Interview: Dez Fafara of DEVILDRIVER and COAL CHAMBER

Antihero Magazine senior journalist Mark Dean had the opportunity to chat with DevilDriver frontman, Dez Fafara, about the upcoming star-studded outlaw country record, his career in music with DevilDriver and Coal Chamber, and how music served a cathartic purpose during troubled times.

Photo: Thomas Woroniak

Mark Dean: Hi Dez.

Dez Fafara: How are you doing?

Mark Dean: I’m good man, I’m good. How are you?

Dez Fafara: I’m doing fine, thank you Sir.

Mark Dean: What are you up to? Are you taking time off or preparing for the tour?

Dez Fafara: I’ve got some time off now. I enter the studio in about a week to record some stuff. We are ready to do a show, Blackest of the Black, with Danzig and Ministry, and we’re preparing for that and then after that we come overseas to hit Download and to hit all the festivals, so we’re extremely excited.

Mark Dean: You guys are always on the road; does it ever get boring?

Dez Fafara: No man, look, we manage to have a yin and yang. We come off when it’s needed but we are road dogs, we log more miles and more shows than most bands will in 2 or 3 years, we do it in a year, so I enjoy the road, you’re either built for it or you’re not, and I enjoy travelling.

Mark Dean: Okay, part of the brief for setting this up was to discuss album plans. Surely you can’t be bringing out a new album already?

Dez Fafara: Well, we’ve been working on something very special. We knew after the release of Trust No One that it came out so highly debuted and critically acclaimed, we knew it was going to be at least two and half years before we got out another one, and that’s way too long for me, so I said, “look let’s go in the studio and let’s do something special and release it in the interim,” and that’s what we’re working to.

Photo: Thomas Woroniak

Mark Dean: What sort of stage is that at? Have you got song titles?

Dez Fafara: No song titles yet. All the music is done, I go in and I start shooting vocals in about a week. We’ve got about 15-25 guests on this thing, all A-listers, Grammy award, Grammy nominees, legends in the business, and I think people are really going to take to this thing. It’s going to be something that has never been done before and fantastic.

Mark Dean: Any teasers you can give me in regard to names or anything yet?

Dez Fafara: Well, it’s a cover record. It’s an outlaw country cover record done extremely heavy with incredible guests like John Carter Cash Junior, Johnny Cash’s son, Randy from Lamb of God, Lee Ving from Fear, that’s just a few of the guests.

Mark Dean: Trust No One released in May 2016, that’s DevilDriver‘s seventh album. Is it safe to say now that DevilDriver is your main music focus? I mean, obviously, questions come up about Coal Chamber all the time for you.

Dez Fafara: Right, I mean Coal Chamber, it took us 13 years to get back together. We did a record after that 13 years once we had been around the world. Most of the shows were sold out, that record was critically acclaimed, I’m very thankful for the people that came to support us at the shows and that picked up the record. That being said, after travelling with those guys for another year and a half I found that there were still some personal issues between them with their own personal lives that I realised were a detriment to the live shows, a detriment to the business, and a detriment to keeping a Pro environment. That being said, when they can straighten all of that out amongst themselves and with their own personal lives, they can feel free to call me. Otherwise, yes; DevilDriver is the number one priority, and really since I left Coal Chamber obviously DevilDriver is the number one priority in my life.

Mark Dean: You mentioned this new music that you’re doing there’s some collaborations. Indeed, you’ve done many collaborations over the years with other artists. I just wondered if there was any wish list, names of people that you still haven’t worked with that you would like to?

Dez Fafara: Well, I’m really knocking down that list on this next record, I’ll tell you man. I mean, I grew up on punk rock, Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Germs, The Fear, so I’m working with guys like Lee Ving. I’m knocking down that list but I’ve been very fortunate in my career to work with a lot of the people that I look up to. Everybody from Ozzy to Phil Anselmo, of course Nikki Sixx and just recently a couple of years ago I sang on Soulfly with Max Cavalera. They’re like a family to me, so when it does come into view I definitely take the chance to work with those artists and this cover record was only supposed to feature maybe 1 or 2 people, but once people started to hear that we were doing it – others started to hear the music that we were doing because it’s quite heavy – we started getting a lot of calls from a lot of different artists and it’s sad to say I’ve had to turn down at least 4 or 5 artists at this point because we have so many people in it right now I don’t know where I could fit in more.

Mark Dean: Maybe there’s potential there for another record in a similar vein with these other ones?

Dez Fafara: We’ve decided that this might be a volume 1 because there has to be a volume 2, because the 3 or 4 individuals that I had to turn down are arguably enough in the biggest bands in the world right now. So, I said, “hey, stay tuned and when we get another one, I’ll give you a call.”

Photo: Christopher James Ryan

Mark Dean: Outside of music, and I appreciate you don’t get much time off, what do you do in your downtime? Have you any interests, hobbies, maybe sports, different things that you like to do when you’re off the road?

Dez Fafara: Yes, I run a lot of businesses. I run Suncult with my wife and my children, and you can follow Suncult on Instagram or Twitter. It’s a surf wear company. We have surfboards and surf wax and apparel and that company is launching in about 8 or 9 days, and it has already been successful just before even the launch. I have a management company called The Oracle Management with a lot of bands on it and other managers as well, so that is absolutely doing phenomenal. I have a DevilDriver OG marijuana line over here.We’re in a lot of medical dispensaries at this point and that thing is doing very well. But at home I’m a blue-collar guy, I come from a working-class background.I like to be at home with my family and my children and my dogs and cook and just be at home and try to live normal you know.

Mark Dean: You mentioned other businesses. Obviously, the music business itself has changed since you guys first started out. Do you feel it’s necessary, and even essential, for musicians these days to have other business interests to generate a living basically?

Dez Fafara: Well, I don’t know. I don’t do it just to generate a living. I do it because I enjoy what I do and what I love. I grew up surfing and I grew up in the water surfing, and so we formed this company Suncult around metal meets the sea, and it’s the kids, the long-haired kids that listen to Black Sabbath and punk rock before they paddle off and go surfing, those are the people that are coming to Suncult and buying our stuff. And I formed The Oracle Management as well because I saw a lot of bands not having proper management. Either getting ripped off or not having people do the job they were supposed to do, and so we formed The Oracle to bring other bands, unsigned and signed, both into the company to give them their proper due. That being said, I also support the medical marijuana industry very heavily because I don’t like big pharmaceutical companies and the meds that they’re pushing on kids, the ADD, the ADHD meds, the Ritalin and all of those they’re pushing on kids that they say are hyperactive. I was on those meds for 9-10 years when I was a child and they really messed me up. They fucked me up and so I really support the medical marijuana for many reasons – to stop seizures in children, it works with autistic kids, there’s a lot of open-ended things that could be looked into. So, these other businesses weren’t really started for money, more started for a good time. Also, when I’m at home and when I’m on the bus there’s a lot of time, so I figured I would do something with my time and start something worthwhile.

Mark Dean: That leads me onto my next question. You mention about the ADHD . I just wondered how you personally have thrived to overcome the difficulties that condition presents?

Dez Fafara: What people don’t understand is they see their kid and they say, “hey you’ve got ADD, you’ve got ADHD, because you’re hyper and you can’t pay attention,” and it’s like no, not true, I’ve raised bully breeds and pit bulls and Dobermans my whole life and I don’t want to assimilate it with children but it is like that. If a kid has activities, if they’re running, if they’re busy, if they’re busy, if they’re running, if they’re outside playing with their friends, they’ll lose that hyperactivity when they come in and do their homework, etc., and what I found was at an early age, I found marijuana and suddenly it was, “hey I understand math now.” My mind has calmed down enough to understand this or history, this is very interesting and I found that the meds that they were giving me made me a zombie. They created suicidal thoughts in me when I was a teenager and they’re doing that to a lot of kids. Suicide is a huge thing right now because of those meds that they’re giving and big pharmaceutical companies are making billions of dollars off you and your daughter like you said, my daughter has ADD or ADHD. It’s like well how did you come to that? Did you take her to a doctor that said she has ADHD, give her this medicine? Now chances are that doctor is making a huge amount of money off giving your daughter that medicine. And has that medicine really done something or has it made her act out even more and when she does act out it’s extreme, way more than it was. Is she a zombie? Is she eating dinner with you guys and not really having anything to say because she’s a zombie? I don’t back big pharma. I don’t back those pharmaceuticals and I tell parents all the time and I tell people all the time that have cousins, nephews, children on those meds, for God’s sakes get them off those meds. Later in life it’s going to cause a lot of problems. The first song I wrote was “Loco”, that will tell you. That will tell you a lot about me and what those meds did to me you know.

Photo: Thomas Woroniak

Mark Dean: What then was your childhood like? It doesn’t sound like it was a very pleasant experience for both yourself and your family?

Dez Fafara: I didn’t have a pleasant experience whatsoever. My mom married a few different times. I had a stepfather that would beat me …I ran away from home at an early age. I slept underneath bridges, I stole food, I wound up in prison. My life was not a bed of roses whatsoever, but I think that everything that’s negative has positives coming out of it. I think I’m a lot stronger person. I can now talk to people about real life. I was not sheltered whatsoever when it came to my life. I had all the negativity that could possibly be brought on me when I was a child and it helped me raise my children. I never hit them once. I never spanked them. I never fully yelled at them and I was never that person to them and now I’ve got 3 grown boys that are my best friends. So that helped me. I saw the wrong way and I have now raised my children the right way and there’s nothing worse than domestic abuse. There’s nothing worse than domestic abuse on a child when he’s hyperactive and you’re also giving him meds at the same time because now you’ve got a zombie kid that’s acting out and when he’s acting out it’s violent, which it was, and it’s terrible. So out of that the only thing that saved me through that whole time was music. I used to go to bed at night listening to music. I woke up in the morning listening to music. I was the kid that had the Walkman at school listening to music and I think music saved my life. I found psychobilly and punk rock at a very early age and from there Motorhead, metal, and music basically saved my life from bands like Fear or Black Sabbath, it saved me man, it saved me and I think that’s why I’m in music and not only that, maybe I have a voice that I can lend and I can lend my voice to people.

Mark Dean: What would you say would be your career highlight to date?

Dez Fafara: I’ve got a lot of highlights. Receiving a gold record backstage in New York is a highlight. Getting a record deal is a highlight. Playing our first show as Coal Chamber with a sold-out crowd at The Whisky a Go Go, where The Doors played, that’s a highlight. Starting over with DevilDriver and having it go this long in almost 15 years, almost seven records and having the biggest fan base that we do and having shows go insane and pack out and have our seventh record come out and debut higher than any of the rest. There has been a lot of fantastic moments in my life. Working alongside Ozzy was an incredible moment. Working with Phil Anselmo and Viking Crown was an incredible moment. I think I’ve got a lot of incredible moments. The thing with me now is I don’t have time to look in the rear-view mirror whatsoever. I have no time. I’m looking forward so there will be a time when I perhaps look back and I can even answer that question more diligently and say this was the shiniest moment but at this point there has been a lot of shiny moments you know.

Mark Dean: What in your life are you most proud of? Would it be your family, your sons?

Dez Fafara: Of course, I’m always proud that I’ve had almost a 40-year relationship with my wife in the music industry. That just doesn’t happen. And then I’ve got 3 great kids and 2 great dogs at home and 4 cats and I’ve got a normal life. I’ve managed to keep myself normal without the ego, without the lead singer disease that most lead singers get. It’s because of my blue collar background, it’s because my dad was a contractor and I was a bricklayer there and I know what it’s like to be on the job site really working all day, and because I was a runaway, because I went to prison, because I have these things in my life, they won’t allow me to become this kind of rock star thing, I guess, that a lot of guys do, and I always remember who I am and where I come from and I think that’s a proud thing after being in the industry almost 45 years.

Photo: Scott Martin

Mark Dean: What would you say was the biggest misconception about you?

Dez Fafara: I haven’t really heard any misconceptions, although I’m definitely one of the most private people in music. I’m definitely the most private person in metal, that’s without a doubt. So maybe a misconception is that I’m unapproachable or when people do approach me backstage to do interviews a lot of them are shaky, they’re getting shaky or they get nervous but there’s no need for that you know. I’m just a normal guy, I’m a working-class guy, I just happen to be in a band.

Mark Dean: I think it’s maybe because you come across as your stage presence that people think is how you are off it?

Dez Fafara: I think that on stage is probably a different area. You’re dealing with a beast there and that is a particular thing to me. That’s a very volatile side to me that is a punk rock side. I remember when I was younger going to punk rock shows, you had butterflies in your stomach. You didn’t know if there was going to be a riot, if the cops were going to come and break up the show. It comes from a scenario of a lot of domestic home abuse when I was younger. All of that on stage, all of that within me, comes out on stage in a very volatile way you know and it has come to the point where some promoters in the United States won’t book us because they don’t know what really is going to happen, if people are going to go insane, but that’s just fine. I hinge our existence in DevilDriver because we are a volatile band. We’re not something that’s just going to rely on the big stage lights and this and that, we are also up there doing our thing and it’s volatile that’s the only way to explain it.

Mark Dean: Having gone through all of those hard times that you’ve outlined to me, has it made you spiritual? Do you believe in a concept of a God? How do you find your own inner peace?

Dez Fafara: Absolutely. I do believe in a higher power. I don’t believe in the manmade God that you need to go to church and pass the collection plate and give money to go to heaven. But I do believe in a higher power. I have to, I’m a freemason and in freemasonry you have to believe in a higher power, something above yourself and so there’s definitely a unification of energy that connects all human beings. There’s a spiritual notion within all of us that knows right and wrong. You don’t need to read the bible to know right and wrong. You know if you just stole from that person that it’s wrong. That being said, I wish more people would tune into that higher frequency, that higher energy, and I’m going to sound like a hippy know, but I was raised around hippies. I think that people need to tune into that higher frequency, that energy, that unites us all as humans and I think as we’ve gone further on in this human evolution here on this planet we’ve all gotten farther and more distant from that, and people try to find that in organized religion as much as they possibly can and that’s making them lose the whole point as well. They’re getting dumbed down by that organized religion. They’re keeping themselves enslaved by that organized religion. Somebody said to me the other day well if they didn’t have organized religion and right and wrong, where would people be? They’d be killing each other in the streets and I said no because organized religion has killed millions of people over the years. That being said, I look up to or I look down, I look sideways, at a higher power than myself.

Photo: Thomas Woroniak

Mark Dean: Did you find fame difficult to deal with when it came along?

Dez Fafara: Of course. I’m way too private to deal with it. I get in a room full of more than 10 people to do a meet and greet and my hands start to sweat and I immediately want to leave. So that made me quite a recluse and I found, especially after the whole Coal Chamber hyper-media press, we blew up so quickly it really made me crawl back into a hole and I kept me very much to myself. I’m just a very private person. Look, I don’t mind doing interviews, I don’t mind doing meet and greets once in a while, and thank God for social media because it gives me an outlet on Instagram or Twitter to talk to people and answer questions, otherwise you’re not going to see me. I’m going to go from the bus to the stage, right back to the bus. I really do not enjoy being in groups of people. I’ve always been like that since I was a kid. I think because of the childhood I went through, the trust of people and thus the record Trust No One because before I wrote Trust No One I had some intense falling outs with some people that I thought were really there for me but they actually weren’t, they were there for themselves but using me. So, then you get the title Trust No One.So yes, I’m a very private person.Fame has never affected me because I’ve remained non-egotistical.My wife would never put up with that shit anyway.

Mark Dean: The role of record labels has changed over the years, but over your career have you ever had to fight a record label to avoid being falsely packaged or falsely pushed in a direction you didn’t want to go?

Dez Fafara: No man. Since I was young I’ve adopted the use of my middle finger and if in business I need to use it, I’ll use it and certainly in personal life I’ll use it and there’s certain times when I was on Roadrunner Records and we released The Last Kind Words by DevilDriver. I remember turning that record in and I remember a certain person calling me saying, “you’ve got to go back in and recut the vocals, it’s way too heavy and I’ve got to think on my end here about commerce and about money and about selling the band, and so I want you to go and recut the vocals,” and I told that person to fuck off and hung up on them.

And now it’s funny because that record came out, it’s an absolute fan favourite. The type of guys like Mark Morton from Lamb of God, he loves that record, it’s his stand out favourite record and he has told me that many a time, so I was right and I always go with my gut. Had that person said you’ve got to go and recut these vocals it’s way too heavy for what DevilDriver is at this point and I really felt in my gut that he was correct I would have gone and done it but I stand true to myself, I stand true to my heart, I stood true in the beginning of Coal Chamber, I stood true in the beginning of DevilDriver when I went out on my own and those guys had started something new and I think it’s very important to be true to yourself and your heart.I’m very fortunate now, I’m with Napalm Records and they love what we do, they let us do whatever we want to do.They back it.So, you tell somebody that’s an Austrian label that you’re going to do an outlaw country cover record heavy and you’re going to have 15-20 guests on it from punk rock to metal to the country feel, they automatically went cool, that sounds crazy.Let’s do it.That’s really, essentially, what a record label is there for is to help the artist breathe and be themselves and I’ve never had a record label control me in my whole career and I thanked God when my tick was over with Roadrunner that I ended up over at Napalm because now I’ve got a label that supports me in anything I want to do.

Photo: Scott Martin

Mark Dean: How do you view your early records? Are there any now that you look back and disown or is each one just a little stage, a little step along your journey?

Dez Fafara: No, I don’t ever look back and disown anything I’ve ever done, not at all. I look at some of the things and say, like for instance in Coal Chamber I think that while I love Chamber Music and a lot of our bands certainly do and it has got my wife on the cover, I think that Dark Days should have been the second record and then Chamber Music could have followed it so those kind of things is what I think, you know. Or I go back and listen to the first DevilDriver record and there’s a few songs on there that I’m like, “what was I thinking?” But as an artist you have to be able to go inside your art and pull it apart, be honest with yourself about your own art. That will take you in so many different, great directions as an artist so you have to be honest and open with yourself when it comes to art.

Mark Dean: Do you still have unfulfilled ambitions?

Dez Fafara: Absolutely. Right now, I’m fulfilling bucket loads of ambitions for myself. This outlaw cover country record I’m singing with heroes of mine. I’m going to be on the record with absolute great friends and heroes of mine. As far as bucket list items goes I’m doing it right now. I’m doing this outlaw country cover record and I’m singing with a lot of friends, a lot of heroes of mine. When I’m on the phone with Lee Ving the singer from Fear and he’s singing country songs to me, Jesus that will raise hairs on your head. I was raised on punk rock and he was a huge legend to me when I was young. So, bucket list items man like cover records, definitely going to do this one and probably another. Definitely going to put out a double record sometime in my lifetime, I’ve always wanted to do it because I’m tired of writing 30 or 40 songs and only 12 will make it to the public. It’s like, that’s ridiculous. So yes, there’s a lot of bucket list items. There’s a lot of artists I still want to work with and we’ll see what comes in the future.

Mark Dean: Do you have any release schedule for that album or is it still being talked about?

Dez Fafara: We know that it’s going to be next year but this is not the kind of thing, at first the label tried to put a release date on it and I just looked at him like, “you’re crazy”. This is a logistical nightmare working with 25 different artists, getting all their pieces, all of their parts done, so no you can’t put a date on this thing. It’s going to come out sometime the beginning or middle of next year, that’s without a doubt. But other than that, no release date.

Mark Dean: That brings me to an end. I’m looking forward to seeing you once again at Download this Summer and thanks for chatting to me.

Dez Fafara: I can’t wait man. Thank you very much for the support and anybody who has ever been behind me man this whole journey of mine, I thank you very much. I’ve been very grateful to be in this industry and to be able to do my art worldwide and so this message goes out to anybody listening and that has ever supported me. Thank you so much and I’m humbled by it and very grateful so much appreciation and thank you.

Mark Dean: And thank you for the music Dez, thank you very much.


Mark Dean

I'm a 40+ music fan. Fond mostly of rock and metal - my staple musical food delights. Originally from Northern Ireland, I am now based in the UK-Manchester. I have a hectic musical existence with regular shows and interviews. Been writing freelance for five years now with several international websites. Passionate about what I do, I have been fortunate already to interview many of my all-time musical heroes. My music passion was first created by seeing Status Quo at the tender age of 15. While I still am passionate about my rock and metal, I have found that with age my taste has diversified so that now I am actually dipping into different musical genres and styles for the first time.

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