Death Angel’s Will Carroll wasn’t ready to meet the Angel of Death
By March Lowe
What do Death Angel and Spinal Tap have in common? Ok, time’s up! If you said, “They both had compromised drummers”, you are correct. Fortunately, both of Death Angel’s drummers survived their ordeals.
In 1990, Death Angel’s tour bus crashed in Arizona, leaving drummer, Andy Galeon, severely injured. He underwent major reconstructive surgeries for over a year and it took a long time for him to completely recover from his injuries.
Now, 30 years later, current Death Angel drummer: Will Carroll contracted COVID-19, while on tour in Europe. After he got back home, he self-quarantined, but his symptoms worsened. He was admitted to California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco. He was put into a medically induced coma and on a ventilator for nearly two weeks. He underwent some experimental treatments and has since recovered. So far, 2020 has been a veritable roller coaster ride for one of the Bay Area’s most beloved thrash metal bands. From their Grammy nomination last November, to Carroll’s fairytale ending to his battle with COVID-19, Death Angel has been the subject of a media feeding frenzy for the past eight months.
Last November, Death Angel was nominated for a Grammy for best metal performance for the title track from their ninth album, “Humanicide”. With that nomination, almost overnight, Death Angel turned into a household name. However, for those of us in know, we know that DA has been around since the mid 80s with the two constants being: lead guitarist, Rob Cavasteny, and lead singer, Mark Osegueda The current lineup has been intact since 2009. Rounding out the band are: Ted Aguilar(rhythm guitarist), Damien Sisson(bassist), and Will Carroll(drummer). Bay Area’s rock music impresario, Jimmy Arceneaux has reverently dubbed them, “The HARDEST working band in heavy music”.
In the end, the Grammy went to Tool for 7empest and that was fine. The guys were shocked and surprised that they even received the nomination in the first place. After the Grammys, they were getting ready to embark on the highly anticipated The Bay Strikes Back 2020 tour with their brothers in Testament and Exodus. The six-week long, 25 show, and nearly sold-out tour would take them throughout Europe and the U.K. It was truly a dream tour for the bands, as well as the fans. Their first show to get cancelled was the February 25th show in Milan, due to the coronavirus/COVID-19 outbreak in Italy. Everything was going well, until at the end of the tour, and then some people started feeling sick.I got to catch up with Will on June 13th on the virtual heavy metal happy hour. He appeared to be in great form with big grins and hearty laughs.
Welcome Will! It’s so great to see you. Tell us about your experience.
We were on tour with Testament and Exodus on the Bay Strikes Back tour of Europe and things were going great, until we had to cancel a show in Milan and that’s when the coronavirus came on our radar a little more and we were like, ‘whoa, it’s a real thing’. At the end of the tour, some people started getting sick and our very last show got cancelled in Hannover, Germany. So it was getting serious and then they were going to stop flights back into the U.S. We weren’t even sure if we were going to make it back. We were in-flight, waiting to see if we were going to land or not be able to get back into the U.S.
On the flight home, I started feeling really sick and when I got home, my fiance was like, “Wow, you looked terrible”. So I self-quarantined myself for a couple of days in bed, but I was just getting worse and I was struggling to breathe.
I got rushed to the hospital and I had such a crazy fever that I don’t remember going to the hospital or any of that. When I came out of my coma. I was like, where the Hell am I? It was a total shock to me. I had no idea, I was in the hospital. I didn’t know what country or city I was in either. Ironically enough the hospital was only like five blocks away from my apartment, so I could have walked home. I thought I was maybe still in Europe. I was in a haze. Those are the details that nobody really talks about, but that was pretty scary. Just waking up and having a catheter in me. Those aren’t very fun.(Will laughs)
What did you think about the media outlets that picked up and published your story with headlines like this, “ Thrash Metal Drummer Awakens from Coronavirus Coma, Doesn’t Think Satan is That Cool Anymore”
The visions I had, when I was in my coma were pretty scary and when I woke up, they were just as clear as day in my mind. They were so vivid. I asked the nurse if I was still in Hell, right when I woke up. She just kind of just looked at me and walked away. So, yeah, that’s a small part of a bigger story, you know, like surviving the COVID and being in a coma for 12 days and the doctors thought I was going to die. They were shocked when I was awake and when I came to. So that’s definitely stuck with me a little more than just the visions of going to hell, but it’s unfortunate that those news outlets mangled my story, regurgitated it and changed it for their own agenda, you know. When you get the lead singer of Stryper backing you up, you know that there’s something wrong(Will laughs some more)
Were you blown away by the outpouring of support?
Yeah, that was a shocker. Actually, it took a couple of days for the hospital to give me back some of my personal effects. So I didn’t have my phone for the first day or two, when I was awake. But when they finally gave it to me. I turned it on and I couldn’t believe how many people from the local community and abroad, and people from all over the world, were reaching out to me. People that I don’t even know, like Jay Jay French from Twisted Sister. Yeah! I LOVE Twisted Sister! It was really cool man. I was overwhelmed and speechless. So that’s part of my spiritual awakening, if you will. I never really believed in the power of prayer or Karma or any of that kind of stuff and this experience has made me reevaluate some things. I’m not born again Christian or anything like the fucking New York Post wants wants to portray me as. But now I believe in the power prayer. I really do.
How do you feel now?
I’m feeling great. I’ve been jamming with my brothers for the past three weeks and we are doing Kiss covers. Hella Kiss covers! It sounds like I am playing brutal music, but I’m still easing my way back into it. I’ve been jamming for two to two and a half hours every time we get together and it’s feeling great. My double bass is back. I’m not getting winded. My heart doesn’t feel funny after I play, so I think I’m back.(Will laughs)
Did you quit smoking?
Yes, I’m only taking edibles now. I ate a granola thing, an hour before the interview, so I’m pretty stoned right now.(Will laughs)
How long did it take, before you didn’t feel winded anymore?
I was lucky. My lungs didn’t really get affected, even after being on the ventilator and everything. My lungs felt ok from the get go. It’s my heart that took a beating. My heart would be palpitating, when I was playing, but it feels fine now. I did have to learn how to walk again. Being in a coma for 12 days, my muscles went to shit, so I couldn’t walk. So when I went home, I had to use a walker. That was pretty rough, learning how to walk again. I can’t imagine what people, who have been in a coma for two years or something, what their physical state must be like. That was only 12 days, not even two full weeks, and atrophy really set in. I couldn’t walk at all.
I think the really scary thing for me was the lack of updates on social media.
Not a word for weeks, then, I heard the update about your amazing recovery .
Yeah, I think it was because my situation was getting worse by the day. My fiance told me that whenever she called the hospital, they would use words like: grave, and dire, and grim.Those aren’t words you want to hear when you are calling for an update. There was no good news, so I think that Death Angel and my fiance stayed quiet, until there was some type of result.
Let’s talk about the Grammys. How was it?
(Will laughs)Actually, clothes shopping was one of the funnest parts. I haven’t gone clothes shopping like that, in a long time. So me trying on nice clothes, for a change, that was a lot of fun! The pre-party they had at the Chapel in San Francisco), a week before the actual Grammys was fun. They had a party for all of the Bay Area nominees for every category, so it was cool to meet other musicians from other types of music that I wouldn’t normally meet or listen to, so it was like a gathering of the tribes. The Grammys itself was a long day, a REALLY long day, but it was fun. It was a bummer to see Aerosmith not do so good(Will laughs), but other than that, it was a lot of fun. Tyler, the Creator was a really great performer. I thought his performance was the best. The after party was fun. Cheap Trick played the after party and more free booze, so it was a great experience, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
That was also the day that Kobe Bryant died . . .
It was bizarre, since we were right outside his house(referring to the Staples Center), that’s where the Grammys were held, where his team plays. So we were outside when we got the word. We were about to enter inside . . . and they didn’t waste any time. They unveiled his jersey. It was hanging up there with spotlights on it. Within ten to 15 minutes, it was already on display. I was surprised how quickly it happened. So yeah, that was a weird twist to the day and very sobering. At the Grammys itself, it seemed like they were bringing it up like every 15 minutes, everytime when someone was on the stage. It was definitely the overtone of the evening, for sure.
What’s happening with Old Grandad?(the other band, Will plays in)
Last year, we(along with Erik Moggridge- guitar/vocals and Max Barnet-bass/vocals) put out a self-titled album, Old Grandad and it turned out great. You can get it on Bandcamp, https://oldgrandad.bandcamp.com/. We are just waiting for this whole thing to blow over and we’ll start playing again. We’re dying to start playing again.
Let’s get back to the tour, how was it, prior to COVID-19
It was awesome. Almost every show was sold out. We were playing really big venues and if it wasn’t sold out, it was 100 shy of selling out. Great turnouts every night. Everyone was getting along great. Nothing but a bunch of laughs backstage. Everyone was having a good time. There were no complaints whatsoever, until this damn virus came around. Everything was going great, until the first show in Milan got cancelled. Everyone was playing well, on top of their game. We were talking about doing it again, maybe in the U.S., or another leg of Europe. Hopefully, that will happen again. It was a great package and fans were loving it. Anyone who is a thrash metal fan wants to see that show.
On touring . .
We love to tour. That’s where we are at our best, on stage, playing to people. The albums are cool and all, but when you see us live,I think it’s much better. That’s how it should be, when you see a band, they should be better live. There’s nothing more disappointing than going to see your favorite bands or a band that you dig their album, and they are boring live. It’s so disappointing. We were planning on touring for the rest of the year, until next year for this album, Humanicide, ‘cause it’s still relatively new, a year old. We only did two official tours for it: a leg in the U.S. and that leg with Testament and Exodus. We were planning on going back to Europe again, and doing another U.S. leg. It sucks for every band, obviously, but it’s a kinda weird situation for us, because our album is new(ish), and we still want to push that album, but we can’t now, unfortunately, so it gives us time to start working on new material.
On Slim’s, a beloved live music venue in San Francisco closing down after 30 years, also host to the annual Death Angel Christmas shows
I would think that we would do one night at the Fillmore.That was one of the first things I found out, once I got marbles back in my head after the coma. I got a text from someone saying, “Slim’s closed.” I thought that he meant that they closed down for the time being, and they would open up again. I was bummed when I found out, it was gone for good. And not just our Christmas shows, I had so many great memories there: of playing shows, going to shows. I knew the staff there. It was like family. I had a lot of fun there, all the time. It’s kind of funny. I just live right up the street from Slim’s now. Bad timing. God damnit! I’m really bummed to see that club go. It’s a sign of the times and SF is running out of clubs, ya know, especially for heavy bands. They(Slim’s) were always fighting with the people who live there over some noise ordinance, so they were having trouble all the time with volume. I guarantee you that the next thing in there won’t be a loud club.Yeah, there was a noise curfew there, so shows had to be done by midnight. Also whenever Death Angel played there, we had to use their sound-o-meter thing, to check and make sure we weren’t too loud(Will laughs).
Going back to the beginning of tour and COVID-19, did you feel any hesitation or act differently or did you notice other folks behaving differently?
That’s a good question. I can’t really speak for anybody else, but as far as I could tell, people were acting like it was business as usual. People weren’t keeping a distance from each other and everyone was sharing the same catering. We were all backstage and our three dressing rooms were all next to each other, so we were all pretty close, all the time. I didn’t notice anything different in people’s routines and not in my routine. I was still talking to fans and going out to the merch table after we played and saying hi to people. It didn’t really hit home until it hit me(Will laughs). Unfortunately, that’s the way it has to be sometimes. For future shows though, I may be hesitant to hug every fan I see and I’ll keep my distance a bit, but only time will tell.
The tour started in early February and it went ‘til early March. You know what, when you are on tour, and especially when you are touring in a bus. You are in your own insulated world. You don’t really pay attention. You have the same routine, everyday. You see the same people, everyday. You are on the same schedule, everyday: sound check at 5, show’s at 7:30, dinner at six. So when you are around the same people, doing the same thing, over and over again, the outside world just doesn’t really exist. Whatever is happening to other people outside this heavy metal bubble just doesn’t exist and that’s just the way it is. We weren’t considering the coronavirus thing all that much, I mean, I wasn’t, at least, until the show in Milan got cancelled. It was like whoa, this is the real deal. This is seriously happening. And that’s just the way it is, when you are on tour. You are up until four in the morning, and then you aren’t up until noon. Your hours are weird and you just don’t pay attention to what’s going on around you.
Once we started hearing the stories and stuff, we definitely cared. We had hand sanitizer everywhere, backstage and on the bus, after stories started leaking in. Like the rest of the world, we didn’t really know much about it, when the tour started and didn’t know how serious it was.
Now it’s mid June, things are starting to reopen and cases are starting to spike . .
I can tell everyone is getting impatient and I am too. You wanna get moving, get back to your daily routine, go to shows, and do whatever you love doing, but it seems that a lot of people are getting impatient and ignoring the rules, and not wearing masks. I go out on walks everyday in my neighborhood and I see tons of people without masks on. It’s upsetting and I wouldn’t want to wish this on my worst enemy, what I went through. I was the sickest I’ve ever been in my life. It was an awful feeling and I felt like I was gonna die. It’s a shame that people have been either ignoring it all along or they are starting to think that it’s ok now to walk around without a mask and intermingle with everyone. It’s very disheartening and very alarming.
On the experimental antiviral drug Remdesivir, produced by Foster City-based biotech company, Gilead Sciences, Inc.
At the hospital that I was at, the procedures they used were the first ever on anybody.. That’s the part of the story that’s saving lives. They learned a new technique and the combination of drugs they used on me, worked. I was like a guinea pig, if you will. That’s the good part of the story. Now they are using that same procedure and saving other lives. It was a drug called emdesvir. That along with the procedure, turning me over on my belly for hours and stuff, was the right combination. I’m happy.(Will’s flashes a huge grin)
When asked how he felt being such an integral part of finding a cure for COVID-19
(Will laughs), Like Charleton Heston in the Omega Man. (The Omega Man is a 1971 American post-apocalyptic action film directed by Boris Sagal and starring Charlton Heston as a survivor of a global pandemic.)
Did you have to give consent for the doctors to test on you?
The doctors were talking to my fiance everyday. They would go over what they were going to do to me with her. At that point, I had heart failure, so whatever they were going to try to do, no matter what it was, they were going to try. When they told me that I was in a coma for 12 days, I was in complete shock, I almost went back into a coma(Will laughs). It was shocking, totally shocking.
When they brought you out of the coma, were you off the ventilator?
No, and that was a grueling experience, getting that thing out of me. That SUCKED! They waited a day or so before they gave me any information. They were peppering it to me, here and there, a little bit. They probably didn’t want to put me into shock. I didn’t know I had heart failure, until many days later, then they told me all the things that were happening to me, when I was out. They started asking me rudimentary questions like: how old are you? What city do you live in? Who’s the president of the United States? I was like, “I don’t know. I don’t know how long I’ve been out”(Will laughs)
I’ve heard that in many cases, doctors and nurses aren’t even going into the patients’ room and they are communicating through baby monitors, etc.
Did they talk to you in person?
Yeah, the doctors actually came in and were like, “Oh my God”, looking at each other, and they were all saying the same thing, “You have no idea how close to death you were”, over and over again, and it’s very sobering. Oh my God. It was scary and I didn’t want to think about it. For a while, I didn’t want to hear what I was actually going through, because it was freaking me out. I could tell by the looks in their eyes, they looked bewildered. They couldn’t believe I was talking, breathing, eating food, and it took awhile for me to eat solid food. They were really happy and they said, “You are one of our few success stories so far, a lot of people have died in this hospital from what you had”.