When DevilDriver decided to embrace its insurgent country forebears for its upcoming Outlaws ‘Til The End: Vol. 1, Stan Jones’ oft-covered “Ghost Riders In The Sky” — whose video is premiering exclusively below — was a first choice to cover.
“It’s not a (Johnny) Cash song, but he did it one of the best,” frontman Dez Fafara tells Billboard about the track, which features guest appearances by Cash’s son John Carter Cash and his wife, Ana Cristina Cash, and Lamb of God’s Randy Blythe. “Lyrically I knew the approach was gonna be heavy; This wasn’t going to be an Active Rock-leaning kind of track.” At the same time, Fafara catered — or, in his parlance, “bent” — his performance to what his compatriots were doing, a process documented in the video.
“It wasn’t me laying down my tracks and then everyone else laying down their tracks,” he explains. “I did the opposite; I told everybody, ‘You lay the whole song and then I’ll decide where everything goes.’ So on ‘Ghost Riders’ we had John Carter Cash laying the whole thing, Randy laying the whole thing, myself laying the whole thing and then we put it all together. It’s a very non-traditional way to do it, but it got the best results, I think.”
Outlaws — which also features covers of songs made famous by Willie Nelson, Johnny Paycheck, George Jones, Dwight Yoakam, Steve Earle, the Eagles and others — was a bit of a surprise project for Fafara and DevilDriver. The group was preparing to start working on a new album of original material, a follow-up to 2016’s Trust No One, which probably wouldn’t be ready until 2019. The three-year wait concerned Fafara, so he decided “‘Let’s give the diehards something really cool to listen to in the interim. Let’s do a cover record,’ thinking ‘Let’s do something easy.’
“That quickly spiraled into two years of work. (laughs) A year and half into it I said to my wife, ‘I don’t even know if this thing is even gonna get done!'”
The combination of heavy metal and outlaw country proved to be an easy fit, however, regardless of how arduous the album process became. “I wanted to combine two genres that have never been combined well,” Fafara explains. “Having these two genres combined is something that really needed to be done. If you go to a metal gig and walk around the tailgates you hear Willie Nelson into Slayer into Pantera into Johnny Cash, and no one is looking sideways at anyone. They just keep on partying.”
With Outlaws coming July 6, DevilDriver will head back to the studio this month to make a double concept album, which will be released in two separate parts. Fafara isn’t revealing specifics yet, but he notes that, “In 25 years I’ve never done a double record, never done a concept album, never done a covers album. I get a feeling I’m starting to knock down some bucket lists.” And he promises he’s not kidding about the Vol. 1 designation on the Outlaws album title, either.
“When people started to hear about this, man, I got a lot of phone calls, I mean a ton, from some very big band and big guys in big bands who wanted to be part of it,” Fafara recalls. “So I said, ‘We’d better slap a Vol. 1 on this.’ I’m not looking forward to trying to tackle this or bite this off again, but it looks like it might come to fruition ’cause of the amount of guests who contacted us. This thing was difficult and I’m glad we’re on the other end of it but, yeah, I’m sure we’ll go do it again at some point.”
7/10 – Chesterfield, MI @ Diesel
7/11 – Fort Wayne, IN @ Piere’s – GWAR’s Blood of God’s Tour
7/12 – Oshkosh, WI @ Rock USA
7/13 – Joliet, IL @ The Forge
7/14 – Battle Creek, MI @ Music Factory
7/15 – Mansfield, OH @ The World-Famous Historic Ohio State Reformatory, Home of the “Shawshank Prison” – INKCARCERATION