After decades of screaming out songs, blasting speakers and inspiring truly rabid pits, DevilDriver raise the lantern high continuing to deflect demons in a year where they’re everywhere, unseen to the eye and masked face. Vocalist Dez Fafara has taken the worldwide downtime to reflect on his good fortune of surviving a turbulent couple of years including family illness, the California fires and now COVID. Although their double album Dealing with Demons Vol. I and Vol. II was finished in 2019, with big plans to hit the road, he’s found new inspiration within the isolation of quarantine.
Dealing with Demons is a definitive new statement of the dark and driving forces within the band, feeding songs with new ideas and experimentation along with a collection of videos that will stick in memory with horror movie effect and have a haunting stay in continuing nightmares. From the great incanting forest spirit of Wishing to the blunt social distancing statements of Keep Away from Me, Fafara and company bring lyrics to life, whether it’s the snake charmed bite of the tarot on Nest of Vipers or the dark back road legend of Iona and her dark flowers.
They’ve brought you ten new tracks to blister the skin and ears, gearing up for whatever month and year the next genius-sized circle pit happens. “It’s just important to me to put out a body of work that we could tour on for three years straight,” Fafara says. “That was the intent. Put out a double record. Stagger the releases. Tour the world twice, then we got hit by a pandemic. Also, Dealing with Demons is discussing some very personal demons that I go through, as well as society’s ills that I think are demons. So I have to lay all that on the table as a double record. In order for me to move forward in the future I had to get some things lyrically off my chest.”
Both records were done pre-pandemic. “We were done in 2019, the record was in the can getting ready to start touring then a lot of stuff happened at the house. Wildfires, etc, you know. We thought, OK 2020 here we go, we got a record then comes the pandemic, riots, civil unrest etc. I made the conscious choice when I saw a lot of bands pulling their records to actually release it now. Best thing we can do for people is give them music when they’re going through problems.”
Keep Away from Me was agoraphobia based and social distancing inspired. “In a room with more than five or ten people I don’t do well. I leave immediately. I like to hang with a very small group of friends and I’m very private. I’m probably the most private person in this industry. I chose the wrong job, I’ve been told that 100 times. The album was timely and needed, which is why we released Vol. I first. We could have released Vol. II first because Vol. II is my baby. That record is absolutely incredible. However, since Keep Away from Me and Wishing were on this record, we decided to release it first.”
The cover art is about darkness and light fighting to win. “If you look at it, the only light coming from that picture is from the DevilDriver lantern. That’s to symbolize what music is to me, it’s a light. What DevilDriver is to me, it’s a light. Those demons all around are trying to climb up that reaper. The light is specifically coming from that lantern, all my idea.”
Fafara still struggles with social anxiety. “I have a very difficult time to be honest and now the way humanity’s going, it’s even stronger at this point. I felt like, if you’ve been with me all this time, all these years I’m gonna give something really, really personal on this record. The most personal thing I can say to you is I can’t stand being around people but I chose the wrong job.” Though he does like people, “I just think when I’m in a room full of people I don’t know, it’s a strange scenario. Because I’m an empath, I’m trying to articulate this in a way people can understand. If I’m in a room, I can feel this person is a bad person, this person is bullshitting, I can feel all around me. It’s very difficult for empaths to be around others. Especially when their intents may or may not be the best.”
Many bands have a pre-show ritual, ranging from hyped-up pep talks to quiet meditation, so how does an agoraphobic prepare to face thousands of fans? “I’d say about 20 minutes before stage and 10 minutes after, something definitely clicks. I get a real… the only way I could acknowledge it, if you’re getting ready to go into a fight. That’s how I feel every time I’m getting ready to take the stage. It’s a real, balls out aggressive feeling that overrides that agoraphobia.”
When it comes to doing music videos, Fafara treats them more like art than promotion pieces. “I think it’s important to do art pieces now with videos. I think standing there having the band pretend to play, banging their head, I’m not saying I’ll never do another one of those. I’m just a little tired of it at this point. You’re creating art with music; you should create art with the videos.
The Nest of Vipers video is the stuff of nightmares. “That song is about the demon of loyalty and how it can be bought and sold, not only in business but in personal life. They want to stay away from those types of people, that’s what that’s about.” The fortune telling visuals and slithering snakes have a very evil, black metal-like feel. “There seems to be a growing group of bands some larger, some underground that like to claim the path. They like to claim the craft, like to claim they know workings and know the magical percentages to do workings. I would say 99% of them are full of shit and have never actually done a working in their life or sat down to do witchcraft. About 99% of the bands, especially the bigger ones trying to claim the craft, I know who they are. I’m not naming names, but I could sit there, ask them some questions that they should plainly know and definitely do not. I’m claiming exactly what the fuck I am. If I was a pizza maker, my music would be about making pizza. I just happen to be a witch, through and through. Your karma comes to you with whatever you do, if you send harm to none, then good to you. If you say harm to all, be prepared for that shit to backlash.”
They made their message through dark creativity. “That’s a situation we had to show through art. What is loyalty, you have the king pointing out why, we’re kind of dismissing loyalty, she’s covered in snakes. Just letting you know, hey be prepared for anything. Really watch people closely.”
Letting Fafara know that visually, Iona leaves a haunting impression, he responds, “That’s good, I appreciate that. That’s about our insatiable appetite for death. Keep in mind you’re talking to a gothic, punk rock guy who got into metal because I found Motorhead. I come from a goth background. In the video she hunts down men turns them into roses, keeps them for life and she’s insatiable at it. The same way society’s insatiable. We run home to watch CSI, murder on TV and when I ask you what your favorite horror film is I’m talking about horror. Dracula, Mummy, what’s around the corner, or a ghost story and you say Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Halloween, that’s not horror, that’s snuff films. It’s a guy with a fuckin butcher knife skinning and killing women. It’s not horror to me. I ask society to take a look at themselves when they say those are their favorite movies.” Why? As the Slayer lyric says, “the beauty of death, we all adore.”
The character of Iona was played by Fafara’s guitarist’s girlfriend. “She should definitely go into acting, she’s amazing,” Fafara says. “It was really meant to rock you, right? I don’t mean like a hurricane, I mean rock your spirit and make you think. Videos now to me are becoming art pieces. They become mini art pieces and live forever that way.” It was filmed in a graveyard from the Civil War in Central California close to Santa Barbara. There are some truly eerie shots of her looking at her victim in the car and walking toward him with roses. “That’s to symbolize your life is one, you’re a black rose. Now I’m gonna carry you for the rest of my life. She’s insatiable about it, nothing stops her. It’s a take on society as well.” It’s a video with vintage horror vibes, vampiric visuals and old soul possession vibes, a treat for metal heads and horror enthusiasts.
The beginning intro talks of the old path. “That’s a reference to the old path, the old oath,” Fafara explains. “We call traditional magik the old path. I actually practice Stregheria Italian witchcraft. Google Raven Grimassi, authors like this so you can understand what I practice.”
The animal masks in the Wishing video were found, dating from 1800’s-1922. “They’re old as hell. Really just symbolizing other entities around you, we don’t know what these other dimensions hold, and what creatures may be there. I wanted something to identify that and those masks did a great job, they’re very old and fragile.”
Fafara came up with a new, different approach for recording. “If I just met you today, what music would we make? Let’s do that. I sang clean vocals in Coal Chamber for years and years, to allow that into DevilDriver it had to be a specific way, I mean like the metalcore thing, where you do a heavy verse then a real clean chorus. I’m not saying I’ll never do a clean chorus, I’ll just say it has to be right, dark and gothy. My influences are Bauhaus, Sisters of Mercy, etc. If you hear those verses you can plainly hear my influences. Things need to change or they stay the same forever.”
He remembers the days of dangerous excess on You Give me a Reason to Drink. “I’m sober now but I remember those days. You come home and need a beer and two shots of whisky because the days been shitty. That’s what that’s about. Anything in life can lead you to drinking, drugs, etc.” His son Simon Blade Fafara is on that song. “Last time he guested he was 9 on Fighting Words. A song every DevilDriver fan knows, we play live all the time. He’s working on his six-song EP, looking to release the record in 2022.” Fafara keeps his ear in the grapevine on new acts being signed and in the running.
Fafara’s not a fan of the spotlight, other than the stage, “I can’t stand popularity and fame. I’m very grounded. As far as being a cool father, I’m very tight with my family. I got an Italian family we’re very close, very friendly. We’re all here for each other.” They’re a proud metal family. “My family’s proud of everything I’ve done and so am I. I don’t look back and want to change anything. I wouldn’t change a thing. I’ve had a lot of ups and downs in my life but it all made me who I am.”
Years ago the Hold Back the Day video was an earlier tribute to classic Sabbath. “I wouldn’t have a career… I won’t say that because I got a record deal without the Osbourne family, but once I solidified my relationship with Sharon Osbourne, she managed Coal Chamber and we did a song with Ozzy. The career skyrockets. That was my attempt at saying thank you, basically.” Shock the Monkey was his idea, though Loco broke Coal Chamber and touring with Pantera followed by Machine Head didn’t hurt. They also opened the inaugural Ozzfest. “That was the day we met Sharon then everything happened.”
Fafara now indulges in a healthy, clean, sober lifestyle. “You gotta do what you can for your body, health and mind. Keep yourself happy, healthy and sane. I only went vegan because I watched a video of a pig and cow getting killed one day. It was horrendous. It wasn’t quick or painless. It was fucking unreal, and I didn’t want to be part of it.”
He has biographical ideas in mind and plenty of stories. “I’ve been writing. It’s a touchy subject for me. I’ve seen bios where they’re not painting the accurate picture or calling out certain things in their life because they don’t want to get sued. A bio should be real, truthful and the whole truth, not part of. So, I wonder where my bio starts and stops, skips and jumps because I have a lot to say about the industry, etc. There’s two ways to do it, a bio that’s completely honest and the life and times from the beginning and another where a bio about how you keep your head and stay positive. Lots of stories I want to share, a book about keeping yourself sane and happy in a crazy world in a crazy job, remaining positive through life.” He’s not willing to throw people under the bus yet. With no regrets, just learning experiences, “I think everything is [a learning experience]. I think my pride has helped me. Everything that comes into your life should be a teaching moment. Learn from your lessons.”
When touring, DevilDriver bring mad festival circle pits including repeat Download performances. “That was insane. You can view it online, you plainly see people trying to crawl up polls to get away. A band can never make that happen. That will happen if the people that follow your music, are in it with you. That’s what happens at DevilDriver shows. We’re known as a very volatile, visceral band.”
Here’s a tip for newbies, if you go to see DevilDriver, don’t stand in the pit. “There’s no reason to stand on the floor unless you want to get involved or get knocked down. That kinda thing has followed us around. We are one of the most volatile bands in metal to be honest. It’s funny, in some circle pits for bands they’re marching around like they’re happy. They’re all fine and dandy but a DevilDriver pit is extreme people taking care of each other. I played in front of 250 people in a small weird town on a Tuesday night and [it] be so violent I had to stop the show. It’s interesting.”
Fafara’s roots stem from punk and goth. “Punk rock is a very real scene. I had a pit in my stomach at punk shows when I was younger. I didn’t know if a riot was gonna happen. If cops were gonna walk in with billy clubs and start smacking people. You didn’t know what was gonna happen back in the day.”
Bands try to break circle pit records. “I’m not talking about people doing the conga line in a circle. I’m talking about people swinging fists and feet. Not even the hardcore dance, just an old school almost punk rock pit, it can be dangerous. If you’re on the floor, you’re taking a chance. I wouldn’t have it any other way, and some promoters won’t book us because they know the show will be insanity. Promoters won’t have us because their liability won’t cover us coming. That’s the mark I’m gonna leave on metal, if promoters need heavy liability insurance to have DevilDriver, so be it.”
This year’s the longest Fafara’s been home in his career, “I miss touring and shows terribly. I enjoy being on a tour bus, pulling into truck stops at 3am with other busses behind us getting shitty snacks. I miss not having a shower for 2-3 days. The world is desperate. We’re losing promoters, agents and bands.”
He’s spent 30 years on the road. “I never saw the sun come up, now I’m home. I see the sun. You need to be careful what you wish for. You want to be a musician, OK, get in an RV or van the first couple years. Go without showers, food and sleep. Keep a band together. No sleep or food, another 400 miles to go, the guitarist or drummer’s a dick, now you’re fighting with 300 miles to go. When you get there everyone’s fighting and beefing. These are things I’ve seen. It’s a long road to make it a success. Give up everything of yourself. I missed one of my kids graduating high school. I was on the road in some God-forsaken place that I don’t remember.”
He’s spent plenty of time couch-surfing, being homeless, sleeping under a bridge and stealing food to survive, all realities. “I haven’t had a stable home life till COVID hit. Now it’s different. Up at 5 am, watch the sun come up. Bed at 10, hasn’t happened in 28 years for me.”
For any fan that wants a front yard meet and greet, be careful. “That hasn’t happened in a long time. Come with good intentions.” He’s blue collar, he’ll shake your hand but he sleeps with a shotgun by his bed. He also recommends retaining two damn good attorneys when getting a record deal. “You have to love music and touring because you love it. If it’s for the money you’ll end up hating it and yourself for doing it. You have to keep music in your life, it saved me.”
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