Devildriver – Driven to Succeed

Sunday, 17th June 2018

Certainly one of the largest of the American metal bands of today, Devildriver has been doing their thing for over 15 years now. That doesn’t even count the time that band leader/vocalist Dez Fafara had previously exerted in nu metal act Coal Chamber (which yes, has since been revived). Needless to say, Fafara has had more than his share of experience with the metal community. Which is also why Devildriver’s upcoming album, Outlaws ‘Til the End (PRE-ORDER HERE), is such a fascinating one. The idea of taking outlaw country songs and turning them into metalized tracks is something not many bands would attempt. But they’ve done it, and the results now speak for themselves.

The album is an authentic and genuine piece of metal that may surprise some, and maybe even convert a few naysayers into fans. We had the good fortune of chatting with Fafara himself to talk about the process of Outlaws ‘Til the End, but we didn’t stop there. We also engaged him in his work outside of Devildriver/Coal Chamber, with his management company as well as how he manages to keep his private life private and keys to his success in his many endeavors.

Dead Rhetoric: I was just listening to “Country Heroes;” I really like the way that you interpreted it.

Dez Fafara: It was really cool recording “Country Heroes,” with Hank III, because it’s his song, and doing it a different way – especially with his vocal tone and his style with what he is delivering on this, I thought it was a fantastic way to start the record, him and I.

Dead Rhetoric: I know this is something you’ve been working on for a while. What gave you think of the idea of putting outlaw country songs in a heavy metal scope?

Fafara: From the inception of me listening to these songs in my childhood, I heard these songs with some additional paint on them. We were out with Devildriver and we were at the Mall of America or something like that, and we did a photo with shotguns in our hands and stuff like that. A week and a half later, I was looking at that photo and thinking it was going to be at least 3 years before the next Devildriver record because nothing great comes easy. We’ve been working very hard on this record.

So I was thinking of what we could do at the same time, and it kind of struck me as an ‘ah hah’ moment looking at that photo and thinking of doing a record of outlaw country songs and doing it extremely heavy, and try to get some guests. I was thinking Hank III, Randy [Blythe] from Lamb of God, and John Carter Cash, and that was it. That was about 2 years ago – so the album has been about 2, almost 3 years, in the making. Logically it was a total nightmare. I would never tell anyone to bite off this kind of a project. But we got through it, and coming out the end and listening to the record – I love it.

Dead Rhetoric: How much restructuring when into the songs themselves from their original form and turn them into something heavier?

Fafara: Some more than others. Some, like “Whiskey River” from Willie Nelson, that song – coming from Randy’s mouth, “When I got here, I didn’t know what to expect. But when I heard the song, it sounded like a Darkthrone song.” So some of them took more than others. “Whiskey River” has a gnarly, fast, almost black metal lean to it. On those instances, we had to take more leeway, but we tried to take the same structure as original track. We added a minute and a half to each song, or something like that. We tried to keep the structure and give them Devildriver riffs, or in the case of songs like “Whiskey River,” we changed it around.

Dead Rhetoric: In addition to some top rate metal talent, you also got Johnny Cash’s children to sing on the record. Do you think that the level of effort you put in to get these guests gives it more authenticity with the caliber of guests involved?

Fafara: 100%. When you have guys like Hank III, John Carter Cash and his wife Anna on board, on a metal project, because they love metal. If you watch the EPKs, John Carter Cash goes on and on about his love for metal. When I first arrived at the Cash Cabin in Nashville to record, he told me about how his father, Johnny Cash, had taken him to go see Ozzy when he was 10 and showed me photos of it. So these guys all have a love for metal, and the metal guys have a love for outlaw country. There’s an outlaw/rebellious spirit that is running through this thing. You’ve got all these different takes on music and their love for their individual styles – they all have a love for outlaw country.

Dead Rhetoric: Any particular favorite that you were able to land on the guest list?

Fafara: Not really. This thing happened pretty organically. I approached a few people early on, and then it started to open the floodgates. The first guy approached was Glenn Danzig, and he wanted in. But he got tied up with doing a record and The Misfits stuff. So I just started to reach out to people that I thought would be into this. Most of everybody said yes. There’s no favorite – I’m just humbled by the fact that they all joined on. I’m appreciative that there’s such massive comradery from guests from so many different genres of music.

Dead Rhetoric: Do you feel that if this is successful, it’s something that you could continue to build upon down the road?

Fafara: This one is Volume I, so I’ll lead you to believe it [laughs]. I’ll let the title take you down that road.

Dead Rhetoric: Do you feel that DevilDriver fans have an open mind when it comes to music outside the metal genre and are anticipating what this is going to be like?

Fafara: No, metal fans are notoriously close-minded. That’s why I have never been a purist. I have loved to kick sand in all their faces for the last 25 years. I’ve done it with Coal Chamber and I’ve done it with Devildriver. I always say I’m not a purist – I love all genres of music. I’m more influenced by Bauhaus and Black Flag than I am Black Sabbath and Metallica. It’s just the way that it is really. Within metal, there’s always been this weird, purist thing where it’s like, “I only listen to metal!” But then half of those people are lying. They are going home and listening to other stuff.

This was a project that’s like, first of all, let’s let everyone in Europe know exactly what it’s like over here. Which is, if you are tailgating at a metal gig, you are going to hear Metallica into Johnny Cash into Black Sabbath into Pantera into Willie Nelson. People listen to outlaw country. Metalheads listen to outlaw country, that’s just the way it goes. For the United States, let’s do something that has really never been done. Let’s show people the unification of two genres of music. A mashup of two genres of music, with four genres of singers. Let’s really do something special within metal that kicks up some dust. That’s what it’s all about. You are going to wait three years for the next Devildriver record, so we are going to give you something extra special in between.

Dead Rhetoric: In one sense, do you feel that heavy metal is the modern day version of a renegade/rebel? That it coincides nicely with outlaw country?

Fafara: You know, it used to have that feeling. Right now, I’m not really scared by that many metal bands in the scene. I can’t count on my hands, the amount of bands that are actually volatile live, and visceral live and on disc. I’m doing my own thing. I don’t really look around at what other people are doing or pay attention to genres. I know within metal, there’s this purist thing, and it’s good to come in and do something that’s not expected. I think that’s the most important thing. Metal, because of the onslaught of everyone thinking they are heavy, it’s watering down the genre down to a point that when I hear growling now, it just looks like milk to me.

I just don’t know what’s going to happen now because of it. Of course, there’s the seminal godfathers in the scene, and there are some killer young bands coming up doing heavy stuff. I have to really see where the genre goes in the next 5-10 years. It’s getting watered down right now. We’ll have to see what’s going to stick around and pop up. Devildriver has always been one of these bands that paid attention only to what we are doing. That’s why we are still in the game and are where we are at, because we just pay attention to what we do.

Dead Rhetoric: There’s been a couple of people that I’ve talked with now recently that say that the next 5-10 years are going to be really pivotal for metal because it is in this state of flux where you have bands like Metallica and Slayer getting older and there’s not really anyone stepping up to fill that same role in a sense.

Fafara: Right. And then you have the battle lines being straddled. You have bands that are coming at you that are heavy and dark, but yet there’s one song that’s brutal on the record, they have another one that sounds like Smashing Pumpkins all over the radio, there’s another one that’s on active rock. So what are you? You are straddling the lines – you are telling everyone you are the newest on the scene and the most volatile thing happening, yet I’m over here on active rock and I hear your song and it sounds like Smashing Pumpkins. What’s really happening? It’s a tricky situation for bands coming up.

What I say, is stay true to yourself, stay true to your sound. Don’t try to paint a fucking picture, just do what you do. If people listen to your music, then you are good to go! But I’m seeing that, and I’m seeing bands that are even heavier wanting to go for more active rock to keep things alive, or get that fanbase higher. That’s a strange situation too – you have been doing this thing for your whole life and now you aren’t. It’s a weird time in metal. I’m glad I’m in Devildriver at this point. We’ve always done only what we have wanted. We’ve done covers of “Wasted Years,” we’ve done covers of Awolnation’s “Sail,” and they both work. We can be on one side of the fence or the other, but we aren’t up in the fence, you know? I think that’s what a lot of bands are doing right now. They are riding the fence. You can’t do that.

Dead Rhetoric: You’ve kind of alluded to this, but what do you feel has been the key of your success over the years with Coal Chamber and DevilDriver?

Fafara: I think it’s just paying attention to what I want to do. A perfect example – there’s a guy that I respect in this industry who called me about 3 weeks ago and was talking to me about Outlaws ‘Til the End – an album of country covers and saying he didn’t think it was the right move for Devildriver or the brand. He said he hopes I’m okay and was basically stating that he hopes I don’t fuck things up. I sent him the record, 24 hours later I got a three page email of him saying, “I will never doubt you again. I apologize for coming off like I thought I knew it all. This record is a monster. Somebody is finally stirring things up.” You hear all these things and its like, okay…cool. The bottom line that comes from that is that I do what I want, when I want, and that’s how we’ve lasted. Some people follow me musically because they know I’m going to do what I want to do.

Dead Rhetoric: You run a number of businesses in addition to being a musician. Do you feel that your experiences in one have helped you with the other?

Fafara: 100%. 25 years in this business and watching managers come and go and fail, watching businesses and record companies come up and go and fail, watching bands come up, stay up, and leave…yeah, definitely. We started The Oracle Management almost 2 years ago because I was hit up by an agent, who is a good friend of mine, who said we were a great management team and we should start a company. At first, I didn’t think I was ready to go that route yet. There’s three things about a vocalist/singer/guy in a band who starts a management company: one, he’s delusional. Two, he’s broke. Three, his career is failing and he needs to get into the management and the other side of the business to save his family or whatever. But none of those things applied to me.

So what did apply to me is that we needed someone who is on it – they are up at 5AM, they work until midnight. That’s my wife and I and our team. We needed someone who has vision – that’s my wife and I, and our team. So that’s why we started it. We have now taken on umpteen bands. We are working with Amigo the Devil, who just got out of the studio with Ross Robinson. He’s got Brad Wilk from Rage Against the Machine on drums. That’s going to come out on Regime Records. We’ve got Devildriver coming out with Outlaws ‘Til the End on Napalm Records on July 6. I’ve got Wednesday 13 and Combichrist, they are out together on tour. We just picked up Sumo Cyco. We’ve got The Nocturnal Affair, and a band out of LA called Spirit in the Room that’s going to blow up on radio!

My thing is that I love to build. I left Coal Chamber to build Devildriver. I got out of my own tour bus and into my own van. I love to build a band, and I love to build careers. I like to be the guy who gives good information and leads artists, who are either older and trying to stay in the business, or guys just coming up – give them the real deal on the industry and all the facts, so they can come into this game with a headspace that will allow them to play the game. Oftentimes, when musicians come in to this thing, they don’t know any of the rules. Managers and labels take advantage of them and 10-20 years down the line they learn the rules and go, “Oh my God!” and wake up.

My job is not to do that, my job here at The Oracle, for any band that comes on with us, is to paint the picture of exactly where the industry is going and what we can do. We come in like forensic sciences. We get all your socials firing, we put you with a team, and we get Spotify playlists. We do things like, “Your Spotify listenings have gone up by 12,000 this week because we have dealt with it.” We have a team for every single thing, for press, for anything you want. Multiple labels are in our disposal, and agents in our disposal. The Oracle is something I’m extremely passionate about it. I wake up at 5AM to work in the office for this company.

We also run SunCult, which is a surf industry but more of a lifestyle brand. We make wax, skateboards, and snowboards. Randy from Lamb of God is a partner in that, as is my younger brother. We are also going to be partnering with Thomas [Caser], the co-owner of Napalm Records in Europe. We are going to bring the brand to Europe, because there’s actually a huge scene over there as well. I love to build, and businesses are almost like a hobby for me. It’s like, “Sure, let’s start that, because I know I can do it.”

Photo courtesy of Stephanie Cabral

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