He’s a loving husband and devoted father, an award-winning composer, a renowned musician, a respected teacher.

Nick Vasallo is also the originator of “deathcore,” a genre-blending mix of death metal and hardcore music.

Now the Music Department cochair and director of music industry studies and music composition at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, Vasallo has an eclectic musical background that started with his father’s love of classical and rock recordings.

“My dad was a stereophile,” says Vasallo, who is of Filipino and Taiwanese descent.

At 14, a Nirvana concert changed his life.

“Kurt Cobain smashed his guitar onstage: It was such a great, distorted sound,” recalls Vasallo, who asked for an electric guitar for his birthday and formed an extreme metal band called Antagony.

After studying music at Diablo Valley College and California State University, East Bay, he earned a master’s and doctorate of musical arts at UC Santa Cruz, becoming the first music doctoral candidate to win the President’s Dissertation Year Fellowship Award.

“My dissertation was about championing heavy metal within academia,” he says.

Vasallo wrote his first song at 14. (“It was about a girl,” he admits.) His innovative compositions have been performed internationally by groups such as Contemporary Music Ensemble Korea and the Silesian Philharmonic. He’s currently recording two albums.

Teaching is intensely gratifying to this composer/performer, whose many honors include the San Francisco Classical Voice Music Educator Award 2013.

“Seeing students come from point zero to the highest apex of their capabilities is amazing.”

Vasallo says of his wife, Denise Linda Vasallo, “I couldn’t do anything without her. She’s my MVP, and super-mom to our children: 4-year-old Madison and 9-month-old Lucas.”

Deathcore has a soft side.


Top: Photo by Brandon Hunt

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