DevilDriver’s Dez Fafara: “You’d Be Surprised How Many Freemasons Are In Metal Bands”
DevilDriver and Coal Chamber frontman Dez Fafara has been up since 5am. As he was yesterday and the day before. With no less than five businesses to run – including a management company, a surf/skate company and a new record label – he is a man who has shit to do. COVID-19 may have decimated the music business, but aside from being unable to play any gigs, Dez has barely missed a step. Indeed, despite the pandemic, DevilDriver have just released the first part of new double-album Dealing With Demons, the first single of which, Keep Away From Me, was inspired by said pandemic.
It’s fair to say that Dez has weathered a few storms in his time, from the ups and downs of a music career spanning several decades, to the cancer diagnosis and subsequent recovery of his wife Anahstasia. Far from your run-of-the-mill rock star, he has collaborated with everyone from Ozzy Osbourne and John Carter Cash to Randy Blythe and Burton C. Bell and remains highly-respected by all, a genuine nice guy. Believe it or not, he is also a member of the Freemasons… more of which later.
But, for now, let’s start at the beginning.
What sort of kid were you? Were you a troublemaker?
“I was. I suffer from ADD/ADHD, which is why I only sleep four or five hours a night and I can run five companies. I was hard to deal with, for sure. My mom took me out of public school and put me in a baptist school, which was no good for me, because I saw the hypocrisy in religion. I came back from summer and they called me in and said they saw me during the summer with earrings and blue hair and they were gonna kick me out of school. I was a difficult kid, most definitely.
“I have three sons and I’m so glad they’re not like me when I was a kid. I didn’t really want to obey anybody’s rules. I’d get sent to my room and sneak out to go to a gig, but it was rough to get into gigs when you were that young, so I got a lot of my music vicariously from older kids. My mom sent me to live with my father in Woodland Hills when I was 15, and that was a big problem, because when he went to work I met a bunch of punk rock kids and started really listening to Dead Kennedys and the Germs, and I got to really discover punk rock. It’s always been my number one love.”
Is it true that you got the name Dez from Dez Cadena of Black Flag?
“Well, my friends all started calling me Dez because I loved Black Flag and I kind of assimilated that, but my real name is Bradley, which really doesn’t fucking work for anything unless you’re gonna wear a pink polo shirt and go to the country club! Back then, everybody had a different name, it’s kind of what you did. But my favourite band of all time is actually Fear, so doing music with Lee Ving and being friends with him is like talking to God! When I called him and asked him to do the country project, he was singing Hank Williams Sr. songs down the phone within five minutes. It was like, ‘Wow! My hero loves all the things I love!’ They always say don’t meet your heroes, and I’ve met a lot of guys where I walk away going ‘Fuck that guy!’ but there’s no ego to him.”
Was Coal Chamber your first band?
“No, I was in bands since I was 15. My first band was called the Screaming Wolves, kind of a psychobilly punk rock band. I was a stand-up drummer at the time, with a big pomp, boots and chains, wearing eyeliner. I was heavily influenced by goth, punk rock and psychobilly, and I only found metal because of Motörhead – I thought they were a punk band until I saw that they had long hair and bullet belts! I only got into metal because I like it violent and vicious. You couldn’t really get me into metal in the ’80s because I was listening to punk rock.”
How did Coal Chamber come about?
“I met Meegs [Miguel Rascón, guitarist] and we actually had a band before Coal Chamber called She’s In Pain, and she was in pain! The music was okay – it had a metal/punk edge – but then as we hung out more it was like, ‘What else are you listening to?’ He was listening to Pantera and Fear Factory and I was listening to Motörhead and Pantera. What we definitely wanted to do was be dark and have more on the gothic side. You had Korn who were like hip-hop and the Deftones who were more ethereal, and we wanted to be more gothic. When we first started out we were very ‘street’, but we both loved new wave and goth and we bonded over Sisters Of Mercy and Bauhaus.”
Was the band readily accepted?
“Well, LA was dead at the time, people weren’t really going out, and all of a sudden we started playing the Whiskey and The Roxy and we started to pack the house. It took us about a year, but we started to pack the house and bands like Korn started to come up to LA. It really took over. Our drummer had a scrap metal business and he’d put all his money into it, and I was dealing weed on the side and I’d put all my money into it. Instead of selling shirts and demo tapes we’d give them away, and next thing you know I’d see everybody in Coal Chamber shirts.”
How did you feel about Hot Topic band tag?
“I never saw it as a bad thing. I’d go in there and then the next week I’d see that they’d ripped off everything I was wearing, but I didn’t mind that at all. The only thing I hated was when we got tagged as sounding like other bands, because we didn’t sound like anybody else. You had bands that came up later and got bigger first. And the nu-metal tag never bothered me until the later bands came out that I absolutely hated. They kinda ruined that scene and then in the late ’90s that tag was an ugly word. But it was originally a mix of anything you wanted to put in, and it was new. We had so many influences and that’s what made Coal Chamber special. I’m very proud of that band and we all still talk. When Anahstasia went through her cancer scare, they all reached out and that really bonded us again.”
What caused the first break-up of the band?
“Drugs tore us apart. The drugs they did and the drugs I did. I have ADHD and my parents gave me Ritalin as a kid, so I don’t wanna do speed. If you give me speed I’m the quietest person in the room. I’m more about downers like Xanax and weed, and they were more about an eight ball of this or that, like, ‘We’re staying up!’ That literally tore us apart. We came from a place where we all lived in a one bedroom apartment with the most debauchery, but then they’d make fun of me for smoking weed, and I’d definitely make fun of them for doing bumps, so that’s what tore us apart; it wasn’t music or touring or being on the same bus. It was like, ‘I’m going to sleep because we have a show tomorrow, but you guys are gonna be up for three days, so how the fuck are you gonna do an interview tomorrow? We’re playing [MTV TRL host] Carson Daly and you guys are all sleeping because you’ve been up for three days. I’ve got a wife and kids at home, and this is my career, so you all need to get straight!’ Every band has that story and now that I look back on it, it was insane times. I was the guy on top of the tour bus at 70 miles an hour, screaming into the wind! Live hard, die young. I mean, you were with me when we first came to the UK, in the Crobar doing shots with the Hell’s Angels. I was very gung-ho! Now I’m glad I didn’t die young and I’d like to think I don’t do stupid shit anymore.”
It seems like you completely reinvented yourself after Coal Chamber?
“I did. I had a point where we toured the world with Pantera and Black Sabbath, and I had no home so I stayed with Phil Anselmo, that was my other home in New Orleans. He turned me onto black metal and a lot of underground, real heavy shit, and that started to change me mentally, like, ‘Fuck! This is why I got into metal!’ I don’t wanna say that Coal Chamber had become watered down, but they didn’t wanna have the volatile, violent aspect that we did in the beginning. If I’m gonna do music, I’ve gotta feel it. So that dude’s responsible for turning me onto so much underground shit and that was the change.”
You also changed your appearance.
“Totally. I stopped wearing the braids and eyeliner and I wanted to strip myself down. I felt personally that I needed to change and distance myself from Coal Chamber, for better or for worse. There was a point where I was staying at Philip’s house and I was walking down by the river, and he looked over at me and went, ‘Look, man, I’m gonna do Superjoint, I’m leaving Pantera,’ and I said, ‘Dude, I want out of Coal Chamber so fucking bad. I’m doing DevilDriver and going underground.’ I went from being on the radio with Ozzy doing Shock The Monkey to grinding in 400 seaters again with DevilDriver, and I fucking loved it. When we first started Coal Chamber, we got in an RV and played to 50 or 60 people, and that was where my energy was. I’m addicted to building businesses and DevilDriver was the same thing.”
Given your appearance, you must be the only Freemason with a face tattoo!
“You’d be surprised how many Freemasons are in metal bands. I don’t wanna call them out right now, but I know several of them. I just found out on a podcast that one of the guys from Dillinger is a Mason, and a lot of the guys from my lodge are in the industry. I mean, I go to the bank now and the kid taking the money is fully face-tattooed. Now it’s like the norm, but back then, when I did it, it was like, ‘Fuck this! I’m not going back to construction, I’m not going in a cubicle!’ It was my way of saying I’m either gonna make it or not! I remember my mom seeing my first tattoo and going, ‘You’re gonna go to prison!’ I mean, eventually I did go to jail, but that wasn’t tattoos, it was because I made some shitty mistakes. But it’s cool to see that tattoo culture where it is now. Look at Post Malone! That guy’s insanely tattooed with shit I wouldn’t even put on my face, and he’s doing a Doritos commercial – about as mainstream as you can fucking get. You and I came out of a place where it was scary to do shit like that, like, ‘You’re done! You’re never coming back into society!’ But now, like I said, the kid at the bank is fully tattooed. It’s cool to see, but then it’s getting so mainstream that it’s like, what can you possibly do?”
Yeah, it used to mean stay the fuck away from me!
“Thus my first single off Dealing With Demons, Keep Away From Me! I’ve been social-distancing my whole life. I’ve never liked to be around groups of people, and often when I am I used to fight. My nose has been broken three times. But nothing scares anybody anymore. You’ve gotta have laser beams coming out of your eyes and a fucking shark fin, and even that wouldn’t freak people out. I’d be like, ‘That’s cool! How do I get one?’”
So, how did that person become a Mason?
“I found masonry because I started doing charity work. I was constantly touring through a place called Window Rock, which is a Navajo reservation and I became friends with a lot of the tribal elders. I found out that a lot of the kids there were losing their language because they didn’t have the money to get these language programs, so I raised a lot of money for the elementary school. And I basically got made Navajo, which is a major deal for me. But I wanted to do more charity work because it felt so good, and a friend of mine suggested I check out Freemasonry because they do a lot of good work, and that’s what go me into it. I love the craft and the charity work, and it’s a great brotherhood.
“It’s funny when I hear about how they’re ruining the world. I’m like, ‘Really? Do you know how much of the world they’ve saved?’ All over the world I have brothers who come to my bus and they’ll give the handshake that means come on the bus and have a conversation. That being said, I haven’t been to my lodge in about a year because of COVID, but we’ve been meeting on Zoom and stuff. I think it grows you as a man. A brother helps a brother no matter what circumstance what you’re in.”
Having know you a long time, it seems like you’d try to help people anyway, regardless of brotherhood?
“I never look down on people, ever, because that person might help you up. Just be fucking cool. I mean, I’m gonna die one day and I want people looking at my coffin going, ‘That motherfucker was cool!’ A lot of bands suffer from ego-itus and forget where they came from, but I’m not about that.”
Your work with DevilDriver has kind of eclipsed Coal Chamber. What are you most proud of?
“Yeah, that’s true. I think I’m proud of the work itself. It would be good to go to my grave with all those records. I’m extremely proud that the whole pit thing became a DevilDriver thing – the whole biggest circle-pit at Download – and we became synonymous with shows that were a little bit more volatile than most.”
Didn’t the Guinness Book Of Records turn that down?
“Yeah, they said they didn’t know how to exactly measure it, because they had nobody there. I played them the videos of all these different angles and there was probably 25-30,000 people there, and it’s obvious! The fact that we’re known as one of the more volatile bands… I mean, if you’re not willing to move then you may want to go to the bar or go and find a seat. That makes me extremely proud, because you can’t make that happen, that’s gotta come from people seeing you over and over. You can tell people to move, but if they don’t wanna move then they won’t.”
Did that happen right from the off?
“No. Our first tour was with Superjoint Ritual and that crowd either love you or hate you, but it grew with the band, and then all of a sudden every show got like that.”
You have songs that are specific to places and only play them there, like Another Night In London. How did that come about?
“Yeah, we only play that in London. I won’t play it anywhere else, and that’s a very special thing to me. If you can make it in New York, LA, and the UK, you can make it anywhere. I think Frank Sinatra had a song about that! But I thought London deserved something special and I wanted it to be special for people for people in the UK. It’s kinda about that rainy night in London and you’re out with people… There’s just something about it, being out at four or five in the morning and watching the sun come out. The music scene is just it! There’s just something special about the UK.”
DevilDriver’s new album Dealing with Demons I is out now via Napalm.
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