Artist Interview: DevilDriver Frontman Dez Fafara

We sat down with Dez Fafara, the front man of the heavy metal band DevilDriver, hailing from Santa Barbara. They’ll be in town on September 30th at the TLA, grab your tickets here.

Rock On Philly: Do you ever read the press about the band?

Dez Fafara: I don’t read press on myself anymore.  For better or for worse, I listen.  I keep my ear next to the ground to know what people are saying, ya know?

ROP: When did you decide that music was what you wanted to do for a career?

Dez: I got into my parents’ record collection.  Which, that was it for me, ya know?  They had a lot of awesome psychedelic stuff.  Everything from Iron Butterfly to Steppenwolf to The Doors to Creedence, stuff like that. And after that I got into Kiss.  And the bug bit me.  From there I found punk rock.  For as long as I can remember, it’s all I wanted to do.


ROP: Were there any frontmen you looked up to as a kid?  Like you would go to a show or see a video and say, “Wow, I totally want to be that guy.”

Dez: Oh, of course. I mean, even to this day I have my heroes, you know what I mean? Guys like Johnny Cash, Ozzy, Danzig.  A lot of Black Flag, early Black Flag before Henry Rollins, MC 5.  I like a lot of the new stuff that’s out right now. I love Suicide Silence, God, rest in peace, Mitch.  I think White Chapel is killer.  There’s a lot of stuff that’s happening.  I mean, I listen to music 24/7.  I wake up listening to music and I go to bed listening to music. So, I’m surrounded by it.


ROP: I know what you mean, I listen to music almost all day long.

Dez: Yeah, like most of the cats I really look up to have like a form of longevity and beat out whatever genre they were first put in.  They just kept on going on and on, you know? Most of the dudes are on my wall.  Pictures of me with them, you know?  Guys like Kerry King or Jerry Cantrell from Alice in Chains or Black Sabbath, you know.  People like that.


ROP: I was reading the tour schedule, and noticed DD is back and forth between Canada and the States throughout September.  Geographically, that makes sense. But, do you find it frustrating having to cross the border during a tour?

Dez: I think borders in America are frustrating.  Borders in the world are frustrating.  Period. I don’t get it, you know? I mean, borders.  In this day and age, haven’t we gotten over that yet? It’s just a little weird, you know?  I mean, there’s still countries where you need a work visa to go work in another country and this and that.  I think it’s a shame. Humanity is humanity.  We’re all on this planet.  Why are there walls?  Why are there barriers? Why are there borders? That being said, I got to deal with it. Fortunately, I’ve been over all these borders so many times. They take a look at my passport and go, “Huh, you’ve traveled more than most people on this earth,” and stamp it and just let me through.


ROP:  Oh really?  Well, that’s cool.

Dez: The Canadian border has always been really cool with DevilDriver.  Yeah, I don’t have any horror stories.  They’ve got to do their job, I’ve got to respect it.  So, it is what it is.


ROP: I’ve been doing a lot of reading on Devildriver and the new album, Winter Kills, and am getting the notion that the album is about rebirth.  Can you elaborate on that?

Dez: I love the way winter comes in.  I’m in the desert of California and everything is so desolate during that time.  And then the spring comes in and summer comes in and things start re-blooming again.  And also it is about, kinda, the rebirth of the band; new label, new full-time bass player, as well as I love to start new things.  It’s why I build houses.  It’s why I had no problem leaving Coal Chamber to go to DevilDriver, or why I have no problem doing different side projects with other people. I love to see the beginnings of things and see what the world’s into.  I think it makes life interesting.


ROP: I haven’t heard Winter Kills yet, I believe it is due out August 27th here in the states.  However, I did read the track listing. ‘Caring’s Overkill’ – that title jumped out at me and my first thought was ‘co-dependency.’ What is that song about?

Dez: Exactly. It’s about… have you ever been smothered?


ROP: Yes.

Dez: Okay, there you go. That’s exactly what it is and what it can be. You know, smothered. And then, if you listen and you read the lyrics, it’s like the person, whoever, comes out of it at the end realizing that caring has to be overkill or it’s not real caring. Because if you’re not really caring about somebody, to the point where it’s overkill, then you didn’t in the first place. So, it’s kind of a double edged sword. And that’s what ‘Caring’s Overkill’ is about. Once you hear the record, I will say this.  It’s one of those records that you have to listen to it in its entirety to really get the feel of it.  It’s a very cohesive record. So that being said, each track really relies on the one before it and the one after it in order to make it special. When people start talking to me about ‘Well, what singles are you gonna put out”, and this and that, it gets me insane. Because I’m like, ‘Put out the record.’ It is a piece of art that goes together. It’s like, ‘Look at this painting I got, but I’m just gonna show you a corner of it and you’re supposed to judge whether you like it or not based on that piece.’  And you’re like, ‘Whoa, I have no idea what’s going on here’. So, for me, I’d rather just get it out there in its entirety. I mean, it is one of those records that is cohesive all the way through.  We may have done that once or twice over DevilDriver’s career, but this one specifically will live on its own when you listen to it in its entirety.


ROP: Awesome.  So is it kind of like a concept album or no?

Dez: No real concept, but every song does need the one before and after it in order to lift it up and put it on its own pedestal, you know.  A lot of the stuff I listen to are jams, records that you wanna listen to in its entirety.  And when it’s over, you wanna push play again.  So, we were really out for blood when it came to making a record like that. And, I think this one definitely holds water when it comes to that notion of hey, if you’re on a road trip, this is the one you’re gonna want to put on.  Ya know, and then you’ll probably push play again. We hope. (laughs)


ROP:   I’ve actually done that with a few albums in my car where I play it for three weeks straight.  The same album.

 Dez: I’m not gonna compare, but I will say this: records like Back in Black, certain records for me, you know you can’t just pick a song. We wanted to make one of those kinds of records and Winter Kills is definitely that.  When you hear it in its entirety, you’ll see what I’m saying.


ROP: I read what you said about Awolnation’s ‘Sail.’  I am excited to hear DevilDriver’s version of that song.  Has your ADD subsided or do you still deal with symptoms from time to time?  If so, how do you handle that?

Dez: Oh yes.  I suffer from that.  That’s why I have two bands and multiple businesses and that’s why I’m pacing around right now and can’t sit down.  I mean, I wish I could let go of that in my later years here but it just travels with me. I was on medication for it when I was a kid and then subsequently found marijuana to be the lifesaver of ADD.  It focused me back on the path; it got me good grades in school.

And now, even more so, it focuses me and allows me to kind of like, I don’t slow down per say, but my mind will compartmentalize.  It will enable me to do that.  Which reminds me, I got to smoke right now.


But you know what, here’s the thing. Kids, especially at a certain age, going into adulthood, take advantage of that ADD, they’re really the ones that go on to own big businesses and do well and succeed in life. It forces you, you can’t just sit on the couch. It forces you to do things.


ROP:  Right, because you can’t sit still.

Dez: No, no I can’t. I mean, I just got back from a month in Europe and went over to New York for four days to do press. I’ve been home for forty-eight hours, and in that amount of time I varnished two chairs, stained the whole back gate and I still have to do furniture for my wife. I can’t sit.  That being said, it helps with touring, because I want to keep moving.


ROP: That’s funny you used the word ‘compartmentalize’. My next question is: how do you compartmentalize being on tour with the rest of your priorities in life?

Dez: Well, you got to have the yin and the yang, you know? You gotta make sure you spend enough time with your family.  Me and my wife have a new rule too, that after two and a half three weeks, she flies out no matter what. We’re never more than two to three weeks away from each other.  Touring works for me because I don’t live the touring lifestyle.  You’re not gonna catch me out at the strip clubs or backstage in the party scene.  I’m extremely socially awkward so… for instance, they’re setting up meet and greets for this next co-headlining tour with Trivium and I’m thinking: “Ya know, hold on a minute, ya know?  I’m gonna be backstage with fifty to a hundred people I don’t know, you know?  It’s like, my hands are already sweating just thinking about it. I think that exact part of me really helps with me keeping the family part of me alive as well. There’s not just like this maniac on tour and then this kind of guy trying to get sane at home. I’m pretty even keel all the way around.


ROP: That’s awesome.  I can definitely relate to feeling awkward in front of large groups of people I don’t know.

Dez: It just trips me out, you know.  It’s funny, man.  A lot of people that have known me since I was a kid they’re like, “Dude, you picked the wrong job.”  They’re like, “as soon as we get back stage, I look to the left of me and you’re gone.” But it’s just like, that’s how I am. I mean, I would say, ‘If you wanna hang with me, come to the back of the bus, and bring a big bottle of wine.  Be prepared to chill out and listen to music.’  I’m better that way.


ROP: Right, I hear ya. When bands are together for a while, a sort of hierarchy develops at times.  Would you say that everyone in DevilDriver has an even part in what goes on with the writing and production?

Dez: This thing from the beginning has been a monarchy run like a democracy.  Meaning, everything goes through me. If I like it I do, if I don’t, I don’t.   That’s the way that it goes. But what I do is, I’m very open-minded. So, even about my own lyrics, I’m open-minded. I tend to listen to everyone around me.  I’ve realized from a lot of people in the business, and musicians that have been around for a long time, what you have to do is listen to your players. So I really do take time to hear what they’ve got to say. I mess with the arrangements a lot. Each guy kind of takes a different lead in this band.  By saying that I mean, my drummer, he also plays guitar. He took a lot of the lead on this record. On previous records it’s been different dudes. So, everybody does have their own thing that they do.  But, there’s a saying you pretty much have to adopt if you’re going to be in a band. “Whatever’s best for the band, whatever’s best for the song, whatever’s best for the individual, whatever’s best for the tour, that’s what the unit will do.” You know what I mean?


ROP: Okay, that makes a lot of sense.

Dez: I, coming from Coal Chamber, ran everything so that everyone had individual tasks that they did or didn’t do or fell short from. I realized there’s got to be a captain. So with this thing, that’s just the way that it is with DevilDriver.


ROP: My last question which is not in the form of a question: are there any cities you remember from previous tours and you think, “Wow, I remember this place, this gonna be amazing!”

Dez: Yeah man, I got those all over the world. Most definitely yeah. I can remember early days playing Philly, I’ll tell you that. Playing at the Trocadero and The Electric Factory.  I mean, that’s basically when my career started was in Philly; playing the Troc with a certain band, which was Coal Chamber, and they weren’t treating us very well.  We were out for three or four days and I looked up in the rafters at the Troc and saw Danzig and he came backstage and said, ‘You guys are great.  We’re kicking a certain band off the tour, come on tour with us and we’re playing the Electric Factory tomorrow night”. So anytime I came into Philly it’s like, “huh, I started my career here.” Then you walk into the Electric Factory and see the ‘Coal Chamber, Slipknot Machine Head poster’ and you go, “How many years ago was this?” But yeah, all over the world there’s killer cities.  It doesn’t have to be a massive show.  It can be at times little small shows, there’s like little pockets up in the mountains where the shows are like 250 – 300 people, where it’s just incredible. Plus the views of the town are incredible.  Then there’s cities like, Philly, New York, L.A. and London that really kick off and show you what it’s all about. You know what I mean?  You don’t want to get too caught up in: ‘This town is killer.  I remember it’s gonna be a great show,’ because you got to give 110% in every city. Otherwise, you’re losing the battle.  I’ve seen dudes walk into shows like that, man.  I mean, I wish I could name the band but they were like, “Oh man, this is London, this is gonna be easy for us.” And I remember after the third song, the crowd wasn’t really giving it up and he looked at me like, “uhhh…” and I was like, “Hey buddy, you can’t go into it like that. You gotta go into it like no one’s ever seen you before.  You’ve got to come out the gate on fire. Every night.”


ROP: Yeah, you can’t get cocky.

Dez: Not one bit. Not get cocky, but you can’t get comfortable in your cockiness and bands have a habit of doing that. They’ll have a good show two times in a row in the same city and all of a sudden there is this egotistical thing, ‘this is my city.’ And you can’t be doing that.


ROP: I think I actually saw Coal Chamber at the Electric Factory around 1999 or 2000.  Somewhere around there.

Dez: That’s probably when we put Slipknot in there and took Machine Head out. That was a great tour.  And that’s the poster that’s hanging in the Electric Factory. It’s another reason that you gotta keep grounded.  You keep grounded. Especially the singer.  I got really no ego.  And, if you keep that up then you’ll have a great time. But, the minute you get cocky and comfortable, a city may turn you upside down quicker than a bad bitch.


ROP: I hear that. That’s awesome.  Is there anything you want to add?

Dez: Go pick up the record.  You guys are gonna dig it. Thanks for all the years that I’ve had in this business. Anybody who’s ever followed me and many of my bands, you know? I’m always humble and appreciative. I come from a good, blue-collar working class background, where every single day you live your life to the fullest and that’s what I’ve done.  People have supported my music in the past have allowed me to do that and I’m really thankful. So, if anything, get that across to people.  Thank you very much for continuing life, man.


ROP: Yeah, absolutely.  I’m looking forward very much to hearing the record and hopefully I’ll get to see you guys when you come out here.

Dez: Great.  I hope you enjoy it.


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