Dez Fafara, DevilDriver’s hard rockin' working man

Touring for almost three years straight, the human canvas and vocal powerhouse Dez Fafara of DevilDriver talks shop with Metal as Fuck as we discuss his recent Aussie tour, the workload, the demise of Coal Chamber, and his personal favourite beverage: wine.

“Man, I love being here in Australia. Here with High on Fire, Shadows Fall and Lamb of God? Good times.” says DevilDriver frontman Dez Fafara as he reclines into his chair and puts his legs up. The braggadocio of his inked-to-the-nines stage persona has all but fallen away on a sunny Melbourne day. With about three hours until showtime and packing in about what seems three and a half hours of press time, he takes the occasion to reflect on their mammoth Australian tour, accompanied by three other American giants of metal, all of whom are great friends of Dez and his band.

“We know all the guys really well,” he says. “Whenever you’re on a tour with people that you know and that you like it’s a great thing.”

Luckily for the band, touring is what DevilDriver do best. If any fan or insider wonders what DevilDriver are up to at any particular moment, guessing “touring” will probably land them straight on the mark. Speaking to the Santa Barbara, CA native earlier in the year, he told me that he wasn’t going to get a day off until 2011.

“Well, I lied,” he says with a wry smile. “Because I just had about eight days off.” he laughs.

“When you’re on tour as much as us eight days feels like about twenty-four hours. By the time you get home and unpack you leave again. We have a tour schedule that rivals any band out there. I don’t think there’s a band out there that tours as hard as we do. If they do, they go for a month-and-a-half to two months at a time – we don’t do that.

“The only significant break we’re gonna take is after we tour the States in January with Suffocation, Goatwhore and Thy Will Be Done – a proper metal tour. Then we’ll take some time off – about a month or two – to write and get in the studio. Then in March we’re going to do some shows in the UK. But what we want to do is prepare for record five.” He proffers.

“Record five with this band, and I’ve said it before, even with record five, six, seven, eight and nine, will continue to get better. Not a lot of bands can say that and not a lot of bands have done that. Most bands, by the time they’ve done that amount of records, they’re either over it or they’re not giving you the anticipation of the record release that they should. But we want to keep DevilDriver fans on their feet. So every two years we’re going to release a record and just continue to tour like we do, and we’re booked until May 2012. Then we’re going to take about six months off. That’ll be the most time I’ve had off in about fourteen years.”

What was both unprecedented and unexpected in the metal community was DevilDriver’s success with their latest record, entitled Pray for Villains.  Debuting at No. 35 on the Billboard Album Charts in the United States, Dez believes it’s a by-product of their hard work.

“It’s been really well received all over the world at this point and we appreciate all the support we’ve received so far.”

Even though the band poured their all into the writing and production, and the expansion of their musical horizons, Dez didn’t hold any expectations prior to the release.

“I never have any expectations or perceptions when it comes to [our] art; I just do art for the sake of doing art,” he explained. I knew that we were stretching the boundaries and growing our sound a little bit – I knew we were going to give [our fans] something with a bit of growth and they were anticipating it. We feel very strongly that we made the right move with our music. As for how it was going to be received or perceived, I’m not that kind of guy,” he says honestly. “I’m doing it for the love of music, really.”

Dez’s music holds a special place for him, no matter when he made it – he doesn’t hold any particular reverence for it – it’s all part of a continuum of creative expression.

“Every bit of art I’ve ever done, from Coal Chamber until now has always been significant to me. It’s always something that’s diverse and different. Coal Chamber essentially got lumped into a sound or a label. It was always metal meets goth meets punk music, and it was so diverse at the time. I think DevilDriver has those qualities, but we really don’t fit in with the status quo.”

How does he figure that, I wondered?

“Well,” he said, shifting around a bit, “even the bands we’re playing with [on this tour] we don’t really sound like. I think that’s important; to develop your own sound through your own pairing of influences. There’s so many influences throughout this whole band. Its going to be difficult for a long time to pinpoint who and what we are, except for being an exceptional live band we’ve grown to be.”

For Dez, some of the gothic styles are his kind of thing; even country music such as Hank Williams can be found on his iTunes, making for an eclectic mix of influences.

“Oh, I love Nick Cave. Bauhaus. The Tea Party-

Suddenly the hotel bar’s ice maker goes into overdrive, spilling cubes into a nearby sink. “AVALANCHE!!!” Dez shouts. A roar of laughter rips through the bar.

“Where were we? Oh yeah, Nick Cave,” he says without missing a beat. “I listen to everything from Black Metal to Billie HolidayBlack Flag, Dead Kennedys, The Partiasns, GBH – punk rock. Jon [Miller, bassist] listens to Suffocation through to Enya. John [Boeklin, drummer] listens to everything from Michael Jackson to Canned Heat. There’s not just one influence, we don’t just ‘strictly listen to metal.’ I don’t want to appeal to those people. I don’t want to fit in to those people’s perceptions and expectations of what music is.

“DevilDriver is to experience something different. If you like good groove, good hook and viciousness live on stage, and then come see us.”

Something that Dez laments is the calcified nature of the US scene – that bands have become insular and prone to re-treading worn ground instead of experimenting and diversifying their sound.

“I don’t know what’s happening over here, but in the States right now, we have this convoluted…” Dez pauses for breath to collect his thoughts. “Every metal band kinda sounds the same. It kind of sounds like that. Anybody who can scream is doing it, there’s no real defining sound coming out of there. I’m interested in doing something different and I always have been. I think growth is the operating word that we’re working on here.”

Whereas DevilDriver thrives on growing onward and upward, his previous band, Coal Chamber, disbanded under acrimonious circumstances. Most of the band became addicted to methamphetamines and threw any shred of professionalism out of the window. All these events made Dez uncomfortable and, ultimately, unhappy.

“Everyone was addicted to speed [by the end],” Dez recalls. “When you have people around you up for four days at a time, they can’t do their jobs. At that point, it’s time to leave. If you’re unhappy in a job, or a marriage? Leave.

“I can’t say for certain that we’d still have been together if those things hadn’t happened – but we may have been. It certainly didn’t change because the tide was changing on the band; we were bigger than ever, we were selling out shows. There wasn’t any feedback on nu-metal; it wasn’t an ‘ugly’ word at the time.

"I simply left because the friends that I loved in the band were doing drugs and ruining their lives. By me singing on stage, I was giving them the money and the opportunity to destroy themselves. To save my friends, I bailed. That’s all I can say. I mean we all talk now. They’re all off of hard drugs. Because Coal Chamber broke up, they got to save their own lives. I basically left overnight. I couldn’t take it. I just didn’t want to be involved in that.”

Having started again in DevilDriver, it afforded him a “second career” and chance that not many other musicians get. His decision afforded him to tour and write and record once again, and come back to Australia: a country he “fell in love with right away.”

“When we first came out with Fear Factory all those years ago, I loved it. It was much like the UK or playing Los Angeles. People going off. At that point I said ‘lets come back.’ This place reminds me of home. It’s a good time. I could go surfing right now and go to soundcheck straight after.”

Dez also loves the varieties of wine that one can acquire in Australia, boasting as it does a robust and thriving wine industry and boutique vineyards, something that Dez has become quite an expert in.

“I love the Sangiovese wines – the Sangiovese grape is grown over here. It’s an Italian grape, it’s incredible tasting. If you read this and you’re not a wine person, buy a bottle of Sangiovese and it’ll change your mind,” he says with a smile. “I haven’t had a chance to go to any wineries in Australia but I’d very much like to do that when I have some time to myself, maybe after we do Soundwave again and we end in Perth.”

At the end of the day, what motivates Dez is his dedication to heavy music and throwing that passion down on stage for an energetic metal crowd. The decision to make the music he makes now was a straightforward one.

“I’ve always enjoyed something with raw emotion. You can only really get that in underground music. Punk rock, metal – you can’t get that in classical! I mean, I got my first KISS record and that was it for me. It’s incredible music and that’s all there is to it.”