“Art Is About Sweating It Out, And There Was A Great Deal Of Sweating On This Record”
Country music and seriously weighty metal are not something you often see thrown into the mix together. But for DevilDriver’s seventh full-length, that’s exactly what frontman Dez Fafara has done. Having long loved ‘outlaw country’ – a less mainstream and more rough’n’ready sub-genre that grew to prominence in the ’70s – Dez decided that he had to marry this with the scathing metal his band has been making for 15 years. The result is Outlaws ’Til The End Vol. 1, a 12-track collection of reworked classics that also features members of Lamb Of God, Fear Factory, 36 Crazyfists, Johnny Cash’s son and more. We caught up with Dez to find out the who, what, why and how of it all…
What was it that drew you to putting this record together in the first place?
I’ve been listening to this music all of my life. It’s funny, I’m finding that I’m having to explain this to European audiences quite a lot, but if you ever go backstage at a heavy metal show in the U.S., or go onto a tour bus, you’re going to hear Johnny Cash as much as you hear Slayer, and no-one even bats an eye, it’s just the way it works. These outlaw artists are the Lemmys of their genre, what they do is fucking heavy. Knowing that no-one had ever tried to marry these two sounds properly, and with a host of guests I felt it was time to right that.
How did you get the ball rolling?
It was going to be three years between DevilDriver records because we took some time off. Everyone knows I’m a stickler for getting one out every two years, and I bag on bands that take three or four. So I thought it would be cool to do this thing and get it out there so fans have something to listen to. I figured it would take six months and it would be fun and easy, but it was quite the opposite. It was two years in the making, the money ran out halfway through, and it turned into a total logistical nightmare. Somebody said to me that nothing good comes out of anything that’s easy, and that was definitely the case, but I’m so glad it’s done and will soon be out there.
When the money ran out did you have to fund finishing it out of your own pocket?
Yeah, of course. This really was a labour of love though, for all concerned. None of the guests put their hands out and said pay me, it was all about camaraderie. That’s kind of died, man. In the ’70s everyone was jamming together and in the ’80s, ’90s and since the start of the 2000s it’s all been about ‘Me and my band, my band, my band.’ I wanted to bring some of that camaraderie back and do something unique. There are guests from four different genres on the record: heavy metal, outlaw country, gothic rock and punk rock, all of them contributing to these covers and proving that all of these backgrounds work together when it’s done right.
How did you approach adapting the songs? Was there a formula or did you need to look at each one separately?
We basically DevilDrivered them up — we made sure they had some groove, made them heavy as balls, and made sure it sounded like us, but each song required a different approach. We started off from a place of saying we need to cover certain guys here: Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson, and then we picked the songs: Willie Nelson had to be Whiskey River, Johnny Cash we wanted Ghostriders — he didn’t write it, but it’s one of his biggest tracks, and really we wanted songs that we loved and were going to connect with people, that was the criteria. The rest of the songs were picked by different guys in the band. Mike [Sprietzer, guitar] brought in Dad’s Gonna Kill Me, which is an anti-war song, and we have [Fear Factory vocalist] Burton C Bell on that, Neal [Tiemann, guitar] brought in A Thousand Miles From Nowhere, which is definitely an outlaw track that I love, and I brought in Outlaw Man from The Eagles. The most important thing was being able to hear and understand the individual tunes. So, Whiskey River, which is arguably more of a black metal song the way we’ve done it, you still know it’s Whiskey River if you’re familiar with the original. That was the goal, we wanted to keep that flavour while making them heavy.
What were some of the highlights for you while you were fighting to get it done?
I recorded all my parts in my home studio. After 25 years on the road I’m not going anywhere else to record, and when Randy Blythe came to my house and sang Ghost Riders In The Sky and both of us laid down vocals for Whiskey River it was amazing. Going to the Cash Cabin [studio in Tennessee] and recording with John Carter Cash — Johnny Cash’s son — and his wife Ana Cristina Cash was amazing too. We tracked in the booth that Johnny Cash had last tracked in, and I signed the mantle over the fireplace next to Willie Nelson and Chris Cornell. That was a massive moment for me. The whole thing really did come together through the adoration of all the guests and the humility of all concerned.
Latest single, Copperhead Road (originally by Steve Earle)
How did you go about recruiting the guests?
Firstly I knew I didn’t want to do it without Randy, and I didn’t want to do it without Hank III [grandson of country legend Hank Williams, Assjack main man, and former bassist of Superjoint Ritual]. From the start I knew I wanted Lee Ving from Fear too, I needed a representative of punk rock and he’s my all-time idol, and working with him was fantastic. That being said, the first guy I approached was Glenn Danzig. He’s a longtime friend, and he was in, but he got caught up in recording his own stuff, and I started asking others and after a while some people started contacting me as well, wanting to be a part of it.
Were you in the studio for everything or did some contributors have to track remotely and then send you their parts?
I was in the studio for some of it, not all of it. However, I approached putting things together kind of differently. Most people, when they want a guest on a track they’ll record their own parts and leave a gap for where they want the guest to go. I didn’t do that. I sent them the whole track with no vocals on and said to record the whole song. A lot of them said, ‘I don’t know how you want me to do it,’ and I said, ‘Do it the way you would do it.’ That’s the point. I don’t want you to hear me and skew your performance around that. When I had that, then I went back through the tracks and added my own vocals where I thought it was necessary.
Do you have any plans to tour the record?
We’re really not touring a tremendous amount this year, we’ve basically taken it off to work on some art, and we’ve got a few shows in July and then we’re coming over for Bloodstock, but no plans beyond that as of right now. We’ve been talking about if we’re gonna add some songs from the record and if we could get guests to come join us in certain towns. This thing was really meant just to give people something between records, but I’d love to do like four or five days on the road with all of these singers and hit Nashville, LA, New York and Vegas, and film the whole thing for a DVD. But getting all of those people together at one time? I dunno if that’s even possible, but I’d sure like to try.
The title of the record is Outlaws ’Til The End Volume One — after the logistical nightmare and financial strain of making this record are you really going to do a Volume Two?
We slapped that on the name at the last minute, because by the time it got done and people were starting to hear about it I was getting phone call after phone call and now there are 12 to 15 people attached to record number two, and I’d say four or five of them are in some of the biggest bands on the planet. That being said, I’m not jumping to start Volume Two at any given moment. There were many mornings I woke up with my head in my hands saying, ‘Damn, this is not going to get finished.’ Art is about sweating it out, and there was a great deal of sweating on this record, so we’ll have to see when and where it makes the best sense to dive back into that world.
Words: Dan Slessor
Photos: Stephanie Cabral, Ben Hoffman
Outlaws ‘Til The End Volume One is set for release on Napalm Records on July 6. DevilDriver play Bloodstock Festival in August. More info here.
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