Talkin’ DevilDriver With Dez Fafara

DevilDriver’s Dez Fafara had a lot on his mind when Pollstar caught up with the vocalist while he was on his way to a band rehearsal for the current tour.  From record labels and 360 deals to streaming royalty rates, the rocker had plenty to say.

Fafara knows what he’s talking about.  Having led DevilDriver for all of the band’s 14 years,  the singer has also fronted Coal Chamber since its 1993 inception.  While living the heavy metal dream, Fafara is also a family man who dotes on his kids and wife.  He’s that guy you might grab a beer  with after a long day at work.

DevilDriver’s seventh studio album, Trust No One, arrives May 13.  You can pre-order the LP via this link.

What’s different about Trust No One compared to previous DevilDriver albums?

DevilDriver fans know every record is different from one another.  We have a signature sound, but we tend to evolve and make different styles of art [with] each record.  I think, first off, that’s really important. But Trust No One really is an evolution with the band.  Not only did we change a few members  …  but our sound is quite different on this one. The guitars are much more technical, lotta groove, big fat hooks and choruses.  I love songwriting.  So even if it’s metal it’s gotta have adequate songwriting.  This record has really great songs on it.  The difference is, I’ve been told … this sounds like there’s a new fire in the belly, etc. … I’ll take all of that.

This is DevilDriver’s seventh studio album, plus you’re also in Coal Chamber.  What keeps you going year after  year?

I enjoy music.  I enjoy this lifestyle.  I do enjoy touring.  I have recently taken a good amount of time off with my family and children.  I have three boys.  I enjoy making music.  I enjoy being in the studio.  I enjoy playing live.  I love the fact that I’ve been around for that long and DevilDriver is on its seventh record and our fanbase is primarily young.  It’s good to be connecting with the youth and have something to say.  Aggressive music, for me, was always empowerment. It always empowered me through some extremely rough times in my life.  I came from a very violent childhood.  I ran away from home at an early age.  I slept under bridges in Hollywood at age 15.  Aggressive music always got me through that.  That’s what I’d like … with DevilDriver for other people –  empowerment and be that go-to band.

What, generally, is that first inkling in your head that leads to a DevilDriver song?

Often times I hear a melody and I write to it.  But I don’t play an instrument.  I’m learning this year.  Gotta play guitar so I can convey those things.  But I often just hear the lyrics and hear a flow or a pattern of the lyrics.  I write daily.  So I have 30-40 books of lyrics that may never see the light of day.  Often times when I get the music, that’s the inclination to write and it all starts flowing from there.

When you’re filling up pages with lyrics, are you already thinking in terms of meter and rhyme?

I am.  I know the beats per measure, usually, of what we’re going to be doing.  I’ll know this song is going to be aggressively fast, the BPMs (beats per measure) are going to be quick.  Then it’s up to me, I like to say [to] “be the trickster.” I gotta come in and out of the groove, in and out of the riffs.  For me, I have to do it with patterns and rhymes that haven’t been used a million times.  Especially … in a convoluted genre as metal.  So it’s extremely important to be different, to do something out of the box and make it clear that I’m [doing so].

(click on image for complete album cover)

Being that analytical about music, can you still listen to other people’s work without studying it and breaking it down?

It’s all I ever do. (laughs)  I rarely listen to my own stuff.  If I’m done with it and I’ve listened to the sequence of the records and stuff, I put it aside.  I listen to music from the time I wake up until the time I go to bed.  It’s everything from Billie Holiday to black metal, from funk to blues, to outlaw country to jazz.  I love music.  So I’m over the top listening to … whatever.

DevilDriver’s music has been described as “alternative metal,” “nu-metal” and “gothic metal.”  Are you comfortable with the labels and branding regarding the group?

I think labels and branding are essential to people so they get the gist of things.  Definitely “alternative metal” and “nu-metal” goes with my band Coal Chamber.  But DevilDriver is a different thing.  Not many people can pinhole us.  The fans started calling us “The California Groove Machine” and I said, “I’m gonna adapt that.  I don’t hear any other bands using that … and if the fans want to justify us, and put us in a category to get us, then yeah, that works for me.”  Of course, the word “nu-metal” when it comes to Coal Chamber, “alternative metal” – that’s when we came out.  We came out in a scene that was brand new.  There was us and maybe a few other bands coming out at the time, and we were definitely alternative and it was definitely new.  What I love is [when you] look at nu-metal now, the biggest bands are charting.  Deftones just got No.2, Disturbed No. 1.  Slipknot always debuts [at] No. 1.  And those are the biggest nu-metal bands on the planet.  I’m glad to be a part [of that scene].  It’s important to start and to be part of something new, and to be part of something unique.  I did it with Coal Chamber and I’m doing it with DevilDriver.  I think that’s what keeps me going.

What kind of room works best for DevilDriver?

Anywhere from 500 to …. I’ve played in front of 100,000 people.  Anywhere there’s people who really want to sweat, dance and have a good time.  DevilDriver is definitely about letting your inhibitions go, coming out for a night and having a great time.

How do you take that show the band plays in front of 500 fans and present it to 100,000 people?

What you gotta do is take the experience, emotion and energy from the small show and bring it to the big show.  If I’m playing at Download in front of 75,000-100,000 people, I’m taking that energy that I have from the night before when I did a 1,200-seater that was sold out, and conveying it out to all of those people in order to make them feel it.  And it’s quite different. You can actually take the energy from a big show into a small room and make it sweat as well.  They work hand in hand.

Do you have any routines to help you prepare for the show, either physically or mentally?

It’s a total routine for me.  Get up and take a shower three hours before the show. After we do meet & greets and stuff, get ready.  Have about two hours in the bus with good friends and a couple of bottles of really good wine, and then go do my job.  I don’t party very hard before shows because people pay good money to see us.  Maybe a cocktail or two to get myself loose.  I never have drinks after the shows because people pay good money [to see us] the next day.  I’ve kind of learned this little regiment.  My favorite time is two hours before the show when I have good friends in the back lounge and we’re listening to anything from Waylon Jennings to Black Sabbath.  It’s a good time.

How do you come off of that peak when you walk off the stage?

I usually come off, splash water on my face and sit down … take a breather.  I always like to assess … How was the show?  What went good?  What went bad?  What could we have done better?  And after that, let it go.  Put on a movie, get some food and go on to the next day.

Do you record every night?

We try to.  Some venues don’t allow you to.  Certainly, with a couple of new members, we’re going to be taping the first week of shows.  Then we’ll come back and critique them.  You say, “Look. This is what we could have done better.  You could have ended this part more staccato.  You could have come in earlier.” I’m definitely a stickler for the live show to be 110 percent energy.  I come from a punk rock background and our show has a lot of that punk rock energy in it.

How much is planned and how much is spontaneous? 

I think it’s very important to just be. Music, the moment, the energy is sweeping you up.  We don’t have choreographed moves or anything like that.  The setlist is set and I never call out other songs because it just throws guys off.  Other than that, if I want to jump into the crowd, people want to come on stage, whatever happens has to be in the moment and be live.  I was raised by hippies … and I love live music.  The energy has to be really kind of a free-for-all where you don’t know what’s going to happen.  I think that’s important. 

It goes as far as even the light guy.  If you saw us four nights in a row, it’s not like the first set is going to be red and blue and the next is going to be strobes.  It doesn’t work like that. He is on the same par as us.  I tell him, “You feel what we’re feeling and you do what you feel we’re doing.” And it makes the shows different.  We have a lot of people who see us on tours three or four different times and even if we’re running the same setlist for that tour, the shows are quite different every night.

What was the first concert you ever saw?

It had to be psychobilly.  I was in a psychobilly band when I was 14, 15.  I saw a band called the Rockin’ Rebels.  I saw The Stray Cats live when I was 15.  Saw Black Flag in the early days, the Germs, a lot of punk rock back in the day.

Then my parents, I found their record collection: Doors, Steppenwolf, Three Dog Night … hippie shit.  Then I started loving rock ’n’ roll and found KISS, Motörhead and just went from there.

How do you convey your passion for music to your kids?

My kids love music.  My youngest was on drum line in high school.  He’s got a band called Death By Purple.  He’s going to school, he’s working and he’s going to rehearsals.  My middle son is in love with soul, rap and all of that.  My oldest, who’s 23, is absolutely incredible on guitar.  He’s into everything that’s alternative.  We thrive on music as family more than we do TV or movies.  We’ve never been a real TV kind of crew.  It’s always been … music is going on in the kitchen, mom and dad are cooking and kissing, and it’s a good vibe.  After dinner there’s music going.  I got them into vinyl three years ago and now we own $5,000 worth of vinyl.  They’re always coming home with new vinyl. 

It’s cool to see that evolution.  My parents passed it on to me through their record collection.  Nowadays you can’t pass that on to your kids unless you have records, or you actually give them your iPod for the week, which I never wanted to do because that’s my fuckin’ music. (laughs) Watching them getting turned onto music was a really cool thing.  When my youngest was sitting in the back of the car when he was young, I’d drum on everything because I started off as a drummer.  Then to see him go into drumming and be as good as he is was really impressive for me.

What’s your take on streaming and services like Spotify?

I come from a different era.  I embrace it all.  I embrace downloading, I embrace the computer, I embrace all of it.  But here’s the bottom line.  When I came up and people’s songs got played on the radio, they got paid.  Now, not many people listen to the radio … they stream it.  My kids stream records on YouTube, Spotify and Pandora and [artists are] not getting paid the same as radio.  That’s ridiculous.  If you’re streaming, it’s a goddamn radio station.  But it’s just on the computer or on an iPhone or whatever.  I think we should get paid equal pay the same as radio and all these services should pay us the same as radio.  Here’s what’s really happening, too.  This scenario is putting everything underground out of business. Heavy metal, punk rock, underground jazz, psychobilly, rockabilly, I could just go on.  If those bands don’t get paid, they’re not going to be able to do their thing.  If they’re not getting big record deals, if they’re not getting tour support and things that are going to support them to get their music out there, they’re just going to die on the vine. And some people say, “Oh, no.  They’ve got their own format, they can make their own music, put it on the computer and get it out there.”  And it’s like, Get it out there? So Spotify can go ahead and spin and spin you?  And I see 20 cents a year even though I know people are listening to our songs daily?  So I want to see this rectified and rectified quickly.  I’d like to see all those streaming services put out of business or start paying dues and dividends the same radio did.

But when a radio station plays one of your records once, depending on the size of the market, thousands, possibly tens of thousands of people are hearing it.  But a stream may very well be going to one person.

Right.  But if they’re not paying for the premium service, one person is streaming it, one person is listening to it, but they’ve just heard a commercial before or after it.  And none of these kids are paying for the premium service.  If you go to YouTube and listen to one of my songs,  you’re going to get a commercial before it comes up.  Now YouTube has just made money from that commercial. Where the fuck is my piece.  I’m a street kid. I come from the street.  I fight for everything.  Just getting a roof over my head was a big deal.  Now, I think [streamers] should be paying dividends like radio. Absolutely.

How much do you think a person should pay to listen to one stream?

All I know is that if someone downloads a song [from iTunes] for 99 cents, by the time it gets to me, I don’t make a cent.  I make less than one cent.

But that’s a purchase and not a stream.

I don’t know if the streaming process … I am not familiar enough. … To say, “How much do you make off of a stream?” I have no idea. It might be 100 streams to make me two cents, for all I know. … Maybe these companies get together and there’s a bill passed where they put together something where one stream equals whatever, 25 cents, 50 cents, who knows?  But there should be some allocation of money. Those companies are in business to make money and they’re making money off of the artists’ backs.  There  you go.  And it’s funny because at the same time I listen to Spotify all day long.  But I pay for the premium service.  I’m a kid who still walks into record stores.  I pay for the premium Spotify service.  That first day I put 175 records on my Spotify.  How the fuck is that legal?  Every AC/DC record, every Pink Floyd record, every Ozzie record, every punk record I could possibly find. I’d like to ask those artists if they saw any money that day.

Regarding the current state of the music industry, are you looking at DevilDriver albums as enticements to sell tickets to your shows or do the records represent a significant revenue stream?

Profit, I believe, comes later after all of the payback.  If you sell an amount of records, you recoup all the money [the label] spent and anything they’re going to do for you, then eventually you start seeing some money. I do because I’ve had a long career.  So I’ve got decent publishing checks. 

I think the reverse is happening.  Where you used to get a record deal and make money off of the deal, these bands are …  getting enough money to make the record.  That’s it.  They’re not making $5 [grand], $10 [grand], $20 [grand], $50 [grand] a member every time they write a record.  Now, to keep your career going,  you’ve got to get these smaller record deals.  A lot of the time, these 360 deals with the labels owning your merchandise,  your publishing, your music – they’re making all the money. They’re the pimp, you’re the ho.  And they’ll keep putting you out on the corner so you can make a little bit to get your food while they make their money.  So don’t sign 360 record deals.  I did at the beginning of my career but I don’t sign those now.  You gotta be smart.  If you’re a young band, if you’re coming up, there’s a bunch of things  you gotta do.  Rehearse constantly, stay way away from hard drugs and anything that’s going to mess you up, play live all the time, get yourself a really good attorney and have contracts with …  your manager to anyone you work with. … And this comes from a guy whose first record is just about platinum.  I went into it, signed a 360 deal and I signed my whole life away for $50 grand on that first record. And I learned my lesson.  That’s what the record industry does.  It takes advantage of artists.  Artists have to be wise.  Don’t go into it like a dummy.  Don’t think a record deal is a magical mystical thing that’s going to change your whole life.  No, you’re going to change your life.  Your music, your touring, your ethical behavior on the road so you can keep touring … your connection with the audience is what’s going to keep you going.

As a music veteran, what are your thoughts on seeing promoters, agents, record people who are way younger than you and entered the business long after you established yourself?

Age isn’t a bias for me, whatsoever.  I know my kid just turned 18 and he’s smarter than any 50-year-old I met.  I work with an agent that’s in his 30s and the guy has more fire than anybody in their 50s.  I’ve had managers in their 50s, they do real well, but as soon as I change hands, I get with a manager who is younger, more intuitive or on the step of what’s going on, then everything gets better.  Social media goes up, tours go up, because he knows different people.  You want to definitely stay away from the dinosaurs in this industry because all they’re doing is milking the young talent.  So, definitely, I like to get involved with younger people in this business.  They’re not in it yet for the money.  They’re in it because of the love,  for music, the love for the artist.  That’s so important.

The head of my label [Napalm], he’s from Austria, just flew out to California a week or two ago.  I took him surfing, we talked business.  He’s in his 30s.  He has got a handle on what’s going on.  They are such an upcoming label.  They are out there signing, they’re doing great deals.  We’re signing another three-record deal with them.  People aren’t signing three-record deals anymore, firm record deals, and they’re putting those kind of deals out there.  They believe in their artists and I believe in them as a company.  They’re absolutely phenomenal.  But my point is, he’s way younger than me, and we vibed on everything.  We vibed on surfing, on the record industry and the guy has a great handle on the business, which is awesome.

You’re represented in North America by Tim Borror at United Talent Agency?

Always.  I work with him and Josh Kline over there.  He’s one of the smartest guys ever.  Those guys, they have a handle on things.  I have watched a lot of bands, of my ilk, my genre, come up with me and go right away. … There’s a whole scene that’s gone.  Jamey Jasta from Hatebreed called it the “core band holocaust.”  They just all went away.  They went out, they claimed too much money per night, their ticket was too high, their meet & greet price was too high, they weren’t shaking hands out by the bus.  Everyone became rock stars and before you knew it, they went the way of the Dodo [bird]. But I have agents who say, “Lets do this. Let’s take you out and ask the promoters for this amount of money. Then, let’s bring the ticket down to this amount of money.  Let’s put the meet & greet price at this amount of money.  And over here on this show I’ll be able to get you this to make up for that.” Essentially, you treat the promoters right, you treat the bands right, you treat the fans right, and you have a long career like myself where I’m still doing 800-1,000 people a night depending on where I’m going.  If I’m in L.A. I’ll do 1,500-2,000 people. It’s no problem.

What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received?

That varies, man.  Here’s the compliment that’s the best: “Your music got me through the roughest times of my life.”  That’s it for me.  Because that’s exactly what it was for me.  When I was living underneath the bridge at Western in Hollywood with four or five other punk rock kids, stealing food from am/pm and all we had was a little blaster and we were listening to any music we could get a hold of, that’s what made me survive.  When I went through an extremely violent time in my childhood with stepfathers … I always retreated to music. So somebody coming up to me going, “Your music, your lyrics, saved my life, got me through hard times,” that’s it for me, baby. I’m golden.  I don’t need any more compliments.  Usually I’ll shake their hand and give them a hug at that point.

Regarding your own history, your time as a runaway and such, are you sometimes surprised you’re still alive?

No, not now.  I’ve got a [better] head on my shoulders.  I have a wife of 18 years that keeps it together.  I have a great family, a great business model, wonderful people like Tim and Josh around me, my manager Blasko from Mercenary Management … I’m surrounding myself with good people in my life. I’m also a Freemason so I’ve got wonderful people around me at Lodge.

Knowing the shit I used to do.  Knowing it not uncommon for me to get drunk and ride the top of the tour bus to prove I was invincible at age 27, or climb huge towers at festivals. … Yeah, I’m surprised. 

But you gotta do this shit when you’re young. You gotta have youth.  It’s like my kids.  You can’t hold them back.  You put a helmet on them and then you put them on their bike and say, “Go ride.” That’s the same way life is, but life has no helmet.

“Don’t think a record deal is a magical mystical thing that’s going to change your whole life. …Your connection with the audience is what’s going to keep you going.”

Upcoming DevilDriver shows:

May 5 – Kansas City, Mo., The Riot Room
May 6 – Milwaukee, Wis., The Rave
May 7 – Flint, Mich., The Machine Shop
May 9 – Cincinnati, Ohio, Bogart’s
May 10 – Nashville, Tenn., Exit / In
May 11 – Grand Rapids, Mich., The Intersection / The Stache
May 13 – Cleveland, Ohio, Odeon Concert Club
May 14 – Chicago, Ill., Metro / Smart Bar
May 15 – Lincoln, Neb., Bourbon Theatre
May 16 – Denver, Colo., Summit Music Hall
May 17 – Salt Lake City, Utah, The Complex
May 19 – San Francisco, Calif., The Regency Ballroom
May 20 – Sacramento, Calif., Ace Of Spades
May 21 – Pomona, Calif., The Glass House Concert Hall
May 22 – Los Angeles, Calif., EchoPlex
May 23 – Tempe, Ariz., The Marquee
May 25 – Houston, Texas, Warehouse Live
May 26 – New Orleans, La., Republic New Orleans
May 27 – Dallas, Texas, Gas Monkey Bar & Grill
May 28 – Pryor, Okla., Catch The Fever Festival Grounds (Rocklahoma Festival)
May 29 – San Antonio, Texas, AT&T Center (The Bud Light River City Rockfest)
May 31 – Atlanta, Ga.,  Heaven At The Masquerade
June 1 – Jacksonville, N.C., Hooligans Music Hall
June 2 – Baltimore, Md., Baltimore Soundstage
June 3 – Philadelphia, Pa., Underground Arts
June 4 – Sayreville, N.J., Starland Ballroom
June 5 – Montreal, Quebec, Corona Theatre
June 6 – Toronto, Ontario, Opera House Concert Venue
June 7 – Millvale, Pa., Mr. Small’s Theatre
June 8 – Clifton Park, N.Y., Upstate Concert Hall
June 9 – South Burlington, Vt., Higher Ground
June 10 – Providence, R.I., Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel
June 11 – New Haven, Conn., Toad’s Place
June 13 – Columbus, Ohio, Park Street Saloon
June 14 – St. Louis, Mo., Fubar
June 16 – Albuquerque, N.M.,  Sunshine Theater
June 17 – Window Rock, Ariz., Sports Center
June 18 – San Diego, Calif., Brick By Brick
July 28 – Tolmin, Slovenia,  Alpine Valley (Metaldays)
July 29 – Saarbrucken, Germany,  Saarmageddon Festival Grounds (Saarmageddon)
July 30 – Essen, Germany,  Cafe Nord (Nord Open Air)
July 31 – Sittard, Netherlands, Poppodium Volt
Aug. 2 – Jena, Germany, F-Haus
Aug. 3 – Szekesfehervar, Hungary, Fezen Festival
Aug. 4 – Munich, Germany, Backstage (Free And Easy Festival)
Aug. 5 – Porta Westfalica, Germany,  Festival Grounds (Festival Kult)
Aug. 6 – Wacken, Germany  Wacken Open Air (Wacken Open Air Festival)
Aug. 7 – Cologne, Germany, Live Music Hall (Rheinriot)
Aug. 9 – Berlin, Germany, Bi Nuu
Aug. 10 – Josefov, Czech Republic, Brutal Assault Festival
Aug. 12 – Graz, Austria, Metal On The Hill
Aug. 13 – Frankfurt, Germany,  Zoom
Aug. 14 – Kortrijk, Belgium, Alcatraz Festival
Aug. 16 – Cardiff, Wales, Tramshed
Aug. 17 – Glasgow,Scotland, ABC1
Aug. 18 – Birmingham, England, O2 Institute Birmingham
Aug. 19 – Manchester, England, O2 Ritz Manchester
Aug. 20 – London, England, O2 Forum Kentish Town
Aug. 21 – Rodatichi, Ukraine, Zaxidfest
Jan. 21 – Perth, Australia  TBA (Legion Music Fest)
Jan. 22 – Adelaide, Australia, TBA
Jan. 26 – Melbourne, Australia, TBA
Jan. 28 – Sydney, Australia, TBA
Jan. 29 – Brisbane, Australia, TBA 

Holy Grail, Incite and Hemlock appear May 5-11 & June 13-18.  Appearing with Hatebreed May 13-27 & May 31-June 11.

For more information, please visit DevilDriver’s website, Facebook page, Instagram account and Twitter feed.