Latest release: Outlaws til the End, Vol 1 (Napalm)Website: www.devildriver.com
When Dez Fafara realised the next DevilDriver album was still about two years away, he did what plenty of other reasonable musical artists have done and decided to release a stopgap collection of covers. And, like any metal musician, he went back and found the songs that inspired him, and put them through the DevilDriver wringer.
Because he’s Dez Fafara, however, it wasn’t a bunch of old school metal and hardcore songs that he chose to cover. To do that would be just too predictable. DevilDriver was going to turn their focus on country music – outlaw country, to be precise. “The heavy metal of country,” to use Fafara’s own words.
“When I announced I was doing this,” the singer says, “I had everybody telling me that it would affect the [DevilDriver] brand, that I should do it as a solo record, all of these things. One of the first people who contacted me and said it was a bad idea was Monte Connor from Nuclear Blast, the guy who first got us signed to Roadrunner Records.”
Fafara, of course, wasn’t about to be told what to do. What he didn’t bargain for, though, was how huge the project would become. Outlaws til the End has turned into something much more than a stopgap.
“Little did I know,” Fafara says for the second time, “how all-consuming this would be! The money ran out twice! The amount of time and planning it took… it just kept getting bigger.”
Fafara’s vision for the album included a range of guests from across the music world, friends like Lamb of God’s Randy Blythe and Mark Morton and heroes like Lee Ving. Everyone he asked came on board right away.
“There were specific people that I wanted to sing on this, people who represented the genres that most influenced me. Outlaw country guys of course – John Carter Cash, Hank [Williams] III, Randy [Blythe] and myself from the metal side, Wednesday 13 representing the Gothic side along with myself from [the] Coal Chamber [days], and Lee Ving from Fear, from hardcore punk.”
The results are astonishing. Visceral, raw and uncompromising, country music has never sounded this brutal. That was something else Fafara was very specific about.
“Bands do covers all the time,” he says, “but so often they end up sounding safe. Nobody wants to really put their own spin on things. Metal bands have done ‘Ghost Riders in the Sky’ before, but it’s never been done as a metal song. We just wanted to take these songs and put them through the DevilDriver meatgrinder.”
Originally written in 1948, ‘Ghost Riders in the Sky’ is an outlaw country standard that’s been recorded hundreds of times since then. DevilDriver decided to tackle Johnny Cash’s 1979 version – with Cash’s son and daughter-in-law John and Ana helping out alongside Blythe. A huge metal fan himself, John Carter Cash was a solid endorsee of the album.
“When we were down at Cash Cabin doing ‘The Man Comes Around’ with Lee Ving,” Fafara relates, “I was talking to John and I said, ‘Man, are you sure he [Johnny Cash] would be cool with us doing this?’ And he said, ‘Of course! He covered Nine Inch Nails’ ‘Hurt’, he did Soundgarden’s ‘Rusty Cage’.”
Outside the US, the affinity felt for country music by rock and metal fans might be hard to appreciate. Australia’s modern country scene, for example, seems primarily characterised by a bland homogeneity that apes that of America’s slick Nashville-produced country-pop megastars. It’s difficult to imagine the average Aussie metalhead tuning in to that. But this isn’t just any country music – DevilDriver is covering outlaw country, a reactionary style pioneered by the likes of Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, David Allan Coe and Hank Williams, Jr. that pays a debt to rockabilly and honky tonk, a rebel genre that broke away from the popular country music trend of the time. As Fafara explains, it’s music that strikes a chord with rock and metal fans in the States.
“I feel like I have to explain this to people in the UK and Europe, and also in Australia, but everywhere you go here in the States, every party, every barbecue, they’ll be playing Slayer or Lamb of God or some metal and then Johnny Cash will come on, or Hank III or Willie Nelson. Because those guys who are listening to Slayer, they also have a Johnny Cash patch on. They’re the ones listening to these guys, as well as their metal. It’s music for rebels – it’s outlaw music.”
When the first few songs of the album were finally revealed, people began to change their tune. Monte Connor texted Fafara to recant his declaration about it being a bad idea. Outlaws is every bit a DevilDriver album, and there’s more to come. The singer’s project expanded so far that a second edition will soon be on the way, and he has a message and a challenge for his metal brethren and peers – expect a lot more from DevilDriver.
“I hear a lot of people complaining about how the metal scene here in the States is taking a hit right now,” he says, “and when you look around, bands are only releasing albums every three years now. I go back to the bands I grew up with and they were putting out an album every year to eighteen months. There was no time for complacency. So I’ve decided from now on that DevilDriver is going to release a new album every two years or eighteen months. We’re going to up the ante, and I’m calling on all the other guys in the metal scene, if they’re serious about revitalizing the scene in the States, they should do the same.”
The rebel has spoken.