It has been announced that Devildriver are releasing an outlaw country album later this year – not something you’d necessarily expect from the band famous for their most circle pit world-record attempts. Frontman Dez Fafara’s passion of country music is no secret, speaking to Hammer back in 2014 about his love of Jamey Johnson, Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson, so perhaps it was only a matter of time before the former nu-metal pioneer to neck some whisky and pick up an acoustic guitar.
And he’s not alone. The upcoming outlaw project isn’t just Dez and Devildriver’s baby, it features members of Lamb Of God, Rob Zombie, Fear and many more. But how did this metallic meeting come together, and what can we expect from a heavy metal outlaw country album? We caught up with Dez himself to find out.
Why have you decided to make a country covers album?
“Outlaw music inspires me and always has. Outsider art interests me. Old school punk-rock like Fear or The Germs, goth like Bauhaus or Alien Sex Fiend, bands like the MC5 that broke boundaries, all the way to outlaw country artists like Hank Williams or Johnny Cash. These artists were all outsiders to the popular culture of music surrounding them at the time, and it’s something I’ve strived for within the confines of my own music and paintings.
“It’s a little known fact to those outside the USA that if you walk on any heavy metal tour bus in The States and stay for a stint, you’re going to hear some outlaw country. If you’re on my bus, the music can switch from Black Flag to Willie Nelson right back into Motörhead as I’m far from a purist when it comes to my love of music.
When I hear Ghost Riders In The Sky by Johnny Cash I get goosebumps. It’s dark, it’s menacing, and I always hear these songs in my head done heavy with metal guitars and metal vocals. When I approached the band about this, everyone was immediately on board and it was obvious from our cover of Black Soul Choir by 16 Horsepower that we not only had a good time making this type of music, but our fans loved the cover. And so, Ghost Riders is the first song that made the list, and is the first song to receive guest vocals by John Cash Jr and Randy from Lamb Of God.”
What first attracted to you to country music?
“I love the raw, no-bullshit lyrics. Stories of tough times, drinking, jail, heart-ache, all things that I identified with at a young age coming from a rough upbringing where domestic abuse and beatings in my household that were very prevalent. If you’re singing about staring down the barrel of a gun, I’ve been there, or singing about the loss of a loved one, we’ve all been there. or how you were up all night drinking – these stories are totally relatable.
“It was only later when I ended up running away from home – sleeping under bridges, stealing my food or later ending up in jail – that I realised these songs had somewhere along the way saved me, in my youth and adult life, and I could still go back and listen to them for a sense of comfort.”
For people who don’t know anything about country, where should they start?
“Start with Hank Williams Sr then jump right to Hank III and look at the similarity in looks, in sound, in heartache. Listen to the lyrics that Johnny Cash sings. I dare you to find a more hard lyric than ‘I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die!’ It just doesn’t get harder or more real than that. No black metal band singing about dragons and the frost of winter is gonna touch that lyric. From the beginning, I’ve based my writing style on stories and spitting out scenarios. Go read the lyrics to DevilDriver’s Pray For Villains record, it’s an outlaw country record. Songs like Forgiveness Is A Six Gun all reek of outlaw style.”
What slant are Devildriver going to give the country genre?
“It’s gonna be done heavy as fuck, like how I’ve always heard these songs. The songs stay true to the original structure and melodies, but we have brought them into the metal realm and they are fantastic!”
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How did you choose which songs to cover?
“This was actually the easy part. Certain artists like Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash had to get covered. But the songs had to have a chorus that stood out and the lyrics had to be relatable, and I had to feel them, because you can’t truly cover a tune unless you’re emotionally involved with it.”
Why is this a Devildriver project and not something you wanted to tackle solo?
“Why go solo when you love the guys you’re playing with? I would just call those cats to lay the tunes anyways ha ha! The vibe in the band has been so amazing, it becomes effortless to write and record when you enjoy those you work with.”
We’ve heard rumours there are a number of special guests involved, can you tell us who?
“I can only say a few of them now, but there are numerous and legendary cats. John Carter Cash, Anna Christina Cash, Danzig, Lee Ving, Randy Blythe, Mark Morton. John 5 – these are just a small percentage of what is possibly going to be the most interesting group of people ever put together to pay tribute to outlaws – and do it metal! It’s never been done before and I love breaking new ground.
“And it must be said that all the artists I’m working with have forever been on my bucket list to work with, such as my child hood idol Lee Ving. When I called Lee he immediately got on the phone with me and fucking sang Hank Williams to me, not a verse or one chorus, the whole song! My wife saw me beaming and recorded him on speaker on video – I’ve watched it close to 50 times now! So it’s about bucket list shit in life, doing what the heart wants when the heart wants it.”
How do you think your more ‘metal-only’ fans will react to the country covers album?
“I don’t care – I’m so far from a purist when it comes to music. I’m moved just as much by Sabbath as I am by David Bowie, or The Clash just as much as GBH or The Partisans. To give up listening to Motörhead or The Cure would be like losing a fucking limb to me.
“The ‘purist’ that only listens to metal is either a lying in the face of their friends to be cool, or they’re missing out on a world of flavour and character. What would life be without classic Zeppelin or The Gypsy Kings on a hot day with a beer in your hand? I do what I like, when I like, and that is most likely why I’m still talking to you after over 20 years.”
Are there any other genres you’d like to see Devildriver take a stab at?
“We would kill a punk covers record and I would not put any bullshit post-punk, pop-punk shit in there either. The Germs, old Black Flag, Fear, GBH, The Sex Pistols, The Partisans, Minor Threat etc. Just say when!”