Dez Fafara on ‘Outlaws ‘Til the End': ‘It’s the ‘Heaviest DevilDriver Record Ever’
Willie Nelson, George Jones, Johnny Cash, David Allan Coe are icons of the country subgenre of country music called "outlaw country," and in spirit, they're not too far removed from metal and punk. And it's that connection across genres that has inspired DevilDriver's Dez Fafara to create one of the more buzzed-about experiments in some time.
Fafara teased this project to us a couple of years ago, and he has pulled in a couple of his friends to give some outlaw country classics a fresh spin on the upcoming Outlaws 'Til the End. We spoke with Fafara just as he was completing the album ahead of its public announcement. The enthusiastic vocalist beams about the album.
He discusses visiting the Cash cabin and working with John Carter Cash and his wife, inviting longtime friend Randy Blythe of Lamb of God to take part and having one of his idols, punk icon Lee Ving, be part of this project. He offers his take on modern country while also explaining why Outlaws Til the End is just the album needed right now to shake things up in metal. Check out our the first part of our interview with DevilDriver's Dez Fafara below and look for Outlaws Til the End arriving on July 6.
Good to talk to you again. The last time we did this at Ozzfest Meets Knotfest, you were singing a little Jamey Johnson to me. "Lord I quit the drinkin' and smokin' and the honky-tonk life," and here we are a couple years later with a new album...
(laughs) Actually, as I was walking away my wife was squeezing my hand at that point going, 'You shouldn't have done that. You are going to give it away.' I was like, 'Yeah, but I know this guy and I like Loudwire so, thanks, Chad.' So here we are and it's a fantastic place to be, almost two and a half years later. I bit off something so significant that I had no idea what I was biting off when I did it. I thought to myself, 'Let’s do something that's never really been done. Let's get one or two guys on it,' and It turned into almost 12 people and people calling me out of the woodwork going, 'God I wish I had the time. I wish I wasn't on tour or I wish I wasn't tracking. Are you going to do another one of these?' It's just a fantastic overall feeling right now. I literally just yesterday did all the art, all the masters last week, all the photos so you are talking to me now at a time that I'm free and clear of it.
Yeah, I wouldn't tell anybody else to ever try to bite that off. (Laughs) It was a logistical nightmare but we made it work and we had some fantastic artists and when you're talking about doing songs like "Ghost Riders in the Sky," arguably enough one of Johnny [Cash]'s biggest songs, not written by him but one of his biggest songs, then recording with his son John Carter Cash and his wife Ana Cash at the Cash Cabin and also putting Randy [Blythe] from Lamb of God on that track and then me getting to sign the mantel at the Cash Cabin right next to Kris Kristofferson ... I mean we are talking history.
So, it all started to unfold like that. At first it was just: 'We know it's going to be three years before the next DevilDriver record, because we are really writing something different and special, so let’s do something cool for people and not just do a regular cover record. Let’s do something special.' And it just turned into what is getting to be released. I don't know if you've heard the tracks yet?
I have not had a chance to hear it yet, but I'm very curious. Is it replicating the songs in the country style or giving country songs a harder edge, DevilDriver style?
Yes. This was the whole thing when I started to say that we were going to do a cover country record. Everybody was up in arms. They didn't realize what we were doing. It's heavy as hell. What I'm hearing is it’s the heaviest DevilDriver record we have ever done. Let me give you an example. "Whiskey River" by Willie Nelson is me and Randy [Blythe] in our highest screaming registers we've ever used -- not even ever used in our records -- but for me, it's higher than that. Actually, we've used it but it’s pretty insanely registered and it's a black metal tune. It's ferocious. I mean out of the gate it’s just, 'Holy fuck!' And we also covered "Country Heroes" with Hank III.
Hank's voice on this is like how he has always wanted people to hear him. So, he sounds almost like a toned-down, tuned-in Ozzy. It sounds fucking crazy. The album opens with that track, him and I, and his vocals are twangy like. It sounds like Hank meets Ozzy. It’s like, 'I want to be your lover.' It’s crazy. So, yeah, being on the back end of this and talking to you, it’s wonderful and I can't wait for people to hear this thing. It’s out of the box. It’s what is needed right now. It’s something extra special.
You mentioned right off the bat, this is music that you've always loved that kind of resonated with you. Can you take me back to your own upbringing and what got you into this style?
Right. Well, I think growing up in America, I was into my parents' record collection. They had everything from Creedence Clearwater to Steppenwolf and I obviously heard "Born to be Wild" by Steppenwolf and was like, "Oh god this is amazing." I was the kind of kid that came home and didn't watch cartoons or whatever. I just got into their record collection. It was massive. They had everything from Dolly Parton to, like I said, the Doors to Kenny Rogers.
So I've always been pretty well rounded when it comes to music. I listened to the blues when I was younger -- when I was 13, 14, 15 I was into psychobilly bands that were a lot reminiscent of, let's say, The Cramps. But you have a lot of roots culture in that so I had an intense rockabilly background and psychobilly background as well as punk rock, metal, blues and when you're listening to punk or blues and you want to get down to the basics of where those came from, then you have to go to those basic Americana songs. Those country songs -- even the really early recordings from the '30s and '40s and see what those are like. The lyrics of these tunes were so poignant that I was like - hearing that stuff heavy my whole life, like "Ghost Riders in The Sky." So I got into it through my parents' record collection. Found it on my own in regards to the culture that I was surrounding myself with like punk rock and psychobilly, everything that was happening in LA and Orange County at the time when was I growing up. Then through the '80s and '90s even, yeah I wanted to cover these songs since I was in Coal Chamber. But, obviously that wouldn't have worked, I don’t believe, and it is what it is. But I've always wanted to do it.
You mentioned "Whiskey River." That was a popular song in my household growing up and I wanted to know what your experience was with that song. Can you also talk about getting Randy and Mark [Morton] from Lamb of God on this track as well?
Yeah, unbelievable. Mark Morton. He sent me that track and I texted him back, 'Perfect - done.' I just heard these songs and the depth just started coming around and providing themselves with different things, I mean, like, for instance, Randy was just gonna do "Whiskey River." And then I said, hey would you like to jump on 'Ghost Riders' with me and John Carter Cash and he was like, 'Hell yeah,' and he was staying at my house for like a week here so we were surfing and stuff so it was already on. It was like cool, let's go do it.
You mentioned 'Ghost Riders' and you talked a little bit about getting the chance to go to the Carter compound and working with John Carter Cash and his wife. So much history there. That's got to be surreal.
Well, this is something incredible for me and kind of a 'coming around' for me. Meaning, when DevilDriver was first started I wore a Johnny Cash shirt onstage every day for fucking eight or nine years. And I remember, people, in interviews being like, this guy is wearing a Johnny Cash shirt onstage and you know, he's metal. It's a trippy thing. People actually called me out for wearing a Johnny Cash shirt. This guy is the original man in black, he's the original fucking darkness. He's the original fucking metal. He's the original guy.
First of all, let me say that these people are the kindest, most generous people ever. We pulled up to the cabin, my wife and I, and the girl from the label. Standing outside was John Carter Cash. He proceeded to take us inside and feed us food that he had made for us. Then he showed us photos of Johnny and him when he was younger from when they went to an Ozzy concert and he proceeded to tell me his love of metal. He told me about how his father, Johnny Cash, went to see Ozzy and showed me a photo. It's Johnny Cash dressed in all black with these black biker boots up past his knees with his kid with him who's like ten.
So he went on and professed his love for metal and how he loved it as a kid, and how his dad respected it and how his dad sat and talked to Ozzy when they were there and went on and on about his respect for metal and what an outlet it was for him. Rock, metal, these kind of things are outlets. They are ways to get it out, you know what I mean? It was really cool to have that come around and see that happen and to hear his love for metal and then be able to record at the Cash Cabin, watch John Carter Cash record, which was intense for myself. And then having him going, 'Was that good?' I'm like, 'Uh, yes it was fantastic.'
Then listening to his wife, Ana Cash, who has probably one of the most beautiful voices I've ever heard. She's definitely gonna get a Grammy award win. She's just coming out. Like she's fucking incredible, her voice. To have her on this track. But to work with iconic people like this, in their field, I've just died. God knows John Carter's been in this since he was born. So it was just a fantastic time, you know.
To meet these people who are so down to earth and so surrounded by music, they are a lot like me. I mean, me and John Carter talked about our love of music, our love of the blues, our love of outlaw, real outlaw country -- those guys who were the original fucking outlaws. I think that's what real metal bands and real punk bands are right now. They are outlaws.
I am not on the fucking radio. I am not active rock radio. It's just not happening. And I can be. I have the talent to be. But I don't look for those things. I look for the art form part, true, it's visceral, it's fucking in the ring with people. And I think that's what a lot of us are doing right now. We're putting out, we're on the fray, we're on the edge of popular art. And I think that's where real art exists. That's where true real art exists.
There are some real icons you're covering on this album and of all these country greats, who do you think you most identify with as a musician?
Going back and looking at some of their histories, I've got a lot in common with all of these guys. I'll save my favorite for the autobiography but I've got a gnarly passion since I was a kid. Everything from being a runaway to [dealing with] physical and mental abuse, to suicide in the family, going to jail. When you're young, when you're 12 or 11 or maybe even 14, you don't want to hear country because you don't hear the desperation. You hear the lyrics about jail, about your wife leaving you or about alcoholism, your job -- you hear all these things and they don't resonate with you because you're a kid. You're worried about your skateboard or if you're gonna get to the mall that day or whatever's going on in your life. But as you get older you hear these lyrics and it resonates.
You're like, 'Oh, I totally get it. The bank foreclosed on their house' or 'Oh I get it, he was drunk.' Or 'Oh I get it, your wife left you for your best friend.' You start understanding. There's a lot going on right now in country that a lot of the lyrics are just, like, a lot of them don't - I can't grasp ahold of. If there's a dragon, I've never seen a dragon. So, [laughs] you know what I mean?
So I've got lyrics I resonate with. These cats, the way they wrote, the way they write is completely from the street. It's strictly from the heart, strictly from the soul and it lends itself to somebody covering it in a heavy way and putting it together, putting it across rather in a ferocious manner, the way that we did it.
We totally interpreted George Jones. You're gonna hear "If Drinking Don't Kill Me." That's insane. That's Wednesday 13. We also covered "Outlaw Man" by The Eagles. I've always loved that track and I always thought that they were on the frays of pop with what they were doing even though they were larger than life. But we covered that. It was me and my guitar player, Neil [Tiemann] -- just us singing. It's fucking fantastic. You got Lee Ving doing 'The Ride' by Hank Williams and Lee Ving is also doing the beginning of 'When the Man Comes Around' with that kind of shaky voice like Cash does. It's incredible, dude.
We covered "A Thousand Miles From Nowhere." That came out incredible. Burton [C. Bell] from Fear Factory killed this song "Dad's Gonna Kill Me," which people haven't really heard. It lends itself to the atrocities of war and also the atrocities of being in the home. It's an amazing tune. I was like, Burton why do you want to cover this? I look and it had 40 million hits I was like, Jesus.
Hank III is covering his own tune which is ... this is a fantastic idea. Let's have the guy cover his own tune but he is not at all singing the way that you'd ever heard Hank. He sounds like a weird tuned strange Ozzy, it's fucking amazing. We open the record with it because it came out so fucking weird, out of the box and fantastic. That's what this project is all about. The fucking scene is so convoluted that somebody needs to be doing something different. That's why we did it.
I love this style of music. I grew up on a lot of it as well and country, like most genres, has evolved to a certain point. You don't really hear the outlaw country stuff as much anymore. I was curious on your take where country music is at and what you're hearing these days.
I'm hearing a bunch of shit pop country by artists that have come out and they're just ready to be replaced in the next year. That's really what's happening in the Nashville machine. They come out and they're gone. They come out, they're gone. But you have guys like Jamey Johnson who came out with this clean look, and now that motherfucker has a long hair and a beard, wearing Lamb of God shirts on stage. He's like, 'Excuse me, no smoking marijuana.' He's like fuck you and leaves. He's as outlaw as they fucking come. He's great friends with John Carter Cash as well.
John Carter to me, that cat - he's an outlaw. He's gonna do whatever he wants. He's not gonna do anything to fit in with the pop country genre. He's gonna do whatever he wants. He's gonna guest on a DevilDriver record, he's gonna guest on Ana Cash's record, he's gonna go sing bluegrass at the Grand Ole Opry. He's just a fucking musician and he comes from outlaw stock.
First of all, the only artist I was gonna push was just Randy, because he's a close friend of the family and John Carter. When those two came, everybody else started falling into line. Then it was obvious that like, I've got guys from outlaw country and I've got guys from metal. it's like, who's missing? Well, my all time - I'm an old punk rocker. I grew up on real motherfucking punk rock. Not Blink182. Real punk rock when you went to shows when I was a kid, 13 or 14 punk rock shows where you didn't know if there be a riot.
So Fear, for me, that's an all-time idol. I think it goes for me, that then Ozzy, then Danzig. I've done a song with Ozzy, I was going to work with Danzig on this but he's so busy with The Misfits that hopefully he'll be on the second one. But when I contacted Lee Ving from Fear, and he got back to me, the first half hour working on the song, all he was doing was singing country bits to me. So much so that my wife fucking filmed it, because I was sitting there so wide-eyed, freaking out.
The way she said it, she's a huge Cure fan, she's like - imagine if Robert Smith called me right now and started singing to me for a half hour, that's what I just saw on your face. And she was videotaping it, and what's awesome about that is, Lee and us did become really fucking close friends. We've talked for hours on the phone.
Randy and I ended up singing with Fear a month and a half back at this Long Beach festival called The Growlers and did three songs with Fear. I told my wife on the ride home, I can call it - I can fucking call it quits right now if I wanted to. With this shit that I've seen, the people that I work with, except that we're getting ready to start a five-year run.
Absolutely. One of the things when I first saw the track listing on this. I couldn't believe you've got Lee Ving, and he's doing Johnny Cash and David Allan Coe. Man. I cannot wait to hear that.
Unbelievable and subsequently the emails that the guy sent me, like I had to fucking calm myself down. I had to forward those emails to a close friend at the label, and I was like, 'Dude, look what Lee just sent to me.' He's like, 'I'm so proud of what we've done together.' I get goosebumps just thinking about it right now.
You mentioned how hard it was to get this thing together. I'm sure scheduling was an issue. Any thoughts on the promotion of the album? Would you maybe do some special shows with some of the guests that you have on here?
Well, we've had problems because it's a cover record and there are some significant songs that I've had problems getting sync licenses in order to do video. That still may come across the desk but what I was really smart in doing, is we knew this would be tricky - so when we were at the Cash Cabin, Napalm was great in the way that - a record company can always say no, and believe me they do. And they didn't say no to anything with this.
Obviously, the budget was limited because it's a cover record but everybody wants to do it and everybody wants to win. And when I said I needed somebody to come out to the Cash cabin with me to professionally record a session, they sent somebody. When I was here with people recording at my house or when I went to watch people record, I filmed 'em, and when I wasn't there I had the producer fill in. I had a guy, Connie from Video Hammer. I had him on this thing from the start, he's got so many great interviews. He's put that together in multiple parts. Six, seven, eight, ten amazing clips that we'll start rolling out in the next month for this EPK and people can really get into it. And I mean they're involved interviews.
When you see Lee Ving going, 'Oh yeah, I have a fucking country band on the side.' You're like, 'What?! You're my punk rock idol and you have a country band on the side?' That fucking proves my point! I wanted to raise the fucking flag. I was like, there you go. There you go. What people need to notice, if you're in the United States, you already know. If you're tailgating at Ozzfest, someone's gonna play fucking Pantera to Willie Nelson into Slayer into Johnny Cash into fucking Megadeth into fucking DevilDriver. That's the way that it goes. That music is all-encompassing. I heard it on multiple buses when I was touring. So we're really trying to, in these interviews, paint that picture for the person in the U.K. and Europe that goes, 'Huh? Country, metal, what?' And you're like, 'Yeah dude.'
Hank III has a fucking punk project. Hank III is in Superjoint. Metal and Country, there's a thing there and they go together. Look, when Dime and David Allen Coe got together, and they did their thing, they were definitely trying to fucking bring it together and do something. But this is a whole different animal. It's actual country tunes done metal. So I think people are gonna love this, man. Perhaps you don't know "Whiskey River" by Willie Nelson and you listen to our version and love it, maybe you'll go check out his.
Our thanks to DevilDriver's Dez Fafara for the interview and stay tuned for the second part of the interview coming soon. The 'Outlaws 'Til the End' album is due July 6 through Napalm Records and you can pre-order yours through the platform of your choosing here while extra bundle incentives can be found here.