The Angelus

The Angelus Session - October 2011

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This Session
Violitionist Sessions

Session Date: May 15, 2011
Posting Date: October 3, 2011
Artist Hometown: Dallas, TX
Links:, Facebook, Blog
Recorded by: Michael Briggs

Screaming Bloody Murder
Touching Down (Summer of Glaciers Cover)
Gone Country
ONE: Considering the name, sound, and many of the lyrical themes in your songs, would you say that you are a religious band?
Emil Rapstine: I knew that you were going to ask this question. I wonder that, too. I picked the name for the band a long time before there was even a band. When it started out, it was just myself, playing a lot of the same songs on an acoustic guitar.
MB: When was that?
Emil: That’s a good question…early 2000’s. I had been in a band when I first moved to Denton that was called the Coals to Newcastle. We played for a while, and we recorded a record, and right when we finished recording, we broke up, so nothing ever happened with the record. But there were a few songs that I was discovering the sound a little bit on, so I started working on those, and tried to work on them with just playing them on acoustic guitar. I started playing them out at open mic nights. They used to have Big A$$ Beer night at Rubber Gloves, and they would have an open mic, and I’d play at the Brick Haus back when that was there. I slowly brought on Justin, who started playing with me, and we started building the band from there. So, it grew slowly. To get back to your original question, I was an art major and I was studying art history and there was this painting called The Angelus that was painted by a French painter named Jean-Francois Millet. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the painting, but it’s a painting of two peasants, a man and a woman, standing out in their field, and I didn’t necessarily consider the amount of history and meaning that was actually in the name when I picked it. Part of me just thought it sounded cool, and I liked the painting. There was something about it that I really liked. And, it sounded kind of like the angel or something like that, but had this mysterious side to it, and that was before I even knew about the TV show or anything like that…
MB: TV show?
Emil: Yeah, like the character from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I guess on the TV show they called it ‘AnGELus,’ so a lot of times people will be like, “So, you’re in the AnGELus?” and we’re like, “No, we’re in the ANgelUS.’ “The Angelas?”…A lot of times people think that we’re named after a bunch of girls named Angela. “The Angel U.S.?” But we stuck with the name. So, anyway, in the painting, there’s a man and a woman, and they’re both paused in prayer. The Angelus, anyway, is a very popular and longstanding Catholic prayer. Basically, in the painting, these people are taking a break from their work. The Angelus is prayed three times a day. I’ve just found all of this stuff out looking for The Angelus stuff.
Justin D. Evans: Isn’t it when a certain bell tolls in the church…?
Emil: Yeah. This is something that I like, you know…these people would know when to stop because they would ring the bell three times a day: morning, midday, and evening. They would ring the bell so that all of the peasants out in the field would be able to hear the sound and know that it was time to stop and say this prayer. I think that in the painting that you can actually see the bell tower far off in the distance. It’s a really simple painting, and there is just something about that.
MB: Did that lead to the occasional use of bells in the music? Do those things have anything to do with each other?
Emil: Well, I guess, honestly I liked that coincidence, but…and maybe, I mean, I was raised Catholic. I grew up as an altar boy. At Communion, we would use the bells — a lot of the bells that we have actually incorporated into the band over the years, the hand bells, the Sanctus bells that we used. So, I did like that connection. In using those bells, and the sound, and the subject matter…I guess it’s something…because the lyrics aren’t necessarily…you wouldn’t be able to translate that into a pop song. I think a lot of the vernacular kind of leans to an older time. I’m not referencing calling you on the phone or going out to the club or things like that. Not like everyone else is, but…
Justin: “Hit me up on FB!”
Emil: Yeah! I think that sound…it’s kind of complicated, but, I remember being an altar boy and growing up in the Church, the Catholic Church, and at Easter…I grew up in a really small town. I always really liked the drone of the organ with all of these voices singing behind it, you know, it really fills it out, and it’s got this somber, melancholy sound to it. At Easter…they wouldn’t play the organ during Lent, and they wouldn’t play any music until Easter Sunday. Or, I should say that they wouldn’t do that completely, but when they would sing “Hallelujah,” because in general Mass they would always accompany it with organ, but during Lent they would just sing it a capella I believe. And so, when Easter came, I remember being an altar boy, and we were all handed bells. They all gave us bells, and then they would bust out with the organ when they would sing “Hallelujah,” and we were instructed to play the bells as loud and as fast as we could, and I remember thinking, “This sounds awesome. This sounds amazing to me.” There was something very transformative and…I can’t think of the word, but it was really grand sounding, and I really liked that. When I was growing up, I played in more, you know, just rock bands, and that influence never really came back in until I got started thinking about doing this band called The Angelus. I started thinking, “How can I get some of those bells?” and “How can I work in that sound?” and recreate that in some way, and so, that’s where that started. That being said, I don’t feel like The Angelus is a religious-type band. There’s no specific meaning, and I think that every member who has been in The Angelus has differing views as far as religion and what that means to them.
MB: Do you consider yourself religious? Are you still a Catholic?
Emil: I don’t know if I would necessarily consider myself a Catholic. I don’t go to church…I do go to Catholic church sometimes. I don’t regularly go to church anywhere, now. Sometimes I do. But I think maybe it’s obvious from the subject matter of the songs that there is a spiritual subject matter and influence that’s kind of going into the music.
Justin: A lot of friends do say that going to an Angelus show is like going to church.
Emil: That’s true. I’ve heard that.
Justin: We’ve heard that a lot.
Emil: I hope it’s a good thing.
Justin: We’ll take it as a compliment.
MB: They should pay a tithe to the band.
Justin: That’s a great idea.
Emil: We should pass a basket around. I mean, I’ve always been conscious of that, and I wonder, since it has that feel to it, if people assume that The Angelus is a Christian Rock band, to which I firmly say no, but I do understand where that thought might come from. I do understand, and it doesn’t bug me. It would only bug me if people just assumed that without asking. So, I think it’s very much wrapped up in a very unclear thing…and a very rambling answer, obviously. There’s a lot to it, I think. So, I would say that it’s not a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question, but hopefully that will explain it to anyone who is curious.
TWO: You moved from Denton to Dallas a few years ago. How do the two cities compare? What do you think is next for Dallas?
Emil: [to Justin] Do you want to talk some?
Justin: Not much.
Emil: Right.
Justin: I’ll insert my opinions.
Emil: Yeah, feel free, if I start talking forever…
Justin: I’ll cut you off.
Emil: Yeah, we moved in 2006. I guess the reason for that was…it wasn’t necessarily a strategic, like, “We’ve got to get out of Denton and try something new!” Most of the guys in the band, you know…it’s funny, because Denton is a great town, and you know, it’s very easy to live in this bubble of Denton. It’s very comfortable. I loved living in Denton, and I’m sure Justin did, too, because, you know, you could go out any night and just walk, and see your friends play. It didn’t necessarily even have to be some show coming through town—
Justin: You could see great bands almost on a nightly basis. At least four nights a week.
Emil: And most of those people were your friends.
Justin: Or you’d see some national acts come through Rubber Gloves or Hailey’s or whatever. It’s good stuff.
MB: But Dallas isn’t like that?
Emil: Well, it’s hard to say. I can’t say specifically yes or no, but transporting ourselves there…we’re not…it’s just obviously not as close-knit of a scene. There’s tons of bands from Dallas that I love, but I don’t just walk down the street and run into someone that I saw play last night. Every once in a while you do, but don’t run into these people at the grocery store or the bookstore…
MB: Would you say that the Dallas scene is in a lull?
Justin: I don’t know. It is what it is right now. There are a lot of good bands and a lot of not-so-great bands, in my opinion.
Emil: I think that’s always going to be true, though. There’s tons of not-good bands in Denton, and there’s tons of not-good bands in Dallas, and hopefully we’re not one of those.
Justin: We may be both of those.
Emil: I think that Denton has a lot of things going for it because of that tight-knit thing. Dallas doesn’t necessarily have that. I remember, before I moved to Dallas, I never planned on moving there, and I kind of had this preconceived notion about Dallas bands to be honest.
MB: Was it right?
Emil: No…I mean, not really. I think it wasn’t very fair, and I was probably just concentrating on that based on bands that I didn’t necessarily care for. So, it wasn’t fair that I wrote off Dallas as not as good because it’s not Denton. It’s a totally different scene. Dallas is a lot bigger. There are clubs all over town, so if there’s a show in Oak Cliff, and I live in East Dallas and Justin lives in North Dallas, you’re not going to be able to walk there. So, how much effort do you really want to put in, after putting in your eight hours in Dallas, and sitting in traffic to go home, do you want to get out, get home, and drive out again? When we first moved to Dallas, it felt new, and we had a lot of people that…Dallas slowly started to feel like home. We were playing shows there regularly, and it was good. It was kind of getting how it was like playing in Denton before we left. And then, you know, it’s just so, it’s such a…bands can be on such a microcosmic level or something like that, you know? The attention span of Denton can be really short, because you have all of these people who come here for school, and then four, five, or ten years later, they’re moving on, and so you come back and there’s all of these new kids who simply don’t know who you are, which is a great opportunity, but you lost that built-in crowd that you had. Your friends are moving to New York, they’re moving to Austin, they’re moving to Dallas—all over the place. But, as far as Dallas goes now…a lot of times now I feel like we’ve established ourselves back in Denton a little bit better, and that we haven’t given Dallas as much attention, which is not necessarily a calculated move or anything, but that just seems to be the way that things are going. As far as what’s next for Dallas, I don’t know. It seems like they were kind of picking up on the house show type thing that Denton…well, I’m sure it’s still going here…
MB: Eh, not so much.
Emil: It seemed like there was a time when it was full-on in Denton. I think that it started to creep into Dallas a little bit, and it didn’t last as long, and there probably weren’t as many houses. I’m sure there are a few that I know of that still happen, but I think that that’s even further under the radar than in Denton. It seems like it’s kind of word of mouth in Denton, but it’s just under the radar in Dallas, and so it’s harder to know about those, and you’re like, “Where is this house? I don’t know these people!” In Denton, you might very well. You’re like, “Oh, I know those people. I’ve been to that house before. I used to live in that house!” So, things in Dallas are just more complicated. There’s a bunch of new clubs that are opening up. Things in Deep Ellum are getting revitalized, I suppose. I guess that time will tell, as far as that goes. I would just say that Dallas is never going to be Denton, and Denton is never going to be Dallas, and hopefully people can embrace those differences, instead of feeling like one or the other sucks because they aren’t the same thing.
THREE: Could you tell us about your new album?
Emil: It’s called On A Dark & Barren Land. We recorded it at the same place where we recorded our first EP, which is out at the Echo Lab. Matt Barnhart engineered the record. He did a great job. He engineered the record from before, so we were very comfortable working with him. We had our friend, Josh Pearson…we kind of just asked him last minute…he was living nearby, and we asked him a month or two before we were going to record if he would be interested in producing the record, and he said sure, he said he would love to, and he was like, “When are we going to do this?” and we were like, “Next week.” And he said, “Shit!”
MB: What was his role like?
Emil: He did a lot prior that I hadn’t even thought about. You know, you spend all of this time on these songs, and we’d been collecting these songs, and unfortunately hadn’t been able to record them. With different things happening, lots of different life changes for all of us, and moving to Dallas and kind of getting things back on our feet, it just felt like the rug kept getting pulled out from under us. We had all of these songs, and we were ready to record these songs, finally, and we were all in a place where we could do that. So, we sent him the demos or live recordings of the songs, and he started putting them together, which is something that we hadn’t really tried to do, and listening to them in context with one another, and started figuring out an order, like, before you even track the record. How is this record going to feel? How is it going to flow well? And what could we change as far as before you even go in there and try it, what can we kind of plan ahead for before we go in there? So, that was big help. He already had some suggestions to try out before we even got in there.
Justin: He gave us some real experience, and a lot of his past knowledge of how things flow, and it worked out really well. The changes he made were good. He gave us excitement and a lot of motivation to get it done well.
Emil: I think it was good to have someone who is your friend — well, maybe not his friend, because all of the people in the band were friends, but to have someone that you respect their music and their opinion, and to kind of have their direction. They’re familiar with you enough that you’re comfortable that they might steer you in a direction, but nothing where they don’t understand what you’re going for. They know enough about you where they can direct you into the right direction. I wasn’t sure how it was going to go, but he ended up being quite the slave driver as far as things go. Lots of yelling – that was okay.
Justin: Lots of yelling at me.
Emil: Yeah. He abused Justin on the drums. He wore Justin out by telling him to play faster.
Justin: “Damn it, Justin!”
Emil: I think he kind of drove us. He was in there yelling while we were playing, which was kind of cool to have. You can’t hear any of that on the record. He kept the momentum going, and he was also good, because I was trying to concentrate on the songs, and concentrate on the performance, and I wanted to be able to…We all had our own input, but it’s hard being in a band and keeping everyone’s spirits up. He was really helpful in that regard. Patting people on the back and encouraging them, and inflating their egos, and then bringing them down whenever they needed too. It was fun to do that.
MB: How long did it take?
Emil: Well, that’s another part of the story. So, for all the production, for all the tracking, he was there to help produce, and then, unfortunately, he had to…
Justin: Was it six days?
Emil: The tracking?
Justin: Vocals and all?
Emil: Well, I’m just thinking before vocals. For like, basic tracks, everything, it was three days I think, and he was there for that entire part, and we all got takes that we could agree upon. So, the plan was to come back in later with him to help us produce the vocals and anything else, but unfortunately he had to go back to Europe, and he had other things going on. He actually invited me to fly over there and record the vocals on his computer in his apartment, but I figured it would be better to spend money on good microphones and equipment, rather than on a plane ticket. It was tempting, but it was a trade off. We were sad he couldn’t be there. There were even some plans for him to add some vocals to the record, but things just didn’t turn out that way. That was the part that we were…As a ‘singer,’ and someone who has experience with that, we were hoping to have that influence on the production side as well. So, we just took up doing the overdubs, and our guitar player really enjoyed that, and spent a lot of time…we added strings…Ryan Williams, and Nick Foreman, and Tamara Brown, they all played strings on some tracks on the record. Who else?
Justin: Original members Jay Allen and Casey Clark. Matt Cheney…
Emil: Our keyboarding player had stopped playing with us because he was too busy a year or two before that, but there was just so much in the songs that he added, so we wanted to make sure that we had him on the recording. We finished it up, finally, and people started moving off. There was kind of this reoccurring thing, like in Coals to Newcastle — we finished the recording, and then people started moving away. Our bass player moved to Austin. That was our second bass player to move to Austin. Our guitar player moved to Amarillo. It just kind of came back down to me and Justin. With all of that happening, people were flying back in to finish up overdubs, and we were emailing songs for everyone to hear the different masters and takes, and it just…a lot of stuff was happening that slowed it down. But we didn’t want to rush through it. If we’re going to put this much energy into it, we want it to be as good as it can be. We probably could have spent a lot more time on the record, but I think that we’re pretty happy with the way that it’s turned out. But we’re really tired of it, and we’re ready to do something new. We’re excited about it. I’m excited to share it with other people.