Artist Spotlight: Ted Aguilar (Death Angel)
Artist Spotlight: Ted Aguilar (Death Angel)
Photo by Raymond Ahner
When we got in touch with Ted Aguilar, who’s handled rhythm guitar duties for Bay Area thrash legends Death Angel since the band’s reformation in 2001, we chatted for awhile about appreciating the sunshine that we normally take for granted here in California after weeks and weeks of rain and gloom. Ted’s mood was bright, much like the design scheme of his signature guitars.
The TED-600T is your second LTD Signature Series guitar. What made you want to get into a TE shape as opposed to your earlier Eclipse-based model?
I wanted something different, basically. To be clear, I love the Eclipse. It’s my favorite model. When ESP came out with the Eclipse, I tried all the models they made, and they all sounded great. But most of all, the Eclipse just fits me. It looks cool and plays great. At the same time, I always thought that Tele's look really cool. They’re not very typical in the metal scene, which is also cool. I took a look at that shape and said, “Lets put on a reverse headstock and make it all white.”
What was the process in creating this new model?
I have a little story about that. I have a custom shop, Japan-made ESP Tele that I got in 2015. After months of touring with that Tele, I sent it back to ESP to get a full setup on the guitar. Several months or so later, I get a text from Tony Rauser (artist relations at ESP). It says, “Your prototype should be here soon.”
Wait, what? So you didn’t know this was going to be a new signature model at the time?
No! But the ESP guys were like, “We liked your custom shop model so much, we’re putting out a new signature.”
That might be the most awesome story ever. Tell us some things that are cool about the TED-600T.
It’s light. Very light. Compared to my custom shop ESP, it’s lighter, but the first thing I noticed when I got the 600T, it sat really well, much like the Eclipse. As soon as I put it on, it felt right. It’s built great. I wouldn’t have thought that an LTD could be built like the custom shop version, but it is. It’s lighter, but feels great, and they replicated the custom shop guitar pretty much to a T.
I have to ask the question that I’m sure many people want to know: what’s with the all-white design scheme? It’s like the Spinal tap album cover but in reverse… “this guitar could be no more white.”
You know what? I wanted to go against the grain. It was intentional to have this design that would stand out but in a simple way. Mostly, everyone has black guitars. Those look really cool, of course, but there are very few players in metal who play all-white guitars. There’s Buckethead for one, and a couple of other people, like Joe Duplantier from Gojira and Jim Root from Slipknot, although their Tele's are white with black pickups and hardware. My first custom shop guitar from ESP was one pickup, one volume, all white. My Mesa Boogie rig and my cabinets are also white. In that way, they stand out more. I am a serious gear geek, so if my rig stands out that's fine with me! Ha!
Guitars are usually chosen based on a combination of three factors: the look, the feel, and the tone. Are any of those aspects more important to you than the others?
The feel comes first. When you put it on or sit down with it, it’s gotta feel right. I’ve played a lot of guitars that sound so amazing, but the feel of it just didn’t vibe out with me. I can make adjustments for tone. I can swap pickups, adjust settings on my head, effects, and all that. But considering the guitar itself, for me, it's the feel.
Photo by Raymond Ahner
With all the touring Death Angel does, is the guitar’s roadworthiness an important factor?
It’s very important, especially for a band like us that’s constantly on the road. You have to deal with weather changes. Then they sit in a trailer in the heat, and then get brought out into the cold, playing out in the open air, you get knocked out of tune. What’s been surprising to me, not only with the ESP customs but with LTD's, is how good they hold up. When we’re on tour, I use both stock LTD’s and my customs, and sometimes I can’t tell the difference. It’s great when you can go back and forth between the LTD and the custom shop version and get the same experience.
Who was the first guitar player you saw using ESP?
Dude! George Lynch from Dokken. “In My Dreams” video, from Under Lock and Key!
Oh, hell yeah! Were you a Lynch fan back in the day?
I liked Dokken at that time. It was the ‘80s and hair bands were huge. I’d see him playing the tiger stripe or the Kamikaze guitar with that reverse headstock that was like a hockey stick. I thought, “That guitar looks bad ass and it sounds really good too". Then, eventually Metallica came into the fold. Seeing Kirk with his first ESP which was black with a spider on the fretboard. I remember seeing it and thinking "I gotta get one!".
Death Angel has a pretty interesting history in that they were part of the very beginnings of thrash metal in the early ‘80s, and then disbanded for almost the entire ‘90s for well-documented reasons, and then began anew when you became part of the band in 2001. What’s it like to step into an established band like that?
They have a history. They are a big part of what the Bay Area thrash scene is about. They helped pioneer the genre. I’ll admit, it was pretty intimidating. I remember my first show with them, which was their first show back together after 11 years hiatus. We only had two rehearsals before the show. The other guys were on tour with their had other projects. I was learning these songs by myself at home. We got together to jam just before the show so they can show me some parts. To jam out to music that I was very influenced by, and being part of a band that I thought pushed the envelope musically and took thrash metal and made it their own -- very intimidating. When it was time for the show I was like, “Jesus Christ! Don't fuck up!”
I’d guess that there was extra pressure on you at the time to live up to the earlier incarnation of the band.
Of course, when it comes to metal in general, some fans are purists and think, "If it ain’t the original, it ain’t shit!" I’d like to say that I worked hard to play the music how it was remembered. I stepped in for their original guitar player, Gus Pepa. Of course it’s a different feel when I tackle it. Every player has a different hand. But I try to do it justice. Any time I have a question with any of the older songs I double check with Rob. You don’t want to venture off and just do something different. It depends on the part, but you don’t want to change a riff or a harmony lead that people recognize. So, I play the older stuff as pure as I can.
You were more than just some guy coming to fill in. You’d been a huge fan of the band for a long time, and then found yourself as a member. What’s that like?
It was pretty surreal, actually. I was a fan since the first demo they did in ’85. I first saw them on The Ultra-Violence tour. They did a video shoot for MTV, and I was the first person in line at that show. It was July 7th or 14th, 1987. I was, at the time, entering into high school. I saw a show with Death Angel, Vio-lence, and Betrayal. Cost five bucks to get in. Joining a band I was a fan of, it was very surreal. Playing stuff from the first three albums was like, “Whoa.” Playing those songs live brought me back to being in the pit for Death Angel, and now I’m actually playing these songs onstage. It’s cool!
In your bio, you list a lot of metal musicians and bands as influences, like Priest, Maiden, Dio, Ozzy and so on, but you also include Tom Petty, and say that you have many other influences across many genres. Why is it important for musicians to get exposure to forms of music beyond the one they primarily create?
It is important if you want to grow as a musician, and also as a person. Listening to all sorts of music is a good thing. I list Tom Petty as a huge influence because he’s straight to the point and one of the greatest songwriters of all time. It's an easy listen. Verse, chorus, solo, hook, out. And look at James Hetfield, the way he writes songs -- he adds melody where it needs to be. His goal is melody. Listen to the first guitar solo on “Master of Puppets”. It’s not just fast and shredding. And it’s very memorable. There are tasty notes. He works that fretboard very melodically. If you listen, it’s like he’s trying to sing on the guitar like he does with his voice. There’s nothing wrong with melody being in metal. Whether people deny it or admit it, everyone likes a hook. Everyone likes to sing along with something.
It’s also important to branch out musically because you can get ideas from everywhere. You get good arrangement ideas in and outside of metal.
Photo by Stephanie Cabral
There’s a topic we want to ask you about but we know we’re not allowed to mention until later this month when this interview comes out, and that’s the new Death Angel album you’re about to release. Can you give us some ideas of what we might expect?
The new album will be released May 31. It’s titled Humanicide. It’s the band’s ninth studio album, and it’s the fourth record with the same lineup. More than that, it’s the fourth record done with the same producer at the same studio.
All I can say is that if you followed this band since the beginning of this lineup, on this album I think you can hear everyone’s personality and you can hear the influence we’ve had on each other. We‘ve been in this lineup for 10 years, and I think what people will notice about the album is that they can hear each individual on this album. Everyone’s playing is amazing, and the band wasn’t afraid to express other sides to our musical interests.
Last question. We talk to lots of young players who have been learning guitar for a few years and then feel like they’re just not getting any better. Some of them abandon the instrument as a result. What advice do you have for them to want to keep growing as a musician and guitarist?
Jam with other people. It’s good to practice on your own, but you’re by yourself. When you find likeminded people who have the same interests in the music you want to play, there’s nothing like getting together in a room and vibing off each other. It’s especially good when the person you’re playing with challenges you. You can see someone who inspires you right there in the room. You can learn from it. There’s nothing wrong with learning on YouTube, but to break up the monotony of that and have some fun, go jam with other people, and then go back to learning on your own. You learn so much by playing with other people. You learn to interact with bandmates. Doing that could inspire people to go further.
Death Angel Tour Dates
Below is a current schedule for upcoming Death Angel tours. As always please visit their site for the most updated info and ticket purchase.
Spring Tour 2019
04.19.19 - Reno, NV
04.20.19 - Salt Lake City, UT
04.21.19 - Colorado Springs, CO
04.23.19 - Indianapolis, IN
04.24.19 - Huntington, WV
04.25.19 - Baltimore, MD
04.26.19 - Philadelphia, PA
04.27.19 - Pittsburgh, PA
04.28.19 - Cleveland, OH
04.29.19 - Louisville, KY
04.30.19 - Detroit, MI
05.01.19 - Grand Rapids, MI
05.02.19 - Chicago, IL
05.03.19 - Minneapolis, MN
05.04.19 - Milwaukee, WI
05.05.19 - St. Louis, MO
05.06.19 - Nashville, TN
05.07.19 - Cincinnati, OH
05.09.19 - Rochester, NY
05.10.19 - New York, NY
05.11.19 - Boston, MA
05.12.19 - Poughkeepsie, NY
05.14.19 - Oklahoma City, OK
05.15.19 - Lubbock, TX
05.16.19 - Albuquerque, NM
05.17.19 - Mesa, AZ
05.18.19 - West Hollywood, CA
05.19.19 - San Francisco, CA
Summer European Tour 2019
06.02. 19 - Plzen, Czech Republic
06.03.19 - Wroclaw, Poland (w/ Arch Enemy)
06.05.19 - Sölvesborg, Sweden
06.07.19 - Aalborg, Denmark
06.08.19 - Kiel, Germany
06.09.19 - Bremen, Germany
06.10.19 - Erfurt, Germany
06.12.19 - Martigny, Switzerland
06.13.19 - Milano, Italy
06.14.19 - Ljubljana, Slovenia
06.15.19 - Cham, Germany
06.16.19 - Mannheim, Germany
06.18.19 - Luxemburg, LUX (w/ Anthrax)
06.19.19 - Siegburg, Germany
06.20.19 - Hagen, Germany
06.21.19 - Dessel, Belgium
06.23.19 - Clisson, France
08.09.19 - Catton Hall, England
08.10.19 - Vagos, Portugal
08.11.19 - Leeuwarden, Netherlands
08.12.19 - Osnabrück, Germany
08.13.19 - Pratteln, Switzerland (w/ Testament)
08.14.19 - Dinkelsbühl, Germany
08.16.19 - St. Nolff, France
08.17.19 - Chiaromonte, Italy
10.13.19 - Megacruise