An Interview with Dez Fafara of DevilDriver - June 3rd, 2011
By Mike Bax
Dez Fafara has been playing live music for most of his life. When he started up DevilDriver in (or around) 2002, his ambitions seemed to be to write and perform full-on metal with a group of like-minded music aficionados. The recent release of album number five (Beast) from DevilDriver (amongst the best, and hardest material the band has ever recorded) marks ten years together for the band.
Although bassist Jon Miller left the band after the recording of the new album, Fafara seemed genuinely pumped about his album, his band, and his plans to hang with his family for most of the summer and not tour a battery of European music festivals.
Watch for DevilDriver at Heavy TO and Heavy MTL this summer in Toronto and Montreal respectively – two of the few live dates the band will do in North America this Summer. DevilDriver play Heavy TO in Toronto on July 23rd and Heavy MTL in Montreal on July 24th.
Line Up: http://lineup.heavyto.com/
Line Up: http://lineup.heavymtl.com/
Mike: Hey Dez. How are you?
Dez: Good, man.
Mike: Where are you right now?
Dez: I’m at home.
Mike: Nice. Any plans for the weekend?
Dez: I’ve been home for two days. Just being home is enough right now. I’ll make plans later. Don’t know about any plans in particular. I’m hanging out with my wife and kids and the dogs… being home is so nice, man. I’ll probably barbeque something.
Mike: I had no idea you are the same Dez who used to sing in Coal Chamber, not till I was sniffing around online to prep this interview. That’s crazy.
Dez: (laughs) I’ve heard that a lot lately. That’s great. When DevilDriver started, I really didn’t want to rest on the Coal Chamber name. We could have, and then maybe done it an easier way. But I didn’t want to do that. We got out and opened for everybody under the sun and got in the van or the RV and built our audience one person at a time. But I’ve been hearing that a lot. Folks saying, “I never knew you sung in Coal Chamber”. It is what it is, man.
Mike: I saw Coal Chamber a bunch of times in the late nineties. I’m pretty sure it was at least three shows.
Dez: Right on. I had a great time in that band. I thought we were something different at the time. Unfortunately, they found drugs and alcohol and fame and money and egos to be more powerful than music and friendship and traveling, so I bailed out, you know? And that’s the story there.
Mike: It’s seems like DevilDriver is a better home for you. You seem more comfortable there.
Dez: It is. It’s my baby and that’s important. If there is a good leader or captain in anything in life, often times things will go well, and that’s what’s happening with DevilDriver at this point. I’ve got good guys with me. They are great players and they are people who love to tour, which is very important. The kind of regimen that I keep can be very exhausting.
Mike: You’ve been on Roadrunner Records since back in the day. Coal Chamber was Roadrunner and DevilDriver is as well.
Dez: I’ve been there since 1995.
Mike: Well, they must be a good fit for you. That’s good to hear.
Dez: We’ve always been good to each other. They have been a good label. They’ve dropped the ball a few times on a few different occasions, but they always listen and will come right back and help me out, you know? It’s a good fit, definitely. I have nothing but respect for everyone at the label.
Mike: You’ve been into music your entire life. Was there every anything else you considered for a career when you were younger?
Dez: I did a lot of different things, man. I come from a construction family, so I was on the job site from a very young age. I’ve done everything that has to do with that industry, really - framing houses and roofing. I was a brick-layer for a long time. When I was a kid I worked at a gas station. I always worked – that was the thing with me. From age 13 to 14, I went out and found jobs at hardware stores or wherever. After that I went into hair. I was a hairdresser in Beverly Hills, which was a really crazy experience. I did a lot of different things. I think it’s important to work. I’ve got three boys and I tell them this all the time. I’ll say, “What’s important is that you have a job. It’s not what you do, it’s that you always be working”. It’s important.
Mike: As a musician in your forties, do you look back on your career and wonder how you made it so far?
Dez: What’s strange now is that I have actually started to look back and think about how I have gotten to where I am. And I think it was hard work from the beginning. I was always going to rehearsals. When I was 14 to 15, I was a drummer in a stand-up rockabilly / psychobilly band. I was a singer in a punk band at 16, 17 and 18 years old. So I was always going to rehearsal and always around music. Always going to clubs and always in and around musicians. Whatever you run with is what you are going to be. Your parents say that when you are growing up, and it’s true. I ran with musicians, so that became my career, you know?
Mike: Is it easier to deliver aggressive music as a young man with no wife and kids as compared to the family man you are now?
Dez: I think it’s way easier now, man. If you listen to Beast, I went through my roughest time since I was in my early twenties when we were making that record. I unleashed unholy hell on that record. When you are in your twenties, I think you are pissed off, but you don’t really know what you are pissed off about. You’re just pissed off because you are in your twenties. Any kind of ignited force spread out with no opposition in front of it dissipates like air. That’s really what you are giving lyrically when you are in your twenties. When you creep up into your late thirties and you start delivering stuff that is coming from your soul deep within – I think that’s what’s happening with me at this point in DevilDriver.
Mike: You and I are about the same age, Dez. With some of the creaks and moans my body is already making, I can't imagine belting out music of DevilDriver's intensity night after night. Good on you.
Dez: You’re 35, as well?
Mike: Yes. Yes I am.
Dez: You feel good, don’t you? (laughs) You know what? Let me tell you… I am blessed with good genes. I do yoga. I eat right. I sleep right. I don’t drink a whole lot of hard alcohol. Just once in a while I’ll have a cocktail. I save any wine that I might feel like drinking until after the stage. I just try to take care of my body. When I am at home, I’m running five miles. I meditate. The things I take into my mind and into my body are treated temple-like at this point. It’s the only way, really. What I see in front of me is longevity. I see ahead being out there twenty years from now. The only way to do that is to keep your body up and keep it in shape. I don’t have a lot of creaks and moans or any of that. It’s weird, because yesterday I actually went and got a back X-Ray to see how I’m doing. Between two of my vertebrae’s I don’t have any discs. I’m all creaked out sideways and my neck’s all creaked out, but I’ll tell you I feel great. I think it’s due to yoga and eating right and having a healthy outlook on life. I put my family first and then my career. I’ve got my priorities straight.
Mike: Did you have anything set in stone when you went in this fifth album with your bandmates? Anything in particular you wanted to accomplish?
Dez: I wanted it to be a faster record. Other than that, we were all going through some times as well. Not with each other, just all in personal life that I think added to ferocity and the voracious attitude of this record. Really, not much needed to be said other than lets go in and make sure that we hit our mark and we make sure that we don’t sound like anybody else out there. People have been having a hard time defining what we are and where we fit in musically. It’s obvious we’re not death metal. It’s obvious we’re not this new American wave of heavy metal. They’re (journalists) having a hard time pinning us down and I think that’s important. As artists we wanted to make sure the record grew organically. We came in with something different. Beast really does sound different than the previous record.
Mike: I think all that classification stuff can go out the window. Beast is a good metal album. Done. That’s really all that matters.
Dez: Well, I was in a scene that after ten years got a classification, and for the past ten years they have been trying to put a classification on us. Every time they go, “You’re death metal”, I reply with, “Really? Have you listened to Six Feet Under and Cannibal Corpse? Those bands are death metal. We are not that.”
Or we’ll get, “You’re in with this new American wave of heavy metal” and I go, “Really? We’re nothing like Lamb of God, or bands that sound like them.” For us, it’s really important to define ourselves and do something different. That’s really what we wanted Beast to be.
Mike: What motivates you to write music now? Does it come as easy as it did 15 to 20 years ago?
Dez: The same things, really. I see something or hear something and I pick up a pen and start writing. Then I can put it to music later. What actually compels me? I’m not sure about that. Whatever compels me to get up in the morning… it’s the same thing. I can never put my finger on it really. It’s just what I do.
Mike: How was it working with Mark Lewis and Andy Sneap?
Dez: Great guys. Mark Lewis is the new Andy Sneap, and Andy Sneap is Godlike when it comes to mixing. The guy just has it down, man. He knows what he’s doing. Not only is he a great mixer, but he’s a personal friend. We just hung out a few days ago, sitting on the couch chatting. I really like the guy. I like him personally and I like his work ethic. He knows my voice really well. Mark Lewis is extremely talented. He co-engineered The Last Kind Words and on that record I said to him that I definitely wanted to work with him solo with DevilDriver instead of him working with Jason Suecof. We chose him for this record and we made a great match on the album. He went through hell and high water with us on this record.
Mike: You recently got to hang out with a slathering of your contemporaries at the Revolver Golden Gods awards. How was that event for you?
Dez: Next question.
Mike: Oh no!! Can I ask you about the Black Flag tribute you did there?
Dez: I’ll tell you what - the band had a great time. Jamey Jasta, Max Cavalera and Mike Vallely brought an element to that set that was actually scary. So they didn’t even air any of us there. We all worked so hard at it, too. I’m never going back again.
Mike: That’s too bad. I would have loved to have seen that Black Flag stuff. You even sound a bit like Henry just talking here with me Dez. You’re vocal inflections and the way you articulate some of what you’ve talked about here reminds me of him a bit. That live set would have been fucking cool to see.
Dez: It was absolutely incredible. I’m hoping that somebody surfaces with footage from it on camera because we all worked so hard on that thing. And when they (VH1) didn’t air it, I can guarantee you that if you ask anybody that was there about the set, they’ll say the same thing in that they are not really happy with how it went down.
Mike: What a shame.
Dez: You should have seen the crowd when we were doing that set by the way.
Mike: I’m sure it was amazing.
Dez: It went from stuffy shirts to everyone pitting and going insane. It unleashed that night and I just think it’s basically that we weren’t buttoned down, collared, tidied up and safe. So VH1 was never going to show it, you know? And that’s ok, I guess. That’s who we are. That’s how all the players who were involved are as well. Max, Mike Vallely, Jamey and all of us, we do our own thing. It was everything that was good about art, I’ll tell you that!
Mike: I saw footage of ‘Jealous Again’ and ‘Thirsty And Miserable’ on the YouTube, but I think you did four songs and I can’t find anything online for the other two.
Dez: (groans) Well, next question.
Mike: I’m really looking forward to Heavy TO here in Toronto in July. Are you doing any other touring this summer to lead into both Toronto and Montreal?
Dez: I haven’t had a June and July off in 15 years. This year, I took both of those months off. Obviously we’re going to come up and do the two festivals (Heavy TO and Heavy MTL) and then at the very beginning of August we are going to go down and do a Latin America run. Then we go into the States to do a run with Arch Enemy that should take us through all of Canada, too. That should be officially announced soon. So, that being said, it’s really going to be nice to have these months off with my family - fourth of July with my family. I’m a patriot for my country and I want to experience it this year with my family. I can’t believe I have a July off. It’s festival season overseas right now, you know?
Mike: Yes, it is.
Dez: I said no to every major festival that there is when I’ve never said no before. A: I don’t want to be the house band in Europe every year for these things, and B: I need to get some family time in this summer, you know?
Mike: Get energized man. That’s a good plan.
Dez: Yeah. My wife thinks so, too. She’s looking at me now nodding her head.
Mike: Who are using for a touring bassist right now? Will it be the same individual you’ll be using when we see you up here at the end of July?
Dez: We’ll see. Aaron’s doing a great job. He brings a different element to the band too - a different vibe. He’s a short haired, straight-edged physically fit guy. He brings a different vibe within the band that is really positive. He’s such a positive guy. People have taken to him live. He’s a totally different monster than (Jon) Miller was on stage. He’s his own separate thing, but it’s working out real well. We haven’t really thought about anything else. We are going to move forward with Aaron for a while. But we haven’t decided who’s going to fill Jon’s shoes just yet.
Mike: Yeah, yeah, I understand.
Dez: They’re big shoes to fill, man.
Mike: Yeah, they are. One of my favourite compilations recently is the Maiden Heaven compilation (release as a bonus CD with the purchase of Kerrang! in the summer of 2008. Your cover of 'Wasted Years' is amongst the best cover versions on that compilation. Can you talk a bit about that track and putting it together?
Dez: Great time, absolutely a good time. First of all, I’m a fan of all music, you know? I listen to everything from blues to black metal, but I was never a massive Iron Maiden fan. I know people are going to hate on me now having said that. “Don’t hate on me right now!!” (laughs) So I was never huge into them, but I was always respectful of what they were and what they mean to the genre. When they (Kerrang!) came to us with this cover, Jeff (Kendrick) forwarded it to me and read the lyrics and I was like, “Oh man! This song is about touring. I can relate so much to this song.” We were in the studio 48 hours later laying it down. It just felt natural. I had a great time doing it; I thought the band did a terrific job. Covers can be really hit and miss, so I appreciate what you said about that cover. I think we probably hit our mark on that song and I’m real proud of it. And I say this knowing that we are just now getting ready to go and do a Metallica cover.
Dez: In the next couple of days here in L.A. for a magazine, you know? And again, these things are so hit and miss. I’m nervous when we do covers.
Mike: I have a lot of compilation albums. I like cover versions a lot, and I have very few compilation albums where every fucking track is good. Maiden Heaven was a giveaway with a magazine. I didn’t even really have to shell out for it – it came with a magazine I likely would have bought anyway. It’s still a game-changer as far as what a magazine can do as far as delivering value-added for their readership.
Dez: Pretty cool, man. Pretty cool. Look, for any artist that is in a band, they will all say the same thing. Just step outside yourself and do something like that. To work with other people on it and step outside of your comfort zone and do a cover, that’s just the icing on the cake for us. It makes it really fun. That was a really good time.
Mike: Do you ever bust that track out live, Dez?
Dez: No, but we have talked about it several times. But no, we never have.
Mike: That would be pretty cool to hear live. Just sayin’.
Dez: It would be cool, it would. And now, I have to say it did give me a whole new respect for Iron Maiden. I’ve really gone back into the catalogue and checked it all out. When we were at Soundwave, we were hanging out with Bruce Dickinson for a while; we got photos with him and we were talking with him a bit. And his kid. Austin, who is in Rise to Remain, he’s great too - really talented. So anyways, I got to walk up to Bruce and say, “Hey, we did a cover!”
Which was so great. It was really cool.
Mike: For me, on the new album, I’ve got two tunes that I just love. I like ‘Hardened’ and I like ‘Shitlist’ a lot. Do you have a personal favourite and what makes that track a favourite for you?
Dez: I’d say those two songs and ‘Blur’ are my favourites. Those three. ‘Hardened’ – if you read the lyrics, that song is really putting some things out there, you know? And ‘Shitlist’ is one of those words that I’m sure you’ve used and I know I’ve used all my life, you know? “Don’t invite that dude… he’s been on my shitlist forever.” “That person’s on the list.” “Don’t have them up on the bus.” We’ve been SAYING it for years and finally I was just ready to write a song about it.
Mike: Thanks so much, Dez. Have an awesome weekend, and I am looking forward to seeing in a few months at Heavy TO.
Dez: Thanks a bunch, Mike.