Published on October 3rd, 2016 | by Gareth Allen0
Interview – Mike Spreitzer of DevilDriver
Sonic Bandwagon had the privilege to interview Mike Spreitzer, guitarist and songwriter with California’s legendary metal band, DevilDriver, shortly before they went on stage in Glasgow, at the O2 ABC.
DevilDriver’s new album, ‘Trust No One’, with considerable impetus coming from Mike’s songwriting, represents a real step forward in the band’s development. The combination of melody and groove metal is very engaging, and we would recommend you get hold of it and take it to your heart.
Mike spoke in depth about his role in the band, and what metal means to him, and shared with Sonic Bandwagon a story about the track that closes the iconic ‘The Last Kind Words’ album, never shared publically before.
Sonic Bandwagon: On the DevilDriver website you say “Trust No One is the record that I’ve been wanting to write for 12 years”. How does the album feel now you have been playing material from it live on this world tour?
Mike: Feels great. It’s nice to have new faces in the band. I have been telling a lot of people that I’m still good friends with everyone else that used to be in the band, and I keep in touch with them. But there seemed to be over the years, a little bit of lack of motivation from some people. Some people wanted to stay home and not tour anymore. Some people wanted to do other things. And it’s nice to have a collection of people together again that have a common goal.
Sonic Bandwagon: There feels to be quite a melodic edge to the new album. Particularly tracks like For What It’s Worth and House Divided. How did that come about during the writing and recording?
Mike: John Boecklin was a major influence on the writing on the other records. He played pretty much the main role in the writing process. I joined the band and I was the new guy, and I knew I had to work myself up the ranks. After a few years, opening the door seemed like I had to kick the door down in order to get more of my songs on the records. I held some power in my hand because I was the one in charge of demoing. I had a studio and if they wanted a demo, its like okay we can work on some of your songs, but were not going do five songs in a row. We will do one of your songs, and then we are going to do one of my songs. Boecklin was more on the very thrashy side of things and I was always more into European melodic metal. I was a music major, and more of a classical background, and that plays a big role in the way I write. There were definitely some defining moments writing the new album, where I thought what would Boecklin do. He and I had been writing together for a decade, so a lot of his writing style has rubbed off on me, and I am very grateful for that as I learned a lot working with him. He even texted me when the new record came out, telling me congratulations because of the songs. My reply was I couldn’t have done it without you man.
Sonic Bandwagon: What do you feel the new guys have brought to the band musically, and in terms of the personal chemistry within the band?
Mike: Well for starters we didn’t get into one single argument recording or writing. Neal wrote most of Daybreak, which became the first single off the record. He wrote most of This Deception, which is also one of my favourite songs on the record. He and Austin were also a big help for me, as sometimes I know what I want and sometimes I will have numerous ideas. And Neal who is sitting right here and Austin, would say “dude just stop that’s good, just leave it”. I admit I was nervous writing this record, because I had so much on my plate. And I felt there were people from our past, ex-members, old managers, possibly people from our old record company, or even our current record company, who were in the back of their heads wondering if I could do this on my own. I felt the need to prove everyone wrong. Not out of spite or anything like that, but the sense that yes I can do it.
Sonic Bandwagon: So you felt a bit under the spotlight?
Mike: Oh totally. Even Dez was unsure for a little while, until I sent him a couple of tracks. When I sent Above It All to Dez , he was like “dude you got this no problem”. Also I built a new studio in the garage when I moved into my new place, and I had a much bigger space to hang out in. I built it myself, it’s got an awesome vibe. The last five records before this, we did all the demoing process in my bedroom in my parent’s house. Now I am moved out, and have got my own place, it’s all soundproofed, I could write as long as I liked, without disturbing anyone. I think that had a big influence on it as well. I am a big believer in where you write is going to affect your music one hundred per cent.
Sonic Bandwagon: Listening to the record it feels like a step forward for DevilDriver, taking the band to a new place.
Mike: Thank you very much. I appreciate it.
Sonic Bandwagon: On the European leg of the tour you have played a number of the big festivals. What have been your festival highlights, performance wise?
Mike: Wacken Festival for sure. When Neal joined the band, he told me before we were confirmed for Wacken, that it was the main festival he wanted to play. It was also the main festival I wanted to play too, as the first time we played it I had a lot of gear problems. The band hadn’t played a show together in five months, and it was the first show of the tour. I did not enjoy the show at all. I was really stressed out. I always wanted to come back and do it again. This time as I wasn’t stressed out about the gear, I got to enjoy looking at the crowd. I remember looking at the clouds in the sky, and they looked as far away as the last person I could see at the end of the crowd. It was like there are so many people out there watching. When I was a kid going to Ozz Fest, my biggest thing was to imagine hitting an open chord on my guitar, and hearing it through that big PA.
Sonic Bandwagon: It’s hard to imagine the metal scene without DevilDriver. The band symbolise so much of what it means to be a part of the metal community. Could you share what metal means to you personally?
Mike: Metal has been my religion since I was six years old. What I love about metal is that it is more than just a musical genre to people. My parents used to give me shit …”why couldn’t you be in a musical genre that’s more popular where you could be more financially secure”. After doing this for twelve years I realise that metal is perfect for me. When you have a fan of your band in the metal genre, they are most likely going to be your fan for life. And it’s one of the few genres where you could actually release a horrible record, and your fans will probably still be there to check out your next one. Hopefully that will never be put to the test with DevilDriver. I am going to do my best to make sure that doesn’t happen (shared laughter). Metal is really everything to me. I dated a girl in college, and she told me once we broke up, and we are still friends to this day; that she’s hardly listened to metal since as I drove her crazy with it. When I date a girl now, it’s almost a requirement. If you don’t like metal, this is probably not going to work, as I will drive you crazy.
Sonic Bandwagon: One of my favourite DevilDriver songs is The Axe Shall Fall from the Last Kind Words album. It has this fabulous keyboards and guitar end section, which sounds like prog music. It’s brilliant. How did that come about, and were you ever tempted to do more of that?
Mike: There’s actually an interesting story behind that. I haven’t told too many people about this. It ended with a very big band argument. That was a song that was mostly written by Jon Miller, and I do believe Jeff Kendrick had some influence on that too. And I am sure John Boecklin did too. I loved it. Jon Miller was at that time, the best songwriter in the band, and everything he wrote for the most part everyone liked. I wanted it to be the final track on the album. They finished it and they had this guy Don, who owned the studio in Santa Barbara… Depeche Mode have recorded there and Martin Gore of Depeche Mode lives close to it. We finished the vocals there, and they had Don who is an organ player, play on it. And he is an amazing player, but I just didn’t think it was the right take of the song for the record. It’s not very straightforward, and there were other takes. I would probably like it a lot more now then I did back then. We had this big band meeting on the bus, and things got a little heated. We were putting it to the vote. Boecklin wanted that take, Dez wanted it. I think Miller was on the fence. Jeff didn’t want it, and I was “I do not want that on the record!”. I hated it so much, that I didn’t listen to that track for four or five years. Even though we were playing it live. But we didn’t have an organ player, so we didn’t play that part live. I got so pissed in the heat of the argument; I just had to get out of the bus, and our tour manager Eddie had left his computer bag out. So I tripped over the bag and I fell down the steps (shared laughter in the dressing room at this point). I continued off the bus, and as soon as I got off the bus, everyone just held it in for a second, and then just burst out in laughter. Looking back I am glad I fell out of the bus, as it lightened the mood for everybody. So I lost the argument, I was out-voted. Another thing about that song. I remember the last time we played it, it was in a place outside Chicago, and it was the last show they ever had in this awesome venue. And for some reason that song just never went over live well. I don’t know what it is, as it is one of my favourite DevilDriver songs.
Sonic Bandwagon: It’s got such energy about it.
Mike: It does. Maybe it would go over better now that people know it. I don’t think I have ever shared this story publically before. I have told friends, and the new guys in the band.
Sonic Bandwagon: Now looking back on it, do you think the decision was right to keep that particular take?
Mike: I think I am going to listen to the track as soon as this interview is over (much shared laughter).
This interview is written for my amazing son Keiran, who introduced me to the music of DevilDriver at our first Download festival together.