On June 20th 2017 Metal On Loud spoke to Dez Fafara of DevilDriver about, among other things, his upcoming country cover album. The show that followed after was one of the most intense small club shows this interviewer has ever witnessed.
Thank you for taking the time to talk to us again!
Thanks for having me!
How are things in your world man?
Real good man. The shows have been incredible. If you go on and check on my Instagram, you can see what’s really been happening at the shows. The festivals have been crazy.
Oh yeah, I saw that!
It’s real cool. We’ve had some ability to take off time, and it was, do you want to take off nights, or take on other shows? And we said we want to play some club shows. So, we’ve been doing 500-700 seaters, small and inbetween. And tonight is a small one. I think it holds 300-something people, and it’s going to be crazy (Edit: it was!!).
Nice and cozy *laughs*
Yeah. I can’t wait. I think the energy from those shows is very important to a band, to get you that energy for the big stage, you know?
You have a more direct connection with your fans as well.
Oh yes, one hundred percent.You’re grabbing hands, you’re talking to people, you know? What? Okay, cool, we’ll play that song!
You can actually hear them, yeah.
Yeah. How different is that for you, to be on such a small stage, if you compare it to last weekend’s Graspop festival?
You have to take the energy from the small stage, and bring it to that big stage. Otherwise, that fanbase, they won’t get it. And then all of that energy from that big stage, if you take that into a small room, it’s like a punch in the face, you know?
So, tonight will be really fun. I know the band is really looking forward to it. At festivals we only get 40-45 minutes. Tonight we can play an hour and 10, an hour and 5, depending on how hot we get *laughs*. If it gets too hot in there… But we added a bunch of songs, which is cool!
Awesome! When you played Graspop, you only did one song from the new album, right?
Was that a time limit thing?
No, well… It was a time limit thing and we were going to do another song, “My Night Sky” or “Trust No one”, but the record’s been out a year. Technically we should be playing more at Graspop of that record, but there are some fan favourites that we did play. We had to make sure and play those. “Clouds Over California”, “The Ratchet”, “I Could Care Less”, certain tunes. We kind of went down the list and went like let’s just play one off the new record for this.
It must be hard if you get stuck playing the same songs again and again?
Yeah, we’re going out in the fall time, we’re doing almost 8 weeks in the United States, and we’re going to really switch it up. We’re going to play a lot of songs we haven’t played in years, some songs that we have never played. Like on Spotify, our Spotify list is huge, and there’s a song called “The Devil’s Son” on the first record…
I actually heard that in the car just now!
We’ve never played that live! And it’s got like more hits than any song we’ve ever written *laughs*. So we figured we would throw it in.
It’s a special song. It’s got a nice rhythm to it.
Yeah, yeah. In the early days we managed to really capture rhythm and a groove and gladly, so held it through these seven records.
How do you experience the circle pits at the festivals?
It’s been incredible! *smiles* It’s real cool man, it’s different from the Hardcore thing, you know? Everyone can join in. Sometimes it gets very ferocious, other times you’re okay to get in there, but I think that connection between the crowd is a very important thing. We don’t do that to them, they don’t just do that alone. We do that together. So, the connection with the fans is very important for DevilDriver.
I saw some videos and it was amazing. The Download videos.
Unreal! Hellfest the other day was a completely different story too. Craziness. Graspop, the minute we came out on stage, they just opened up the pit and started started going crazy. That was great. I had mic problems the first 30 seconds, the first verse, and so in my own head I was dealing with that. But then, when the crowd is going so crazy, it took me right out of it and got me right back in to where I was supposed to be. Get me right back into it.
My first circle pit ever was a DevilDriver show!
*laughs* Yeah! Nice!
It was in a tent. It was really awesome.
Yeah, I remember. The tent stage. Well, Graspop is a great festival, and it’s been very good to us over the years. We haven’t been back in many, many years. Maybe four or five I think. I think the stage we played, the main stage there, I don’t know if that was the second main stage or what that was called, but where ever slayer is playing is the main stage for me. Right? I don’t care if Aerosmith is over here, the main stage is wherever slayer is playing.
Exactly! It were indeed two main stages this year.
Yeah, two main stages, it was just great. To say, how many people have seen DevilDriver and then to watch that whole crowd put their hand up, it’s like, okay! But being out of the marketplace, I think, helped us. And then coming back. Because these shows have been… Our shows are always kind of crazy, but these have been out of control. And I’m thankful, I’m very thankful. A, noone has gotten hurt, we never want that, and B, it’s obvious that being out of the market place for a while has not hurt the band. As a matter of fact it has done something very positive. It shows the people have missed us. We have all really committed to coming over next year and the following years, and spending 16 to 18 weeks touring these markets. Which is a lot for an American band. They usually do 3 weeks here, 3 weeks there.
A small vacation.
Yeah, maybe nine weeks total a year, but we’re going to come over for double that.
I’m going to see you out there, absolutely.
Yeah! Very cool.
Especially with the new album coming up! Outlaw Country?
Yeah, well, there’s been kind of a choke hold put on us from the label. We can’t really talk anymore, but the example I can give you is this; we’re doing Outlaw Country covers, heavier than anything you have ever heard from DevilDriver. So, real heavy. The example is “Ghost Riders In The Sky”, arguably enough one of Johnny Cash’s biggest songs. He is not the writer, but that’s one of his biggest songs. I sing that at the John Cash Cabin, with John Carter Cash, his son, and John’s wife Ana, and myself and Randy from Lamb of God is on that song. Every song is stacked with amazing guests from Heavy Metal, from Punk Rock, from the Outlaw Country world as well, and it just is going to be something fantastic. We knew that people were going to wait a little longer than two years for a record, and that seemed like too long for me. So I wanted to do something in the meantime, and I heard these guys work up some of the songs, and they were just fantastic.
I’m really excited, it sounds like something new!
It is something new. It’s something terribly different to me, and if you take, say, “Whiskey River” by Willie Nelson (he sings “Whiskey river”), slow. Well it’s quite the opposite. It’s a very fast, almost Black Metal version the way DevilDriver did it. And it’s very heavy, all very high vocals. (he sings an example), like real crazy.
I can’t wait to hear that.
Yeah, we wanted to do something different. The connection needs to be made. You need to understand this. People in the European marketplace need to understand that in America Outlaw Country, not Pop Country, and outlaw music, Heavy Metal, Blues, Punk Rock all have a love for Outlaw Country and Outlaw Country guys, wear American Metal, Black Sabbath, DevilDriver, Lamb Of God shirts on stage. These Outlaw Country artists that are out now. So there’s a comradery, there’s a mutual love of underground music. Because the Outlaw Country guys are underground, and what we’re doing is sure enough underground. So there’s this thing that binds us, and to me there are no poignant lyrics than Outlaw Country lyrics. You are not going to get a heavier lyric than “I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die” by Johnny Cash.
No Pantera lyric, no Black Metal lyric, no Satanic lyric, nothing is going to touch that. It’s very honest, it’s very to the point. I always heard these songs heavy, in my head. I said, what would these sound like if we did them the way I hear them? And the band really shined through, so I’m pleased and I think people are going to love it.
There’s something real and raw in Country I think.
Very real and raw. Almost more real and raw than anything in Metal. But there are those certain bands as well that are doing real and raw shit, and that’s certainly why we took over trying to do this, you know? At first people thought we were actually going to do Country. Which I thought was… *laughs* I didn’t say anything on the internet, I thought that was just hilarious. To let people run with the thought that now we’re going Country. I thought it was fucking funny, you know? *laughs* But no, it’s quite the opposite and it’s about as brutal as it gets. Every singer that I send these songs to do, because there’s maybe 20+ guests, all say the same thing. Like, oh man, this music is brutal.
Cool! So it’s something totally different than what for instance Volbeat is doing?
What are they doing?
They have Johnny Cash influences in their songs, but more in a Rock style.
Of course. Well Volbeat should know this too, a great band and great dudes, but we also had a stand-up bass in our band for a very long time, and when we went to record the first record, it just couldn’t keep up with what we were doing, so we had to change to a traditional bass. But the first time I saw Volbeat and they had the stand-up bass going, I was like ah, I love it! I come from a Psychobilly Rockabilly Punk background, so I love all that, and I think Volbeat is a fantastic band. I would love to tour with them.
Did you consider bringing them into this project as well?
No, but I’d love to reach out! If they see the interview, and they want to be part of it, we have plenty of time! Me doing these interviews is actually helping, because there’s a lot of artists that call me. I got a call last night, you know, 4 in the morning because somebody obviously didn’t know that it was 4 in the morning my time *laughs* saying hey, I’d love to be part of this if you have another song. I said cool, and now we just gained another artist that is going to be part of this.
It’s a cool thing that you’re still working on it, that you still have room to grow it.
Yeah, absolutely. It’s not like there’s a release date, we just want to take our time. I see it coming out May next year (Edit: this year), but that’s only if it’s done. Just this week we had several artists lay vocals while I was out here, and several other artists coming to my house when I get home next week, so we’re just going through it. We’re making sure that it’s done right.
In what ways would you say this project is different than the previous covers you did?
Well those covers are what led to this, really. So, covering 16 Horse Power’s “Black Soul Choir” really led us to say if we can cover an alternative, bluegrass kind of band like 16 Horse Power, we need to go ahead and try to do this. But there’s something about DevilDriver covers that people love. So, we are saying, cool. We’re gonna do… Instead of doing the usual like oh, we’re going to cover whatever, I guess 80’s tunes, we’re doing something that’s really never been done by a Metal artist.
Punk would be the obvious thing to do.
Punk would be the obvious, but it was the first choice, because I was raised on Black Flag, The Germs, Circle Jerks, Dead Kennedys, GBH, I mean I could go on for days. And perhaps that will be in the works later. We have no idea. This is going to be a volume 1, because when the label heard it, they said we need to make it volume 1, so we can do a volume 2 *laughs*. So I said okay, cool.
So, there may be a volume 3: the jazz classics? *laughs*
Well, we just never know. We will see how well it’s received. I know this, the band did an incredible job, we’ve been having a great time doing it, the songs are turning out fantastic, the guest list is insane, so now let’s give it to the people next year and see how well it’s received and we’ll go from there.
Talking about covers, the last time we talked for our cover interview, I believe it was issue 6, I asked you if you ever considered covering a Coal Chamber song. And you said “Oh God no, that’s like putting radish on your hamburger”.
Now I read that you cover Coal Chamber songs with DevilDriver!
Correct. We haven’t done it yet, and how this has come to fruition is, I waited 13 years to put that back together. We did a record, it came out, it did pretty well. It was critically acclaimed, we went all over the world, most of the shows were sold out, and I realized I can probably never tour with them again, because of some things they need to get a hold of personally. Things have to be on a 110% with me. You have to be a pro, otherwise I don’t want to deal with it. Knowing that, do I want to wait another 10 to 12 years to do the songs that made me? So, if you’ve ever heard a song like “Loco” or “Fiend” off of “Dark Days”, done by a band like DevilDriver, now it’s a whole other monster. So when I did say that, it was like no, I’m keeping these separate. Coal Chamber is Coal Chamber, DevilDriver is Devildriver. But what it really is, music is music. And if it’s good music and it’s done right, it’ll work. So, for some shows, some places, we will probably bust out 2 or 3. We haven’t done it yet, we don’t know where we’re gonna do it yet, but I’m sure it will happen.
Yeah, you mentioned that the last time we spoke, that you would love to redo “Loco”.
Yeah, I mean “Loco” with two guitar players that are absolutely tight, with a drummer like Austin is gonna be insanity.
Yeah I bet!
And that’s something I’m not willing to give up for another 10 or 13 years, right? And that’s the bottom line. That’s the only reason that those two paths are crossing now. If they can stay separate, cool. But I really don’t believe you’re ever gonna see another Coal Chamber show. And I don’t think you’re gonna get another Coal Chamber album ever again. That being said, now I have to not leave those children in the closet, locked up. They’ll die! So you have to take them out and feed them and the only way to do that is do them, and give them to the crowd, you know?
Let them grow up!
At Graspop, would we have started “Loco”, just the beginning, that place would have gone insane.
So, you know, we’ll see!
It will be a surprise when you finally play that.
It’s gonna be nothing but smiles on my part, you know? Especially if it’s a crowd like Graspop that was already going insane when we took the stage. Yeah.
What was the best festival so far on this tour?
They have all been fantastic. I mean Graspop was obviously amazing, Hellfest was great, Download was fantastic. We’re getting ready to do Copenhell , but a lot of the festivals have been just really great for DevilDriver this year. And seeing people come out, and… You know, seeing the stage completely empty, watching other bands, and when our banner goes up it just gets packed all the way back, you know? Seventy, eighty, ninety thousand people, that’s incredible. So, the festivals have been great this year. And all of them have been treating us wonderfully.
You built quite a good name for yourself over the years.
True. A lot of work, I think, is important. And there’s a certain relationship with DevilDriver too with the fans. They’ve really taken to us, so that kind of thing only happens once in a great while, and I’m very humbled by it.
Yeah. How’s the reception been so far for the previous album, if you look at the tours over the last years? Which songs stood out for the fans?
Well, “Trust No One” came out very strong. It was our highest debut ever in seven records, that really doesn’t happen. Most bands are putting records out and going down after that. So that’s another connection that we’re having. But they’re loving it. We’re playing “My Night Sky” tonight.
They know “Trust No One” (Edit: the band), I’m working on that with them next week when we get home, to make sure I have it down. I could probably do it now, but I don’t want to slip up, you know. Miss a lyric or whatever. If somebody’s got their phone up, I want to make sure it’s perfect, you know? *laughs*. So, we’re definitely doing two songs tonight off the record. “Daybreak” is another song that we’re playing.
There must be an added level of stress to shows, I think, if you see all those people holding their phones up.
No… You just, you want to do it good, and I’m a perfectionist. When I mess up, nobody comes at me. I come at myself at my own head, you know? I get pissed at my own self *laughs*. But people want to take memories home too, so they put their phones up and want to take a clip. It’s the guy that sits in the front and thinks he’s gonna tape the whole show, just sit here with his phone up and tape the whole show, he’s probably gonna get water bottled. I don’t mind a song, or two, but if you’re just gonna sit there like this, you are probably gonna lose your phone.
Then you’re not there for the show I think.
Correct. And you know, look. With older cats like myself there’s a little bit of something like, you’re missing the show if you’re fucking on your phone.
But then again, I understand. You want to go home and have memories, you want to take it to people who may not have been able to come, you want to show them photos that you took, so I get it, and it’s all good. Plus, when they post that kind of stuff, it helps the band. It works both ways. I’m not an anti phone guy for concerts whatsoever. There are a lot of musicians that are like put down your phone! It’s like, really, guy? Because they just posted that. And now you just got 15,000 more followers.
Yes, people see it!
So, and now all they see is you getting pissed, you know? The only time you ever see me water bottle, is if he’s literally five songs in since we started, and he’s just sitting there with his phone. He thinks he’s gonna tape the whole show. That’s not gonna happen.
Recently there was a Fret 12 interview with Mike Spreitzer, and he said that he really had to kind of fight his way through the pecking order of the band to allow them to let him write.
These were things that came to light with me after the departure of two members. So I talked to my drummer on the phone one night and said, look we don’t get along. We haven’t gotten along in 10 years. I don’t really like you, and you don’t really like me. So there was no respect. Let’s go finish our show with Slipknot, our Australian tour, and come home and be done with it. So, nobody got fired, it was one of those things we both agreed. Jeff left on his own, the guitar player, but he had written maybe two or three riffs. Maybe, in six records you know? That’s not trying to put him down, that’s just the truth. He wasn’t a writer. And I really couldn’t have that anymore either. So I’m glad that he took it upon himself to go, but I think because I sent an email previously to him saying hey, now you’re going to have to step up as a writer. I think the pressure was too much for him.
But what I found out was, a lot of Mike’s songs over five records, never got to me. I never got to see his songs. Because other members would just, no, that’s not… we’re not gonna use that. We’re gonna use my song. And now when I hear Mike’s songs, together with Neal, we have our highest debut record. So maybe Mike staying back in the shadows for a little while was a good thing, because now he’s full on cut loose. And then I have Neal, who is a very accomplished writer, platinum records in his own right, and a close friend as well. I think, if you put those things together, you have a great bond, you have a great band comradery, everybody is writing. How many times does a new guy… Neal predominately wrote “Daybreak”, the first single. How many times does a new guy come into a band that’s been in over 15 years, and write the single? Most of the time ego gets in the way. Oh no no. We’re not letting him put his song out. That’s not the way it is in DevilDriver. Whatever is best for the band. And that’s what happened. And that song helped propel us, you know? It’s just great.
I actually read this headline on one of the more gossipy Metal sites. It was Blabbermouth I think.
Oh great site. Wonderful site.
You like it?
I love them! (big smile).
You love them *laughs*.
And they love me too *laughs*
I saw the headline, I thought that is probably not the whole story. Somehow you always know that it isn’t the whole story.
The whole story is this. I was sitting at home watching the Simpsons one night and called my drummer and said I don’t like you and you don’t like me. And We’re done. He goes, you’re right. Wishing me the best. And then Jeff found out that was happening, and Jeff departed. And I was friends with Neal for two or three years before that, and him and I were working on side projects. So no matter what, me and Neal were gonna end up jamming anyways. Neal just happened to, hey man, there’s a space in here for you, and you would way more than fill the space. And he did. So that is the story. As far as, that’s not the whole story, no. That’s the whole story. There was no knock out. There were plenty of knock out, drag out fights years before that. And I got tired of those. I got tired of those three ‘o'clock in the morning arguments over nothing, you know?
Yup, and I’m not that guy. I want to go on the road and have a good time. I don’t want any drama, I don’t want any bullshit. I just want to go on the road, do the shows, and get home to my family.
Yeah. That’s the best way to do it.
And I certainly, with any member or crew member, will never put up with that again. For the length of time that I put up with that, which was over 10 to 12 years, because I felt like loyalty is very important. Keeping a band together is very important. But at the bottom line it’s me sitting home going, you know what, I’ve got to go on tour with this guy again and we don’t like each other. It was time to make the change. And I wish him all the best man. He’s doing other things. John’s doing other things, he’s got bands, and I know he’s going to succeed, because he’s a great guy and a great writer. But we are just oil and water. Sometimes oil and water works.
Sometimes it does.
But not here, not in this band. We call it PV’s, positive vibes. My drummer made that up. We all manage to laugh and smile a lot. That’s what life’s about.
It is. How is it to be in DevilDriver these days? How is the connection?
Oh. It’s fantastic. What a blessing. Yeah, I wake up to… everybody is on the same level man. Everybody is happy to be here, wants to do it, wants to go through the motions of taking the long flights and getting no sleep, and waking up early at the borders. Doing all those things that you have to do to be in a band. You have to be ready. It’s not just playing music, it’s like you’ve had no sleep now go play music. Do your job, and do it right, and everybody does. There’s nobody bitching and complaining, it’s just fucking wonderful man. I’m glad. And that’s what made me commit to coming over seas next year and the following years for so much time. When you’re having this good of a time it’s like, let’s do it, you know?
If you have that good a time, then you can do that many shows, the small shows and the big tours.
Absolutely. You’ll see tonight! The band chemistry is, you know, on stage we’re like standing on each others feet and messing with each other. You need that man, and I hadn’t had that for quite some time. Too long. Way too long. Some say you’ve had changes in the band, and I’m like no, hold on now. It’s been almost 15 years. Have you had a girlfriend or a job 15 years? Have you been married 15 years? So as soon as you have a job, a girlfriend or you’ve been married for 15 years, then you can come talk to me. Because 15 years is a long time to keep a band together, when you’re not getting along.
When you’re going in the studio together not getting along. That’s just, it’s just not good for the soul. No.
In 15 years you can raise a pretty stubborn kid *laughs*
That’s it. Yeah, that’s it.
I think I have one last question left, and that’s do you have any last words for our readers?
Anybody who supported me in any of my bands, or DevilDriver from the beginning, thank you very much. Get ready, we’re going to be over here a lot, so if you see this and you didn’t make tonight’s show, it’s all good. We’ll be back soon and thank you very much for the support!