Dark Angel: Always Leave Scars

  Ron Rinehart is the singer of legendary L.A. thrash metal kings Dark Angel. He recorded their last two studio releases, Leave Scars in 1989, and Time Does Not Heal in 1991, as well as 1990’s live release, Live Scars. We discussed Rinehart’s origin as a musician, as well as his entrance into Dark Angel. Memories of recording Leave Scars, and The Death of Innocence were shared. We discussed the kinds of health preparations he takes as a vocalist.

  Also discussed is his use of health food supplements such as High on Life to improve one’s health as well as endurance for performance reasons. Rinehart looked back on performing at the Philadelphia Empire Club with Death. Rinehart recalled some crazy adventures in Europe where Nuclear Assault’s Dan Lilker had to fill in as bassist for the end of their European tour in ’89. Rinehart also shared an amazing piece of Dark Angel memorabilia he has dating back to the Leave Scars days. We finished things off by discoursing upon some community service organizations that Rinehart, and his wife Judi, support.

First off Ron, can you give me an introduction on your history as a musician?

  RR: Right now, I am only in Dark Angel as the singer. What made me want to sing was the sad tale of me playing every single instrument there was. I would show people how to play riffs here and there, and they would go on to be amazing guitar players. I would still know the same bits and pieces of four or five songs.

  One day I was in junior high and a guy brought in a live import of Iron Maiden from Middle Earth Records in Lakewood. I was big on Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, all those great bands. When I heard it, I go, “Damn I have never heard anything like that.” It was Wrathchild, [from] Killers. I was like, “Who is this?” he’s like, “Maiden, from somewhere in England.”

We cut the rest of the day and listened to that live bootleg vinyl. From that point on, I tried to learn every style. When I got in Dark Angel I was pretty much a vibrato type of metal singer with big operatic notes.

Can you tell me about your entrance into the band?

  RR: The first rehearsal, I didn’t even audition for the band. Jimmy and I had spoken on the phone a few times. When I first heard of Dark Angel it was We Have Arrived. I thought it was cool, but it wasn’t really what I was into. Then a friend gave me Darkness Descends, and I was like, “Hell yeah, I’m on board with this. This is something I definitely want to be a part of.” Gene called me and I said, “What songs do you want me to learn,” and Gene is like, “Just come on down we want to meet you. We want to hang out for the night, and play some songs off the album that we have almost done.” It was about two years that they didn’t have a singer at this point and were writing Leave Scars. “We just want to meet you and make sure you get along with us, and we get along with you.” They were looking for a brother, somebody to get along with.

  I had an interview where they are trying to fill a position at a corporation or like a black-ops unit. They were looking for someone who was going to flesh well with that unit. I came down and we hung out for like six or seven hours. We talked about everything from music, firearms, tattoos, cars, motorcycles, and hung out all night. Before I left they gave me a box of cassettes and CDs of all these bands that they were into. 

  Jim Durkin: We asked Ron to learn three songs for his first rehearsal. It was “We Have Arrived,” “Merciless Death,” and “Darkness Descends.”

  Gene Hoglan: With Ron, the first song we ever jammed together with Dark Angel was “Immigrant Song.” He killed it. Total off-the-cuff warmup tune.

  RR: They said, “Learn these three songs and come back tomorrow”. I came back the next day and they said, “We believe you’re in this band now. This is the band for you. You have it.” I was like, “Heck yeah, I’m all in. Let’s do this. Let’s play, let’s record. Let’s go on tour.” Even today we’re all like brothers. Gene said it best. I saw listening to an interview with him one time. He said, “We all cut our teeth in the music industry together, that’s something you never forget, we have those times together that we did the first things in this business together.”

What era do you look back on more fondly, Leave Scars or Time Does Not Heal?

  RR: Leave Scars was like, the first of everything for me. I came from a club band and we scraped our money together to make a crappy demo in my first band that was makeshift bits and pieces of everything. I then got into Dark Angel and we were making a demo for Leave Scars just to show the record company, “Hey, here’s the new singer”. The studio we went into for two days, was better than anything I had done in my entire life. The whole ride on just dealing with the professional brotherhood of Dark Angel. We would put sets together for tour. I’m the new guy and the band would go, “Hey Ron, put the set together to whatever works for you”. I was like, some speed here, some slow here, a little bit of groove there. They were like, “Whatever works for your vocals, man”. Still to this day, that’s totally good.

  Thinking back to being in the recording studio for Leave Scars, I still tell this story to this day, I picked “Death of Innocence,” to record first. That was the first song I ever recorded with Dark Angel. I got the pep talk. Jimmy is talking to me and saying rehearse this and that, just get in there and blast. Hoglan walked up and goes, “Just Ron Rinehart all over it brother, and it will be good.” That’s where you are actually learning how to record. Thinking back being in the studio for the first time ever, all of us were young kids at the time. Even though I love, Time Does Not Heal, and we got to work with Terry Date, who was amazing. Having Terry Date work on the songs was an incredible process. Nothing can surpass the very first time you do something.

Please tell me about recording the song, “Leave Scars.”

  RR: [Gasp] Oh, that thing was a beast. It had a lot of nice vibrato in it. There were dips and a lot of other things in it. Recording that song and, it was so long. I’m not the type of person that starts something on one day and finish the next. I’ll stay there. I don’t care how long it takes to get it done. I always tell people playback never lies. Playback is always honest to you. If you think a song is amazing. Listen to the playback on it. You may go, “Oh it sounds a little tinny, it sounds deeper when I rehearse it,” you make those arrangements on the cuff.

  The opening burst, “I am an angel of darkness,” and you want that nice, low baritone register coming in. You have to make those adjustments in the studio. Playback doesn’t lie and you are so used to doing that song live, you have loud music, monitors blasting, your microphone might be distorted since you’re right on it. When you are in the studio it’s all crystal clear. You don’t have that live element so you make these adjustments then and there.

Can you tell me what’s up with news about the next Dark Angel album?

  RR: [Laughs] You know, I honestly feel this, if all of us could get in the same place for a certain amount of time. It would be something that is easy to do. That being said it’s hard to get the world’s greatest drummer who travels with everybody, Gonz (Mike Gonzalez, bass) in New Mexico, and me here in Washington. We have a lot of great ideas and awesome riffs. Every time I hear a new riff I just get super excited. I would rather wait and have something be amazing, than rush and have something be crap.

  Now that it is so highly anticipated it really is going to be nerve-wracking putting it out. I am always constantly singing whether we are doing something or not. For me I always look at as being a prize fighter. You always need to have your instrument ready and for me my instrument is my voice so I always want to be ready to go. If the band says we need to do this now. I don’t want to be the guy to nix that. I always want to be ready. This will be all new material.

Throughout your years as a singer, did you ever try to alter your diet or add an exercise-type regimen into your schedule to improve your performance as a vocalist?

  RR: When I was younger [Laughs], and I first got in the band with Leave Scars and Time Does Not Heal, my diet consisted of pretty much tequila and red meat. I figured I will be young forever and when I’m not, I will probably be dead by 30. I try to stay away from sugar, that is not good for my vocal chords. I try to stick with a ton of water, alkaline friendly, ph8 or 9-above and reduce the acidity in my body. You figure you are yelling and screaming, even though you are doing a technique that is good and keeping your throat open, your diaphragm suppressed, you still don’t want your proton-pump inhibitors in your body to create more acid production than need be. What I do when I sing at the house and rehearse, I always lift weights and do core exercises.

Now, I heard about a company called High on Life that makes hemp-based protein supplements, this stuff is basically used kind of like spirulina, and chlorella?

  RR: When they first approached me and asked me if I would use the product. I cut out everything. I didn’t do any protein powders or shakes. I stopped drinking coffee in the morning. I did nothing but the LIT High on Life Product. I sleep about five to six hours a night since I am super busy all the time. I feel exhausted and fatigued constantly since I do two-a-days, I work out when I sing, and then I work out every day on my lunch break.

  The first thing I noticed was the energy, you are not feeling tired or fatigued. When you are working out you stay pumped longer. I am 53, I have broken several bones, and I am no stranger to accidents, getting hurt, doing stupid stuff whether it’s mountain biking, hiking, hockey… It’s that fun life I have. I told the company I will give it an honest six weeks, and do nothing else but this. At the end of six weeks I loved it. I sent them a bunch of pictures, and said use whatever you want. I just want more. From the Leave Scars promo photos on, I have been working out, but the only thing in the last eight weeks I added was LIT High on Life. The endurance and stamina are a by-product of just putting something in something that is good for you.

What is the rarest piece of Dark Angel memorabilia that you have in your collection?

  RR: Back in the day we went to Ed Colver, who is a very well-known photographer in L.A. We used Ed for promo shots. He has done a lot of amazing photos. We were going to do a photo shoot for him for Leave Scars. It’s the world-famous Leave Scars band photo shot of us. He had taken a picture, at his house. He was going, “I don’t know if it’s dark enough or if it’s going to come out. He had about nine shots of it on his camera. Then he hits it and rips around a three-inch proof and put it in the water and our faces come out. He goes here you go and I took it. Ed Colver takes pictures of a lot of bands.

What was a wild adventure you guys had touring Europe?

  RR; Gonz getting arrested in Germany was pretty wild. We were in Nuremberg and on tour with Nuclear Assault and CandleMass. We went out drinking one night with a bunch of America’s finest: the marines. Let’s just say we had a little too much. Public property starts getting destroyed. I pass out, apparently, I couldn’t drink as much as the marines. Everybody is going did you hear about Gonz? I’m like did he throw up? They go, “Oh that would be great if he did.” I was like no I didn’t hear about it. What’s up? They go, “He’s in jail.” I was like, “No Way!” I was like, “For how long.” They go,” They are holding him.”

  [The next day] I walk into our dressing room and Dan Lilker from Nuclear Assault is learning our set with Gene and Eric. I am like, “Are we teaching Dan the set?” They go, “They are not letting him out right now.” We had the American Consulate there trying to get our bass player out of jail. I go, “How drunk were we?” They go, “What do you remember about last night.” I go, “Not much.” They go, “That’s how drunk you guys were.” The best part of the story was two days before we came home they let Gonz out. Dan Lilker played bass for about two weeks.

What do you remember as the craziest Dark Angel concert you ever performed at?

  RR: I’ll go with Philadelphia Empire Club. We were on tour with Death. Death went on and Rick (Rozz) and Chuck (Schuldiner) go off stage and go, “Good luck.” I was thinking is the crowd really crazy. This should be fun. Chuck goes, “It’s freakin’ crazy out there, I was scared.” I’m like this is going to be nuts. The stage was coming apart. It was about a six-foot-high stage. The sections were coming apart because they tried to close the doors. People broke through the glass. It was sold out.

  The police tell us we aren’t going on stage. We’re laughing and say, “We’re going on stage.” They say you go on stage you might be arrested. OK we’ll be arrested. If we aren’t going on stage now we might as well sell our gear and quit for something like this. That’s weak. We all do the handshake and go great show. We’ll see each other in jail. We’re going let’s do this! We go out and they start the set. It was getting crazy like they said. There were so many people on stage. It looked like an airport, there were arrival and departure left and right. I am trying to be air traffic control, come on this way and leave this way. Let’s get some order to this chaos. There were people running circles around the guitar players. The stage was coming apart. At that point there were six-eight-inch gaps in the stage. You really had to be mindful where you are walking so you don’t fall through.

  By the time the set was over the police go, “That’s the guy!” I look behind me to see if someone was in back of me. Then they start trying to drag me out. Scott Givens was our manager at the time. Scott goes, “I am not leaving your side.” They were trying to drag me out. I tell the police, “You try and drag me out, we are in Philadelphia, these people are going to riot. If you let me go they will disperse. We’ll hang out and drink some beers. Take me, this place was sold out, there are a lot of crazy people here, this ain’t gonna fair well for you guys. Look at the numbers here and the ratio, the proportion is not going to be on your side at all…” People start throwing stuff. I go, “Look see, it’s already starting.” The cop goes, “And they will calm down if we let you go?” I reply, “Somewhat yeah, a little bit. This may take a minute or two. They are pretty fired up.” They end up letting me go and right when they did I held my hands up in the air and the crowd started cheering.

Do you contribute any time to any community service organizations?

  RR: People in my church go, “Hey how come you never talk to people about us?” I always look at it as if people want to talk to me about God, it is not something I use music for. I don’t use Dark Angel for that. I don’t think it’s fair for people who pay money to see me to use that as my platform to talk to them about my beliefs. Anything to do with the military, homeless people, the youth I try to support…

  Anytime there is an opportunity to help or bear witness to somebody and even be there. There is an organization called Freezing Nights, they open up churches in the winter, and people can come and sleep. When it’s warm they can provide people with a meal or give them an opportunity to talk to someone. You prepare them a hot meal. They have a place to stay. People just want to be recognized as people. My wife and I try to work with people when we can and just let them know I’ve been there, done that, there can always be a brighter day.