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Fear and Loathing in New York

“Are you ready to do some drinking with us?” booms Dez Fafara from the back of Coal Chamber’s plush tourbus. It’s not clear whether this is an invitation or a challenge, but one suspects the latter. A few hours from now, Dez will have consumed enough whisky to fell a rhino and his conversation will have ranges across such topics as racism, run-ins with the police, his needs for FBI protection and the horrific suicide of his stepfather. It is strong and often unsettling stuff, but that’s for later. For now, we’re sitting on a tourbus parked outside New York City’s Irving Plaza, where Coal Chamber are playing a sell-out show tonight alongside Human Waste Project, Sevendust, Day In The Life and Pulse – the penultimate date of their US tour; in two weeks’ time the band head over to the UK to headline the Kerrang! Stage at the Ozzfest. It has rained for two days solid in New York City, causing flood warnings and even more traffic chaos that usual, and the downpour shows no sign of abating. Just crossing the sidewalk to the venue results in a drenching and since there’s nothing happening in there anyway, Dez is chilling out on the bus, smoking weed and listening to Portishead . Or at least until he is until Kerrange! Complains about the latter and insists he put on Pantera instead. Well, you’ve got to have some standards. Dez has become firm friends with Pantera and taken to their infamous Black Tooth Grin cocktails (Crown Royal whisky with a hint of Coke) like a whale to plankton. “We have two bottles for tonight,” he beams, sending a roadie to fetch them from the venue. While we wait, Dez gives a guided tour of the bus. Since the band only got it yesterday, there are a few personal touches – a handful of photos pinned up in each bunk – and no signs of party damage or nasty smells. Guitarist Migule “Meegs” Rascon is apparently responsible for the smelliest farts by far. Meegs and drummer Mike “Bug” Cox have gone for some food (hopefully not beans). Bassist Rayna is watching TV – there’s a set above each bunk, allowing a little more much-needed personal space than usual. You would still go crazy after just a couple of weeks of living like this lifestyle. Coal Chamber have been on the road for 14 straight months, and it’s been one hell of a ride.

“On the first night of the tour,” recalls Dez, “we went to sleep in Arizona, we woke up and our tour bus was in the same place. We were supposed to be in Texas. Next door, was a coroner’s office and they were taking a body out. It was our bus driver. He’d died of a heart attack. “In New Orleans on the Danzig tour, our driver fell asleep and put us in a ditch among a bunch of pine trees. Ten feet further and everyone could have died. The Louisiana police officer who came along just said, ‘Y’all boys are luck’ in Illinois, we had 25 cops and four fucking dogs surround the bus and tell us they were going to come on board. They told us they didn’t want our kind there. We had to go on the local radio station and tell people the show had been cancelled and not to come. The authorities thought we had something to do with Satan.” Tomorrow Coal Chamber head for New Jersey, where thing could get a whole lot worse.

“We did a show there with Type O Negative,” says Dez. “And I was with a black girl I was seeing at the time. A group of people there made some racial comments and used the word ‘nigger’ which pissed me off, and a huge brawl broke out. It got really ugly; guys were breaking bar stools over peoples’ heads. “Now, we’re getting ready to go back there and we’ve been assigned five bounty hunters, 15 FBI agents and 12 off-duty police officers because those same people have threatened us with guns. All because I hate the word ‘nigger’. I have lots of friends many different colours and I date women of colour and they have a problem with it, which is absolutely ridiculous to me. I can’t even comprehend it. So now this show’s a big deal – it’s on the Internet and a lot of people know about it. We want out of the US just for now, we need to catch a different vibe.” While they’ve often been dismissed as nothing more than an ‘image band’, Coal Chamber are prepared to take a more pronounced stand than the majority of stone throwers. “Yeah, I date black women so I make a stand against racism,” opines Dez. “I make a stand against uniformity. I try to tell people to be themselves.”

The roadie returns damp and bereft of whisky. New York club rules prevent the band from getting at their rider until the venue opens. Dez passes round some beers instead. There are another eight hours to kill before Coal Chamber goes on. We share a spliff and watch some cops turn over someone seemingly just for looking weird. “Fuck ’em,” says Dez with a shrug. “They can’t come in here without a warrant. This is my home.” When the band are all finally assembled in one place, it is decided that the photo session should be done before we sit down for an interview. Since it’s pissing down the only suitable location is inside the venue itself, which will be jam-packed with fans if we leave it too long. Coal Chamber get a little tetchy about having to put their stage clothes on prematurely (not that they look that much different without them, just a little frayed around the edges). You have to believe Meegs when he says he’d rather work at McDonalds (“At least I’d get paid,” he whines). Bug is applauded for the rancid stench of his stage-gear and throws a mild tantrum. He seems bemused when I suggest he washes them. “For this feature,” announces Dez, straight faced, “what we wanted to do was wear paper bags over our head with our names on them and have them say, ‘Image Is Everything!’.” Instead, they take forever to get ready, Rayna in particular working at the pace of a heavily sedated sloth. It’s a girl thing. More than two hours later we amble inside Irving Plaza, stopping on the way so Dez can put some kids who’ve travelled over from England on the guest list.

A soundcheck and a million other distractions get in the way of the interview. Come 2am, Coal Chamber have played another great show, both bottles of whiskey and Rayna, Meegs and Bug have gone. Dez and I head for the darkened bar next door to Irving Plaza. The interview was supposed to be conducted with all the band, but what the hell. Meegs and Bug both appear ever so slightly envious of the attention the other two get, but have nothing to say when asked for their opinions. Rayna is just plain flaky, either not understanding the question or too far gone to give more than two word answers. It would have been just Dez talking anyway. So we talked. And we drink “Rayna’s lost her mind,” he ponders. “And Mikey and Miguel tend to be sarcastic just to get through things, rather than dealing with them on a real level. Fuck, I don’t know how they are, man. “We’re all separate. I hang out with Rayna because she’s spiritual. Mikey and Meegs hang out with each other because they get off on childish little things. We don’t hang out together. Miguel wants to play his guitar and be in a band, and that’s it. I don’t know what they want, but I want to use this platform to say something to people.” But there’s more to it than that. Dez had a fire in him, one that doesn’t seem to burn within the rest of his band. Sure, they love what they do, but you get the feeling each of them would walk away unscathed if it all went wrong. Dez has nothing else (not that he was giving up much when he quit his job cutting hair for $200 a week), and his life currently reads like a classic blues song. “I’ve lost the woman that I care about and thought was my good friend,” he relates. “My dog got taken to the pound, where no doubt they’ve put him to sleep ’cos he’s a pitbull and so no one wants him. I have two bags and a bed. But I have no complaints. Fuck it. You know what? I live my life. “My whole this is this: I want to do good music for seven or eight albums; have a fan-base that is constantly growing; have people around who understand what we’re talking about; make friends as we go and always be a band you’d want to talk to. I’ll share my mind with many different people as long as they open their mind to me. “More whiskey!” he roars, and two further shots are further coming. “I love Led Zeppelin,” he continues. “And if I die tomorrow I want everyone standing around me smoking weed and going, ‘He was a good guy and he never fucked me off’.”

One of the biggest criticisms of you is that you seem to be consciously trying to say the right thing all the time and to please all the people all the time
”No, that’s not true. I’m honest with people and if it sounds like I’m trying to say the right thing, then maybe I’m just a nice guy. Or maybe not. I’m trying to be myself, but I can’t help the way people perceive me. I will always be just as I am now. It fucking pisses me off that you think I want to say everything right. I’m pleasing the fans of our genre and everyone else can fuck off! “Most things are shit. I’ve lived on a tourbus for fucking 14 months straight. I can barely get any sleep. I play my ass off, most of the time for people that deserve it and love it, but I still give a part of my soul to people who don’t every fucking night. My personal view is that human kind is destined to kill itself. We know nothing about life of love. But don’t look at me for answers, go out on the road and ask some bum. “I try to eat every day. I’ve sold 150,000 albums but I still have five dollars in my pocket. That’s my existence. And you know why I do it? Because if I didn’t, I’d be dead.“It seems to me that the world has gone awry. I like the US because it’s dangerous and you can say what you want, but Americans are violent. We have guns and we kill each other, that’s what we do. Come to the US and we may kill you. but pretty soon the force of good will overpower what’s going on. I have to believe that. if I don’t, it’s ridiculous to exist.”

You are always portrayed as being a couple of buckets sort of a fire brigade. What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?
“I sold a Harley Davidson to a gang member who came back and stuck a gun to mine and my wife’s head and said ‘It broke down, give me the money to fix it of I’ll kill you both!’. After he left – when I’d given him $1,200 – I looked at her and said, ‘We’re still alive!’.”

How would you define mad?
“Mad is the normal world. I don’t ever want to live there and if I had to I’ll be eaten alive. I only adjust to people who adjust to me. I love good people and everything else can fuck off. Define mad? ‘Mad’ is trying to live in this world right now the whiskey’s good though, and it’s coming right now…”All of which is fine, but it still doesn’t account for that fire It doesn’t explain why the kid who got kicked out of Christian school for wearing earrings turned out the way he did. “I don’t know what it is,” Dez sighs. “I think maybe it’s because my Mom raised me around music and always told me to be myself.”

There must be more to it than that. You say you want people to understand you, but you’ve never really opened yourself up.
“Okay…I’ll tell you,” he finally decides. “It was because of one shotgun blast when I was 10 years old. My mother followed me into a room to say goodbye to my stepfather, and he put a fucking shotgun in his mouth. That’s what made me this way. I was close to him because he was into what I wanted to do, even at and early age. He bought me a drumkit for Christmas. “But he also terrified me, because he was a drunk and he beat me and my mother. But when we went into that room to say goodbye and he put that shotgun in his mouth and blew his fucking head off it was an immediate awakening. I never freaked out. I went, ‘Okay, I understand all that there is to understand’. Life is good and it’s bad, it’s way beyond the stupid fucking physical self. Something happens to you – like your best friend gets killed in a car accident or a sibling dies – and it’s like, ‘Okay, I’m awake now!’. “I don’t know what drives me, I just want to be loved by people. But there’s such a wall around me…”

When do you start breaking it down?
Dez gives me a warm smile. Probably the warmest thing in this insane city tonight, “Right now,” he grins, “with more whiskey!”