’s hard to pick. So, we’re trying to cover all the bases.

the void report: It’s also hard when you’ve got a band with a history as long as you have…to satisfy all the fans.

Ted Aguilar: You’re never going to satisfy everyone, but we’ve got a set that’s really satisfying to us and playing it…it seems like everyone [the fans] are really satisfied. You’re always going to have those people who say, “Well, you didn’t play…

the void report: “Voracious Souls.” (Laughs) That’s my favorite.

Death Angel @ Gas Monkey Bar n’ Grill. Photo by J. Kevin Lynch, 2017.

Ted Aguilar: (Laughs) Thank you. But, it’s one of those things where we’ve got to change it up for ourselves to keep it fresh. There’s going to be people who are bummed we didn’t play whatever, and I get it. But, as a musician I get it because you want to push new material.

the void report: I’ve always really appreciated the guitar interplay between you and Rob (Cavestany). Do you guys rehearse those parts before recording? Or is it done separately? Does Rob record something and you play off that?

Ted Aguilar: A little bit of both. Rob will write all the music and what I normally do…Rob has a vision. Rob is the artist. And he’s a really good songwriter. So, what we usually do is…he comes in and says “I’ve got an idea for a song.” So we’ll say, “Where are you going with this?” to understand how he sees it. And then we do a few run through’s to get the song down and then start adding our own ideas. And there’s some “That’s cool, but on that riff flip it on every other and let’s see how that sounds? Flip it on the second four and see what happens.” And Rob is really open to that. You’ve got to give it a chance. When someone comes in with a song we play it and don’t start automatically chopping it up. So, we work on it and give it a chance. Or sometimes you hear something…and Rob is really open to that.

When it comes to other guitar parts, I used to wait till it was recorded. Because songs are always changing. Mark might come in with a bad-ass vocal and that changes it a bit. But, I wait till it’s all done and then run through my guitar parts. Rob will be like, “That’s cool. Keep it.” Or “How about trying this?” And that’s how we collaborate.

the void report: Now that you’ve been in the band a while, with recording and touring, I assume that to some degree you and Rob can anticipate what each other is going to do. What kind of things do you guys do to challenge yourselves, or each other, and keep it fresh?

Ted Aguilar: When it comes to songwriting, I always watch what Rob does. A lot of it also comes from Jason Suecof, our producer. He’s an amazing guitar player, so he makes you step out of the box. Aside from writing, we know each others dance onstage, you know? Sometimes he’ll be on my side of the stage and I’ll be on his side of the stage and he’ll automatically know that when he’s about to go into a solo that I’ll step on his Boost (Laughs). I know when to turn it on and take it off so he doesn’t have to worry about it. We have that play. We’ll just be jamming and I’ll know the solo is coming and what pedal to step on.

the void report: That’s really cool!

Ted Aguilar: We like to go across stage and have fun and interact with the fans on that side of the stage. So, when it’s time for Rob’s solo, I’m “I’ve got you, bro!” (Laughs). There was one time where Rob cut out for a little bit and I looked at his wireless and it was on the wrong channel so I clicked it on and stuff like that.

the void report: You’re multi-tasking guitar playing and guitar tech-ing? (Laughs).

Ted Aguilar: (Laughs) But, I find that fun. And Rob trusts that, so it helps make the show easy. If you see him on my side of the stage and I’m on his side and he’s got a solo, you’ll know that I clicked it.

the void report: Moving to The Evil Divide, when it was announced that Andreas Kisser of Sepultura was doing a solo on the album my first thought was “Why? Death Angel has two great  guitarists.” And I am being a little sarcastic with that question, he’s a hell of a guitar player.

Death Angel @ Gas Monkey Bar n’ Grill. Photo by J. Kevin Lynch, 2017.

Ted Aguilar: It’s a weird thing. Because, I remember talking to Rob…Death Angel never really had a guest, except Rodrigo y Gabriela and Jason Suecof. He [Suecof] always wants to lay down solos. It was kind of cool. I said to Rob, “It would be cool if Andreas came up.” And we respect Sepultura, we came up at the same time and Rob and Andreas both love Randy Rhoads. They love Randy Rhoads, they both love Queen, they both play acoustic guitar on the side. They have a lot of similarities. They grew up around the same time. They have the same influence and get along really well. So, I said to Rob, “It would be awesome!” And Death Angel and Sepultura have a similar history in the sense that there’s two original members left in the band. And they’ve gone through this transition where they’ve lost members and tried to keep going like Death Angel did. We always respected Andreas, he’s a great guitar player. So, Rob threw it out there and Andreas was into it. So, Rob had a drinking session with Andreas at Wacken and he said “Fuck yes, let’s do it!” And when you hear it, it fits and it’s Andreas’ style. I told Rob he should do a super-group and it could be him and Andreas and Tom Hunting of Exodus and try to write some stuff. That would sick. But who would be the bass player? (Laughs). Maybe just write one song or whatever to throw out there.

the void report: Some benefit or something.

Ted Aguilar: Yeah, yeah! That would be cool. Get together and write and jam and see all the styles together. Just a one time thing. Those guys are great players. They’re similar, but different.

the void report: Well, the new Sepultura does kicks-ass.

Ted Aguilar: Andreas really stepped it up. What he’s doing on guitar is mind blowing. That’s why out of everyone, I thought Andreas was a good idea.

the void report: Are y’all doing that song in the set?

Ted Aguilar: We’re not, but we’re doing a mix of old and new. I think you’ll like it. We do want to play a lot of The Evil Divide when the time is right. We want to a do a headlining tour this year or later. But, we want to do it right. We want to have a nice production and get all the songs in there and go all out for this album. We want to make it special for the fans. We want them to see a concert, not a show if you know what I mean. And throw in more Evil Divide stuff.

the void report: So, when this tour wraps what are the plans for the rest of 2017?

Ted Aguilar: We go home March 7th and we’ll have a few months off before we go to Europe in July and August for some headliners and some festivals. And there’s some stuff were working on for the fall and going into December. We’re planning on having our 4th Annual Christmas show in San Francisco. But, after Europe, when we get back in August, there’s some stuff being worked on for the fall. States or Europe. But, there’s stuff being worked on as we speak.

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