Interview with Dan Gargiulo of Revocation

Dan GargiuloDuring the four nights of drinking and debauchery aboard 70,000 Tons of Metal earlier this month, Dan Gargiulo was kind enough to take some time away from partying and enjoying his cruise vacation to chat with me about music, the difficulties of touring, and Donald Trump. Dan plays guitar alongside David Davidson in Boston technical death thrashers Revocation, as well as working as guitarist and songwriter in New York death metal outfit Artificial Brain. With Revocation’s newest album Great Is Our Sin earning high acclaim here at Angry Metal Guy and some big touring plans for the summer, things are looking bright for Dan and his bandmates. And it’s always hard to be in a bad mood while sailing the sunny Caribbean!

How’s it feel to be doing 70,000 Tons of Metal?

Interesting! I never thought I would do anything like this to be honest. But it’s cool. There’s a lot of people we know on the boat, a lot of bands we’ve toured with. I actually ran into somebody I went to high school with who I never thought I’d hang out with again. It’s sick, man.

What bands are you looking forward to the most?

Demolition Hammer — and really not much else. I saw Testament last night, that was cool. When I was a kid I used to listen to Angra all the time, so I’ll probably go see them. I haven’t listened to them in years, but it’d be cool for nostalgic reasons.

Yeah, it seems like their newest album’s been getting some pretty good reception.

Yeah, I actually haven’t heard it, but I’m down to check it. I don’t know, there’s tons of bands here that are cool. A lot of stuff I’ve never heard, too.

How was last night for you? You guys have some fun partying?

Yeah, we went crazy. [laughs] It was an interesting night. I can’t say on the tape. [laughs]

[laughs] Gotcha, gotcha. So after this, you guys got a pretty busy schedule ahead. You’re going on a tour with Morbid Angel…

Yeah, well actually even before that, we’re going to tour with Psycroptic in Australia — like right after this. And then Morbid Angel and Suffocation in May, which I’m really looking forward to. Morbid Angel has been one of my favorite death metal bands since I was a kid, and they’re still one of my favorite death metal bands.

Nice! What’s your favorite Morbid Angel album?

Fuck, I mean, Altars of Madness is great. I love Blessed Are the Sick Covenant really might be my favorite, I’m not sure. Domination is like a weird departure from their original sound, but I love it. I mean, honestly, Formulas is amazing, and I love the live album Entangled in Chaos. Gateways was the first one I had when I was a kid, because there was a record store near my house that had cool shit, and I just picked it up because of the artwork. I didn’t know shit about them. And I still love that album. And really up to that album I love everything they’ve done, to be honest.

Have to ask — thoughts on Illud Divinum Insanus?

Uh, it wasn’t for me. I thought that the dude, I forget what name he was going by — I think Thor? — he played in that band Myrkskog and I think the songs that he wrote for the album were killer. I’m a huge Myrkskog fan, I want them to make another album. But I don’t know if that’s going to happen. But yeah, [Illud] wasn’t really for me. [laughs] But I’m not hating.

Do you think Morbid Angel’s been an influence on your playing then?

Oh, for sure! Maybe not necessarily on my playing, but my songwriting for sure. I mean, learning Morbid Angel riffs when I was a kid was something I spent a lot of time on. And Trey has a really interesting style. He’s got a very — I don’t want to say sloppy, but like an intentionally messy style, like with those pick noises that they do a lot. I think that’s so cool. And the solos, too, are like intentionally bizarre and out-there, just whacked-out. I think that’s so sick.

Speaking of songwriting, you contributed some songs to the new Revocation album right?

Yeah, yeah. I usually write a couple songs on each album. I try to write songs that are appropriate for Revocation, but at the same time, I want them to contrast Dave’s songwriting style, as well. And naturally, that happens, because we just have different styles. But I also think about that and try to make it happen.

How do your think your and Dave’s styles are different?

Dave is trained in a much different way than I am. He’s very educated when it comes to music, and I have more of an intermediate grasp on music theory. He’s more from the jazz school, and I learned and played jazz but never really excelled at it. I was always more interested in classical guitar. I’m not really good at it, but I think that my ear’s kind of drawn to that sound a little bit more than his. So we just have different styles. I really like how he writes, but I don’t want to be like “Hey guys, here’s my song!” and have it be a rip off of Dave. I want to do my own thing.

What originally got you into metal and writing your own songs?

Well, I was writing songs before I got into metal. I was into Nirvana — they’re still probably my favorite band. And classic rock, stuff like that. And then when I found Metallica it was over. I loved metal forever. And then I found Meshuggah, and that was a big jump. It was Nirvana – sixth grade, Metallica — seventh grade, and then Meshuggah — eighth grade. And then on the back of this version of Destroy Erase Improve I had, it was like “Thank you to the following bands for inspiration…” And I checked out all those bands. And that’s how I found Death and Anthrax and so much shit. I think Voivod too, I’m not sure, I don’t remember the exact list they had, but I found out about a lot of bands from that list. Atheist, maybe, too. And, you know, Death and Atheist are some of my favorite bands ever now, and I wouldn’t have found them if it weren’t for that record. And once I found out about death metal, I just started finding out about a million bands per day. Especially with Napster back in the day, I used to just download everything.

Oh yeah — Napster, Limewire, all that. I remember those days.

Yeah, yeah. And Kazaa. Well then you could download porn from Kazaa, so that was a whole different story.

[laughs] Little added bonus. So I wanted to talk a little about your guys’ newest album Great Is Our Sin, which came out last summer. What’s reception been like so far?

Pretty positive. I mean we’ve never put out a record and blown up, and I’m kind of happy about that. I think that a lot of bands sometimes blow up instantly and become huge, and then they’re gone. That happens so often. Not only in the metal scene, but everywhere. But for us, it’s been more of a slow gradual climb, where every time we put a record out we do a little bit better, and I feel much more secure with that because I feel like we’re not going to just fall off. We’ve been building for so long, it wasn’t just like an instantaneous “You’re the hot thing!” and then we’re gone. I’m happy about that. Black Dahlia’s kind of the same way. Albeit they’re way bigger than us, but I remember hearing about them when I was in high school. I just heard about them more and more and more, and they stuck around and now they’re huge, so I think that if we just keep hitting it, we’ll do better and better.

It definitely seems like you guys have become something of a staple in the modern metal scene. You guys have a really impressive back catalog, and you keep putting out great albums.

Yeah, and we’re already writing. You know, we’re always writing. Me and Dave write for fun. So, we’re always going to have new material.

So what’s progress been like on the new Revocation album?

Dave has like ten songs written, and I have like half a song. But – I play in another band called Artificial Brain, and we just finished our new album, it’s coming out in a couple months, so I’ve been really preoccupied with that. But now that’s that’s wrapped up and all done – we got the artwork and everything – I can start focusing on Revocation again. So I’m going to write more in probably March, April, May. I can’t write on tour, I got to be alone.

Why is that?

I don’t know. Couldn’t tell you, I just have to be alone.

Too much stress on tour?

Maybe, just like being around people. I can’t write when I’m around people, because then they’re listening to what I’m playing, and it just kills the vibe. I got to be alone.

Gotcha, gotcha. So how hard is it to balance time between Artificial Brain and Revocation?

Not hard. Actually, we have another guitarist in Artificial Brain. His name’s Oleg, and he filled in for Severed Savior back in the day when they were a band. And I teach him everything I write. He learns all of it, so he knows the all the guitar parts, because I write both guitar A and B. And when I’m not around, he tours with them. So the band isn’t defunct when I’m not around. I tour a lot and it would be so hard if they could only do stuff when I’m home. So it’s not fair to them that I keep leaving, so we had to get a fill-in guy. But he’s basically a member of the band at this point. He comes on tour with us, and sometimes we’ll play a show and he’ll switch out. He’s a lefty though, so that’s kind of annoying sometimes.

What, does he have to flip the guitar upside down or…?

Well, our other guitarist Jonathan is a lefty so sometimes they’ll swap, or sometimes he’ll bring a guitar and I’ll step offstage and he’ll get on. Sometimes, not always. But it’s a blessing having him in the band, that’s for sure.

Is it pretty tough touring all the time? I’d imagine it’s probably stressful.

Yeah, I lived in Boston for a short period of time, and that was really hard because it was tough to have money for the months that I was gone. I’m always gone so I was paying for a place I was never in. For Revocation, I’ll tour like five months out of the year, and then on top of that we do random weekend shows or like week-long tours and stuff like that. And then Artificial Brain — we don’t have a rigorous touring schedule, but we do tour multiple times a year. Maybe not for a month, but we do tour. So, I don’t know, I’ll stay with a friend, or I’ll stay with my mom, and try to figure it out. But if I had more money I’d like to move out, it’s just — it’s really hard when you’re not around. And it’s hard to find a job that gives you a lot of hours and will let you come and go so often.

So what do you do when you’re not busy with Revocation and Artificial Brain?

I was working at an animal hospital for a while. I used to work there when I was younger, and I was fortunate enough for them to take me back. But honestly, if a dog bites my hand, I’m fucked, so I don’t want to do that job anymore. If I get my tendons ripped off that would be bad. I mean, I don’t really get attacked by dogs, but it could happen. So I have to find something that won’t kill my hands in the future. But like I was saying — March, April, May, we have some time off, so I really need to get a job and work that whole time, I think.

Any thoughts on what you might be doing?

I don’t know, I could work in a kitchen or something. Maybe I’ll bartend. Who knows? I’ll figure something out. I do give lessons, but it’s hard to get consistent students. A lot of kids want to take one or two lessons and then that’s that. And they’re like “Oh yeah, I took lessons with Dan!” But really you have to take lessons for a long period of time if you want to get anything out of it. When I was a kid I took guitar lessons and we did it every week, and I learned a lot. But if I had only done two or three lessons I wouldn’t have been able to do drills or anything like that. I think that’s really important.

So do you contribute at all to the lyrical content of Revocation?

No, no. I’m not lyricist. I’m not very good with words. I can type better than I speak. But I don’t have like a poetic inclination at all.

But do you feel like you connect with the lyrics that Dave provides?

Oh, I like the lyrics that Dave writes. But, I mean, generally, when I listen to music I never look up the lyrics. Maybe once in a while. But, even for some of my favorite bands in the world, I don’t know what they’re saying. [laughs] I’m much more into the riffs and the interplay between drums and guitars and stuff like that. That’s what gets me going.

It seems like a lot of the lyrical themes in Revocation are kind of dismal — a lot of stuff about extinction and the apocalypse.

Yeah, and I think that’s cool. I think if you don’t have a negative outlook, then why are you playing such negative music? I think the negativity is what draws me to metal. It’s such a healthy way to vent those feelings, you know? We don’t hurt anybody, but I can vent and rage and feel despair and all that. And I love that about metal in general, not only Revocation’s lyrics but lots of metal has that vibe, and I think that’s awesome. Like how can you look at the world and sing a happy song?

What are your thoughts on the current state of America and the world in general?

I’m scared to be honest. I feel like everyone hates each other more than ever. And it’s hard to have a political discussion that doesn’t degrade into straight-up hatred for the other side. And I’m guilty of that too. Yeah, I get pissed if I see people like Nazi saluting. But I don’t know, it’s scary times. I hope things turn out better, but it’s going to be a rough ride.

Not a Trump fan then?

No, not a Trump fan. [laughs] But that’s the thing, I didn’t like Hilary either. She was like the face of corrupt politicians. But Donald Trump to me is the face of corrupt capitalism, so it’s a lose-lose. I don’t know.

Definitely seems to capture a lot of the general sentiments I’ve heard.

Yeah, it’s embarrassing. He’s not smart. It’s like, I don’t feel like this guy represents me in any way. And the things he said about woman, I don’t get down with that stuff. You know, with me my friends, I’ve hung out with gross dudes my whole life. We’ve all joked about disgusting things but I’ve never hung out with anyone who has acted like it’s cool to just grab chicks. None of my friends have ever said that. And I’m friends with scumbags sometimes.

It’s pretty appalling, definitely.

Yeah, it’s brutal.

So I wanted to talk a bit about Revocation’s musical style. I’ve seen some talk online painting you guys as a modern version of Death — where do you see yourselves?

I mean, Death is a huge influence on me and Dave, especially the way they took classic metal riffing and applied it to death metal. I mean I love early Death, where it’s just straight-up death metal. I think they’re like great at it — one of the best —  but I also liked it when they got a little weird. So I like their whole catalog for different reasons. But Human is probably my favorite album by them. But I definitely learned a lot about songwriting from Death, probably even more than Morbid Angel. I think Chuck’s one of my biggest influences from a rhythm guitar perspective. I mean, I was never really huge into his leads. They’re good, I’m not saying they’re bad, but I thought that Bobby Koelble on Symbolic and Andy LaRocque — I thought they smoked Chuck. But speaking of solos, that’s something that we kind of go for, because Dave has his style and I have my style, and we don’t play lead guitar the same way. I’ll have a couple of solos per album, and Dave has most of them, and that’s kind of a Death move. I think even today, even if I’m not thinking about it, Death is always in the back of my mind influencing me. And to be honest, I don’t really hear too many bands that sound like them anymore. Which is sad. I mean, Decrepit Birth kind of reminds me of, like, a more tech Death.

But they’re a little bit more brutal.

Yeah, they’re more brutal than Death, for sure.

Do you guys kind of see yourselves as the modern torchbearers of the Death sound then?

I wouldn’t say that. But they definitely influence us huge amounts, for sure.

What are some more modern bands that you’re into?

Oh, man. I mean, I like that new Urfaust record. I mostly listen to black metal. But I love death metal, too. Deathspell Omega is like, one of mine and Dave’s favorite bands ever. They kind of changed the way I approached writing. I try not to rip them off, but I think they just have such a unique way of playing guitar. But it’s less unique now that so many people are wise to their sound — I’m hearing more bands maybe not ripping them off, but that are influenced by them, so I kind of want to get away from borrowing ideas from them. But they definitely changed the way I thought about riffs and writing. Emperor — I know they’re not new, but they’re one of my biggest influences because they write two guitar parts that totally contrast one another, but at the same time work together, and that’s something I try to do. Gorguts — they’re still doing shit, and I love them. Definitely one of Dave and I’s favorite bands. We do have a lot of common ground, Dave and I, but we also like different shit too. New Dodecahedron I’m really into — very into that album. Blut Aus Nord — I know they haven’t really done much in a while, but they just did that split with Ævangelist that was pretty cool. Honestly, whenever it comes time for a year-end list, I’m like the worst person to ask because I’ll get into records like two years later. I don’t get into things right when they come out. And sometimes some of my favorite records take five or ten listens before I get it. I have to hear it in the right setting, or context, or with the right people. Sometimes I need to give things numerous chances. I can’t really speak about new things that are coming out until time passes.

Yeah, it’s kind of intimidating sometimes with how much stuff comes out.

Oh absolutely. Oh, and I know they broke up, but that newest Vektor album — yeah, I’m not really a big thrash fan at all, but I gave that record a couple chances and I really warmed up to it, it was cool.

Oh yeah, it’s a very ambitious album.

Yeah, I think it’s cooler than their other albums, to be honest. I didn’t know what to expect because two of the songs I loved from Outer Isolation are actually on one of their demos from way back in the day and those were my favorite songs on that album. So I was like “Oh shit, is this band falling off? Is that what’s going on?” But then they put out the new one and I was like, “Okay no, they’re still here.” It was good. Horrendous is another band I really like. They’re sick.

It sounds like you have a pretty diverse interest in a lot of different bands. Do you think maybe in the future there might be some black metal influence creeping into Revocation?

Well, with Artificial Brain, it’s there, big time. And I have written riffs for Revocation that were pretty influenced by black metal. And that’s part of our sound, but it’s not a big part of our sound so I try to keep it a little reigned in. But I am writing some more traditional black metal stuff — I don’t even want to say traditional black metal, because that’s not necessarily what it is, but it’s more black metal than death metal, the stuff that I’m working on now.

And that’s for new Revocation?

No, it’s just for another project that I haven’t started yet. But I have like six songs written. And for Revocation, I definitely have to get cracking on the new material, that’s for sure.

Well, I’m getting the signal I’m out of time. Thanks for the interview! Excited for the Super Bowl?

I don’t know anything about sports, I’m a nerd. [laughs]

Postscript: I’d like to personally thank Dan for taking the time to share his thoughts with me during his cruise vacation aboard 70,000 Tons of Metal. I wish him and Revocation best of luck with their upcoming tours and future endeavors!

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