FEATURE INTERVIEW – DEVILDRIVER “We’re throwing the public a fair amount of curveballs with this album.” MIKE SPREITZER

Posted on by Oran

Last week saw the release of Devildriver’s new studio album ‘Dealing with Demons Vol I’, the first instalment of what will eventually be a two-part opus. Guitarist Mike Spreitzer gives us the low-down on the new album, touring memories and working with producer Steve Evetts. 

Down The Barrel Photography, exclusively for www.overdrive.ie © 2020

‘Dealing with Demons Vol I’ is, without a doubt, a huge step forward for Santa Barbara natives, Devildriver with regards to sound and lyrical content.

Mike Spreitzer is, much like all of us, waiting out the pandemic with bated breath in the hope that his band can get back on the road doing what he does best. So, under the circumstances, what better timing to talk about ‘Dealing with Demons’ the evolution of the bands sound, his memories of his first tour and how he discovered Death Metal…

OD – This album has been in the making for the last four years and we are only getting the first half of the pie with ‘Dealing with Demons I’, walk us through the period of when ‘Trust No One’ was wrapped, as we know of the ‘Outlaws…’ album. How long back did the writing take place for this album?

MIKE – It was in the Summer of 2017, I believe. I actually had to call Neil (Tiemann – Guitar) as he’s got a way better memory than I do [Laughing]. I had him lay out the timeline of when everything took place. Looking back, I can’t believe it’s been too long.

So, the Summer of 2017 we started writing and by Feb 2018, we moved to my own studio with Neil and Austin (D’Amond – Drums) to start the demo process.

Then in June of 2018, we started pre-production with Steve Evetts. It was mostly us just working on the songs and Dez would stop by every couple of weeks to see how things were shaping up. So, yeah, it was mostly myself, Neil, Austin and Steve working on the early stages of the album.

We were playing the songs together as a band instrumentally and that was something that we’ve never done before. I think, maybe the guys did that on the first album with Ross Hogarth [producer] because that was their first recording and they didn’t have the ability to record the songs like we always did, since I joined the band. That’s just the way we did things.

We would do pre-production in my studio and then we would go to do the final product in another studio but this time, Steve insisted that we all get into a room and learn all of the songs!

OD – How did you feel about that process as I’m assuming that it is a far more intimate way of working on an album?

MIKE – I really enjoyed the overall experience. This was the most fun record that I’ve ever done. Working with Steve was just awesome. The four of us get along so well and looking back, there were no arguments or animosity, or getting offended when someone suggests trying something different on something that that person wrote. Overall, it was a great experience.

Down The Barrel Photography, exclusively for www.overdrive.ie © 2020

OD – Were you hesitant with this process when it was first presented to you?

MIKE – The only thing I was really hesitant about was learning all the material on the album, which Steve was very insistent about. Normally in the past, it was like: “If you wrote it you play it on the record“, but with Steve, he was really pushing for everyone to learn ALL the songs and play them live as much as possible prior to the recording of the album. It wasn’t like he was even suggesting, it was that he was determined to make this happen. I was like: “Steve you’re out of your mind!” [Laughing]

OD – So, obviously, this is both ‘Dealing with Demons I and II?”

MIKE – Yep!! That’s twenty tracks! I was like: “I have to learn every single riff on all twenty tracks by a certain date?” In the end, it was a great experience and Steve most definitely used his ‘Jedi Mind Tricks‘ on me to get me through that period.  [Laughing] I ended up learning them all. Steve was 100% correct. I never want to do another album again without that level of pre-production.

OD – Do you think that from this process, it will open up a lot more variety for the live setlists?

MIKE – Well, I’d have to go back and learn most of the tracks again as it was almost a year ago when we were working on the songs. It would be easier to go back and re-learn the songs, as opposed to just tackling them for the first time prior to heading out on tour.

To take it a step further after the pre-production, Steve wanted me playing the guitars on one side of some tracks while Neil was playing something else on the other side of the same track. That was another thing that was completely alien to me. We used up to 15 different amps, up to 10 different guitars, loads of different amps etc.

In fact, every song has its own configuration of tones that is unique to that song and it also has Neil and I both playing on it. We’ve never done that before. We both have very different styles of playing. For example, Neil always gets a lower tone and even if I am playing his setup, it comes across as a high-end and that’s because we play differently. I have a really heavy hand and he [Neil] has a lighter hand, which of course, influences the sound and tone.

Steve was absolutely correct in using that to the album’s advantage. Playing our different styles and tones off each other in becoming one gigantic sound. He totally knows what he’s doing and it was just so awesome to be working with him.

OD – Are we correct in saying that co-production credits go to you and Steve [Evetts]?

MIKE – You know what? That was actually a mistake on the press release. When I saw the press release after it was made public, the first thing I did was pick up the phone and call Steve and told him: “Hey man, I had nothing to do with this!” [Laughing]

OD – Would you ever produce a Devildriver album, given the chance?

MIKE – Honestly, I would never produce a Devildriver album! The reason is that I really enjoy being outside of that aspect of it, especially when I’m actually writing and performing the music. It’s just something I don’t really want to cross the worlds, for lack of a better term.

I have my writing side and I also have my producing side and I’d rather keep them separate. The other thing is, going in with a producer, like Steve Evetts, Colin Richardson, Logan Mader, Mark Lewis, and Jason Suecof, to which we’ve been very lucky to work with over the years, I get to learn so much from just watch the way they go about doing what they do.

I learned a great deal of stuff from Steve and I’m still learning as we’ve actually become very good friends. I hit up Jason Sucof and Mark Lewis all the time, in fact sometimes I’ll send out a group text as we all know each other and we’ll have discussions about certain techniques, plug-ins and gear recommendations etc.

We go back and forth with one another and that’s a reason why I don’t want to produce a Devildriver album or even co-produce because working with another producer is like going back to college for me. I get to learn so much. It’s awesome.

OD – It seems that the lyrical content if derived from some personal stuff that Dez has commented on in the past, can we expect the same for Vol II?

MIKE – It’s more of the same. We’re throwing the public a fair amount of curveballs with this album. We did know that we were going into the studio with the premise of recording a double album, but we didn’t know what the tracklisting was going to be.

We put ourselves in the place of the public and figured that it was an overwhelming amount of music to release in one go, so we decided to split it into Vol I and Vol II, so the lyrical content on this first album, is pretty much on par with Vol I.

We really went out of our way to make sure that each song has its own diversity and every song had its own character. I think that’s why Steve was adamant on using a different sound/tone/setup for each song so, instrumentally there would be something that made each song stand out.

OD – At what point did you decide on what songs were going to be on which album?

MIKE – We didn’t decide on what the tracklisting was going to be until everything was done. We waited for everything to be completed. All the vocals, the mastering…everything. We then just sat down and decided based on the flow of the tracks.

OD – Was there ever a discussion to put the whole album out as one double release?

MIKE – We considered everything. We eventually came to the conclusion to got with staggering them as two separate albums. We even considered releasing them as a series of four EP’s. There was just something about releasing them as a record. I don’t really enjoy EP’s for some reason.

I’m really glad we decided to do it this way and in hindsight, it was a blessing in disguise, as none of us could have predicted the impact of the pandemic. These albums have been completed for a long time, so, to know that we are only releasing the first part of it now, with ‘Vol II‘ to follow, during a time where almost everything is shut down and in lockdown, is a position that I’m very grateful for.

Hopefully, we can come out the other side of this and be able to tour the album much like so many of my friends and other bands from all over the world who are in the same situation.

OD – Has there been a decided release date for ‘Vol II‘?

MIKE – No, unfortunately not. We did have some tentative dates but all of that is out the window now because of the pandemic. To tell you the truth, I have no idea when ‘Vol II‘ will eventually be released.

OD – You’ve been in this business for a considerable time now, do you think that the overall template for the music business has become more difficult, especially for bands/artists from heavier genres, as there are little to no radio stations left that support the heavier genre?

MIKE – Actually, I think it’s the opposite. The platforms have changed and there’s an oversaturation of platforms out there. Like everyone’s got their own Podcasts, Radio station and websites, and some are bigger than others.

But with Devildriver, I never really cared that much because those radio stations are not really ever gonna play what we do. Even pirate radio and the likes of KNAC back in the day, they were still a little more ‘Rock‘ oriented rather than ‘Metal‘. For example, there was some great Death Metal back in the ’90s and the only way I discovered that genre was from when Cannibal Corpse did that Ace Ventura movie [1994].

That’s how I discovered the whole Death Metal scene! I was sitting at home watching the movie and after that scene, I remember hitting pause on the VCR and heading down to Tower Records on my skateboard [Tower Records was only two blocks from my house back then].

I bought ‘The Bleeding‘ [1994, Metal Blade Records] and that was how I got into all of that stuff. It wasn’t through the radio shows that were around at the time.

I also got into Carcass around that time also. Even looking at Slayer back in the day, it wasn’t the radio stations that helped them with their career it was mostly word-of-mouth. It was the same situation with Metallica. They had a huge following before they released their first music video [‘One‘] 1993.

OD – Have you ever told that story to any of the guys in Cannibal Corpse?

MIKE – [Laughing] Yeah, fast forward years later when we were on a European tour with them and they closed all the shows in mainland Europe but when we got to the UK, Devildriver closed the shows.

So, when we got to London, it was the biggest headline show of our career at the time and I remember telling the guys about it that day and in particular, having a very detailed discussion about the Ace Ventura movie with Paul [Mazurkiewicz – Drums], who told me that, in reality, the whole process of how they got into that movie was based on a rumour going around that Jim Carey was a big fan of Cannibal Corpse and that was in fact, simply not true.

The truth [according to Paul Mazurkiewicz] was that Jim saw a huge comedic side to what the band were doing. He [Jim Carey] thought that the overall concept and sound of Cannibal Corpse was so “out there” that he wanted them to be featured in the movie for comedy purposes. Carey apparently wanted Pantera initially for the movie scene and for one way or another, it led to Cannibal Corpse being in the movie.

So, there I was standing in London just hours ahead of a headline performance where I would be going on AFTER Cannibal Corpse thinking: “I remember skating down to Tower Records to buy their album and now I’m doing this!! How did this happen?

OD – Of all the touring that you’ve done over the last few decades, what tour sticks out the most for your with reference to it just being insane?

MIKE – I was very lucky! I was in the right place, at the right time. My first tour was opening up for In Flams in their hometown in Gothenburg, Sweden.

I was in college at the time and the whole thing happened overnight. I was in a different band, in college, had a part-time job in Santa Barbra, California and was just living from day-to-day. Then all of a sudden, I was contacted with the offer and if I was to take it, I had one night to learn all of the songs! I remember I had to go get my passport renewed and they said: “If you can figure this out, you can come to Europe with us and be a ‘fill-in’ guitarist for Devildriver!“.

I had to contact all my teachers and let them know and they were like: “You’re gonna miss three-weeks of school“. Luckily they were all musicians as I was a music major and I just told them: “I’ve got to take this opportunity and if there’s any way I can make up the classes, then that would be great but if you have to fail me, then so be it!

OD – At this point in your life, had you been outside of America or had any travel experience?

MIKE – Yeah, only a little bit. My Dad took me to Germany before, as I have family over there. That had been the only time in my life I had ever left the country. I actually had a fear of travelling and airports gave me anxiety. I had to travel on a completely different flight from the rest of the guys, to get to Gothenberg for the first show.

I was over the moon. In Flames were on their ‘Soundtrack to Your Escape‘ 2004 tour cycle and it was just incredible. After that, we then did ‘The Fury of Our Makers Hand‘ 2005 and then we jumped on the Ozzfest Tour and that was a really good year for Ozzfest. There was the original Black Sabbath line up, Judas Priest was on there with Rob Halford back in the band! Hmmm.. oh Dimmu Borgir was on that bill as well as SlayerSlipknot, Hatebreed, Lamb of God, Superjoint RitualLacuna Coil..the list goes on!

That was one of the best experiences in my life! It was just so unreal to be on that tour! We were on that tour for two months and I was 23-years old.

It was mindblowing! Between, In Flames and Ozzfest, those tours were just incredible and to be honest, I can’t even remember who we went out with after that. I think it could have been Machine Head. Good times…very good times [Laughing].

OD – Are there any new bands that you’ve been enjoying that you can share with us?
If you were to share with us one part of this business that you really don’t like, what would it be?

MIKE – Yeah, 3Teeth [pictured below]. They are an awesome industrial band from L.A. Really good industrial is very had to come by, but 3Teeth do an incredible job. They also have a very cool ’90s feel to their sound, which is killer.

I’m really impressed with them and I’ve talked to the guitarist and he’s actually commented on the fact of them being an industrial band and it may not be the best decision in this day and age. [Laughing] But they are such a great band and if any of your readers have not heard them, then check them out!

OD – One of heavy music’s most underrated artists is?….

MIKE – I would have to say Wednesday 13. I’ve seen the Murderdolls before. I think it was one of their last shows which took place on Halloween at the Roxy in Hollywood, a good while ago now. Anyway, I was never really a big Murderdolls fan but I was very impressed with their live show and it wasn’t until Dez told me about Wednesday 13 [Managed by Dez] and asked me to produce their album, that I got interested.

So, I started listening to them and then I saw them live at the Whiskey A-Go-GO to meet them all before we started working on the album and I was really impressed with the show. Wednesday is such a great frontman.

Wednesday 13

I think because of his past with the Murderdolls, people associate him with that and they don’t actually know that his own band is lightyears better than the Murderdolls. I just think that he [Wednesday] is one of the best frontmen in the business and people need to go and check out the band regardless if you’re into Metal or Industrial.

Also, Wednesday was more ‘Punk Rock‘ than he was credited for and the sound of the band began to take a more Industrial slant over time. You may not want to go too far back into his discography if you’re looking for heavier stuff, I would say check out his more recent stuff.

DevildriverDealing with Demons Vol I‘ is out now via Napalm Records.  Order your copy here.

Oran O’Beirne

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