DEVILDRIVER – “Nothing In Life That’s Grand Comes Easy”

July 4, 2018, a year ago

Aaron Small

feature heavy metal devildriver

DEVILDRIVER – “Nothing In Life That’s Grand Comes Easy”

“We worked really hard on this thing. It was probably two, two and a half years in the making,” says Devildriver vocalist Dez Fafara, talking about his band’s new album of outlaw country cover songs, Outlaws ‘Til The End: Vol. 1. “At one point, I looked at my wife and said, ‘I don’t know how this thing is going to get done?’ But now that it’s done and people are hearing it, it’s fantastic.”

Part of the difficulty involved with completing this 12-song collection was the number of guest stars involved. The list of musicians appearing on Outlaws ‘Til The End: Vol. 1 includes: Hank 3, Randy Blythe and Mark Morton from Lamb Of God, John Carter Cash and his wife Ana Cristina Cash, Wednesday 13, Lee Ving of Fear, Brock Lindow of 36 Crazyfists, and Burton C. Bell of Fear Factory. This all-star ensemble put their own heavy metal spin on songs originally made famous by: Hank Williams III, Willie Nelson, The Eagles, George Jones, Johnny Cash, Dwight Yoakham, Steve Earle, Hank Williams Jr, and David Allan Coe, amongst others.

Make no mistake though, Outlaws ‘Til The End: Vol. 1 is not a country album. It’s country songs done Devildriver style with all sorts of heavy. “Even the label didn’t know what they were going to do,” admits Dez. “It’s probably to my credit that they gave us a deal to do this. I think they actually thought we were going to deliver country tunes, cause when I delivered the record, they were so ecstatic! It’s great that this thing is complete. Everybody gave 110% on it. I’m really appreciative and very humbled by the guests, and all of the stuff they came in and did. It turned out fantastic!”

The cover art, pictured below, is as captivating as the music. “This is a guy I worked with (Johnny Jones from Coma Art), and we worked two years on this art. I’m actually looking at the gatefold vinyl right now – it’s unbelievable man! This is a cat I’m probably using for life as of now. It’s all original, every bit of it. You know where you see the five nooses hanging; that was a big deal with me. I got a call from a certain someone, who has signed a lot of bands in his history – he hadn’t heard the music yet – and he told me he didn’t know if this kind of project would be good for Devildriver. ‘It should have been a Dez solo record’ – all this shit. Cool, okay. I said (to the artist), put five nooses on there, cause he said you may be hanging yourself. I called the artist literally the next minute – make sure you put five nooses up front on the album cover. That’s what that’s about. It’s got vultures, horses; obviously we had to have stuff that looked western. We kept going back and forth and back and forth, but when I first got it, I was like man, I can’t wait for the t-shirt.”

Delving deeper into the Outlaws album, Dez reveals, “The way that I did it was a lot different. Most times, you record your section of the song, get it to people, and tell them ‘Here’s the verse you’re supposed to do’ or ‘here’s the part of the chorus you’re sharing with me.’ I had every guest lay the song in its entirety. From there, I decided what I was going to do. Was I going to switch up verses with them? Was I going to go line by line and switch up? Was I going to get in with them on the chorus, or let them do one? That was a different approach that I don’t think a lot of people have ever taken. That’s why it turned out the way it did, cause they were all over it. A lot of them said, ‘I don’t know which direction to go? I don’t know how to do it? I don’t have anything from you to guide me.’ And I said, that’s the point! I want you to be you on this thing.”

Sharpening focus on individual guest appearances, we begin with Wednesday 13 who sings on "If Drinking Don't Kill Me (Her Memory Will)". Of course, W13 has his own outlaw country band, albeit with a humorous slant to it, namely Bourbon Crow. “I’ve known Wednesday for years man; probably going on 15, 20 years now. But I also manage Wednesday 13 as well. He fit perfect on this record. At first, I only wanted a few people. Then people started getting in touch with me. Wednesday’s one that I got a hold of. I think he did a fantastic job! We just tried to really make these things sound like what I heard. I heard them as heavy. All my life when I’ve heard ‘Ghost Riders’, I’ve heard it as heavy and I heard it with multiple guests. So, being able to deliver this thing, and do something that I’ve wanted to do for a very long time… that’s part of the love of delivering art, and delivering outside the box art.”

The aforementioned “Ghost Riders In The Sky” features John Carter Cash, Ana Cristina Cash, and Randy Blythe; a very special experience according to Dez. “We pulled up at the Cash Cabin (in Tennessee) and I recorded there. From the time we got there, John Carter Cash was telling me about his love for metal, and I went on about my love for outlaw country. He took me around the cabin and showed me how him and his Dad built it. And I got to sign the mantle that’s over the fireplace that Johnny put in with his own hands. Everybody from Willie Nelson to Chris Cornell has signed it; that was a huge deal for me, a massive deal! Because when I’m gone from this Earth, that will still be there. The art that I’ve created will be too, but that signature, that means the world to me to be amongst those kinds of stars.”

Not only does Randy appear on “Ghost Riders”, he can also be heard on “Whiskey River”, along with Mark Morton. “Absolutely. Mark is a close friend, one of my favorite guitar players on the planet. Randy is a dear family friend, stays in town with us for a week at a time when he comes. Those are cats that are real close friends. When I hit Randy up, I was like, do you want to do ‘Ghost Riders’ with John Carter Cash? He’s like, ‘Absolutely!’ Then when he got here, he had six days here, and I asked how he would feel about laying ‘Whiskey River’ with me? He said, ‘Let me hear it.’ And when he heard it, he was in. We recorded here at the house, and he killed it! Both of those guys did great jobs. That was part of it – trying to capture guys before they went into record, before they went out on tour, before they had to hang out with their family. It was a juggling act. There were times where it was like, I don’t know what I’ve bit off here, but let’s do this.”

Another favorite is “Dad’s Gonna Kill Me” featuring Burton C. Bell from Fear Factory. “Yeah, fantastic song! Wasn’t very familiar with that song. Mike Spreitzer (Devildriver guitarist) brought that one in. I said, ’40 million listens, how am I not familiar with this track?’ Some real crazy lyrics in that. Anti-war lyrics; it’s a heavy, heavy song. Like Burton said, more words than I’ve ever heard in most songs. But he did a killer job with that! I don’t think that song would have been the same without Burton’s chorus. I said to him, ‘I haven’t heard you sound like that, that tone in your voice, since the first Fear Factory record (1992’s Soul Of A New Machine).’ And I didn’t mean it as an insult. He said to me, this is a quote from him, ‘I was channeling my true self.’ Just some really fantastic performances, guys who came in and gave it their all. No one had their hand out for money – because the money ran out on this thing half way through. This was a labor of love for everybody involved; including myself, including the record label. It just shows, nothing in life that’s grand comes easy. I say to musicians all the time, if you want to go ahead and try to do what we just did with all the guests – have at it. It can be a nightmare; the logistics of it were pretty insane. Everybody is spread out all over the world, how do you get this thing done? And I got it done! I don’t think it would have got done if The Oracle Management wasn’t handling it. Because it was in-house. So, rather than wait for other people to make calls or get hold of people, we did it ourselves. Some of these deals were made at one o’clock in the morning. It was like, ‘Hey man, I want to come down two days from now.’ Okay, let’s lay this thing. It was fantastic that it got done, and I’m real appreciative of everybody involved.”

As Dez indicated, Outlaws was a “labor of love.” Going into a cover record, it’s common knowledge that per unit sold or streamed, you’re not going to make as much money as if it was original material. “I didn’t do this for money. It’s obviously going to be monetized, but all art is. That’s just the nature of the game. But I didn’t think about this in terms of anything other than, let’s do something out of the box cool, something that really hasn’t ever been done in the way that we did it with guests. Let’s try to leave a scar, leave a mark, and really leave as much art as we possibly can on the table. That’s really where my head is at. I look to some of my heroes, and I look at their discographies; I’m falling short with 12 or 13 records. When I was young, I got a record a year from all of those cats. So, what I’m trying to do now is really kind of kick it up. I have so much in me, I could do a record a year, but then we would never get to tour. It’s all about the art.”

One song covered on Outlaws that comes as a bit of a surprise is “Copperhead Road” by Steve Earle. That was an FM Rock Radio staple in the late ‘80s; not exactly outlaw country. “Well, there’s some things that are odd in there. But that’s definitely an outlaw song! He’s talking about his granddaddy running moonshine… you can smell it cooking down Copperhead Road; lyrically, that’s about as outlaw as it possibly gets. The same thing with ‘Outlaw Man’ by The Eagles. Is The Eagles outlaw country? No. But, have you ever seen them? They dress like cowboys, they’re wearing bullet belts slung across their chest – so we put ‘Outlay Man’ on there cause it’s one of my favorite tracks. It’s such a favorite that I didn’t share it with anybody. It was like, who’s the guest on ‘Outlaw Man’? Nobody, that’s mine. It’s just one of those songs – I’m almost two years sober – but in my drinking days, at four in the morning that came on in the back lounge like clockwork. So, to be able to do that, and do that heavy with those ripping guitars, just really badass and a good time!”

A certain amount of liberties were taken with these songs, specifically the guitar solos, heavier drums, and faster tempos; yet it’s all in good taste. “Thank you for that. We had to leave the songs intact enough where you recognized them. Even a song like ‘Whiskey River’ by Willie Nelson, that’s arguably a black metal tune on our end, you can still hear the whole tune inside of that. I think that was very important. We didn’t want to just come in and destroy the tune.” Devildriver make it their own but it’s recognizable; that’s the mark of a good cover song. “Definitely. A lot of people like Devildriver’s covers. From ‘Sail’ by Awolnation to ‘Black Soul Choir’ by 16 Horsepower, a lot of people like the covers we do. This is why we kind of decided to do this. We knew it was going to be three years between records because we’re working on something extremely special. I’m one of those guys who likes to get a record out every two years if I can. So, we decided to do something cool; a cover record, maybe have a guest or two, and that’s about it. And this thing turned into a total beast on its own. From the time we picked the songs, to the time the guests started coming in. Once John Carter Cash and Ana Cash, and Randy Blythe joined in, it started to become something real crazy.”

“Then, when it was wrapped up, I had so many phone calls from people that wanted to be on it. At the last minute, we stuck that Volume 1 on it. I know there’s going to end up being a Volume 2 because some of the calls I got were literally from some of the biggest bands on the planet; and I’m apologizing to these guys for not being on it. Meanwhile I’m thinking – fuck, I would have loved to have that dude on here!” Rumors abound that some of those people may or may not be: Glenn Danzig, Chuck Billy from Testament, and guitarist John 5 from Rob Zombie. “Well, Danzig was one of the first ones I asked, along with 5. 5 got strapped up with touring and stuff and couldn’t do it. Danzig is one of my closest dudes; I look up to that guy, he was my first tour ever. He got so strapped up with The Misfits stuff that he couldn’t do it either. Those were the first guys I asked, they said yes, and when it came time, it just couldn’t happen. That kind of shit will take the wind out of your sails. Chuck Billy – that’s a different story. He said he would do it a couple different times, and it didn’t happen. I don’t know if he got caught up with different shit, whatever, but that in a nutshell is like an explanation of how the hell did you get 13 people, or whatever it is, on this record? It’s insanity. I’m glad it’s done and wrapped; it’s a ferocious record. There’s also an against the grain thing about this. I could have really used this to bolster us at Active Rock. I could have used this to cross over into some sort of a country area as well; because we all know that’s the most massive market for music right now.”

“I had people say to me, ‘Hey Dez, the opportunity here really presents itself. Make sure you guys get some real big clean vocals.’ I said, ‘Dude, your monetizing side and monetary brain are not dealing with me as an artist and what I really want to do. This stuff has to be balls out. It has to be heavy, it has to be done with conviction. It can’t be skewed.  There’s already enough bullshit out there right now that’s fucking top of the charts – being written directly for the motherfucking radio. I fucking vomit on shit that is skewed. If you’re a painter, poet, musician, and you skew your art for monetary value, you skew your art for sales; you’re not an artist. Go fucking check yourself! 14 people writing your fucking songs; the singer has never written a fucking lyric in his life, but he’s number one on fucking radio – go suck it! Really, I have no time for it, I have no patience for it. This had to be a heavy metal record, no doubt about it.  This is something out of the box, something different; something that’s not shit.”

(Photo by: Ben Hoffman)

Will this spur Devildriver to write their own original outlaw country song? “Huh… I never thought of that. I don’t know. I can tell you this though – we learned a lot on this record. There’s some things that will definitely carry over, we learned that Neil (Tiemann, guitarist) has a fantastic voice. And when he’s singing with me, there’s something crazy happening there. We’ve never approached… we’re finding extra battle weapons now. Let’s take this into the fight. Pedal Steel sounds insane with heavy guitars, and no one’s done it except Devildriver; that might be a battle-axe. Those kinds of things might slip their way in. But as far as, let’s sit down and write a country / metal song, I don’t know? I’ll leave that for the genre hounds, and people that are going to create this genre, and the bands that are going to come out in the next two or three years; cause it’s going to happen. Lee Ving said it best in the EPK: ‘Dez might have started something here.’ That’s my punk rock hero, so I’ll just listen to him.”

In closing, how will these songs be performed live? Obviously, it’s not practical to bring Wednesday, Burton, and Randy on the road with you to sing their parts, as heard on the album. “There’s a big I don’t know. Do we want to play these live? We’re not sure. What I’d like to do is get every single person involved, get ‘em on a bus, and do three shows; Nashville, LA, New York. And tape it for a DVD. I think that’d be fantastic, but we’ll have to see. We can do ‘Outlaw Man’, ‘1,000 Miles From Nowhere’ – they don’t have guests on them. But we haven’t really thought about that man. If we’re going to come out swinging with a couple new tunes off this – this whole thing was not designed for that. It’s one of those records that’s a pure fan-driven record. It’s made nobody any money on this side, not yet. We’re putting our all into something, just to try to give everybody something special; that’s what this is about.”

(Top photo by: Stephanie Cabral)

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