In our next Band Spotlight thingy, we chat to metal leg-end, Dez Fafara about new DevilDriver, Download Festival, nu-metal and more.
It’s been about a year now since the release of Trust No One. How’s it been for DevilDriver?
It’s been fantastic man, that album came out with the highest debut we’ve had in our career basically all over the world. The fanbase responded really well so we’re very happy. We worked very diligently on that record and found a different way of writing together because of course we had some new members which added a great amount of energy to it.
As you’ve mentioned you have some new members as most of the lineup shifted between the release of Winter Kills and Trust No One. Was it daunting at all to have to build things up again like that?
No, it was very exciting. There was a situation after six records where we had a bit of a lull, and I decided to call my drummer John and say “Hey, we haven’t really gotten along in about ten years. I’m really tired of fighting with you and we should part ways.” And he totally agreed. After he left, Jeff the guitar player also left, but people need to understand that Jeff didn’t write one song in six records. I said to him that he would need to start writing because I didn’t want the band to have to carry him anymore. You’ve been in the band for six records as a guitar player and you’ve never written a song, I don’t understand that, so he kinda begrudgingly left. There was no firing or people quitting dramatically, it was more coming to terms with how things were and choosing amicably the best course of action. Being in a band is a blessed situation with travelling and playing, it’s all beautiful, so you want to be with people who make that the best it can be.
That being said, there was new energy that came in. The guitar player Neil we brought is was an absolute intense writer, he wrote Daybreak which was the first single which gives you a little insight into the band that we have no egos about who does what because we let the new guy’s stuff be the first single because it was the best. The drummer we hired Austin is just an absolute monster and the complete opposite personality-wise of John, he’s super nice and funny, real outgoing, and I’ve never seen him in a bad mood which was something I really needed in the camp. It’s been known in the press for the past ten or twelve years that I hadn’t gotten along with my drummer and that’s just no way to be in a band. So to anybody reading this, if you’re in a band, don’t wait ten or twelve years to fix a situation like that cause this is the best thing to ever happen to us. I come out of rehearsals and my face is hurting because I’ve been smiling so much.
After the Coal Chamber reunion and some general time off was it refreshing to jump back into DevilDriver and get back into gear?
Oh absolutely. It needed a rest after twelve years of constant touring and recording. I’ll put the amount of miles and shows we catalogued up against anyone who wants to come at it. It was good to sit back for a minute, and that was what gave Coal Chamber the chance to do that.
After seven records, how much do you feel that the DevilDriver sound has to evolve?
It has to evolve every single record, every one is different. That’s vitally important for a band like us. In the beginning even people tried to put us in the category of American heavy metal that was coming up at the time and we never really fit into it. Our fanbase started calling us “the California groove”, then started saying “this band is a machine, the way they tour”, so it became “California Groove Machine”. I just thought that if we were gonna get a moniker, I’ll take that. Knowing we stand alone and do our own thing, that’s very important.
You’re approaching fifteen years as a band now. How long do you see DevilDriver being the huge part of your life that it undoubtedly is?
As of now, with Trust No One and the debut that it had, the packed shows that we’ve been doing, it almost feels like a new band. The next however many records from now are gonna be amazing. Our core audience is so young too, it’s often people who are 25 and younger, so the youth latches onto us more than anything which is good to see. I don’t want to put a ceiling on anything, other than when the music isn’t good or when the live show isn’t 110%, that’s when it should end.
You’re a musician who has weathered one musical storm so to speak in that when nu-metal was on its way out, you were able to reinvent yourself in a way that happened to stand you in good stead going into the future. Do you ever think about whether you’d be able to do that again if circumstances played out that way?
I don’t know. I didn’t shift because there was a shift in music. I shifted at a point in time when I had gold records and was packing shows, because my band got on drugs and didn’t wanna be pro. All the later guys that came into that scene, none of us identified with whatsoever, and still a lot of the biggest bands on the planet are bands that came from that scene.
When I left Coal Chamber it was at the height of our success, and there were still new bands coming in at the tail end of that that were blowing up. My love of heavy music, touring and playing live on stage took me away from Coal Chamber because that thing was falling apart. My love of extreme music goes way back, and I love Bauhaus as much as I love Black Flag as much as I love Black Sabbath. I didn’t make a move into DevilDriver because I saw nu metal ending because I didn’t know that it was. A love of underground and heavy music is what drove me into Coal Chamber, and that’s what’s always driven me regardless of what else is going on.
Speaking of musical shifts, DevilDriver have a country covers album out soon.
Yeah, it needs to be said for people in the UK or in mainland Europe that if you come to the United States and get on a tour bus, you’re gonna hear outlaw country. You’re gonna hear Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Willy Nelson. If you get on the Cannibal Corpse bus you’re gonna hear Corpsegrinder back there listening to Hank III till four in the morning. There’s a deep respect for outlaw country within heavy metal, and those outlaw guys have the same respect for us because we’re doing the same thing they were. So in the interim after Trust No One, I wanted to do something like this. It’s just now spiralling out of control into this beast. Before I knew it we’ve ended up with twenty or twenty-five people on the thing, all Grammy-winning or Grammy nominees, legends.
For instance, I’m singing Ghost Riders in the Sky which is arguably one of Johnny Cash’s biggest songs, with Johnny Cash’s son John Carter Cash at the John Cash cabin, also with John Carter Cash’s wife, and then Randy Blythe from Lamb of God is coming out to get on that track too. That’s just one tune, and every single song has different artists on it both from the metal genre, the country genre and the punk rock genre too. There are a couple songs where I’m with one of my heroes in life Lee Ving from Fear. If you google an image of Dez Fafara you’re gonna see me most of the time in a Fear shirt. It’s totally going against the grain and doing something which hasn’t been done before, which is essential to a guy like me and a band like DevilDriver.
How close to DevilDriver’s identifiable heavy sound is it going to be?
Oh it’s heavy as balls. I haven’t started the vocals yet but the music is heavy. If there needs to be a clean vocal here or there from me then I’ll do it, but the song has to need it. We’ve got other people on board doing it with me, and I’m just gonna do whatever comes naturally. Musically it was a very fluid “holy shit this works” kind of moment, when I first got the songs I couldn’t believe the transposing that they did. For me I automatically hear these songs as heavy in my head because it’s a different kind of heavy, the stories themselves are heavy.
Did you hear Nergal from Behemoth’s recent project in a similar vein, Me and That Man?
I love it. He did a great homage to those artists like Nick Cave. I love Nergal, I think he’s a great guy and we’ve toured with Behemoth many times. I think it’s a brave move and I applaud brave moves. I’ve seen a lot of good coming out about that record from the press and I’ve seen a lot of people go after him. I think that’s a very close-minded approach, artists should be able to do anything they want. Assuming that an artist is good at painting with black and red, does it mean that he can’t throw some blue, yellow and orange in his paintings? Nergal’s a creative guy and then you hear the lyric “My church is black” and there he is, he’s stayed true to himself. He’s also been one of the people we’ve approached to be on this record. He’s got a list of songs and we’re waiting to see if he can do something.
Is there also going to be a new album of original DevilDriver material on the horizon?
Yeah, this is an interesting time for me, because I realised there were three things I really wanted to do. I’ve always wanted to do an outlaw country covers record, a covers record of some real OG punk rock like Germs, Black Flag, Circle Jerks, and then also on the bucket list is doing a double album. I’ve never done one and I’m really tired of writing thirty-five tracks and only putting twelve on the record, not because the others aren’t good but because you can’t put thirty tracks on a record. You finish the album and you’ve got all these other songs that are great and they just sit, and nobody wants to take those with them and put them on the next record because by that point the vibe has changed and you’re in a different place. We have been writing, we have about ten or eleven tunes already. This country record’s gonna release some time next year, we’ll tour on it till probably mid-2019, and then we’ll come off for a while and get in the studio again.
When touring the country record, is that going to be explicitly for the country album or are the songs going to be integrated into a normal DevilDriver set?
We really don’t know yet. The tunes that I’m hearing, we could take a few of them and easily fit them into a DevilDriver setlist. If we go out and just play these songs, the people out there who want to hear Clouds Over California or whatever, they aren’t going to be catered for. This country album is something in the interim to give people something from DevilDriver so they don’t have to wait three years between records. When I was younger you got a record every year, so we try to keep up the pace.
You’re coming to the UK soon at Download Festival. Is that a place you have a particular kinship with?
It’s iconic man. Any time you get asked to do it, you’re grateful. Of course we had that try at getting the world’s biggest circle pit there. We’re on a great stage this year too with Slayer and Rob Zombie, we’re very excited.