DevilDriver’s Dez Fafara: “Now Is The Time When People Need Music The Most”

photo by Stephanie Cabral

“You don’t go into a movie and try to script off an ending,” says DevilDriver frontman Dez Fafara. “Sometimes you have to let the movie play itself out…and this one is a very disturbing movie. Who knows what the ending is going to be like?”

Stop does not seem to be in Dez Fafara’s vocabulary. Since the release of DevilDriver’s self-titled debut album in 2003, the vocalist has been working nonstop; if he’s not writing or releasing a new record, he’s touring relentlessly, bringing his band’s mixture of darkness, mystery, positivity, and relentless double bass drumming to millions of fans worldwide. 

Now, DevilDriver are preparing to drop the first half of their new double album, Dealing With Demons, a record that seems a new approach for Dez lyrically and philosophically. Such an ambitious release might feel daunting at any time, but a global pandemic certainly adds to the uncertainty surrounding it. But even in his current state of introspection, Fafara didn’t see quitting as an option.

“We saw a lot of bands pull their records — not a good business move to release a record during a pandemic, a lot of people are worried about keeping their families alive and not T-shirt bundles, et cetera. But I said, ‘Look, music has gotten me through my whole life. I don’t know where I would be if it wasn’t for music, literally, and the culture of music. Now is the time when people need music the most.’”

How did the COVID pandemic effect the release of the new album?

Well, it’s really strange, we saw this thing coming in December 2019. We have friends in China, actually, and we told everyone, we think this is going to shut the US down. And everybody thought I was insane, including my own family. So we started stocking up — we got a year’s worth of dog food and cat food, a year and a half worth of food that we rotated in and out of the pantry. We’re a second amendment family, so we’re good in that aspect. But it was also about being prepared mentally. We not only run DevilDriver, but we run a major management company, Oracle Management. We’ve got large artists underneath us. That can mean waking up at four in the morning, checking in with them. Some of them are in Europe, so it’s about making sure they’re alive and getting income for some of them. Keeping your head positive is, I think, a huge deal. I tend to be a glass half full guy — I think we’re all going to come out of this, humanity’s going to come together and we’re all going to be better for it. 

How far along was the Dealing With Demons double album when things went to shit?

So the plan was, take some time off, write a double record, put it out via a staggered release, go out and do three and a half years on the road straight. Do the world, twice, then come home and do another record. That obviously fell apart. By 2019, everything was in the can for the double record — all the artwork, everything. And then we had to flee our house due to wildfires, so we’re driving away with the kids and the dogs and the cats and only a few items, watching our house get ready to go up in flames. When we got back to the house and it was still here — thank God to the first responders who literally put their lives on the line for the neighborhood — we said okay, let’s go, double record, let’s get touring…and then we found out my wife had cancer, and she had to get two surgeries. So we canceled everything for the year, to rally around the matriarch of the family. Then we got into 2020, and we thought, great, we got through that tumultuous time, let’s get together and release a record, go on tour…pandemic hits, civil unrest, and the rest is history.

Jesus, it’s amazing you’re still able to keep doing this. Between the fires, a sick family member, and the pandemic, a lot of people would have felt crushed by it all.

No. You cannot get crushed by life. Early in my life, I had a stepfather commit suicide, and I think that taught me, a) watch the movie play itself out. Even if you’re 95 years old, no family members around you, you’re living on the street or in a home, don’t take yourself out. Wait for the end of the movie. b) I’m very spiritual, and there was a bonding process, I think, to committing, during these wildfires, during these times. But also I came out of this with a kind of Buddhist feeling. Like, I’ve been touring for 28 years straight. I’ve been running constantly since then. I’ve missed funerals, birthdays, kids graduating from school. And I think this whole thing made me say, okay, anything that’s in a drawer, anything that I don’t use, let’s sell it off, let’s give it to charity. Let’s simplify our life. 

I also came away thinking, What am I chasing? I could’ve retired 15 years ago. My wife and I talked, and she said, ‘Look, you enjoy the chase. You enjoy building businesses.’ And we came to the conclusion that I have ADHD, I get bored very easily, I enjoy seeing things come to fruition. So  I also realized, now is the time to slow down. It’s been a blessing and a curse, because I’ve been home with my family. I make dinner for my family every night, we have a Sunday sitdown that’s mandatory. I’m making sauce all morning. I’ve become extremely close to my family. I was here when my Great Dane had to get an operation, and he’s part of the family — so it makes me think, What are you doing? I had a friend, a very heavy cat in this industry, tell me on the phone, ‘Maybe what this is teaching us is that we need to slow down.’ And not just us in this industry, but everyone, especially in America. We’ve just been running so hard. 

The central theme of the new albums are, of course, dealing with personal demons. But as a guy who’s been doing this for over twenty years, are there any demons left? Do you ever feel exhausted?

It was time for me to ask myself, What have I been writing about with bands since I was 15 years old? I’ve been writing about the human condition. Well, what do we do differently? What do we do that’s deeper, for this record? I thought, it’s been a thing with me for years, if you ask me, What’s this song about? I’m never gonna tell you. Because if you think the song you’re listening to is about a hot, nice summer day, why am I gonna blow that by telling you it’s about a cloudy night? This was a totally different story for me. I said. Let’s go deep, let’s look at some inner demons, let’s get very personal with people. Let’s talk about demons that I suffer, let’s talk about society’s ills and society’s demons. And when I did that, I felt that the writing process was so real. I thought, If these were my last two records, what would I leave? I’ve never come at it from that point. So I told the guys in the beginning, don’t think about the brand, don’t think about what the fans want, don’t think about the past records, let’s do something different. If I just met you today, what kind of music would we write?

Is there a song on this album that you feel like couldn’t have been on a previous DevilDriver record? 

So, I’m too personal, I’m too private. I’m probably one of the most private guys in music. So I said, What is my main demon? What is the thing that absolutely has shook people around me? Now I’m sober, so there’s no demon there. I’m vegan–no demon there. Where do I go that’s the deepest? And my wife said, ‘You know, your agoraphobia has been difficult for you. You chose the absolute wrong job. It’s been difficult for me, too.’ It’s true — I’ll say yes to your thing, my wife will buy a new dress, she’ll be out of the shower and totally ready, and I’ll get out of the shower and say, ‘We’re staying home tonight.’ And my wife–bless her, she’s been with me all these years, instead of a fight ensuing she’ll say, ‘Cool, I knew that was coming.’ 

So I said, let’s go into that. And that’s the song “Keep Away From Me.” And one of the reasons we wanted to release Vol. 1 before Vol. 2, though Vol. 2 is my favorite record, is because “Keep Away From Me” was on it. I wanted to touch base on that, and I wanted to say here I am, let me expose myself completely to you on this record. And what’s cool — or not cool, however you look at it — is that people are coming to me on social media saying, I suffer from the same thing. How do you deal with it? How do you deal with walking into a room with your hands just sweating? How do you deal with this last minute not showing up?

Another song on the album is titled, “You Give Me A Reason to Drink” — an interesting title, especially because it features guest vocals from your son.

So Simon Blade, my youngest son, just turned 23. The first time he recorded with DevilDriver was when he was 9 years old, actually, on a song called “Fighting Words.” The kid has an insane voice, from a very young age, and he loved music. When I was recording this song, he came into the studio and said, ‘Dad, what is this song about?’ And I told him, ‘Most of humanity gets off work and says, I’ve had a shitty day, give me two beers with two shots. And a lot of people have that, a reason to drink — the boss at the office, the wife that constantly nags them, whatever they’re going through. And this is a talking point on the record — I want people to have a dialogue, internally and with other people around them.’ He said, Dad, I really love this song, this is really badass.’ I said, ‘Look, you haven’t hopped on a song with me since you were nine’ — he’s doing his own record now, which is absolutely fantastic, the kids got a better voice than me, and his clean singing is unreal — ‘get on here. Your lows are lower than mine, you’re going to be a real heavy hitter in the metal industry. And I also got to tell him, ‘Don’t dive into this. Don’t use drugs and alcohol to make your shitty day even shittier, and then get shitty with the people around you. I said don’t ever go there.’

Let’s say I’m a young metal musician feeling overwhelmed by life, addiction, the insanity going on in the world around me. What’s your advice for staying positive and approaching everything with a positive outlook?

I talk about this on my personal, positive posts with Dez on Instagram: reach out. Mental health is a real-deal thing. Trying to get sober is a real-deal thing. Don’t feel like you’re weak to come to someone and say, ‘Hey, I want to have a conversation with you. I lost my job, I don’t have any money, I don’t know where I’m going, my band doesn’t want to rehearse, whatever it is, and I’m having thoughts of suicide. You’ve got to reach out before you actually act on it. Addiction is the same thing–and I’m not talking about that guy who has a social beer or is sitting around smoking weed, I’m talking about real addiction, that keeps you from going to work or having great, meaningful relationships. It’s time to reach out and have conversations, and get yourself right. And then you watch the movie play itself out.

DevilDriver’s new album Dealing With Demons I drops October 2nd via Napalm Records and is available for preorder.

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Words by Chris Krovatin