Coal Chamber's Dez Fafara
Who says you can't home again? After reuniting for a few shows several years ago, Coal Chamber completed the process by just releasing an excellent new record, Rivals. Simultaneously sounding like they haven't missed a beat in their 13-year break and yet far from a snapshot of days past, Rivals proves that Coal Chamber in 2015 is still a force to be reckoned with. I had the pleasure of catching up with vocalist Dez Fafara recently. Here's our conversation:
antiMusic: Congratulations on the record. A long time coming. Obviously, there are certain expectations when people put out something after a long time and you just shot it full of holes, man. I like every single track on it and it's just excellent.
Dez: Thank you very much. We appreciate it. I mean after the long absence, we surely didn't want to be part of some nostalgic record, or some '90s throwback record so our sound has had an evolution in it due to the time away. But we've just been getting so much positive feedback, it's just been overwhelming the feedback that we've been getting. After working so hard on it and hearing all that, it's really appreciated. Thank you.
antiMusic: Cool. I guess to start with, considering the turbulent history of the band, both internally and with your own family pressures, did it ever seem like one of those pinch-me moments when you were in the middle of recording?
Dez: Well, I mean when we first started to rehearse and we were just laughing all day long together, that's when all that hit me, where it was like, okay, pinch me. I can't believe we're even all in a room talking. But it should be resoundingly clear to anybody listening or reading, that if you have a chance in life to make up with somebody you fell out with, an old girlfriend, an old friend, an old boss that rightly may have fired you and you wanted to go back and say thanks for getting rid of me because when you did I got my sh*t together...do it! THAT's what that moment feels like.
And I think people should take more of a chance in life to reconnect with people that you fell out with because this has been very rewarding for us as people. And musically, VERY rewarding because we had a great time making the record and we found a new sound, a groove that I think is needed right now. It's just been a positive spirit.
antiMusic: Was reforming Coal Chamber a matter of completing a cycle and giving a musical force that was finished before it was finished another life or was it something that came from more of a personal standpoint that you wanted to repair old wounds and rebuild a huge sector of your past life?
Dez: Well, we started talking in 2006, and then in 2009 we demoed a couple of songs. I don't think we were happy with the music at that point. And it just took until 2012-13 when we toured together and we were having a good time and I was hearing the different stuff that they were writing, and I said, "Listen, the arrangements are mature. I definitely want to be part of it." Does it feel like a lifetime ago? Not really. It really felt like everything just slipped right back in. That being said if you had told me in 2006 that we would get back together I would have bet against it for sure.
antiMusic: Now this is probably an obvious observation but, Rivals has a certain amount of confrontational lyrical matter. Consider some of the titles, "Bad Blood Between Us", "The Bridges You Burn", "Karma Never Forgets", obviously the title track and in particular lines like "I saw your loyalty slide. You'll never be anything without me." Now I can't imagine that you would write anything so inflammatory about individuals that you recently patched things up with but was there a kernel of reality about this situation in there when you were penning these words?
Dez: No, there's really no lyrical content within the record having to do with any scenario or any person in or around Cold Chamber whatsoever. Actually, there is one lyric that says, "sometimes it's better to just give up," and that's the only one that would be about our situation where in the past it was better for me to just say, especially for me in my life to say, "Look I don't want to be part of this anymore. I gotta go."
But no, the lyrical content is definitely not about anyone within the camp whatsoever. That being said, I tend to write lyrics that are tangible and relatable to the everyday listener. And "The Bridges You Burn" or "Fade Away (Karma Never Forgets)", those are things you wanted to say a hundred times to whoever steps on your toes or forgot about you or this or that, you always want to say something. So I really do tend to write from the standpoint of the everyday person.
antiMusic: What was it like going into the studio in 2014 armed with a proven whole other job in DevilDriver and 13 years of experience, compared to your last record with this band, 2002's Dark Days? Were there any new tricks or recording approaches that you brought to the table this time?
Dez: No I mean, certainly my voice has grown and matured as well as their writing. It was just imperative that it come out different, that we do something different. And that being said, I was on a DevilDriver hiatus; we did 12 years, six records, never took anytime off. I mean in 20 years I haven't taken any time off so, I was getting ready to take two years off and then the Cold Chamber people hit me up and they said, "Listen, if you're going to be at home, would you mind laying down a record and then if you are home, can you do a few tours on this thing and see how it goes?" And I said, "Yeah, that's no problem as long as my hiatus from music allows me to be home with the family."
But bringing stuff to the table as far as vocals, I learned more off of doing this record than what I'm going to bring to the next DevilDriver record almost as what I've learned off of DevilDriver to bring to this. Because this is a very open spectrum when it comes to recording with Coal Chamber. I could use highs and lows and clean vocals and singing and talking and all sorts of things. It's been very overwhelmingly positive for this stuff.
antiMusic: I was going to say, sort of related to that...I can't imagine that you are ever short of confidence but were you more comfortable trying things vocally for this go-round, for instance some of the bits in "Light in the Shadows"?
Dez: Yeah, I love that song. I'm glad you mention that song; it's one of my favourite tracks.
antiMusic: Me too
Dez: Thank you. Really what you do, is you really just go on autopilot. If you think it, you over-think it. You'll start thinking of, well, what's the radio track or what's the lead track? Let's lighten up the vocal there. Let's not make the chorus so heavy. Let's not do this or that. And I don't any of that. So I go on autopilot. I do the art and then I look into it and say, what song on this would fit whatever media outlet you're looking for, be it radio, tv, etc. and sometimes they're there and sometimes they're not. But either way I haven't skewed the vision of the art and it just came out naturally. And I think that's the main focus with anything I do, DevilDriver or Coal Chamber.
antiMusic: How did the songs come into view? Did you get the title track first and that theme informed everything from there on after or did everything happen on its own time?
Dez: No, I mean I write all the tracks and I write all the titles and I write all anything that has to do with words, or artwork; I'm pretty much in charge of all that stuff. What happened is I got two songs that I really loved and when I figured "Listen, I want to write this thing as a whole so when you get the body of work, the greater body of work, then send in the record."
And I sat down and I had times when I wrote maybe one or two songs in a week and then I had times when I wrote six songs in one day. I went in around 4:30 in the morning, one morning and came out at 2 am at night and I had written, "I.O.U. Nothing", "Light in the Shadows", "The Bridges You Burn", "Bad Blood Between Us", and "Another Nail in the Coffin", all in one day.
Dez: That rarely, rarely ever happens. It's happened maybe three times in my whole life, over all the records I've ever done. But this thing was flowing out of me. I had a surplus of lyrics standing by that I had been writing for years and years. Well not for years and years, but at least for two years. Because we had started to talk around 2011 and 2012 about would we ever do a record so I immediately started writing for what I thought could be Coal Chamber. So I went into it very prepared. Most of the times I wrote two choruses or two verses, two songs for each song, so if we got into the moment with the producer, I could sing each one and we could decide which one would be the track. But I went over with it and the other ladies and gents were definitely over-prepared as well.
antiMusic: I was going to say were you ever anticipating a Coal Chamber reunion and maybe any of these songs were something that you put away for such an occasion?
Dez: You know, I usually start writing and I come up with a word or words that I think is a title track and from there I might write a chorus or sometimes it starts with a verse and it has no track but I started probably in 2012 kind jotting down an idea here and there.
antiMusic: Tell us about the title track. It's kind of epic and a bit removed musically speaking from the other tracks. How did this come together?
Dez: This was really a unique track. I think it was one of the tracks where me or Meegs didn't know if it was going to make the record, let alone be a title track. And you know I really sat with that for a long time. It was one of the last ones that I wrote too. And I really hadn't figured out just what it needed until I came up with those verses. I didn't know where I was going to go with it.
The chorus was obvious to me with Rivals and everything else. And then once we'd learned the song, and we played it through, we all started to talk and I said, "Man, I think not only is it a great song, but I think we may have a title to the record now and the title track" and everybody said, "Yeah, definitely." And we ran with it.
antiMusic: My favourite tracks are the title track and then the first 3 cuts. I mean you just go down those and it's a helluva way to start a record. "IOU Nothing" sounds like somebody lit a flame to a gas can. This almost sounds like it was put together for the live set. I can't imagine what a pit would look like when this is played. Tell us about this song.
Dez: It's been incredible to play that song live because it's been out now for a while. A lot of people know it. It's basically about having a life where you don't owe anybody anything, and watching your karma, making sure you take care of your karmic points and you don't owe anybody anything in order to be able to say " I owe you nothing."
But I mean when I got that track, I realised the chorus in about 26 seconds. I mean it was quick. The arrangement was tight and I was really feeling that song and I immediately spit out the words, I owe you nothing. And I was thinking, okay, you know what? This is going to work definitely for this chorus. But when that track appeared it was obvious to me where the rest of the record was going to go. It just started flowing because "I.O.U. Nothing" is one of the first tracks that I wrote words to.
antiMusic: What about "Bad Blood Between Us"?
Dez: Well, that track really came out on its own as well. That is about a relationship that you walk away from or they walk away from and you realise for years there's been bad blood between you. And just learning how to get through that is a positive moment. Like I said, I do tend to write very personal stuff. If you know anything about me or around me, anything that's going on in my personal life or has in my past, you can assume what the songs are about. but they really have a broader and a wider scope once you get down to it. Lyrically, you can go anywhere with it. And that's another thing about how I write lyrically. I want you to be able to put your own take, your own spin, your own story within the lyrics in order to relate to it. Know what I mean?
antiMusic: Sure. What about "Light in the Shadows"? In particular you change it up a little bit, your vocal style that is, in segments.
Dez: Well that's another place where I could use different textures, different styles, different vocal styles for this band. I was really reaching into the music that they brought me on this. It was great to record all these songs. And "Light in the Shadows" is just one of those grooves that I felt immediately and that line spit it self out, "light in the shadows isn't what they make it out to be" and it is about living with a certain amount of fame and not really digging that part of my job.
I mean I'm a very reclusive, very private guy and I have a handful of friends that I hang out with. I'm never really backstage at all the shows. You're not going to find me at the strip club and that kind of thing. So there are certain things that go along with what I do that, you know, light in the shadows isn't what they make it out to be (laughs). You know what I mean?
You've got to be careful of what you wish for. You know you learn to deal with those things and realise, okay, well, what you do comes with a certain number of things, a certain amount of pain. You know when I have to do meet and greets, I'm really the guy who gets in a room with more than 10 people and I want to split immediately. But you have to work through those things, and I have. That song encompasses all of that.
antiMusic: How did Al Jourgensen end up on "Suffer in Silence"?
Dez: Good friend, long-time friend, progenitor of the scene, started industrial music. Wouldn't have a lot of the bands out there if it wasn't for him. And he is one of the guys who could really understands what Coal Chamber does. We are definitely part of Bauhaus and The Damned meets Punk Rock on stage and heavy metal. He understands all those things.
So he was really the perfect candidate. I played him the song title, told him what the song was about, suffer in silence, about holding something in too long and not saying it when you should and how that could corrupt your inner self and ruin you really as a person. So you've got to learn how to speak up and speak out. And he was into it.
He came to the house, we had dinner and drank a couple of bottles of wine together and I'll tell you, watching that guy in my home studio, listening to him get that Al Jourgensen vocal was an incredible moment. Just an ah ha moment. He fits perfectly not only on the song but on record. I don't think there's another guy that I wanted on this record.
antiMusic: It's always the age old question of putting together a set list. Considering you've been away for so long and the album is still pretty fresh, how will you split things up? Will you try to please the fans and play predominantly a set made up of the old favourites or try to satisfy yourselves and try to make Rivals the new favourites?
Dez: Well, I think the first thing we had to do was say, "Look how many songs is it appropriate to play on a record that, at the time, was not going to be for two or three months? We all decided two and later on we hope to get to at least four to five songs.
That being said, we knew that "I.O.U. Nothing" was being put out and we wanted to put out "Rivals" because it was a different kind of track and we wanted people to know there were a lot of different rooms in this house that we built and that all the tracks had their own feel, their own different life about them. And then we'd go back to the records and the songs within the records that we'd done, the first three records, and we know what always works.
And there's always been those few that we know, "Loco", "Sway", "Big Truck". We're playing a track that was on the original demo that got us signed. so playing that really kind of evoked some cool emotions within the band because we all remember playing that before we had a record deal.
And then you go into Dark Days and you play songs off that. Songs off of Chamber Music that we did we play when we were together, which ones work live, which ones will people know because certainly if you're going to come back after 13 years you're not going come back after 13 years AND play obscure sh*t. I mean you'd be an idiot. (laughs) So you know, we didn't play real obscure tracks. We played ones we knew were the tracks that people really listened to off of the various records.
antiMusic: At this point you're on tour until June. How does this affect DevilDriver and how do you plan to split time going forward?
Dez: Well, DevilDriver is on a long hiatus. After 20 years of touring with no real break whatsoever, I had to take two years off. It's totally by coincidence that Coal Chamber came to me and said, "Listen, you're going to be home. You've got a home studio. If your main thing is being at home and having dinner with the family, you could always record there at night. You could always record during the day. Would you mind recording a record?" I said, "No, I'll do that."
It's the same thing with touring. Look you've still got a year and a half break, at least a year and a half break before you get back into the DevilDriver world. Whatever you want to do…would you mind doing a few weeks here? We just did nine days in South America at Monsters of Rock with Ozzy, Judas Priest and Motorhead which was killer. Now we're going over to Europe in about a week and a half but we're only going over for 18 days so the tours aren't long and we're taking it slow and we're making sure that we're having fun.
And yes, while I'm on a Coal Chamber record and certainly a Coal Chamber cycle, the main goal is to spend some time at home with my family right now, recuperate so that when I go back into the DevilDriver world, I go back in it full on. And DevilDriver is going to record in October, November this year for a next year release, some time in summer/fall. Yeah, and by that time we'll be out of the marketplace for like at least two and half years, a good two years.
And like I said, the band, we just needed a break. I mean Michael my guitar player is building a really bad-ass studio in his house, that's just one of the most wicked things I've ever seen. And I'm writing a lot. I'm sitting on12 or 13, well now 13 DevilDriver songs. And we'll probably write about 25 before we get into the process of figuring out what's going to be on the record.
Morley and antiMusic thank Dez for taking the time to speak with us.
Get your copy of the album here.
Visit the official website here.