Interview with California Groove Machine DevilDriver
Six albums into their career and DevilDriver (known to their fans as the California Groove Machine) are truly hitting their stride with some of their most ambitious and haunting yet most accessible work to date with the latest album “Winter Kills”. Branching out with some truly melancholy melodies and a new lyrical intensity combined with their trademark bruising riffs and teeth-rattling rhythms, the album features an impressively original reworking of AWOLNation’s synth-drenched hit “Sail”, which hints at exciting new possibilities for the ever-uncompromising DevilDriver. Adam Stanley of Heavy Music Artwork caught up with guitarist Mike Spreitzer to talk about the inspirations, creative processes and tensions behind the band’s astonishing sonic maturation – and what might be next for the Californian five-piece.
HEAVY MUSIC ARTWORK: First of all, could you tell me about the kind of players and other things that made you want to do this in the first place?
MIKE SPREITZER: I guess it was kind of half wanting to be a guitar player, almost from the beginning; and the other half was just, I guess, the lifestyle that I perceived on MTV when I was like 5 or 6 years old. It was Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar On Me” video that was just like, “that’s what I wanna do for the rest of my life,” and I’ve never changed since. It’s one of the coolest aspects of always knowing what I wanted to do my whole life, when a lot of people never figure out what they want to do in life – they just kind of go with the flow of things. Most of my friends back home never really… you know everyone wanted to make a lot of money, so they went to high school, went to college, which I did as well but it was just… nah… a lot of people I know don’t have a whole lot of passion for anything and whatever I did in my life to earn an income, I wanted to have a passion for it.
HMA: Yeah I can relate to that.
MS: So it was that aspect of not being stuck in an office all day even though now, it’s kind of weird – when I go home I produce and I’m stuck in front of a computer engineering whatever band I’m working with or mixing… but that’s OK! I can handle doing that, but working in an office… You know I did an interview yesterday and they asked me what I would do if I wasn’t in the music industry, and underwater welding was my answer! That’s probably what I would be doing just so I wasn’t in an office. I like being in the ocean and surrounded by nature or whatever, so that’ probably what I would be doing if I wasn’t in a band.
HMA: So what about the kind of players, specific guitarists that you were listening to?
MS: Well obviously it was Metallica that got me really into playing guitar; I pretty much learned the “Black” album and “…And Justice for All” from beginning to end when I was a kid, I had the tab books. You know, Megadeth, Pantera, Alice in Chains… I’d say Jerry Cantrell is, not so much when I was a kid but definitely now, he’s definitely my favourite guitar player. Also Bjorn from In Flames – I really like their style, they have a really good way of phrasing their guitar riffs where it’s almost like someone singing to your with lyrics, and it tells a story in some aspects rather than full blown shredding which I’m not too into.
HMA: I was actually going to ask about some of your guitar bits later, so I’m glad you said that. So if you could follow on from that and talk about the real standout artists and people that helped to define how you and the band play together – people you got more interested in once you knew what you were doing, like “now that I know what I’m doing, I want to sound or be more like that.” Later life influences!
MS: Outside the band and probably a direction I’d like to go in one day is, well, I’m a huge Danny Elfman fan. I’ve loved Oingo Boingo since I was a kid, and I actually got a chance to see Danny Elfman perform all his Tim Burton stuff recently, and he came out and sang with Catherine O’Hare, you know, all the stuff from “A Nightmare Before Christmas.” It was his first time performing in like 18 years and they did 3 shows in LA and they did one show in London, and that’s all they did. I was lucky enough to be able to go and see that. I never thought when I was a kid that I would get interested in musical scores – I didn’t really pay attention to them all that much. When I started to get into Tim Burton movies like “Nightmare…” and “Beetlejuice”, “Edward Scissorhands”, you know, like every kid who’s kind of into the Goth thing like I was back in the late 90s, I gravitated toward that whole thing. I even listen to those scores now in my car or just at home. I’ve been building a new studio in the garage of this house I just moved into and I’d say 90 per cent of the time I’m listeing to Danny Elfman scores while I’m working.
HMA: Do you play keyboards?
MS: I played the piano for 4 years when I was in college, I had to do it as a music major. I don’t really have room for one in my studio now, but in my new one, I’m gonna get like an 88-key controller that I can always just plug into my computer and have whatever sound I want. I do want to get back into piano playing a little bit as it’s something I do miss.
HMA: Yes that’s something I learned myself, though at the moment I’ve got this tiny little 32-key thing!
MS: Yeah, more for sampling sounds, I have one as well! You can’t really play anything on it, it’s just one-handed…
HMA: No foot pedals and stuff!
MS: No… but I definitely want to get an 88-key and set that back up again, ‘cause I do miss playing the piano.
HMA: As a band, what would you say are the influences – musical and otherwise – that you all kind of agree on?
MS: It’s always been Metallica and Pantera for sure. Jeff is more into stuff like Iron Maiden, and I have the utmost respect for Iron Maiden, they’re just not my cup of tea. And Judas Priest… I actually do like Judas Priest. But I’m more into the European / Scandinavian style like In Flames, At the Gates… but I also like Gojira and Whitechapel – they’re probably my favourite metal bands that are “newer.” So I have this very Euro-melodic style of writing that was actually kind of hard for me to incorporate into the band. Boecklin (John, DevilDriver drummer) writes a lot of the music and he’s into thrashier kind of things, so we have a tendency to butt heads in the studio – I usually want to go more melodic and he wants to go a little bit more thrashy and dissonant. But Metallica was always the common ground, that and Megadeth; and we all like Alice in Chains, so I’d say those are the biggest four… Opeth… we all do like In Flames a lot too.
HMA: Going on to the new album (“Winter Kills”), I’d say it’s your most intense album in terms of how big the sounds are and how frantic the delivery is, and it’s also quite bleak-sounding. Compared to some of the previous records I’d say it has way more variety. Could you tell me about some of the things that contributed to it being all of those things?
MS: I think time has a lot to do with it. It was the first time we looked back on all of our records that we’ve written together and gone, “What songs have turned out the best?” from every record, and “Where did we go wrong?” It’s not so much me personally, and maybe Boecklin – I can’t speak for him, but I do think that… we kind of subconsciously looked at everything and… I wasn’t on the first record and none of us is huge fans of that record as far as guitar playing styles [go], but I think we learned what not to do [laughs]. It wasn’t so much, “Oh this song works so let’s try to write a song like that.” That doesn’t work, I couldn’t do that if I tried. I usually just sit down and write and… I think with “Pray For Villains,” that’s one of my favourite records that we’ve done, I love that record. Even though the initial response from our fans wasn’t great, I think it’s grown on a lot of people. “Beast” was totally the opposite direction where it was just fast and more progressive – not that we’re a progressive band but I’d say that record was more progressive – for us anyway. Generally, I don’t like listening to “Beast”, for some reason. We put a lot of work into it and I’m really proud of all the solos I did on it, but it’s not my favourite record to listen to.
HMA: Is it song things maybe, or a process thing, that makes you feel like that?
MS: I don’t know, I think I just expected it to be better. You know, we deliberately wanted to make that record the heaviest record we’ve ever done, and because “Pray for Villains” was probably the most mellow record we’ve ever done [out of all of them], we went, “Maybe we should kinda, rather than trying to be so different than what we did with “Pray…” and “Beast”… I mean, we didn’t even think about “The Fury of Our Maker’s Hands” or “The Last Kind Words.” We just did it. We didn’t think about what direction we wanted to go to, we just sat down and wrote music the way we wanted to, and I think that’s more the kind of mind frame we were in for “Winter Kills.” You know, just go out and don’t try to make it heavier, don’t try to make it more melodic – just go do what you do without any kind of perspective in mind. Just go and write.
HMA: Well I’ve heard this from Behemoth recently – I don’t know if you listen to them at all?
MS: Oh yeah, I love them, I love their new record too. I think it’s the best one they’ve ever done.
HMA: Right, well, there’s that paradigm where they sound so brutal but it’s also very rock ‘n roll and loose, and they said, “We just kind of stopped thinking about all this stuff,” and you can hear it – you can hear them just letting go like you said – we’re just going to make it what it is.
MS: Well we were on tour with Behemoth, not for “The Satanist” [new Behemoth record] but for the previous record, “Evangelion.” I remember talking to Nergal [Behemoth singer/guitarist] about it and even back then he was kind of nervous about writing the next record, and this was what, 3 years ago? And he was like, “How am I going to be able to top that?” So I was wondering about that, and “The Satanist” probably should have come out a long time ago but [there was] the whole leukaemia thing that he had to sort out first, and thank God he did! I was really curious to see if they could top it and in my opinion, they totally did. It’s definitely my favourite record [of theirs].
HMA: It’s my favourite of the year so far.
MS: Yeah, I totally agree with you! [laughter]
HMA: Could you give us a little tech-y insight into how you went about getting the tones and getting into the right mind frame to record “Winter Kills”?
MS: Ahhh… well, not really all that much to tell you the truth, as far as getting into the mood to record. I mean, we do all the pre-production at my studio first; we don’t do pre-production with our producers – it’s already done by the time we get into the studio. Our demos are done and I just send the MP3s through emails now. I used to have to give them CDs – remember those things called CDs? [laughs] Now I just email the songs to Dez [Fafara, vocalist] when we’re done with them and he’ll sit down with them by himself and start writing lyrics. Everything’s pretty much done… I do have a tendency to write my solos in the studio while maybe Boecklin’s doing drums or sorting his guitar parts, or Jeff’s doing it, or bass or something else is going on… I’ll sit in [some other part of] the studio and write my solos.
HMA: You prefer going kind of off the cuff in a way?
MS: Nah it’s just that everything is so ready and once drums are done, we usually spend like a day or two getting tones, and this last time Mark Lewis is such a tone freak that we were actually running short on time. He had like 10 more options he wanted to try with this speaker on this cabinet and this amplifier with this speaker cabinet or this guitar or whatever, and after two days we were like, “Dude, we would love to spend a month doing this, probably like Metallica did on the “Black” album, but we just don’t have time!” So luckily there’s a lovely thing called remaining now, so you just record the DI and if you don’t like your tone later you can always go and revamp it and have the same exact performance. So we actually had to be like “Mark, no, we need to start recording. We’re all happy with the tone, we like it.” We always seem to, in the studio, go with 5150s. I love 5150s in the studio. I don’t use them live but… that and Deals amps have always been a commodity, mod-ed (modified) Rectifiers – Marshalls always end up on the record as well. I do believe the main tone on “Winter Kills” – I can’t remember which was which, but both the rhythms are quad-tracked so there’s a 5152 on there, the amp that was made at least 10 or 15 years ago, and an EVH 5153. Which is essentially the same amp, just newer and made by a different company. Those were the two amps we decided on for “Winter Kills”, and I love ‘em. Parts of the set where I’m not using my Blackstar tone I have an Axe effects unit where I use the 5153 simulator, which is kind of new for me because I was using something else back in the day.
HMA: I can’t ask Dez about his lyrics here, but are there any standout lyrics or themes on this album for yourself?
MS: I’ve never been much of a lyrical guy. I remember when I was a kid and my parents freaking out about me getting into Marilyn Manson and Cannibal Corpse and all these bands, and they’d look at the album covers and go, “Oh God what are you listening to?!” And I’d always try to explain to them, “I don’t even pay attention to the lyrics for the most part!” I did with Marilyn Manson a little bit more because there was such a strong message there, but with Metallica, I never knew what “Master of Puppets” was about – it’s obviously about doing coke but I never paid attention to that. I never knew that “Enter Sandman” was about a childhood nightmare until I saw James [Hetfield, Metallica singer and guitarist] talk about it in an interview when I was a kid. I have a tendency to pay more attention to the way it’s sung than what it’s actually about – the cadence. It’s hard for me to comment on Dez’ lyrics because I get so used to listening to the album while we’re recording instrumentally, and then when he puts down vocals it really changes the whole song. It gives it a completely different vibe than what it had instrumentally. It does take me a while – I didn’t listen to the record after it was done and mixed for I think 3 or 4 months. I didn’t want to. I was like, “God I don’t know if I like this record or not, I don’t know if I’m happy with it, disappointed with it or what”, and after the 3 months I put it back on and I was like, “This is a good fuckin’ record, I’m really happy with the way it all turned out, everything.” But as I say, it’s hard to be to comment on his… I really like what he [Fafara] did on “Caring’s Overkill”. That was one of the songs that’s probably more one of my favourite because I wrote it, but I don’t know if we’ll ever play it live ‘cause I don’t think we’ve had an enormous amount of fans say they want to hear that one. I’m definitely happy with it – it’s actually one of the more simple songs on guitar, almost elementary in some ways [laughs], but it came out really heavy and when I first heard what Dez did on that I was like, “Dude you just made this Pantera-heavy! You did a good job on this one!” Once again, I have no idea what the song’s about! [laughs]
HMA: Fair enough man!
MS: I’m just ignorant there, haha!
HMA: This next question interests me because I’m in a band and it’s not meant in a gossipy way, but I watched your film “You May Know Us From The Stage” and there’s that bit where Dez chucks the wine at you….
MS: Yeah we just played that venue a couple days ago!
HMA: … well, I don’t want to ask what happened, but I want to ask if you could talk about creative tensions or just tension from being in a band and the effects that it has on your music and the way you create together – if anything?
MS: Uh, well, I think honestly, it depends on who you’re with, but your relationship… how should I say this? It’s the other way round. I think I get along better with my band members when we’re not writing. I think we have more of our differences come out when we are writing, so it’s actually, our relationship is more affected because we’re in a creative process. And we’re not just business associates, we are actually all very close you know, they’re my second family. There’s a lot of stress and negative energy in the air when we’re writing off and on – obviously when you’re in a creative environment you’re going to have differences of where you want it to go, so I think our relationships don’t influence the music so much as that when we get together and write, that affects our friendships. Boecklin and I just had probably more trouble writing this last record, “Winter Kills,” that actually turned out to be one of our best records than any other record, and I think it had a lot to do with Miller [ex-DevilDriver bassist] not being around, because I’m on the more melodic side and he’s [Boecklin] more on the thrash side and Miller was always the writer in the band that… everything he wrote everyone liked in the band, for the most part, and Boecklin and I… he was kind of the middleman between me and Boecklin, so this was the first time we had to write without him. He [Miller] created the democracy in the band where I and Boecklin were just like, “Well we’re going to go with his vote,” and obviously Jeff’s the same way but Miller was really the grease in the wheels – the grease in the gears between the two of us! [laughs] So we had to do “Winter Kills” without him, and I think there was a little bit more tension there having him gone and thinking about it later, obviously we had a falling out with Miller and we don’t talk to him anymore… but I think we both missed having him there. So that also kind of sucked, because he was also a very good friend of ours. It’s a learning process – over time we’ve learned how to work with one another and I think on this next record, which we’ve already started writing for, maybe Boecklin and I will take what we had from the writing experience on “Winter Kills” and be like, just like we do with our songs: “What not to do!” [laughs] There’s a certain way to say things without pissing somebody off, and I think he and I both just say what we mean without thinking about it a whole lot and how it could be offensive. Especially in a creative environment, because we’re both very touchy about what we write: “I wanna change that!” “You’re not fuckin’ changing that!”.
HMA: Any musician, I suppose, is going to be like that!
MS: Oh yeah. It’s every band man, it’s not just us!
HMA: Tell me about the kind of, not folk-like but almost folk-like melodies that creep in, especially in the clean parts – for me, when I think of DevilDriver, I think of those parts, and they even find their way into the into of “Clouds Over California”. It’s just those tonalities – do you know what I mean?
MS: Folk sounding?!
HMA: I don’t want to say folk, but they make me thing of olden times for some reason – I don’t know who comes up with more of those, the really melodic bits.
MS: I have been influenced by classical music, I was a music major…
HMA: Because you did say you had a European bent to your playing…
MS: That’s what European metal is to me, it’s like classical music. You take any Beethoven song and play it through an electric guitar and it’s gonna sound pretty fuckin’ metal! I’m more so on the European side of metal than the American side, I would say, so maybe. My dad listened to a lot of classical music when I was growing up and I always liked it. He always wanted to listen to country when I was a kid – he listens to blues now – but he did listen to a lot of classical and being a little kid I never minded when he put that on, when he was like driving me to school or something like that, on his way to work. Maybe that has something to do with it. I’ve never had anyone ever use that term to describe our music.
HMA: By folk I don’t mean at all even the 20th Century definition of it, it makes me think of something old, like an old kind of melody writing is probably a better way to put it to you.
MS: Yeah! Maybe!
HMA: It just stands out for me, every time there’s a really melodic bit…
MS: I have no good reply to that question – I don’t know! [laughs]
HMA: Shit, I thought that was a good question! Alright. For me, you guys are kind of like Lamb of God, not in the way you sound but in that you have a signature extreme style and you really shine when you do something different with it like, with them they’ve got “King Me” and you’ve got “The Axe Shall Fall” – these really cool, different bits. Both bands always seem to try and push forward with each album – but how would you say an extreme band would avoid the trap of repeating themselves because you do see it with a lot of extreme bands?
MS: Uh… We do have a tendency to… I mean I could name songs right now that we’ve kind of almost ripped off ourselves. Like, “Driving Down the Darkness” on “The Fury…” and “I’ve Been Sober” have a very similar right-hand picking style in the verses. I accidentally used the same riff twice on “Pray For Villains” without knowing it – the rhythm behind the verse of “Resurrection Boulevard”, when I’m doing the sweeps; is the same as the rhythm behind the solo in “I’ve Been Sober” – part of the solo.
HMA: I would never have noticed that.
MS: No, no one does! And also we all have a love for 80s music, and the melody of that riff in “Resurrection…” and “I’ve Been Sober” is very similar to Tears for Fears’ “Mad World”. I wrote it, I didn’t know it, but Boecklin pointed it out to me, like, “You know that’s Mad World?” and I was like, “You know what, it is!” And I had just kinda gotten into Tears for Fears a little bit more than when I was a kid. I had two older brothers and sisters that were teenagers in the 80s, so I obviously heard a lot of 80s music coming from their bedrooms when I was a little kid, so that’s probably why I enjoy listening to it so much. How to not that [repeat yourself], well, there’s been plenty of times when we’re writing music and we’ve had to call each other outgoing, “Dude, that’s way too much like a song that we’ve already done”; and like, Boecklin or Jeff has said that to me and I just go, “Yeah you’re right, shit! I didn’t realise that!” So you throw it away or even modify it. But I think one thing I have noticed that’s helped us progress forward and not repeat ourselves is that every record is kind of a struggle for us as far as playing it. Not all the way through, I mean, there are songs like “Gutted” where the verses are actually kind of tricky, we were actually soundchecking it today cos I’m learning how to play it – Boecklin wrote that song, I didn’t write a note of it. And most of the song’s really easy to play but the verses are really tricky, and I think that’s why I was so proud of “Beast” when we were done recording the record but then was a little bit disappointed with the way it came out; it’s a very hard record to play on guitar and drums. Like, “Dead To Rights” is definitely the hardest song I’ve ever had to earn how to play. I do think we push ourselves as musicians where I’ve tried to make myself get out of the mind frame that a riff can be good if it’s not hard to play. Because of I kind of feel like if I don’t have to sit there for an hour on repeat learning how to play this riff, it’s not any good, and I think that’s where I kind of went when I was working on “Beast.” Like, if it’s not really hard to play and it’s not kind of a mindfuck – like even if it’s not hard to play but there’s not a lot of notes in it or a pattern that’s hard to remember – to me I was in the mind frame of ‘if it’s not hard to play, it’s not any good.’ With “Winter Kills” I made a conscious effort not to think like that so this will be the first record where obviously since day one, we’ve been progressing ourselves and making our riffs harder and harder to play and making it a challenge for ourselves – because otherwise, I have a tendency to get bored. And we’re not the most amazing guitar players on earth but at least we still like to challenge ourselves, and we’re not like Misha [“Bulb” Mansoor, guitarist] from Periphery or Steve Vai; but we do like to push ourselves – and I think if you push yourself, you have a tendency to keep things a little bit more interesting for yourself as well as for your fans. If it’s interesting for you, I think if you already have a following, it’ll be interesting for the people who’re going to be listening to you for a long time.
HMA: Yeah it’s always challenging with two guitar players isn’t it, because you hear Pantera and a lot of Dimebag’s stuff, he’s playing with the space, and the drums are playing with the space rather than how many notes there are – not all the time, but basically they’ve taken an amazing idea and are just making the spaces feel really good.
MS: And most of my riffs would sound like shit without two guitar players. I have a tendency to write riffs that separately could be a little bit boring but when you put them together, it’s cool. I do a lot of that, and I think that’s partly to do with the computer age – you know I have a studio at my house, and I can put something on loop and write something on top of it, really easily, and already know, “Yeah, that’s gonna sound good” – which, back in the day, just [wasn’t possible]… you know, you have your little four-track or whatever people were using. I can record a record at my house, a lot of people can now, so it’s a lot easier to create guitar parts that are dependent on being layered rather than just standing out on their own.
HMA: You have said that you give demos to Dez and he goes and writes his lyrics and vocals, but are there any instances where you will change something to suit a vocal or a vocal will make you go, “Ah, I’m gonna do that now.” Does the process ever go backwards, basically?
MS: Not so… well, maybe. I had zero input – I was really busy working on solos while Dez was doing lyrics while we were on tour, and I would say I wrote about half my solos on tour and then about half of them while we were in the studio for “Winter Kills”, and I did not have a chance to spend any time with Dez on vocals whatsoever. But Jeff and John had a lot of influence on that. They would go to the back of the bus and Dez would show both of them what he had come up with and they would make suggestions, like “Maybe you should try this” – but I don’t think there was ever a point where we changed something musically to suit the singing, except for maybe cutting something out. Like there are many cases where we would finish the recording and be like, “You know what, the verse does not need to go on this long this time, let’s cut it in half or take out this part”; and a lot of times it was based on what he [Fafara] was singing, just like “Guys, get off the pot and get to the fuckin’ chorus already”. That does have a tendency to happen, but we kind of just do the music and the vocals very separately, and I never went down to Dez’ house when he was recording vocals with Mark and I’m not sure – I think Jeff and John might have gone down there a day or two. Since I do all the preproduction at my house and I had to programme all the drums, do all the recording and just hours and hours in front of the computer, by the time we get to vocals I’m just like, “I am cached out on hearing this record.” I need a break, I need to listen to something else – turn on some Danny Elfman or something like that, or Depeche Mode just to get me… I just don’t want to hear heavy metal anymore!
HMA: Well that’s the thing isn’t it, you’re either in the room and it happens when you’re playing, or you have the big picture and the finished thing and you’re like, “It’s finished except for that”, and then you make those bigger changes. Referring to Boecklin, I’m really interested to know if he writes any songs from the drums up or if he’s on guitar first when he comes in with an idea?
MS: I think he has the perspective of a drummer when he writes guitar. Because he is a very right-hand guy, and lately he’s been really into writing these weird rhythms with his right hand. I think he writes guitar riffs with drums in mind, but I don’t know if he’s ever really… I think “Dead To Rights” might have been written a little like that, but I wouldn’t say he writes guitar parts to suit a drum part as much as he already has in mind what he wants to play for a guitar part as he’s writing it.
HMA: What are your favourite riffs or songs to play live?
MS: I love playing “Clouds Over California” and the crowd always seems to really [respond]. Wherever we have that in the set, we did open up with that for a while, and we were just like, “Nah.” I don’t think we got through a week of touring until we put it back towards the end of the set. We have to be careful where we put that song because it’s in D standard tuning rather than drop tuning – most of our songs are in drop C or drop B. Whenever we play that song, even if the crowd starts to kind of lose a little bit of energy, all you need to do is play “Clouds Over California” and pffft, there they are!
HMA: Because it’s a tune!
MS: Yeah! I loved playing “I’ve Been Sober” because I just get to ham it up – it’s got this two-minute guitar solo at the end of it, so I just ham it up as a guitar player for a little while. I always get one guy, at least once a week, that I hear in between songs going, “Play “I’ve Been Sober”!” just wanting to hear it. I think the tempo of that song is very much like “The Axe Shall Fall”. I loved playing “The Axe Shall Fall”. It’s one of my favourite songs, and it just was not a crowd pleaser. I don’t know if it’s the tempo or the people have a hard time pitting to it, moshing to it or whatever, but we made a conscious effort to… I remember the last time we played it at a place in Chicago called the Pearl Rooms (sic) that’s not there anymore, which was the last time we played it. It was a great show but some songs just don’t work live.
HMA: That’s with the organ at the end isn’t it?
HMA: Whose idea was that, because that’s fucking amazing?
MS: I hate it!
MS: I fucking hate it. We got into a big band argument over that. It’s not that I don’t like the tune of it, it’s just that I thought it could have… there was a bunch of different takes and I heard there were better takes, and it was the owner of Sound Design in Santa Barbara where we finished the vocals for that record – it’s actually where Depeche Mode does a lot of their records – and the owner is a very talented organ player. He did that and I thought he did a good job, he just kind of improved on it and out of all the takes, I was like, “You guys wanna put that one one there?” Half the band wanted it and half the band didn’t, and to this day I think it sounds so much better without it. I’m sorry! I couldn’t stand it, I thought it butchered the end of the song.
HMA: Really? Because for me it was like a 70s vibe straight away and I thought, that’s something else…
MS: Well I thought it was a cool idea, the notes could have been chosen better, I don’t know! I was never into it. I think Boecklin and Dez really liked it, and me and Miller and Jeff, or I think me and Miller hated it, Jeff was in the middle and then Boecklin and Dez really liked it. So we were like, “Jeff, you need to pick a side, you’re the deciding factor here and we don’t know which fuckin’ way to go,” and he was like, “Keep it on the record!” and Miller and I were just like, “Fuck!” [laughs]
HMA: The thing that’s cool is that it’s on the fade, so you’re like, “What’s coming next?”, because it’s the last song.
MS: I don’t think I’ve listened to it since we recorded it…
HMA: Maybe you should get drunk and put it on!
MS: Maybe I will! Maybe I’ll like it now, that was a long time ago.
HMA: To wrap up, what would you say are the next things you’d say you want DevilDriver to accomplish artistically, especially, as opposed to career-wise?
MS: A lot of people will probably murder me for saying this, but I’m a huge fan of electronic music and I listen to a lot of different shit as you can tell. I listen to fuckin’ music scores, symphonies, and everything from fuckin’ Oingo Boingo to Danny Elfman to Depeche Mode to Deadmaus and even Skrillex. I like the fact that we did the song “Sail” (a cover of the famous track by AWOL Nation) on “Winter Kills” because it was really different for us, and I think a lot of our fans have said, “They covered what song? That’s gonna suck”, but…
HMA: That song’s cool though.
MS: I fuckin’ love it. We’re playing it live, we’re playing it today and I think that song, for me personally, opened up a lot of doors that I was afraid to open with DevilDriver. It’s actually dude, the intro for that song, it sounds like synthesizers but it’s all guitars going through my Axe effects. Something like that I would have written back in the day and probably stored it on my computer and never showed it to anybody, ‘cause I think a lot of the guys and our fans would have gone, “This not heavy enough for DevilDriver.” But doing “Sail” it worked out really well, and there’s a lot of things on that song that… there are even synths in the background that you can’t really hear. There’s a little bit more than I think that I think was my fault, I think I forgot to mix them down for our producer and give them to him – I went back and listened to the demo and soloed out some of the tracks, and went, “Oh shit, did we forget to put that in?” I’m not saying that DevilDriver’s going to go out and write a fuckin’ electronic record by any means, but in the same fashion that In Flames has, they’ve incorporated a lot more synths into their records in the last 10 years and I like it, personally. I think it’s great. I think that will kind of give us more to go somewhere with that we haven’t done. I’m not saying a lot, just a little bit. So there were be songs on the next record where I think our fans will go, “Ah, they’re kind of like letting the way they rewrote “Sail” influence their original material.”
HMA: Well I think there are bits of it coming through in your sound already – I love the atmospheric stuff, that’s what it is.
MS: Exactly. It’s not like a basis of a song, it’s salt and pepper on top of a meal that already, you know… like it just gives it a little bit more flavour. You have to use it sparingly in our genre, but I think it can be used and it can go over really well. I mean, I remember being a kid and being at a show, I can’t remember the name of the band but I overheard two guys talking that were just full-blown metalheads, and they were all, “You hear that new blahblahblah record? There are fucking keyboards on it!” And I remember looking at the guy like he’s the biggest idiot in the world, like, “Just because there are keyboards on it you’re gonna hate it” Like he hadn’t even listened to the record yet, he just heard there were keyboards on it and refused to listen to it.
HMA: There are a lot of people who treat music like a functional object, unfortunately, that don’t listen to the music, the music is fulfilling something else but that’s another discussion…
MS: Yeah. I can see some more of that stuff coming through the door in the future.
HMA: Sounds good. Well thank you for that, really appreciate it and have a good gig.
MS: Yeah, enjoy the showman.
Interview by Adam Stanley – Copyright 2012 – 2014 © Heavy Music Artwork