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“Why would you trust Ja Rule with this thing?!” – DevilDriver’s Dez Fafara (The VH Interview)

‘Tis the season to either get your brolly out or wear your bikini with pride – or your mankini, we’re not sexist.

Yes, you guessed it, the festival season is finally upon us and Download, one of the biggest heavy metal festivals in Europe, will loudly open its doors on the 9th of June for a 3 day unrelenting and brutal musical orgy.

DevilDriver grace one of its stages on the Sunday and I caught up with lead singer, Dez Fafara in anticipation of their upcoming European tour. We discussed eclecticism in music, big tough heavy metal dudes listening to Outlaw country music in tour buses and we touched upon that old perennial, the cannabis debate…

Dez, you’ll be touring Europe in June, starting on the 9th of June and playing all the major heavy metal summer festivals. Have you already started rehearsing? How long does DevilDriver usually starts rehearsing for before going on tour?

If we’ve just come off a tour, we won’t rehearse. But we’ve been off now for a few weeks so we’re gonna have one rehearsal….the next shows for us are with Danzig and Ministry. Then we come over to see you guys, play Download at Donington, Graspop, Download Paris and Hellfest, then we come back and we play in Chicago with Slipknot, Slayer, Ozzy at the Chicago Open Air. Then we’re off to South America in August and then we start an 11 week run in the U.S and Canada. By the time we come on December the 7th, there won’t be one band on the planet that will have played as many shows as we have this year.

What an extremely busy schedule! You must have incredible stamina!  

You know, I really enjoy touring, the stage and my band. I love making music and if you do something that you love, it’s really not work.

I’ve always wondered if festivals throughout the world have different atmospheres that are particular to them…

Oh yeah, of course. Here in Europe, you’ve got something like Donington. I mean that is just so iconic. I grew up watching those shows on video. There’s nothing like being in a band, coming out of your bus in the morning and walking in the catering scene, seeing 30 bands that you haven’t seen in a year, 150 crew people that you know, it’s a pleasure to be on the festival grounds and an honour to play. There is a billion bands on the planet and DevilDriver are invited to play so we are very grateful, in particular to Download Paris and Hellfest. I think that we are the only band that is allowed to play both of those, because I have great relationships with both of them. They knew that we’re not coming back until next year so they allowed us to play them both.

It’s always an honour to be invited and I’ve always been very appreciative of our fans. Festival atmospheres are amazing. I’m the kind of musician who puts on a pair of glasses and walks through the tents and goes out and hangs out with people. On the one hand, I’m a very private person but sometimes I just get up and take a walk and wanna say hi to the people who are listening to our music.

I gather you will not be part of next year’s Fyre festival with its rarified atmosphere!  I read your remark on twitter about the whole Fyre saga (the now doomed festival was supposed to cater for extremely rich people doing meditation in between bands…) and you said it’s not surprising that nowadays, bands are asking for the money upfront. Well, after reading about Fyre, I’m not surprised either!

You know, I saw the funniest thing about that on T.V, I think. It looks like the rapper Ja Rule is the one that threw that thing. Someone said: “why would you trust Ja Rule with this thing? We haven’t seen him in the last ten years career wise, so how do you think he’s going to run a festival?”

We just got back from South Africa for the first time in our career, and for something like that, with a new promoter, we ask for the money upfront, because if something goes wrong, it’s your problem, not ours. South Africa was beautiful, the promoter turned out to be one of the most gracious and professional people I’ve ever worked with. But, I’ve had just the opposite happen where I’ve been paid in full, I’ve flew 14 hours, I’ve got there and the stage isn’t built. The sound equipment is just coming in, and now you’re not going on at 11 o’clock at night but at 4 in the morning! We have a 6 o’clock plane to catch in order to get back home, so you can’t even play the show! I just gather my guys up, we go back to the airport and we fly – because it’s not my problem. You run into that kind of problem in any part of the world but I know it would never happen in the U.K.

Yes, indeed! I can confirm that Download Festival is extremely well organised! 

Oh, Andy Copping, Download’s promoter, has literally made my career in the U.K since I was in my youth with Coal Chamber. There’s only 2 chaps that I’ve worked with… one of them is Andy from Download and the other one is a great guy from Kilimanjaro Live Ltd called Alan Day. They are both extremely pro. And for sure, Andy Copping has one of the most pro run festivals out there and I’m extremely appreciative that I am coming over.

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We’re talking about DevilDriver attending huge festivals, but do you also sometimes play really small venues?

On the last run we had a few shows that were 450/550 people. Those are the real punk rock shows and you take that energy from that crowd and you bring that to the big stage. But in turn, you take that huge festival feel of the big stage and you bring it to a small club. Both work hand in hand in tandem very well.

I’d like to talk a little bit about your very eclectic taste in music, which is something that is not really the norm amongst heavy metal fans.

I’m well known to love all kind of music, where would life be without Black Flag, Black Sabbath, Bauhaus and Billie Holiday? What would I do if I was with my wife in the rain and I couldn’t put on Billie Holiday or Sade? Or on a great day driving to go surfing I could not put on some Black Sabbath or Judas Priest? And some days call for Immortal or Venom when others call for Johnny Cash. I love all music. It’s a thing in metal to be a purist, to think it’s cool to say “oh, I only listen to heavy metal, I think it’s cool.” But, you don’t wear your leather pants to go to bed! And “hey, I just saw you at the grocery store and you had a Pokemon shirt on”. I always tell people, If you don’t listen to other type of music, you miss out on 80% of what’s great about life.

I know that when you go on tour, you choose who will come on tour with you, and you always pick very diverse artists. It must a bit dangerous in metal, to have different types of bands playing together! That’s a really bold move.

Of course! 15 years ago when I was wearing a Johnny Cash shirt on stage, people would look at me like I was insane. When Coal Chamber came out, I was wearing Bauhaus, Siouxsie and The Banshees shirts on stage and people would be like “What? You’re not wearing an Iron Maiden t-shirt, so you’re not cool!”  Well, yeah, I love them too and they are some of the nicest guys I’ve ever met, but I also love darker stuff, such as Bauhaus, Love and Rockets, old U2, Elvis… I love it all!

Music surrounds me daily and I’m not gonna be stuck to just one genre and that is exactly why DevilDriver has had such a long career. We’ve had our 7th album come out (2016’s Trust No One) and it debuted higher than any of the past records just about all over the world and had critical acclaim. That is why our fans just came up with calling us “The California Groove Machine”, they were saying that we were a machine, a touring machine. The press we’re trying to put labels on us, saying that we were part of this new American heavy metal movement like Lamb Of God. We don’t sound anything like them! – They are a great band and great friends of mine by the way! So our fans eventually made up our own moniker for us. And it’s really strange, because last year, Spotify added “groove” in the metal genres and they put DevilDriver as the top artist. So this really happened because of our fans. And we have our own identity with our fans. That’s what keeps us going and why we’ve been around for a while.

You’ve just said that you were touring until the 7th of December, but I know that you are recording a country style record. Can you tell us more about this project?

Well, the music is all done. I’ll do vocals over May and June – a lot of the other artists are done or need other stuff to do, but I’ve always gone against the grain, be it with Coal Chamber or DevilDriver, just making sure we do our different things. Something that people don’t know, specifically in the U.K or mainland Europe, is that if you come onto a metal bus, from Cannibal Corpse on down, you’re going to go in the back lounge and hear Hank III, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, all these Outlaw country artists. There is a massive amount of respect within heavy metal for them and vice and versa. You have guys like Jamey Johnson, John Cash Jr who all love heavy metal. So DevilDriver is doing an Outlaw country covers album, heavy metal style, the way that I’ve always heard these songs.

The one example that I can give you is ‘Ghost Riders in the Sky’ by Johnny Cash, we recorded it in the Cash Cabin in Tennessee outside of Memphis with John Cash Jr, Johnny Cash’s son and his beautiful wife Anna Cash who’s got an incredible voice. Randy from Lamb Of God is coming out in May and he’s going to be on it. There is a ton of guests, maybe over 25 and every one of them is a Grammy award nominee and loves country. There’s Danzig, who’s confirmed that he’ll be a guest on it as well, so we’re looking forwards to getting all of this done.

The one thing that everyone is always asking me about is the release date and for something like this, it’s quite impossible to give an answer. When it’s done, it’s done and then you can get it out. That being said, I’d like it to be published in April or June next year.

I must admit that I am not very familiar with the Outlaw country style. What artists do you think I should start listening to in order to get familiar with the genre?

Start with Johnny Cash who is one of my mentors. He writes lyrics like – “I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die.” There’s not a heavy metal or black metal lyric that is heavier than that! Listen to Hank William sr, Hank III, who’s got an amazing voice and lyrics, go to William Jennings… You got to love lyrics to appreciate country music. They’re writing about things like “how I was raised blue collar, my dad was a construction site worker, I know what it’s like to be on a site all day long, I know about a hard life, I had a stepfather who committed suicide, I’ve ran away from home, slept under bridges, stole food, been in prison…”

And the things that I write about connect with people, that is why country music connects with me, because it comes from the soul and the heart, they tell you what’s going on and where they’re at.

I’ve read about your life story and the hardship that you encountered, I did think that someone should write a movie about you.

Yes, I’ve actually been approached for books and things like that. A lot of people want me to write an autobiography. If I do that I have to tell the truth, but by doing so, there could be some people thrown under the bus. At this point, I’d rather much be a gentleman.

So what else have you got coming up outside of DevilDriver?

I like to keep busy! My wife and I have started a management company called the Oracle Management and folded in another great manager and all his bands. We’ve just moved DevilDriver there and it’s doing great. We have Sun Cult, which sells surfboards, surfwear and wax… I enjoy the building of things, I like to start businesses and watch them do well, there’s something within me that loves to do that.

The one that pricked up my interest is your medicinal marijuana venture, simply because myself and a few of my friends have benefitted greatly from using CBD oil from hemp (legal in the U.K!!) in order to get relief from serious chronic pain. That stuff really works!

Yes, CBD has helped me as well. You know, I think that nations and countries should really understand something and the people know it. Big Pharma controls our health and poisons our bodies and our food has been poisoned by GMO’s.

I’ve had ADD and ADHD since I was a child and my parents put me on Ritalin for it during 10 years or so, and it’s a terrible drug. So my support for marijuana does not come from the normal stoner perspective. I know for a fact that if you have a seizure and take a tincture from marijuana, that will be stopped. I know that it can attack some cancer cells. I myself like to use it because it focuses me.

So I started DevilDriver OG and we are working with a company called Jade House Extracts and we’re now available in several dispensaries. We’re doing very well and I’d like to think that we are doing the work of good people.

You have to ask yourself why governments and pharmaceutical companies won’t allow you to do that, why there are so in charge of your life. Everywhere you go there is a camera on you, every street that you use, you need to pay a toll. Every part of your life is in charge… It’s becoming a prison but you think you’re free. People should be free to use herbs, anything that was put on this planet before man came on this planet should be legal.

I think that the U.K. is going to come around. People are going to see the money, you can make billions of dollars if you wanna go down that route, the money will be huge and you guys have the biggest underground growing culture and when it’s come up from there, you are going to have quality medical marijuana that is going to help your pain, seizures nights, your children.

I raised my kids with marijuana in the household and now they are all adults. Two of them don’t smoke and have done in the past whilst one of them does, not regularly but whenever he wants to chill out on a Saturday, he will. I’d much rather my children smoked marijuana then drank alcohol. I myself am sober from alcohol because I watched the damage that it did to my band, my crew and other musicians.

I believe that in the next 2 to 3 years it will be legal around the world. I know that there are law makers in the U.K that see the benefits of this, not only to the economy, but also to the people and sooner or later, someone is going to step up and allow this.

Marijuana is a huge part of my life, I wake up in the morning and I smoke it, I get on the phone and I start doing business. The old adage is “ the stoner is the guy on the couch who can’t do anything.” But hey, I’ve got five successful businesses! I’m not your typical stoner but I’m high 24 hours a day!

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DevilDriver‘s latest album, Trust No One is out now via Napalm Records.

You can catch them during their European tour this May, June and July, including an appearance at Download on Sunday June 11th. Full dates below.

09/05 – CH, Zurich / Dynamo
10/06 – Paris, Download Festival
11/06 – UK, Newbury / Download Festival
13/06 – NL, Alkmaar / Victorie
14/06 – DE, Essen / Turock
15/06 – AT, Nickelsdorf / Nova Rock Festival
16/06 – DE, Nürnberg / Hirsch
17/06 – BE, Dessel / Graspop Metal Meeting
18/06 – FR, Clisson / Hellfest
20/06 – NL, Hengelo / Metropol
21/06 – DE, Hamburg / Knust
22/06 – DK, Copenhagen / Copenhell
23/06 – FI, Kauhajoki / Nummirock Festival
16/07 – IL, Bridgeview / Toyota Park

More at devildriver.com and downloadfestival.co.uk.

Feature Image Credit: Ben Hoffman.