In Search Of Tone: Emil Rapstine Of The Angelus

I’ve grown to appreciate entire albums over the last few years. The world is changing and with music available at the tips of your fingers, it’s easy to make playlists of specific songs and switch songs quickly (I sound very old saying that), singles are becoming more important than entire albums and it’s sad to see. The resurgence of vinyl is promising though and makes me think true music lovers still want to hear it all. The Angelus take full albums into account when creating the masterpieces etched onto the vinyl slab and their music has this effortless ebb and flow that carries you through a cinematic journey.

Emil Rapstine / The Angelus
Emil Rapstine / The Angelus

Emil Rapstein was kind enough to spend two hours… yes two hours of his time talking to me about the gear he uses and the processes in which these musical ideas go from his mind and into our ears. I always say I learn a lot with these interviews, but I truly learned a ton from Emil, I hope you will too.

I think your songs flow seamlessly. That is something I struggle with, for example, today I wrote a little part of a song with bass and two guitar parts, but every time I try and progress the song, every part added sounds very out of place. What is your songwriting process like and how do you make everything fit perfectly together?

I overthink it and I review it quite a bit. I tell my bandmates we have to change or slow down this part. If a part sounds too similar to something else, then I will rack my brain to attempt to fix it. I may like that part but I wouldn’t feel right leaving it, it would feel like stealing so I’d work on changing it. The process can make you crazy at times but then I’ll hear something small, like a two interval sound that will spark some creativity. My songwriting process is maybe inefficient but when trying to write a whole song I use an acoustic guitar. By writing the whole song on acoustic it allows me to sing the parts as well. Even if you don’t feel you’re a vocalist…

My songwriting process is maybe inefficient but when trying to write a whole song I use an acoustic guitar…

Oh, I’m definitely not [laughs].

[Laughs], well it may be painful for you to do it, but even trying to sing something along to it can be very helpful. That being said, I don’t know if you’re trying to write instrumental songs or songs with vocals, but it could be helpful. I don’t read music, I hardly know where I am on the fretboard or what note I’m playing. I have tons of little demos recorded on my phone, like everyone of course, because it’s a great tool, but I just listen to them when I’m driving and a lot of times I’ll write a bass line or an accompanying guitar part just by singing along over the demo and if I can sing it, then I can figure out how to play it and a lot of times it’s easier for me than to sit with my guitar and try and play along with it.

The Angelus 'Why We Never Die'
The Angelus ‘Why We Never Die’ Artwork

That’s an interesting way to approach songwriting, I like it.

Yeah, and I don’t do that when other people are in the car [laughs].

For your ears only then [laughs]. I semi-understand what you’re saying. I’ve had ideas pop into my head at random times and I will try and hum or sing it until I get to my guitar, but I can never translate it, so it’s impressive you can.

If I think I even have something halfway, I’ll stop what I’m doing and I’ll record it into a voice memo, even if it’s in the wrong key or something I just need a reference. I forgot a ton of stuff the way you described it. At night I’ll be going to sleep, I’ll have an idea and I’ll say ‘oh that’s good I’ll remember that in the morning’. When I wake up, I have no idea what it was, so now I’ll get out of bed, sing the idea into my phone quietly and get back in the bed [laughs].

** Here we go… Tangent #1 as I discuss my own issues with recording and Emil being extremely nice listening and helping **

Having the demo before is really important to me so that we have the songs down, the song order, and how everything is going to sound before we hit the studio…

We had our album that came out in 2017 called There Will Be No Peace and our bass player at the time was really good at home recording. He had another musical project that he had recorded all himself, so it was great to have him when we started making demos for the record. He was able to do all of that for us. He left shortly before we were finished writing Why We Never Die and we replaced him with our other friend and finished it up. I had to try and demo it myself, which was a good learning experience, but the demos are not amazing by any means.

Having the demo before is really important to me so that we have the songs down, the song order, and how everything is going to sound before we hit the studio. This way we’re not in there saying ‘what if we had this little part, or what if we do this’, it’s all organized and ready to go beforehand. I don’t know if you’ve listened to There Will Be No Peace, it was intentional to make the album as a cyclical song cycle. One song ended with a specific note, the next song would start with that same note of the previous song. That was a fun process. It made it easy to have everything flow together and we gave it that cinematic high intensity in the middle with a climax. It’s not a concept album, but we want everything to be one body of work basically.

That’s what I absolutely love about your music. I think it’s impressive when songs flow seamlessly because I have hard enough time having riffs flow without jarring effects.

Thank you.

Emil Rapstine / The Angelus - Guitar & Amp Rig
Emil Rapstine / The Angelus – Guitar & Amp Rig

I’ve discussed quite a bit about how I’m having trouble when writing music, so what about off days? How do you get yourself out of a rut?

That happens a lot unfortunately. I will revisit other bands that I really like, or I will try playing on a different instrument, for example, piano or my go to thing is to take the acoustic off the wall and play, but plugging my amps in and using effects is a totally different experience and sometimes that gets me out of my rut. Another thing that I do, and I don’t do this as often as maybe I should, but I like to draw. Just thinking about an idea even, if I’m just doodling, it does something to open my mind and creativity and get me thinking in a different way.

When I write an album, I like to write a story. The beginning of the album, I think as the opening scene. It’s not something that necessarily gets into the lyrics, but for me imagining a protagonist, where are they during the first song and then for the next song, what changes. It’s not big details, but it’s a timeline and almost the secret life of the song. There’s a cool book called The War Of Art by Steven Pressfield. I suggest looking it up. The book doesn’t tell you how to be creative, but it teaches you ways to get yourself into a creative space and letting the muse in. I may need to revise this book myself.

I have a Fender Deluxe Reverb and I have that hooked up to an Extension Cabinet, that’s my main sound…

I definitely will! You were kind enough months ago to answer a few of my questions about pedal chains and taught me a bit about using dual amps. Could you tell me a little more about the gear you’re using starting with amps?

I think it has changed last time we talked. I’ve purchased a few amps during COVID that I haven’t really been able to test out in a live setting. I have a Fender Deluxe Reverb and I have that hooked up to an Extension Cabinet, that’s my main sound or amp number one. For the second and I have a 4×12 Sunn cabinet with a Jet City head that was designed by Saldano and I believe it’s 20 Watts. That usually gets the droney spacey sounds going through it. I recently bought an Acoustic 8 x 10 cabinet with an accompanying head with it. It sounds great but there’s a lot of noise. I have two Fender Twins that I used to use a long time ago but decided I didn’t care for the sound too much. I still kept them though and I recently traded one Fender Twin for a Fender Bassman head. My current set-up is the Jet City head into a Sunn 4×12 and the Fender Bassman head into the 8×10 Acoustic cabinet. It sounds great but I haven’t been able to try it with the band yet.

Very interesting. I’ve seen a few videos of you playing live solo, do you switch up your gear for those shows?

Yes, for those I use my Fender Twin with the Extension Cabinet. I use a Magnum 44 by EHX. It looks like a stomp box but its power for your amp and you can plug in a speaker directly into that. I’ve been using that as my second guitar sound. I stack the amps, I like how it sounds and I like how the two amps look aesthetically [laughs]. I also use the Moog bass pedals to fill in the sound. I don’t know if you’re familiar with those.

Emil Rapstine / The Angelus - Guitar & Moog
Emil Rapstine / The Angelus – Guitar & Moog

They sound familiar but no.

They look like the sustain pedals on a piano and they’ve been really fun to play with. I love any sound that drones that I can play or sing over, and I don’t think there’s any sound like the Moog pedals. Playing electric guitar by itself can sometimes sound hollow. Those pedals fill out the sound. I’d love to experiment by adding that to the full band, even with a bass player where bass player can maybe play something different or add to the sub octave which may sound cool.

That’s generally my go to guitar, it’s an Ibanez Jet King but I made my own logo for it that says Strand…

What guitars do you use? I’ve seen the Hex Born live video, is that your go to guitar or do you switch often?

That’s generally my go to guitar, it’s an Ibanez Jet King but I made my own logo for it that says Strand. I know some people are weird about gear and will only buy Fender and Gibson or whatever, but I bought this off Craigslist after seeing a couple reviews and I really like it. I had a friend put on a Bigsby because before this I was playing a Gretsch that had a Bigsby on it. I would use that, not necessarily to accent notes, but to add character to feedback. I think it makes it look cooler too [laughs]. I also add the unique logos on my guitars to make it a little more mysterious and people will say ‘what guitar is that?’ [laughs].

It worked. I was curious during the Hex Born video trying to figure it out [laughs].

It makes it more intriguing for people who care about that, and they will ask me about it after the show [laughs]. I bought a second one, put the same logo on it and a Bigsby because I wanted a backup and surprisingly it doesn’t sound the same or as good as this one, even though it’s the exact same guitar. It has a different character.

**An interview isn’t complete without multiple long tangents of mine, so here is one talking about my Epiphone Casino **

Emil Rapstine / The Angelus - Guitar
Emil Rapstine / The Angelus – Guitar

What is currently on your pedalboard?

I start with a Tuner and before I split the signal, I have an Overdrive and a Digital Reverb. That affects both amps and then I have the A/B Box. The signal to Amp 1 is a Compression pedal to an Ibanez mini fuzz pedal called the 850 Fuzz, I wanted a basic fuzz that didn’t take up much room. Next is a Spatial Delivery by Earthquaker Devices. It’s an envelope filter that I use on the hold and repeat setting. You can hear it on Another Kind off our latest album. The middle part of the song is spaced out and that’s the Spatial Delivery. I really only use it on that song, but we’ll see if I keep it on the board [laughs].

I have an Electro Harmonix B9 which is an organ emulator, you can hear that a lot on the first track and I like the drone it produces…

Then I have a Mini Tremolo pedal by Malekko. They also make a pedal called the Bassmaster, it’s a crazy pedal my bassist used to use but it’s an insane fuzz pedal, you should look that up its cool. That company makes some quality gear. Last on this chain is a MXR Carbon Copy delay. Then for the second amp chain, I have Wah pedal, which I don’t use as a typical Wah, I use it more like an Envelope Filter and slowly rock back and forth on it changing the sound in a cool way.

From there I have an Electro Harmonix B9 which is an organ emulator, you can hear that a lot on the first track and I like the drone it produces. I’m not trying to make it sound like we have an organ in the band, I use it on the Cathedral setting. After that I have a Shimmer Delay which colors the B9 and the last pedal, which is probably my favorite, is the ZVEX Lo-Fi Junky. It’s half compression and half chorus. It makes an interesting sound that I love. I use that to boost single note parts.

Emil Rapstine / The Angelus - Pedalboard
Emil Rapstine / The Angelus – Pedalboard

** Second tangent going through my pedalboard and Emil helping arrange them better. Thanks Emil! **

I personally love Why We Never Die, which songs are you proud of or are you proud of all of them?

I am proud of this last album. I’m really pleased on the production and how it came out. The last two albums we put out were recorded by Alex Bhore. He used to play drums in This Will Destroy You.

I love that band, that’s really cool!

Yeah, I think he was still in the band when we recorded the first album with him, but he has his own studio now full time. I don’t play video games often, but he did the soundtrack for the new Halo game. He and some of his friends recorded all that music and kept his studio afloat during COVID. He does really great work and I have to give him credit for making these albums sound as great as they do. He is one to help push you to experiment and paint with different pedals. He takes you out of your comfort zone but also helps make the album you want.

He [Alex Bhore] does really great work and I have to give him credit for making these albums sound as great as they do…

As far as the album goes, I really like Hex Born and Of Ashen Air. I’ve been trying to finish up a music video for that one by myself. We’ll see if it gets finished [laughs], but there’s something about that song I really enjoy. I also like the instrumental songs and I try and do at least one per record. We open and close the last album with an instrumental.

I’m trying to remember the story behind the title track Why We Never Die. I know it almost didn’t make it on the album and it took a lot of finessing to make it right, but I like how it turned out. There’s one point where Justin [Evans, drums] and I are singing, and both the guitar and drums cut out. The bass and vocals continue but originally the drums continued as well. I like to plan out as much as I can in demos, but after the recording it occurred to me the drums need to drop out as well. Its little moments like that where you don’t realize until after recording something needs to change to make the song better and I really like how that turned out.

Emil Rapstine / The Angelus - Pedalboard
Emil Rapstine / The Angelus – Pedalboard

What are you listening to for enjoyment?

Lots of stuff. One artist I really enjoy is Anna Von Hausswolff, I don’t know if you’re familiar with her.

Josh: Yes, I read Lee Beamish’s review of her live album on The Sleeping Shaman, but I haven’t listened to the album yet, it’s on my to do list [laughs].

She’s from Sweden, I ordered the vinyl and have it on Bandcamp. I’m waiting for the record but everything I’ve heard from the show has been great. I’m looking forward to hearing it on vinyl, everything she’s put out is inspiring.

Let me look through my Bandcamp, I try and listen to music on that the most. There’s a band called Sleep Moscow, also from Sweden, and have an album called Of The Sun. The production on that album is great and I think you would appreciate it. It’s a full sound and not heavy, but it’s dark. Nicole Marxen is a local artist and released an EP called Tether that has dark and moody sounds that I like. She also recorded with Alex Bhore and I think she’s doing great things. She’s working on a full length now and I’m excited for that. I listen to either really loud explosive music or really quiet melancholy music. Have you heard of Maha Sohona’s Endless Searcher?

Nicole Marxen is a local artist and released an EP called Tether that has dark and moody sounds that I like…

No, but I’m excited to check that out as well.

The production on that is astounding. It reminds me of stoner rock, Alice in Chains type vibe. I guess Alice in Chains is a bit stoner rock but it’s like AiC on the moon [laughs]. Another band I really like is from Denver called BleakHeart. The album is Dream Griever and its very doomy. You would love it. What are you listening to?

** Last tangent I promise, Emil shouldn’t have asked what I like because I go on for a while. I expressed my love for bands such as Old Man Gloom, Sumac, Neurosis and the list goes on **

If you like Old Man Gloom then definitely check out Dead To A Dying World. They have tons of post-rock mixed with doom and blast beats and I think you will enjoy it. It’s got those beautiful parts and then explosive destructive parts that is amazing. They have a viola player which adds to the beautiful parts. They also have the harsh vocals. The last album I did most of the clean vocals. The previous album had Brett Campbell of Pallbearer singing on one of their songs as well.

I will definitely check that out, I’m very excited. Thank you so much for meeting with me and discussing all things music. I appreciate your time and looking forward to more great things from The Angelus!

Label: Desert Records
Band Links: Official | Facebook | Bandcamp | Twitter | Instagram

Interviewed by: Josh Schneider