Interview with Mike Spreitzer from DEVILDRIVER
Interview by Mark Dean || Photos by Christopher James Ryan
Okay, you guys have done many festivals over the years, but I just wanted to talk briefly about one you did this summer, Brutal Assault. The location was at an old army base in the Czech Republic (Josefov Fortress). How was that? Bit of an unusual location for a festival.
Yeah it is. We’ve done it before, so the second time doing it. Both times, man, the shows just end up being amazing. It’s a little bit on the smaller side, but, you know, happy to have something good for metal in the Czech Republic.
Do you get much opportunities at festivals to check out other bands or anything?
No, I really wanted to see a band called Misery Loves Company that I was really into when I was in high school. They played Brutal Assault this year. Unfortunately, it wasn’t on a day that we played.
It never works out. Scheduling at festivals are generally chaotic.
Okay, just taking you right back. What was your first musical memory? Maybe a song on the radio or something you heard in your parents’ record collection?
I think when I first realized I was starting to get into music, I hadn’t really decided I wanted to be a musician yet, but I was listening to Oingo Boingo. I have an older brother and sister that were teenagers in the 80’s, so I always heard Depeche Mode, Tears for Fears, Erasure, Oingo Boingo, a lot of 80’s pop. It totally rubbed off on me, but I remember being a kid and listening to Oingo Boingo’s “Only a Lad.” I was real young. To this day Oingo Boingo is, hands down, probably one of my top ten favorite bands.
What was your first gig then that you went to?
Oh, right. And thus your interests spread from pop to something heavier?
Nirvana, Butthole Surfers, and there was another Seattle grunge band that opened up. It’s a three letter word. I can’t remember the name of the band. I actually found a poster for it recently, so I did find out who opened up that day. I had just broken my arm snowboarding a few days before. I remember during the Butthole Surfers set, my sister had to take me out to the car to give me more pain medicine. So, for my first concert I was like, eh… I think it was ’93, and I was 12 years old, and I was loaded on Vicodin.
What about tonight’s early show? Is that a common thing in the States where you have an early gig and then everybody gets out, and then they have a club night? Or is that just something that seems….
That’s a European thing.
Seems more common these days than I previously recall it.
That’s a total European thing. Especially in the UK, we always end up going on earlier then we do in the States. Especially in the United Kingdom more so. I see a lot of it in Germany. They like doing shows and then they turn it into, as they would say, a disco club.
I’m assuming it must be more difficult as DevilDriver have been around for quite some time to draw up a setlist.
Yeah, now that we have seven records. Even if we, especially as a support slot, even playing one song from each record. That’s…
Yeah, eats it up.
Yeah, depending on which songs we play.
Okay, the band, I was going to say, has been around 14 years. How can you explain the enduring popularity? DevilDriver are still selling out shows, and still selling CD’s.
Well, I’d like to think that our talents as musicians had a little something to do with it.
It’s not an easy business, more so in recent years, to make a living.
No, it’s not. I feel very grateful that we’re a band that still has our head way above water and I can make a living from playing guitar. But, you know, Dez, he’s got a really good business sense when it comes to running things and when he wants something, he’ll do…
Very focused, very driven.
Yeah, he’ll strive to get it.
If you were on a desert island and you’d have two albums, one by DevilDriver and one by somebody else, what would they be?
Probably Marilyn Manson’s Antichrist Superstar. That’s definitely my favorite record of all time.
DevilDriver? Your new one?
Yeah, my new one because this is the first time that I got to take the lead role in writing, first one. When Boecklin, our old drummer, has been the main writer for a long time and not – you know, I don’t feel bad saying this because he and I have actually talked about this together – but not because it’s the way I wanted it or anyone else wanted it, but he was also a very driven motivated person that wanted his musical influence in the band more than anybody else’s. I always pushed to make sure that I had a good amount of influence on every record after hearing The Fury of Our Maker’s Hand. The Fury of Our Maker’s Hand – I was the new guy in the band, so I treaded lightly.
You’ve more of a creative input to this record then with all the song writing?
Oh yeah, well 100%. I was almost about to write this record completely on my own until we hired Neil and Austin. The three of us, just as a writing team, got along so well that I didn’t want to write on my own anymore because they had such amazing ideas.
Do you feel like your goals and ambitions have changed since you first set out?
My goals and ambitions…
Dez Fafara: Some things you do for the poster brother, and the legendary fucking nature of doing it, and we’re doing shows with fucking Ministry…
Mike: He and I are huge Ministry fans, oh my god.
Really? How’s your tour been going so far?
Amazing. I’ve watched Ministry almost every night. This is the first time I think, in over a decade, that Al has agreed to do mostly stuff off The Land of Rape and Honey, The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste, and Psalm 69, which are hands down my three favorite records.
That’s a win/win situation for you really, as a fan and came to play yourself.
Totally, but goals and ambitions for me personally, no, they haven’t really changed, man. I mean, I’ve been, I’m one of the lucky people in the world that I’ve known exactly what I’ve wanted to do since I was six years old, with my life. I want to be a musician. I don’t want kids. I want a couple of dogs when, maybe when the day comes when I have a girlfriend back home to take care of them for me when I’m on tour, and I want to surf. That’s pretty much what I’ve set out to do.
You feel like the band’s sound has changed since the debut? And if so, has that been a conscious decision or natural evolution
Well totally, yeah, because the first record was written by mostly, by a guy named Evan Pitts who I replaced.
Changes in band personnel obviously has a significant impact on that.
Then a lot of people… there’s a little bit of a misconception out there that I single-handedly changed DevilDriver‘s sound when I came in, but that’s not necessarily true because Evan wrote a lot of the first record, but he left and then DevilDriver became more of a collective thing with Jeff Kendrick, Jon Miller, myself, and John Boecklin. Then Miller left the band, and then over time Jeff started, he wasn’t really much of a come-up-with-a-whole-song kind of writer. He was really good at coming up with things on the spot. Then by the last record, or Winter Kills, I mean that was mostly Boecklin, it was a 60/40 split as far as writing goes. You know, the difference in writers is definitely going to have a difference in the sound. I’m much more into melodic Scandinavian type of metal. Our old drummer, Jon, was more into like, I would describe his style as a little bit more thrashy.
But even on this record, I was telling somebody yesterday that, when I was writing, I learned a lot from Jon, writing with him for 10 years. Even though we, writing for us was a little bit of… it wasn’t always easy, but we always ended up with really awesome songs in the long run, even though we had to crawl through a lot of shit to get there. Which is different in the case now, but there were a couple moments when I was writing where I was, I thought, ‘what would Jon do right here?’, when I was stuck. I felt like I almost owed it to DevilDriver fans to think like him a little bit because I knew that his style, what he brought DevilDriver, is important. It will be forever.
Have you ever met anybody, any fans that have told you, personally, a story of how your music influenced them, helped them through a difficult period in their lives? I just wondered if you’ve any sort of life-enhancing or life-changing episodes of the power of DevilDriver’s music?
Yeah. I mean I get messages on Facebook from time to time, you know, people that have either maybe a family member dies or even a, you know… I’ve had a couple people email me that they’ve had a son or daughter pass away, which is probably one of the worst things somebody could possibly go through. A lot of people coming back from Afghanistan and Iraq, saying that whenever they’re driving around in the tanks, they had DevilDriver on. It got them through a lot of scary situations.
How do you cope with all the pressures, obstacles and difficulties? Are you a strong person or do you tend to rally around family? It’s family members that get you through the hard times?
I’m a little bit of a recluse so I don’t have to say that I have a tendency to, there’s very few people in my life that I really trust and I’m willing to open up to.
You’re a different character offstage then you are onstage?
Yeah, I think. You see, I was far from the most popular kid in school when I was younger. I hated school. Around sophomore year, it started to change and I loved college. When I went to college, that changed me a lot. I’m very, I admit I’m shy and I don’t really like being around people that I don’t know. A lot of my girlfriends say that I’m a very hard person to read. That drives some people, some of my ex-girlfriends of the past, that drives them crazy because, they’re like what is going on in your head? And I’m just all, ‘Nothing, I don’t know.’ Yeah, I have a tendency to try to work things out on my own but I’m very close with my family. When shit hits the fan, and I’m really close with my dad now. He’s one of my best friends now that we’re both older. I’ve got a few friends that I will go to when shit hits the fan. Probably my bandmates, because I spend the most time with them.
What about outside music, have you any spare time interests or hobbies?
Surfing. That’s my main thing. I’ve kind of taken a back seat to it, but I’m really into kite boarding for a while. Haven’t done it in over a year because I’ve … I was really into surfing and then I kind of went to kite boarding for three or four years, and now, for some reason, I’ve gravitated towards surfing again. Those are my two main things. I go wake boarding a lot when I’m at home. My parents have a boat, and spend some time out at the lake with them. That’s pretty much it, man. When I’m not busy with DevilDriver, I like to produce, mix, master records, when I can. Never really gotten anything that’s… no bands I’ve really turned into anything big, but yeah, I liking doing that stuff. I like studio work. It’s fun.
Just a final one then, if you were to sit down like we are, and you could interview somebody, who would it be? Maybe a personal hero, somebody that’s inspired you in your life?
Danny Elfman, because if I were to move away from the metal scene, the first thing I would want to do is move into the scoring scene, for movies, or TV shows, or whatever, you know? I got the chance to score a pilot called Queen Gloria, unfortunately it didn’t get picked up, but you know, I kind of think I have a little bit of a knack for it. I think it’s something that I would really enjoy doing. I’m a very visual person and I don’t really pay attention to lyrics. I care more about how they’re structured then what they’re writing about, at least in metal anyway. When I’m listening to country or something like that, then that takes on a whole new…
You have country musical pleasures then?
Sure, yeah, I mean I listen to a lot of, not a lot of country, but a lot of classical, a lot of 80’s. I was really into Lady Gaga for a long time. The last record didn’t really do it for me.
Have you heard the new Metallica single?
We just listened to it about ten minutes ago.
What’d you think of?
I don’t hate it. I definitely don’t hate it.
More of a return to basics I would say myself.
I think the solos, the solo bummed me out more than anything, the guitar solo.
Yeah, you as a guitarist. That’s obviously what you would naturally focus on?
Yeah, come on Kirk, you can do better than that. Metallica is god to me. They single-handedly taught me how to play guitar without me even knowing it when I was a kid. But yeah, I like it. On Death Magnetic, the best song was “Broken, Beat and Scarred.” I’d say the new song is on par with that. It’s definitely not the best thing that I’ve heard from Metallic, but I don’t think they’re ever going to top what they did in the past. It’s heavier and it sounds good. It’s better than Saint Anger, I know that.
Looking forward to the show tonight, Mike. Have a great one and thanks for chatting to me.