Photograph by Stephanie Cabral
INTERVIEW WITH MIKE SPREITZER BY KELLEY SIMMS
PHOTOGRAPHS BY STEPHANIE CABRAL AND BEN HOFFMAN
California groove metal merchants DevilDriver have delivered a solid effort with its first part of a double album called Dealing with Demons I on Napalm Records.
DevilDriver founder/vocalist Dez Fafara, lead guitarist Mike Spreitzer, rhythm guitarist Neal Tiemann, drummer Austin D’Amond, and bassist Diego Ibarra have created 10 fierce tracks that deal with the occult, witchcraft, and otherworldly spirits. Dealing with Demons II is slated for a future release and will thematically tie in with Volume I.
Guitarist Mike Spreitzer recently spoke with us about the new records, the response they’ve been getting so far from fans, the band camaraderie, and what DevilDriver plans to do next.
On Dealing with Demons I, this isn’t the DevilDriver some people might have been expecting. There’s something special about this release. At any point during the writing or recording process, did the band feel like you had a monstrously good album on your hands?
I had a hint of that, but I also felt that way about other records. I’m not knocking anything we’ve done in the past, but it’s definitely a great leap forward from Trust No One  when we had a major band lineup overhaul. Me, Neal, and Austin—who are the core writers for DevilDriver now—we were just starting to get to know each other during that time. And by the time we started writing for Dealing with Demons, we had been on tour a lot together, spent a lot of time together, and we also became super close friends. I’m very grateful for having Neal and Austin in the band now because the writing process is 10 times more fun. We’re all in our 30s now, we’re a lot more mature than we were in our 20s, and it was just a fun record. We had so much fun doing it and bringing in Steve Evetts, our producer, in the mix with everything that we became very close and tight. I think when you’re having that much fun making a record, you get a much better end result. Because you’re open to everybody’s ideas, there’s no animosity between anyone. If someone doesn’t like my riffs or if someone writes something that I don’t like, we talk about it. No one seems to get offended.
The main thematic and lyrical concept of this album is the purging of demons, hence the album title. With Volume II coming out in the near future, how does everything tie together?
It ties together in the fact that everything was written all at once. Every record that we’ve done, it sounds a little bit different from one another. I strongly believe that whatever you write on the spot or on that day, it can only be done in that point and time. And if you wait for another day, different thoughts and different emotions are going through your head. You’re literally creating something from nothing. So, creating that something from nothing is going to differ from day to day, minute to minute, hour to hour. We didn’t write the songs as we’re writing for the first volume and then we’re going to write for the second volume. Everything was done at once, and once all the songs were written and recorded and mastered, that’s when we sat down and started to figure out what songs were going to go on each record. As far as lyrical content on the record, I can’t comment on that because Dez does that on his own at his house on his own time. He’s not around for much of the writing process because we do that on our own to get ideas. Then everyone brings it to my studio where we demo it. Once we’re done with the song and me, Neal, and Austin are all happy with it, then we’ll send it to Dez and he’ll start his work on it. And he doesn’t like to write one song at a time. He really likes to have all the material in front of him and then he’ll sit down and start writing. But I’m not there for most of that.
“WHATEVER YOU WRITE ON THE SPOT OR ON THAT DAY, IT CAN ONLY BE DONE IN THAT POINT AND TIME. AND IF YOU WAIT FOR ANOTHER DAY, DIFFERENT THOUGHTS AND DIFFERENT EMOTIONS ARE GOING THROUGH YOUR HEAD.”
You wrote 48 songs for this record and then narrowed it down to 20 or 22 songs. How was it pairing it down and knowing the sequence and which ones would work for Volume I compared to Volume II?
In this case, Neal took it upon himself to get a track listing together. He passed it on to me and I don’t think I made any changes to it. I liked the way it opened, and I liked how he had the songs arranged so you’re getting different dynamics. If you look at each record as being one big recipe, each record had ingredients that come from one another. I do believe the label and Dez and I rearranged a couple of things after Neal came up with the track listing, but it wasn’t anything drastic.
Talk about the writing process for this album. Was there a conscious effort to try some different things?
There were a few things that we decided before we started writing. The first thing that was decided was when we were on tour. I was talking with Neal about this on our tour bus, and he mentioned that he wanted to slow a lot of the record down compared to Trust No One, just having tempos not be 190 BPM. Not that I’m saying there isn’t stuff like that on the records, but for the majority we did slow it down a little bit. Going in with that one simple concept, which I had never done before, definitely affected my writing quite a bit and I was really into it. And another thing is that I wanted to apply more dissonance with the riffs that I wrote on this record. I’d never really embraced dissonance before. Everything was very melodic in an almost Mozart era classical sense for me up until writing for Dealing with Demons, and I consciously told myself that I needed to change things up a little bit and get a little bit more experimental. And I did that with the riffs as well as my solos. I don’t have a lot of guitar solos on this record that reveals stuff like on “Clouds Over California” [The Last Kind Words, 2007] or a lot of the stuff I’ve written in the past. I just tried to phrase them in a different way that I’d never done in the past.
Third single “Nest of Vipers” has an almost Western gunslinger feel at first, accompanied by some infectious and memorable guitar melodies that really stand out compared to previous DevilDriver songs. How did this track develop?
Neal and Austin did a lot more writing on these two records than they did on Trust No One. You’re getting more of a group effort this time. I have found that I definitely write better songs when I’m collaborating with people rather than just doing it on my own. I need Austin and Neal sometimes because I’ll have like five ideas for a song and luckily Austin and Neal seem to be on the same page when I’m asking them these questions like this. It makes it so much easier for me because I trust their opinions.
First single, “Keep Away from Me” has very fitting lyrics and seems prophetic during this pandemic, even though Dez wrote the lyrics before all this happened. Was this intentional or just a coincidence?
It was just a coincidence. That song was written, recorded, and mastered, and we had decided before the pandemic that it was going to be the first single. It was just a coincidence that all this social distancing came up and we were releasing a song called “Keep Away from Me.” I believe that’s what you call ironic. Obviously, the video was made after the pandemic, but everything was done before that. I found it to be a bit odd. I’ve been happy with the response we’ve been getting out of these songs so far. It makes me very happy. The amount of positive feedback that we’ve gotten from these three songs, I haven’t experienced this since we released our third record The Last Kind Words.
“IF YOU LIKE THESE THREE SONGS, YOU’RE DEFINITELY GOING TO BE INTO ALL THE MATERIAL THAT WE RECORDED FOR VOLUME I AND II.”
The first three singles, “Keep Away from Me,” “Iona,” and “Nest of Vipers,” have made a very good impression on people.
I agree. I’m confident in saying that if you like these three songs, you’re definitely going to be into all the material that we recorded for Volume I and II. I think everyone’s going to be happy with it because we’ve already given the public a little bit of variety of what we have to offer from it. I did post recently on Instagram asking fans which song they liked the best out of the three and it didn’t really seem like there was a specific one that everyone liked more than the other two. It was kind of all over the place. A lot of people liked “Iona” the best, a lot of people liked “Nest of Vipers” the best, and a lot of people liked “Keep Away from Me” the best. And I was very happy to see that.
“Wishing” is an atypical DevilDriver song. I can’t recall Dez ever doing this melodic vocal style before on a DevilDriver release, but it’s so suitable for this song. How did this come about, and what did you think of it immediately when you heard it?
I think it had a lot to do with Steve Evetts. I wasn’t around for any of the vocal recordings. Dez lives about two, two and a half hours away from me and he’s got a vocal booth set up in one of his bedrooms and he just does all his lyrics there. So, I didn’t hear it until it was already recorded. Steve sent me a rough mix of it and down the line I do remember Dez being a little indecisive about releasing the song the way it is now with clean vocals. I told him do not change a thing with your clean vocals, it is one of my favorite parts of the record. Neal said the same thing, Austin said the same thing, Steve said the same thing. I think it’s scary when people want to put something out that’s so drastically different that they’re worried about a serious backlash from fans. We felt that way when we covered that song “Sail.” That song almost ended up a B-side. I finally convinced the band as well as the record label to put it as the last song on Winter Kills . The way I convinced Dez to do that was, if Pantera can close out a record doing “Planet Caravan,” we can close a record out with “Sail.” But I think it was an amazing move on Steve’s part and Dez’s part to do that song that way. I think it came out great. It’s catchy, it’s fun to listen to, and they get to see a different side of DevilDriver that they haven’t seen before.
“IT’S SCARY WHEN PEOPLE WANT TO PUT SOMETHING OUT THAT’S SO DRASTICALLY DIFFERENT THAT THEY’RE WORRIED ABOUT A SERIOUS BACKLASH FROM FANS.”
Besides Dez, you’ve been in DevilDriver the longest. With Neal, Austin, and Diego fairly new, how is the band chemistry and camaraderie these days?
It’s better than it has ever been. I’m still close with the old guys in DevilDriver. I talk with John Boecklin a lot. I bumped heads with him probably more than a lot of other band members when we were working together because we just had different ideas and I also think the main reason was that we were in our 20s and we hadn’t experienced life enough to deal with different situations. Dez and I have known each other for 16 years now. Me, Neal, and Austin are the core writers in this band now and we’ve never been in a single argument in six years. The camaraderie that we have is just unheard of in a lot of ways for bands. We like being around each other. The main thing that keeps me touring with this band is the camaraderie that I have with my friends.
With Volume II set for a future release, did you ever consider releasing it both together as a double album or one right after another?
We had three choices. We could release it as a double record right off the bat and do what Guns ‘N Roses did with Use Your Illusions I and II and separate the songs. We could stagger the releases a year or two apart, or there was a brief discussion about releasing them as four EPs. A lot of people seem to be releasing EPs these days as opposed to records because of the way the music industry has gone with streaming. In the long run we decided to do two albums and stagger the releases, obviously. You’re not going to hear a whole lot of a different vibe from one record to the other. If you like Volume I, you’re going to get more with Dealing with Demons II. That’s why we’re calling both records Dealing with Demons Volume I and II. If they were going to be different records recorded at different times, they’d be two totally separate records. Volume II is a continuation of Volume I, 100 percent.
“METALHEADS HAVE THE MENTALITY OF FUCK THE RULES AND TAKING CHANCES. BUT I DON’T THINK THOSE CHANCES SHOULD BE TAKEN UNTIL THERE’S A VACCINE”
What’s next for DevilDriver, considering this lingering pandemic?
For me personally, I’ve been trying to use this pandemic to my advantage, which is also what I’ve been telling my friends who are not feeling too well about things. I’m just going to work on more music. Neal and I have already started writing for another DevilDriver record. I’m doing more engineering, producing, and mixing on my own, which is nice because I like being in the studio. Honestly, I like it a little bit better than going out on tour. I love mixing records because I can do it on my own time. As for the band? We don’t know. We had to cancel a lot of shows. We do have some stuff tentatively planned for late 2021, and I’m hoping that everything will be back to normal by then. Even when things open back up I foresee problems. I’ve been hearing about a lot of venues that we usually play in Europe and the United States that are closing down or more than likely going to close down in the future. Promoters who may not be comfortable paying guarantees and would rather do door deals, and that’s something that I don’t know if this band can do because of our overhead that we have to deal with when we go out on tour. I’m hoping that once things do open up, especially in the metal community, metal is more like a religion for people than other genres of music are for their fans. And I think metalheads are going to be so eager to get out and go see a show that I think things are going to go back to normal for us. Also for the fact, too, that a lot of metalheads have the mentality of fuck the rules and taking chances. But I don’t think those chances should be taken until there’s a vaccine out and most people are going to be safe. I think things will go back to normal fairly quickly once there’s a vaccine released, at least for the metal community.