Dez Fafara might have been in Florida when I caught up with him today, but he was far from being on holiday.
The enigmatic DevilDriver front man was enjoying a rare day off on a gruelling six-week US tour that ends in Arizona on 27 June. There’ll be no more days off for almost a week.
“After this tour I’m going to take most of July and August off and enjoy my first real holiday in 12 years,” Fafara said.
“As you can imagine, with the summer festival season it’s not the most popular decision with management or the agents, but I need some family time.
“I’m going to take my kids surfing, watch my gorgeous wife walk on the beach with sand stuck to her ass, and just hang out with my family and have a good time, it’s well overdue I’m telling you.
“I might even take my wife to Japan for a week or so, just to soak up a different culture for a while, but most of it will just be down time at home in California with the family.”
Fafara admitted his line of work, although taxing on family time, gave the family some advantages.
“My kids are 16, 19 and 22 now,” he said.
“When you think about it, Dad’s been on tour for the better part of their lives, but when I do go home, I get two or three weeks off that’s just quality family time and it’s actually worked out really well for all of us.
“When I’m on tour here in the States I fly my wife out whenever I can, I’ve taken the whole family to Australia and I think my youngest, Simon, might be coming out at the end of this tour to hang out for a week or so… the kids really feel the vibe about what I do, they get along great with the band and the crew, everyone looks out for each other… it’s a great experience for all of us.”
Wikipedia quotes Fafara as saying, “hey, you guys write some heavy shit, and I want to get out of Coal Chamber,” to current drummer John Boecklin, guitarist Jeff Kendrick and former bassist Jon Miller, who were in a band together before DevilDriver formed in 2002.
“That’s not what happened,” Fafara said.
“Basically, I moved to Santa Barbara during the time Coal Chamber was recording Dark Days, because there was a lot of shit going on that I wanted to separate myself from at the time.
“I found our original guitar player, Evan (Pitts), and we pulled together some musicians from around the Santa Barbara area which became DevilDriver.
“At the time there were some issues with Coal Chamber, but I mean we were still recording when DevilDriver came together.”
DevilDriver’s Wikipedia entry also states that former bassist Miller left the band to attend rehab and focus on his recovery from substance abuse in 2011.
“Jonathan got fired from the band for substance abuse,” Fafara said.
“After that he wrote a long letter about having to leave to take care of himself, and we didn’t correct it at the time, but the reality is he was fired.
“I will never let something like substance abuse ruin a band I’m in, let me tell you.
“My opinion on it is pretty much, get a fuckin’ handle on yourself, you know?
“I mean if you wanna go out and have two beers, cool, but if you need to have 20 beers you might need to get a handle on yourself… same with cocaine, heroin, any of that shit… if you need that in your life you really don’t need to be in a band, you need to be getting a grip.”
Miller’s departure wasn’t the only major shake up for DevilDriver in recent years. The band’s latest album, Winter Kills, was it’s first release through new label Napalm Records, after spending eight years with Roadrunner.
“It was time to leave, that party was over,” Fafara said of the split.
“Everyone was getting fired from Roadrunner, all of the people we worked with were leaving, Warner Brothers sucked that company dry (Warner took over ownership of Roadrunner in 2010, firing all Roadrunner staff in the UK and Canada in 2012) and for us it signalled time to move on.”
For underground Austrian-based label Napalm, having a name like DevilDriver sign on with the likes of Trail of Tears, Ice Ages and Atrocity was a coup – but it worked in the band’s favour as well.
“Our sixth record debuted higher than any other record we had released almost everywhere in the world,” Fafara said.
“For us, that was the sign we needed that we had made the right decision by going with them.
“We had talked to everybody before signing with Napalm, from underground and indie labels to major metal record companies, but this seemed the best fit for us and right now, we couldn’t be happier.”
Fafara said passion was the underlying factor in the success of the DevilDriver/Napalm connection.
“Max, the owner of Napalm, was 11 or 12 years old watching Coal Chamber with his dad from the side of the stage in Europe,” Fafara said.
“It was that experience that made him want to start a record label from the living room at home, and now he’s got one of my projects signed to that label.
“He comes onto the bus and we drink wine and talk about Egypt every time we’re in Europe, and we’ve developed a friendship as well as a working relationship.
“To put that into perspective, I think I met the owner of Roadrunner Records once the entire time we were signed with them.”
For a metal band, DevilDriver has seen considerable commercial success, even having tracks appear on soundtracks for Resident Evil and Scrubs. Fafara said commercial success is something no artist should ever expect, however.
“I don’t think you can go into any kind of artistic endeavour with expectations,” he said.
“It’s kind of like going on a blind date, you know you’re going to meet someone for a meal but you don’t know if you’re going to get water thrown in your face or if you’re going to wake up next to them in the morning, you just have to go along and hope for the best, and be incredibly thankful if you do end up in the bed scenario.”
Amazing analogies aside, Fafara said the best advice he had ever been given was from his mother, when he was young.
“My mom told me, when I was really young, to never say ‘can’t’,” he said.
“Keep your chin up, keep pressing forward, it all goes into the same bucket I guess.
“Every day I’m above ground I’m blessed… I mean, I ran away from home and at the age of 15 I was living under bridges and stealing food, so my life could have gone one of two ways and I’m thankful every day for the way it went.
“Life can either beat you down or build you up, and I try to keep that ‘glass half-full’ kind of mentality every day I’m alive.”
DevilDriver will be heading Down Under for the fifth or sixth time in as many years in September, for a headline tour with Whitechapel, who had to cancel appearances at this year’s Soundwave festival due to a death in the family.
“We always have a great time in Australia, I’ve made some great friends there and we always have the best time,” Fafara said.
“We try to make it so that if we don’t do Soundwave, we come down for a headline tour, and when we came down this year for Soundwave we didn’t do any Sidewaves, so lucky for us AJ was all for this tour… and we get to do it with Whitechapel, which is equally amazing.”
Fafara said the bands have done shows together before, and it was a happy partnership for the bands and fans alike.
“Their music and our music is so different, that a lot of their fans don’t listen to DevilDriver and vice versa,” he said.
“We do meet and greets every night though, so after the show we see a lot of kids who came to see Whitechapel getting turned on to DevilDriver, and kids in DevilDriver t-shirts going up to the Whitechapel guys saying they’d never heard but loved their music, it’s fucking great, man.”
DevilDriver’s most recent album has been out for a year, and whilst Fafara said he would like to play the album in its entirety live, these shows will feature only a selection of songs from the album.
“We’re playing four songs off Winter Kills, which out of a 12 song set is considerable, but still not that much for the newest record,” he said.
“I wanted to come out and play the record in its entirety, but there’s only an hour to play and we’ve gotta get some of the old crowd faves in there, so even if we need to do some crowdfunding to record the album live in full we will.”
Fafara said crowdfunding was the best way to judge what fans truly wanted to see.
“I think anything that facilitates art and the creation of art is great,” he said.
“Artists now no longer have to listen to what the record company wants of what management wants, the people that buy the music and keep us all in a job have a voice through crowdfunding, it’s like the people have spoken, and this is what they want to see.”
In the meantime, a live 40-minute show can be found on the special edition of Winter Kills.
“It was just recorded in a small club, there were no extra fans, we didn’t give away tickets or bring in extra lights, none of that bullshit,” Fafara said.
“I think we brought in two cameras and a boom, it’s very raw, and that’s exactly what we wanted.”
Fafara said it wouldn’t be long until another DevilDriver release was on the cards.
“We’re musicians, so we should be writing music,” he said.
“We never leave it more than two or two and a half years between records, so with Winter Kills having been released August last year, we’ll probably look at recording next year.”
Fafara also said whilst DevilDriver was his main priority, the recent re-formation of Coal Chamber had some exciting prospects.
“All I can say is there will be some pretty huge, explosive news from that camp very soon, but I can’t give much more away just yet,” he said.
“Nadja (Peulen, bassist) is back with us, and you know, it’s pretty exciting when you can do something you haven’t done in almost 13 years and find the joy in it again.
“We got the band together and took it around the world, and after we got home they (guitarist Meegs Rascon and drummer Mikal Cox) sent me five new songs, and I just thought, “Wow,”.
“Whether that means a new record or more tours we’re yet to see, but I can tell you whatever it is, it’s going to be big.”
DevilDriver and Whitechapel will tour Australia in September. Tickets go on sale this Friday, 20 June at 9am. Dates and links as follows:
- Friday 5 September – Brisbane, The HiFi (18+)
- Saturday 6 September – Sydney, The HiFi (Lic AA)
- Sunday 7 September – Melbourne, 170 Russell (18+)