Dez Fafara once said that going back to Coal Chamber would be like doing school again.
Almost a decade since the band acrimoniously split following an onstage altercation, a reformed version of the band will make their world debut at Soundwave next year. On the phone from his home in California, the evenly-spoken DevilDriver frontman pauses to give me some anti-hangover advice that he learned from Dimebag Darrell before he opens up about getting back with former Coal Chamber compadres Meegs Rascón and Mikey Cox.
“In ’05, Meegs started coming around, he apologised to my wife for the way things went down with Coal Chamer, because when Coal Chamber split up I had to move my family into a one bedroom apartment and start all over,” the singer explains. “So when he apologised to my wife I thought, ‘Well, OK, he’s got a big heart inside him. And he’s clean off the hard drugs now, let’s see if this goes awhile’. So let’s fast forward a few years to ’09, he and Mikey were still clean off of hard drugs, Meegs came out and did “Loco” onstage with DevilDriver. After that he gave me a hug on-stage and in my ear he said, ‘Let’s do this again’.”
The web lit up with amazement and disbelief when Fafara announced that Coal Chamber would be returning, almost to the same degree as when, two weeks later, the first line-up announcement for Soundwave was made. Studded with other names like Slipknot and Marilyn Manson, the top of the bill looks as though it could be an early 00s version of Ozzfest, and in fact it almost is. Coal Chamber toured on Ozzfest ’98 with Limp Bizkit and System of a Down.
“We’re all friends. We all did Ozzfest together. It’s going to be an amazing reuniting of friends and to put them all on the one stage in front of that many people I think you’re going to see an explosion like you haven’t seen in a long time,” Fafara says, enthusiastically. “Not just Coal Chamber, but all those bands being together on one stage will be incredible.” Coal Chamber never had the chance to bring their energy to Australia during their original run. Dez admits that every time they put feelers out in our direction, a bigger, un-refusable offer came their way instead.
“Black Sabbath offered us a stadium tour around the world so we couldn’t come down, Pantera offered us a tour round the world so we couldn’t come Down Under and after that,” he explains. “We got invited Down Under again and Megadeth offered Coal Chamber a tour. So we never got to come down there.”
Fafara’s friendship with Soundwave promoter AJ Maddah helped seal the deal, especially when he found out the list of other acts that were being considered for next year’s festival – friends they’d toured with and mentored in the late 1990s.
“I know AJ and his wife really well,” he says. “They’re great friends of my family, they flew my wife and my children down last time and I think they’re really great people. And I said to AJ early on – this was months ago – ‘Hey I’m really thinking about this’ and he told me about some of the bands he was thinking about having on, and when I heard Slipknot, who Coal Chamber took on their first United States tour ever, or Machine Head – who Coal Chamber took out in the United States and Machine Head took Coal Chamber out overseas – and I heard System of a Down… System of a Down opened for Coal Chamber three or four years before they even had a record deal. I said to myself, this is the perfect time to do it.”
No sooner had the announcement been made than the band was being deluged with requests to play more and make new records. Dez is keeping a lid on speculation about Coal Chamber’s future beyond Soundwave for the moment.
“We’re not talking about that man,” he says. “We’re just gonna do Soundwave and that’s all for right now. We’re gonna see what happens from there. Since we’ve announed we’re gonna be coming down, we’ve had offers to do tours all over the world. We haven’t even talked about that. We haven’t even discussed it. We’ve also had record deals thrown at us – four record deals in the last week thrown at us – but we’re just not even discussing it. We’re coming down to Soundwave to be happy, be friends and play good music, and after that I’ll discuss everything.”
While he’s keen to point out that the reunion will in no way effect DevilDriver, Dez Fafara also makes it clear that he misses Coal Chamber. He can’t say enough about the power he believes Meegs and Mikey exude onstage and how much he enjoyed being a part of it.
“They’ve been clean off hard drugs, they’ve got their lives together, I’ve got my life with DevilDriver, we miss playing together on-stage. I miss… those guys have got a serious fucking aura on stage, no doubt about it. I miss that. I miss those songs. I miss everything about it. So we’re gonna revisit it and the best place to do it is Down Under,” he says. “It’s a perfect time right now. It’s ten years later, everybody’s fucking one hundred per cent focused, and we’re coming down for one reason only, and that’s to own the day and take everybody to the bank. Period.”
Yet there’s still the issue of Fafara’s vow, oft-repeated in the time since Coal Chamber’s demise, that he had moved on. He’s on record as saying at least once that going back to the band would be like “repeating the 4th Grade”. But a decade is a long time in music, and if Dave Mustaine can see his way clear to stand right next to Kirk Hammett on-stage, anything else is possible. A great deal has happened since Rascon hit Fafara in the head with his guitar during a show in May 2002.
“The water under the bridge was like this,” the singer recalls, “we met, we all moved into a one bedroom apartment, we all fought our way to get out of L.A. together. We got record deals, we toured. Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll were all great, but the drugs got in the way. So when I realised that me going on-stage was feeding them money that was killing them, I left the band. I cut my own nose off to spite my face, but I saved my friends so in the end the karma’s mine. And the water is under the bridge. It’s gone. You can’t hold a grudge forever and these people are good people and good players.”
His enthusiasm for revisiting Coal Chamber is almost matched by how keen he is about the other major attractions at Soundwave. He has especially kind words to say about Slipknot, who were virtually unknown when they partnered Coal Chamber on an American tour soon after signing to Roadrunner Records.
“I can remember when Coal Chamber took Slipknot out on their first US tour for eight weeks,” Dez says. “I wanted to go see what the band was about in Dallas, their second night. I walked in on their second song, walked back into my bus, white as a ghost, and told everybody on the bus, ‘You better go witness what’s happening here. This band is unreal’. Now cut to ten years later, they’re one of the biggest bands on the planet, Corey Taylor’s doing everything from singing in Stone Sour to going on stage singing Pink Floyd songs and with Spongebob Squarepants doing all these songs for kids. To watch these artists grow with their careers over time has been incredible and to do this festival with them is a great thing.”
Unlike Slipknot and System of a Down, Coal Chamber broke apart early and haven’t spent the last ten years touring and recording. And yet Dez Fafara doesn’t see that as a setback, because when they tour this time they’ll be clean, and more committed than ever before.
“[SOAD and Slipknot] have held up over time,” he says. “I’ve no doubt that Coal Chamber would have held up over time, but it’s good that we went away because it was only 50-60 per cent capacity because people were fucked up on drugs. Now you’re gonna get us at 100 per cent capacity and you’re gonna get the real deal, what you should have seen in the first place. So hold on to your hats and get loco with me.”
Soundwave Festival 2012 dates-
Saturday 25 February – RNA Showground, Brisbane- SOLD OUT
Sunday 26 February – Olympic Park, Sydney- SELLING FAST
Friday 2 March – Showgrounds, Melbourne- SOLD OUT
Saturday 3 March – Bonython Park, Adelaide
Monday 5 March – Claremont Showgrounds, Perth
Coal Chamber also appearing with Marilyn Manson, Wednesday 13 and Motionless in White at the following dates-
Friday 24 February- Eaton Hill Hotel, Brisbane (Licensed All Ages)
Wednesday 29 February- Enmore Theatre, Sydney (Licensed All Ages)