For the past 25 years, Dez Fafara has earned a living by making heads bang. But when the Devildriver (and former Coal Chamber) frontman announced plans to make an album of outlaw country covers, many heads were scratched.
Luckily for Devildriver fans, the band’s eighth album, Outlaws ’Til The End, Vol. 1 is arguably their heaviest outing yet, with a vibe that’s closer to black metal than Man In Black. Dez recorded with a number of friends in low places, including Randy Blythe, John Carter Cash, Hank 3… and fellow outlaw country aficionado Wednesday 13.
Like Dez, Wednesday has his own outlaw country side-hustle, Bourbon Crow. We joined the pair at the Devildriver man’s Southern California home studio to chew the fat about the unlikely links between these two shitkicking genres.
Let’s start with the obvious question: why make an album of outlaw country covers?
Dez: “I knew it was going to be three years between Devildriver records, and we had to give our listeners something special. Everything else has kind of been done. Metal bands have covered metal; metal bands have covered 80s tunes; tons of metal bands have done punk covers. What hasn’t been done? Outlaw country. I wanted to do it because I’ve always heard those songs heavy in my head. The lyrics are so poignant and so real, the stories are so intense, and it just lends itself to, ‘Let’s make this stuff heavy.’ We also wanted to pay homage to what you hear when you’re tailgating at a metal gig. Outside my bus, if you’re tailgating, I’m going to hear Slayer into Johnny Cash into Metallica into Willie Nelson. No one looks around like it’s weird. It’s visceral, it’s real, it’s poignant, and that’s why we chose it.”
Are you worried about any potential blowback from it?
Dez: “It’s kind of like kicking sand into purists’ faces. I think that’s why an artist exists – to do something different. I’ve been doing it my whole life with Coal Chamber and Devildriver. I have never walked any kind of line other than my own… no pun intended. Even early on, I had a pretty famous, well-known record guy call me and say, ‘You’re going to do outlaw country tunes with Devildriver? It’s probably not the best thing you can do for the brand.’ I sent him the record, and 24 hours later I got an email from him that was like an apology – ‘I’ll never doubt you again. You know what you’re doing.’”
What are your earliest memories of outlaw country?
Wednesday: “As a kid, it was played on my parents’ radio. We had a little brown radio that sat in the kitchen, and my mom’s up making breakfast, making lunch, making dinner, cooking and listening to music. I’m running around the house playing with G.I. Joes, so I would always hear this music. I didn’t like it [at first]. You don’t like what your parents like. I think the reason I didn’t understand country at first is because country, when you really listen to the lyrics, it’s life songs. When you’re a little 12-year-old kid, you haven’t lived life yet. You can’t appreciate a good song from Waylon Jennings talking about being out and missing your kids until you’ve lived life. As I got older, I went, ‘I get this now. It makes sense.’”
Dez: “Lyrically, it’s so on the mark. I’ve never liked shit I can’t relate to, and there’s some stuff in metal that I fucking can’t stand – singing about dragons, and ’on the fields of battle in the snow…’ I’ve never fucking seen a dragon. I’ve never been on the fields of battle in the snow. Even if I loved the sound of the band and the look of the band, the minute it’s about dragons, I’m like, ‘Dude, you’ve never seen a dragon. How are you writing that shit?’ So you come back to country. The stuff they’re writing about is so real – ’If drinkin’ don’t kill me, her memory will’ [from a song of the same title by American artist George Jones, who was married to Tammy Wynette and then went off the rails]. As a lyricist, the fact that I didn’t come up with that kills me.”
That’s the George Jones song you share vocal duties on. How did the collaboration come about?
Wednesday: “When Dez sent me If Drinking Don’t Kill Me (Her Memory Will), I had to look around the room, because that is my favourite country song. It’s also my favourite George Jones song. The original version is so dark and depressing, and if anybody who knew me saw me at, like, five in the morning with that song on, they were like, ‘Stay away from that guy. He’s in a dark place.’ I was definitely down for doing it.”
Dez: “Devildriver are really known for taking covers and making them our own. A song like [1973’s] Whiskey River by Willie Nelson, Randy [Blythe] from Lamb of God said, ‘I didn’t expect it to sound like a Darkthrone tune.’ You’ve got to keep the structure so the song sounds alike and try to keep some of the melody, but other than that, it’s like, ‘Make the cover your own.’”
Wednesday: “That was weird at first, because it’s such a different arrangement from the original. I think the people who know the songs are going to be like, ‘This is awesome to hear this version,’ and then people that have no idea of the songs are just going to be like, ‘This is an awesome song,’ because it sounds like Devildriver. It’s not like when you hear all these songs, you hear the artists that you covered. It doesn’t sound like that. It’s a whole ’nother beast.”
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Why did you bring in so many guest vocalists for the album?
Dez: “It just kind of spiralled out of control. I asked Danzig to do it; he said he was in, but then he got busy with the Misfits and his record. Then I started going, ‘I only want to do this if I can get Randy – one metal cat – and if I can get Hank 3 or John Carter Cash.’ It just so happened, everybody I talked to was basically in. I was extremely humbled. And if they couldn’t be on it, like Corey Taylor – he was like, ‘Dude, I just can’t; I’ve got no time. But I’ll be one of the first guys to help you push this. This is an awesome idea.’ Just hearing that made me really feel like I was doing something cool.”
Do you think this album will turn metalheads into country fans?
Dez: “Take a metal kid that has hair down to his waist. He’s in his leather pants, he’s got every patch on his vest, the bullet belt is shining and he’s not listening to anything else [but metal]. That’s the listener we want to get. That’s the one that’s going to turn this record on and go, ‘God damn, this thing is heavy’ and then he’s going to go, ‘Huh, maybe there’s something to that country shit…’”
Wednesday: “Type O Negative covered Summer Breeze [originally written/recorded by Seals & Crofts in 1972], which is one of the coolest covers ever. When you listen to the original, they’re two different types of songs. But they’re both great songs. I think it’ll be cool for kids that have no idea [what the original versions sound like] to go back and listen and just go, ‘Whoa.’”
Dez: “I think when people think country, they think mellow. They don’t get what the music actually is – it’s piss and vinegar.”
Wednesday: “When they look up some of these artists and see some of their stories, it rivals any rock’n’roll story ever. Some of the most punk guys were influenced by country stuff. These outlaw guys were like Lemmys. I look up to them like I do to my rock’n’roll heroes.”
What do you think metal fans can learn from outlaw country?
Dez: “The lyrics are so fucking intense. Listen to Whiskey River – ’Whiskey river, take my mind. Don’t let her memory torture me.’ If you can’t relate to that sitting in a pub drunk on a Friday night, something’s wrong. Now, they don’t have that song playing in the UK in a metal club on a Friday night – but soon they will. [When someone hears it and says], ‘Oh, I love that song,’ somebody’s going to be like, ‘You know, that’s a Willie Nelson song.’”
Wednesday: “It opened my mind. I was a stubborn little glam rock and punk rock kid, and I wouldn’t listen to anything that didn’t look cool or had that attitude. Once I started opening my mind to everything, including country, my musical thing now is so wide open. It could open people up; it could not. It will be fun to see.”
Do you plan to bring this album to the stage?
Dez: “I’d like to do some shows behind this record, but I want the guests involved. That’s going to be hell! Whenever everybody is off tour, I want to get every single singer on a bus and crews on another bus, and I want to do Nashville, LA, New York and somewhere else – somewhere in Texas. And I want to film it, pay-per-view or whatever.”
Wednesday, how much crossover is there between your ‘regular’ fanbase and fans of your own outlaw country project Bourbon Crow?
Wednesday: “Going from what I do – which is super-goth horror rock, whatever you want to call it – and then I’m doing a country project, people had rocks in hands, like, ‘What are you doing? Don’t do it!’ I just said, ‘I’m doing what’s inside of me.’ Once I did it, people started following it, and there’s people who dig my country stuff and hate Wednesday 13. It’s bizarre – it’s like a whole other culture of people.”
Johnny Cash covered songs by Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden. Why don’t more country artists cover metal?
Dez: “They’re afraid of losing their careers. I should be, too! I think the country side, their standards are more… I don’t want to say closed-minded, but more traditional, more religious. ‘My favourite country guy just did the Devil’s music. I’m never listening to him again. My pastor says…’ You don’t get that [in metal]. My pastor’s not telling me anything – I don’t have a pastor. Country guys are not going to risk their livelihoods. Me, I’ve risked my career every fucking record I make. I don’t care – when I came out with Coal Chamber, it was totally different than what was going on at the time, and even Devildriver. I’ve always taken risks. I can cover [Iron Maiden’s] Wasted Years, but I can also cover Sail by Awolnation. And it works. You can do those kind of things in metal. Actually, you can’t – you’re not supposed to. That’s why this hasn’t been done!”
Which metal song really deserves a country cover?
Dez: “Any Danzig tune!”
Published in Metal Hammer #322