When Metal Injection last went one-on-one with the never-short-for-words frontman of DevilDriver and Coal Chamber Dez Fafara in the summer of 2018, the life-long musician indicated that life is too short to take a slow and steady approach to releasing new music.
Fafara, then and there, indicated his intent to release a career-defining double album, and true to his word, part one of that ambitious project drops October 2nd through Napalm Records.
DevilDriver's Dealing With Demons I sees Fafara unload his baggage – and maybe even exorcise those long dormant demons – for perhaps the first time in his career.
Fafara pulled no punches in this candid sit-down with Metal Injection, diving deep into Dealing With Demons, sharing his pride towards his sons in the music business, unloading his feelings towards violence in modern day horror films ('tis the season!) and outlining his opinions on what heavy music should be, and what he looks for in emerging talent.
On Pre-Pandemic Plans and Silver Linings
I've been writing about the human condition from the very beginning and get-go of my career. Even when I was younger, and I mean 15-16 writing in bands and I wanted to move on lyrically. To do that I had to get terribly personal. If you've interviewed me before, which you had, you ask me about a song and I'm not going to tell you about it because if it got you through a hard time in life and you think it's about a sunny day and I tell you it's about a rainy day, it's going to blow all that. So I've never really lended myself to let you know about tunes for those who care. This one I wanted to get very personal. I wanted to explore not only my demons, but society's demons. But also I had in mind to not stay with this three, four year thing that bands are doing with releasing records. And I want to do a double album, staggered release. I want to stay on the road three and a half years straight. I want to do the world twice. And then I want to come home and take a solid year and a half, two years off, which I had never had in my whole career.
Now that being said, right now is the longest I've ever been off tour, the longest I've ever been home. And I know a lot of musicians can feel that right now. That was the two reasons why I wanted to get very personal. I want to move on lyrically and in order to do that I need a double record to share all those things that I'm going through, that I think society's talking points are going through. And also I wanted to get a very long two world tour process going, which obviously did not happen because of multiple reasons; pandemics, civil unrest, escaping from wildfires. My wife survived cancer last year. Just fucking thing after thing, you know?
There's a silver lining to everything. When I came driving down my street and saw my house was still here because 150 firefighters in my area saved it … silver lining and I have a home. When my wife came through cancer, silver lining. She's still here alive with me and I'm holding her hand all night long in my sleep. That's a silver lining. A pandemic has allowed me to actually be home, make dinner for my family more than I ever have, hang with my kids more than I've ever been. Silver lining. But it's been a very trying time for any musician, any crew member, any bus driver or anybody in the industry. It's just been a very strange time. If you don't look at things with a glass half full you're going to end up on the other end of depression. And you just can't let that happen. I personally can't let that happen because then it'll end up to be a very dark road with me.
On Opening Up on Dealing With Demons
The word catharsis or cathartic can be terribly overplayed and pretentious, really. Here's what I say. I'm terribly humbled and appreciative that I've had this long of a music career. So there must be people out there that are connected to me in a way, because obviously I don't know everybody who's listening to my music. So what more can I do for them? Well, the first thing I can do is release a record in the middle of a pandemic when everybody else is pulling their records. I can show them that A: the record label and myself are not looking at the monetary. We're looking at what's best for people. Also I can say to them, hey, let me give you a piece of myself. Let me actually enter into some things that are very personal for me.
You have "Keep Away From Me", which is a song about me being terribly socially awkward, social distancing my whole life. You have "Iona", which if you look at the video, she's a ghost going after men and making their souls into black roses that she just constantly keeps and she's insatiable at it. Nothing satiates her appetite for death. So that's me exploring humanity's demons. Why do we run home from work to watch CSI? Why when I ask certain people what their favorite movies are is it The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween with Michael Myers. It's like they blatantly kill fifteen women, skin women in those movies. Why? Why are these your favorite artistic outlets? These are dialogs we need to have.
"Nest of Vipers" is about loyalty, how it can be bought and sold. Men and women professionally and in business and personally and how we need to stay away from those types of circumstances. We need to stay away from those types of people. So these are dialogues that need to be had. Either demons I'm suffering or I've seen within society and stuff we need to have conversations about. I don't think this double record could have been surface. Lyrically, it had to be extremely deep in order for me to either end it here and now for myself or for further records to go forward, I needed to draw a line and actually for the people that have been listening to me this long. They can get a big slice of me.
On Co-Writes and Band-Member Collaborations
My whole career, even in Coal Chamber, I always said to people if you can come with lyrics then let's do it. If I've got a band member that's got lyrics, I'm more than willing. It just so happens that drummers and guitar players and bassists, they don't want to go down that road. I don't know why that is. Look, I've only had one major lineup change in almost 22 years with DevilDriver, I think. And the last lineup that I had would give me songs with song titles, this is track 4 and it's like, dude, that's not giving me much.
When I got these songs with titles already and "Nest of Vipers" was one, I said hey who wrote this one? And this group of guys said oh that's predominantly Neal. "Well Neal, do you have anything you think fits the chorus vocally?" I mean, he's a platinum songwriter. He's got songwriting credits that are massive. And if you look at and stuff you'll see what I'm talking about. I'm not going to push any other artists, but he's written for some big guys right now. And I say to him what do you feel? And he gave me a semblance of those lyrics, as well as the title "Nest of Vipers", which I was like oh my God. First of all the word vipers would never come out of my vocabulary. For some reason over all these years I've never used that word. And that just turned me into saying, OK, what's this song about? Let me get deep with it. And it was a definite pleasure working with him on it.
On Working With His Children
Well, (Simon) guested on a track called "These Fighting Words" that we do in our set all the time. He guested on that song when he was nine years old. The kid has got these low vocals and these high screaming vocals that are so much more intense than mine. I mean, his guys that he looks up to are brutal singers, but then his clean voice as well is unreal. So when he was in the studio he was listening with me and said dad, what's this song about? I said, it's called, "You Give Me A Reason to Drink". It's about those days when people come home from work just like fucking give me a beer and two shots of whiskey. This day's been shitty. And then they realized that their shitty day just got worse. Now they're drunk on the couch crying about their shitty day. And it's kind of almost a pun …. you give me a reason to drink.
Working with him was incredible. Watching him record, incredible. He has come out on stage with me numerous times in L.A. and people go nuts. And I've always said this, if I had to take a break off DevilDriver that's the only person that could go out and fill my shoes. The kid, he has it and all my sons are musically inclined or in music.
My middle son works here at Oracle Management, manages several bands, also takes care of Sun Cult and he's managing his younger brother. So it's going to be incredible to watch Simon come out, pass the torch to him, watch my middle son manage his career. And then he's a very savvy kid and I don't even want to say kid. He's 23. He's a very savvy man and also savage behind the mic. So it's gonna be interesting. This is a kid that was raised around me and my family so he can spot bullshit a mile away. And he's an incredible frontman. So it's gonna be interesting to see what he's gonna do with his career. We're an Italian family, so much like the movie A Bronx Tale, he's got his foot in two worlds, right? He's got one on the street, which is music, and then one in business, which he's also a coder. So he can go make 250 grand a year if he wants.
I raised great men. I was always their friends. I never raised a hand to them. I never screamed at them to make them fear me like most fathers do. We have been friends. I say now, my kids are 23 and 26 and 28, that I've got three dudes who would have my back to the end of time. So it's obvious with our friendship that I did a good job raising them and I'm very proud of all my children.
On A Potential Outlaws 'till the End: Vol. 2
I mean I would like to, but that volume one almost killed me man. I used a lot of my own money, a lot of my own time trying to get guys like John Carter Cash, Johnny Cash's son, and Randy (Blythe) and me on a track and working with guys like Lee Ving. Look, I'll never forget that experience. But the funny thing is I was told early on by a real big player in the music scene that that would kill my career. You do not blend outlaw country and metal, that is going to kill the DevilDriver brand. That for me hoisted my pirate flag even higher and my middle finger. You can't really tell me I can't do something. Oddly enough I was like, really? If it's going to kill it, it's going to be awful fun to do because I get to work with Hank Williams (III) and I get to work with all the people that I look up to. It came out, it got high marks, debuted pretty well. It actually sold great. We've got a lot of accolades on that record. So as far as doing volume two, it has to be right timing and I have to have a lot of patience to try to tackle that again.
On Early Heavy Influences
Well, I got into my parents record collection when I was in third or fourth grade and that had a lot of classic rock. I don't know if you can call it metal, but Steppenwolf's "Born to Be Wild", obviously was metal back then. KISS was obviously metal back then. But my tastes were all punk rock and goth and psychobilly. I tell you this, I was listening to the band Crumbsuckers and the same day my friend put in a Motorhead tape, and I thought they were in a punk band. When I found out they had long hair, etc., I started getting more into metal at that point. So Motorhead really broke me into metal.
I still only like metal that's vicious. I only came to the metal side from goth and punk because I liked it vicious and assaulting. There doesn't seem to be a lot of that going on in metal right now. Especially there's a lot of like the symphonic thing happening, clean vocal symphonic stuff and I just don't have a taste for it whatsoever. But I mean I come from the Gothic, punk rock side for sure. Somebody said what's your favorite metal band the other day and I actually told them Bauhaus. So it's kind of a joke for them, but I was like no, truthfully, that's my favorite fucking metal band. They're darker than any metal band that I know.
On Discovering New Artists and What He Wants in an Artist
Anything you do, you better keep your ear to the ground. If you're in construction and they're coming out with a new tool that can help you, you better know what that is. So it's the same thing with music, especially because we're launching Oracle Records and we've signed our first two bands: Okalacas from Southern California and Broken Jaw from the UK, who you're going to love. They're like punk rock metal. It's unbelievable. So yeah, I've got a lot of demos from people and I keep my ear to the ground.
I want to be scared. I want it to be violent. I want it to be vicious. I want it to be overtaking. I want it to be dangerous. I want it to be frightening. I want it to be emotionally draining when I listen to it. It's part and parcel why I don't subscribe to some of the stuff that's going on. I see you coming offstage after an hour and you're not sweating … I'm just done already. Metal should be an intensely moving experience. And I can plainly tell and smell your bullshit when it's not.
On His Opinions on the Horror Genre
So let's discuss what horror is, as opposed to slasher. When did horror become blatantly killing 15 women and skinning them on hooks? That's not horror. Horror is what's behind the corner. What's that ghost? What the fuck is Dracula up to? How is The Mummy getting out of that tomb? How the fuck is The Wolfman changing into The Wolfman? For me that's horror. It's the things you don't see. That's horror. When we started getting into the Michael Myers kind of genre of I need a knife and a mask to kill women … I was like, man, this is fucking not horror. This is a snuff movie. I mean, you're not going to allow porn in a movie theater right? You've got triple-X porn. Can't go watch porn because it's what people do. They're humans. They fuck. Can't watch that. But you can go pay seven bucks, 16 bucks, whatever, and go watch a dude kill twelve women on a large screen and come away with that going that's my favorite movie I've ever seen. That for me is a situation where I believe you need to look within yourself. I can have a lot of people come at me saying, no, no, that is horror. No, it's actually not. Horror is like old school, like the Russian fairy tale like Viy, where it's like the priest has to pray over a body and monsters come out. That's horror for me.
I like when it gets back to oh shit, what was that shadow? Oh fuck! What's down the stairs in the basement? I don't want to go down there! That's horror for me. And when it does get thought provoking, that's even better for me. I thought the original Dracula with Bela (Lugosi) is terribly thought-provoking. I mean, he's stuck in a circumstance that he doesn't want to even be in. He lost his great love. Bram Stoker's Dracula is amazing too, with Gary Oldman. He's stuck in a circumstance where he lost the love of his life and now he's got to go against the church. That's horror to me. So I don't know, I've never been a slasher guy ever. I find it cringing. I can't go and watch a YouTube video of an animal, say a dog, getting killed and skinned, but yet people are able to sit and watch for two hours a guy do that to women. I'm just like, bro, fucking check yourself. And then society's ills play into all of that man.
I'm all for art of any nature. Do not censor art. Not for censorship and I want to go on record saying that. But then maybe there should be x-ratings for anything where they're killing a woman with a knife and skinning her. It should be triple-X and you should be going to the same theatres you're going to watch fucking porno.
On A New Chapter for DevilDriver
I think that things begin when things end and I think I've been writing about the human situation for so long that I need to even write about my demons and other people's and society's demons to kind of move on to the next chapter. I said it early on that DevilDriver would get better as the records went down and I feel that is the case. A lot of bands after 10 or 20 years, they make the same record over and over and their new single sounds like something they could have released in the 90s. I never wanted to be that kind of a band. I feel like we're moving forward musically. This is the most essential thing that I did for this project.
I had a conversation with the guys and I told them do not focus on the brand. Do not focus on Coca-Cola and do not focus on what people are expecting. Do not focus on what the label is expecting. Do not listen or focus on any of the prior records. I want you to make music as if I just met you. And if your newest influence is fuckin gothic blues, bring it in. I said I'll do the same thing. All my influences musically, from Coal Chamber to whatever, I will bring it in. That's how you have a song like "Wishing" on this record where I have my first clean vocal on a verse with DevilDriver when I said I would never do clean vocals in DevilDriver. And I guess what I meant by that in early 2000 was I didn't like the metalcore vocal where it's like a heavy verse and a real singing chorus in order to get you on the radio. But this record demanded all of us to just physically strip away anything you thought would make DevilDriver and let's just make music for what we want to come up with in ourselves.
I went from going let's do what we're gonna do and then I'm going to take some much needed time off to saying fucking ay, I've had enough time off. Let's get the hell on the road! I mean, I'm a road dog. I miss 3 a.m. four or five tour busses and a truck stop and everybody getting shitty snacks. I miss everything about it. You know what's cool is music binds people. If you listen to the media now they're trying to tear us all apart. Democrat, republican, black, white, territories where you live, where you don't live. Everything's trying to tear us apart. Music is all inclusive. Doesn't matter if you're punk, goth, metal. We are all inclusive. It doesn't matter what color you are, where you're from … it's all inclusive and music binds us. So let's hope that everybody right now just kind of gets through this and we can come back to shows and be together and rejoice in the fact that we all love music and love live music. I surely miss it. I'll tell you that.
Order Devildriver's new album, Dealing With Demons I, here.