Although they've always proudly charged against the musical grain, DevilDriver have never made a record quite like Outlaws 'Til the End: Vol. 1. It’s the perfect combination of country grit and neck-wrecking metal, a game-changer delivered by true heavy metal outlaws.
The band rebuilt classic country songs from the ground up, and injected them with DevilDriver's signature sonic assault, and vocalist Dez Fafara’s unmistakable roar. The album also features guest appearances by John Carter Cash, Ana Cristina Cash, Hank III and Mark Morton of Lamb of God.
With songs like “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky,” “Whiskey River,” “If Drinking Don’t Kill Me (Her Memory Will)” and “Country Heroes," Outlaws ‘Til the End might be one of most invigorating records DevilDriver has ever made.
Guitar World recently spoke with Neal Tiemann, the band's guitarist, about the new album and more in this new interview.
What made the band decide to do a country-themed album?
It actually started with Dez. Like any band, we’ll all be sitting in the back-lounge listening to music as we’re getting ready for a show. So, there was always the fair share of Pantera and In Flames, but he’d also be listening to Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard and Hank Williams Sr. The rest of us never batted an eye. For me, growing up in Texas, I heard them a lot. One day, Dez suggested we do a country covers record. We all laughed at first but then took a step back, and it slowly came to fruition. But it really all started with that back-lounge hang.
How have fans reacted to the new album?
Surprisingly well. We weren’t sure how people would take to singing on a DevilDriver record but everyone we’ve talked to on this run has been taking it in and loving it.
What was the criteria used in determining which songs to do?
We tried to pick songs that had some kind of meaning to us. Dez was adamant about doing the Willie Nelson song, “Whiskey River," and whenever I hear Dwight Yoakam, it reminds me of fond memories with my dad. So, “A Thousand Miles From Nowhere” had special meaning. We listened to a lot of back catalog but also dug deeper to find songs that had a good melody or could transfer to metal. Then we took it from there.
How do you approach recreating the song but still giving it the DevilDriver spin?
For the most part, Mike and I did a majority of the music beds first. Then we’d take a look at the melody or chorus line from the song. For a song like “Whiskey River," we weren’t sure about keeping the classic I-IV-V country progression, so I threw a black metal version of it underneath. It was all about finding what could go the furthest and still sound okay.
Let’s discuss a few other tracks from the album, beginning with “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky”
This was another one that Dez wanted for the album. I remember as we were doing all of this, Dez started talking to John Carter Cash (Johnny Cash’s son) about wanting him to be a part of it. We weren’t sure he was going to be able to do it but sure enough, the next week Dez is flying out to the Cash cabin to record vocals. It’s a centerpiece of the record because it’s the closest thing rooted to Johnny Cash, which kind of started the whole project.
How about the track, “Country Heroes”?
Before I was in the band, one of the first DevilDriver tours was with Superjoint Ritual when Hank III was playing bass with them. When we were choosing songs for this album, “Country Heroes” had to be one of them because Hank III is our boy.
What do you think makes country music so special?
I think it’s timelessness comes from its simplicity. Those guys maybe weren’t the greatest guitar players in the world but they knew how to turn a phrase. They were able to say something simple to the common man. There’s something about the songs that’s deep rooted and easy to take to heart.
What are DevilDriver’s current tour plans like?
We’ve got a quick run of dates we’re doing now and then we’ll be in Europe in the middle of August. We’re also working on finalizing a fall tour.
What’s your live setup like these days?
I’m playing Dunable guitars R2 model. They’re a fast-growing company out of Glendale, California. I put 8160 EMG’s in them and pair them with Kempers. I also have some Peaveys for lead tone and that’s about it.
Having completed this album, what gives you the most satisfaction?
I’ve gotta tell you, the best feeling the album has given me so far is hearing my dad sitting out in his barn on his Texas ranch with a Jack and Coke. He said, 'You know, these songs are all right. I do believe you’ve done one of the best records in your life.' He’s not a metal guy by any means, so hearing him say that was validation.
What excites you the most about this next phase of your career?
I’m most excited about being about to do what I do. People have said that rock and roll is going away. It’s ebb and flow and right now we’re in the ebb part of it. We’re still working hard and touring and that’s what makes me excited.