Interview with Pete Sandoval (TERRORIZER)

Pete Sandoval’s drums sound like a purification of technicality. Whether these are Terrorizer records or Morbid Angel releases. Sandoval started playing drums during his teenager-years, when thrash-metal scene had already formed leading to the development of extreme music. That’s how everything came about with Terrorizer. Pete gently admits that their shows back then were just backyard gigs. At that point, he recorded and released two milestones of the extreme music: “World Downfall” by Terrorizer and Morbid Angel’s debut “Altars of Madness”. Sandoval says that at that point Morbid Angel was “a super-fast train”. No doubts. But it’s also a good metaphor to describe Pete, himself. Super-fast and always mastering his skills. Exploring the abilities of drum-sounds of different levels.

In the interview for Metal Addicts we spoke to Pete Sandoval. About love of classical music and favorite composers, about the recent Terrorizer album – “Caustic Attack” and live-shows, about shaping his style and years with Morbid Angel.

When you started your career with the release of “World Downfall” grindcore was sort of “rising”. How it felt, when you were just pioneering within this record in the U.S. and what was the reaction at your shows like – at the beginning ?

As you know, we recorded some demos before “World Downfall”. The album was recorded in 1989. So grindcore was just starting. And death-metal as well. Late ‘88 – grindcore\death-metal started growing up. That was the beginning, the late 80’s – early 90’s. So the reaction back then…We didn’t expect much. Grindcore wasn’t popular. Popular bands were such as Slayer, and other trash\speed-metal bands. A few death-metal bands as well. But everything just started. We didn’t expect much after we recorded this first Terrorizer album – we just DID IT! We had an opportunity to do that. Right after that, I did “Altars of Madness”. David [Vincent] joined us[Terrorizer] right away and just did the bass-parts. So, myself, Jesse [Pintado] and Oscar [Garcia] just recorded it! Death-metal just was starting. It wasn’t big then. Just a few bands starting to influence new bands. Now you see millions of bands playing. But anyway, we didn’t expect much. We did the album. I was playing with Terrorizer, before joining Morbid Angel. We recorded a couple of demos…I’m sure you heard some of them. We were recording in ‘87. With the original bands: myself, Jesse, Oscar, and the bass-player – Alfred “Garvey” Estrada. When these demos came to the hands of any other bands including those like Morbid Angel, when they were looking for drummers – very fast. Back then, like you say, I was one of the first. And…that’s how they heard me, that’s how they contacted me and that’s how this process came…When I joined Morbid Angel. The rest is history.  

As musician, you’ve always been gravitating to something more heavy, fast and extreme. What did you feel when with Terrorizer and later with Morbid Angel you became a part of this whole scene – not just in Florida but in the U.S. ?

It was unbelievable! When I was in Terrorizer, grindcore was not known then, death-metal was not known. It was just thrash\speed-metal happening back then. When I was in Terrorizer, we recorded those demos. But there were no audience for such type of music. There were not many people liked that music back then. Because it was too much for them! They were used to listen to the bands like Metallica, Anthrax…But death-metal and grindcore were new. There were not many fans. Terrorizer was just one of many-many bands, trying to do something meaningful. We were the only once playing grindcore back then, in L.A. Where I’d lived, where I grew up. Most of other bands were playing thrash\speed. Some type of death metal, maybe. But it wasn’t popular then either. My next step was: “We’re not doing much…” – nobody was interested in Terrorizer over there, nobody cared much. Then I was asked to join Morbid Angel…And to be honest with you, I’ve never heard the band before. As I was just saying – there were just a couple of death-metal bands in 87-88. Like Death, Massacre, Morbid Angel…There were a few bands trying to break it down here, in Florida. The first thing I’ve heard from them was their “Thy Kingdome Come” demo. The first demo they made. Just a bunch of songs. This made me realize “Wow! These guys have something…” – I liked it right away. It was very technical, very heavy. Not so fast. Because, they didn’t have a fast drummer yet. They had a kind of a fast drummer. But he didn’t last long. They were sort of looking for a drummer…I heard the music…After a couple of weeks, I just decided to make a move. Because, whatever was going to grindcore back then…The first two bands that started bringing grindcore, make it happening – Napalm Death and then Terrorizer. It was hardcore. It was all new to me, early on. We recorded “Altars Of Madness”, we recorded “World Downfall” and I didn’t expect much. We didn’t know how fans gonna receive and accept this. That’s where everything started – Morbid Angel became one of the first icons of death-metal. Then, more bands started coming in. Most of the bands were from Florida, actually. Death, Massacre…There were quite a few bands, but somehow, Morbid Angel got the right people, perfect kind of team. From that album it was like an adventure. We’d started. I was learning things. And number one – I had to learn to play double-bass playing with Morbid Angel. And with Terorizer, back then, I had only one kick-drum. I’d never played double bass. At that point people just used to play: “Ta-ta-ta-ta!Ta-ta-ta-ta!Ta-ta-ta-ta…” that kind of double bass. I said: “Hey! I can do everything by foot!”. So I just started practicing by foot. I only played one foot. I joined Morbid Angel learning how to play double-bass. Maybe you’ve heard the story – I only had three and a half months to learn playing double-bass. As there were shows coming up. And then, following year, we had an album the following year. So It was a very tough for me. I almost quite for a few times. But they didn’t let me go – they thought I could do this. As it was a new thing for me, to learn double-bass. Will-power works. If you’re believe in yourself and you work…So realize: you gotta practice. Anything! If you learn playing piano, the guitar – you gotta practice. Practice makes perfect for ANYTHING. Whatever it is. So, I just practiced, practiced, practiced, practiced…Practiced everyday…The album was done and the following albums. Grindcore started getting big. Because of Napalm Death, Bolt Thrower…And Terrorizer. That’s when it [“World Downfall”] started getting popular. Because I was in Morbid Angel. And the band became a big hit. So, people started paying more attention to grindcore. I was playing grindcore with Terrorizer, and it was my style.  

What gave you an understanding in terms of what you should do mastering your skills during “Altars of Madness” era ?

When I was starting…I pretty much understood drums. It just got caught by my ears. Before I played a drum-set I was always tapping on things – tables, etc. I was doing this in school. I knew I wanted to play drums. I knew what everybody else was doing. Especially, back then. I understood the drumming-technique. I understood what to do, what they were doing. And what I wanted to do. So I started playing drums…I’d tell you – my influences as a drummer…Of course, Dave Lombardo was one of my influenced as far as playing Slayer-style speed-metal. Also, first Metallica album was pretty killer thing – “Kill ‘Em All”. It was pretty underground. And suddenly, I felt in love…When you just suddenly fell in love with something. I wanted to do something different, from a lot of bands were doing. Even bands like Slayer or Metallica, Sodom or Kreator…Just speed-metal. Ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta!Ta-ta-ta! I had to lean that too. I was playing this first, before having a drum-set, I used to see on a chair and practiced on a chair near me. Practiced on songs of bands…Heavy metal, man! I used to listen to a lot of AC\DC, Black Sabbath. Right after school, I was coming to school and playing. I knew how to play speed-metal. Ta-ta-ta-ta-ta! Metallica, Slayer, Exodus…But I didn’t want doing this. I leant that 1-2 bit -speed-metal bit. So, I wanted to double that! With one foot. I only had one food before I even got to playing double-bass. I started practicing: Ta-ta-ta-ta! Ta-ta-ta-ta! -1-2-3-4! I doubled that and came to blast-beat. That was my ambition, playing that kind of music nobody else was doing. Practicing, doing it. And I already knew what I wanted to do. I hadn’t really knew if there was a death-metal – there was Napalm Death, back then. First album came out in 87’. But speed-metal was my influence! I had speed-metal. I wanted to play fast. And I’d heard Morbid Angel…They had this kind of beats. So recently, I go into: “Wow, it’s my next step!” – just one thing I didn’t know was double-bass.

Everything’s in the world is based on rewards. Any championships, post-championships. But with great musicians or great pianists, there’re no rewards for these people…So it was pretty much my thing. It was something that was born in me, I didn’t really know that it was possible back then when I was practicing. I didn’t really know it would be possible, back then – when I was practicing blast beat. Because, nobody else was doing it. And playing that kind of stuff with Terrorizer…That’s where I started, with grindcore. Jesse Pintado – rest in peace now…He could play guitars well. As well as Oscar [Garcia]. They took advantage, back then. My style, my technique that I’d developed. There were no other grindcore bands in L.A. Underground or other…No bands were doing this! So, we were just doing a gig and we couldn’t even play a gig or a show in a club – there were no clubs for that kind of music. We gotta to do it at house. Backyard houses.

Very much punk-rock-type-of-thing!

Yeah, it was our thing, man! And these were the biggest shows we were doing back then, we were playing. There were no super-technical guitars. ‘Cause, with grindcore – there are no leads, there’s no technicality. Other bands were like: “Oh, I wanna play like Megadeth, Metallica…I wanna play speed-metal!” – then, they would see us playing, hear out style. You could hear simple riffs. When we did the album, they were like: “Wow, these are magical riffs!”. And then…You’re playing with no microphones, with nothing…But that was my thing, I didn’t look at anybody, from my technique. For that style I created, in the 80’s – grindcore\blast-beat.

Within “Blessed Are The Sick” and “Covenant” you style as well as the band itself started sounding different than at the beginning. Both these records are much more dynamic, so to say. Can you say it has to deal with your connection – between all the members ?

Yes. It’s just experience. People with experience and ambition, with a plan and role in their minds. And having the right people – me, as a drummer; Trey Azagthoth – who could touch the guy back then ? Who could touch Morbid Angel back then ? It was a train, back then. Super-fast train. Heavy. Brutal. The thing we all wanted to play, since I could play fast, they wrote stuff that was fast. That’s how we started getting to know each other more and more musically. I knew that they were doing. They were doing something fast. But it wasn’t just fast. Morbid Angel is a very technical. There’s a lot of double-bass, a lot of changes. For me, it was a little difficult, because, I was used to more simple drum-stuff. With Terrorizer, especially, back then. Back the days before joining Morbid Angel, my style was just skank-beat and: “Tu-du-tu-du!Tu-du-tu-du-tu-tu!” – that was me! Morbid Angel was not that. It was the whole different story. The whole different model. Because, [with them] I’m not just doing double-bass but different technical rolls, technical stuff I was not used to. I wasn’t experienced. I learnt all these. In one of the ways, I learnt from them, because, they were not just very talented. But also, very supportive. They supported me, and believed me. Who else could do it ? That’s how it all went with “Blessed Are The Sick”. There were ten songs back from the early days. I learnt a lot from them, from this style. It was new, it wasn’t just simple death-metal band. That’s how Morbid Angel became Morbid Angel. Because, of the creativity, because nobody was playing unlike the others. After “Blessed [Are The Sick]”, we did “Covenant” – another big hit, another big album. And it all went on. The more I stayed with them, the more experience I gained, playing with the musicians, who were helping me, who were very good, very excellent players. David Vincent, Trey [Azagthoth], Richard [Brunelle] – Rest In Peace…Life is not easy. Life is challenging. Just like any other thing. You got to take control of it. If not – it takes a control of you. In any ways, I was with these guys, at the same time we did a lot of shows, a lot of tours. We knew bands, some of the unknown back then but big now. Who were influenced by Morbid Angel. Everybody we went on tour with became big also! Touring a lot became a big thing for me, as I was pretty young. I love the energy. It’s been a hard journey. But here we are. I’m trying to keep on writing music. As far as I’m still playing, I feel I gotta keep going no matter what.

But if we’d speak about “Covenant” and the success of this record…You once mentioned that you got to a comfortable point of being a band, during that era. Can you say that you had a mutual understanding of what you should do on this record ?

Every album was experimenting. Not really an experiment. But something new to know. It’s like: “We don’t wanna keep doing the same!” – “Altars Of Madness” doesn’t sound like “Blessed Are The Sick” and “Blessed Are The Sick” doesn’t sound like a “Covenant”, “Domination” doesn’t sound like a “Covenant” and so on…So we just happened to be at the right time for us. Because, we were probably playing our best. Then, we’d write “Covenant”. Like any other albums, it was the album that didn’t have too many expectations. We knew, there was the cool stuff going on with the album. That’s how we came out with a couple of hits – “Rapture”, “God of Emptiness”, because that album became really popular. We were working hard together, as creative people, coming up with that kind of riff, that kind of music…Trey was and he is a very creative person. Coming up with those songs, those riffs…To be honest with you, Trey has a lot of imagination. That’s how “Covenant” came – because, of the musicians working hard together. Once again, we had a right people! David, of course. I was pretty much the last one. And my English wasn’t great either. So, I didn’t speak much then. Whatever they’d say, it was cool with me. David was waiting for Trey, they were working together to arrange, putting together the songs. Maybe this one thing would work in here, let’s change it, let’s move this in here, that were them. Me, was like: “We got “Rapture” right here – practice!”. But a lot of things riffs…It’s not just the whole song went away and we got practicing. No. We started practicing maybe with two-three things. “Pa-da-da-da! Pa-da-da-da!Tam-tam-tam!” – you gotta work on pause first, to create a song. Whatever I got the whole song, just experimenting: What would come next ? What sounds cool next ? Should I repeat this again or not ? That’s me! I was a drum-machine! Morbid Angel needed a drum-machine. As far as writing music, I didn’t have a much input. Whether the drum-beat is a different story. There were times, when they came out to me: “Show me the idea!” – the riffs, they showed me the riff: “Ta-a-a-a! Ta-a-a-a!” and I played “Tu-tu-tu-tu!”. Or it may be a small-beat. They helped me a lot, constructing, creating these bits for the songs. Blast-beat here, double bass here, an accent here. That was it, man! As we all know, every album is different. “Domination” was a bit slower, I would say. He’s of course fast and heavy and has the killer songs. The riffing was great – nobody could play like Trey back then! 

When you’re in the process, what helps you to find the right beat, the right drum-line and make it work ? In a sense that it won’t contradict the melodic line.

First of all, you gotta try different things. And maybe this first try doesn’t work out, you’d try something next – let’s say it’s a drum-beat like “Tu-tu-tu-tu-tu-tu-tu!” and it goes to a riff. Or sometimes…Maybe it would be “Thr-r-r-r-r!” – or maybe something else…Just try different things! And then one of them would work out for the particular part of a song. It’s pretty much trying different things and then: “Oh, that sounds good!” – you gotta try something else, because, you could do it better. Anything sounds better if you’d give it a chance, if you’d try. Or you listen to it. Because, you know how to play every instrument by practicing, by listening to some of your influences. So that’s how it is for me.

Just after the release of “Caustic Attack” you’ve been asked about the differences between lineups of Terrorizer – all through the years. What, according to your opinion all these people brough to your music, over the years ?

As you know, after “World Downfall” we try to do another album, that came out…10 years later ? Whatever. We’d never did anything else because, Jesse [Pintado] was in Napalm Death. I was in Morbid Angel. And Oscar [Garcia] was going his thing– with Nausea. I don’t know if they’re still doing – I wish him well no matter what. And as you know, every album had different members. For instance, with “Hordes of Zombies” we got Katina [Culture], playing guitars. And then, hey boyfriend – Anthony Rezhawk. That was a pretty cool album. But it wasn’t very fast. It wasn’t too fast! I was recovering [at that point]. I had a back surgery in 2010. And then, in 2012 we tried to do this Terrorizer album – “Hordes of Zombies”, so it wasn’t the best thing for me. I’m glad it came out the way it came out. After that, we did nothing. I couldn’t get on tour, I couldn’t get to do shows, I was pretty badly. I wasn’t feeling good enough. I wasn’t playing well. So, I waited, doing nothing with these guys – they kept doing their thing. Then, in Tampa, in 2014…, I met Lee Harrison. I knew Lee for 20 years. When I was in Morbid Angel, before he formed his band – Monstrosity. We just met in a bar and said: “Why don’t we get together and jam on a few songs ? A couple of songs. That’s how everything started! Just messing around! “Let’s play a few songs!” – “I know some songs of Terrorizer” – “Ok!”. We jammed in my house, and after that we got the whole album. He, of course, knew Sam Molina, because Sam played for Monstrosity. After we learnt the album, we realized that people over there want us to do a show. Not even a show. But the party! It’s where we first played [together]! Not a show but a party: “Free!”. But we needed a vocalist. Lee said: “Ok! I know Sam! I’ll call Sam! I’d play the guitar – he’d play bass!” – we just started working together on our last album – “Caustic Attack”: Sam Molino, Lee Harrison and myself. A lot of these riffs were written my Lee Harrison. Most of them. I don’t write guitar. After that, I got drum-beats. Of course, that was before we did some shows – here and there. We did a festival in New Jersey. We didn’t call ourselves “Terrorizer” back then. Because, we didn’t wanna form Terrorizer back. It was not the idea. We just wanted to do a few parties and a few shows. He [Lee] knew the songs, it was fun! But we didn’t think we’d go bigger. After that, we realized: they want us to play over there, they want us to play festival there – in Rochester. “Ok, we’d do this festival!” but I was telling you, we didn’t call ourselves “Terrorizer” it was more like: “Sandoval\Harrison\Molina playing a tribute to Terrorizer “World Downfall”. That was at the first shows we did. We didn’t call ourselves Terrorizer, because I didn’t want to re-form Terrorizer. It wasn’t the idea to bring back Terrorizer with these guys. It’s just started for fun. We started getting here and there and over there. Suddenly, they wanted to put Terrorizer – one of the shows under the name “Terrorizer”. Then, we started writing new songs, recorded a new album “Caustic Attack”. I’m happy with this lineup. Because, Lee Harrison is a drummer too. He knows how I play, how fast I play. He plays some guitar. That’s how it started – we just were jamming. In my garage, where I have a small practice-room. Practicing, practicing, practicing. We just asked me to write a whole bunch of drum-beats. He wanted to get some drum-beats, so we could get ideas and start writing riffs for the songs. That’s what the process was like – we were practicing in my house. And that’s how “Caustic Attack” came out. [Within] great riffs. Not technical. But very touchy and heavy. It was the things! We made it fast…

When you got back within the original Terrorizer lineup, recording “Darker Days Ahead” – what expectations did you have at that point ?

I wouldn’t say “expectations” – I knew that Jesse, was doing Napalm Death. But Jesse wasn’t looking good back then. We didn’t expect much from that album. We had Tony Norman played bass, and it was the beginning with Anthony Rezhawk, whom we asked to join on vocals. Jesse knew him back then, from many years in L.A. He called him to sing for that album, which we did. But we didn’t have any expectations. Because, Tony had his band in L.A. – Resistant Culture. Jesse had his band. And I was with Morbid Angel. So “Darker Days Ahead” was just like a putting out something new. For fans. But it wasn’t such a great album. Until, we did that last [“Caustic Attack”]. I think, “Hordes Of Zombies” was a good album. But I didn’t expect much from it, I didn’t expect much from “Darker Days Ahead”. I wasn’t feeling well. I had problems with my back. That’s why I didn’t want to be “serious” back then. With “Caustic Attack” – I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do it. But we’re doing good! I’m doing good!

Shortly after “Caustic Attack” you released your first live album, and second in your discography – “Live Commando”. How it feels when you’re recording it life ? Should there be only one take of it or something ?

Oh, I don’t worry about it! After doing this over the years, you’re getting used to it. You don’t think much about it. What happened with “Endangered In Chaos”” – we recorded a lot of shows. So I knew, if this show wasn’t good maybe we’re gonna taking something better. “Live Commando” some songs from different places. Countries. There were some of the songs that were really great in some countries. We played European tour at that point. And we were recording in Holland. I think, Lee was worried about playing, about guitar and music, how it’s gonna sound. “Ok! Drumming sounds great! But then, everything else should sound good!” – he had to make sure of that. I don’t know how we came up and ended up with just one show. All in Holland. It went well! To be honest with you, I haven’t even heard it! They say “We’re gonna record it!” and record you. I don’t worry anymore. We all make mistakes. We all gonna die. Everybody else’s gonna die. If you born – you gonna die. That’s the course of life. 

When did you understood that people started focusing on what you’ve been doing massively ? Was it “Altars Of Madness” era ?

Right. That’s when everything became bigger. There were a lot of people coming to shows. And Morbid Angel, was just something we didn’t think about as something that’s going to be that big. In Europe and worldwide. So, we have this passive proud. South America was just crazy! It’s just something you just think for the first time, you realize that people are enjoying when you’re playing. A lot of them would sit on balcony or places like that – they wanna watch. Some people just come to get drunk and to…They don’t care. They don’t listen to the music. Others – get there to check it.

You’re a well-known plan of classical music. Once you said that you wanted to play in more in the future. But at the same time, there are some songs on “Heretic” like “Memories of the Past”, “Born Again”, where you’d played on piano. What it was like ?

It was fun. It was pretty exciting. I was there knowing that these pieces are gonna be a part of the album. I wasn’t a good piano-player either. I was exciting, because, as you said – I was a fan of classical music. It was something interesting to me, to see what happens. I wanted to experiment. I was working on these pieces. Now I gave up piano. I didn’t have enough time for piano…

What are the classical composers you listen to ?

There are quite a few, man. There are a lot of great composers…The two coming at my head first are Mozart and Beethoven. Because, they wrote some great stuff. When those guys were little kids, there was another composer who was already doing, who influenced them and that was Franz Joseph Haydn. He gave lessons to Mozart, to Beethoven. Those were his students. Hayden wrote around 104 plus symphonies. Plus, some of the other things he wrote. But all I listen to having some time are his symphonies! My number one favorite composer Franz Joseph Haydn, brother!

Is there are anything you’re working on now ? Newest Terrorizer record ?

As far as the band, these years been dark with all these things going on. How can you get together with your buddies ? There’s not much to work on things with the band. But myself, I’ve been working on…This is my dream: to include my drums to classical compositions from Haydn. I’ve heard a lot of his symphonies. That’s my thing, my dream. I wanna do a classical album having a bunch of songs. Not just a Haydn. But Mozart, Beethoven. Even Schubert. That’s what I’ve been working on. I listen to a lot of classical music, picking up a bunch of songs and working on with drumming, recording drums, different drum-styles, experimenting on a new thing, nobody else would expect.