"Ozzy's made me breakfast!" As frontman of Devildriver and Coal Chamber, Dez Fafara has seen it all. Here's everything he's learned in his thirty year career

 Dez Fafara
Dez Fafara

As the frontman for both Coal Chamber and Devildriver, Dez Fafara has been a beloved fixture of the metal scene for more than 25 years, participating in the rise and fall of nu metal, as well as the arrival of the New Wave Of American Heavy Metal and the countless scenes since. With the second volume of Devildriver’s concept album, Dealing With Demons, just released, and an autobiography due for publication later this year, Dez shares the most important lessons that took him from being a punk rock- and rockabilly-loving kid to someone who counts Ozzy Osbourne among his friends and collaborators.

Metal Hammer line break
Metal Hammer line break

SOLITUDE IS BLISS

“As a kid, I was never the guy saying, ‘Can Johnny come over?’ It was more like, ‘Hey, mom, tell Johnny to go the fuck home.’ I just wanted to stay at home and listen to my parents’ records. I wish I wasn’t an introvert and so empathetic – I can’t even watch slasher films where a guy in a mask cuts up 20 people, because it gets under my skin.”

YOU’VE GOT TO PUT THE WORK IN TO BE SUCCESSFUL

“Long before Coal Chamber, I was a drummer in a psychobilly band called The Screaming Wolves just as I was turning 15. Around ’86 or ’87 I formed a band with this guy from Costa Mesa called Piledriver who were really heavy – we had this Motörhead-y, kind of Rob Zombie-ish vibe. I would drive out to Orange County, which was about four or five hours away, every night after work to rehearse.”

PSYCHOBILLY WASN’T JUST MUSIC – IT WAS TRIBAL

“It was heavy to be psychobilly – there weren’t just bands, there were gangs! The Screaming Wolves were a band, sure, but we had 25, 30 other people who’d come with us that had our logo on their jackets, or on the hood of their ’57 Chevys.”

COAL CHAMBER WERE THE NU METAL KINGS OF LA

“Between ’92 and ’94, Coal Chamber owned Los Angeles. Korn would often bus people over from Orange County to their shows in LA to make sure they were filled, but we were from LA and those shows were always filled. Oddly enough, my tour manager now used to run the Roxy back then and used to let me in as a kid, so I always felt like I had the run of the city.”

VALUE STABILITY OVER SUCCESS

“In ’92/’93, Coal Chamber started to sell out places like the Roxy and The Whisky [A Go Go], so we got offered a record deal. But I turned it down – I had a wife at the time and at my core I just wanted security. I’d moved around, been in jail, and a lot of stuff had happened in my life. In ’95, we picked it up with Roadrunner and that’s when it really felt like things could move.”

YOUR BAND IS YOUR FAMILY

“I got busted for marijuana and had to pay the piper! I’d moved to LA and lived sleeping on people’s couches; I even slept under a bridge a couple times. I’d steal food from the AMPM [convenience store] in the early hours. It wasn’t a bed of roses, for sure! But once Coal Chamber came together, it felt like a tribe. We all hung out together, helped each other and would trade these Top Ramen packets that cost 10 cents a bag. That gave me some stability.”

YOU ALWAYS MISS THE SHOTS YOU DON’T TAKE

“My memories of the first Ozzfest are fear and insanity. Ron Jeremy – who has since very much fallen from grace – was out there with some porn stars and introduced us to them, it was really weird. But then we played, and when we came offstage Sharon Osbourne took me aside and said, ‘We really like your band.’ I took her words to heart, and though we had a manager at that point we moved management to Sharon not long after.”

SUCCESS COMES AT YOU FAST

“Meegs [Coal Chamber guitarist, Miguel Rascón] and I really vibed on a lot of new wave stuff, and we were saying about how we could do a great version of [1982 Peter Gabriel single] Shock The Monkey. We mentioned it to Sharon and she said that Ozzy loved two groups – The Beatles and Peter Gabriel. I asked her if he’d be interested in singing it with us and she called back half hour later to say he’d love to. I couldn’t believe it – I was being managed by Sharon Osbourne, singing with Ozzy and had a second record about to come out. It was just so fun and surreal.”

YOUR HEROES ARE PEOPLE TOO

“There’s a few people that are gods to me, and Ozzy is one of them. I’ve eaten dinner with that guy – he’s made me breakfast! Sharon is my mother when it comes to music and always will be. If ever I see her out on the road I always run over to give her a big hug.”

DON’T FIGHT WITH CLOWNS

“I’ve since run into Insane Clown Posse and shook hands with those guys, but there was some weirdness that happened between us when we were supposed to tour together in the 90s. We were gonna co-headline some dates, which meant we could have whatever we wanted. We pulled up and were soundchecking while our pyro guys tested our flames, then their tour manager came up and said, ‘You can’t have any of that.’ So I called mom – Sharon – and she called their management and they got into a fight. She just said, ‘Pack your shit and get the fuck out of there – we’re leaving’, and we drove away with, like, a thousand kids already in line to see us. But business is fucking business.

NU METAL FELT GENUINELY FRESH...

“In the early days nu metal was doing something real, raw and fucked-up – that’s what I loved about it. Korn were influenced by rap music and metal, Coal Chamber were goth and metal, System Of A Down was Armenian music and metal, Static-X had disco... it was awesome seeing genres collide and create this new music.”

BUT EVERYTHING COMES AND GOES

“Nu metal was definitely slung around as a dirty word for a while after it died off, but I never turned away from my past and I own up to it. When I see bands that got gold records as part of nu metal saying, ‘Oh, we were never nu metal’, I just can’t understand it. You can’t run from your past!”

HARD DRUGS TEAR PEOPLE APART

“I had a wife and children [when Coal Chamber split], but the other guys in the band had demons they had to deal with. At one point, I had to have my own tour bus because it was like, ‘I can’t deal with what’s going on with their lives.’ It seems like a rock star move, but it was terribly lonely and it fucking sucked – I went from having a tribe of friends to nothing.”

HAVE A BACK-UP PLAN

“When everything went down with Coal Chamber, we were recording [2002 album] Dark Days [in LA] and I was already coming back to Santa Barbara every night, which was a two-hour drive, getting my shit together and then driving another hour-and-a-half to start recording Devildriver demos. I already knew professionally that things were going south, and if we didn’t do something soon somebody was gonna die real quick. I wanted out.”

COAL CHAMBER DIDN’T MAKE A COMEBACK – WE GREW UP

“God, I loved [Coal Chamber’s 2015 comeback album] Rivals. Problem was, we were 10 years too early! But I think Rivals was the best fuckin’ Coal Chamber album ever written. The guys were still dealing with some issues and that made some problems for me at the time, because I’d been through all of that. But looking back at what Meegs and Mike [Cox, drums] did on that record, it’s Coal Chamber all grown up.”

NEAR-DEATH EXPERIENCES CHANGE YOU

“I got hospitalised with Covid and figured that was it; I was gonna die. I told my wife everything I’ve ever wanted to tell her – and we’ve been together for 20-plus years – I told my children I loved them, and told my wife to bury me in the back seat of my ’78 Cadillac. It was so emotional – there were tears, but moments where I got hard and was like, ‘I’m greeting this thing like a fucking cowboy out of [1993 Western movie] Tombstone: I’m ready to meet my maker.’”

MUSIC IS THERAPY

“Devildriver’s new album, Dealing With Demons [Vol. II], is exactly that – it’s getting rid of the things that hold you back, whether that’s alcohol, drugs or whatever else might be putting you down. It doesn’t matter if you work in a grocery store or if you’re a singer, there are demons you’ll deal with. I had a lot to put on the table, but thankfully everyone was behind us, and I hope this album helps people.”

Originally printed in Metal Hammer #375