Interview & All Live Photos By Lord of The Wasteland; Promo Pics Courtesy of Roadrunner Records
Transcription By Claudia
Many readers’ first exposure to Dez Fafara may have been in the late nineties when he was fronting nu-metal band Coal Chamber but after that group disbanded in 2002, Fafara ventured out on his own with his new group, DevilDriver. On their just-released third album, THE LAST KIND WORDS, DevilDriver combine heavy grooves with dark lyrics and some impressive guitar melodies that have sprung up here and, to a lesser extent, on 2004’s THE FURY OF OUR MAKER’S HAND.
A few hours before the band was scheduled to hit the stage for the Hartford, Connecticut stop of Ozzfest 2007, I spoke to Fafara about THE LAST KIND WORDS, the merits of the Hammond B3 organ, turning forty, spirituality and kicking the ass of Venom singer, Cronos.
The new DevilDriver album, THE LAST KIND WORDS, is really an excellent piece of work, Dez. It’s your best one yet, I’ve got to say.
Thank you very much, man. We worked very hard and I’m surrounded by a great bunch of guys—killer musicians—so I couldn’t be happier.
THE LAST KIND WORDS – 2007
The production job really jumped out at me right away. Jason Suecof did a fantastic job and Andy Sneap’s mix, of course, was the icing on the cake. Are you completely happy with how the album turned out?
Absolutely, one hundred percent. I think that going with Jason and Mark [Lewis, engineer] as far as working on the production and then going over to Andy Sneap was such a wise decision. They get two different kinds of production and two different kinds of mix, so putting those two together just made a perfect thing for us, man. Jason and Mark knew how to capture a real raw live vibe and then Andy knew how to mix and master it down so it sounded as tight as we wanted it.
In the press release that came along with the album, you say “It’s of the utmost importance that we clarify our sound for the masses on this one.” What exactly do you classify DevilDriver’s sound as?
That’s what’s hard to do. That’s the good thing. It’s hard to pigeonhole us and put us into a category. We’re not saying we’re the fastest and we’re not saying we’re the heaviest. We’re just saying if you love killer, heavy, groove-driven, hook-driven metal, that’s us and when I say clarify our sound, I mean when you play a DevilDriver record, you definitely know it’s us and in time when a lot of bands are doing this sing-songy type metal in order to either get radio airplay, get exposure or to keep their fucking record deal, we’re absolutely not. We’re doing what’s from our heart and all we care about is that we’re making music that we want to listen to at our BBQ on Saturday (laughs)!
DevilDriver – 2007
(Laughs) Well, THE LAST KIND WORDS is the heaviest DevilDriver album yet, in my opinion, but I think it’s also your most accessible, too. When you were writing, did you find it difficult to get the right balance between those two things?
We didn’t know. All I can say is the evolution in how it started. The first record was primarily controlled by one guitar player who wouldn’t share guitar duties and as soon as he left, I invariably found out that everyone in the band, including my drummer and bass player, are amazing guitar players. So then we all got together for the second record [2004’s THE FURY OF OUR MAKER’S HAND] and wrote that and I think that was our experimenting moment to find our sound. On this third one, we just said “Look…we know where we lay now and it’s with songs like this,” so we nixed probably fifteen, sixteen…maybe twenty tracks before we got down to the tracks that were actually going to make this record. Everybody has so many different influences in this band that what we all say as a commonality is it has to be a DevilDriver song, so whether we want to make some crazy seventies classic jam, a black metal jam, or an old school punk rock jam, it has to be for DevilDriver and whatever fits in with DevilDriver, and the same thing with the rest of the members.
You mentioned the fact that everyone in the band plays guitar well and there are four different guys playing guitar on the new album. That was another one of the things that really stood out for me was the guitars on this record. During the writing stage, did you make a conscious decision to incorporate more riffs and more solos into the songs?
Yeah, absolutely. The players knew that they had to grow. I had to grow vocally and go deeper lyrically. I had to go more to my heart even when I projected and those guys know it, as well. What’s killer with them, and I’ve never seen it, and I don’t know if you’ve ever seen any bands record, but dudes will fight over laying the riff that they’ve created. “That’s my riff! I’m laying this riff!” That never happened in this band. It would be like “You wrote the riff, but I can record it better. Give me the guitar” or “I wrote the riff and you can record it better. Here’s the guitar.” I’ve never seen that, man! That’s a real non-ego thing and a lot of metal and a lot of music nowadays is based on ego and we stripped that away in the studio and did whatever is best for the team.
I find there’s a lot of diversity on the album, as well, such as the Hammond B3 organ at the end of “The Axe Shall Fall.” What inspired such an out of place instrument on a metal album?
You know, those are those things that happen spur of the moment. You got a guy that’s in his mid-sixties that owns the studio in Santa Barbara. He’s an old hippie and he grew up playing the Hammond. He had something in a corner covered with a sheet and I go “What is that”? and he goes “It’s a pre-World War II Hammond B2 organ and I used to play it when I was a kid” and before I could say “Do you have a Leslie?”, he goes, “ I do.” I went “Oh, my god. Please do me a favor and just light that thing up. I’ll sit here for an hour…I’ll spend my own studio time just listening to you play it because I love that instrument so much.” We were all in the room and he laid a bunch of different tracks and we said “Let’s end the record with that.” I’d love to include more Hammond on the next one. It just has to be right and it has to fit and at the end of the record, after forty-two minutes of bludgeoning needed something to take you out of it for a minute so you wanted to push play again.
It brings a Deep Purple sort of feel to it with that seventies rock sound.
I’m a huge, huge Deep Purple fan. My family is hippies and I grew up listening to everything from Steppenwolf to Creedence Clearwater. I’m a huge psychedelic rock fan and Deep Purple is one of my favorite bands of all time. Clutch and even Down, they use a lot of Hammond. I love that instrument. It’s just an underplayed instrument in rock and roll that should be used more.
Even Opeth is using a lot on their albums now, too.
Oh shit, yeah! We toured with them. I forgot about that, actually. If you sit and talk with Peter [Lindgren, ex-guitarist] from Opeth about that metal era—the seventies—he’ll school anybody. He should write a book (laughs)!
One of the other songs on the new album, “Monsters of The Deep,” is probably my favorite DevilDriver track after “Before The Hangman’s Noose.” Where did you go to get that slow, sludgy, ultra-heavy sound?
When you’re riding in the bus and you’re stuck in traffic in Dallas, on tour, and it’s pouring out rain and somebody rips out a guitar and writes that riff, I just started writing lyrics. That’s one of the few that was actually written on tour…just a riff and a couple little lines and I said “put it away, put it away. We’re definitely….we need something that direction. One of my favorite bands in the world and, I don’t know if they’re underrated or just need more mass appeal, but Crowbar….I felt like we needed something way sludgier than we’ve ever done and I believe it’s my drummer, John Boecklin, that wrote that riff. I hope I’m not quoting wrong now (laughs) but I believe it’s him and he’s like (sound effects) and I went, “We need that. Let’s definitely make a song out of that.”
DevilDriver – 2005
“Horn of Betrayal.” It’s got some really angry lyrics to it. Is there anybody in particular you’re directing that towards or is it just a generally pissed-off song?
No, not really man. I’m trying to go deeper than touching on one person really. Everything from religion to how you should be treated, how you should treat other people to what you see in the world. I’m going a lot deeper than really aiming at this one guy but the “Horn of Betrayal” really can be sounded for any friend that you had for a long period of time that keeps bringing misery around you and your family and your friends. You keep bailing him out of jail, you keep telling him he’s doing the wrong things, he keeps cheating on his woman…
Yeah, a bad karma guy, so you know the “Horn of Betrayal” sounds loudly for the fallen and this rang real true for me, man.
Your son, Simon, is singing on “Tirades of Truth.” Is he an aspiring metal head? How does he fit into the picture?
I’ve got three sons—nine, twelve and sixteen. He’s nine. He’s the metal head. He’s the kid with the long hair. He’s the kid that wanted the guitar. He’s the kid that sings “Iron Man” in the shower and like brings me to tears in the morning when I hear him and go “GOD”! He’s that kid and I’ve never been able to record close to home ever in my life and the last two or three songs I had to do were literally a block away from my house in Santa Barbara because we were done out in Texas. The kid came in after school and was really into it. I put the headphones on, which looked massive on him, and held him up and he sang the words “you will live below angels and above beasts” on the song “Tirades of Truth.” If you really listen clearly, I mean the kid has got a growl like Corpsegrinder [Cannibal Corpse vocalist]. I mean like I really could have taken myself out and used him just for that part and you would have known it was a different person but you would have never known it was a nine year old kid.
I listened to the song a few times and I saw it in the credits that he was singing. I was sort of listening for, you know, a younger kid and I’m thinking, “Man, I can’t hear a little kid’s voice in there.”
See? That’s what I’m saying. I mean he was like (*roars*) it’s mean it was that low and I think it’s just from him living with me and hearing me. Whenever I’m writing lyrics, I get up early in the morning, four or five in the morning and light a fire, everyone’s still sleeping and he’s always the first to wake up and come downstairs and ask me what I’m doing. I tell him I’m writing lyrics and he’ll sit there with me, so I think he might be the one that’s like really into it but I’m hoping he’s going to college and not following my path because I’ve had a crazy one (laughs)! But you got to support your kid.
Yeah exactly. So you guys did a video already for “Not All Who Wander Are Lost” already but is there any plan for what the next single and video will be?
I got lucky with that one, too. I started Nathan Cox’s video career. He did the first Coal Chamber video ever [“Loco”] and then went on to do Linkin Park, Korn….you name it. You couldn’t even get him in the door for less than half a million. That guy came to the table for us for nothing almost and re-paid a massive favor, but we love that but we don’t have any plans yet for what’s the next single. It’s kind of hard with a metal band because you don’t really put out singles. You give everyone the whole record and then stations find what they want. A lot of stations are playing “Horn of Betrayal” right now, so we’ll see. I mean, I can’t figure anything out. I’ve been here almost twelve years and the heaviest record of our career is getting more play than ever. I’m done trying to figure it out.
It’s a weird world.
Yeah! Put the tarot cards away and just roll (laughs).
Roadrunner Records has made a habit of putting out “special editions” of albums a few months after they come out. Has there been any talk about doing a special edition for THE LAST KIND WORDS?
No, and I definitely won’t let them do that until well after this thing is out. This record is the stand out record of our career. We’re going to tour on it for a long time. It’s the one that defines who we are. It defines our sound and it’s only going to now take us to the next places and I’ve kept telling the record label that the records will keep getting better. Like the sixth one is going to be better. A lot of bands, their first record is the best. Guns ‘n Roses APPETITE FOR DESTRUCTION destroyed everything they did ever again but with ours, though, I don’t believe that’s so. I believe our first record was “Hey, this is an introduction.” Our second one sees us touring around and our third one is like a kick in the teeth and that’s where we wanted to land. “Okay, now we’re a pro wrestler. Watch us go ten feet into the air and land on you”.
DevilDriver – 2003
(Laughs) So, let’s talk about touring. You guys, of course, are on Ozzfest right now. About two weeks left to go and you’re about two weeks in, as well. How did you end up getting the gig?
Dude, I thought I had my first six weeks off in the summertime in eleven years, actually. I was growing a beard, putting my head up and sitting next to my Doberman going, “I’m home for the summer”. Got a text from Sharon and John Fenton that said, “We need you out here” and we said, of course. It was perfect timing for us with our record dropping, as well. A great non-rotating slot so we’re always on at about 3:30-4:00 everyday and it’s been working out killer. After that we go home for one week and then we go to Europe. Then we go straight over to Japan. Then we go straight over to Australia. Then I go straight to South America, come home and then we got added to something here in the States for the fall time. It’s massive. I wish I could be the one to break it open, but I can’t yet. But it’s just going to be incredible. [**NOTE: the recently announced tour will feature Lamb of God, Killswitch Engage, Soilwork and DevilDriver]
Cool! Can’t wait to hear what it is. So between Coal Chamber and DevilDriver, you’ve played Ozzfest several times now. Are you sort of becoming an honorary member of the Osbourne family, like Zakk Wylde?
Oh, I don’t know about that. I mean, Sharon and Ozzy managed me for many, many years. We used to baby-sit their kids (laughs). I love Sharon and I love Ozzy. They’ve always been killer to me. Obviously, I’ve done Ozzfest six times now…actually I think Jamey Jasta is on stage from Hatebreed saying that he’s been doing it more times but he needs to get a history fuckin’ lesson (laughs). What it is with them is they love loyalty and I’ve been loyal to that family from the beginning and they’ve been loyal to me. I’ve learned a great deal from those people about longevity, how to stay in the business, how to do the career the right way and really what she says, and probably what she’s been telling Ozzy his whole life, is follow your heart. That’s what she’s been telling me a lot. Even when I told her back in the day I was going to leave Coal Chamber, she said to me “Honey, it’s always got to come from you. Follow your heart.”
You mentioned going to Australia and that was just revealed to be part of the Gigantour with Megadeth and Lacuna Coil. Is this your first time going to Australia or have you played down there before?
Yeah. We played Australia last year but it was my first time in ten years and it was unbelievable! I’ve been friends with Dave Mustaine for a long time because Coal Chamber toured with Megadeth and he’s nothing but a cool guy. It’s fucking great to be going on tour with that dude.
What kind of response do you guys get when you head over to Europe?
Just like what’s happening in the States right now. I mean we put a lot of hard work into this, man. I didn’t go straight out after Coal Chamber and start headlining. We opened for everybody for four years and I think that natural progression and that organic build is really, really showing anywhere we go. So, you can ask me about anywhere from Europe, to Chile, to South America, to the United States, and everywhere is really taking off right now.
DevilDriver was supposed to tour with Venom last year. How disappointing was that when that got cancelled?
Really bad and really fucking disappointing in the way that they reacted. Those are heroes of mine and what happened is they postponed their tour TWICE, and as soon as they called us back and said, “Okay, NOW we’re ready to go. Are you going to do the tour”? We said, “Well no. We’ve already got Australia booked” and then they went on Sirius radio and said some extremely negative things about me and so now, if I ever see that fucking singer [Cronos], I don’t care if he’s a legend, I’m going to fucking grab him by the throat and teach him what responsibility is all about. You can put that in press. I hope it’s everywhere right now because I owe that motherfucker a lashing. He’s nothing but an old man that should have never said shit about DevilDriver because we waited. We put off TWO tours to tour with those guys and they kept putting their stuff back and putting their shit back because ticket sales weren’t selling. They were saying that their Visas were being revoked and when they finally got some ticket sales going and some marketing happening, that’s when they called us back for the tour and we already had plans. Then he said REALLY negative shit about me and my band, so fuck that dude! I don’t care what a legend he is or thinks he is but when I see him, I’m fucking going to confront him physically.
That’s really shitty, too. I mean not just on a professional level but on a personal level being, like you say, they were heroes of yours…
Shitty dude!!! I’m wearing a Venom shirt right now while we’re talking. Right now! And now I think everybody that just says they like Venom just wants to be fucking cool because the guy’s a dickhead and I’ve only seen like two of those in twelve years, I swear to god. Everybody I’ve ever run into from, like we said, from Mustaine to [Philip] Anselmo and to Ozzy have all been the most down to earth, cool guys. But that dude should have never fucking opened his mouth against me and my band. DevilDriver will take that band apart and he should just go….go fucking get a job at Wal-Mart because he’s done.
DEVILDRIVER – 2003
(Laughs) You guys had some bad news earlier this year when you tried to get in the Guinness Book of Records for the largest circle pit but were turned down.
Yeah, the record label thinks they were scared about the liability. It’s almost as if they didn’t know how to define it. I said, “Come out with a measuring tape?” (laughs) But you know what? It was cool just even being recognized and them sending us a letter because if you watch the download bit on You Tube, you can absolutely see what happens.
Oh, it’s huge!
For us that’s the most humbling thing. For me as a singer, the most humbling thing is the connection with the crowd. If you as a band don’t have a connection with the crowd then you’re just some guy doing music up there for yourself and money and everything else. For me, I’ve got to have a connection otherwise it takes it all away from me if I don’t and DevilDriver just happens to have a killer connection.
It’s got to be pretty cool to be able to wield that sort of power, too, from stage to get that many people moving.
You absolutely can not think about it as power, sir. You’ve got to be humbled by it. It’s not me doing it. It’s the people that love our music. I don’t think about power at all. That word is just such an egotistical word. There are five things that ruin a man: drugs, alcohol, money, women and ego and I refuse to let any of them fuck me (laughs).
(Laughs) A couple of DevilDriver songs turn up in the TV show, SCRUBS. How did that come about?
Yes sir. Jeff Kendrick, our guitar player, was drinking at a bar. A guy said “Do you know Trent Reznor [Nine Inch Nails]? I want to get a hold of him to put him in SCRUBS” and Jeff said, “No, why? Who are you”? “I’m the producer of SCRUBS” and Jeff said, “Well, I’m in a band called DevilDriver. If you’re looking for heavy music, why don’t you use our stuff”? And the guy used it! And used it twice. Now it’s like almost synonymous with that character. I’d never watched the show but when I finally did watch it, I was in hysterics, man. That kind of thing gets your stuff out to different masses of people. It’s always appreciated.
You had a rather monumental birthday back in May. You turned forty.
THE FURY OF OUR MAKER’S HAND – 2005
When you were a young guy starting out, did you ever think you’d be fronting a metal band at forty years of age?
Oh, well, I always knew I’d be doing it and what I say now is, anytime a twenty-year old can come up there and kick my ass, I quit (laughs) and it’s just not going to happen anytime soon. Let’s face it, right now I’m in the best shape of my life. I’m singing better than I ever have. I’m surrounded by better players than I’ve ever been. I’ve got a record label that’s more supportive than they ever have been in my entire career. Now is the time and my heroes, all the dudes I appreciate, from Philip, to Danzig, to Ozzy, to Dave Mustaine, to Lemmy…all those dudes are older than me. They’ve got great careers going and I’m humbled to still be where I am and I will still be very grateful if they give me another twenty years, because I’m ready for it.
You were almost thirty years old before the first Coal Chamber album was released in 1997. What sort of involvement did you have with music before that because that is kind of a late start for most people?
For anybody that doesn’t know, Coal Chamber didn’t tour for about a year and a half after we got the record deal because I knew what it would entail and I had a pretty damn good home life with a dog and a Harley Davidson…a decent life where I slept in a bed every night (laughs). About a year and a half later, I got to thinking, “What is my real goal in life? Who am I? What do I want to do?” and that’s when I went with it with them.
Coal Chamber – 1999
What types of metal bands do you listen to as a fan?
Dude, I listen to everything. Right now, I’m listening to David Allan Coe but I also listen to tons of blues. I listen to shit loads of stuff like Satyricon, Motorhead, Behemoth, Nile, a lot of Emperor, tons of Superjoint Ritual, Down, Pantera. I listen to ALL music. The only instrument I play is a Native American flute so I listen to tons of Carlos Nakai, who is probably the best Native American flute player in the world. I can read his music and play it now. I’m a diverse kind of guy that way. It’s the guy who says “I don’t listen to death metal” that I just look at and go “Get out of here!”
The other guys in the band have got a side project called Beltfed. Do you do any other musical things besides DevilDriver?
No. Actually they don’t have a side project called Beltfed. What that was, I guess three of them got together with no singer and played ten songs at a local club that they had been playing at for years and years and everyone dubbed it as a side project, but no. We all pretty much just focus on DevilDriver. But we all have such different influences that I wouldn’t doubt if other things come. I mean my guitar player, Mike [Spreitzer], can do soundtracks to music for movies, probably better than anyone. I’m definitely going to do a hippie, seventies/psychedelic, fucking Hammond B3 organ thing in the next ten years sometime. So who knows? I believe that anything apart from the whole, when you bring it back to the whole, it makes the whole better, so whatever the musicians want to do is fine with me.
Will you ever change up your vocal style? Like try out some clean vocals or different things like that?
If it calls for it. I did a lot of clean vocals in the beginning. It has to be what Devil driver calls for and that’s the whole thing about if you’ll do side projects or this and that. Obviously, if I want to go play Native American flute, I can’t do it in DevilDriver (laughs). Whatever we make together as a team, has to be for DevilDriver and if clean vocals are part of it, who knows? Right now, I’m not doing it because everyone’s doing it. Five years from now, if everybody and their mother is screaming their ass off and no one can do a good, clean vocal, then I may lay one. I just don’t want to follow what’s real popular right now, man. And it’s real popular right now, you know? (*singing like wounded cat*)…oh god…it annoys me, man. They give you this heavy verse and then they go into this shitty chorus.
Yeah, there’s a lot of that out there. I hear a lot of it as a reviewer.
Yeah, I do too. I hear a lot of that shit going around and it’s funny, those bands are selling.
They’re selling. They’re all over the radio and their making money, but you know what? My middle finger is bigger than ever…fuck ‘em.
(Laughs) I got a question I don’t think I’ve ever seen answered before. I was wondering how you got your name Dez? Is that your middle name?
Nah. Nickname given to me by a bunch of kids and a bunch of different ways people came about. My favorite singer is Dez Cadena of Black Flag so when I was a little young kid, when you get nicknames, you get named it and then there you go.
Right. Does anybody actually call you by your real name?
My mother calls me by my real name and Monte Connor from Roadrunner Records calls me by my real name. He walked right up to me yesterday and goes “Bradley!”
Nobody else is allowed, though?
Well, dude, you can call me whatever you want as long as it’s not “fuck off.” I would prefer Dez (laughs).
(Laughs) Over the years, your lyrics, artwork and different imagery within the band have touched on various spiritual and Pagan themes. I noticed in the “thank you” sections of the liner notes that you’ve thanked “the maker,” “the watchers,” “the higher power” and that sort of thing. What are your own spiritual leanings?
Strange. Strange, strange, strange. Mother and grandmother were Christian Science. Went to a Baptist school for four years. Both my stepfathers were Catholic. When I met my real father he was Lutheran. I had to go to all those churches. Sit down, get up, sit down. Pretty soon I just found out that it all comes down to Karma. When I got into the mathematics of the thing…a lot of Kabbalists and a lot of people who actually practice real life…it’s the mathematics and the tides, it’s the moon…these things also rule our lives. Then I found Paganism. For me, if I have to break it down, it’s Karma. When I step on your toes and it’s wrong, I’m going to get a payback and the payback’s going to be a bitch. But if you come and you do me wrong, and you do me real wrong and I kick you in the teeth, and you go through the rest of your life with no teeth, that’s your fucking fault (laughs)! That’s the only way you can break it down. I’m not meaning to be vulgar about it. There’s no real way to break that down. It’s the person. It’s the religious person that scares me. It’s the spiritual person that enlightens me.
I have one last question regarding your tattoos. Are you still adding more tattoos or are you all filled up?
I still get tattoos. I just got my birth date on my neck. I just got one around my neck. I got my wife’s name on my hand. I still get tattoos but I don’t have a lot of skin left. The one thing I have is a huge back patch and I’m saving that. I’m saving it for Paul Booth is what I’m doing. I think it’s going to be like a skeleton of Elvis on a pirate ship or something…
(Laughs) That is original! I have never seen that before! Alright Dez, thanks a lot for taking the time today to chat with us.
No problem, brother. We appreciate the support, man. Everyone’s coming to the table for this record and I want to say my thank you’s for anybody who even takes the time to talk to us. We’re just guys out here playing music. Very unimportant in the world compared to what’s really happening and if you take five minutes to talk to us, thank you very much.
***Thanks to Dean from Roadrunner Records Canada for setting up the interview.