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Winter Is Coming: Dez Fafara On DevilDriver, Covers And That Voice

Monday, 19 August 2013 Written by Alec Chillingworth

So, Dez Fafara. The man is a beast. DevilDriver’s tattooed, muscle-bound frontman looks like he could crush metallers half his age under his little finger. The band’s brutal sixth album, ‘Winter Kills’, lands on August 26 and we thought it only right to grill him on his unique voice, co-headline tours, covers and the band’s constant evolution.

Hi Dez, how you doing? I'm just going to grill you about the new album if that's alright.

I'm good man, just been working out.

Nice one. Right, from the few times I've listened to 'Winter Kills', I've noticed that this album seems like much more of a natural progression from 'Pray For Villains' than 'Beast' was. Was this a conscious decision, or did it just come about spontaneously?

Well, I think we just like to keep people guessing. I mean, there's no way that DevilDriver's just gonna rest on its laurels and just do what people are expecting. If you're familiar with our catalogue, then you'll know that every single record has a signature sound, but it always changes up. Like, 'Pray For Villains' is completely different from 'Beast'. 'Beast' is a very natural progression as well. We just wanted to do something a little more off the wall, y'know. A little more ferocious. It's got a lot of punk rock roots in it as well.

But 'Winter Kills', that was very much a natural progression in the sense that we said that we're a square peg in a round hole. It's obvious that we're a metal band. Nobody can stick us in a certain genre, y'know, there's that whole American sub-genre, this, that and the other thing. Then other bands started calling us the California Groove Machine. At first I was like, 'Yeah, that's cool', but what I realised is that's one hell of a title to live up to. We've gotta live up to that. And on this record, I think we did.

I mean, we honed in what we do best; big grooves, big hooks, and it's a very tight arrangement. This stuff is way tighter than the 'Beast' arrangements. This is a lot more out of the box, and I just think it's great to keep challenging people. This record has a little something for everyone. I just did an interview 20 minutes ago, and this guy said 'What song sums up the record?' And I just couldn't say. The record sums up the record, y'know? Each song is different from one another, and that's really important.

One track that particularly stands out on the new album is your cover of Sail by AWOLNation. On 'Beast', you also covered Black Soul Choir by 16 Horsepower. What made you reach outside of your usual genre and cover these songs?

For me, personally, any time I can work with another band , guest on another band's record, that kind of stuff's fun. There's no expectation, it's just fun, and you just sorta go for it. But what I've realised is that we've covered Iron Maiden, and we've covered Metallica. It's more fun for us to cover obscure stuff. When we covered Black Soul Choir, it made me realise, THAT was fun. Everything from beginning the demos to layering the vocals to hearing the complete mix, I just had a great time. So we like to do the obscure stuff, but we'd never done something obscure and current. AWOLNation is pretty obscure at this point, and I heard it coming it coming out of my kid's bedroom, then just called the guys and said 'Hey, check out this song Sail!'

The lyrics really resonated with me, like 'Blame it on my ADD'. I've suffered from Attention Deficit Disorder all my life, like I still only sleep five hours a night, I have two bands, I have three businesses. I can't keep myself occupied. I've been on tour for 20 years, so I figured, y'know, this is killer. It's got a killer sound to it, and the band called me back five minutes after hearing it, and were just like 'We're on this!'

Then about a week later, Mike [Spreitzer, guitar] sent me the demo of what he thought would be it, and I just couldn't wait to get on this song. So, I guess the answer is that we like to do obscure stuff, and we like to have fun doing it. We've never done anything that's relatively new and upcoming. I have no doubt that AWOLNation is gonna blow up, they're gonna be huge. They're a great band, and right now they're at that obscure stage, and about six months ago when we recorded it, we happened to pick up on the band before a lot of other people.

One thing that is synonymous with the DevilDriver sound is your voice, it's instantly recognisable. How on earth did you find out your voice could do that?

I can do a lot of things. If you've heard Born Of The Storm that I did with Mark Morton, then you've heard me sing clean. So if you Youtube that you can see me sing clean, sing high, all that stuff. What I realised early on is that you just do what the band needs. I sang punk rock when I was a kid. A lot of psychobilly stuff. I discovered Motörhead and I just love low voices like Lemmy, Johnny Cash, Danzig. I just think all of my influences came together and leaned to my tone. I can't really say 'I copied these three people and came out with this!' I listen to everything from Black Flag to Sisters Of Mercy to Black Sabbath, so I don't really know what happened.

I know when I was younger I had a tonsillectomy. Go to the hospital, get your tonsils taken out, ice cream, done in 24 hours, yeah? That didn't happen to me, and I ended up in hospital for about five months. They cauterised my throat four times, and my throat still has heavy scarring. But I'd like to think that's served as a gift, y'know? Having to fucking go through that at such an early age, maybe something was given to me.

In recent years, DevilDriver have opted in for co-headline tours rather than full on headlining tours, you've done it with guys like 36 Crazyfists and Cannibal Corpse, and you're doing one with Trivium later this year. Is there a particular reason for this?

Well, I think a lot of bands are doing the co-headline thing cause they're thinking 'Well, I put this many people in the building, and you put this many people in the building. Why should you headline? Why should I headline? Let's just do a co-bill.' And it just seems more cool that way, man.  Unless the definite amount of people in the building are there to see you, then you should co-headline, and that's just what we do. Of course there will be headline runs for DevilDriver, but stuff like coming over with Cannibal Corpse was just perfect. For some reason, their fans and our fans just got along, and I've never toured with nicer guys.

And 36 Crazyfists, their music couldn't be more different to ours but their fans and our fans just linked up. Trivium, same thing. It's all very different, but in the States we're gonna co-headline for two months, it is what it is. We both put people in the building, we're gonna close Detroit and L.A, they're gonna close New York and some other places, and it's all golden. It's the ego thing that prevents bands from doing that. I just don't care, dude. I don't care when I go on. As long as there are people in the building, there's a microphone, and you're listening then I'm ready to go.

Have you got any plans to tour the UK in support of 'Winter Kills'?

Next year, for sure. After February and March, we're gonna try and come over. We're looking for bands to come with us. I got the submissions list last night for co-headlines and all sorts of stuff. It's just trying to pick four or five bands that make sense and giving you guys a good time. I have a love affair with the UK, man. For almost 20 years, the UK's been like a second home for me. Touring there's always a good time, and putting together a bill for the UK is always just as much fun. You get bands calling you up going 'Dude, let's do this, let's do that'. It's been interesting. But no doubt we'll try get something running for March or April of next year.

Thanks for your time, and well done on 'Winter Kills'. It's brilliant.

Well man, thanks for the compliments. The one thing about the record is we get down to it, and we're sitting here and holding onto it for four or five months, so I enjoy doing interviews and having people ask about it. So I really do appreciate it. Thanks man. We worked really hard on this record, and we just hope that people love it as much as we do. Take care, brother.

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