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Interview: Dez Fafara of DevilDriver | April 30, 2011

Touring juggernaut, DevilDriver, hasn’t let up since they dropped their latest release, Beast, back in February. Headlining in the U.S., then off to Europe and now supporting Danzig on his latest North American jaunt. I sat down with DevilDriver front man, Dez Fafara (DF), before their April 30 performance at the Majestic Ventura Theater in California (view pictures of the show here). Freshly inked from a trip to the tattoo shop around the corner and visibly stoked for playing the new stuff at a hometown-ish show, we covered topics ranging from the new album to trials of the road. Here’s a guy that’s found his zen place and makes the most out of his passion for music … and is a very cool dude as well.

Hey Dez, thanks for taking the time.

DF: Hey, thanks for coming out man. It’s good to be in California. We leave tonight and won’t see California for another month so it’s good to be here right now.

And this is kind of a home town show for you guys, right?

DF: Yeah, we formed in Santa Barbara. None of us live there anymore. We all live in the Inland Empire or L.A. now but this is a hometown show. There are a lot of people outside our bus right now that are great friends.

So what is the expectation for the show tonight? Is it going to be pretty crazy?

DF: Just have a fucking great time … just have a good time. Ventura can get rough which is good. I hope that they do get rough tonight.

Like rough in a brutal, fun way.

DF: Like rough in a brutal, fun, bad-ass, DevilDriver, let’s do this way.

So you guys have been pretty busy. I know this is just the second show of this particular tour [with Danzig] but you guys were recently headlining a tour with Cancer Bats and Baptized in Blood. How do you prepare differently for a supporting slot than you do for a headlining slot?

DF: Yeah, we do. If we’re going to put in different new songs, we’re going to rehearse those.  That kind of things goes down, otherwise it’s just business as usual.

So new songs for the tour?

DF: Definitely new songs. With Danzig we only have forty minutes so we’re only doing one song off of the new record [Beast].

Which one?

DF: We’re doing Dead to Rights, the first track. But we headline tomorrow night because he [Danzig] has an off night. When he has his off nights we do an on night. So tomorrow night we get to play two or three off of off Beast which will be great.

And where are you playing tomorrow?

DF: Flagstaff, Arizona. A little college town. My brother went to college there, actually. We’re going to meet him at Solitaire.

How many off-night shows are you able to squeeze in?

DF: I think that there are thirty-something days on this tour and he [Danzig] has maybe seven, eight, nine days off. We’ve filled them all so I think we’re pretty much going straight through unless we have to drive. I personally don’t take a look at the schedule any more. I like to just wake up and just, “where are we? Oh.” It makes it new to me.

You just got off tour and then did the Golden Gods performance. How did that go?

DF: It was incredible. We did Dead to Rights off of Beast and then we did four Black Flag songs with Jamey Jasta, Mike Vallely and Max Cavalera. And it was incredible because everyone at the Golden Gods was kinda doing this 80’s thing … bringing out Duff McKagan to do It’s So Easy or Sebastian Bach to sing a Skid Row tune … and we were like, “well, how come no body’s bringing punk rock to the table here?” In ’79 and ’80 Black Flag was king so we brought that to the table and the crowd really loved it. They went off!

So you did Jealous Again, what else did you guys play?

DF: Jealous Again, Thirsty and Miserable, Six Pack and Mike Vallely did … what’d Mike do? … I can’t remember but he killed it. He’s a great dude and a great vocalist.

I think I saw the Jealous Again video on YouTube

DF: We created our own definition … there’s some double bass in there and the higher vocals, but it was a tribute nonetheless. I’m a huge fan.

How did the tour with Danzig come about?

DF: We found out that he was going on the road and we put in the call. I don’t know if people know this but Glenn gave me my first tour ever in Coal Chamber.

I did not know that.

DF: So I’ve known him for quite a while and he’s always been a total gentleman to me. It’s like full-circle him taking DevilDriver out now. He’s just a great guy and everybody in his band … Tommy Victor, all those guys … are just amazing people. I’ve known them since I was a kid. Tommy Victor who used to be in Prong lived right next door to me.

He still is [in Prong].

DF: If he still is, cool, I love Prong. Big fan. But they lived next door to the Coal Chamber house and Tommy Victor actually gave Rayna [Foss], our bass player from Coal Chamber, her first bass. So that’s how long I’ve known Tommy. So it’s cool to be out with all these guys.

What goes on behind the scenes with those guys?

DF: What’s on the road stays on the road, man. [laughs] I’ll write the book somewhere in my mid-sixties and then I can tell everything but right now I’ve got another twenty-five years so I’m waiting to tell stories

Fair enough. Jon your bass left the band a couple of months ago. What are your plans to fill that position?

DF: Aaron is filling in right now and he’s done over 75 … 80 shows with us.

Already?

DF: Already. ‘Cause he did two European tours, he did Golden Gods, he did Canada with us. Actually Jon Miller’s here today hanging out. You just saw us out there right now taking photos with him. You know, look … Jon’s suffering from a battle that all of us have waged once in a while in our life and I just hope that he comes through it on the other end. He’s one of the sweetest, greatest guys. He spent nine years in the trenches with us and I just hope he beats his battles and wages his battles right and throws off his foes and punches them in the fucking chin, you know what I mean?

So he’s doing better now?

DF: He looked like he was doing good just now when I saw him outside. That’s great, that’s all I really wish for him. None of us have any other feelings and [we’re all] wishing the best for Jonathan. I wish he was still here but he needs to conquer some things. You gotta learn how to conquer boredom out here, you gotta learn how to say no out here.

Do you envision him rejoining the band one day?

DF: I don’t know. I don’t think so at this point. He made it very clear that he’s done right now with touring and he’s gonna figure himself out. I don’t know what that means. We’ll see, man. I don’t have a crystal ball but I have Tarot cards and I haven’t read anything with my Tarot on this subject. I’m going to let the chips fall where they fall.

I think that you point out that it’s part of the threat of the road. How do you manage that, yourself? The stuff that Jon faced is obviously the same stuff that you face every day.

DF: We’ve all faced it. Look, you gotta learn the yin and the yang of it. I’m a family man with a wife and children, I’ve got a business to run and then I’m also a guy that likes to have a good time with my friends. I just don’t take it over the top … I don’t do any hard drugs and I don’t allow any of that going on. If somebody is really partying to the point of they’re going to fuck up the show or fuck up what we’re out here doing … let’s face it, in economic times people are playing twenty-five, thirty dollars for a ticket … they don’t want to see somebody out there stumbling around and fucked up. They want to see you on it, doing your thing. So that’s how I do it. I manage to have a cocktail here and there but that’s about it. I don’t go overboard.

Switching gears to the new record [Beast], you guys strike this balance between really heavy record without having the guitars turn to sludge. Is that something that you went in beforehand thinking you wanted to achieve?

DF: I don’t think that anything has been thought out in this band.  We started jamming when Coal Chamber was together, nothing was thought out. We were together six months before we made our first record. It’s kind of the reason we’ve put out five records in eight or nine years. This big body of work is just to define who we are to ourselves and to our fans. Most bands have five or six years before they get a record deal. So they define their sound, they know exactly what they’re going to do, where they’re fitting into a certain scene where they’re blowing up at the moment. We don’t. We’re like the square peg in the round hole. We don’t fit in with anything, we do our own thing, and I think that’s part of the appeal of DevilDriver.

It sounds like from a writing perspective, it’s an organic process.

DF: We write what we write and that’s it. And that’s why every record sounds totally different. If you listen from the first record to Beast, it’s all completely different. That’s because we’re challenging views, really looking at new sounds and trying to figure ourselves out. I told the record label when they signed us, actually … Monty Conner … I said, on the fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh records, that’s where you’re going to see us shine. And he said it after he heard Beast … Monty called me and goes, “hoooollllly fuck.” He got the demos and he’s like, “this recording is fucking great. You guys are doing a great job.” And I said, that’s because we’re growing. We’ve only been together eight or nine years. That’s not a long time.

Longer than some bands, I guess. Some bands have their sound, like you said, they’ve been playing a long time before the record deal and they’ve got it figured out. It seems like with DevilDriver we’ve been able to watch that happen as it comes out through your records.

DF: Totally. And it’s kind of cool for fans that have been with us from the beginning to see the growth. And it is definitely an organic growth that nobody’s thinking about. We’re just making records and making tunes that we like for ourselves and it just so happens that it doesn’t really fit in with any genre. You can’t label us. That’s a really great thing at this time in music because it’s very convoluted … tons of heavy bands … everybody’s got a sound that relates to somebody else’s sound or a look that relates to somebody else’s look. Well if you really look at us or hear us, we don’t fit in with anybody’s genre.

Do you see that stabilizing at some point?

DF: I don’t know, man.

Or is that just part of who you guys are?

DF: We’re just doing what we’re doing. We don’t worry about anything. We just make music and the only thing we care about is going on stage and throwing it fucking down so that it’s hard to follow. That’s all we care about.

How does your time with DevilDriver compare to your time in Coal Chamber?

DF: Totally separate because Coal Chamber was a different entity. We were more punk rock and goth put together. We came out in a scene that eventually got labeled as ‘nu metal.’  People don’t know … it was Korn, Deftones and us at the same time unsigned. I look back at that with fondness. I had a great time with those guys and I’m still good friends with them. All the Coal Chamber guys are coming tonight. They’ll all be here and they party with my boys when they see them out. But it’s a different thing musically completely. And my journey with DevilDriver thus far has been a much more revealing life journey than the clouded vision that we all had in Coal Chamber which was really absolutely taking drugs, alcohol … everything was to the limit with us. Everything. There’s a story of me climbing out of a bus window and riding on top of the bus at sixty miles an hour at night drunk out of my fucking mind on whiskey.

You didn’t save that for the book!

DF: [Laughs] That’ll give you a little inkling of where I was at that point in time which was, “who cares what happens.” I’m not that way anymore about it. I think it’s important to not have a clouded vision when you’re out here on the road.

Is part of that being married, having kids …

DF: No, I was married at the time and having kids. It just comes with saying, what do you really want out of life. And I want to jam for a long time. I got a lot of years left in me and so do these guys. I got players around me, I’m surrounded by great friends. I think that’s the unique thing … is we’re actually close friends. A lot of bands that you run into that have been together ten years, they hate each other. They don’t hang out in the dressing room, they just gig together. And I don’t want any of that. It’s not what I want. We’re all close friends.

I’ve seen those bands that you’re talking about. It seems to me that if you’re going to be spending literally twenty-four hours a day with these guys for months out of the year, it’s gotta be tough to do that while not liking the people.

DF: I spend more time with these guys than I spend with my wife and my kids. I always say, I’ve been married fifteen years and only home six years of that.

I happened to notice you were at the Big 4 show last weekend. What’d you think?

DF: It was killer. I’m friends with King … I went with Kerry. It was really put together well, that’s what I thought. The backstage and everything was put together well. Everything was done great but the bands were killer. My personal favorite that day was Slayer although Metallica really busted it out. They opened up with every old tune that they’ve done. That’s who I am; I like the old Metallica. Good for them that they’re changing because it’s growth. A lot of people will say stuff about that but not me, I appreciate the growth. But it was good to hear the older tunes as well. I thought Slayer took the day, to tell you the truth. And when Hanneman came out and played two songs people went insane. And he had his arm hanging out showing his spider bite and I saw it up close and it was like, “wow! A spider can ruin your fucking life!” And that guy is a legend … all of them are really cool people, down to earth.

That was a huge moment.

DF: We were side stage when he came out and people went fucking nuts.

You must have known it was going to happen, though.

DF: Yeah. Well I said, “I heard you’re going to do four songs.” He goes no, he motioned at me no, just two. I thought it was killer. Tom [Araya] sounded amazing. He came back off of neck surgery and Hanneman’s got a spider bite, it’s just good to see them all up there jamming. It’s fucking Slayer, dude!

How do you think Gary [Hold] did?

DF: Gary’s amazing. Gary is so tight on guitar it’s unbelievable.

I would have thought that he was in the band for years just watching him play.

DF: Yeah, Kerry made a comment to me that when they were rehearsing he would stop playing because it was so tight he didn’t know if Gary was actually playing. Good for them and good for Gary coming out. Kerry’s one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. I love the Exodus guys, fantastic people. Personally I thought Testament and Exodus should have been on that … should have been the Big 6.

Chuck Billy [Testament] was there [at the Big 4 show].

DF: Chuck was there … it’s great when you can meet your heroes and then say things like, “that’s the sweetest guy in the industry.” But he’s really the nicest cat in the industry.

One last question just to wrap things up … most memorable moment from the road?

DF: Most memorable moment is just over years being able to play shows and have a good time and do what I do for a living. I barely support my kids and wife at home but I’m doing what I love to do. I wouldn’t change it for the world. I’m really pleased. Beast came out with no commercial airplay and it debuted [in the] top 40 … debuted top 10 in Australia … number one rock overseas. It’s crazy.

I guess that says something about how off radio is.

DF: It just goes to prove that people have their ear to the ground and that we’re doing something that’s right and something that’s touching the people. I couldn’t be more proud.

The new album is awesome.

DF: Thank you very much. I lot of humility goes into what we do so the compliments are really taken to heart, so thank you.

It’s one of those records that you can put in and listen to the whole thing through and then it’s over and you want to start from the beginning versus some records where all the songs kind of blend together.

DF: We really wanted something that was like that. We really slaved over that. We slaved over the sequencing of the songs and everything else. Then we had three b-sides left over; two of them were A-sides for me. I song called Lost, especially, is on the special edition. I was like, “I can’t fucking believe it didn’t make the record.” But we do things pretty organically with a vote here and if everyone’s got four hands and there’s one hand up then I lose.

So are we going to hear those other songs at some point?

DF: I would love to. There’s eventually going to be a time when we play everything off of Beast including the stuff from special edition and recorded. There’s definitely going to be a time when we play the whole record. I’m thinking it’s not going to be this year because we’re so backed up right now. But next year, without a doubt. And it will be somewhere cool … the Whiskey, the Roxy … somewhere small where we can just pack it in and just do a recorded show and make it crazy.

I’ll keep an eye out for that.

DF: Yeah, we got to get the label to come to the table. We want to do a live record and we want to record Beast live too. They just say, nobody buys live records any more; we’re not going to put up the money for that. And that’s not art to me. You need to put out art. And what you may think is a good painting or a bad painting, someone may think, “that’s the fucking bomb. I want to buy that.” The thing is, you just gotta put out art. So we gotta get them to come to the table for us and let us do a live record. That’s where we shine. So we really need to put one of those out.

I’m looking forward to hearing some of it tonight.

DF: Tonight’s gonna be great. We’re playing with a fucking legend. Glenn Danzig is a legend. And a nice cat.

© 2011 Alan Snodgrass | www.digitaldiversion.net. Please do not use without express permission (contact). If you like what you see, leave a comment below and subscribe so you can be notified of new posts. You can also become a fan on Facebook for access to exclusive photos.

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