Q & A with Dez Farfara of Devil Driver
By Dave Schwartz

I hope itís not too much of a surprise to the reader to learn that conducting interviews can often be a fairly mundane process. All too often the artist has rehearsed the answers to all of the questions we lazily ask over and over. It really takes the spontaneity out of the mix, bores the artist and makes the writer's job all the more difficult as he tries to write an article thatís truly interesting. But every now and again the writer connects with the artist and the results need little, if any, help from the writer. This is one of those occasions.

Dez Farfara has a lot to say. Heís never been one to shy away from voicing an opinion and more importantly, his opinion matters. Recently I hooked up with Dez to talk about Devil Driver, Coal Chamber, where music is going and where it came from. And when we were done, I felt it best to let Dez speak for himself.

Dez: Your area code is 949, where are you calling from?

Dave: Mission Viejo, California.

Dez: There you go, thatís my old stomping grounds! I grew up all around Orange County. El Toro, Mission Viejo, all around there. I had a great childhood there!

Dave: Thatís great! Itís nice to have fond memories of your childhood. Thanks for giving us the time to talk. I called RoadRunner Records about a week back to make the arrangements. I was surprised that things happened so quickly. Thanks for taking the time.

Dez: Thanks to you. We appreciated it. We appreciated all the help and the spreading of the word we can get.

Dave: Iím really excited about your last album. It sounds great. Itís really tight and so hard-core. Itís such a departure from what you were doing. Speaking of which, are you still with Coal Chamber or is that gone?

Dez: No, Iím not in Coal Chamber anymore. We had a good run, almost 10 years together. Those guys want to do more electronic, Linkin Park kind of stuff. I just had to go my own way, it was time. I really believe that any kind of art should be in your heart, you know what I mean? And itís difficult leaving any kind of art or relationship youíve had for that long. It was a big step for me, but I had to take it.

Dave: Yeah, thereís always an emotional attachment with anything you do musically. Itís an art form and if it doesnít come from the heart it isnít being done well.

Dez: In the end, any kind of change is like finally clocking out of your old job and walking into a new one. Youíre so happy. And thatís really what Iíve been feeling lately. Itís kind of a resurgence in my soul! I donít want to sound too deep, but fuck, itís so true. Everything that Iím doing feels cool now, every little show, every rehearsal, everything.

Dave: This record is a real departure from your past. Youíve gone far more hard-core. Iím sure this must have been a conscious decision.

Dez: This I can say this was very much a conscious decision. After Coal Chamberís first album, I had thought that this would be the direction we would go. But after several more albums, they never really came with the music. Just writing lyrics and singing, I donít play any instruments, I really couldnít get the music out there that I wanted. It was time to move on and this was certainly the direction I wanted to go.

Dave: In going through your bio you're quick to catch the story of meeting the guitar player at the restaurant. It almost sounds like fate. I mean first of all a great guitar player that recognized you and had the nerve to walk up and hand you his phone numberÖ

Dez: A lot of people pay attention to that story, but I really believe the rest of the story is more important. You know, itís about how the rest of the band came together. We gained everybody really organically. Just walking into clubs and saying, ĎHey you sound good in that band. Do you want to join us?í And thatís really how it went in Devil Driver.

Dez apologized and then paused for a moment to catch his breath. He was calling from a cell phone as he walked with his wife home from the beach.

Dez: We moved to this small town where my wife had grown up. Itís up near Santa Barbara. I thought, now this is a place where I can hang out. We started going to clubs and discovered that thereís a huge music scene up here. People donít even know how massive a music scene is happening up here. And I saw so many great musicians. After a while we were having barbecues at my house and certain people would come over and it was like, ĎOh, you play guitar; you play bass? We should jam.í And thatís how it happened.

Dave: So you started to hook up with musicians by getting out into the community.

Dez: That was it right there. They were coming over for drinks and next thing you know weíre in a rehearsal room jamming.

Dave: Thatís really very cool when things can just fall into place. It seems that you wrote this record purely for the music and not for the industry. What can you tell me about that?

Dez: Thereís a lot going on in the industry right now. Downloading has really hurt. The record companies have really hurt the artists and there has also been some huge mergers. Some of the big record companies are just buying everyone out. And a lot of radio stations are controlled by only one or two conglomerates. So I said, hey this is really going to kill art so letís not concentrate on writing the hit single. Iíve done both sides in my career. The first album with Coal Chamber was an art-owned thing. And then the second album we did a song with Ozzie thinking we would get some airplay. Iíve seen both sides of the coin and I feel we should just be true to our art. We didnít want to be someone elseís dream of what we could be. We just wanted to be heavy metal and the kind of metal I grew up on was really never on the radio. It was always the kind of stuff where a friend would turn me onto it.

Dave: I can completely relate to what you saying. I remember the old progressive days on the radio where there werenít very many commercials and the DJ talked in this ultra low voice. And it was great because you would hear those deep album tracks that no other radio station would consider playing.

Dez: The other day my wife and I were sitting and listening to a classic radio station up here. They were playing old '70s stuff. And some of the songs they played were eight or nine minutes long with these big intros and I said, "God modern radio stations would never play that now." Neither would a rock band or pop / alternative band. Songs have to be three-and-a-half minutes, it has to have the hit chorus, and we just didnít want to go with any of those confines. Iím glad you could pick up on that.

Dave: But something has to give here. It seems to me that the industry underestimates the intelligence of the audience.

Dez: Thatís very true. If this had been happening in 1968 or '70 we never wouldíve had any of those bands like Black Sabbath and other bands that were out there just doing their own thing. I think we just want to stay out of that mess and Iím glad you picked up on it. In fact a lot of people have been picking up on it. Itís a fact that I left a moneymaking project to go do true art. Iím not doing anything directly for the radio and that subsequently translates directly into dollars. A lot of people have picked up on that and it makes me feel good. My family is behind me 100 percent and the struggle is good. The heavy metal struggle is good.

Dave: Youíve outlined rather succinctly why youíve chosen to forego radio, but at the same time youíve chosen to release a video. That almost seems contrary to your position.

Dez: A video is the one tool that you can do and sort of get away with, and when I say that I mean the video doesnít have to be so straight. On radio the songs have to be straight. With a video you can kind of project your art onto other people. The video for "Nothings Wrong" has me playing cards with the devil for my life. And at first people thought it was too dark and that no one would show it. But MTV2 made us band of the week and Uranium pick up on it right away and I said to everybody around me at the record company, "Hey, people are picking up on art so donít try and put me in a box." It really all comes down to that. Itís about being happy with yourself at the end of the day. And I can say that I sleep real well at night.

Dave: We already touched on this a little bit, but youíre comparing this album to the story of Faust?

Dez: Yes this is what Iím touching on. Everyone sells their soul for something and Iíve definitely sold my soul for my music, my art, my love of people, my love of playing live music and touring. Itís going to be my tenth year next year and I havenít done anything but those things. My job is music and I hope to stay the course on that for another ten years.

Dave: You have been fortunate.

Dez: Iíve been very fortunate. I realize that and I count my blessings every time I release an album! The people I look up to like Ozzy Osbourne and Phil Anselmo from Pantera. Iíve seen these people move on and do their thing and Iím just trying to do mine.

Dave: Youíre already touching on my next question. I was going to ask about influences. Itís easy to point out all the obvious names. Unfortunately the younger kids today didnít live through the metal years so itís easy for them to be pigeonholed into just a couple of bands. Itís nice to hear you call out some of the deeper influences. You have that understanding that there was more going on than just Van Halen.

Dez: Oh, there you go! Everything from Black Sabbath to Fear to the Circle Jerks and Black Flag. I love everything from punk rock to metal. I love all music. I listen to everything from Billie Holiday to Johnny Cash. Almost every night I either wear a Motorhead or a Johnny Cash T-shirt on stage! Those two really made me who I am. I really love Johnny Cash so much and I would have to say that if there were only one artist in my whole life it would be Johnny.

Dave: He really did have such a hard-core attitude.

Dez: He really did and you should read his autobiography. You wonít put it down. It is unbelievable the ups and downs this man had. It kind of makes me say that Iíve been through the last ten years and Iím sure to see ups and downs in my next ten. If I can make it with the same grace as Johnny, just wearing a black shirt and holding my middle finger up everything will be fine!

With that the interview melted into more of a conversation. Dez expressed gratitude to the fans who not only go to his shows, but also wait at the venue hoping to meet the band. But perhaps what impresses Dez the most is the level of understanding in the kids at his shows.

"What amazes me is the 13-year-old kid coming through the gate with a Judas Priest T-shirt on," he concluded. "Either that kid's dad turned him on to it or that kid is just really on it!"

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