Coal Chamber Singer Dez Fafara Talks In Depth About New Album ‘Rivals’ & How The Devildriver Hiatus Inspired Him Lyrically

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Coal Chamber are set to release their first album in over 13 years, ‘Rivals’, through Napalm Records on May 19th. I spoke with lead singer Dez Fafara on the inspiration behind the reunion and brand new record which seems to have been fuelled lyrically by the freeing experience he had while entering into a Devildriver hiatus.

Keven: Rivals is the first new album in 13 years. What was the strangest part about entering that Coal Chamber headspace after so many years of fronting Devildriver?

Dez: I don’t think it was very strange it was more like opening a book with a lot of pages that I haven’t been able to write in for a long time. But as soon as I started writing again for it, things just started flying out of me. I had a great time writing for this. I’m very appreciative that the music I got – opened up so many things. It’s rare at this point in a career… I’ve really learned a lot vocally and about arrangement doing this record and really some things I’ll take back into other projects I do as well.

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Keven: Time seems to heal most of our wounds. Was that truly the case here with the Coal Chamber reunion?

Dez: A lot of people don’t know but we started talking back in 2006 about getting back together  and in 2009 we demoed two songs but when we listened back to that stuff it was nothing special. It harkened back to the old songs but not even the good stuff. So we just kept going and opened up communication. And that helped to open up things in order to start putting salt on those wounds so they would burn and cauterize quickly. Even in 2010-2011 if you had asked me if we could make a new record I would have bet against it right away. It’s good to see the members matured. Meegs is married, Mike might as well be married – he has a year old baby boy who’s the light of his life and he’s sober. I don’t think we’d be back together if our drummer Mike wasn’t sober. It’s been overwhelmingly positive. Working and recording with them and now hearing all the positive feedback has been overwhelming.

Keven: Did you personally have any apprehensions about doing the initial reunion shows because it seems like everything is great now with the recording of the album, but were you weary at first?

Dez: I wasn’t weary to take it out live. I knew it was gonna go well. The fanbase was there not only from before but what’s a trip with us is the younger fanbase. 70% of the people are under 21 and none of those people were born when we made our first record. Seeing that means we must have really struck a nerve back in the day or people have really long memories and I think it’s a little of both. The apprehension didn’t even come in when we were doing the music. As soon as we start having expectations then you start to skew your art to fit media whether it be radio or somebody’s vision of what Coal Chamber should sound like.

We didn’t want to be part of any throwback nostalgic record or any early 90’s sound. We have moved forward as people and so has the music. Of course it’s gonna have a signature Coal Chamber thing but after listening back to the record I’m glad we just did what we did.

Keven: What is the biggest difference musically between Dark Days over a decade ago to Rivals in 2015?

Dez: If you go back and listen to the first and second Coal Chamber records they sound so different from one another that there’s no way you can pick a certain style to make a fourth record with, so you just have to move yourself forward. The difference between Dark Days and Rivals is way more mature songwriting and riffing. Musically everyone has stepped up the game, arrangements are tighter, lyrical content is way more poignant and relevant than ever and then we stumbled upon, much like we did in our youth, a new sound. It’s caught on like wildfire. What we’re hearing now has been overwhelmingly positive and people are telling us we’ve homed in on a new sound. It makes you feel good and that you’ve worked hard.

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In 2009 when we first started getting together not only was the music not on the level where it should’ve been but I don’t think the communication was as open as it was supposed to be. I don’t think everyone had their shit together the way they do now in order to go out and be pro on the road or in the studio.

Keven: You had mentioned that life in general inspired the lyrical content for ‘Rivals’ and after listening to some of it, is it safe to describe the theme as being somewhat angry as fuck?

Dez: You know it’s not just anger. That emotion is easy to tap into. But when you start tapping into different feelings that come along like betrayal or jealousy and things of that nature, that’s when you start getting into the real deep shit. That’s when you start making things not only personal but making them relatable to the people that you’re writing for. I just had a very positive last year and a half in my life after releasing Devildriver ‘Winter Kills’, having that come out and debut higher than any record we’ve ever had and for it to be critically acclaimed, the tour was going well… And I parted ways in my personal life with not only people I played musically with, but people I did business with, and it was a very positive headspace. And out of that came a lot of lyrical content.

For some people it can come off as just being angry but it’s telling a story. If you listen to ‘Bridges You’ve Burned’ and you think about it as just an angry song you’re not getting it. Or if you listen to ‘Karma Never Forgets’ and you think its angry then you’re not understanding where I’m going with it. I’ve always written lyrics that tend to be very relatable and that’s very important especially with where Coal Chamber is going now. I have books of lyrics and if I’m a house than I have a million rooms that I haven’t even been in yet so this is just the beginning of tapping into that.

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Keven: That makes a lot of sense especially with a song like ‘I O U Nothing’ where you can tell that you’re going through a very freeing experience in your songwriting by airing out some old grievances in the process.

Dez: Absolutely and as far as airing out grievances it’s almost like telling people how to live. Listen man, don’t owe anybody anything. I go to bed and put my head on my pillow and I sleep well knowing that everybody in my life that’s come and gone – I’ve treated them with respect and I owe nobody anything besides myself and my family. It can be your next door neighbor that you’ve owed 10 bucks for a year and you just keep ditching out on him. Just go over there, knock on the door and hand them the 10 bucks and get a good night’s sleep. You’re gonna feel great.

Keven: What is the thing that pissed you off the most about the current state of music in general?

Dez: You know…. I’m just not that guy. There are so many killer new bands from so many killer new genres coming out not only in heavy music but alternative. Here’s the one thing I would grip about if I had to… Back in the day in the 50s,60s,70s,80s and even the 90s and early 2000s – there were more people in media meaning radio, that were willing to take a chance on anything that was different or underground.  Whether it was blues, punk rock or black metal, people were willing to say I’m gonna spin this at fucking five O’clock in the afternoon. Now it’s not like that with any media outlets so thank god for the internet. My kids haven’t listened to a real radio station in forever.

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Keven: I was gonna ask you what gives you the most hope for music in 2015 but it sounds like you don’t need to be hopeful because you’re already there – what’s out that you like right now?

Dez: There’s a ton of killer bands out there that are young, hungry and doing their thing coming out heavy. Look at a band like Cancer Bats. I was fortunate enough to sing on one of their records and Liam is an amazing frontman and vocalist. That band is great. There’s so many that I could go on and on for days. I’m not 20 years old but I’ve got my ears to the ground and I know bands out there that are unsigned that are badass. I know bands that just got signed that are badass. I know bands that have been signed and going out for a year trying to make it that nobody’s even heard of but they have a record out that’s badass. I enjoy everything that’s coming or gone away, classic or new.

A friend of mine who is a singer in a huge band and every time I see the guy and talk to him about anybody that’s new he goes ‘ah fuck the kids. What do they know about metal? They’re fucking 20.’ And I’m like dude, have you seen em cause what they know about metal is fucking aggressive as shit. They don’t give a fuck about the status quo. And they’re certainly not trying to make some sort of radio music even though they’re sharing a can of corned beef for dinner cause they’re so hungry. That gives me a lot of hope.

When I got back together with Coal Chamber to make a record with Napalm Records who I have a great relationship with through Devildriver I said well this is perfect. This is not a label that’s going to say we need five hit radio tracks and they gotta sound like Nickelback pronto. It was very much free – go do what you do and see what happens. At the end of the day they looked and we looked and we have this track ‘I O U Nothing’ where we hit the chorus in 24 seconds. It’s crazy, it’s so tight arrangement-wise, so I said to people do you think this thing will fly on active rock radio? A couple people in the company said, if there’s anybody that’s brave it most certainly will. Now it’s getting picked up and it’s doing what it’s doing on its own merits as an underground tune that we didn’t think at all would have a chance – here it comes. In order to purvey art you need brave people making it and pushing it out there. That’s what Coal Chamber did with this record – we did exactly what we wanted to do – from our hearts and that’s what you’re hearing when you listen to ‘Rivals’.

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Keven: You were up super early this morning writing material for the next Devildriver record. Is the plan still to record that in 2016?

Dez: I was up at 4 AM writing… I have this thing where I love early mornings and I’m always on tour so I never get that. But when I’m home between four and 6:30 there’s some crazy magic when it’s still dark out… But with Devildriver we are looking to get it out in 2016. With Devildriver we did 12 years, six records, non-stop and normally you take at least a year off between records. We did not. I told my wife and everybody around me and said look I’m taking a two year break. So after we did Knotfest last summer we just took off and it just so happened that Coal Chamber hit me up during that time. They were like you have a home studio, which means you get to be home with your wife and have dinner with her every night, how’d you like to lay a record? I was like, cool. I love the music, I definitely wanna be a part of this and I don’t wanna have any regrets about not doing it.

Then the talks kept coming where I had a year and a half left at home, how’d you like to go and do a few weeks in the United States, maybe seven or eight days overseas..That’s how the conversation goes now, ‘how’d you like to do a small run here, a small run there?’ Technically – I’m on break (laughing). I don’t mind writing and recording while I’m home but I don’t wanna overtour while I got time off with my family because once Devildriver hits in 2016 or whenever it does…. That thing is gonna burn down roads – we’re gonna clock more miles than the band has ever done on a record. Coal Chamber as a band runs specifically on the word ‘fun’. It’s like gasoline in a car to us. Did you have fun on the last run? Cool let’s book another one. Did you have fun working on the last record and was it well received? Yes. Would you like to make another one? Let’s talk about that.

In the beginning it wasn’t like that when we were touring with Pantera and Black Sabbath none of us had any home. We went from tour to tour for nearly nine years and never stopped. That’s what happened with the burn-out. All the cliché shit got involved. We take it slow now and take it show by show and we make sure that fun is the keyword.

Keven: Before I let you go I have to give you major props on your cover of ‘Sail’ – it’s one of the best metal covers in years. Can you tell me a little bit of how you came to the decision to do that track?

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Dez: I was riding in the car with my youngest who is 17 and he was listening to this song before Awolnation even became a thing or anybody had heard that track. My kid’s got his ear to the ground and he hears everything that’s coming out. He said listen to this you’ll love this track. The lyrics ‘blame it on my ADD’ – I mean I suffer from ADHD now and I had ADD when I was a kid. My parents had me on medication for years and it’s why I’m a pro-advocate for marijuana as well. But then the chorus of just ‘Sail’ – literally there’s nobody out there that’s toured harder than me for the last 20 years and clocked as many road miles and air miles as me. I sent it to the Devildriver guys and they were altogether at Mike’s house. Literally within two minutes the phone rang and they were like ‘who is this?’ So I told them it’s this band Awolnation that not a lot of people have heard of yet. They went and got huge and they’re great guys, they allowed us to cover the track, we had a great time doing it, and it’s done exceptionally well and hopefully that guy will go and buy a car off of the publishing money that he’s gotten from our sales. I literally do – I hope he buys a car and sends me a picture and says ‘thanks Dez’.

Whenever you hear a great song it’s always worth covering. We started to do more obscure stuff with Devildriver when we did Black Soul Choir by Sixteen Horsepower. If you’re not familiar with that band they’re this dark country-esque blugrassy – just one of the most amazing bands out there. We started realizing that it’s cool to go out there and do an Iron Maiden or Metallica cover but it’s almost as if that’s assumed is what you’re gonna do. So we’re all of the mentality, especially Mike and I, that the most obscure and more out of our genre – the better. The more fun it is and the more of a challenge it is for the metal purist. And… I’m all about fucking with those people for sure. (laughing) If I could do one thing it would be to fuck with the purist guy whose just like ‘that’s all I listen to is this one band and this one style of music!’

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Keven: I know that guy!

Dez: Yeah, I know a lot of those guys. Anybody who knows me knows that I listen to music all day long. I listen to blues and black metal and my wife and I will listen to Billie Holiday and classic rock. I’ll listen to a ton of punk rock, Black Flag and Circle Jerks, Germs and I love Elvis. I love a ton of outlaw country – Hank Williams Sr. with a beer in your hand on a Friday night can be just as heavy as Ride The Lightning.

Music literally saved my life. I had a pretty shitty childhood and growing up, music is always the thing I turned to. I could go to my room, put on headphones and I don’t hear anybody out there fighting.

Keven: I can definitely relate to that. I just wanna say thanks again for your time and to let you know that I’ve only listened to a couple tracks off ‘Rivals’ so I’m waiting to listen to the entire album when it comes out May 19th. But from what I’ve heard so far and as a Coal Chamber fan since the first record came out – the new stuff is awesome.

Dez: The way to listen to this record and remember that I said this to you – sit down with a cold beer or glass of wine with some friends and put the whole thing on because it’s really meant to take you on a journey. It’s meant for you to listen to it that way. We went about it that way when we put together the tracklist.  

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