When Coal Chamber reunited for Soundwave a few years back, it wasn’t like they had any grand plans to record a new album, but here we are in 2015, and the band’s about to release Rivals, their fourth album and first in 13 years. Since 2002, frontman Dez Fafara has kept busy with DevilDriver, who have had a successful run. The night before they played New York City’s Webster Hall, we caught up with the band to talk about what the rest of them have been up to, whether this is a one-off album or whether they’ll keep the band going, and how they got Al Jourgensen to appear on the album. Rivals will be released Tuesday (19) on Napalm Records, and can be preordered here.
How’s the tour going so far?
Mike Cox: This is our first headlining run since God knows when. It’s a lot of pressure expecting kids to show up at meet and greets. All that pressure with every show just gets better and better.
Dez Fafara: We’re on point as a band, it’s unreal. And like he said the meet and greets have been incredible, 50 to 60 people a day. The stories we’re hearing are just- it’s been a really good time. You feel blessed.
And with no offense to Filter, it’s got to be pretty awesome to have them opening for you.
Meegs Rascon: I listened to them in high school; they were one of my favorite bands. It’s crazy.
Mike: I think everybody on the bill brings something. American Head Charge, Combichrist, even this opening band Saint Ridley, they kind of sound like Nirvana a bit, the singer has a good voice. I think everybody brings something really different to the tour. That’s what we wanted; we didn’t want a bunch of bands that all sounded the same.
I’m sure you’re asked this every interview, but what led to Coal Chamber reforming?
Meegs: Being friends again was a big factor, or was the factor. Music was second. We just had to make sure we were a family. That’s a cliché thing to say but it is true. Once we got that rolling, the music flowed after.
Dez: A lot of people don’t know that we actually started talking about getting back together in 2009. They were throwing me tracks, and I was throwing on vocals for some. From there it just took it’s time and organically built.
Was it a mutual decision for the band to disband at the time?
Mike: A very tumultuous mutual decision. We didn’t sit down, it was just enough was enough between everybody. There wasn’t one certain thing.
Dez: I think when you meet in a hallway of a bus, and you can do nothing but fist fight, and yell at each other, “you ruined my life,” I think it’s done. Music is just nothing but a good time, so it’s just turned into something horribly ugly.
Mike: We were all miserable towards the end of it. Just bad moods all day, fighting, just total cliché.
Dez, you obviously had your hands full with DevilDriver, what about the rest of you, what have you guys been doing?
Mike: Well after the band broke up, it went to a really dark place for a while. After that, I didn’t play music for almost 7 years. I completely quit the industry. It’s a horrible business if you let it take advantage of you.
So you had no desire to pick up the drums and jam? Nothing?
Mike: No, it was bad. I got thrown into it and then thrown right out of it. So personally it was hard for me and then you just start growing up. I was a kid when I got in the band and I started learning life through it. Now I have a kid.
Dez: Now Mike has a kid, Meegs is married. So everybody has grown up.
Mike: The time off was necessary.
Meegs: It was definitely a big reset. I’ve done music, I haven’t stopped. I have several projects, shelved, records. It’s just been more of a personal rebirth.
Mike: I mean, I think we all went to a dark place when the band broke up. I know Nadja had feelings like that too.
Nadja: Yeah, I was definitely bummed out when we broke up. It took me a couple years. I dealt with some anxiety issues and stuff like that. Then I did some music stuff, I did something with the United record (2005’s Roadrunner United), I did some Cypress Hill videos. I was just in and out of music but nothing permanent.
Dez: There was a moment where DevilDriver played Pomona, and Meegs came up and did “Loco” with us.
I bet people went nuts.
Dez: They did. He and I had a hug afterwards on stage and right then I felt ‘why the fuck did him and I ever have a beef?’ This is a guy that when we first met, we struggled to eat together, we stole food together. Then you just start talking as people, you bury shit and say ‘look, what’s the most important thing here?’ I think it’s important to become friends and do music.
Mike: Yeah, I think when you don’t talk and in your head you escalate shit. It gets so out of control. If we would have just sat and talked normal we probably would have never broken up. But there was no talking, everything was out of control. Communication is key.
So, initially it just led to touring. What was the time in between you guys getting together and playing and there being new music written for Coal Chamber?
Dez: Well we booked a tour, Soundwave in Australia, and after that we come out and play “Loco” in front of 60,000 people and make them go insane. I think we started and said ‘okay, let’s do this.’ Then we took it around the world from there, we went to Europe, the States, we went to South America, and it was all very successful. So from there, you can only have one reunion, and you either make new music or you have another reunion 5 to 10 years down the line which I don’t think any of us wanted to do. In Australia I think the catalyst was Meegs listening to some headphones coming back from the gig in the shuttle buses taking us back to the hotels. I asked him what he was listening to, listened to it, asked what he was writing, he said this is just music I’m writing. I ask for whom, and he said just music I’m writing. I told him if this is what you’re writing now I really want to lay my stamp on this. Then it was very forward moving music. I’d say don’t look for a nineties comeback record from us because we’ve moved on as musicians. That was the catalyst to, okay, let’s do this.
Mike: He and I had two songs that we did. I don’t even know the time frame of them. I had V drums in my bedroom in the house I was staying in. He happened to come in to a barbecue I had, and we went back and forth through emails on these two random songs. Then Nadja got it, she played on it.
Meegs: That’s “Suffer in Silence.”
Dez: Which now Al Jourgensen is on.
Mike: So those were the two but it was never like a sit down, “let’s go write a Coal Chamber song.” It just happens that usually when we write it sounds like it.
Dez: Even when we were going to start doing shows, Nadja was busy at the time, so we went and did shows without her. When we came back we started talking to her and she said she really wanted to play with Coal Chamber. We really wanted her to play with us too. Then we said “okay, now we got it let’s go do this.”
Mike: The tour feeling normal again, with all of us.
It sounds like it came together really naturally and the record is way heavier than I would have expected it to be.
Dez: What’s really cool is we handed off a secure link and even the most cynical of people that have known me forever, that have done interview with me for the last 10 years, will say “I was never a Coal Chamber fan, let’s do this interview.” And I was like, ‘oh here we go.’ But the guy will open up and say he can’t stop listening to this record and it’s been across the board like that.
Mike: It’s crazy, we used to get used to never getting critical acclaim. Here and there, but we’re always the underdog. We used to take pride in it, it made us work harder. This is the first time where people are saying that our album front to back is amazing. It’s surreal.
Dez: And now it’s a different story. Then this other thing people are saying is that nu metal’s back, and I’m like what? Cause we’re doing a record that’s nu metal? Korn, System of a Down, Linkin Park, they’re the biggest bands on the planet. It’s never gone away, but hey, if you want to say it just because we’re putting out a record, we’ll take it.
I mean, I was going to ask if you minded at the time being called a nu metal band?
Dez: No, I loved the term until other bands started to come in and I was like that band doesn’t fit in this genre. That was like us, Deftones, System, Korn, Static. Then other bands started to come in that we were like, “uh, no.” So that’s when I think it became, oh, c’mon man.
Mike: It was like any band that couldn’t be put in another category “let’s make them nu metal.” Then there were just way too many bands.
Dez: I think there’s a thirst for that music because people just want something different. That genre, that era, certainly gave you stuff that was different.
Are you noticing bands that were maybe influenced by Coal Chamber? There are definitely bands out there now that was.
Mike: there are Coal Chamber cover bands!
What? What are they called?
Mike: One is Fiends in South America. There’s one in Dallas, Texas, more are popping up. It’s pretty hilarious.
Dez: But yeah, getting back to nu-metal, I’m like dude, have you ever heard of Five Finger Death Punch? That’s about as nu metal as it gets too.
Mike: It’s always been there, we just broke up.
How’d the Al Jourgenen thing come about?
Dez: I’ve been friends with Al for a long time, and was like, do you want to come down fora barbecue and sing on a song? Absolutely, he just came down, we were all there, and we had a great time. Watching him sit and record was incredible. Once he started dialing his voice giving that signature Al, vocal sound. Meegs and I at one point looked at each other like, “holy shit. This is happening.” It is one thing to be friends with someone and go over their house and have them over, but having them at your house, playing music is incredible.
Sure. So you had Ozzy and Al Jougensen. Any one on your wish list you want to have collaborate?
Mike: Jesus. That’s the only person left, or Santa Claus.
He’ll be back (laughter)
Mike: I mean, sometimes collaborations happen too often. It became the ‘in’ thing to do. Ours just happened naturally. The Ozzy thing obviously was Sharon Osbourne, that wasn’t planned, and the Al thing wasn’t really planned.
Dez: Al was the only one that could’ve done it, that would be a proper fit. Coal Chamber’s always had that thing where we’re the only band in that genre which has a mix of heavy stuff and goth stuff like Bauhaus, Alien Sex Fiend. We can all go on forever about that. We’re the only ones out of all those bands in the genre that has that. So Al was the only one that’s going to understand that.
Mike: He fits on the new record perfectly.
So, you told me when I checked in with you from the studio that this is a full time thing it’s not a one-off reunion type thing. How do you plan on splitting your time between this and DevilDriver?
Dez: Well I took two years off from DevilDriver to do this. I’ll be releasing another DevilDriver record sometime next year. You got to just yin-yang them both. Make sure not to take too much time off from this at all, or too much time off from that. Spend enough time with the family, and keep working. Music’s a beautiful thing when it comes into your life though.
So you’ll be like Max Cavalera then?
Dez: No, nothing like that. I mean he’s got Soulfly, Cavalera Conspiracy, he’s got a bunch of different stuff. Max is a good friend by the way. My thing is give everything 110 percent. Do not give everything 75 percent, or everything dies. So a lot of artists, not necessarily the aforementioned, will give things 75 percent and it’s going to kill every project you do. I want to make sure I’m 110 percent for these guys and this girl, when they need me. And then when it’s time for them to take time off, or for Mike to spend time at home with his baby, or Meegs to spend time with his wife, we let them do their thing
Mike: We’re all always doing music. That’s what we do. There’s going to be a time in our lives where we cannot physically play music. You got to do it pretty much every day of your life, until you can’t anymore.
So what are your touring plans beyond this?
Dez: After this and it’s a huge thing if you’re a musician, we’re going to do Monsters of Rock in Brazil with Ozzy. Then we’re going to Europe, after that go over to Australia, and then possibly back in the United States again.
Mike: Yeah we’re just getting started. You got to see what the record does, and a lot of moving parts happen with tours. One day is one thing, one day is another thing.
By taking time off, you are coming back, not bigger than before, but renewed. Getting to just go down to play Monsters of Rock and play with Ozzy.
Dez: We have such a communication level right now, and the music is so good that’s coming out of us. It’s so updated and fresh.
Meegs: And we look amazing. (laughter)
Dez: you want to give it as much time as you can. You want to say’ yeah man; it’s a good thing you stepped away.’ We were on the course for burn out. Every cliché rock and roll thing got involved. From money to drugs to women to you name it.
Mike: It was a course of death. I was on the course of death.
Dez: Yeah it is a wonder that certain members are still here with us.