One of the great underground metal bands is Angelrage and I had the pleasure of talking to the man behind Angelrage on my podcast and it is the first interview for this band is several years So I want to share it with all of you hear as well.
Hi Gar, Thanks for taking the time for this interview. How are you doing?
I am doing great, Larry! Thanks for having me on the show.
Angelrage has been around since 1995 and has been through a lot. Tragedy, controversy and the incredible feat of having the top 5 songs on mp3.com for a short time in the Christian metal charts. How has all of that helped to form what Angelrage is today? What was it like to rise to the top through all of that?
Yeah, it’s been quite a ride…. Tragedy and controversy definitely played a major role. The car accident has always been a focal point because a lot of people were inspired that I came back from something like that. So Fight the Devil has kind of like an air of mystery and legend to it because of the accident. The whole “curse of Angelrage” thing, people love stuff like that. You couldn’t make something like that up. The controversy is a little more complicated. It was lot of fun in the beginning. People were arguing about whether we were a Christian or anti-Christian band and trying to uncover our identities. There were a few protests against radio stations who tried to play us and… I’ve had a stalker or two (laughs). Some people take this stuff way too seriously.
Those who have been Angelrage fans for even a little while will know about all of this stuff but there are some who may not have even heard of Angelrage. So to start on that, your accident that almost ended Angelrage before it really even started, what was the most difficult part of that? Did you ever think that you would get to play again? How did that tragedy inspire you in your return?
Well, at the time, I was a full-time guitar teacher with 50 students and I had just finished recording Fight the Devil when we were hit head on on the highway… the seatbelt broke my collarbone and a few ribs, tore up my abs and my shoulder, gave me permanent internal scarring, and brain damage. When the cops got there and saw the cars, they looked at each other and shook their heads. They were sure we were all dead… Anyway the tape was still in my 4 track recorder when I got home from the hospital. I remember seeing it and thinking, “That’s the last song I will ever be able to record.” I took it and threw it across the room. I HATED that album. I almost destroyed the master tapes. Instead I just locked them away… and forgot about them. Everyone was telling me how lucky I was to be alive, but I sure didn’t feel like it. I was in so much pain for several years it was really a struggle… so I was very bitter about the whole thing. I remember someone said to me, “Well, Gar, it looks like the devil fought back.” A few days after the accident, I finally had the strength to pick up a guitar and that’s when I discovered my left hand fingers weren’t responding. It was like I had had a stroke. I was not able to control them; they were just twitching when I tried to move them. The whole left side of my body was obviously impaired. Doctors told me I would never perform again and that I needed to accept it. That was devastating… So it was pure hard-headed stubbornness on my part. I just refused to accept it. Music was my life. It took over a year, but I got to play again, and I eventually had a full recovery. I have since climbed mountains, swum in the ocean, played onstage with a couple of my favorite bands here in LA, and recorded a CD by myself, which we will come back to later… So basically, I was done with Angelrage. I didn’t even think about it until 2003, after I had moved to L.A. It just popped into my head, like, “It’s time.” Through the years I had gotten emails from people who wanted to hear the stuff, so I figured I would put them on Mp3.com, which was hot stuff at that time, people could listen to it for free. In a few days, when I looked, all 5 of them were the top 5, and that’s competing against Michael Sweet and King’s X’s current singles. And these were noisy demo tapes. So that was really crazy. Fight the Devil hit number one three times and stayed in the top 20 there for a year. But that was really kind of surreal to be on the same chart as people I had grown up listening to. It got crazy there for a minute. I decided to put out a CD of the songs through mp3.com and began auditioning musicians, because at that time I had a hit on my hands, and no band to play shows. I noticed right away that the press we got talked a lot about the car accident and how creepy it was that it happened right after I finished recording this song; so again, the accident, as terrible as it was, actually played a large part in bringing Angelrage to the public’s attention and took me to more successful places in my life. Another great story about the accident, Larry, which has often been repeated, and this one is true, is that for several years after, streetlights would go out as I walked under them and then come back on when I was about a block away. Light bulbs and electronic stuff would burn out around me. Some of my friends’ cars wouldn’t start until I would get out. It became a joke – we would laugh about how much stuff I was burning out. Gradually over the years, as I began to find peace in my life again, this phenomenon gradually faded away. Strange but true.
Once Fight the Devil was put up on mp3.com it went to the top but there has always been a battle over whether you are a Christian band or not? Some have said you are Satanist in disguise trying to deceive. I find it curious that if people read your lyrics that there would actually be a question. However it is so what is the verdict is Angelrage a Christian band? What is the message of Angelrage? Is there even an agenda behind the lyrics or music?
As you know, Larry, Angelrage has always refused to answer that question in interviews. In fact if you had sprung that on me a couple of years ago, this interview would be over. I finally agreed to talk about this because I believe it’s time to set the record straight. I don’t view it as Christian rock… I view Angelrage more as a soundtrack for the end of the world. I don’t consider my music to be a ministry or myself to be a minister at all. I just enjoy the subject matter. But if Christians find my music to be edifying to their own life and their Christian experience, that is awesome. They certainly shouldn’t fear this music, I mean two pastors wrote endorsements on the liner notes of Omega. Pastor James Wilkinson wrote, “God’s hand is on this album!” …but I feel it’s only fair to tell you, though, I also get emails from Satanists and atheists and all kinds of people who love it too. Angelrage just transcends boundaries. But the truth is, Larry. all I wanted to do was write a really scary, heavy album of songs based on the book of Revelation. I have always been fascinated by theology and I’ve studied every major religion in the world; the battle of good versus evil… angels, demons… possession… the antichrist… the end of the world. It touches such a nerve in people. I thought it would be fun to do an album of stuff like that. By the way, this isn’t a new idea at all, to me. Black Sabbath did it 30 years ago! Some of their songs were about God and the devil, but you couldn’t quite tell where they were coming from. Sometimes it seemed to go back and forth. I found that intriguing, and that was the initial inspiration for the ambiguity aspect. The simple truth is that nearly everything about Angelrage is a double entendre – the logo, the songs, the artwork – everything. It’s designed to have more than one meaning, and usually diametrically opposing concepts. I wanted to see how far I couple push that. And it’s not easy to pull it off.
All of the Controversy that has existed has helped to bring the band into the public eye so to speak. Whether it is about the logo or the stage show or whatever the case may be the band has certainly benefited from it. So why use the persona of archangels? Is that just to help further the mystery of Angelrage or is it just another way to show and bring the events of the apocalypse to the people in a way to show them what is in store?
I liked the idea of our identities being shielded somewhat. We all kind of liked that, we thought it was pretty cool. Of course, that totally backfired on me when the original lineup split up, because then no one knew who was behind Angelrage and who had recorded the music and done all the artwork… and so I was faced with a choice of trying to preserve the mystique, or revealing our identities in order to promote my bandmates’ new projects. I chose to do the latter. As for myself, I was really heartbroken about it… I finally decided to just kill off my character and start over. To be honest, the whole idea of being pidgin holed as a Christian rock band was starting to upset me, because there were people who weren’t giving it a chance… so I figured I would take it in a darker direction. We were going to do this gnarly stone angel makeup. The stage set was a graveyard. The songs were, in my opinion, shockingly violent. I thought this would clarify things a little bit, but you know what? The Christian fans liked it even more! The darker and more questionable I made it, the more they defended it.
After the Fight the Devil release it took five years to release the Omega cd why such a long time? What all happened during that process to slow it down?
I started writing Omega in 2003, as soon as Fight the Devil hit, actually. I had half the album done very quickly. The original lineup was supposed to record it together. The problem was that I had half an album in a hardcore metal style that really didn’t suit Michael’s voice. He is a world class singer, right up there with guys like James LaBrie and Geoff Tate, and this material was just wrong for him. We both new it. We kept trying to change the songs to make them work, but they just didn’t. At the time, he was also involved with an Italian progressive metal band called Ashent. They were perfect for his voice. They sound great. It was clear what needed to happen. He went on to record 2 incredible CDs with them. I highly recommend you check them out. And I was happy he had found such a perfect vehicle for his voice because I regretted that the material I had wasn’t working for us. But one thing I should also say about Angelrage is that I don’t really “write” any of these songs. All my life, I’ve had a rock concert in my head. I hear songs just like a radio station and I just hurry up and write it down before I lose them. This music is from somewhere else. I don’t sit there and work on it, I just hear it. Anyway, I didn’t do anything for almost 2 years with Omega after our last show in May of 2005. Finally I just decided that I wanted to finish it… because there were some good songs on there…. Of course I ended up doing all the voices and instruments, and that’s the major factor – It isn’t easy to record over an hour of music by yourself…so THAT’S why Omega took so long. (laughs)
On the Omega album there was a song to benefit the homeless called “ For the Least of my Brothers” What inspired that song? Wasn’t that supposed to be a multi band song sort of like “We Are The World” was? What happened to change that?
Yes it was supposed to be a multi-band project, and I contacted a lot of major bands, I won’t mention any names, but some of them I hear from on a regular basis. But nobody responded. Some of them said how much they liked it but no one wanted to be involved with it. I never intended that song to be on Omega. I wanted to have other, more well-known bands do it to raise money for Pastor Bob Beeman’s homeless ministry. So I was little disgusted and I ended up doing it myself, but I have to say I think it’s the best sounding thing I have ever recorded. The inspiration though, came from an encounter I had with a homeless woman. She told me she had once been a nurse, and she had lost her job… so she lost her apartment. The hopelessness in her eyes just broke my heart. I had no money with me and all I could give her was some water and a blanket from the back of my truck. It was freezing and she was sleeping in the park. I never felt so poor in my life. Her name was Laura. I’ll never forget her. I often wonder where she is. Anyway, so when I saw that Pastor Bob was doing a homeless ministry and that they were struggling to help these people, I wanted to do something but I just had no idea what. I tried to think of ideas for a song. After several days of just – nothing, all of a sudden it came to me: what if the homeless person you met was actually Jesus Christ in disguise? And boom! it just all came flooding out very fast, I could hardly move the pen fast enough to keep up with the music in my head. I should mention here that while many Christians have written to say how beautiful or inspiring that song is, I don’t really see it that way at all. To me, it’s really kind of a scathing indictment of the church that fails to take care of these people and our self-centered society in general. It’s not supposed to make you feel good. If it makes you feel good, you are missing the point. I think it’s disgusting that we live in a country where almost every family pays to feed a dog or a cat that could feed themselves in the wild, yet they’ll step over a United States veteran who risked his life for his country when they see him on the street. These people need help. Unfortunately, to date, the song has only raised a very small amount of money. Angelrage just does not have the clout to do something like this, and those who do… don’t care. Hey, at least I tried. Sadly, with the recession, the statistics I presented in the video, which a lot of people found shocking, are now much, much worse, as bleak as they were. As Pastor Bob once asked, “How many of us are really much more than a few paychecks away from being homeless ourselves?” Anyway, this is the one song on Omega that I think could legitimately be considered Christian rock, because it is written in the person of Christ. It still isn’t a gospel song, though, it’s a whipping from Angelrage. (laughs) It’s supposed to wrench your heart, sear your conscience, and make you go and help someone. I hope so anyway. I have heard from several pastors around the country who were so moved by the song they started homeless ministries themselves. So the song, while it hasn’t generated much money, has obviously inspired some people to take action, and that makes me happy. I still view the song as a bit of a disappointment, though, I think it should have done a lot better.
Angelrage was released shorly after and was a little different from Omega but had many of the same songs How did that album come about? Why the track change and release with a different title?
Well, the Angelrage CD is the original cover art and track listing, before I added the musical themes and For the Least of My Brothers. It was a darker album.. and the one thing I changed was to shorten This World, which had been suggested by quite a few people, including the band members. (laughs) I just wanted fans to have the option of hearing it the way it was originally conceived.
Ok I have to ask I am hearing rumors that the original lineup of Angelrage may be getting back together for a reunion project is this true?
I am happy to say that yes, it is true, and I am really excited about it! You have to understand, the original lineup of Angelrage was my dream band – I auditioned and handpicked these guys from all over the country… and the fact that it didn’t work out is one my life’s major regrets. We haven’t really been in touch much for 5 years… I mean, I’ve been familiar with, and promoting, their band projects. But Jonah Lewis, who was known as Uriel in the band, is doing really well with X-Sinner, and he was the last person I would expect to suggest we do a project together. And I fully expected Steve (Braun), who we call Michael, to say no, and maybe even curse at me, so I was really surprised and overjoyed when he agreed to do it. I was so excited that day I felt like I was going to go through the roof. How often in life do you truly get a second chance? We are going to do it right this time, people. For sure we’re going to be recording at least 1 new song, possibly a video, and if the other guys want to, maybe more. It’s really up to them at this point. This material will be written specifically for his voice, so it will sound different from Omega, although a couple of songs on there, including Oceans of Sorrow and Finger of God, were actually written for his voice. That’s why, If you notice, there are a couple of vocal styles on Omega. Some of the songs have kind of a death metal/black metal style, and a couple of the songs, like This world and Finger of God, have a cleaner style. Those were written for Steve. This time around he will be writing lyrics too, so that will make a big difference. I am really psyched. It’s going to be great. It’s already been a wonderful healing experience for me, and I am going to do everything in my power to make it what it should have been from the start. For myself, for the guys, and for the fans.
Boy, I can’t wait to hear this, that is a fact.
I’m a little nervous but it’s great. And Steve is really busy too with Halcyon Way. Excellent band. They just released a CD too.
Yeah, they got some good music going on out there too.
Everything Steve has ever done is just great, he’s a really great singer.
How will that affect the upcoming Unicode album? Is the Unicode album still in the works? What is the significance of the stated release date of 12/21/2012?
Well the release date is kind of tongue in cheek, you know, a little inside joke. That really depends on this reunion. The original lineup definitely takes priority. At this point, after everything I’ve been through I just want to make some great music with my old friends and then I may lay this thing to rest. It’s been a long, hard road. I think the original lineup coming together again is the perfect end and I’m very happy about it.
What will that album, if released, be about lyrically? What does the title Unicode mean? Where did the name come from?
The name is just computer language, it ties into the concept. IF I did decide to do Unicode, it would be radically different from Omega… Omega was all about sounding ancient and majestic. Unicode is set in the future so the music would reflect that. The concept for it though, is even older than Omega. I wrote it years ago. It’s about the tribulation and the rise of the antichrist. It would be edgier, heavier, and nastier (laughs). A lot more industrial and futuristic sounding as opposed to the Latin choirs, orchestrations, and church bells on Omega, although I have to say I am very proud of the sound I created on that album. I wish it had been produced better. But right now, that is on hold. Time will tell…
What does the future hold for Angelrage? Tours? Albums?
If Angelrage does tour in the future it won’t be with me. I have actually already replaced myself for future touring purposes. The truth is, my injuries are starting to catch up with me. You know, I had a full recovery, but as I get older, they’re starting to hurt a little bit more again, I’m getting a little stiffer. I’m not really in any condition to be traveling around the country. I am kind of tired, and I have given everything I had to this band and it has taken quite a toll on my life. Also, I got married last year and have a wonderful little boy who needs me here. Unless we get investors it just isn’t happening. An album depends on the guys… if the single goes well and they decide to do a full album with Angelrage, that would be a priority. If they wanted to do a few shows, I would be open to that, too. It’s dependent on their schedules, because they all have very successful projects going.
Thank you again for the time do you have any final thoughts for the fans?
Oh, it’s my pleasure, Larry, thanks for having me on your show! And to all of you out there who have supported my music through the years, I want to thank you sincerely from the bottom of my heart. I really do love you and wish you all the very best!
Interview by Larry Versaw for Untombed.com