Death Dealer Union – Initiation TimeSunday, 10th September 2023
A fairly new act formed in 2019, Death Dealer Union offer a fresh take on the modern metal sound by giving it equal footing in more classic and current styles. Amid a variety of musicians of different ages and backgrounds, one can find a pretty recognizable face in Elena Cataraga (Lena Scissorhands of Infected Rain). A solid fit to the band’s varied influences, Cataraga started as a guest vocalist to CC McKenna and Doug Weiand’s growing act last year, the band eventually signed with Napalm Records to release the upcoming full-length Initiation. We spoke to Cataraga about the process of joining the band, starting fresh with another act (in addition to Infected Rain), and the band’s unique sound. We even discuss some new things from the Infected Rain camp, as well as being open about her mental health.
Dead Rhetoric: What did you find enticing about Death Dealer Union when you were asked to join? From some recent interviews, I heard you said no a few times.
Elena Cataraga: I did say no, for the simple reason that I’m already in a full-time, touring band. Infected Rain takes a lot of time out of my life. I never really planned to be in a different band, because I also want to have a little bit of a private life as well [laughs]. It was never really my goal to get on board with another band. I did, however, many collaborations and I worked with many bands. Those temporary involvements are very fun, and if I have the time for it I am always down to try. But here, it was a proposal for a longer term and I respectfully declined the proposal a couple of times. Just for that specific reason.
However, I was in a very good relationship with the musicians – we had done a few songs before and some collaborations, and they all have some projects and businesses. I was told multiple times that they also all had a lot going on in their lives. It is a new band. It’s never going to have the same amount of business that you have with your band. At least in the beginning, so just give it a try and see how it goes. So because it was pretty easy and there was no pressure, I decided to try it. I said, ‘why not, I’m having fun with you guys, let’s see what we can do together.’
Dead Rhetoric: How do you describe the sound of Death Dealer Union – it feels like there’s just as much classic metal sound as there is modern metal.
Cataraga: I will say this, I like to think about it as the perfect symbiosis between different subgenres of metal, thanks to two important factors we have going on in Death Dealer Union. The first factor is the variety of ages. The age differences in this project are very big. That brings different tastes and opinions to the table, which are all really great. We work around them. The second factor is the mix of different musicians. For example, the band itself is from Los Angeles. The musicians are from LA. Even though I moved to America and I live in Las Vegas at the moment, I am still considered a person that was born and raised somewhere completely different. Maybe the views and the taste in music is slightly different. Not better or worse than an American view, just slightly different. That brings to the table something difference.
One of the most important details is having the producer [Valentin Voluta] coming from Eastern Europe and being from another generation completely – he brings to the table not only the work of a producer that he does in the studio but he is also a songwriter in the band. He is recording and composing for the band as well. He was supposed to be our guitar player, but certain things didn’t line up for that to happen. You can actually see him in one of our previous music videos back when I was just a ‘featured musician.’ So I think that all of those factors put together bring this different sound, something different than I have been doing with Infected Rain.
Dead Rhetoric: Given that you’ve more or less got Infected Rain off the ground and running on a global level over the past 15 years, what’s exciting about starting with a new act and essentially running through the process with a new band?
Cataraga: The thing is, I’m not really going through the whole process again, because we got signed right away with album number one with Napalm Records, which is the same label as Infected Rain. That’s already a big difference, because with Infected Rain we had been independent for ten years before we decided to go with a label. It was our decision to do that. So it’s a completely different path.
Secondly, the aspirations for this band are completely different than when we would be like, in our early 20s and coming from an Eastern European country that many people don’t even know exists on the planet [Moldova], this band is from LA, which is an international capital of music. It should be at least [laughs]. Everything is different now. I have experience now, which I didn’t with Infected Rain, those are all factors are very important – so it will never really be the same experience that I had initially, being in a beginner band, or whatever you want to call it.
But most importantly, I have to say that I don’t really have any expectations or aspirations with Death Dealer Union, but I don’t really have them with Infected Rain either. When it comes to music, the only thing I apply to what I do is being sincere, being transparent, and being real. Being absolutely in your face with the emotions that I am trying to deliver. I am absolutely using the same tactics and method with this band – literally – I am the same person. I have the same vocal range and capacity of writing, and the same writing influences.
Everything is absolutely the same besides one little detail, which is the style of music. The style of music is mainly dictated by the musicians in the band, including our producer, and when they present a song to me, I try to feel the vibe and go accordingly. Honestly, even if Death Dealer Union was a completely different genre – not metal at all – like a pop, rap, or reggae band – I would have applied the same rules. To me, music is music. I’m the same artist, and I just want people to feel what I deliver. If possible, to resonate or relate to it, and open their hearts so the songs can actually speak to you. That’s all!
Dead Rhetoric: You mentioned that you have done a number of those collaborations and things on the side of Infected Rain. What are you hoping to gain from them, as an artist?
Cataraga: Nothing – it’s actually a very similar answer to what I just said. Not because the questions are the same, but because this is it. I don’t have a specific goal. I’m just having fun being a musician. I need it for my own mental health to be honest. Maybe it sounds a little bit selfish, but I do it in the first place for myself. For my own peace of mind and my own clarity in life. I put down a lot of emotions and frustrations – a lot of things that have happened in my life – I put them to lyrics and melody, so I need that. I have fun with it, and I love creating and singing. So I mainly do it for that. So if other people can relate to it and feel it, it’s a big big bonus.
Dead Rhetoric: I think that is important, because you have to have that connection. To be able to do it for yourself. Metal and rock isn’t the place where you are making millions of dollars. If you aren’t happy doing it, there’s too much struggle to continue.
Cataraga: Absolutely yeah. I definitely have been trying my best since I started working as a teenager with my first job. I took other jobs. The one thing I always promised myself was to remember to have fun. Even if the job is temporary, or something I was not completely happy with, if I take the responsibility of doing that job, I will give it all. I would give everything I have, because life is too short to be miserable with the job you took.
Especially if you are an artist. Artists that don’t like being artists, or are doing it for money, I don’t think they even exist anymore! Maybe they existed back in the day, but I don’t think they did exist. Art, music…its something very emotional that always brings something to the table. I don’t know what kind of a person you have to be to just do it like a machine – without emotion or satisfaction behind it. So I don’t think there are people like that, to be honest [laughs].
Dead Rhetoric: Could you talk about the music video for “The Integument” and using Cherry Bombs for it.
Cataraga: It is our first music video that is in collaboration with the artists in Cherry Bombs, which I’m super happy about. We have other music videos coming out that will include the girls. I think they are absolutely great! I was always a fan of dancing, since I was a small child. I had my parents dancing when they were younger – they were both dancers, that’s how they met really. Somehow it’s been a part of my life, even though I was never a professional dancer or anything like that.
When we met Alicia Taylor and Cherry Bombs, we saw the presentation of their DVD and I saw some of their performances, I remember thinking how genius it was. Including dance in the metal industry, that’s not something we see very often. You can do so much with it. There’s so much that can be brought to music videos, to live shows, to anything really. Live music can only be garnished by dancers, it will never be worse, you know what I mean? So I brought this idea to the band and everyone loved it. We were lucky enough to have the girls available and not on tour. So we did it and it’s super fun.
Dead Rhetoric: How important is the visual aspect for the band, knowing that it’s something you take very seriously with Infected Rain? Given the artistic creativity involved, is it as important to you as getting the music out?
Cataraga: To me, yes. Again, I don’t think it’s a rule that every band or musician has to follow. But, to me I think it only brings more to the table; it doesn’t bring less. If you could bring more to the song, with visuals, than why not? Visuals are pleasant, and often they can deliver more to the emotion that you are already trying to deliver through the music. It’s also a good way for the listener to meet you, to see what you can do, what you look like, or your presentation. Obviously, the next step would be a live show. I think it’s important and I think it’s cool.
I remember being a teenager and discovering bands thanks to their music videos, because MTV used to be really cool when I was a teenager and they had all those videos. That’s how I discovered bands, through their videos. There was no YouTube, there was no internet at all! So I think even though we have internet and YouTube, it’s an extra reason to have more visuals than before. I like it, but is it a rule? No! Fuck the rules, do whatever – who cares. Do what you feel like doing as a musician.
Dead Rhetoric: So you’ve mentioned a few things about how you can add more to the music. What are some other things you can think of to add outside of the music and the visual?
Cataraga: Just shows. Shows – that’s it. A lot of shows. I suggest that every single musician and band – if you want your music to spread around the planet, unfortunately you have to roll up your sleeves and go on the road. I say unfortunately because I know it’s very uncomfortable. It is for us, and we’ve been doing it for many years. It’s a lifestyle you have to be ready for. No matter the conditions and how big you are, it’s still a gypsy lifestyle.
No matter how big you are, or how many luxurious things you have on tour for you to feel better, it’s never going to be like home, ever. So it’s uncomfortable, and getting out of your comfort zone and what you are used to, and it puts tension between people. It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s worth it. It’s worth every bit you have to put into it.
Dead Rhetoric: What can you say about your working relationship with Valentin Voluta, who you have worked with for Infected Rain, and now with Death Dealer Union.
Cataraga: It’s going great. He’s actually with us right now, on our European tour with Infected Rain. It’s a day off for us, and tomorrow we will be back on the road. He’s our sound engineer this time, and he has done that for us in the past as well. But he mainly does production for many bands. He records and works on mastering and produces songs. He’s also a great musician and has his own band called Seas on the Moon. I have had multiple collaborations with him. His band invites different vocalists to their instrumental band. I have known him since 2010. He produced every single Infected Rain album so far, and we are about to release album number six. That tells you something [laughs].
He was born and raised in the same country as me, as well as the majority of the members of Infected Rain. He is also the brother of our drummer. We invited him to the band later, after we had met Valentin. We had a drummer but he moved to a different country and stopped playing music. So there is a different drummer on the first album, but right after Valentin produced the first album and we were looking for a drummer we found out his brother was a drummer. I didn’t know him personally, but the other guys did, since Moldova is very small and everyone knows each other. So his brother’s in our band as well, so we have a very tight working and friendly relationship with him.
I think that works perfect for me, as a vocalist, in this industry. Not only do we work together, but as a friend, he is free to tell me so many other things that a different producer would not know or would not dare to say since we aren’t friends. He knows my capacity for vocals and where he can ask me to do more or less, or what else can be added to the song. It’s really cool to be able to work with him.
Dead Rhetoric: How important is being open about your mental health and staying positive? Do you feel that is a piece that you are willing to share due to the potential connection to listeners?
Cataraga: Definitely as well as, but how do I say it properly, hopefully there is a connection and something that speaks volumes to many people. I know that many listeners and fans/supporters of my music and relate to these things. They feel comfortable knowing how I think and what I stand for. But honestly, I just try to be that way in life with anyone. Like we were talking about, I would say the same things to a person that didn’t even know what I do for a living. So that’s something I try to do for myself – I’m not trying to teach anyone anything. Everyone is unique in their own lives and they have to find what works best for them. But I’m willing to share what works for me. Maybe that could help someone in their search, that’s all.
Dead Rhetoric: That’s kind of what I was thinking. In more recent years, people are more open to the public spectrum, and I think it helps. People feel more normalized if someone sees there is someone having the same issue/problem they are having.
Cataraga: Absolutely. You are totally right. On the other hand, I will still get a different opinion, which is kind of frustrating to hear. There’s such a simple explanation to it. The other end of the double-edged sword is people that say that now all of a sudden everyone has mental problems, panic attacks, or issues. It’s not all of a sudden. It’s thanks to the technology that we are able to speak about our issues that were such a taboo before. The only information, the only source we had before were books. Books that were written by philosophers however many years ago.
When I was in my early college years, it wasn’t normal to go to therapy. If you went to therapy, you had a serious issue. You had a problem or a crazy person. That’s such a cliche of a label to put on a person. Right now, I would say this, I think 99% of our population should have therapy all the time – at least once a week. Not because we are crazy, but we can talk about it and it’s normalized. We are on the way to normalize it. We are in a society and generation that is normalizing being open about your emotions. Not bottling them in and forgetting about the traumas and then they come out – everyone is like, “I don’t know what happened, he was such a normal guy and now he kills people.” I’m obviously exaggerating, we don’t joke about killing people, but it’s so true. So when people tell me how nowadays everyone is so sensitive, everyone is so concerned about mental health…yes! Finally! We are on the way to where we are normalizing something that was not normalized before.
This is not the only thing we struggle with normalizing. There’s a lot of things, like people that still judge you for who you love. If you love someone who is the same sex as you, it shouldn’t be a big deal. There’s so many – we could go on about this for hours! I just want to remind everyone to please be a little more kind. The generation we live in now is the generation where the technology has rapidly evolved and everything is available for free online. We can finally get information that we couldn’t have unless we went to a library or paid for a subscription. Right now, we can google anything you want and be more informed on things that were more difficult to get information on before. That’s what’s happening.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s next for Death Dealer Union, as well as yourself with Infected Rain?
Cataraga: Death Dealer Union, for now, doesn’t have any big plans on the horizon that are set and fixed 100%. We are waiting for the album to be released, which will happen September 22. Before and after that, we are releasing some singles and music videos. We are hoping to find time to do a few local shows maybe in the beginning in America, depending on many factors, but mainly based on support of fans/listeners.
With Infected Rain, we are currently on a summer tour in Europe. This tour will end on September 22, which is just a coincidence. After that, we will be on tour in America with Wednesday 13 and Gemini Syndrome. It will be a pretty long tour with almost 40 shows. Also, we will have some new songs, new music videos, and a new album coming out early next year. So yeah, I’ve been keeping busy [laughs]!
Photo Credit: Jeremy Saffer