Dez Fafara is known for his powerful vocals, tireless work ethic, and down-to-earth personality. These qualities, partnered with the success of DevilDriver and Coal Chamber, have helped solidify a reputation for excellence in today’s metal industry.
With the release of the brutally honest Trust No One (Rocked review here) and a comprehensive list of tour dates ahead, both Fafara and DevilDriver are here to stay. And if there is one thing this writer can’t recommend enough, it’s to listen to the album and catch the band on tour. Both experiences are sure to deliver.
Music Existence was able to catch up with Fafara at the beginning of May to discuss how he stays sane while on tour, the DevilDriver show experience, Trust No One, and more.
Please note: The dates listed below pertain to the day of the interview, not the date the interview is being posted.
ME: Thank you for taking the time out to talk with me. To start things off, I wanted to ask about your performance last night in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and some of your tweets following that show. What happened?
Fafara: Right. We went in. It was a really good pre-show. We had almost 500 people, and the floor for some reason halfway through the show got really violent. Look. I love when the pit is going, and I love when people are dancing. I come from a punk rock background, but I don’t like violence in the pit.
Three to four security guys went in and dragged some guys out, and then a bunch of people starting pointing down at the floor. I thought someone had gone down, so I stopped into the last song, and just said, “What’s going on?” What it turned out to be was everybody was pissed because security dragged some guys off, and I told the rest of the crowd, “Don’t ever stop the show for that. I stopped, because I thought somebody was down. You’ve got to let security do their job. “
DevilDriver has something that goes along with it when we go places. I don’t know what it is; it’s either my punk rock background or the music itself. But it really lends to a real heavy floor sometimes. Yeah. It lends to a very heavy floor.
ME: For metal shows that do have that heavier floor, at what point would you say something crosses over the line?
Fafara: Last night! Last night was definitely it for me. Some guys got violent, and that’s not why we’re here. We’re here to have a good time. It’s the first thing that I say when I step out on the stage: “Have a good time.” And that’s with sincerity from my heart, like “Let’s have a really good time.”
Out of the hundreds of bands out there, we seem to be the one that incites a very heavy floor, so last night was one of those moments where I’m really glad security was there and doing their job. People hitting me up on Twitter were like, “The security was real heavy-handed.” No man, they were doing their job to keep people safe. You’ve got to realize that I had some people in the front row with their kids that were like eight or nine years old. You never want to see anything go down like that.
ME: Right. I can understand that, too, being at certain shows and wanting to move out of the way.
Fafara: You know, when I was growing up, I went to a lot of punk rock shows, like real punk rock. And some of those shows carry an edge of impending violence. When you walk in the shows, you’ve got butterflies. You didn’t know what was going to go down. For some reason, DevilDriver has become that. I’d like people to be aware of their surroundings when they come out and they see us. Make sure to stay away from the floor if you’re not going to dance. And if you are on the floor, for God’s sake, don’t get violent. Have a good time with people. That’s what it’s about.
ME: You have an extensive list of tour dates over the next couple of months. How do you keep yourself going throughout all of these performances, and how do you manage being away from home for such a long time?
Fafara: Well right now, being away from home isn’t an issue, because I was home for a very long time. I’ve only been gone for 10 days or whatever, and we’re circling back to LA in the next 12 days, so I’ll see my wife.
How you keep yourself together out here is just getting into a Groundhog Day Scenario, right? Where I’m going to bed by 3 am. I’m up at 1:30 or 2:00 pm. I take a minute, meditate on my day, and have tea. I get in at least 100 sit-ups and some pushups in. Do some yoga. Get something to eat. I’m on a schedule right now, I take a shower in the next half hour, and then I’ve got a meet and greet at 5:00 pm. I’ve had a lot of press today, so I’ve been on the phone all day. I’ve got more press from 6:00 -7:00 tonight, and then about 7:00, I come back here by myself and listen to some chill music between 7:00-7:30. Then at 7:30 pm, it’s on. My band members are back here. Friends are back here. We’re jamming tunes. If it’s legal, we’re smoking weed. We’re having cocktails. We’re getting ready to have a good time and go to a show.
ME: What music do you listen to before the show?
Fafara: I’m going to ease into my night, right? So if I’m going to chill out, I’m going to listen to Bob Marley or something like that. Basically, every night back here starts with “Hotel California” by the Eagles, and then from there, it goes everywhere. It goes from psychobilly to punk to metal to outlaw country.
Some of the people that have been in the back lounge with me have been amazed at the music choices, because they’re all over the place. I have to laugh and tell them, “I suffer from ADD, so just handle it.” You might hear Black Flag into Waylon Jennings. That’s just the way it’s going to go. Laughs.
ME: Like you brought up earlier, DevilDriver has a lot of younger fans and seems to attract a crowd that crosses generation. What do you think it is about your music that transcends those lines or gets these younger fans interested?
Fafara: I don’t know if it’s the music or something they’re taking from my life when they hear interviews. I don’t know, but we most definitely have a very diverse crowd. We have a very young crowd base, as well, for a band that’s obviously not in our twenties. And that’s a good thing, right? For the career, that’s a great thing.
But you know? I don’t know. I’ve never tried to analyze it. I just speak my mind in interviews, and I say my piece. I think people enjoy that. Then the music, of course, and the lyrics are relatable. I talk a lot about keeping positivity in your life and avoiding negative outcomes, and how to get through the struggles of daily life. I come from a very blue collar work background. I ran away from home at a young age. I’ve got a lot of life experiences to pass on, so maybe those things are relating not only to the dude who’s 35 coming to see me, but also to that 10, 11, or 13-year old that’s listening to us.
It’s pretty crazy. Like a week before we left for the tour, I was with my wife and we’re in a Ralphs or whatever buying stuff for the tour. She goes, “I want to stop in Starbucks and get some coffee.” We walk in and there’s a kid in front of me. He had a Van Halen shirt on and another kid had a DevilDriver shirt on. These guys were like 13 years old. I kind of hid off in the corner for a minute, and once they spotted me, we ended up talking. It was a moment that was like, “OK, there’s something going on here.” It’s really cool to see, especially with the youth.
ME: Right, especially since metal is not something that’s necessarily receiving constant airplay.
Fafara: Right? And I’ve been on the radio. I’ve had gold records. I’ve been in a band that was on the radio, and I saw radio shows, bigger audiences, and this and that. The underground path is the least traveled, but it’s the path that I’ve chosen.
Even with my first band, that’s the path we chose, and then radio picked it up. It was never built for the radio. It was never like I was going to make my art for masses. That automatically takes the art out of the art, so I’ve never done that for either of my bands. It just so happens that radio picked up on my first band a lot. Obviously, DevilDriver’s much heavier than that, but we do get some airplay around. I dig that, because that turns people on to us.
ME: I was wondering what drove you to write the lyrics on DevilDriver’s seventh album, Trust No One. It’s such an honest piece.
Fafara: Right, it’s a very poignant record lyrically. Where I’m at in my life, where I’ve come, where I’ve been, it’s like this is the time to [put something like this out]. I’ve got a lot more in me so I’d say the next few records are definitely going to be the ones to watch in DevilDriver history—not only lyrically, but also musically. I’m surrounded by incredible talent. To say that new players up the ante would be an understatement.
I don’t know, man; it’s just where I’ve been. I was on the road for over 20 years. I had never taken a year, a year-and-a-half off from playing in my entire music career. I was with my kids and my wife, and this time off gave me a real perspective on things. I watched who called me and who didn’t—just to say hello, not to ask for a tour, not to make money, or not to do business. Like, “Hey, how’s your day going, Dez? I saw an Instagram of you surfing with your family. How was it?”
Those people were far and fucking few between. So I really narrowed my circle to a point where now I know anyone that is in my life is there for a reason. That’s what made me write a lot of those tunes—songs like “Bad Deeds,” “Trust No One,” or “This Deception.” If you really read the lyrics to “This Deception,” everybody’s been through that experience. Every single person has been like, “Hey, I thought you were my best friend, and in a minute, you changed your tune.”
ME: Does that feed into the album art, too?
Fafara: Right. It’s the old adage: a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The person that said, “Man, I’ll always be here for you no matter what. You’re my little brother. I’m always going to be here for you, and then in your most fucking perilous time, when you need them, they fucking split and have no problem with it. They let you down in some way. This song [“Trust No One”] is really written toward one person, but it’s also written toward that attitude. You get something brutally honest with it when it comes to Trust No One. That’s for sure.
ME: You mentioned taking your first break in over 20 years. After the tour, are you planning to start writing another album or will there be another respite in store?
Fafara: We’ve already started writing. We started writing probably a week after I stopped recording. I constantly write, and I’ve got like 40 books of lyrics that I’ve never even used. You just have to keep writing, because it’s what keeps your edge. And it’s what keeps you. You learn different patterns and different ways of saying things. I’ve always enjoyed the writing process, so even if I write daily, I may not use anything I wrote in a year for the record. It may take me to hear the music to start writing, which is exactly what happened with Trust No One. I had a lot of lyrics in front of me, but until I heard the songs coming, I couldn’t get the gist of where I had to go.
ME: Have you ever thought of publishing your unused lyrics, like in a book?
Fafara: I have. Some of them are so personal that it’s hard. It’s my job to share personal stuff, so we’ll see. My wife is always pushing me toward it. “You need to release this.” Or I’ll find her sitting in the closet reading a book that I’ve got in there. And she’s just like, “You need to share this.”
I’m not ready yet. I’m very protective like that. I’m very private, so there are just some things that have to come their own way over time.
ME: I can get that. Then the name DevilDriver speaks to the bells that drive away evil, and I’d also read that you were exposed to Italian witchcraft at a younger age through your grandparents. What was the experience like, or what did it teach you?
Fafara: I think [I learned] the love and respect of nature, of the universe, and karma, as well as the sense that a mantra can achieve goals or the essence of what it is to be magical. I learned to read Tarot cards when I was eight. I have balls that I can gaze into constantly. I learned how to water scribe when I was 13.
At the same time, I was forced to go to a Catholic church with a stepfather (that, to say the least, we didn’t get along) and a Baptist school, and exposed to organized, manmade religion. I guess what I’ve learned from all of that—or when you say what’s it like to be exposed at a young age—I learned to take everything in small doses. That way, you can sift through it, and feel what’s right and what’s wrong.
I just came to the conclusion that organized, manmade religion is complete bullshit minus probably Buddhism and Daoism. I would subscribe to those before the Bible. Laughs.
You know what I mean? Those kinds of things—like actually having religion forced on you and then seeing what religion does to humanity and the millions of lives that it’s just wasted away—make my pagan roots really stick out even more.
ME: I also wanted to ask you about your tattoos. Do you have a process behind selecting them or future work planned?
Fafara: Laughs. I wish I did, because I’ve got a lot of cover-up work and stuff that over the years make me question, “Why did I get that?” I look at some of the artists out now, and I can’t believe what they’re able to put on skin. It’s always spur of the moment with me. If we’re next to a tattoo studio and someone’s available, I’m like, “OK, let’s do this.”
But I’m fortunate. I have a lot of my legs open and a huge parcel on my back. I’m going to save that for something dedicated to my Freemason lodge, my Masonic Lodge, 542 in North Hollywood. My next piece that I’m getting is my best friend, my dog who just passed away, a Doberman named Bacchus. I’m going to get his face from a famous picture, well famous for me, with his name and everything in it. That’s definitely my next piece, and I’ll get that when I get home.
ME: I’m sorry to hear about Bacchus. My next question is I had seen a Native Pride DevilDriver shirt. Could you tell me a bit about your relationship with the Navajo people, where the proceeds for the shirts are going, etc.?
Fafara: I’ve had a long relationship with the American Indian people. The Navajo people are the greatest. I have a long relationship with a lot of native tribes in North America—not from only playing the reservations but having them come out and speak to me. I’ve been playing the Native American flute for probably 15 years. I recorded a thing called High Desert Moon that you can check out online. There’s just something so special and incredible about the native people and this land. What we’ve done to them over the years is just a fucking travesty.
I love to do charity work. I even thought to be a Freemason to have more avenues to do charity work, and this is very close to my heart. All the proceeds are going to go to the school there to keep their language within the reservation. Language is an important piece of culture, and as the elders die out, a lot of the younger generation isn’t picking it up. And if they don’t, it dies.
They need the tools to be able to pay the teachers, buy the programs they need, or buy the computers they need to keep the language in the schools. I think it’s just the most important thing. Once that real ancient language is lost, it’s going to be a travesty beyond belief so I’m trying to do what I can do. With charity, every little drop in the bucket matters.
ME: Definitely. From my exposure to Ojibwe customs through a friend, I understand how important it is to not lose your culture.
Fafara: It’s so beautiful, man. It’s so incredible. Mothers, fathers, children, and grandchildren all come out and cook for you. It’s unbelievable. You can feel the energy when you’re there. It’s good to be able to give back.
ME: My last question is just, do you have anything to say to fans?
Fafara: It’s always the same thing, right? Thank you very much. I’ve been able to do art for a very long time based on the people that dig what I do. It’s an incredible honor to first of all be able to make music and second of all, to share it and continue to have a career. It’s an absolute honor. I’m humbled daily by it, so thank you.
DEVILDRIVER W/Hatebreed, The Devil You Know and Act of Defiance:
5/31: Atlanta, GA @ Masquerade
6/1: Jacksonville, NC @ Hooligans
6/2: Baltimore, MD @ Sound Stage
6/3: Philadelphia, PA @ Underground Arts
6/4: Sayreville, NJ @ Starland Ballroom
6/5: Montreal, QC @ Corona
6/6: Toronto, ON @ Opera House
6/7: Millvale, PA @ Mr Smalls
6/8: Albany, NY @ Upstate Concert Hall
6/9: Burlington, VT @ Higher Ground
6/10: Providence, RI @ Lupos
6/11: New Haven, CT @ Toad’s Place
DEVILDRIVER Headline Dates
6/13: Columbus, OH @ Park Street Saloon
6/14: St. Louis, MO @ Fubar
6/16: Albuquerque, NM @ Sunshine Theater
6/17: Window Rock, AZ @ Window Tock Sports Center
6/18: San Diego, CA @ Brick By Brick
29.07.16 DE – Saarbrücken / Saarmageddon
30.07.16 DE – Essen / Nord Open Air
02.08.16 DE – Jena / F-Haus
04.08.16 DE – München / Backstage
05.08.16 DE – Porta Westfalica / Festivalkult
06.08.16 DE – Wacken / Wacken Open Air
07.08.16 DE – Köln / RheinRiot
09.08.16 DE – Berlin / BiNuu
12.08.16 AT – Graz / Metal On The Hill Festival
13.08.16 DE – Frankfurt / Zoom
16.08.2016 UK – Cardiff / Tramshed
17.08.2016 UK – Glasgow / O2 ABC
18.08.2016 UK – Birmingham / O2 Institute
19.08.2016 UK – Manchester / O2 Ritz
20.08.2016 UK – London / O2 Forum Kentish Town