In this excerpt from Ep. 4, Diego Sanchez talks to us about his family’s musical heritage, getting exposed to death metal in high school, playing in Strangulation alongside Ben Marlin and Travis Ryan, learning alternate picking in order to play Disgorge, and writing the material for 1999’s She Lay Gutted.
Anthony Trapani (4:29): When did you pick up a guitar?
Diego Sanchez: I was in high school, I was 15 and a half years old.
Anthony T: What made you want to get that guitar?
Diego S: Oh man, I wanted to play guitar since I was a little kid. My brother, Joe Sanchez, is seven years older, and I can remember being like young, like five or six years old, and my brother’s getting my mom’s tupperware, and chopsticks (because we were in Hawaii), or pencils, and just playing on that until he got his own kit years later. So music’s always been in my blood. My grandfather was in the San Diego Symphony, and that’s where all that [technique] came from. But I didn’t know until later; I was just a dude that played guitar. Because he always wanted to play guitar, because his brother played drums, so next thing you know he bought me my first guitar. That’s when I started working summer jobs, and I built up my amp, from like Boss regular distortion pedals and EQ, and then Metal Zone, and then a Randall half stack, then a full stack.
Anthony T: Were you jamming covers and stuff first?
Diego S: Yeah, that’s how I learned – no lessons, no nothing dude – just watching MTV, and my brother is seven years older, so he was already in his teens jamming.
Anthony T: Was that your first experience jamming with another person?
Diego S: Pretty much, yeah.
Josef Kay: Is this the Joe Sanchez that was in Strangulation with you?
Diego S: Yeah, he was the vocalist in Strangulation. But we had a band called Malefic Plague, and I sang and played guitar. It was grind death, kind of like early Napalm Death, early Carcass, but with Morbid Angel, Cannibal Corpse flow. Then I discovered Suffocation, and that’s I found out you could be dark and brutal and still groovy. And Morbid Angel also, like all those molding bands.
I just built up my gear, summer by summer, and I got good enough to play in his band. We ended up kicking out the guitar player, because we wanted to be more brutal, and then I was the main writer.
Anthony T: What style was it before you wanted to be more brutal?
Diego S: Well, like Sepultura, Sacred Reich, DRI, Dark Angel, Slayer of course, Exodus, Violence, Forbidden. Next thing you know, I met this dude named Jeff. we called him Satan Jeff, from high school, because, you know, white dude that dyed his hair, and he was like a Wiccan. He was all into black metal, and he opened my mind. I just got experience from my brother, from other people. This was when Alters of Madness had just come out, and Eaten Back to Life had just come out.
Travis Ryan, he and I used to jam back in high school, and he played drums in Strangulation. He was always showing me the next thing: Benediction, Entombed. He took me to my first death metal show.
Joel Horner: Where did you meet him?
Diego S: Middle school. I was in seventh grade, he was in eighth. We never talked about music back then, and in high school it was like, “What, you’re playing guitar?” or “Dude I’m playing drums, what bands are you into?”
Travis was jamming with Ben [Marlin] and some other dudes from a different school in Escondido. So Ben would get out of school and come and pick us up, and we’d go and jam. Travis asked me for like a year and a half to join his band, because he wanted to make it more brutal. I told him I was playing grind, and what bands I compared myself to. They were still playing thrashy like Slayer, Death, you know, Death is dope but it’s a little different than brutal stuff. Finally I got the confidence, I already had like four or five songs in the arsenal to go and present to these guys. Everybody’s all stern and like, “Who’s this skater guy?” I was sponsored by a couple of shops back in the day, so I was just a skate rat showing up to these hesher metal head dudes. I go in there and I start jamming, and the other dudes are kind of like “What is this?”
Anthony T: How old are you at this time?
Diego S: Dude I was like a sophomore in high school, I was like 15, 16 years old.
Anthony T: So how long was Strangulation going? Did you go straight into Disgorge from Strangulation?
Diego S: Yeah, technically. Disgorge had their first break back in 1996. I had joined the band a couple months before that, and Derek [Boyer] was the one showing me the material. And then the band split up for personal reasons. I had already learned like nine songs or something at that time, just after the third demo had gotten recorded. And then Ricky came back to San Diego, I saw him at some different kind of show, like Incubus, Deftones in their early early era. And he’s like, “Dude I’m back, I’m not playing nothing,” and I was like, “Well let’s do Strangulation,” because I was still bros with Ben and my brother, and I didn’t hang out with Matti [Way] because they lived like 40 miles away, down by the beach; I’m more inland by the mountains. But I was down south at this show, and next thing you know, Ricky came [up] and he jammed. He starts learning Strangulation songs, but Ricky, he played guitar for years before he played the drums, so when he’s playing the drums he’s actually a guitar player playing the drums. That’s why him and I click because I’m the opposite – I’m a drummer, like a percussionist in my head. I don’t play the guitar when I’m playing the guitar, I’m actually playing the drums when I’m playing guitar, if that makes sense.
Matti was in San Diego still, and my brother was getting married, he was the vocals for Strangulation. So he got married and he was gonna have a kid, so we were like, “You know what?” Ricky said there was a big buzz that was going around from Deeds spreading the word about Disgorge from the when the grey demo came out. Next thing you know, the name was already so big. I had just joined Disgorge before they had broken up, so now it’s my opportunity to come back. And Tony [Freithoffer, Disgorge guitarist 1992-1997] and Eric [Flesey, Disgorge bassist 1995-1997] were done, so I could bring on Ben, because you know, Ben was dope. We wrote together for years, and he was a big Disgorge fan too. We would play shows, Strangulation and Disgorge, among a lot of other bands in the local scene. We were all already bros and friends, and we admired each other’s music and stage presences and stuff, and we watched each other evolve.
Disgorge, no matter what, has always had its sound; [If you join Disgorge], you need to come out just as powerful and relentless and dark. You know, there’s like a dark groove.
Anthony T: So you and Ben got together and and picked up from the first demo and decided, you guys would start writing the material from that point forward, and just kind of took the the feel of that demo and and worked it into your own sound?
Diego S: Yeah, this is after the 1996 demo. There’s the 1995 demo, which is a demo, and then 96, actually that got released [as “Cranial Impalement”] through Extremities first, and then Unique Leader. That’s just a self-titled demo, there were never any titles besides Cognitive [Lust of Mutilation], I think, was the first one [from 1992].
So like I said, Derek showed me the tunes, I got together a band, I showed him the tunes because we lived in the same town and we still kicked it and next thing you know, Ricky was like, “Matti’s still in town, your brother’s on his way out with the family and a secure job, how is he going to tour?” And boom, we just clicked, because Ricky and I had already clicked. It was kind of satisfying, because I was always kind of chasing certain parts back then, and then when we came back and we reformed I had already had the feeling and the flow. And Disgorge helped me evolve as a guitar player, because I had already done down picking. Like if you listen to Legion [1992 album by Decide], all that shit’s just down picking. So I did a lot of down picking back then, and then when I joined Disgorge I had to learn alternate picking. Matti loaned me his baby Taylor acoustic guitar, because it’s a lot smaller, more comfortable in the neck. I got a got a metronome, an acoustic guitar, and I learned how to play Disgorge by playing rewind and play on a tape player when I was working graveyard at a gas station.
Josef Kay: What were the first songs that you brought to Disgorge that are your own material? I think you told me before that you wrote “Exhuming the Disemboweled” (from the She Lay Gutted album) and had it ready to go when you joined the band. Did you have any other songs?
Diego S: That was actually the last Strangulation song that I wrote, and that one never had a drummer. I wrote that song just on guitar, and I brought it to Rick. I brought a lot of Strangulation songs, like rhythms. [The song] “She Lay Gutted” was a Strangulation song, we just rearranged the lyrics a little bit. And “Compost Devourment” used to be a Strangulation song lyrically. The music to “Compost,” that was actually the first song that I wrote with Ricky, and we wrote that song in like 20 minutes. Because I got in a car accident, my buddy rolled his truck out in the desert and I hurt these two fingers on my picking hand. Luckily I could still hold the pick. Rick and I were trying to write material, and we were halfway through it, and all of a sudden the [pain from the] accident came back. We’d play a few little increments, that’s why it’s only a two minute song. We just said “You know what, let’s just get something, you and I, fresh.” I suppose as long as I tried to bring Disgorge flavor, I [could] cut and paste the Strangulation songs- there’s a lot of different rhythms in there… (33:30) I already had a whole Strangulation album written. So when we needed material (because I had already learned the demo songs) we basically cut and pasted a lot of Strangulation stuff, and then Ricky and I found our flow; we just clicked after that.
Josef K (25:20): Lille [Gruber] from Defeated Sanity says, “How did you do such an amazing job at picking up where Tony Friethoffer left off and making Disgorge even better?”
Diego S: I think just from being friends in the scene, and seeing each other play live. And like I said earlier, when I was learning how to play guitar for Disgorge with a metronome and an acoustic, I had to change my style. So the rhythms I had in my head, I wasn’t able to play it – I didn’t begin as a guitarist able to play those. And then when I learned Disgorge material, with all the alternate picking and the weird little flows and tweaks and nuances in there, and the brutal consistency, that’s like a metronome in itself. And when Ricky was playing his drums, he’s putting all he has into it.
It comes easy, I think, from my grandfather’s blood – being the classical violinist. So this hand has it. And I’ve got a lot of different cousins that are drummers, along with my brother being a drummer. But, you know it’s just in my blood. I had the stuff in my head before I could play it, and then I learned how to play Disgorge songs, and next thing you know, I myself evolved as a guitar player. Because now I’m doing alternate picking as opposed to down picking… The alternate picking allows you to to access even more that you would never be able to do down picking.