DevilDriver‘s latest album is Outlaws ‘Til The End, Vol. 1. The band along with guests including Randy Blythe (Lamb Of God), Lee Ving (Fear), Brock Lindow (36 Crazyfists), Hank 3, Wednesday 13 and John Carter Cash cover outlaw country songs in the DevilDriver style. I spoke with Fafara about this album, the next DevilDriver album of studio material, the state of the music industry, his foray into management and other topics.
Chad Bowar: How did you first get interested in the outlaw country style?
Dez Fafara: It started in my youth. I came home from third, fourth, fifth grade and didn’t put on cartoons. I got into my parents’ record collection. And thank God they had one and it was really large and diverse, everything from the Rolling Stones and The Doors to Willie Nelson. I came home and started listening to music and from there it started my love of music in general. I’m not a purist. This morning I was listening to Black Flag. Last night I went to bed listening to Billie Holliday. I love music of all genres. So just my love of it started definitely when I was younger. I got turned on to music in general.
When you decided that you wanted to do an album doing DevilDriver versions of outlaw country songs, was there any resistance from the label or management or even fellow band members?
Not really. We had an off day on a tour. We were sitting around and I said, look, it’s going to be three years between records. I don’t like making people wait and would like to get on a 17 month schedule for release if we can. We’re working on something real special so we need to do something. I think in the interim, and I think a covers record is something that’s easier to do than an original record. Now that being said, that is not true. This thing was almost two years in the making. I almost dug my grave. I’m blessed and appreciative and extremely humbled at these other artists that came forward and put all their all into this thing.
What came first, picking the songs or picking the collaborators?
Picking the songs. That thing came down from 100 to about 50. There’s the essential guys. You’ve got to to Willie, you’ve got to do Cash, you’ve got to do Waylon. And then there’s the outsider songs that came in. Mike brought “Dad’s Gonna Kill Me.” I brought “Outlaw Man” from the Eagles. We narrowed it down and then took it from there.
Did you know John Carter Cash before this project?
No, I did not. And I think that getting to meet the Cash family, becoming friends with them now, we’re quite close family friends, was a bucket list item for me, just fantastic. You never know if a collaborator is going to be cool or not. It just so happened that everybody on this record is really, really cool, no egos, everyone’s extremely simple. We recorded at the Carter cabin; that’s been a on a bucket list to go to that cabin.
We pulled up and John was in front and invited us inside to eat some food that he made the night before and told us about his love of heavy metal for the first hour. We talked music and he showed me photos of his dad Johnny taking him to go see Ozzy when he was younger and I was going on and on about my love for outlaw country and how the lyrics are so poignant and the storytelling is so beautiful and right on the money.
It was a meeting of the minds there at that first meeting and to watch John Carter track and to watch Ana Cash track, pretty incredible to have them on this record. Them and Hank 3 really bring this thing to the outlaw level because John Carter is a music lover and you can’t push him, probably much like his father. You can’t put him in a box, he won’t stay there. He really wanted to do this project and we’ve been talking about doing some other things together that may come to fruition sooner than later actually because we’ve been exchanging emails lately. So we’ll see.
And it’s an unusual thing to have an artist cover his own song like Hank 3 did.
Hank’s been a long time friend of almost 20 years. It’s one of my favorite Hank 3 songs. I can’t say Hank 3 is underrated because everybody knows how good he is, but the whole country genre, the fact that they don’t acknowledge Hank 3 as being who he is, one of the standout outlaws, not writing for pop country, it’s terrible. So yeah, we wanted to cover “Country Heroes,” one of my favorite songs of his.
It mentions the the guys on this record, drinking with Cash and have a little bit of Coe, he’s going into all those guys on this, on that song that are songs from this record. So it just was perfect. And then to have him deliver the vocal style the way he did was absolutely incredible. He sent us 30 discs with different takes and we had to take all those and make it. He sounds like this freaky, weirdly tuned Ozzy almost. It’s really incredible. So we opened the record with it. It was appropo to do so.
One guest that jumped out to me was Wednesday 13, who you don’t necessarily think of being a fan of that style of music.
Quite the opposite. All these guys were huge fans of country and his story is really strange, too. I told him he was going to be doing another song and at the last minute I hit him up. I said you’re going to do “If Drinking Don’t Kill Me.” He looked around and thought somebody was punking him because it’s one of his favorite all-time songs. And when he hit that thing, he made it his own, but everybody really did. Brock from 36 Crazyfists, Mark Morton on “Whiskey River,” Randy from Lamb of God on “Ghost Riders In The Sky” and “Whiskey River.” Everybody really brought 110 percent.
There are some parts of this record that are unexplainable, like Burton C. Bell from Fear Factory. I said to him after he laid his part down that I haven’t heard your voice like that since the first Fear Factory record. What happened? He just looked at me. He said dude, I was just channeling my true self on this record. So there was some real magical points as well.
Working with Lee Ving, This is a whole another story, but you know, my childhood was not fantastic. I had a lot of domestic abuse going on within my household. I ran away from home several times. The first time I ran away from home I was wearing a Fear shirt with Doc Martens and a mohawk. So to work with Lee Ving from Fear on “The Ride” was incredible. The first time I talked to Lee about doing this Hank song he called the house and my wife immediately videotaped it because she knew I would be like me talking to Ozzy.
It’s incredible. He calls me and just starts singing Hank Williams tunes to me acapella for three, four minutes and I have it all on video and I’m literally sitting there smiling. I must have looked like a 13 year old kid. So working with him on “The Ride” was incredible. And then I called him and I said, hey man, you know, I want you to lay some harp on this, and he’s like, no problem. I him we’re doing “The Man Comes Around” The beginning part is spoken word by Johnny. I don’t know anybody else who could do itwith that shaky feel. And he said no problem and came down on another day and did that for us.
Nobody put their hand up to get paid. There was this camaraderie and that’s why this thing happened because there was this magic camaraderie happening around this record. I was young in the seventies, but I realized that everybody was jamming together. From the late eighties to the two thousands now nobody’s doing that anymore. So I really wanted to create some camaraderie across multiples genres because we have outlaw country, we have punk, we have goth rock, we have heavy metal guys. Let’s put it together and see how this would happen and it just, it just came. It was fantastic.
Since you did metal arrangements of the songs, did that give you more freedom since you didn’t have to worry as much about staying close to the originals?
We tried to stick to the originals so people could recognize the songs, but there’s times when you’re going to feel like you want it to be you. I told my guys, be you. When Randy came out here, he was going to do “Ghost Riders In The Sky” with myself, John Carter and Ana. I said, dude, why don’t you jump on “Whiskey River” with me while you’re here? The first time he heard it he was like, what is that? It’s a black metal tune. He said it was like a Darkthrone song. When they delivered “Whiskey River” I thought it was fantastic. Randy and I hit it on our highest screaming registers we’ve ever used. We went all out and that turned out to be a phenomenal heavy metal track.
It sounds like you want there to be a volume two.
There was guys I wanted to put on it like Jamey Johnson, he’s an outlaw country guy. I wanted Jamey Johnson on it and we just couldn’t connect. We tried to get all sorts of people on this too, but that’s why we put volume one on it because by the time people really figured out what we were doing it was done and the guests were picked.
I got like forty other people calling me, some of them in the biggest bands in the world saying they want to be part of this. And I’m like, it’s too late. One of the first guys I talked to about doing this was Danzig. I’d been friends with him for a long time. That’s one of my dearest friends. He said he’d love to but was so busy with Misfits stuff and in the studio and everything else. He said if it comes along again, I’ll be involved. So yeah, look for a volume two. I don’t know when, because I’m not looking to start anything like this again. It was a labor of love.
Are outlaw country artists a dying breed? Seems like country music these days is very slick and commercial.
It sucks. It’s terrible. It’s not even country, and everybody knows it, but they eat it up, they buy it and think that they’re listening to country music. They’re listening to horrible pop commercialized monetized versions of what was real downhome music and it sucks. You go to Nashville and there’s more cranes there than in Dubai and they’re just building off that terrible commercial bullshit. I’ve been around long enough to know it’s a bubble and it’s going to burst and all of sudden there’s not going to be a scene around that shit. It is not going to sell anymore. Hank 3, John Carter, Shooter Jennings, these cats are real.
There’s a little bit of twang here and there on the album, but was there any temptation to do one full out countrified version of a song?
There’s a lot of outtakes. There’s a lot of outtakes of me and the guests doing that. Maybe one day an outakes record will come out. But you don’t want to go full monty. People would go, wait, what? I respect my brands. Even though Coal Chamber is where it’s at because shit can’t get together, I respect the brand. I would never take the brand down a road it didn’t deserve. And the same thing with DevilDriver. You don’t take it down a road where people are like, what the hell is this? People have been following me for years because I keep them guessing. Every DevilDriver record sounds different. It’s heavy metal and it sounds like DevilDriver, but they are all very different. Keep them guessing, do what’s from your heart, don’t pander at all.
While you’ve been putting together this album, you’ve also been working on the next album of DevilDriver original material, correct?
We’ve been writing that one for probably four years. We’re getting ready to do something spectacular. I’m tired of doing a record and leaving 12 or 13 songs on the table. We’re not leaving them because they’re b-sides. We’re not leaving them because they are bad or don’t fit. We’re leaving them because you can’t fit 20 songs on a record. I got tired of that. So I was like, here’s what we are going to do. We’re going to write 40 songs or maybe more. We’re going to record them all at once. We’re going to do a staggered release between 12 and 18 months apart and we’re going to start kicking records out.
When I was young we used to get a record a year. We’d get two records a year from KISS. When did it become cool to wait four years between records, to wait 9 or 10 years between records? It’s hilarious to me. Then you see the bands that wait four years between records and they come out with something that gets panned by their fans, panned by the label. Now what do they do, wait another three or four years? They can’t. They’ll come out with another record in a year or two. You need to come with product, and you’ve got to come with it at a rate that seems like you’re working, to the public.
You release a record every four years, we know you’re out at the beach or kicking it. We know you’re not working. I’m a blue collar guy. I come from a working class background. My stepfather’s a contractor. I know what it’s like to be on a job site at 6AM. I was a bricklayer before I got a record deal. I’m not about to let that blue collar work ethic slide. I’m going to work, work, work. I’m going to leave a scar on this earth. I’m going to leave a ton of art behind. If I walked off a cliff today, God forbid, I would leave enough music to leave a scar.
I look at guys’ catalogs that I really love and they’ve got 30, 40, 50 records, and I’ve done maybe 10 real records. I want to leave 30 records. So I’m on a mission right now. I think the creative aspect seems to be flowing and the band is there 100 percent. They are kicking out songs daily. It’s incredible.
You’ve also branched out to the management side of the business.
We did. We started The Oracle Management almost two years ago. A good friend of ours, Dan DeVita from TKO, a booking agent who handles DevilDriver and some of my other acts called one day and said you guys should start an agency. You know everybody. A manager to you now is just a go-to guy and they are returning emails as quickly as you guys would, and it’s messing with you. I would send an email on a Tuesday and get a reply on Thursday saying they’ll get to it next week. I just threw my hands up. Dan is right. So we started The Oracle and it’s been fantastic. The passion behind it is unreal.
It works even better when I’m on tour, actually. I’ll be up until 3, 4, 5 in the morning and work Europe and the other territories while my wife Anastasia, who is an amazing manager, will handle the daytime. And when I’m home I only sleep four or five hours a night. I’ve got ADHD so hard. I’m up at 5AM and working until midnight. We’ve taken on some incredible clientele, everybody from Wednesday 13 to Combichrist. We have Jose Mangin from Sirius/XM, we have Ross Robinson the producer. It’s really building.
I’ve been enjoying it. I think what I’ve really realized is I only had a few good managers in my lifetime. Now that I’m doing it myself and I see behind the curtain completely and the emperor has no clothes. It’s easy for a guy to just kick back and take 15 percent. But what happens if you’re actually moving the needle for your bands? And that’s exactly what we do. We have a full team here. We come in, we restructure, we reboot and make sure that the client has all the answers.
Another thing at The Oracle, I like to teach as I go, so if I fell off a cliff today, someone would know how I got them that gig. I’ve had managers all my life who would say they got you that gig. But when I asked how it went down, they’d say don’t worry about it, I’ve got magic. No, you don’t have magic. Somebody calls you out of nowhere, they offered you the gig, and you called me and acted like a miracle worker. But you weren’t. We’ve been getting calls from a lot of very big bands. If you have a manager or an agency and they aren’t moving the needle, all they are doing is getting you gigs and collecting 15 percent and they aren’t moving your profile, fire them immediately and come over here to The Oracle.
The music business model is moving from owning music such as CDs or MP3s, to renting it by paying a monthly fee to a streaming service like Spotify or Apple Music. That means less money for artists from recorded material. Is performing live the only way bands can make money these days?
If you’re coming into music and thinking about money, don’t do that. You’re coming to do your art. If your art makes you money, that’s the blessing. So don’t come in looking for big checks. This isn’t the ’80s. You can definitely use those platforms. I will say this, they need to do streaming to the point where it pays an artist like radio plays did, because it’s essentially radio. It’s your new radio. No one turns on AM or FM anymore. If you do, you’re 80. They have to get that regulated and monetized and those algorithms certified to pay artists the way we used to get paid on radio. That needs to happen. If it doesn’t happen, it’s going to completely kill underground art.
I’m hoping there’s a regulatory committee set up for that. If there is one now, and I sound like a fool because I don’t know there is one, they need to get their shit together, because they’re not doing it right. (laughs) Streams need to be monetized. We have millions of YouTube streams on a song, like “Clouds Over California,” and I haven’t seen a dime.
How does that transfer? If you played me 11 million times on the radio, I’m going to be buying my kids houses. All you really have now is the internet and pop radio. That’s really it. You’re not having those chances like I did coming up when bands like Coal Chamber and Pantera were played on drive time radio. That opportunity isn’t there anymore. Anybody coming in with a heavy riff and a heavy chord and any kind of a heavy vocal, I automatically say to them, get a job and get ready to support yourself as you come up. If people get behind you, cool. Just do what you love, do it from your heart, even if you’ve got to do it on the weekends. Be a weekend warrior. Don’t ever stop playing.
(interview published July 6, 2018)