Our world is on fire right now, both literally and figuratively. As the pandemic has shut down business as usual for the music industry, many bands have put everything on hold. Not DevilDriver. Dez Fafara and the band see an opportunity. Fafara explains that this isn't just an opportunity to rethink the stale way that metal bands approach each album cycle, but a chance to bring music into the world at a time when people really need it.
"Dealing With Demons" is the rawest and most personal album that Fafara has ever worked on, which will surely resonate at this moment. Even though it was written back in 2019, "Keep Away From Me" is an anthem for social distancing. It may not make the most economic sense to do right now, but as a man who literally had his life saved by music, Fafara is adamant that "Dealing With Demons I" will coming out on October 2. "I just know I'm making the right moves for people," Fafara explains. "What I'm hoping is that five to 10 years from now, people remember who the fuck released a record during the pandemic."
We spoke with Fafara about the upcoming double album, how his mom reacted to his first tattoo, the way DevilDriver plans on handling the release and much more.
Inked: Sorry I was a little late…
Dez Fafara: No worries. I'm sitting here having my third cup of coffee, listening to some Bessie Smith on vinyl and fucking jamming old Halloween tunes.
Inked: We know that this is a loaded question while we’re all in quarantine, but how are things going?
Dez: I spent like 28 years on the road and I never got to see the sun. That was always a nightmare scenario—the sun is coming up, get in the bus and go to bed. And it's been incredible being home. I like watching the sunrise every morning. That’s been like probably one of the most, besides sleeping next to my wife every night, it's been one of the most enjoyable times actually being able to get up and watch the morning sun. It's been incredible on my life. It's actually changed my perspective on a lot of things.
Inked: It’s fucked up, but a lot of us are discovering little joys out of how the pandemic has upended our lives.
Dez: Yeah, it's a trip. I mean, of course, being an artist myself and then managing 15 other artists, it's difficult for everybody. But if you're a glass-half-full guy like I am, if you tend to look towards whatever comes out of it positively, I am, I've made dinner for my wife and children more than I ever have [before]. Every Sunday we're together eating a meal. I wake up in the middle of the night holding my wife's hand. I'm getting to watch the sun rise. I'm finding that life has been slowed down at such a pace where I'm actually thinking clearly and going, “Hey, wait a minute, what’s really important?”
That being said, this has been pretty devastating on everybody, not just the musicians of the world. I know so many tattoo artists that are hating it, they want to get back in and work, or they're doing underground work. It's almost like it's covert now. I want to get a tattoo, it's like, well, they'll remain anonymous, but it's like, okay, text me. They show up here. Or we can go to the shop park away from the shop, walk up to the shop, make sure no one's around. I'll see you coming. I'll slip you in. I'll close the door, I'll draw the chains. It's like, wow, maybe we're going underground now to do art.
Inked: This has clearly been awful for everyone's livelihood, but I feel with tattoos in particular, it's been so mainstream for a while, you know, where going underground is sort of taking it back in a way.
Dez: I got my first tattoo when I was 16.
Inked: (Laughing) Yup, not legal.
Dez: Not legal. Me and my friends forged a note. The guy, his name is Harley, hopefully he's still around, he was at Laguna Beach Tattoos. He was a biker cat and he believed it and tattooed me. I had a nose ring and a tattoo when I was 16 and it was like, “Wow, your life is going to be shit.” I remember when my mom first saw the tattoos, she was like, “Oh wow, you're going down this road. I'm scared for you in life.” It's like now I go to the bank and the kid has more fucking face tattoos than I do. When I got my chin done, I remember Rob Zombie making a statement to my wife, who was just my girlfriend at the time. “Oh, you're dating crazy Dez. You know?” Cause I had a face tattoo now it's like fucking Post Malone is doing fucking Doritos commercials. He's the norm.
Inked: Let’s talk about the upcoming album, “Dealing With Demons I.” Can you tell us about the writing process?
Dez: Pretty insane. I record a song that is probably the most personal song I've ever recorded. I'm probably the most private guy in this industry, I totally chose the wrong fucking job. I like narf out around more than four people, I feel socially awkward. And I write a song called “Keep Away From Me” about social distancing and I'm going to tell people, you know, I'm terribly agoraphobic and I'm going to get really personal with this record. It's 2019. We get both of the records done. I feel like, great, here's what we're going to do. We're going to stagger these releases. We're going to go on tour for three years straight. We're going to do the world twice. And all of a sudden, we have to flee our house with our two dogs, three cats from wildfires.
And I'm driving away with a guy yelling at me on a bullhorn, “Get the fuck out.” And I don't think I'm going to see anything I own again, from memorabilia to cars, to you name it. We ended up coming home because of the fine work that those people did. They put their life on the line actually because we live in a valley. And if the winds would have picked up, everybody fighting that fire, would've probably fucking died. So we come home, we come home and I go, okay, cool. We're done. We survived it. We've got a double record. We're going to tour for two years. Let's go. And we find out that my wife has cancer and has to have multiple surgeries all at once. I tear everything down, the family gets behind her like an Italian family does.
We go into January, 2020. I tell everyone around me, we've got to pandemic coming and it's going to shut down the United States. Everybody's going to be forced to stay home. Of course, everybody thought I was insane. My own family, my brothers, sisters, everybody's like, “What are you smoking, bro? Like, I'm sorry. That's never going to happen.” So all of a sudden we're in Pandemic World. Then we're in riot mode and cities burning. And here's where we are.
Inked: It’s a lot.
Dez: I'll tell you this—it's not a fantastic business position to put yourself in releasing a record during the pandemic. I saw 50 bands pull their records, and I decided to save me in life.
Music saved my life, literally. So I was like, you know what? Let's make the people move. It's not a great business move. It's not a great monetary move. Let's release in the middle of the fucking pandemic because this is when people need music. This is when I'm getting personal anyways. People can have dialogue with each other on social media or whatever about the different tunes. I'm talking clearly in the first single about being socially distant my whole life and look what's going on. And I was like, look, we gotta release. Oddly enough, I wanted Volume Two to come out first cause that's my baby. But “Keep Away From Me” and a song called “Wishing” are on Volume One so we decided, okay, we want to get those songs out and that's why we released them. But it's been insane. I want people to remember one thing that I made the bureaucratic people's choice to release an album right now in a time when it's not going to monetarily benefit the fucking label or myself or my career, to be honest.
Inked: The music industry seems to be moving more towards EPs or singles, so why a double album?
Dez: I'll tell you why, it's because of that mentality that we did a double record. No longer can metal live in the world of releasing a record every three to four years. That's way too long. So for me it was like, look, let's go in with a hard work ethic, let's write over 30, 35, 40 songs. Then let's get it down, everyone always says “all killer, no filler.” Then let's double stacker it so we can actually release every 12 to 18 months. Let's go on the road for three years straight. Let's do the world twice. Let's come off, let's take a year, let's go back in and let's keep this thing going. Let's break the trend of, I release a record every three, four, five years in metal.
Inked: You mention that you intended to tour the world twice on this album cycle. Of course, that was clearly your pre-pandemic plan.
Dez: I got some terrible news this morning talking to a bunch of agents and managers that touring will absolutely not happen this year. Absolutely nothing until May, June, July of next year in the United States, if at all. I'm hearing that festivals overseas are possibly not going to happen until Fall 2021, if at all.
Inked: How does it feel to have all of these songs ready to share with the world and being completely unable to hit the road and play them live? That’s got to be devastating
Dez: No, this is where you get creative. I'm going to do a video for every song. I'm not releasing two singles and then a record. I'm releasing five singles and then a record. No one's ever done that. I'm the first one to go fuck it. I'm going to put my head on the chopping block here. Cause if you give someone five tracks, they can be like, “Cool. I've heard the record.” But no, not really. There's another five, six tracks here.
This is like a groundbreaking thing in my own fucking head, but now I'm seeing videos as something different, right? We couldn't be together because this COVID thing. So the first three videos had to be without the band in them. Which then you're releasing music, which is art. Now you're releasing these little mini-movie art pieces as the video instead of, you know, spending five hours like fucking Milli Vanilli sitting there banging your head, trying to look like you're actually playing the song. Now when I see videos and I see bands in videos trying to act, badass like they're playing their song it's fucking a joke to me.
Inked: In a way, the pandemic allowed you to rethink every aspect of releasing an album.
Dez: I think we need to adapt or die at this point. We need to make changes to the way we release music, how we release art. Doesn't it seem stupid to watch a band performing in their video when you knew they took eight hours to make sure they got the perfect shot over there. It seems ridiculous. I'd rather see mini-movies based upon their art.
Inked: When you got started getting tattooed, the connotations behind getting inked were very different, particularly with how your parents reacted. What other changes have you seen over the years?
Dez: I'll tell you the most positive thing that comes out of the popularity of tattooing is that now you’ve got the most incredible artists. You can’t even believe it, the tattoo looks like a fucking painting or a watercolor or a photo. It used to be there’s the biker guy who was like, “What do you want? Look at the wall.”
We have these four cats and two of them just passed away, they were around 21 years old. They’re three brothers that my wife rescued after finding them in a rabbit cage in 1999. They were brothers. She got a portrait tattooed by this guy, Drew Babcock and when you look at her arm, it actually looks like someone rubbed a photo on her arm. It's insane. And I look at some of the work I've gotten and go aww fuck. I might as well just go full blackwork over it. Like, forget about it.
Inked: The funny thing with bad old tattoos is, they can still mean something to you. Even if they're old and shitty. My personal favorite tattoo is my worst one.
Dez: I gotta agree with that, man. I mean, then there's the occasional coverup of names…
Inked: [Laughs] How many names have you had to cover up?
Dez: I've got a few names covered, but it wasn’t girlfriends and stuff. It was some other... stuff. But I definitely got them covered.
Inked: Which leads us back to that first tattoo you got when you were 16. Does that one still exist?
Dez: It doesn't exist. It was on my right shoulder and it was a cartoon wolf with a leopard skin thing around his neck. I was heavily influenced by punk, Psychobilly, that kind of stuff. I was in a band called the Screaming Wolves when I was 15, I was actually a standup drummer. We all went and got Screaming Wolf tattoos. Later on in life, only about 10, 15 years later, I covered it with something else because it was just, it is what it is. Now, looking back, I wish I had not.
Inked: Tell us a little about that first tattoo experience.
Dez: It was a foggy night down by the beach in Orange County. We walk into a place, there's one guy in there. His name is Harley. He's a biker cat, but he's cool as fuck.He ends up tattooing me. Cut to about four, five, six days later and my mom gets me up for school. She pulls off the covers and she fucking sees the tattoo. And I mean, she fell apart like someone had like, you know, told her that the United States was getting ready to get bombed. I mean, now that I look at that, like I I'm so glad I'm not like that with my kids. I mean, I'm very like, whatever you want to grow your hair. Cool. You want to shave your hair. Cool. But back then it was like, you want to dye your hair blue. You can't do that. Society's going to lose their mind on you. You know? And um, so I've been very open. That was my first tattoo.
Inked: Did you think that you’d actually be able to hide it?
Dez: Yeah, of course. Just like any stupid kid.
Inked: We wanted to wrap things up by talking a little more about your chin tattoo. You got your tattoo well before it was commonplace to see anybody besides tattooers with face tattoos. What was your inspiration for it?
Dez: In hindsight, it was a way for me to say—you wake up every day and you look at yourself in the mirror—I'm not going back to blue collar life. I'm not going into a cubicle. I'm going forward with everything that I've wanted to do, which is music. There is no turning back. Now, going back to earlier, the kid at the bank is fucking fully tattooed. So my thesis was terribly wrong, but at that point, people were fucking freaked out by it.