By David E. Gehlke
Covid nearly took DEVILDRIVER frontman Dez Fafara out in 2021. Fafara has since been very vocal about his brush with death and Covid's after-effects, which were recently brought into view when DEVILDRIVER canceled their appearance for this summer's Bloodstock Open Air in the U.K. due to inflammation in his lower heart. For now, future European dates are dependent upon his doctor's clearance. However, DEVILDRIVER just completed a run of West Coast dates with CRADLE OF FILTH and has additional legs in the works supporting the band's new studio album, "Dealing With Demons, Volume II". And as if that wasn't enough for Fafara, his legacy nu-metal band, COAL CHAMBER, was resurrected when the frontman was near death.
The purpose of BLABBERMOUTH.NET's chat with Fafara was DEVILDRIVER, but with COAL CHAMBER surprisingly back in action and preparing to hit North American amphitheaters this summer with MUDVAYNE, discussion inevitably drifted to the band where Fafara originally cut his teeth.
Blabbermouth: Is health now always the first consideration in everything you do? Not only concerning DEVILDRIVER but COAL CHAMBER as well?
Dez: "It is. That co-headline run with CRADLE; I think only three or four shows didn't sell out. I looked at the promoter side-eye, like, 'Come on. This is sold out!' I take health very seriously. I meditate, run and do yoga. I'm not 20 years old anymore, but I was out until ten last night skateboarding with my kids, bombing. I almost died from Covid in 2021. I was saying goodbye to my family. My wife drove me down to Escondido [California], which is an hour away. Guys in hazmat suits were coming to get me out of the car. On the way in, they told me, 'Take this one first. Okay, lift up your shirt.' They stabbed me with four huge needles of antibodies. I was saying my goodbyes. So, yes, health is a huge thing for me. What happened with that was that I smoke cannabis. I'm clean of alcohol, although some say that's not sober. Believe me — it is. Since I smoke cannabis and go on Google, it stopped cytokine storms from attacking my lungs, but it attacked my heart. They put me in a bunch of imagers and said, 'You need heart surgery and you need it now.' I was like, 'What the fuck does that mean?' It's been eight months. I had to live downstairs. I couldn't navigate my stairs. I couldn't walk across the street to get the mail without sitting down for 15 minutes. I was so fucking done and out of breath. Keep in mind I have ADD. I'm pacing right now. I can't sit in my own fucking office. [The doctor] said, 'I want you in next week for heart surgery.' I said, 'It's not going to happen. I'm not letting you cut my body open. This is how God made me. I'm going out like this.' He said, 'This is bullshit. We need to get you in.' I said, 'I'll see you in two months.' His exact words were, 'If you are alive in two months. I'll see you in two months.'
"I'm not a doctor, so take this for what it is. I found a thing in India, a drink. You make it with fresh turmeric, garlic, whole lemons, ginger and apple cider vinegar. Peel it all, blend it, boil it down in a huge pot down to nothing. Put it in six-ounce jars and drink it on an empty stomach every morning. It's a heart flush. After three months of doing that and staying clear of anything that would give me inflammation, I cleared my heart. They shoot nuclear dye into me, put me into a heart machine. That doctor came in with the first smile I'd seen in six months. It's like, 'I don't know what you did, but you cleared your heart out.' The strange thing about it is my doctor is Indian, from India. I said, 'I did my research. I looked up medicines and drank this thing.' He said, 'My grandmother and sister drank it every day too.' I looked at him and said, 'And you couldn't tell me?' He said, 'No, I would have lost my license.' They'd rather put me in the hospital, put me under the knife and possibly kill me by opening my heart. When anything goes on, I tell people to look to holistic before Western medicine. I'm blessed, grateful, humble, appreciative to be here. Just doing an interview, let alone getting off the tour, let alone releasing a record and having it get ten-out-of-tens right now. It's an amazing time. Is health important? Very. The first thing is health, then family and everything else comes after."
Blabbermouth: How did you feel doing the dates with CRADLE OF FILTH? Did you feel winded at all?
Dez: "It started like this: 'Let's walk a house. Let's walk one house up.' Then I'd sit down. Then I'd walk back. Today, I walked four houses up. I sat down and came four houses back. That means I walked eight houses. I walked a block today. I just walked two blocks. I'm going to get on the treadmill and walk a mile. I walked a mile. Granted, I'm sitting down for the rest of the day. Then I ran a mile. I got to the point where I could run — after 16 months. After about 16 months, I could run five miles. Then I sat down. I have '110 percent' tattooed on my knuckles. I'm not going to do something unless I can absolutely do it. I said to [wife/manager] Anahstasia, 'Buy me a sauna suit.' She said, 'This will kill you.' She bought me a sauna suit. I ran five miles on the treadmill while wearing the sauna suit while I sang the set. That's when I told her, 'Book a tour. Do me a favor. Keep it on the West Coast if I need to get home quickly.' I still have a little bit of inflammation in the lower part. Enough to prevent me from flying long distances and high altitudes for too long. Can I take an hour or two puddle jumper at 30,000 feet? Probably. Would I want to? No, not right now. That's why I can't tour Europe and why we canceled Bloodstock."
Blabbermouth: Is there a realistic timeframe for you to return to Europe?
Dez: "I have a major heart thing going on in February that I'm going to go into that I told Anahstasia to move to December. But, still, if I get all clear in December, it's too late to book festivals [for 2024]. Will I go over and do a tour? I'm not sure. I don't want to speculate. I do know that I don't wake up with those long Covid — 'long haulers' wake up and feel winded. You shower and feel like you need to sit down for an hour. I don't have that. This morning, I did six miles on my treadmill. I was fucking running on six. Hauling ass. I feel great. Now my wife, sitting here shaking her head because I tend to push things way too hard, is trying to get me not to push it. I told her, 'Wouldn't it be better to hear 'thud, thud' and I'm dead here in the house than to die in Idaho on a Tuesday?' Fuck yeah."
Blabbermouth: (Bassist) Jon Miller has since rejoined DEVILDRIVER. Can you talk about the state of the lineup and how things are going?
Dez: "That happened in a really cool manner. He started reaching out to me. After a five-hour conversation with Jon, it was obvious he had his shit together. He had to come off the road in the U.K. We sent him home to get his shit together. If he wants to talk about what he was going through, I'll let him do that, but there was no way he could stay on the road with us. For him to return after 12 years…I'm so grateful. He and I were always the closest. It was Jon and me. Second was John [Boecklin], my drummer. He's a monster writer. Responsible for all the first four, five records. The key writer. Onstage, as a bass player, people call him 'Bass Legend', which I think is a little early, but give him five years and it will set. The guy is incredible. Onstage, his presence, he's a fucking beast.
"Alex [Lee], on guitar, I'll say what Mike [Spreitzer, guitar] said and he's been with me for 20 years, he said this is the best guy we've had, and this is the best lineup we've had. Neil [Tiemann] was a good guitar player and a great guy, but we knew he never fit DEVILDRIVER. He stayed and did a few records with us, but he stayed too long, but he's a great guy and writer. If I saw Neil today, I'd buy him a beer. He's the salt of the earth. He probably gets that from his father, Frank, a Texas rancher and a good guy. But I was looking for my 'forever guy'. The guy that's going to take me out for the next five, ten, fifteen years. I don't know if I have one day or 20 years. Alex is incredible. When you wake up, the guy is smiling. When you go to bed, the guy is smiling. He's incredible onstage. Austin [D'Amond], my drummer, had a terrible meth problem. While he was on the road, he was on meth. Of course, being professional, there was no way I would put up with that. Out of the grace of his own life and the people around him, he got into rehab. Once he got himself clean and sober and proved to the rehab place that he was good to go, they asked him to stay back and help manage the facility and help clean people's lives up. Bro, I applauded that. I wasn't like, 'Oh, the dude is leaving the band.' Of course, we were sad. We love Austin. He's a great drummer. The fact that he got himself off that drug and stayed back to help people get sober, the little miracles that happen in life, are awesome.
"So, Davier [Pérez, drums], he's the next level. He's so young and energetic and badass. He's the only drummer I've had in DEVILDRIVER that plays the songs exactly like they are on the record. I mean, exact. I would come off every night for the last 20 years and always have something to say to the drummer, like, 'Bro. Why are you throwing in extra shit here? You threw in toms here.' 'I thought I would add something.' 'Quit fucking doing that! The song needs to be played how it needs to be played.' Davier snaps it perfectly. He's the first guy up, the first guy to bed. He always has got a great word to say, always got a smile. At the end of the tour, Mike said it best, 'Dez, this is the most fun I've had on tour. This is the best lineup we've had.' I said, 'Standby. Anahstasia has this covered.'"
Blabbermouth: With COAL CHAMBER reformed, how will you prioritize between that and DEVILDRIVER?
Dez: "The priority is health and family first. Second, the priority is music, both bands. COAL CHAMBER would never have happened if I wasn't on my deathbed and Anahstasia wouldn't have called them and said, 'My husband might die. You may want to call him.' They checked on me every day for a year. One of them finally said, 'Should we do shows?' I said, 'Bro. I'd rather be friends than do shows.' The fact is, they all have their lives so together from where they were. In essence, how could you not want to do shows with the band that made you who you are? Of course, nu-metal now. Look at the biggest bands in the world: KORN, DEFTONES, the later nu-metal bands, DISTURBED. Huge. Of course, there are the what-ifs. What if COAL CHAMBER stayed together? I don't have any of those regrets. It is what it is. We were the consummate rock band. Sex, drugs and rock and roll. We fucking threw down. We fought. Do I wish those things would not have happened? Of course. The fact we're here, and we're getting ready to do Sick New World and play with SYSTEM [OF A DOWN], KORN and all of them on May 13 and my birthday is May 12. That's my gift. DEVILDRIVER drops May 12 and the next day, I'm onstage with COAL CHAMBER. I'm doing double duty this year. I'm going out with MUDVAYNE and COAL CHAMBER to 18, 20,000 seaters. I always liked the MUDVAYNE guys. Great fucking dudes. Every time I see Chad [Gray, vocals], he's like, 'What's up, Dez?' And I go, 'What's up, Chad?' I love that. I never caught lead singer's disease from that dude. I've always thought he was a down-to-earth guy. I've never caught a weird vibe from that dude, so it's, 'Let's go do some tours.'"
Blabbermouth: You said there was a cloud of negativity following COAL CHAMBER last time you reformed. Has that since been lifted? Has the atmosphere improved?
Dez: "I said it to Napalm Records, which released 'Rivals', look, I think, 'Dark Days' and 'Rivals', those are our best records."
Blabbermouth: It was smart to record with Mark Lewis, a contemporary metal producer.
Dez: "Right. One of my close friends, Al Jourgensen [MINISTRY], was on a song. I got some great stories from that when he was at our house on his hands and knees, eating out of our Doberman's bowl. I said this to the label: We were ten years too early. If 'Rivals' came out now, not only would the band have had their shit together more — including the other guys. And I'm sober now, off alcohol since 2016 and we'd be releasing that now behind a tour with MUDVAYNE. Oh fuck. That record would go through the roof. We were ten years too early on that. I think it's perfect timing to get back to it. I certainly don't want to try it in my '70s. I want to do it now while we look good. We feel good. If you look at those guys, they haven't aged. If you look at Nadja [Peulen, bass], she's as beautiful as ever and an amazing bass player. In two weeks, I get in the room with them to jam. Look, Sick New World is only a 30-minute set. I told them, 'You better break a sweat in the first minute and a half. We better kill.' That's the thing I've always had and COAL CHAMBER, specifically, is 'go after it.' Go after the band that goes on before you and the band that goes after you must pay the dues. Meegs [Miguel Rascon, guitar], Mike [Cox, drums] and Nadja still have it. Mike wrote me this morning when he found out it was a 30-minute set, it was 14 pages of 'Ha-ha-ha-ha, kill it! Ha-ha-ha-ha, destroy!' I started laughing when Anahstasia showed it to me. It's on. I'm excited about playing music with both of my bands. I'm excited to be alive. I'm excited to release an autobiography, and I'm excited to be here still. I'm humbled to be able to have this long of a career. I wake up every day, before I grab my phone and take my first breath, I say, 'Thank you. This is great. I could have died in my sleep last night.' That's where I'm coming from right now."
Blabbermouth: You are one of the few to make the transition from nu-metal to the underground metal scene. I think that's an impressive feat, all things considered.
Dez: "Yeah, I don't know. Every musical genre goes through a dirty word and comes back around. Not to shy away from the question because it's valid. I love heavy shit. I come from a punk rock/psychobilly /Goth background, volatile, visceral, all of those terminologies. I wanted to do something different. I felt, especially after 'Chamber Music', that COAL CHAMBER was going in different directions. At that time, I was turned on to a lot of fucking new shit from 1998 to 2001, like EMPEROR. I could go down the line. All kinds of music. It's like, 'You got into the underground.' It's like, 'Bro. When you get into the underground, you get out of the money.' I left at the height of having my own tour bus, making X amount of dollars a day, a week, a month, to 'Fuck this.' We got back in an RV. I had the money for a bus, but I put everybody in an RV to say, 'Fuck you. We're starting from here, and we're starting together. When we deserve it, we'll get a bus.' We paid our dues. We grinded it out. There were, of course, on the way in, haters. Of course. What's the best thing to do with that? It's prove them wrong."