Dez Fafara’s Devil Driver released Dealing with Demons Vol. I’m back in 2020 and about to release the second half of the double album Dealing with Demons Vol. II. As usual, Des has been up since 5am working on music, business, his book and countless other things. He kindly took the time to talk to us about what life has been like between those records and how it feels to finally get Vol. Me from the door.
LTW: Hey Des, thanks for taking the time to chat, how’s it going?
“Things are going well. Thanks for asking. I’m happy every day I wake up and take a breath, I’m healthy, knock on wood, families are great, business is going well, and the record is getting crazy reviews. Dealing with Demons Vol. I’ve been sitting on ice for two years, it’s so great to finally let people hear it!”
One of the things you’ve mentioned in the press is that Dealing with Demons is one of your most personal and literal albums. You have a reputation for being a very private person, so I’m curious what encouraged you to be so open about your feelings about these two records?
“If you’ve been following my career and you’ve heard any interviews in the past, I don’t really talk about what the songs are about. Because if you listen to a song and you think it’s about a breakup and you relate to it, I don’t want to tell you it’s about skateboarding or whatever.
There were several reasons behind the record. I’m getting older and there have been a few things I’ve always wanted to do. One was to do a covers record, which we did with Outlaws ‘Til The End, Vol.1, and the other was to do a double album, which is where Dealing With Demons came from.
It felt like the right time to do Demons, we had a lot of great material and I had a lot to say. We had been through a lot as a family with the ranch almost burning down and a lot of personal issues, so that combination of material and things to talk about just came together on these records. It’s about dealing with sobriety, being stabbed in the back by your best friend, the demon of temptation, whatever, and it’s in here somewhere.
When we started, I had 25 songs that I thought were good enough, and then the band came up with another 10 or 15 songs that were also great. We knew it was as good or better than anything we’d done before, and we wanted to use as much of it as possible.
Then I had to face our label. We were contracted to do one record of 52 minutes or something, but I went to them with the idea of doing a double record instead, each 35 to 40 minutes long. My idea was to listen to the albums back to back, so it couldn’t be too long. The label loved the idea and really got behind it.
We both wanted to go out together, but we’ve been through a lot as a family with Anahstasia’s cancer surgery in 2019 and then the pandemic. I got Covid at the end of 2021 and ended up in ICU and almost died, I even called the Coal Chamber guys and told them to get in touch. Luckily we’re over most of it now, Anahstasia is in good health and I’m slowly getting stronger. But here we are, two years later and Dealing with Demons Vol. I’m finally going out!”
Have your recent travails changed your outlook on life and music?
“I have always been a person who was very humble and appreciative of life. So, I don’t know if it changed me that much.
Looking back on my Covid experience, I went out to my gym to see if I was still signed up, walked around the gym because they were moving some equipment, came home and 48 hours later I had a fever of 104 degrees and was on my death bed. My wife drives me to a makeshift clinic and a guy in a hazmat suit grabs me out of the car and his first words are get this one first. I knew it was bad at that point. I think it gave me more incentive to get things done right now, don’t wait, never wait. If you have an idea, do it!
We have always been busy as a family; we don’t sit in one place much. There is always something going on with one of our businesses, groups, writing or painting. This morning I wrote in the studio all morning before doing this interview, I don’t sleep much so I have to find things to keep me busy. Actually, that reminds me, we have my autobiography coming up in the summer, a must-read!
So, no, I don’t think it’s really changed me that much, I just don’t wait any longer, I get things done now!”
I think you’ve already answered this a bit, but throughout your career you’ve always been busy, there’s always a project or business somewhere. What keeps you creating?
“I suffered a lot at school. I didn’t want to study social studies; I was terrible at math. Funny, I’m pretty good at math now because I had to be for my business, but it wasn’t my thing back then. I loved drawing classes, I loved English and I wanted to be a writer. I’d rather sculpt or paint than listen to someone explain something. They didn’t diagnose it then, but I’ve since been diagnosed with ADD, which has answered a lot for me about how I was as a kid and the things I do now.
My parents had me on Ritalin and a lot of these drugs that help you adjust, but they really screwed up my brain and my love for art and creativity. Getting off these drugs and finding creative outlets really saved my life.
I was a really troubled kid though, I didn’t sleep much, my mom would find me downstairs wide awake and looking for something to do at 2am. To be honest it hasn’t changed much, it still drives my wife crazy that I don’t get much sleep. These days I use that time creatively or at the gym, but you can only run so many miles before you tire!
However, I guess the answer to the question is ADD. ADD is the reason we covered Sail from AWOLNATION because when I heard it and they talk about ADD. I really wish I had written that ‘Blame it on my ADD, baby’ lyric, it’s genius, so we just had to cover it with Devil Driver.”
Does ADD sound almost like your superpower?
“You’re the first person to say this, but I think you’re right. I think if you can deal with your ADD, you can use it to your advantage.
However, it is difficult for parents with a child with ADD. I was off the wall, never sitting still. When my book came out, there was a story in it about one of my primary teachers tying me to a chair for an afternoon. He would probably be in jail if this happened today.
But here’s the thing with ADD, you can’t put someone in a room with white fluorescent lights buzzing overhead and then talk to them slowly about math or history and expect them to sit still.
If you are reading this interview right now, use it in your life, trust me, some of the richest and happiest people I know in my life have what they have because they have ADD, not just money. They have happiness about them. If you can find an outlet, something to use your time for, your ADD will keep you moving.
I want to take you back a bit to dealing with demons if I may. How was the writing process compared to your previous records?
“So on a regular record, you know you have to record maybe 13 songs. We knew we had to record more than double that. One of the things I told everybody is don’t do too much work, if you have a song, let’s just do it. Don’t try to think if it will be on the record. Don’t think about whether it fits the vibe of what we’re doing, just keep writing and moving. The song Wishing came out of this conversation, which was released on Dealing with Demons Vol. 1 and has clean vocals and stuff very reminiscent of Sisters of mercy or Bauhaus. Maybe we wouldn’t have made this song if we weren’t in that mood.
I had grown up on punk rock, goth and psycho billy way before metal and I didn’t want us to leave the songs because they didn’t fit, I wanted us to record what came to us and decide what went on the record later. Before we knew it, we had 25 to 30 songs to listen to. Of course, then we had to have the hard conversation about what to cut. We’re all artists and nobody wants their stuff to go unused, but we’ve all had to go through it. At this stage it came down to the songs we all really loved. Another thing we did was, all the songs we cut, we agreed to never use that material again, it didn’t appear on B-sides or whatever, that stuff went away.
The other thing was how to sequence a double take, I think I changed the opening track three times which meant our poor mastering engineer had to go through it multiple times.
Something else I want to mention here is about the perception of the group, everyone knows that Devil Driver is my thing, I run this ship, but with every ship the crew will riot if there is no democracy. I let the group have full control over the recording sequence, when I finally saw the two records together I had no changes. I really only had a couple of real things that I was determined about, I wanted to choose the track that opens the record and I wanted to make sure that we had an energetic song after Wishing. The whole thing worked out perfectly.
Your fan base seems to have loved every change in direction and experimentation you’ve done so far. As you mentioned, even Wishing, which was a lot slower and cleaner than most of your songs, seemed to work out well?
“We haven’t been held to the fire like some other bands. A lot of bands, if they add anything like even clean vocals or what have you, their fans riot. So far we have not been held to it. What I see in metal is bands putting out record after record, serving their brand, keeping it Coca-Cola, serving their fans. As an artist, it’s not really about me, it’s not what we do.
Even with Coal Chamber, we’ve been able to do what we want to do and the fans have come around to it, so there’s something natural about these records. Even in Devil Driver there’s a huge progression between the first, second and third record to where we are now. We just do what we do and luckily our fans come with us which is fantastic. We are incredibly lucky to be able to do this.”
I love that people struggle to define your sound. How would you describe it?
“Here’s a story, I got a tattoo the other night from 19 years old. He said I saw your name on the list for today and checked out some of your stuff, what kind of music is it? So there I was, looking at a kid not even half my age, explaining to him that we just do our own thing, we don’t care how it’s labeled. Although, having said that we used the hashtag groovemetal when we started, but now so many others are using it, I’ve started using the darkgroove tag instead, which I think describes it a bit better?’
Finally, I’d like to hear a little about your influences?
“I grew up on early punk rock and new wave as a kid. I love bands like Echo and The Bunny Men, Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus. I also loved Psycho Billy and Blues. I felt like every band coming out of the UK at the time. Mike Spreitzer, my guitarist is a big industrial metal fan, so if it sounds like Ministry and Skinny Puppy, it is that way. We have a lot of influences as a band.
If I could go back to the 19-year-old who tattooed me the other day, I was explaining to him that we’re not the fastest or heaviest, we’re just doing our job. We’ve talked about a lot of great heavy bands on the scene now who are also amazing, bands like I Prevail and Lorna are absolutely crushing it. We’re so happy for them, but we’re just doing our job here.”
Dealing with Demons Vol. II is of May 12 via Napalm Records.
Devilish driver: Web | Facebook
Coal chamber: Web | Facebook
All words and by Neil Johnson. More writings by Neal Johnson can be found in the Neal Archive. Neil is also on Instagram as @jonnokid and also co-hosts The Monster Shop on Louder Than War Radio (LTW’s Metal Show).
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