DevilDriver’s Dez Fafara: My Life In 10 Songs

Dez Fafara
(Image credit: Stephanie Cabral)

Dez Fafara is one of music’s great survivors. As a member of Coal Chamber, he was there at the birth of nu metal. When that band imploded, he dusted himself down, formed DevilDriver and reinvented himself as a modern metal icon. The latter’s ninth album, Dealing With Demons Vol.1, proves that time hasn’t dimmed his fire. We asked Dez to talk us through the 10 key songs he’s written over the years that best sum up his musical journey.

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Coal Chamber – Loco (1997)

“I genuinely believe that Loco is the reason Coal Chamber got signed and the reason we got our first gold record. We wrote that song in early 1992. It was well before the Deftones and the System Of A Downs of this world were doing their thing, so that song absolutely defined that moment. It was the driving force of our shows – and you have to remember that in 1995-96 the Sunset Strip scene was dead, yet we were selling out the Roxy. So, I think it was a real moment for that style of music, and the doors opened up very soon after that.

We were just kids doing what we thought was cool, we weren’t braiding my hair and wearing fishnets because it was the cool thing to do. Everyone back that had their own unique flavour – Korn and Deftones both had their own thing and we had this different goth vibe, it was cool to see. 1995 to 1999 was a really good time for us all to make our art that wasn’t skewed by any commercial decisions. We were making our art and we just happened to be getting popular for it.”

Coal Chamber – Shock The Monkey (1999)

“[Coal Chamber’s second album] Chamber Music was such a shock. It was such a departure from the first album. We were being managed by Sharon Osbourne at the time and Ozzy was a big Peter Gabriel fan. I had heard that that he didn’t do any guest spots, but I called Sharon myself and she put Ozzy on the phone and said ‘We’re doing Peter Gabriel’s Shock The Monkey, would you do it?’ and I immediately heard Sharon in the background go ‘Of course he would!’. 

“That song launched us all over the radio. We hadn’t had any real radio play until that point and it was suddenly going in at number one there, number three here, so it was a huge moment for us. And I think what is incredible is to know that we’ve never played that song live once, ever! I never wanted to play it without Ozzy and I certainly didn’t want to play it with an Ozzy backing track, I was so opposed to backing tracks, I hated them. So it’s the weirdest thing that the song that launched us is one we’ve never played live.”

Coal Chamber – Rowboat (2002)

“This is a curve ball. This band Flood were a very odd band and we heard this song, and we also heard they were splitting up, and we asked if we could buy their song. We just thought that we could do something cool with it, do it our own way. It’s just a very crazy, weird time signature, odd song, it was when I whipped out the bullhorn onstage and was doing all this weird shit. It was just something that set us apart from all those other bands that were in the scene at that time.

“You know, we started before Korn, but then I left the band for a bit in 1995 and so Korn got the jump on us, so we were always looking for something to make us stand out from the other bands. I still to this day love that tune, and when Coal Chamber got back together this song was in the setlist and people went nuts. So, it’s become a real fan and band favourite.”

DevilDriver – I Could Care Less (2003)

“It’s always difficult when an artist changes form, but this was the path and the direction that I chose. Of all the songs that we wrote for that first Devildriver album, this was the one that stood out to me to be the single and for us to make the video for. If you look at that video it’s me signing a deal with the devil, and what I’m saying is ‘Okay, here we go’, and I had no idea that my career could have ended there or taken off like it has.

I guess we were just lucky that we got our first European tour was with In Flames and our first US tour was with Danzig, we owe a lot to those guys for giving us a chance. During that time the walls were crashing down for nu-metal, I don’t know how Korn and Limp Bizkit survived - nu-metal was the dirtiest word there was. We watched everything crumble, and somehow DevilDriver slipped out of that. I think I Could Care Less is where we found that sound, so it’s a very important song for us.”

DevilDriver – End Of The Line (2005)

“That second record syndrome is a real thing, I’d experienced that with Coal Chamber, and I wasn’t willing to let that happen with Devildriver. This is where we become a very cohesive unit. I wasn’t listening to anything else that was going on in metal around that time, I was solely concentrating on Devildriver. It’s funny because I was talking to Robb Flynn just the other day and he told me End Of The Line is his favourite Devildriver song, and I can understand why, I can now listen back to some of the records that came out from that time and I can hear that there is a lot of Devildriver influence on a lot of the bands that were becoming popular at that time. So that record and song was very important.”

DevilDriver – Clouds Over California (2007)

“It’s a very Devildriver-y song. it’s got the word California in it, which is our home state, so it’s definitely one of the songs that we’re most known for and associated with. 

“I remember sitting on the floor writing lyrics in front of my fire on a winters day and looking up at the glass ceiling and all these clouds were above me, in Santa Barbara, watching them move, like time was moving forward. I just thought. ‘Hmm... clouds. Over California’. It all just came together.

“The video has my son in it playing me, my wife is in the video, it was all filmed in Santa Barbara, it’s special to us. We actually shot the whole video in all those places in about six hours, because we spent all the budget on the actual record and had to borrow some cameras for free, but it ended up being the biggest song on the album and the video our biggest video.”

DevilDriver – Sail (2013)

[DevilDriver’s sixth album] Winter Kills was a little too short and it needed something else. I was driving in my car and I got a call from my son, and he said to me ‘I’m listening to this band called AWOLNATION, you should check them out, maybe you might wanna cover this song, Sail.’

“I put it on, and, as soon as I heard it, I thought it was so weird that I knew we could cover it and really make it our own. In my career I’ve tried to stay away from covers, so this was a weird out of the box thing that really could have failed miserably, it could have backfired, but it just propelled Winter Kills.

The funny thing is, that AWOLNATION have actually now covered our version of their song, they’re covering our cover of them! See them live, it’s true! They went back and did it heavy, which is flattery to us beyond belief.”

Coal Chamber – I O U Nothing (2015)

“I had been told endlessly: ‘Don’t get back with Coal Chamber! Don’t do another Coal Chamber Album, it’ll ruin everything you’ve done with Devildriver! Ah god, you’re gonna do nu-metal!’. Honestly, that is the worst thing you can say to me. As soon as you say ‘Don’t jump off that cliff!’ you hear the splash and I’ve jumped and hit the water.

“I remember getting the music for I O U NOTHING and thought that it was unbelievable. it was a motivating factor for me in the band, I just really wanted to be happy making music, and the recording of that album gave us some problems… I’ll save those for my book. All the old things that could have come up came up. It was not an easy album to make, but I’m still very proud of it.”

DevilDriver – Keep Away From Me (2020)

“Keep Away From Me is very personal to me, I never usually tell people what songs are about, but I’ve been more open on this one. I’ve been telling people that I’ve been socially distancing all my life. I’m terribly agoraphobic, I don’t do well in crowds – I was a kid that enjoyed playing in my room alone all my life.

So, what is the most personal thing that I can say about myself? That I’m incredibly awkward around people, and I have been all my life. It explores a very personal topic, and it kept us at number one for ten weeks in a row, on an album driven chart with a single. Think about that. It’s usually the sort of fast, out of the gate song that we release as the first single, but this is a very dark song and it has a lot of my goth roots in it. It’s a very fucking dark song.”

DevilDriver – Wishing (2020)

My first clean vocal for Devildriver. I said back in the mid-2000's that there would be no clean vocals in Devildriver, I should have clarified that I mean there will be no metalcore vocals in Devildriver. That shit I can’t stand.

“Again, Wishing is a very dark song, it’s about hoping that someone who left you will come back, someone that has passed on will come back, a presence in your life that you are longing for will come back into your life. That’s where I was at. “It was a big surprise to do a clean vocal. I made it low and heavy, screamy, punk rock, I tried every different type of vocal, and finally I said to our producer that we need to take a ten-minute break, and I’m gonna go smoke some good, California pot, and when I come back, I’m gonna give this song what I think it needs.

“We nailed it in two takes. It was me allowing myself artistically to give a song what it needed, rather than what I thought the band were. I jumped off the chasm and splash landed. The song got released and I told my wife ‘They’re going to release Wishing and it’s either going to make the band or destroy our career’, because I had seen the reaction to these types of songs from our peers. But it was absolutely what the song needed to be. There might be more coming, I neither can or cannot say...”

Stephen Hill

Since blagging his way onto the Hammer team a decade ago, Stephen has written countless features and reviews for the magazine, usually specialising in punk, hardcore and 90s metal, and still holds out the faint hope of one day getting his beloved U2 into the pages of the mag. He also regularly spouts his opinions on the Metal Hammer Podcast.