Interviewed by Alan Daly
Pics: © Olga Kuzmenko Photography
We spoke with Mike Spreitzer of Devildriver about their latest release Outlaws ’till the End, and their work on a forthcoming double album of new material, and much more…
Alan: Welcome back to Dublin. We last spoke with you when you played in the Academy in Dublin in 2014 on the Winter Kills tour, but we also saw you a few days ago at Bloodstock.
Mike: Oh you did? Nice! That was amazing. It was bigger this year than it was the last time we were there.
Alan: You were in Belfast last night, and the band that is sound-checking as we speak, Dead Label were supporting, and also played at Bloodstock…
Mike: I actually met them. I have a really good friend named Duncan in London that I don’t get to see very often. We’ve known each other for over a decade, and I was walking out to have a beer with him, and they snagged me on the way to the bathroom.
Alan: Have you had a chance to listen to them playing yet?
Mike: No. We’ve had a brutal beginning to this tour because we had so many fly days. We’d play a show, get to the hotel, sleep for maybe an hour or two and then get on another plane. And we had a plane cancellation in Barcelona. We got up super early, the plane was canceled, we had to get on a bus to get us to the next festival. We’ve all finally caught up with sleep. Once it was all over I slept for thirteen and a half hours straight. I’ll poke my head out there and check them out.
Alan: So Outlaws ’till the End was released just over a month ago now. It seems like you’re not playing anything from that live at the moment?
Mike: No. We were trying to get ‘Whiskey River’ up to par for this tour to do it, but we’re already working on another album of originals. We’re doing a double record so we’ve got twenty songs that we’re currently working on, and we just didn’t have time between studio time to get the band together and rehearse. Maybe next time.
Alan: I see the recent setlists are very much loaded in favor of the first three albums.
Mike: Yeah, I kinda wish that we would break out some other songs, but unfortunately, our rehearsal schedule has been nonexistent. We bounced from doing the Outlaw record, and then once I got that done I had to start writing for this record, and the mindset of going into writing a double record is a little overwhelming at first but it’s turning out really cool, and we’re almost done with the musical portion of the album. I think we have about three weeks left and then Dez is going to record his vocals in January.
Alan: Will it be released as one double album or two?
Mike: They’re going to be staggered. Originally I heard the label wanted us to release them a year apart, but I think it might be six months now. One of them will definitely get released in 2019, and I’m guessing early 2020 for the second one.
Alan: Have you been involved in the actual recording work as well?
Mike: We always do pre-production at my house and get all the demos together to send to Dez so he can start writing vocals over it. But on Outlaws, we recorded guitars and bass first and we did all that at my studio and I engineered all that stuff. Once that was done, we gave it to our producer Steve Evetts, and he did drums and vocals. So we kinda did things a little bit backward. But on this record, for the first time ever, we spent two weeks with Steve Evetts in a rehearsal space, just me, Neal, and Austin, going over the songs. We’ve never done that with a producer before. We usually just demo stuff at my house and maybe rehearse it a little bit as a band, and then just go into the studio. But this time, Steve did this kind of Jedi mind trick on me and was like “no, no, you’re going to learn all the songs”, and I didn’t know how I was going to learn how to play all these songs in these two weeks, but he made it happen. And I can definitely see the importance and it’s going to make things so much better on this record in the long run. It’s going to be a really cool record and we’re doing a lot of things in the studio that we haven’t done before. We usually pick one guitar and one or two amplifiers to lay down all the rhythm tracks, and whoever wrote that song would usually play all the rhythm tracks of whatever they wrote. But this time it’s Neal on one side, me other, he’s playing one guitar and I’m playing a completely different guitar, one amp is on one side, a different sounding amp is on the other side, and Steve just blends them together. It’s just a totally different way than we’ve ever done it in the past. It’s more about finding amps to suit that song, rather than just finding a good tone and just rolling with it. It’s making it a lot more fun too.
Alan: How would that translate to playing the new songs live on stage?
Mike: I don’t use the same tones I use in the studio. We use real amps in the studio and I use a Fractal Axe FX just because it’s so much easier the ways I chain my FX together and I use it a lot for writing. I love the Axe FX, and Neal’s using a Kemper. They’re not real amplifiers. They’re almost there, but there’s still something missing. If it were easier for me to use a real amp on stage I would, but for traveling and for a band like us, it’s the way to go.
Alan: Do you think you find a greater sense of accomplishment from writing and recording your own songs than what you did with Outlaws where you took other peoples’ songs and made them your own?
Mike: Yes and no. It opened my eyes to a different way of writing because I had to dissect those outlaw country tunes. Some of the structures were so different, it made me think about how to structure songs in a different way that translated to this record we’re currently working on. So it was a really good learning experience on how to mix things up rather than how we would usually do it. We’ve mixed things up a lot because of it. We thought we were going to use some more slide guitar and lap steel like we did on the Outlaws record, but it never really came up. So it’s kind of going back to our old ways, but it taught us something new at the same time.
Alan: The last time we spoke you mentioned that you had ‘Runnin’ Down a Dream’ demo’ed at the time.
Mike: Yeah, I actually pulled that up fairly recently and showed it to Neal and Austin. That was supposed to be done on Winter Kills. It was cool, but I think I kinda got a little shit from the other guys, especially [John] Boecklin because he really wanted to do that song. I could be wrong to this day, but after we finished ‘Sail’, I felt that it would completely overshadow ‘Runnin’ Down a Dream’ because it was such a better cover and what we did with it, and I knew Dez was going to sound really good on it. Eventually, everyone agreed. And now if you go to Spotify, ‘Sail’ is our most popular song, and then ‘Clouds Over California’ comes right after that. I always wonder if people really wanted to listen to our version or they’re clicking on it by accident thinking it’s Awolnation. People seem to like it, and we’re playing it live a lot.
Alan: Speaking of Spotify, it was reported recently that Metallica is using Spotify to pick city-specific setlist, based on local Spotify playlists. Do you think that’s a good use of technology and big-data?
Mike: Sure. The one thing I always liked about Metallica is how they mix up their setlist every day. I’ve seen their jam room at festivals that we’ve played with them. They set up and they play every day and every day their setlist is a little bit different. They throw some things in there to make things interesting. I kinda wish we had the ability to do that, but we’re not playing stadiums and arenas and don’t really have a place to set up a drum kit backstage. I think it’s a cool idea. The last time I saw them, I was very disappointed because I think they played seven songs from Death Magnetic. Me and John Boecklin went to Vegas to see the show, and it started off really good, and then it was just another Death Magnetic song, and then another one and another one. So I was like dude, do you want to go drink in Machine Head’s room? We didn’t even finish watching the set because they were playing so much of the new record.
Alan: I know Devildriver do things differently. You rarely play more than a couple songs from the new albums and focus more on the early albums.
Mike: I think we’ve got seven records out now, and up until Pray for Villains, we mixed things up a lot, and there are only two or three songs that we’ve never played live from the first three records. When you get to that point, it’s a little bit harder to mix up your set, because there are people out there that are really yearning to hear certain songs. I tried to take ‘I Could Care Less’ out of the setlist recently. And the guys were like “Are you out of your mind?”. So fine, we’ll keep playing it.
Alan: We’re there any tracks that didn’t quite make it onto Outlaws?
Mike: Yeah, we were going to do a song called ‘Bad Things’ by a guy named Jace Everett. It’s the intro song from the TV show True Blood. I really liked that song, but some of the other guys weren’t into it. We recorded it, and it had a really cool vibe to it, but when Steve and Dez were doing vocals on it, both of them were like “Nah. This ain’t working”. So that was the only one that got scrapped.
Alan: And the title of the album has “vol. 1” tagged at the end of it. Does that imply there’s going to be a “vol. 2”?
Mike: Possibly. Dez wants to do it, but I’ve been so wrapped up in doing a double record… If you want to do it Dez, then that’s fine. But right now, I’m focusing on the two albums of originals we’re currently working on. We’ll see. That Outlaws record didn’t take much time at all. I think Neal and I spent about a month rewriting, a month recording guitar and bass and then we handed it off to Steve to do everything else. Austin didn’t really even have a whole lot of time to do drums, so he came up with his parts with Steve on the fly in the studio. I’m really happy with the way the whole thing came out. I think it was a weird experiment that could have gone really bad, but so far I’ve heard a lot of good feedback on it. And I loved the fact that we had Burton from Fear Factory. I’ve been a big Fear Factory fan my whole life. And Wednesday 13 did a phenomenal job. And Brock from 36 Crazyfists. ‘Copperhead Road’ was hands-down my least favorite song on the record, but once I heard Brock on it, I was like ok, now it’s one of my favorites.
Alan: On to Line up changes. Since your last show in Dublin, only yourself and Dez remain. Jeff Kendrick and John Boecklin both left the band on the same day if I remember correctly? They were longtime members of the band…
Mike: It caught me off-guard too. I was surfing at the time. I was out for like six hours that day. Usually, I can’t go out for more than two or three hours, but it was just so good I just stayed out there, and nobody could get a hold of me. And when I got out of the water and checked my phone, there was like a hundred text messages and a hundred emails and a hundred missed calls and voicemails, and I was like “What the hell just happened”? Boecklin just really wanted to go do his own thing, and he’s doing it with Bad Wolves now. Jeff was really just over touring, and he’s been getting into the whole real estate thing back home. I still talk to him all the time.
Alan: Didn’t you live with those guys at one time?
Mike: Not really. They let me crash on their couch when I was homeless for a little while. I had a really bad roommate in Santa Barbara, and I was like, I gotta get out of here. There was a two/ three-week gap from when I moved out until I could move in, so I ended up crashing on their couch for a while. And I joined Devildriver because it was the opposite in 2004 when they came home from an Opeth tour and [Jonathan] Miller and Jeff didn’t have a place to live, and I had an extra room at the house I was living in and I let them take that room. When Jeff came home that night, he told me about Evan [Pitts] not wanting to go to Europe and I offered my services. I was only supposed to be in the band temporarily, just to fill in for three weeks. When I came home, they hired me permanently. I had to quit my job and drop out of college and quit my other band. I was really happy. There were some other people that weren’t terribly happy with me at the time, but they all understand now. I almost got fired from my job too, but my manager convinced the owners to keep it for another couple of months.
Alan: You mentioned Boecklin and his new band Bad Wolves. They got catapulted into the headlines because of their Cranberries cover.
Mike: You think? Just a little bit!
Alan: It’s a bitter-sweet way to kick-start a band.
Mike: I’ve had conversations with Boecklin about this. I’m sure it’s in the backs of all their heads, you know. A lot of bands like Alien Ant Farm, for example, they did Michael Jackson’s ‘Smooth Criminal’ back in the day, and I was a big fan of that song, but even I never really ventured into the rest of their music. I think they’re doing well. They’ve got a lot of support behind them. Good management. Good label. Zoltan [Bathory] from Five Finger Death Punch is managing them, and they’re in the right spot to do very well, and I wish them nothing but the best. Boecklin and I were the ones that bunted heads the most back in the day because our writing styles are so much different, but now we’re probably the closest out of the guys that were in the band previously. We text and talk at least on a monthly basis. We don’t get to see each other that often because we’re so busy, but we keep in contact.
Alan: Bad Wolves was formed from ex-members of other bands, and that brings me onto the topic of supergroups like Metal Allegiance and Sons of Apollo. What’s your take on these amalgamations?
Mike: I guess it depends. I don’t think that supergroups have a tendency to work out as well as a lot of people would think they would because there can be too many strong personalities getting together all at once. Honestly, I can’t think of a supergroup that got together that I’ve absolutely loved. Maybe there is but I can’t think of it now. It’s even hard for me to find good heavy metal to listen to these days.
Alan: What would be your choice right now?
Mike: Gojira. I really like Whitechapel a lot. I love A Perfect Circle. I kinda feel like Trent Reznor is finally putting out some good Nine Inch Nails tunes again. I felt it went downhill for a little bit, but it’s been going back up again which is making me really happy. I’m really a big fan of 90’s industrial and Goth. There’s an English band called Editors that I found recently that I really like. Well, one album anyway. I don’t really like their recent album. Alice In Chains has always been on my radar. I really like the new stuff that they’re doing too. Alice In Chains is not letting me down. Jerry Cantrell is my favorite guitar player on Earth. I worship his guitar playing.
Alan: I’m not sure if you saw in today’s news that the former Annihilator frontman Randy Rampage passed away yesterday.
Mike: No way. I’ve never known that much about Annihilator, but I mixed a band called Final Curse a while ago, and Jeff Waters ended up mastering the record. So he and I were in contact a little bit. But to tell you the truth I didn’t really have any other interactions with Annihilator. It’s always a shame when you hear about someone relatively young like that passing away. We seem to be losing a lot of people at a young age in the past few years.
Alan: Appetite for Destruction was recently re-released, with loads of bonus tracks and so on, but ‘One in a Million’ was omitted because of some racist and homophobic lyrics. I was wondering if there are any songs that you’ve worked on that you’ve regretted afterward?
Mike: No. Because I never write the lyrics. The weird thing is, I’ve never been that guy to pay attention to vocals and what the songs are about. There’s an American band called 16 horsepower that I absolutely love. I’m not really the religious type, and they’re a Christian band, but I love their music. It’s very dark. I think the singer of that band is an absolutely amazing lyricist, so I really found myself listening to that. But in metal, I listen to how the vocals are sung and how they fit in with the song rather than what they are about. I never knew that ‘Enter Sandman’ was about a childhood nightmare until maybe five or six years after I heard it. I just didn’t care, you know? Def Leppard is the band that really made me want to do what I do, even though Hysteria is not really much of a guitar riff record, but their earlier stuff is. And I didn’t care what ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me’ was about. It just sounded cool and I liked the way the lyrics were structured and they fit in with the song. I guess that’s why I’m a guitar player.
Devildriver are set to re-issue revamped editions of their first five albums via BMG on 28th September 2018. The five albums being reissued are ‘DevilDriver’ (originally released in 2003), ‘The Fury Of Our Makers Hand’ (2005), ‘The Last Kind Words’ (2007), ‘Pray For Villains’ (2009) and ‘Beast’ (2011). The releases have been remastered by Andy Pearce (Black Sabbath, Motorhead, Anthrax, Kreator) and will be available to buy on limited edition coloured vinyl and in deluxe CD format, many featuring bonus tracks and all featuring expanded liner notes and exclusive interview material with frontman, Dez Fafara. To pre-order the titles, please visit http://smarturl.it/