Even before 2013 was halfway done, Dez Fafara was all over the place. While he was touring with a reunited Coal Chamber, he was also putting the finishing touches on Winter Kills, DevilDriver’s sixth album and first with Napalm Records. And the remainder of the year promises not to slow down for Fafara, with Winter Kills coming out on August 27 and nonstop touring that includes a North American trek with Trivium.
Before things got even more hectic for him, though, we had the chance to speak with Fafara. During our chat, Fafara explained DevilDriver’s decision behind signing to Napalm Records, why the timing seemed right to bring back Coal Chamber on the road, how his favorite collaborations came to be, and why his love for punk will never die.
Winter Kills marks Devil Driver’s first album with Napalm Records. What influenced the band to sign with them with them?
Well, I really need business partners with passion, and I think I found it in Napalm. When I met the owner, Max Riedler, he loved the band and had a ton of passion for metal music in general. He really had some great ideas on what to do, especially in the United States. I mean, I was really happy with Roadrunner Records overseas, but in the United States, I think they dropped the ball on the last two records. And if you talk to a lot of artists on Roadrunner, they’ll say the same thing. On the last four or five years, they’ve kind of been just dropping the ball and doing their thing because they knew they were going to sell the company, but none of us artists knew that. We just knew that they were dropping the ball. So the short answer would be that they had a lot of passion, and I felt their vibe.
I know the album doesn’t get released until August 27, but so far it’s been pretty good with Napalm, I assume?
Yeah, it’s incredible. The ideas that are coming out of them, the things we are doing together as partners is wonderful. The feedback we’re hearing about the record is incredible. So everything seems to be really positive at this point in time.
Well, I’ve heard an advance copy of the album and it sounds fantastic! You’ve explained in previous interviews that this album is a rebirth for the band. Besides the fact that it’s on a new label, why else would you say that this is a rebirth for the band?
Well, a new label, a new permanent bass player, and for me it felt like we really honed in on what we do best for this record, and that’s very important for us. The fact that we had a conversation before we even went into writing, by the time I had even gotten demos from the guys, I started feeling the vibe. I think we really focused in on what we do best. We were named years ago by our fans the “California groove machine,” and I felt like we really needed to live up to that. Pray for Villains had its own vibe, Beast really had a ferocious punk-rocky kind of vibe; it was a faster record. I really wanted to get down to it. I wanted to have some big hooks and have some grooves, and Winter Kills has all of that.
Well mission accomplished!
Thanks, thanks! These guys have a good vibe. They know what we do best, and I really think we focused in on it. It’s a killer record.
So would you say that you were even more focused on this record than past ones?
Absolutely, way more focused on this record. We knew we had to do something spectacular. We were more focused. We are very focused in general, but this record, we listened to it in its entirety, and it just sounds like everything flows together really well. That, for me, is number one.
This album cycle also marks essentially the first time you’ve had to balance both DevilDriver and Coal Chamber on the road. What has been the most difficult part about balancing both bands’ schedules?
I don’t think there’s any difficulty at all. It’s very limited with Coal Chamber. I did eleven days in Australia, nine days in South America, a month in the United States, and only three weeks overseas. So we had time off with DevilDriver, and I just decided to go for it. Now is the perfect timing to bring that back out. Everybody knows we ended in such a horrible way. All the bands we started with at the time are the biggest bands in the world. I mean, Coal Chamber took Slipknot on their first two month tour of the United States. Machine Head we had on a tour with us, System of a Down opened for Coal Chamber four or five years before they had a record deal, Disturbed opened for Coal Chamber every time we came to Chicago, so it just felt like “You know what? I’m going to give this a shot.” Plus, the guys were off of hard drugs. They kind of got their life together, and had some semblance in their life going on. I just said “look, let’s just revisit it.” We just finished. We came home, and I’ve been home eleven days after the European tour, and that’s it really. We put it down, and there’s nothing really on the books. We’re not writing a record, and there’s nothing else to talk about with Coal Chamber, for now. [editor’s note: this interview was conducted in early July]
So the door’s not exactly closed, but as of right now, there’s nothing else planned?
No, nothing planned. We’re not writing, we’re not talking about writing. As a matter of fact, I haven’t even talked to the guys since we split eleven days ago. We had a good one, we did our thing, and we’ll see what the future holds, but right now I need to focus on DevilDriver completely.
I hope you don’t mind me saying this, but when you started DevilDriver, you did an amazing job transforming yourself into a new identity. Not to say there’s anything wrong with Coal Chamber, but some bands try to distance themselves from the nu-metal tag. Were you nervous about going back to Coal Chamber just for that fact?
No, not at all man. Nu-metal is the appropriate term. I mean, when we all came around, Deftones, Korn, all of us, the scene in L.A. was all hair metal, so it was ‘new’ metal. So it’s an appropriate tag. What changed for me was that I wanted to do something more aggressive, more hook-filled, more groovy. Besides that and the hair cut change, not a lot changed as far as reinvention. I found guys alongside me in DevilDriver that wanted to write the kind of music I wanted to do. Coal Chamber, if you listen to Dark Days, we were going in a different direction on that record. I had no doubt that over the next two or three records, had Coal Chamber stayed together, we would have transformed into something significantly different, most definitely, just like the other bands around us did. If you listen to the first Slipknot record, it’s much heavier and much different, way nu-metally. And if you listen to the records Slipknot puts out now, it’s kind of a mixture between Slipknot and Stone Sour. So they had changes going on within themselves too. If we would have stayed together, we would have definitely changed.
Kind of shifting gears a bit, last year you released a benefit song for your sister. I was wondering how she was doing right now?
She’s cancer free at this moment. We released the benefit song, and a lot of people donated, and I thank them from the bottom of my heart. I was really surprised by humanity at that point, people coming to the rescue. We got enough money for her to take off work [from] her teaching job, for a little, to eat organic, to focus on her kids and her health, and hopefully we’ve gotten her through it now. I mean, we don’t know. Obviously she’s got a clean bill of health at this point, but she’s still in the danger zone a bit, so thank you for asking.
It’s great to hear that she’s doing well right now, and I know a lot of fans still have her in their thoughts.
Yeah man, she’s alive, she’ll make it to another Christmas, and that’s really it for me. She’ll always be with me metaphysically if she leaves, but I need her physically to be here longer. She’s my favorite sister, and it just touched my heart that everybody came to the rescue and helped her.
That’s really awesome. So you’ve also been working on and off on some songs with Mark Morton from Lamb Of God. I was just wondering what the status of that was. Is there going to be any official release, or anything else in the works?
Well, that’s just a fun thing for me to do. Anytime we both have time off we just jam, so starting Born of the Storm was kind of a fun project, and it ended up having eight or nine songs. What’s really cool about that is I don’t control that, and I don’t want to. I really give Mark all the control of that. We have nine songs recorded right now. Whenever Mark wants to put stuff out, he’s put it out. He’ll call me on a whim at nine at night and say “I’m putting out one more song,” and I’ll be like “cool man!” So I can just kind of be the singer of that project. That being said, he did text me last night [editor’s note: the night before this interview from earlier in July], and asked me if I wanted to work on new material. But for now, I’ve got DevilDriver, and he’s obviously got the Lamb Of God thing going right now, so we’ll just see what happens. Whenever we have down time, we send each other lyrics and tracks and such and such. Mark is the first guy that I’ve ever worked with on lyrics. I’ve always written all my own lyrics, but Mark is a killer lyricist. The song “New Rain Blues” that we have is co-written, and I liked that kind of working relationship. I’m an artist, and I like to do different things, you know what I mean? I guested on the new Soulfly, I’m on the new Cancer Bats record, I’ve got Born of the Storm, I did a record called High Desert Moon that has slide guitar and Native American flutes on it and stuff. I love music. I love all genres of music. The Born of the Storm thing is more of a classic rocky thing. The people who check it out can actually hear me singing, and hear my actual clean voice. So it’s always a good time to do music. I’m not one of those guys that needs to sit out for three weeks or a month. I’ve got to do something. I woke up yesterday morning and wrote two new really killer tracks lyrically, so I’m always working.
What are those two new songs possibly going to be for?
I never know. Maybe the next DevilDriver, maybe my own thing, maybe Born of the Storm. You never really know. Maybe somebody comes to me and says “Hey, I want you to guest on my album. Do you have a verse we can use?” A great experience was sitting in the studio with Max Cavalera, and writing a song right next to each other, step by step, lyric by lyric. I love that kind of push and pull, and I love art, so I try to keep myself busy doing art.
Do you have a favorite collaborator outside of Devil Driver?
No. I’ve been really fortunate to work with a lot of killer cats over my live. It humbles me and stuns me every time. I’ve worked with guys like Ozzy Osbourne, Nikki Sixx, Philip Anselmo, and Max Cavalera. I can’t really choose a favorite, but if I had to choose a most legendary, obviously doing a song with Ozzy and having him on the song “Shock the Monkey” was incredible. It’s something I still look back on and go “I can’t believe I did that.”
Do you have a dream collaboration?
I’d love to do something with Marilyn Manson. When we see each other, we hang out, and he’s a good guy. I’d love to do something with him. I think that’d be killer. I’d love to work with Neil Fallon from Clutch. He’s probably one of my favorite singers on the planet. I would have really liked to work with Mitch Lucker of Suicide Silence. His passing was horrible and untimely, but I think that he’s the Elvis of his generation for sure. He was an incredible frontman. We’ll see what happens, and what people come along and when I have time. My work ethic is there, so it just has to pop up in front of me, and I have to have time for me to do it in order for me to do it.
So I’m not sure if you remember this, but a while back, we had a very brief chat on Twitter about Black Flag. I know that you’re a big fan of Black Flag, so I wanted to know what you think of there being essentially two versions of Black Flag now?
Well, there are so many different singers who are doing their own thing, from Dez [Cadena] to Ron Reyes, to Henry Rollins. Let them do their thing. It’s music; it’s Black Flag. Whoever is putting it out, go vibe on it! That’s my take on it. I grew up and love punk rock, I love the attitude of punk rock. It’s everything music stands for. Those OFF! EPs [featuring Keith Morris] blow my mind. So go check out both versions! You’re either going to like it or be disappointed. We stopped on a night off with DevilDriver one night, and we went to see the version of Queensryche without Geoff Tate and we watched about four songs, and I walked away going “nope!”
I mean, look man, it is what it is, but the fact that these guys are going out there and putting out punk rock and they’re older cats is cool. Maybe the different versions of Black Flag are doing all ages shows, I don’t know. Maybe kids can go check it out, and it turns them on to punk rock. Maybe they’ll start going back in time and listening to The Germs and all that. You can never put enough punk rock in a person’s face as far as I’m concerned, so it’s a good thing that they’re doing whatever they’re doing.