Dez Fafara is one of the busiest men in rock music. The DevilDriver vocalist manages five companies among which his family-run Oracle Management represents some of the biggest names in dark theatrical rock aesthetics, including Murderdolls’ front-man Wednesday 13, heavyweight shock rockers Cradle of Filth and, while the current pandemic may have temporarily scuppered his immediate plans, the former Coal Chamber star has not let COVID stop him from continuing to build his business empire.
In 2021, we can expect a lot more from Dez, including a new record label, a film company (with production starting in January,) and much more from DevilDriver. Recently we reached out to Dez digitally and discussed his agoraphobia, his new album and his adoration for the UK. It’s a conversation that acts as a confirmation of Fafara’s appeal and his sheer command of the metal scene he has been apart of for many years. It proves his word is still full of advice.
Across our conversation, one thing became clear, Fafara is a man who knows himself. Having spent more than a few years perfecting his sound and carving his place within the music industry, now we approach our conversation fully aware that Fafara has seen and done it all, already. While it may seem imposing, in truth, Fafara is far closer to the wiser older brother who has returned from university with even wiser words on what the world is really all about.
In a world like ours right now, we sure do need some extra guidance. So in the below conversation, Fafara has got some good advice for bands starting out in the industry, a vision of the future with regards to selling records and some keen insight into the brand new sounds he and DevilDriver are putting out this year. Below, we catch up with Dez Fafara.
Mike Milenko: At this point in your career, you have built two very successful bands from the ground up. You have just released a new album which sounds like your best work to date, what keeps you driving forward after going through so much?
Dez Fafara: “Thank you for saying that. I’m not gonna just glance over those words, they mean a lot to me.
“There’s a lot of work that has gone into this record. I think I’m addicted to building businesses, I’m addicted to seeing things work and how they work. I never look at failure as failure, I see it as another step to winning. So, I feel very fortunate and very blessed, there’s a lot of gratitude in my heart for the players that have been around me my whole life, whether that be in Coal Chamber or DevilDriver, cause I don’t know where I would be without them as well.
“The Oracle Management tends to have a dark aesthetic, you gotta have some gothic roots or background to work with us. Obviously, Cradle has a dark edge, Jinger has a dark edge, Wednesday 13 and 69 Eyes, too — you gotta be dark. We’ve passed on 50 bands in the past 24 months, some of those were pretty big acts. It’s just a situation where it has to work well with us. I have a goth/punk rock background, that’s my love. I only found metal because I discovered Motorhead.”
MM: It is a crucial time for artists, both established and those starting out. Do you have any advice for those trying to make it in the music industry during COVID?
DF: “Write from your heart because this is a moment in time that you’re never gonna get back. You’re gonna be able to write some stuff that should be incredibly deep. Obviously, make sure you’re all over social media. I mean, this is coming from a guy who is probably more private than anybody in the industry, you know, but I would say get on socials, start pushing your band on socials and get your music out there, push it onto people.
“It also serves you correct if you play your hometown. If you sell out a club in your hometown, that’s a very big deal. If you do that, you can move on to New York, L.A, London. This is especially true for those artists in the UK. Go and try to sell out a show in London, because you’re gonna get what you want out of it for sure. If you can make it in London, in New York and L.A. without getting shit thrown at you, you’re gonna win. The UK has been a stronghold for my career for my whole life.”
MM: You’ve shown the UK love many times throughout your career, what is it about our little island that keeps bringing you back?
DF: “I feel like I live there. It has always felt like home. I know every fucking street, I know every place to go eat, I’ve been to every town multiple times. I know where the good Indian restaurants are in Manchester.
“I love the UK music scene; my vinyl collection is just full of UK artists. I’ve been there my whole life, off and on, sometimes 4 times a year. I have good friends who live there. I love it, the UK is so real. I wrote ‘Another Night in London’ because it’s so f*cking real, the people there; if they like you, they like you, if they hate you, they just fucking hate you. If you’re in a bar and you say the wrong thing, you’re gonna get knocked on your ass, I appreciate that. I’m a guy who grew up wearing Doc Martens, I’m a very blue-collar guy.”
MM: You seem excited for fans to hear this new album, is that why you brought the release date forward?
DF: “Well, we brought it forward because it seemed timely, also there’s a thing they did over here, where they weren’t gonna allow records that are bundled with t-shirts or anything else to count on (music sales tracking system) Soundscan, past October 9th. So, we moved it up a week because we had four months of pre-sales.
“I don’t know why they are doing that to the music industry, so, now if you sell a t-shirt with a record or a t-shirt with a stream, that stream no longer counts on Soundscan. I don’t know who the fuck came up with that idea. It seems like they are just trying to screw musicians even more, but that is the reason why we moved the date. But yes, I am very excited to share this music.”
MM: How is Dealing with Demons different from your back catalogue of previous work?
DF: “Normally, over the past years, if you asked me what a song was about, I’d never tell you. Because if you were going through a dark time and you think the song is about a dark day, I don’t wanna tell you that it’s actually about a sunny day, as it will ruin everything for you. So, it’s been a long career of not discussing what my lyrics actually mean.
“This record is quite different, Dealing with Demons is exactly that; dealing with my own demons and putting some personal stuff forward for people to know about me, and dealing with society’s demons and society’s ills as well. So, I’m talking about a lot of things that people should be talking about to other people. You may listen to the song, hear what the song is about, and then go and speak with a friend, a colleague, a roommate, about the subject matter. It’s exciting for me to be able to open up, I put one of the most personal songs on there first, which was ‘Keep Away from Me,’ regarding social distancing my whole life.”
MM: How has that affected you?
DF: “I’ve been terribly agoraphobic. I used to come home from school and sit and play with Lego rather than interact with anybody. I’ve always been that kind of person. It’s a very personal thing to say to a fan base that has followed me for a long time, that also knows the kind of travelling and meet and greets that I do, letting them know that I’m very socially awkward. But crazy enough, because of social media, a lot of people are responding to me like ‘wow, I’m just like that, how do you deal with it?’”
MM: How do you manage to become as successful as you are, and have such a striking on-stage presence with that kind of social anxiety?
DF: “I don’t know. I don’t know how to look back on an accomplishment and regulate what success is. There’re bigger bands than me, there are smaller bands than me. So, what is success? I think success is doing something you love; I love to write, I love to record, and I love to perform. Half an hour before going on stage and about 15 minutes after leaving it, there’s something else that completely takes over. I take it back to a punk rock mentality in my head. I go out there to absolutely kill.
“I say, if you’re a band in your 20s going on before or after me, because your agent made a better call than mine [laughs] get ready, cause I’m gonna take it to you. As soon as that feeling stops within me, I’ll stop playing live. There’s something that takes over. You know that feeling after you get into a fistfight and you don’t remember fighting, it’s all autopilot? That’s what happens to me before stage, as long as that is always with me, I’m good to go.”
MM: With music being consumed in an entirely different way in 2020, is the art of the album dead?
DF: “Hmmm, not for collectors. For example, on our pre-sales, all of our cassette tapes sold out, all of our vinyl’s sold out. Everybody’s CDs are now becoming hard to sell. I was told in a discussion recently that nobody even downloads anymore, everybody streams. It went from selling records and having gold records on the wall, to ‘ok, everybody is downloading now,’ to everybody streaming instead. It takes more and more money out of the band’s pocket.
“So, I just keep going with it, you know. Obviously, at this point I’m not releasing music to get rich, that’s not the place to go, it’s better to go to business school if you wanna do that. I say to anybody who is making music right now, do it for the right reasons, do it for your love of music. People are streaming right now, but who knows how it’s gonna change in the future.”
MM: ‘Sail’ has over twenty million Spotify streams alone. Were you expecting it to blow up the way it did?
DF: “It’s unbelievable. I’m sure at some point the label made some money back, but even a million views are not gonna make you a lot of money. If you know the quantifying factors towards digital streaming and digital views, you gotta get a lot of views to actually make a decent living off of that. Within any art; painter, sculptor, band, don’t ever fucking chase money. You’ll end up skewing your art.
“I can smell bullshit a mile away. I know the bands that are trying to get to the radio. It sickens me, especially within metal, because metal has to be visceral, volatile, and vicious, otherwise I don’t tend to lean towards it, to be honest. I’m not saying we are the heaviest band on the planet either, obviously, we’re not death metal, we’re not black metal. There’s a lot of artforms inside metal which are heavier, but I think ‘heavy’ also comes from a darkness, and that’s definitely something DevilDriver has a hold of.”
MM: ‘Wishing’, sounds different because of its clean vocals, did you aim to surprise your fans with this?
DF: “No, fuck, I tried to do that song all sorts of ways; I sang it the lowest and gnarliest I could, I sang it high and screaming. I laid that song, the verse, like really punk rock at one point. It was the only song that was really giving me Hell on this riff. I told my producer we would take a 15-minute break and then when we come back in, I’m gonna smoke some really good pot and then I want you to press record. I just did what came naturally to me.
“People don’t realise that in Coal Chamber, I sang 75 per cent clean. I just used my Sisters of Mercy, and my Bauhaus background to go in and just lay it. I’ve watched clean vocals fuck up a lot of bands releases, so, I was really trepidatious about doing that within DevilDriver, in the very beginning of this record I told the guys ‘don’t focus on the brand, don’t focus on the back catalogue, don’t focus on what the label wants, don’t even focus on what the people want. If I just met you guys today, what kind of music would we make if we all took our influences and put them together?’ I knew I had to take that song and give it what was needed, rather than take it and make it specifically for DevilDriver.
“We released ‘Wishing’ right as the record came out, and it was my manager and the people around me that was like ‘don’t worry about it, it just so happens that this song is getting massive reviews.’ The only people who don’t seem to be sure if they know about that, are the real kind of purist guys, and that’s fine with me cause I’d rather piss those guys off more than anything, you know.”
MM: Will there be any DevilDriver live streams happening?
DF: “Well, we’ve been talking about it. California has obviously been hit with COVID pretty hard, I’ve got a couple of my members that suffer from asthma and stuff, so to put us all in a room in a space with the crew as we rehearse for a week, then go to do the live stream with a new crew and new space, we really don’t wanna do that right now, so, do I think it will happen this year? No, do I think it will happen early next year? Yes.
“Especially since touring is rumoured to not be returning until Fall next year or even 2022, which breaks my heart for my crew, the promotors, Vicky Hungerford from Bloodstock, all of the crew, from those who serve the beer to the guy who gets the towels for people, it’s terrible right now. F*ck man, I just wanna see this thing go away.”
MM: Is there anything left you would like to achieve before calling it a day?
DF: “I just wanna give it my best, I wanna get very personal. The next four, five, six, records you’re gonna hear from DevilDriver after Dealing With Demons Volumes 1 and 2, are gonna be insane, they’re gonna be totally next level. What’s cool about us, is that we don’t fit in with any scene, we are not black metal, we are not death metal, our fans labelled us as groove metal but now they hashtag us with #darkgroove, which is like ‘ok, now you really get it.’
“So, in answer to that question, after Dealing With Demons, I want to give some more records of the best of my ability, then I want to walk out on top rather than stagger and fall and be like ‘ok, you guys hated that record, I’m out.’ The writing that DevilDriver is coming up with, the motivation to get in the studio, it’s on a whole other level, man. I’ve seen a lot of artists fall short when they should have left a minute or two earlier. I don’t wanna leave with two seconds to midnight, you know what I’m saying, I want to leave in time. I never want to disappoint anybody with my art.”
Research contributor: Chris Brown