DEVILDRIVER – “Let’s Do Something Different”

October 3, 2020, a month ago

By Aaron Small

feature heavy metal devildriver

DEVILDRIVER – “Let’s Do Something Different”

DevilDriver has released Volume I of their fierce new double album, Dealing With Demons, available now via Napalm Records. Frontman Dez Fafara is brimming with enthusiasm about his band’s latest musical endeavour. “That record, the way it’s come out, I’ll just start the conversation saying this - Volume II is my baby, I wanted that to come out first. But since we had ‘Keep Away From Me’, which is a very timely song, as well as ‘Wishing’ on Volume I, we decided to release it first.” 

“It’s pretty unreal, the reception this thing is getting,” continues the vocalist. “I think it’s part and parcel the fact that I told the guys, and it’s a pretty brave move – no pun intended cause I’m talking to BraveWords – but it’s a brave move to say of a brand that’s been around a long time: don’t think about the past, don’t think about past records, don’t think about the sound, don’t think about what the label wants, don’t think about what the fans want, do not think about Coca-Cola. If I just met you guys today and we went to write, what would we create? When I started getting the music, I knew that I was getting something fresh, different, out of the box, all of those key words which are very important in art, so it doesn’t become stagnant.”

“Keep Away From Me” begins with a nice, calm 50-second intro, then all hell breaks loose. That’s kind of what’s happened to the planet as well with COVID-19. “Yeah, for me, on Dealing With Demons, we’re exploring demons; my own, so I can get some stuff off my chest, and move on to a different lyrical style, which I’ve already started, and society’s demons,” reveals Dez. “With ‘Keep Away From Me’, I said, ‘What is the most personal thing that I could possibly say and let out about myself?’ The answer is, I’m terribly agoraphobic. I’ve been social distancing my whole life. If you invite me to your Grammy Awards party, I’m going to tell you I’m going to be there, but be prepared, fifteen minutes before I’m going to call you and tell you I’m not coming. I don’t do well in crowds. I don’t do well walking into rooms where I don’t know people. I prefer to hang around my close family or real close friends. If we’re going to get personal, let’s get really personal; that’s what ‘Keep Away From Me’ is about.” 

“That’s also so timely because of what’s going on with the pandemic,” comments Fafara. “That song and ‘Wishing’ is why we decided to release Volume I now. It could have backfired. Because if Volume I didn’t get the accolades it did, Volume II is definitely going to fail. That’s why a double album is so difficult for people to do. It’s a ton of material, and you’re really risking your brand. If Volume I gets panned, then Volume II is going to fail too, and your career is in the junk pile. I tend to like to bite off more than I can chew in life. Anybody who knows me, knows that’s what I’m about. When I started getting the music, especially ‘Keep Away From Me’, I was like, ‘This is so killer and so different!’ Those guitar slides in that song are very reminiscent of what people were doing in the ‘90s. When I got that tune, I knew it was going to be amazing. For us to release a song like ‘Keep Away From Me’ first, instead of this out of the gate, fast thing; that was also a move that we decided to do. Hey, let’s do something different. This whole thing was about, let’s do something different. Let’s not stick to the brand, let’s move forward. And I think it’s working.”

Upon first listen to the aforementioned “Wishing”, there appears to be a mystery guest vocalist. But in reality, it’s Dez and Dez alone singing the whole song. “People don’t realize that in Coal Chamber I sang clean a lot. Now, my voice was very young at that point, but I sang a lot clean in that band. I made a statement early in 2000 that I wouldn’t sing clean in DevilDriver, but the bottom line is, when you say to they guys in your band, ‘Don’t write for the brand, just write music,’ I had to bring every influence I had. The song ‘Wishing’ that we’re discussing – first of all, I hate metalcore vocals. The real heavy verse and the real clean chorus in order to make the radio; I turn that shit off. So, I did the verses very much like my influences which are Bauhaus, Sisters Of Mercy. There’s a very gothic vibe on that track in the verses, but then the chorus is really heavy. I had tried to lay that song: heavy, screamy, low, high, almost all day long and it just wasn’t working. Finally, I told my producer (Steve Evetts), ‘Let’s take a break. When I come in, push record.’ We ended up laying it like that, and that’s how the song stayed.”

There’s a certain irony in the fact that “Wishing” is followed by “You Give Me A Reason To Drink”, which actually has a guest vocalist on it, Dez’s 23-year old son Simon Blade Fafara. “Right. Last time he guested on a song, he was nine years old; a song called ‘Fighting Words’, which is now in our repertoire. We play it all the time live, so people are familiar with that. But he was nine years old and he had a voice at that point. He is right now in the process of recording his first six-song EP that will probably be released early next year. It’s going to be great to pass the torch. That kid came up on stage in L.A. with me a couple times, and people went insane for him. He’s got a real powerful stage presence, and a real powerful voice. That song, he happened to be in the studio when I was laying it. He’s like, ‘Dad, what’s this about?’ I’m like, ‘Well, you’re still living at home so you haven’t experienced this but sometimes you’re going to have to deal with people at work, you’re going to want to come home and have a beer and two shots of whiskey immediately.’ Like, you give me a reason to drink. Oftentimes, that will actually – and I’m sober – that will actually fuck up things more. You’re distressed, you’re bummed, then you get drunk. Now you’re crying, or you’re pissed. That’s what this song is about. He goes, ‘Dad, I want to jump on!’ Having him in on that song was incredible. His voice is so powerful; and he can out-clean sing me five to one. It’s going to be real interesting to see his career and what he’s going to do. We’re an Italian family, so he’s got two – much like the movie The Bronx Tale – he’s got two things in his life. One is the street, which is music, and one is school, cause he’s also a coder. He can do either or. It’s a perfect time for him to enter in.”

Demons seem to be a really prevalent topic in heavy metal. A sampling of bands that have written about demons includes: Ozzy Osbourne, Hellyeah, Danzig, Opeth, Rob Zombie, Mercyful Fate, Pantera, and Kreator, just to name a few. Now DevilDriver can be added to that list, courtesy of Dealing With Demons. “I think metal and demons, you’re actually talking about spiritual demons, like demons in The Bible; that’s what they’re writing about, the actual demon entity. I’m not,” explains Dez. “I’m talking about personal demons and social demons. ‘Iona’, which has a video to it where this ghost woman goes after men, turns them into black roses and keeps them for a lifetime. That is the demon, the social ill of, why do we run home at night to watch CSI murder porn? Why, when I ask you what your favorite horror movie is, you tell me Halloween where a guy puts on a mask and kills fifteen women with a fucking knife? Why, when I say, what’s your favorite movie, do you tell me Chainsaw Massacre, when there’s women getting skinned? We need to check ourselves when it comes to that shit. I love horror, but horror to me is never slasher. I’ve always hated slasher. I don’t even think slasher is horror to be honest. Horror is ghosts, what’s behind the corner, Dracula, The Mummy, etc. Then there’s the fucking snuff movies, that’s all that is. I’ve got four sisters and a wife; I don’t dig it! So, let’s explore that, let’s have a topic about that. ‘Nest Of Vipers’, we’re talking about loyalty, and how loyalty can be bought and sold, in business and your personal life with money. We want to keep away from that. Then ‘Wishing’ is about wishing that someone would come back to you, someone’s either dead or left your life. What would you do different if they were here? I obviously experienced that last year, I didn’t know if I was going to lose my wife (to Cancer). If you’ve interviewed me before, you know I don’t tell you what songs are about. Cause if it got you through a hard time thinking it’s about a rainy day, I’m not going to tell you it’s about a sunny day, cause it’ll blow your whole vibe. But on this one, I needed to get personal and tell you exactly what the songs are about. And I think people are appreciating that.”

“Iona” is based upon folklore. “It is. If you Google Iona, it’s actually an urban legend all over The United States of the ghost girl. If you’ve ever been on a tour bus, it’s the ghost girl down the lonely highway. There appears a woman by the side of the road, you look twice, she’s gone. She may be in the back of the car all of a sudden, she may be in front of you again. I happen to firmly believe in spirits because I talk to them. I’ve seen things that other people have not seen when I was younger. Now, I still see spirits, I’ve had that happen to me. So, I believe it. That was a way for me lyrically to also discuss the ill of society when it comes to horror movies. Why are we addicted to seeing death? Keep in mind, I’m a punk rock / goth kid. I only found metal because I found Motörhead. Of course, I’ve worn black t-shirts and had skulls in my room my whole fucking life. It’s cause I was attracted to the ghost story, the Bela Lugosi Dracula, that kind of stuff. It was a good way for me to speak on what I think is the ills of just literally murder porn being pushed out as movies. How can this elevate us as fucking humans? I’m not for censorship in any way about anything. Not online, not in movies, I’m not for any fucking censorship. This is The United States Of America, we should be able to say anything we want, do any kind of art we want. But, it does kind of lead you to the conclusion… if you’re a woman and your roommate is watching Chainsaw Massacre every single day, you may want to get the fuck out of the house and move. Cause eventually, his psyche is not going to be able to take it. I can’t watch an animal be killed. I can’t watch people being skinned; it makes me physically nauseous. These are all talking points. Every single one of these songs, on this whole double record, is a talking point. It’s either about my own physical demons, that I’ve suffered – which people are relating to a lot. It’s been a real cool thing to actually discuss the lyrics and have a talking point with people. So yeah, ‘Iona’, if you Google it, it is a definite urban legend.”

Another first on this new DevilDriver album is a co-authored lyric, that being “Nest Of Vipers”, which was written with guitarist Neal Tiemann. “If you’re a singer reading this, you’re going to know exactly what I’m saying. Since the start of my career, I told anybody in a band with me, ‘If you’ve got a good lyric, bring it.’ But for some reason, bass players and guitar players, drummers, they don’t want to. This was a different story with Neal. Neal is a writer. He’s got Platinum record writing credits on his behalf that he’s written for a lot of major people. He sent me the tune, it said ‘Nest Of Vipers’ on it. I’m used to getting demo songs titled ‘Demo 2’ or something like ‘R2D2’, just to identify the song. People don’t understand, for a writer, that harms them. It doesn’t give me any insight into what you’re writing. I don’t want to just get your music and put my spin on it. So, I said to Neal about ‘Nest Of Vipers’, what do you see? What do you hear on the chorus? Send me a voice note. When he did, I couldn’t believe it; I was on top of the mountain at that point. I love to write with other people. People don’t know this, but since ’98, me and my wife have been co-writing. She’s co-written so many songs with me. There’s nothing like bouncing words off people. If you’re a lyricist, it’s like a drug, an opiate; you can’t believe it. I was really intrigued to write with Neal, and I think that song turned out fantastic!”

Speaking of Dez’s wife, in October 2019 she was diagnosed with Cancer. ‘She’s good now,” says Dez, providing a very welcome health update. “A couple months ago she got her all-clear, which is amazing! We’ve been quarantined since January. She came out of the operations late 2019, and I don’t want to bring her around anything. That’s my best friend, and I’m so pleased! The family rallied around her. I took down every tour, every opportunity; we were fortunate enough as a family to be able to do that – monetarily, etc. etc. I run four other businesses, so I’m not just beholden to being an artist. We took it all down. If anybody’s going through Cancer, or has a loved one going through Cancer, you need to stay very positive, very focused. You need to watch the diet, watch the sleep, watch the stress; really back that person whole-heartedly. But she gave me so much inspiration, how she handled it. It was fucking unbelievable! We have a very large tiki bar here; it rivals Trader Sam’s, which is funny cause I’m sober. The bar is out of the VIP Room in the Mayan Theater in the 1960s, we’ve got hundreds of tiki mugs up – she sat at that bar, she still has cocktails. She sat at that bar and had a cocktail, put on Donna Summer – Greatest Hits, which is her favorite jams. When I say partied through it, I don’t mean ‘partied through it’, I mean putting herself in a head space of being happy and positive. She even said to me, ‘If this is my last couple months on the planet, let’s have a good fucking time!’” 

Last year, DevilDriver took themselves off the road so Dez could be with his wife during her Cancer treatment. This year, DevilDriver, along with every other band, are stuck at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, live music doesn’t look like it’s going to return to normal any time soon. Dez offers his thoughts on DevilDriver doing a pay-per-view livestream concert. “We’re in California, where Coronavirus is pretty pervasive right now. I had a neighbor down the street go to the grocery store and die five days later. Neal, my guitar player has asthma, I had asthma when I was a kid, my wife just came through Cancer. It’s not just; go do a livestream. Go to rehearsals, that’s going to be four or five days; cause we haven’t been together in a year. Bring in crew to set up production, we don’t know where they’ve been. Then, I’m in a room spitting into a microphone, that’s droplets all over the air. God forbid I have something, and it transfers to someone else. Will a livestream happen this year? I hope so, but I just don’t know. Somebody said to me the other day, ‘I’m getting used to the idea of streaming to my big screen, sitting in my house with a beer, and watching a band.’ I said, good, you should get used to that because that’s all you get right now. If it’s no music or some music, what the fuck you going to take? I actually thought Metallica’s idea with them doing it at the drive-in theaters was fucking magnificent! I think this is – and I hate this word – the new norm. But it is what it is, and we need to all adjust.”

Although Dealing With Demons Volume I has just been released, it’s human nature to wonder when Volume II will come out. “The time schedule was supposed to be a staggered release a year apart, and then us tour the world twice. Now, I don’t know. Volume I was released October 2, 2020. Is October 2, 2021 enough time for that seed to grow into a tree? I’m hoping. If not, it’ll come early 2022. But the discussion – and people should know this – the discussion is not around when touring happens. I’m acting as if it’s not going to happen. Not a good monetary decision to release during a pandemic, however, I saw two things. I saw a lot of bands pull their records, which I thought was a cheap move to the fans. When they need music and art the most, you’re going to pull your record? Not a cool thing, not a good look. So, we did the people move and released it. The other thing I saw was, bands rush out records. It should be quality over quantity homie. Some of that stuff is not great. You’re going to need to live by that. When you die, your art will be here. Always try to do things at the top level. When I was younger, had I had a lockdown, I couldn’t even imagine it. But my favorite band putting out a record would have made a big difference in my life for that six months, eight months, whatever it may be. I wanted to be that guy and give people music.”

In closing, Dez states, “I’m really surrounded by great guys, great musicians. Had it not been for them, or all the musicians in my past, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I’m lucky, very blessed to be surrounded by what I think are killer, innovative musicians, since the early inception of me doing music. I’m very thankful. I hope to see you and see everybody soon at gigs. Until then, support your artists. If a band is doing a livestream and you love ‘em, go support them. Cause it’s supporting the crews, their children, the sound guy, the venue. You’re supporting all the people on the other end of the platform.”

(Top photo by: Stephanie Cabral)


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