Our Alan Daly had a chat with DevilDriver guitarist Mike Spreitzer, when the band were in Dublin, on April 8th.
Alan: Welcome to Dublin!
Mike: Thanks! First time here!
Alan: Yeah, you’ve never played in the republic before. Have you been here on vacation?
Mike: Nah. The closest we’ve been to here is Belfast, which we played yesterday and we played on 6-6-6. We played something called Rottfest I think, back a long time ago. But that’s it. We have quite a few fans that fly into the UK to come see us from here. And the pre-sale today is really good so it should be fun.
Alan: Yeah. There should be a good crowd here. There’s a big metal scene here in Dublin now. How’s the rest of the current tour going so far?
Mike: The shows have been awesome. The jetlag and the sleep hasn’t been as great as I would have hoped, and the A/C broke on our bus a couple of days ago. You can imagine how much fun that was. But other than that, the shows have been really good. We haven’t done anything that hasn’t been a co-headliner in a while so it’s nice to do a proper headliner again.
Alan: We were at the show in Belfast last night…
Mike: Oh you were? Ok. How far away is that from here?
Alan: Only about two hours really…
Mike: Is that it? I fell asleep yesterday. I was so tired for the last two days. I don’t remember the drive at all. I just woke up and we were here. And I went to bed really early! I had no idea it was that close.
Alan: Other than sleeping, what do you do to kill time on the tour bus? Especially when there is a long commute between gigs.
Mike: In the states, we usually have internet and I try to get some business done or do something productive on the bus. But… a lot of movie watching. We’re all big fans of South Park these days. We sit in the back lounge and try to not get on each others’ nerves.
Alan: Do you ever bring family members with you?
Mike: I don’t think any of my family members would like to come. I mean… “Oh yeah, you wanna hang out on a bus with twelve dudes?”. It’s just not appealing to any of my family members. I did bring my ex-girlfriend on tour with me quite a few times when we were together. Sometimes wives and girlfriends come out, but that’s the extent of it. And every now and then we’ll bump into a friend or something like that and we’ll throw them on the bus, and say “You’re coming with us for a couple of days”. But that doesn’t happen very often.
Alan: So the setlists that you’ve been playing on this tour seem to be pretty rigid. Thirteen songs; a good mix of most of your albums…
Mike: Is that how many it is? Thirteen? Cool! Yeah, we’re not doing anything off “Pray for Villains”.
Alan: Any particular reason why it’s been omitted from the setlist?
Mike: You know, when you get to the point where you have six records, it’s hard to choose. And I’ve never been a big fan of playing the song “Pray for Villains” which is the focus track of that record. But we have done a lot of songs off that record, and it’s not like we don’t give it any love. And only one song off “Beast” too.
Alan: The new album seems to be going down really well…
Mike: Yeah, a lot of people are taking to “Winter Kills”. I love the record too. It’s my favourite record we’ve done since “Last Kind Words”.
Alan: “Winter Kills” has already been out eight months, and you guys seem to be on an eighteen month to two year album release cycle. So have you looked forward to the next album?
Mike: We’ve already started writing for it. I know [John] Boecklin [Drummer] has a bunch of songs. I haven’t really had a lot of time to write because I just moved into a new house and I’ve been building a studio in my garage to replace the studio that I have in my parents house, which I have outgrown, and that’s where we’ve been doing all the pre-production. I can’t even feel creative in that studio, I’ve been in there for so long. So I’m getting all my stuff out of there. I’ve been building this studio in my new house. I’ve been working on it for almost a year, in between tours, and it should be done in July. We have July and August off, so I’m going to spend all that time writing for the next record. Boecklin’s already got probably like somewhere between three and five songs written, and a tentative date for recording of November/December, which means the record will probably be out some time next summer.
Alan: I’ve seen it reported that you as a band feel that “Winter Kills” is your best album to date. Do you feel under pressure to better that?
Mike: I’ve never really felt pressured. The only thing I kind of feel pressure about is not repeating ourselves too much, and hashing out the same type of record that we’ve done before. You know, I see things from a different perspective than our fans do, but there’s a different vibe for every record for me. It always seems to come very organically for us. I just sit down and write. I don’t really think about trying to do this or that or have a direction I want to go. To some extent I do. Now that we’ve done the song “Sail” [Awolnation cover], I think that kind of opened up some doors for me, where I can have more atmospheric tones, meshed with brutal guitars at the same time. Whereas before, I kind of strayed away from that. I didn’t know if DevilDriverfans would be into something like that, but they obviously do. “Sail” has gotten a great response. You know, it’s not our song, but we added a lot of elements to that.
Alan: You made it your own?…
Mike: Yeah, I think we did.
Alan: Reading about how you chose to cover that song, the story goes that Dez’s son suggested the song…
Mike: Yeah. Honestly, I think anyone who has turned on the radio in the United States has obviously heard it, and probably most of the rest of the world…
Alan: I don’t think it got much, if any, radio play here in Ireland.
Mike: It’s a very big hit in the States. Me, Jeff and Boecklin were actually doing pre-production at my studio and Dez texted us and said “You know this song by Awolnation?”. I hadn’t heard the song yet either. It was right in the beginning, when the song was just getting really popular, and we pulled it up on YouTube, listened to it, and were immediately like “Dude, this could be a good idea”. We were also actually working on “Running Down a Dream” by Tom Petty. We demoed it. The song is pretty much done. We were going to put out two covers with “Winter Kills”, mostly for B-sides. We weren’t going to release them on the record. And we did “Sail”, and I just felt like it overshadowed “Running Down a Dream” so much because it was just night and day how much better it was, and more unique sounding, that I felt like it would have been a waste of a song. We might have actually put “Running Down a Dream” out eventually, but it just seemed like the wrong time. And then after “Sail” was done, I personally liked it so much, I really wanted to put it on the record, and a lot of the other guys did too. Our manager was slightly opposed to it, or maybe it was the record label, I don’t know, saying it should be a B-side, and I used “Far Beyond Driven” as an example. I said if Pantera can put “Planet Caravan” on the end of their record, we can put “Sail” on the end of ours. And everyone was like “You know what? You’re right. Let’s do it.”
Alan: And now it’s a regular on your setlists!
Mike: Yeah. In hindsight it doesn’t really matter. There’s a normal edition, there’s a limited edition of the record. People don’t buy records like they did in the past. They’re either downloading them illegally or downloading them from iTunes or Amazon. How many people actually take the CD and stick it in their player? I know people do, but it’s not that many.
Alan: Will “Running Down a Dream” ever see the light of day?
Mike: Maybe. I’ve played it for a few people. I like it more now than I did then. I listened to it a few months ago when we were on tour with Trivium because I had it on my laptop, and it doesn’t have any vocals on it so I was listening to the instrumental version. Dez never got around to recording the vocals for it. It is cool. Me, personally, I would say let’s go find something different. We didn’t make that song as much our own as we did “Sail”. It’s Tom Petty, slightly heavier.
Alan: And what about a live album? It’s been mentioned that you’ve considered it. And there was the bonus DVD with “Winter Kills” which had some live tracks…
Mike: I’ve been hearing about a live record from our management and record companies since day one.
Alan: Are they the ones who get to make the call or does the band have the final say?
Mike: If we really wanted to do it, I think they would be on board to do it. I don’t think there’s really much point to do it from an economical standpoint. But there are songs out there, that bands have put out live that I like much better live. There’s a couple of Behemoth songs, that because of production in the early days was so bad, and I’m sure they’ll agree with me, that some of their older songs, I can listen to the recorded version. I’d rather listen to the live version. “Creeping Death” on “Live Shit: Binge & Purge” by Metallica is way better than it is on “Ride the Lightning”. Also; “Domination” at Monsters of Rock in Russia, way back in the day. That’s another example. I would like to do it, but there’s no concrete plans for anything like that right now.
Alan: You guys put on a great live show. The energy is so intense onstage, that I think it would be nice for fans to have, and it might even encourage more people to come and see your live shows, which is I presume how you make a living; through ticket sales. How do you even make a living from metal music these days? Like you mentioned, downloading has killed off physical album sales to a large extent.
Mike: It’s about touring and merchandise. And when I’m at home I also produce, mix and master bands. And I sold some songs to a music library that were just sitting on my computer doing nothing. I had a friend sing on them. It’s kind of cool; I see them pop up on TV every now and then. I was watching one of my favourite shows “Dexter” a couple of years ago, and they don’t tell me where my music goes, but one of my songs came up, and I was like “That’s a cool song. Wait a minute, that’s MY song!”. And the singer is big into wrestling, WWE or whatever it’s called, and he and his wife see his songs pop up on that from time to time. I think “Good, I’ll be getting a cheque in the mail!” [laughs]. It’s not much, but it helps.
Alan: So is there anywhere in the world that you haven’t been to yet and would like to tour? Metallica recently played a show in Antarctica. How about that?
Mike: Oh yeah… that was done so poorly. I watched about five minutes of it and turned it off. Yeah, it was interesting, but a bit pointless in my opinion. For us, I would have said Japan, but we just finally went there. That was incredible. Outside of there? I didn’t get to see much of South America. I’ve been to Mexico and Chile. But the last time the band went I ended up in hospital; I had a random seizure the day that we were leaving, seven hours before the flight left, so they had to go without me. They got to go to Brazil, Argentina and Columbia. I like going to random places. I’d like to see South Korea and China. Honestly, I’ll go anywhere. I don’t care. That’s why I like being here today, because I’ve never been here before.
Alan: One question I would have liked to ask Dez, but maybe you can answer it for us. It’s about one of his tattoos. He has the very obvious “Coal Chamber” tattoo on his right arm, but Olga [Kuzmenko, photographer] noticed that he also has DevilDriver written phonetically in Russian [ДЕВИЛДРАЙВЕР]. Do you know the history behind that?
Mike: That was our first time in St. Petersburg I think. We had just played in Tallin, Estonia, and we drove to St. Petersburg. The next day, we played the show, and there was a tattoo shop literally next to the venue. And Dez, I think our merch guy Frankenstein, and one other person, maybe it was the tour manager at the time, got one. The tattoo shop was right there, the guy was a DevilDriver fan, and all we had to do was put him on the list and he did them for free!
Alan: You have said in the past that you enjoy touring with bands that might have a different fanbase to your own. Do you find this a good way to engage new fans?
Mike: It’s always nice to see new fans. I guess it gives us a brighter future when we see new people come to our shows. That’s one of the good things about doing co-headlining tours. I think the first one we did was with Behemoth. I’m a huge Behemoth fan, and the first time I saw them I was absolutely blown away by their live performance, and I was a little worried about going on tour, like how would Behemoth fans react to DevilDriver. We’re both metal, but we’re both quite different. But it was one of the better tours we’ve ever done. There were a lot of Behemoth fans and there were a lot of DevilDriver fans. And we flip-flopped; some days we would close and some times they would close, but no-one seemed to leave. We’ve done other headliners where whoever’s closing out, you can see the crowd diminish a little bit, where people are like “Ok, I’ve seen the band I came to see” and then they leave. But with Behemoth it wasn’t like that. It gives me confidence that my career’s going to go on for a little while longer.
Alan: Finally, did you get time to see any of Dublin today?
Mike: No. Unfortunately I’ve been stuck behind my computer. I’m trying to figure out going to an in-ear monitor system for the next tour, so I’ve been writing emails and getting suggestions on how to do that. Some of the guys did walk out and get some food and walk around a little bit. Yeah, I should probably try to walk around a little bit before the sun goes down. Or is it down already? [laughs]. And straight after the show we have to catch a ferry to Manchester.
Alan: Thank you for giving us so much of your valuable free time. Hope to see you again in Ireland soon.
By Alan Daly
Photos by Olga Kuzmenko