An Interview With : Neal Tiemann (DevilDriver)
17th November 2016, 19:25
Posted by Tristan
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Initiation can be somewhat intimidating, beginning a new job, changing location but especially when joining a brand new band. Going through an evolution to an extent DevilDriver saw a pretty radical change in the guard. With both drummer John Boecklin and guitarist Jeff Kendrick departing the band both Dez Fafara and Mike Spreitzer got together to flesh out a new plan of action. Fast forward to the year 2016, the newly cemented line up has seen the band unveil their biggest release to date with their phenomenal chart topping success that is Trust No One. Prior to their one off exclusive London date way back in August, we were lucky enough to be able to have a chat with Neal Tiemann, where we found out what exactly it would be like to join DevilDriver.

You can either listen to the full unedited interview on Soundcloud or read the unedited transcript below!

I’m here today with Mr Neal Tiemann?

Tie (pronounced tea-man) man. Yeah you got it right! The first of many to get it right.

How are you?

I’m good! We were just chatting before this, my only problem is that there is no AC on the bus besides besides that everything is peachy!

Excellent! So the classic age old, boring question, how is the tour going?

Hahaha, its going great! We came over here for some festivals starting at the end of July and then we are now ending it tonight pretty much. We have one more fest and then we are heading home. We’re ending it with this short five show run with Ministry that is finalised tonight. Specifically the Ministry shows have been really awesome! He’s got a drummer playing with him that I have known for five or six years, so its good to connect with him so its all super sweet. I’ve known Al for like a year now too, he hangs out with Dez all the time. There’s a swamp meet out by Pasadena and they’re ragin’ every night, its been good.

Do you think that its quite and interesting pairing the two?

Yeah for sure! I think its been reflected in the crowd. For better or worse, sometimes better sometimes worse. We definitely cross pollinate in our fans but there are also some fans just there for Ministry and there are also some fans just there for DevilDriver. They’re and Industrial Metal band and we’re a Groove Metal band, its very different. What they have accomplished is something way different from what we have tried to accomplish musically. I’m not sure that something like this would work in the states but it definitely works here! I feel like its a little more broadminded, open to, well mismatch is the wrong word but open to a unique pairing like this, people are more open minded to it in Europe than in the states.

Really? So people aren’t narrow minded in the states but kind of a bit more closed off.

It depends on where you go! I think its just a little more genre-centric. Obviously everybody world wide is aware of genres, especially in Metal, people get too hung up on I think but in the states its really specific. We just did a tour with Hatebreed at the beginning of the year and we’re going to go back and do it again in the fall. There are people on there that we’re like “Oh you really think that’s going to work?” They’re a Hardcore band and we’re a Groove Metal band. Of course it works and it works amazing. It was great, there were some people that thought I don’t know if that works. It worked much closer I would say than say Ministry or something like that. I don’t know what it is. Its definitely a fault, I wish people would be. They go to festivals, we have festivals in the US but tours it really needs to be kind of specific. I wish I could really pin point it but I can’t!

Its alright man! What about the new album. Obviously you joined the band, what was it like going into record your first big Metal release?

I mean it was huge, unlike some of the pinnacle points of my musical career this was when I was fully aware of what I was doing at the time. Its not like I will look back and think “Oh that meant more.” Again it meant everything to me, I had been waiting to do it for near half my life at this point, to do a big Metal record. I dunno, there are similarities being that I have recorded records before but I mean its kind of indescribable actually doing that after wanting it for that long. I don’t think that I have wanted something longer in my life than to be a part of a Metal band and to record. At least have one Metal record and say “I did that!”. It was a big deal for me for sure.

You’ve wanted this for a long time?

Without going too deep into my non DevilDriver past,which, I don’t mind doing but its not what this is about. I’ve done plenty of stuff, major label stuff before, I’ve been a professional musician, I’ve been fortunate enough to say that I’ve been a professional musician for about eighteen years now but I had never done Metal. Metal just never presented itself in the right way. I have a wife and a dog, I have to take care of them, I have to pay the bills. You know and Metal wasn’t either, non existent in the towns I was living in or whatever! There was always something else that would pop up. Oh guitar we’ll do that, we’ll do that for money. Not to say that I haven’t enjoyed some things that I have done in the past but I’ve always been a metalhead and its finally come to fruition. Its very huge to me.

Was it a big difference, playing in a Metal perspective. You need to have Metal mindset, if you’re doing leads and stuff like that.

Sure! Yeah, yeah!

Was it a massive change from more session work?

I had bands that was session work, it was, some of it was Pop. The closest I got was a Hard Rock band called Burn Halo and the other called Hell Or High Water, still not Metal though. Its not technical, I mean you kind of said it right there, there’s a lot more thought into leads, into rhythm. You have to be more technically proficient to play in DevilDriver than anything I have ever been a part of. It was a great challenge, to have to practice for that! They wouldn’t give me the job if I weren’t good enough already but to get my confidence up and actually do this, this is a real dream. I can actually play this stuff, I can do it. It just added another hour onto practice that I normally do.

Extra legato sessions…

I’ve fooled them so far haha! I just have to keep it up.

What about writing the record as well? How involved were you in the writing process?

For me it was a surprising amount. So I joined the band and I thought as usually how it works, you kind of have to make your way in. First record, maybe I would get to write a riff or two, we’ll see what the new guy is about and then after tour and that cycle maybe let him write one or two for the next one? But it wasn’t like that at all! I jumped in and met Mike and we started writing with Austin. Right away it was a totally like “Oh I have this riff”. Mike had maybe two or three songs that were done. We had those there, then it was lik “You have a riff? Cool lets do it!” Then I ended up getting two songs on the record that are mainly written by me. Then I think that there are only two that made it that I didn’t write anything on so I had my hand in eight of the ten songs with the majority on two. I felt, I feel really lucky that they let me in and do that.

Especially what you mentioned, you kind of test the water… Do you think that is a kind of opportunity that because of your past it kind of got you to earn it?

It could be that! I think my past kind of helped, obviously DevilDriver has a sound. DevilDriver sounds like DevilDriver. Each record, depending on how much you are into Metal, can sound a little different and they each have their own flavours for sure from a new guitar players perspective. They had that sound and that was the one thing that when I would start writing, I would be writing it for DevilDriver. This is what I think it should sound like but now listening to interview that Dez and Mike have done mentioning me, they’ve flattered me by saying that they wanted the new perspective. They wanted the new blood, well this is what these guys have been doing for twelve years, you know what it sounds like, what would you do? They used that, I think, to our advantage and used me in the record a lot. Which is great!

Well I mean I think that Trust No One is maybe… progressive? Is that the right word?

Yeah it is kinda!

What about you personally, you’ve mentioned your past and things like that. What are your influences as a guitarist?

As a guitarist, I first wanted to play guitar. I was kind of a sheltered kid at twelve or thirteen I heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit” Nirvana stuff which I unfortunately can’t say that I am that big of a fan of now but I got into it and that’s what made me want to pick up the guitar. Watching Kurt Cobain play, I don’t play left handed anymore just because guitars are way more expensive than regular guitars. It was just too fucking expesive haha! I got that and I remember getting the record and I didn’t take any lessons and I would just watch his hands on the TV and then said “Oh well I can do that!”. Eventually I got really bored of this so I sort of went back to my roots. I grew up in Texas, Oklahoma, ZZ Top and Pantera were the biggest Texas guitarists in my mind. We aren’t talking about any Country artists that have come out of there. As far as Rock ‘n’ Roll and Metal there’s nothing better than that. That’s kind of what started me on that, I wanted to sound like Billy Gibbons and Dimebag Darrel and from there it moved into the Randy Roads faze that I never moved out of. The other huge one would be David Gilmour of Pink Floyd, the tone on his fingers, its insane.

His feel as well!

It can’t be wrong on a guitar, its crazy. I’ve spent so much time trying to do it right and I feel like he couldn’t even be wrong!

Trust

You can play a thousand notes and he does one bend and its better than the entire solo.

And you know its him!

How did you meet the guys from DevilDriver then?

It started with Dez, our wives met through Instagram. We both have black and white Great Danes, I think they had some mutual friends but they started contacting each other, because of the dogs. “My husband is a musician, oh my husband is a musician! Oh you should get him over…” We went down to Dez and Anastasia’s house and had dinner and then by the end of it was 4am and Dez and I were listening to Pantera on vinyl just drinking all the Hennesy in his house. I don’t even drink Hennesy without Dez, its not my favourite thing to drink but don’t tell Dez! I’ll drink it on tour though, he then introduced me to Mike. Because of my non Metal background was kind of unsure about me. He had me come over and play a DevilDriver song “Dead To Rights” and was just like staring at me the whole time and was just like “Alright, cool!”. The other guys we met as we went along. Ash as I came to find out lives right next to me in LA and then Austin we met through Mark Lewis, the producer of the record.

Was it intimidating seeing Mike like “What are you doing?”

Of course! It always is! Its intimidating to play in front of people, especially if you have a guy that you really admire on guitar, he’s a fucking badass. Having a guy that close just staring at your fingers is pretty intimidating. I tried to act cool though, I’ve heard them in interviews and I guess I was like chewing on gum and Dez just says that I was staring down just chewing on gum.

Playing to the crowds that are here now, you said that its intimidating, are these the biggest crowds that you have played to?

No, one of my best friends David Cooke won American Idol in 2008 and I was his music director for a couple of years. I think the biggest crowd was on that one so far! To that in general, me saying playing live is intimidating, its gets to a certain point. Once it gets past like thirty or forty thousand people its a sea of people. Especially with those stages, its so large, its almost like you’re playing in a room with your friends and you can see them but I think the more intimate you get the more intimidating it gets.

Oh really!

Oh for sure! Because of that same thing, eighteen people are staring at you compared to it could be thousands of people staring at you but if they’re that far away you can’t tell they’re staring at you! They could be looking at the sky, I can’t tell but if they’re right here you actually care! Especially being in a band that is known for doing proficient Metal. You have to be clean. I’m relatively over it now but I remember the first few shows I was like “Fuck, I gotta play cleaner now!” you know? Better watch the beers today!

Do you think that your session musician background has given a new dynamic to the DevilDriver sound?

I hope so! I couldn’t say for sure but I know that the majority of the writing, before I was here was done with Mike and John Boecklin, the old drummer. I know that my approach to guitar is very different to his. He is an amazing musician all out, he’s a beast of a drummer and can also write riffs, that’s insane but I approach guitar way differently and I think that the core of the writing, obviously we’re not talking about vocals here but the music we’re talking Austin, Mike and myself now being the main thing and I think that Austin definitely brings a different vibe. I hope that I do as well, I must be because I’m a different player than him!

What’s planned for the end of the year towards next year for DevilDriver?

Like I said tonight is the last show in the UK then we have a show in the Ukraine. Fly back, we have a month off and then we start the second leg of that Hatebreed tour that I was talking about earlier. Which kicks off a Ozz-Knot Fest. Ozzfest Meets Knotfest? They should have called it OzzKnotFest right?! Haha! We’re playing there on the 23rd of September starts there and Hatebreed is on that as well and that’s a five week run. Somewhere we are telling me that we will be home for Halloween and then we will be off for the rest of the year but we’re already talking about stuff happening for January next year. We’re really going to hit more of Europe next year. They’re seeing the numbers and everyone is thinking “Holy shit, we have kind of been missing out on this!” Especially when Dez went to Coal Chamber for a year and just hit the states. We should have been here also, this is such a stronghold for DevilDriver. I think everybody, including management are thinking “Ok we’re going to get the boys back over more!”

Especially if the record was released in May there’s kind of that time line of Summer festivals.

Sure yeah!

To finish up what has been an album that you have been listening to for the last six months to a year?

There’s so many things! This came out like two years ago its what I have been listening to the most, its Like Clockwork by Queens of The Stone Age.

Oh really!

I listen to plenty of Metal, if you’re going to pick like great records for me, a third would be Metal record but yeah Queens of The Stone Age are like one of my favourite bands. That record has been pretty close to me in the last six months for sure.

Why’s that? If you don’t mind me asking!

Haha! I don’t know, I think that particular record, I’ve been a fan of the band for like fifteen years. I’m not a fair weather guy or anything this one I think it harkens back to Pink Floyd to me. It sounds like them trying to do a little Pink Floyd-y record. Its also really sad, I tend to get into sad shit.

Its also got some cool videos.

Oh for sure, its also for the first time in a long time that someone put out so much imagery with it. Cool shit too! Where they’re giving you the multi experience you know?

 

DevilDriver’s new album Trust No One was released this May and is available everywhere!