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Heavy Metal Mensch: An Interview with DevilDriver frontman Dez Fafara

After Coal Chamber disbanded in 2003, singer Dez Farfara nearly split from the music scene. A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then. Within a ten year period, the singer has enjoyed success, making records and touring the globe with his band DevilDriver.



Devildriver by Jeremy Saffer

After Coal Chamber disbanded in 2003, singer Dez Farfara nearly split from the music scene. A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then. Within a ten year period, the singer has enjoyed success, making records and touring the globe with his band DevilDriver.

Winter Kills, the new DevilDriver album, has Farfara and his band mates pumped. The band, dubbed The California Groove Machine by its legions of head-banging fans, is taking its act out on the road for a one-month tour, hitting an array of venues in major U.S. cities.

“We captured a record that’s just full of groove and hook, tight arrangements–some of the best songs we’ve ever written in our lives. It does feel like a bit of rebirth, plus the vibe within the band is amazing. I’m in a killer headspace. On the last two records, everyone knows, I wasn’t in the best headspace. Winter Kills. Sums it all up.”

Fafara explains how the album title denotes life after death: “I love how desolate it gets in the Winter time. And I love the rebirth of Summer and Spring and watching everything bloom. It also goes to say I love to build new houses; I didn’t mind leaving my first band and starting a new one. I love to see new things happen, new businesses open. This record is a rebirth for us in so many ways. A new label, Napalm Records, and Metal Blade, overseas in Japan. We remain with Roadrunner/Warner in Australia, and we have a new full-time bass player.”

Check out the song “Winter Kills”

A few months into 2011, after the release of their fifth album Beast, longtime bassist Jonathan Miller left the band. DevilDriver soldiered on, touring like a beast while garnering more fans and acclaim from the press. Then it came time to decide what their next move would be.

“We had a conversation that went something like this: ‘We’re a square peg in a round hole. No one can really put us in a genre, except we’re a metal band. No one can come up with a tag line for us.’ Our fans, years ago, started calling us The California Groove Machine. Just even hearing that phrase makes me go, ‘Okay, cool. That’s what you’re calling us, but how are we going to live up to that?’ And I think everybody in this band knew we had to come up with one hell of a record. Every record we’ve done is diverse from one another. They have our signature sound, but they’re all very different from each other. Beast is very different from Pray for Villains. Pray for Villains is completely different than The Last Kind Words. And this record we needed that difference… so this thing is full of huge grooves, massive hooks, tight arrangements. The arrangements are way tighter than what was on Beast. I think there’s a lot of different spaces on this record to go from lyrically, musically, tonality, definitely feeling, tempo. It’s a very cohesive record from start to finish. I don’t think I’ve used that word to compare any of our records.”

With new bassist Chris Towning in the lineup, DevilDriver is poised to move into a new phase in its development, raising the bar higher.

“The players around me are extremely good. They’re underrated. My drummer [John Boecklin] is the best metal drummer on the scene. Period. I would put him up against anyone in a minute and he would take them apart,” Farfara says confidently. “My guitar players have a very unique thing. Jeff [Kendrick] is very much the salt and pepper of the band. He has these flavors we definitely need. And Mike [Spreitzer] brings an atmospherically haunting thing to it. Everybody has so many kinds of music that they listen to as well. It just really plays out in such a phenomenal way when we start writing. It comes out very different. I’ve always said it from the beginning. I said you’re going to get the best records from us on four, five, six, seven. It’s going to keep getting better and come to fruition. We are writing better. I do like this record the best. I stoked to get it out there, man. We’ve been living with it for months.”

“Ruthless” is DevilDriver personified: “Mark [Morton] from Lamb of God hit me up and his text was like, ‘Dude, I can’t stop listening to ‘Ruthless.'” And his next text was, ‘Fresh. It’s fresh.’ He’s very picky. So it’s good to hear that from your peers and also from the people that you’re interviewing with.”

“Tripping Over Tombstones” is a declaration of war and farewell to debilitating ghosts of the past. “Tackling life in general, you just gotta leave some things behind and often times you will be tripping over tombstones. You just gotta keep on keeping on. It was one of the ones I kind of looked back on my past and wrote about. There’s only a few of those kind of tracks on this. ‘Haunting Refrain’ is one of them as well. Everything else is kind of forward thinking or in the moment.”

No strangers to experimentation or oddity, DevilDriver recorded a cover of AWOLNATION’s “Sail” and used it as the closing track on the Winter Kills. The impetus was Farfara hearing the song played by one of his sons while driving around town running errands.

Check out the song “The Appetite”

“I hear so much music coming out of my house, man. I have three boys and two of them are living here. My 22 year old is in college. But they play everything from rap to Excision to metal, so I hear a lot of bands before most people get turned on to them just because they got their ear to the ground. DevilDriver likes to cover obscure tracks,” he assures. (Coal Chamber covered Peter Gabriel’s “Shock the Monkey” in 1999 with Ozzy Osbourne on co-vocal). “Don’t get me wrong–we’ve covered Metallica and Iron Maiden and stuff. ‘Black Soul Choir’ from 16 Horsepower–that was a very obscure track for us to cover. It’s almost like bluegrass-y, the original. We realized that that’s really fun. We threw a lot of different tracks out there and we were kind of under the gun to try and figure “Sail”. And immediately I was ‘Okay, hold on, yes let’s cover this.’ I was so excited to record the track. We had made it our own, yet it still had that feel. We heard back from the AWOLNATION guys and apparently they like it.”

Farfara’s occupation prior to Coal Chamber’s record deal was working in construction. While he exhibits confidence onstage, his offstage demeanor is non-rock star.

“People make me a bit edgy, I guess. I’m still the construction worker guy that got a record deal. It’s been 20 years, but I still freak out on people freaking out on me doing what I do. It’s just a trip for me, so I tend to look from the outside in a lot. I save the ego for stage and after that I take that guy off. A lot of people in this industry, especially a lot of singers–they can carry that guy off stage and into a room full of 100 people and be this ‘on guy’ and I can’t. I’m just too awkward socially, man. I was like that as a kid and it’s just something that has never changed.”

“I grew up on the construction site my whole life. At age seven I was picking up the jobsite for my dad. I was on the jobsite when I got the record deal, when I got the call. I’m still that dude. Give me a bottle of wine and a microphone and if there’s ten people or ten thousand, I’m going to entertain them. I like to do that, but then all the other stuff that goes along with it is just a little weird for me. I’ll save it for rock stars or whatever.”

“I love my wife. I love my kids. I love my dogs. I love my simple life. And I’m just going to keep it that way so I can be happy about what I’m doing; making music and traveling the world. Look, I’m very blessed. I’m a lucky dude. I don’t know how many people make it in two bands–whatever making it is. I support my family and that’s making it for me. I have a good time and enjoy music. I’m very blessed and totally humbled to still be in it. And that’s why I want to give it my best onstage. And offstage I want to give it my best on record. So hopefully people dig Winter Kills and we can go from there and make more records and travel and we can have more conversations.”