Californian metallers DevilDriver have enjoyed a decade plus career thanks largely to a strong and honest work ethic. The band will unleash their sixth studio album, ‘Winter Kills’ this August. Killyourstereo.com sits down with frontman Dez Fafara to discuss the release, his passion for music, and Star Wars.
Hey Dez, how are you?
I’m doing really well, thank you. I’m at home right now, which is a rare thing and I’ve got two more weeks before I go on tour, so I’m in a good headspace.
Good to hear. I was going to ask whether it is almost like the calm before the storm waiting for the album to come out and hit the road again?
Absolutely. I’ve got three weeks off. I’m taking a little time off with the wife and kids. We start rehearsals in a week and then go overseas and start doing some festivals.
When you talk about home life, I’m always interested to hear what it’s like assimilating back into home life for a musician. I guess the neighbours they probably leave in the morning and come home around dinner time, but you hop on a plane and tour the world for months on end.
I’ve come to live with jet lag if that’s what you mean (laughs). When I do come home it takes a day or two to get up at certain times. Otherwise, the adjustment time is coming home and getting a kiss from my fabulous looking red head and seeing my dogs, and seeing my kids, and cooking for everybody. It’s just snapping back into home life. You have to be home when you’re home and you have to be at work when you’re at work. Never bring them into one another that is what I was taught at a young age.
Is that almost easier said than done or rather an easy adjustment?
For me it is quite easy to separate the two. Since I do travel so much, my wife comes out on the road as well. It has been a great ride so far brother.
Talking about it being a great ride, between this upcoming album and the last one, you had the Coal Chamber shows, I know particularly watching a couple of interviews you did while here for Soundwave, how happy you seemed and the positive mindset you had. How much of an impact did it have when writing ‘Winter Kills’ for DevilDriver – the fact you’re in a really settled headspace?
I don’t think anything to do with Coal Chamber had anything to do with DevilDriver to be honest. It was good to do Coal Chamber. It was good to re-visit it because when it ended, it ended terribly ugly. It was good to re-visit it, take it around the world and have people come to it, and have the positive response it had. That being said, when it came time to write for DevilDriver, I put myself in a whole different headspace my man. This record had a lot of lightning in the bottle. It kind of wrote itself – both musically and lyrically. A lot of the takes on the record vocally are our first takes. A lot of the verses are simple verses and not stacked because I wanted it raw and live. There’s two ways that can go. It can either go too easy or our hope is that it’s DevilDriver magic. That’s what I think that we captured here is magic. Now that I’m listening back to the record, it’s cohesive, it’s groovy, it’s heavy, and it’s everything that we are good at it. It has got our signature sound, but there is something different about this record that I can’t put my finger on and I don’t think anyone else can, but it just makes it a bit of a curveball, you know what I mean?!
Speaking on the record and those type of things, I know you’ve had line-up changes along the way, but for the most part the members of the band have been there from the beginning, is it that notion that you guys are comfortable and a well oiled machine now, and it’s just a matter of getting in the studio and getting the songs out?
I guess DevilDriver has had changes. The very first guitar player [Evan Pitts], who wrote the first record, he didn’t really want to tour too much, which I totally get. Much like me, he was a loner, hermit, isolationist, socially awkward, so I totally got it when he didn’t want to tour. I love Evan to death. And again with Jon Miller [bass], Jon was killing himself on the road with alcohol and drugs, and we let him go, otherwise he was going to die on the vine. There is something to be said for members coming and going though. I think when you do get in a new member, it can either ruin the band or it can bring new life and bring a fresh atmosphere. With the introduction of Chris Towning [Bass] to this band, it has been an amazing thing. He brings a whole different vibe to the band, he is straight edge, he brings a different writing to the band, which also brings something magical. That being said, we are all really good friends. We all know what we’ve got to do. We are very professional and know we have shows to do, so we don’t get carried away with the lifestyle so it affects the shows. That’s one thing that I demand around me is professionalism. We’ve got shows to do first and if you want to put your party on make sure it doesn’t affect your business sense at all.
Well put. I was looking at your Twitter page recently and one of the cool things is you seem to have this healthy relationship in terms of interacting and engaging with your fans. I guess social media opens up this possibility a bit more. How important is it for yourself personally to interact with fans at that level?
I think it’s personal. When I was a kid you didn’t have that. You had to write a letter and hope somebody got back to you, and most of the time it was some assistant. Right now it’s instant. Someone could say, “What’s your favourite TV show from the 80’s?” And I can just instantly answer back. Also, it gives me an outlet. Like I said, I’m a hermit, I’m a loner, you’ll never find me out at the clubs or out backstage. I’m often at times at the back of the bus or in the dressing room with maybe two or three people. I’m extremely socially awkward. You can put a microphone in my hand and put me on stage and I’m fine. But, after that I really feel claustrophobic around more than 10 people, so it [social media] gives me an outlet to speak to people and be in a comfortable atmosphere when I do so.
Talking about that comfortable atmosphere and outlet, I remember when I was 18 seeing Poison the Well in Melbourne and afterwards my mate and I got to drink beer with the band for a couple of hours and just engage with them on almost a friendship level. At the time, that was a profound experience. What was your moment growing up where you got to have a moment with a band or musician that you looked up to?
I can remember when Coal Chamber first started, maybe the first six months Coal Chamber started, I remember walking down the streets of Los Angeles and running into Phil Anselmo and telling him I was in a band, and I was going to tour with him one day. A year and a half later we got a Pantera tour and the guy came knocking on my bus door, he opened the door, grabbed all my stuff and threw it on his bus in a bunk and said, “Now you’re living with me.” (laughs). I’ve had moments like that and I still have moments like that. I look from the outside within and it lets me appreciate things. Whenever I meet guys like Alice Cooper or Ozzy Osbourne or Nikki Sixx or Phil Anselmo, or work with Max Cavalera on the last Soulfly record, I guested on the new Cancer Bats record – I love working with other artists. It’s something that happened in the 70’s that stopped happening in the 80’s and 90’s, and was almost looked down upon like, “Oh, you’re going outside your band and working with other people. What’s next a solo record?” It’s like, “Well, what if it is?! Music is Music!”
I do believe in the power of music and always doing music. It’s why I have a side-project with Mark Morton [Lamb of God] called Born of the Storm – you can hear a couple of the songs on YouTube. It’s why I wrote a record called ‘High Desert Moon’, which is completely different. It has got slide guitar and spoken word. It is why I go outside of the box and do Coal Chamber or work with other artists is because I enjoy music. I refuse to be pigeonholed or put it a box and told what I can or can’t do. Or be looked at, if I go outside my band and do something different that it’s automatically going to ruin the band. Absolutely not. It is the same thing I said with members coming and going in bands, most of the time if a band member comes and goes in a band, people stand up and say the band is over. I’m the opposite, I look at it and say, “wow, I can’t wait to hear the next record. It is possibly going to be better than anything they’ve done because they’ve got a new writer.” I love the new, I love the fresh, I love the work ethic, and I love music. From the time I wake up until the time I go to bed I’m surrounded by it. I’m in my game room right now with my pool table listening to vinyl. That’s the way it goes.
That’s awesome. I can tell by listening to you how passionate about music you are as you said. For pretty much the bulk of your adult you’ve been involved in the industry itself, so you would’ve seen the good, the bad and everything in between. If there were a young kid looking to start a band and get into the touring circuit, what’s the biggest mistake they could make that you’d advise against?
First of all, don’t get caught up in the bullshit, cliché rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. Make sure you do business – proper business. If you give a handshake and say you’re going to show up…show up. Get in there and rehearse every single day. Don’t get caught up in hard drugs, don’t let the drinking overtake you and overtake your shows or your business sense. Don’t let ego or the head that you’re trying to build for the stage take over your personal life. Or within a year of a record deal, you’re going to have a cocaine problem, you’re going to be leaving your wife and you’re going to be crashing your car on the highway. Keep your shit together. I really do believe that not enough people are saying that out loud at the moment. You’ve got to keep your things together man. It’s about the music. It’s not about the lifestyle, it’s not your haircut, which I’ve had many (laughs). It’s not about your clothing, which I’ve also changed many times. It’s not about that, it’s about the music. If you live your life like that, you’ll be fine. Other than that, try to get somebody behind you – a good agent. Try to get good tours and try to do something unique and something different. You can have influences, but don’t let your influences overtake you.
On the lighter, non-musical side of things, another thing I saw on your Twitter page is you have quite a fondness for Star Wars. I know Mastodon recently had one of their songs featured in the new Pixar Monsters University film. Would it just be the icing on the cake to have a DevilDriver song featured in a Star Wars film one day?
That would be a young kids dream. I loved the first three movies. The last three, I don’t know about? Some of the acting in there is atrocious. The kid that plays Anakin he is terrible (laughs). But, you know, I love the philosophy of it. I love science fiction, I always have. I grew up on Star Wars and Star Trek. I was the kind of kid that liked science fiction and played alone in his room. Like I said, I’m a loner, I’m a hermit, I’m socially awkward, so science fiction gave me an outlet. I’m a total geek when it comes to that (laughs). If you can appreciate that, cool. There are two kinds of people: the artistic, who can enjoy science fiction and stuff like that and there’s the other side that can’t.
What things from a musical and perhaps non-musical standpoint would you still like to achieve?
There’s a tonne of artists I’d still like to work with. There’s still a multitude of countries that I have never been to. There are styles of music that I want to do. I’ve got a tonne of records left in me with DevilDriver. I’ve probably got a tonne of solo records in me. I definitely have a few punk rock records in me. I’d love to do something along the lines of Nick Cave, who is one of my favourite artists in the world. I have a tonne of lyrics and songs that could go with that style and I can use my actual singing voice. Who knows though? It’s all a matter of time and timing in this life. Should I have enough time to put enough art on the table to lend to some sort of legacy and prosperity then I’ll do that. It is why I’ve built a home studio, so now when I am home, If I want to go in and track a song today, I can do that and then go out and have dinner with my family, and not have to get on a plane to do so, which is actually limiting the amount of art I can put out. I love guesting on people’s records. I’m on the new Soulfly record, which was some of the most intense times of my life sitting with Max and writing a song from scratch with him. We have it all on video. Guesting on the new Cancer Bats record was incredible – I love that band. I love the work ethic and I do like the artistic nature of putting myself in different situations with different artists, and different styles of music.
Really appreciate you taking the time to chat with us today Dez. I’ve heard a bit of the new album so far and I absolutely love it. Look forward to having you guys back in Australia sooner rather than later.
Thanks man. It’s good to hear all the positive feedback. I appreciate all the support and we’ll see you in Australia soon.
‘Winter Kills’ is due out on August 23 via Roadrunner Records Australia.