When DevilDriver came round to Baltimore Sound Stage on their headlining tour with Whitechapel, Carnifex, Revocation, Rivers of Nihil and Fit For an Autopsy, I had the opportunity to discuss the band’s evolution and the importance of heavy metal with Mike Spreitzer, guitarist, while Jeff Kendrick, guitarist, listened in. This was also my first time on a tour bus and it was kind of swank.
Background: DevilDriver has been active since 2002 with origins in Santa Barbara, CA. The band is known for its blend of groove, industrial, and melodic death metals. They have 6 studio albums with the most recent release in 2013, Winter Kills (Click for Review).
IO: So DevilDriver is groove metal with elements of death metal?
Mike: Yeah, I mean groove metal is more of a name that our fans have given us. We didn’t coin the groove metal thing, we just kind of got lumped into it eventually.
IO: What would you say the differences and similarities are between Winter Kills and the earlier material?
Mike: When we started doing Winter Kills I think we kind of had a point where we looked back at what we had done and said, what have we done that’s worked out really well in the studio and in live scenarios. When I sit down and write, I don’t say I’m going to go in this direction. I might analyze the songs that we’ve already written and go, we have a lot of songs in this area of this bpm [beats per minute] and I’ll either slow it down or speed it up to give the album some diversity but other than that, that’s really the only thing we do. We have kind of, you know, looked at, especially The Fury of Our Makers Hand and The Last Kind Words, those being fan favorites, and said, you know, let’s try to do a bit more of that and it just ends up working out better.
The first record was primarily written by the guy that I replaced [Evan Pitts] and when he left the band and I came in it was more of a collaborative effort from myself, Jeff, our old bass player John Miller, and John Boecklin writing the music. That was why there was such a big change from the sound of the first record to the second and everything since.
IO: Do you help write the lyrics or is that all Dez?
Mike: That’s all Dez, and I know Jeff and Boecklin helped him out with the rest of the writing process and the lyrics by giving some guidance a lot on Winter Kills, but I didn’t have anything to do with that. Most of the time when they were doing either lyrics or anything like that, I was usually working on solos for the record.
IO: How does Devil Driver record an album?
Mike: We start at my house in my studio, well, my old studio. I’m actually in the process of building a new one at my new place and it’ll be done very shortly. But we would do all the pre-production at my house, give the music to Dez and have him write lyrics on top of that and then we would go and re-record everything, drums and guitar and bass, at Audio Hammer just outside of Orlando. A lot of the overdubs for guitar – we use a lot of the stuff we do at my studio because we like the way it sounds and it’s why we record it to begin with if we already like the way it sounds. We’ll kind of bounce it over to the record and we did all the solos at my house while Dez was doing vocals.
IO: I read that Dez did the vocals at home in a vocal booth?
Mike: It’s just a pre-built vocal booth that you set up in a house and then Mark Lewis our producer just brought his lap-top, and some nice-pre amps and some nice microphones and they did all the vocal recording there.
IO: How do you guys write songs? Do you “jam” write or do you work separately?
Mike: We don’t even have a jam room. We hardly ever write music together. Jeff and Boecklin used to when we had a space in Santa Barbara. They would get together and spend some time writing but I never did. I have a studio at my house and I like to use it. The way I develop music now is just to record it, program drums to it and hear it. I’ll play it back in my car and for me it’s just a more fun way to write. The technology exists so I use it. I use a MAC [which sits in front of him]. This is my portable studio right here.
IO: So what you’re telling me is that everyone comes together with their own product and you’ll weed through it?
Mike: Yeah, for the most part. We weed through it. Other times Boecklin will bring in a whole song, I’ll have a whole song ready. When Boecklin brings a whole song over, he’ll have it in his head. He actually uses his iPhone a lot so he doesn’t forget riffs and we’ll go through and record a scratch track, a guitar, program drums to it and then once that’s said and done we’ll start cutting the fat from it and then everyone makes suggestions. The same thing with my songs.
IO: Is there any contention going on there?
Mike: Oh yeah. I have a tendency to be more influenced by European metal [which is] more melodic sounding. I’m also the music major so I do think classical music has influenced me more than the others. Boecklin is more on the thrashy side of things. When John Miller was in the band, he was kind of like a buffer between me and John Boecklin, where he wrote a lot of stuff everyone kind of agreed on. It was like in the middle where I was on one side and Boecklin was on the [other] so with Winter Kills we had to write without John Miller and it was a little bit more of a difficult process. Luckily Jeff [Kendrick] was still there to be the buffer but Jeff is more the type of writer that—he’s really good at writing things on the spot. He won’t sit at home and write a whole structure of a song, he’ll have a few riffs but we’ll say “Jeff, we need something” and we’ll hand him the guitar and he’ll write something cool in like five or ten minutes.
IO: What issues do you see in heavy metal music and with the fans who listen to the music?
Mike: Well I don’t know if people would call them issues, but—I’ve even become guilty of this, I think the whole world has—when I was a kid you know saving up ten or fifteen dollars and skateboarding down to Tower Records, picking up an album, sitting with it in my room by myself, no distractions, reading the lyrics, reading the “thanks”, even looking to see what type of equipment they used, who produced it, who mixed it, who mastered it, appreciating the artwork, all that stuff—a lot of that is gone. Music videos I think for the most part—I think even DevilDriver is guilty of this—suck these days. No one has the budget to make really cool videos, a lot of things have already been done, and I think we’ll have trouble coming out with new ideas. Last night, before I went to bed, I watched Whitechapel’s new video and it’s called “Worship The Digital Age.” Now that video is cool. I thought that was a very cool and unique idea. I like their new video. I think that’s one of the first videos I’ve seen in a long time that I really appreciated. But I think people take it for granted.
Music is too easy to get, you don’t have to pay for it, and a lot of times things you don’t pay for—it’s like when you’re a kid, your parents just want you to get a job, save up money, and buy your own stuff. You’ll appreciate it more rather than someone handing you a bunch of money and saying “go ahead and buy anything.” I think there’s not quite as much appreciation and the mystique is gone which could be a good thing or a bad thing but that’s just the way things go. You’ve got to roll with it. I’m not going to complain about it, it’s just the way things are.
IO: Where do you see it going? What do you think will come out of this digitization and mass dissemination?
Mike: I can tell you what I hope comes out of it being a producer and mixing engineer and just a musician in general and all. Music has suffered with the mp3 and the digital formats. Computers are on the cusp now of being able to record at higher bit rates. There was an article in the Wall Street Journal recently that my dad told me about of how the sales of vinyl were on the rise. So there are people out there that [want] higher quality music. They’re younger and they can hear the difference. … It’s almost like when you’re watching a movie that you’ve downloaded from the Internet and are watching on YouTube and it looks pixilated. … Music is pixilated. An mp3 is pixilated but in an audio sense rather than the visual sense. That’s from converting analog into digital, recording it, and you have to convert it back to analog. There are elements from the music and the sound that are missing. People don’t know that and a lot of people don’t care.
There are frequencies that are taken out… frequencies that technically the human ear can’t hear but there have been studies that [show] just because the human ear doesn’t hear it doesn’t mean that our brains don’t react to it. There have been tests that [show] human beings can hear frequencies from 20 hertz to 20 kilohertz, but there are other frequencies that different animals can hear such as dogs, elephants, whatever that are either higher or much lower than what we can hear. …They have done tests where the human brain still reacts to it. What I hope would happen is there would be an enormous craving for higher quality sounding music in the future.
We’re on the cusp right now where computers are getting fast enough to be able to process all that information. There’s a lot of audiophile people out there that are looking for different ways to record music in a digital way because the analog, it’s just too damn expensive. There are a lot of bands that are trying to record on tape again and one of the companies that made analog tapes—I think they even went under—but then there was an enormous need for it again and a lot of producers and musicians want to record tape again and now it’s available again.
IO: What did you think of the band that did that single on tape? [I couldn’t remember the name of the band at the time (brain fart) but it was Limp Bizkit and all the magz were throwing shit over it because it was only released on tape. No digital.]
Jeff Kendrick: Terror’s last release, they did six colors of tapes.
Mike: I started off on tapes. I never really got into [vinyl]. My dad had a record player when I was a kid and he has a huge, huge rock collection of vinyl that I’m sure I’m going to steal from him. They’re just sitting collecting dust and he’s got some gems, you know? Classic rock, Zeppelin, Sabbath, Cream, all kinds of stuff. My grandfather passed away recently and my dad gave me his [vintage record player] and I haven’t even set it up yet. I’m going to because I haven’t really taken the time to analyze the difference between CDs, mp3s, and vinyl. Everyone tells me [vinyl] is better and I know the scientific reason behind why it sounds better. [I’m going to test this] once I get my studio done.
IO: What records did you listen to when you … went down to Tower Records?
Mike: It was mostly MTV that sparked it all because I was the youngest of four kids and my oldest brother and sister were always watching MTV but the first video record that really got me into music was Def Leppard’s Hysteria. I was really young. I guess I was five years old when that came out. I did start early and I listened to a lot of—I was into Poison, I’m not really into them anymore—Scorpions, who I still love, and then … I started getting into heavier music, like Metallica, Megadeth, Pantera, and I got really into Marilyn Manson when I was a sophomore in high school. Then I started to lean toward industrial for the most part like Skinny Puppy, KMFDM, Nine Inch Nails, Rob Stein, Ministry. I also listen to a lot of EDM, a lot of Dead Mouse. I love dub-step. To me dub-step is just modern day industrial music and all the dub-step artists that are probably in their twenties don’t really know who Skinny Puppy is. Maybe they do—
IO: That’s one of the issues I see is these kids say they like this kind of music but “oh, I don’t like that band,” and I’m like “are you kidding me, that band fathered the music you’re listening to!”
Mike: I think that’s just us getting older though. Let the kids listen to what they want. Don’t get mad at them for not appreciating where it came from and if they do, kudos to them.
IO: Many people I know who are into heavy metal view it as a type of therapy or as something that “saved” them? Do you feel it has “saved” you and if so, in what way?
Mike: Absolutely. I wasn’t the most popular kid in school. Not even close. I think a lot of kids were scared of me back then because I grew up when heavy metal was a dirty word. Wearing Metallica tee shirts to school, you know a lot of kids either thought I was depressed or satanic or suicidal. I used to have a lot of night terrors when I was a kid. A lot of kids thought I was suicidal because I had a night terror … and my dad actually had to grab me and keep me from jumping out of my bedroom window because, I don’t know what I was dreaming about but I was running from something. I snapped out of it, told one of my friends about it, and rumors started circling around school that I tried to commit suicide and jumped out of my house. A lot of kids, you know, were a little afraid of me and thought I was an odd ball, which I kind of was. But it’s okay because I spent a lot of time at home playing guitar.
I started [playing guitar] when I was ten. I played drums in high school. I was in Marching Band. That was the one part of high school I did like. My mom forced me, she’s like, “You’re not just going to be sitting around doing nothing after school. You’re doing something … more involved with school than just going to school. I don’t care what it is but it’s got to be something,” and I’m like, “All right, I’ll play the drums.” I didn’t want to do it at first because I didn’t want to be in the band—it was geeky and nerdy, but I had fun, it was really cool and sure enough, my first day showing up, there were two senior snare players who were full-on in death metal and got me into Deicide and Suffocation and Cannibal Corpse and Carcass and started introducing me to this whole death metal scene that I hadn’t been introduced to. So it was cool but then Marilyn Manson, when that came around, that totally—listening to his music when you’re fifteen it kind of just taught you not to give a fuck and just be who you’re going to be and if people don’t like you … they can go fuck themselves. Don’t worry about it and funny thing is, whenever that happens, I actually started making a lot of friends and yeah, I would say it totally did change my life.
IO: Do you have any last words about heavy metal music enlightenment?
Mike: If you don’t have any friends, go start playing an instrument. It will be your best friend in the world and it can lead you to, I mean, I’ve been pretty much all over the world. I’ve got to see a lot of things, and I go home and a lot of my friends are working shitty day jobs and … they just love hearing about where I’ve been and where I’m going next and for the most part wish they could come along.
The heavy metal community, honestly, is one of the most humble, coolest genres of music out there. Everyone is a lot like me. They grew up and didn’t have a lot of friends. They stayed at home and played guitar, they played drums and just, there is an underlying tone of connection between all of us. If you’re really into heavy metal then you…get it. You were the odd ball growing up and yep, I sure was.
IO: Yeah, I was the bi-sexual devil worshiping, Goth-Grunge-Punk girl. I did it in the eighties, you did it in the nineties, but it’s the exact same story.
Mike: Yes, it’s the same story.
What’s your story? How did heavy metal “save” you? Tell us in the comments below.
I.O. Kirkwood is a Metal Descent contributor. You can check out her personal blog at http://iokirkwood.com.