Famous Firsts: Devildriver's Dez Fafara on psychobilly and meeting Danzig

(Image credit: Nigel Crane \/ Getty)

He might look hard as nails, and you certainly wouldn’t fuck with him, but DevilDriver/Coal Chamber frontman Dez Fafara is your quintessential Californian surfer dude. He’s super chilled, bro.

That may come as a surprise to people who know Fafara by his stage persona; a heavily tattooed ball of rage thrashing out and instigating the largest circle pits known to man. But when Hammer caught up with the singer in London, he was, as always, 100% cool, calm and accommodating as he took us on a trip down memory lane…

What was the first album you ever bought?

“The first album I bought on my own was Kiss Alive. Every kid at school was a Kiss fan and so was I. I had the posters on my wall and I belonged to the Kiss army – the whole deal. There was just something special about their music and then when I saw them as a kid it was on. I had a huge amount of love and respect for rock ‘n’ roll in general because my parents had a big record collection, so I’d come home from school and listen to music for hours. But I wasn’t familiar with anything that looked like Kiss. My parent’s collection was all The Doors, Steppenwolf and Three Dog Night. When I first saw Kiss I was like, ‘What is this? Holy fuck, man.’”

What was the first single you ever bought?

“I was never really a single guy, I’d always just buy records. But on the last tour that we did with Hatebreed I went record shopping and found an original Johnny Cash I Walk The Line single on Sun Records. I saw that and thought ‘Okay, I might as well just start here.’ I don’t know how it is in the UK, but in America if you go on a metal tour bus then you’re going to here outlaw country music. If you come on my bus you’re going to hear Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, David Allan Coe and Johnny Cash. I have a real fondness for outlaw country music. That stuff is balls out heavy.”

What was the first gig you ever went to?

“It was a pyschobilly gathering. When I was in my teens I was a stand up drummer in a psychobilly band; we were like a more punk rock version The Cramps. The bands who played that show were groups like The Rockin’ Rebels, The King Bees, Jimmy & The Mustangs and probably like 20 others that I don’t remember. It hit me immediately. I was like, ‘Holy shit! I want more of this.’ From then on, I’d sneak out of my house late at night or say that I was spending nights with my friends and go to as many gigs as possible.”

What was the first gig you ever played?

“It was at a block party in Orange Country with a bunch of rockabilly bands. I was 15 years old and the band was called Screaming Wolves. I’m still in contact with the guitar player Buddy, and that cat still plays in a band called the Hot Rod Trio. It’s funny because I ran into him about six months ago at one of his shows and he busted out all these old photos of us together. It was great to look back on that time.”

How was the first Coal Chamber tour?

“It was with a band called Downset and we were three days into the tour when we decided we’d had enough of not being treated well by those cats. We were in Philadelphia at the Trocadero [historic theatre in Philadelphia] and there weren’t a lot of people there; there were probably about 100 people there and the place holds about 1,500. But I was looking up at the balcony and I saw what looked to me to be Glenn Danzig. You have to understand that when I was a young bricklayer all I did was listen to that first Danzig record, all the way to work and all the way back every single day. And it was Glenn. He came backstage and told us that he was kicking a band off the tour he was doing – it was Powerman 5000, actually – and he wanted us to replace them. So the next night we played Philadelphia again at a sold-out Electric Factory, and I’ve remained good friends with Glenn since then. He comes to my gigs in LA and I’ll go see him wherever he plays. Dreams come true, man. He’s one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet as well.”

Devildriver’s new album Trust No One is out now, via Napalm Records.

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Matt Stocks

DJ, presenter, writer, photographer and podcaster Matt Stocks was a presenter on Kerrang! Radio before a year’s stint on the breakfast show at Team Rock Radio, where he also hosted a punk show and a talk show called Soundtrack Apocalypse. He then moved over to television, presenting on the Sony-owned UK channel Scuzz TV for three years, whilst writing regular features and reviews for Metal Hammer and Classic Rock magazine. He also wrote, produced and directed a feature-length documentary on Australian hard rock band Airbourne called It’s All For Rock ‘N’ Roll, and in 2017 launched his own podcast: Life in the Stocks. His first book, also called Life In The Stocks, was published in 2020. A second volume was published in April 2022.