Interview with John Boecklin of Devildriver

Devildriver 2013

Prior to their set on the co-headlining tour with Cannibal Corpse James was fortunate enough to be able to sit down with John Boecklin, drummer for Devildriver in London to have a chat.

So hows the tour been going so far?

Great, we’ve only got four shows left, and we’re on the final UK leg but its been a really healthy tour, everyone really gets along great and the crowd turnouts’ been above expected.

So whats been the most memorable show so far?

Probably tonight will be, just that it’s the biggest show of the tour and stuff like that y’know. Its been a while since we played London in a club environment and just getting to the UK seemed to be a focal point between a lot of people on the tour.

Are you going to be playing ‘Another Night In London’ tonight?

Y’know we did talk about it and I’m not sure if we are, if we collectively came together as a team and made sure that we all knew it because we never play it anywhere but here, and, you know, it may have skipped our brains this time. We intended to this time, but I’m not sure if we will.

You’ve toured with quite a wide variety of bands from Cancer Bats to Behemoth – do you think this is a virtue of Devildriver’s fanbase that they can embrace them?

We tour with bands that hopefully are considered outside of our fanbase – that’s the whole point and trying to bring new people in that wouldn’t normally get to see us performing with other acts that are not considered obvious to team up with us. But this bill is kind of a death metal bill just with us thrown on. It’s a little one-sided towards the fast heavy stuff but I think that helps us stick out in the end, because we’re more sort of a groove orientated band.

Does playing guitar as well as drums help you to lock in more with those grooves when you’re writing songs?

I just think being a drummer when I write a guitar riff it just tends to work out in a better way when the drums are thought of already so, I can, as a drummer see the light in something that’s simpler, because I have something else playing in my head that’s gonna make it more unique than just what it sounds like on the guitar – there are definitely some instances of those kinda riffs on our new album that aren’t blazing fast, technical, cool, but the drumming is a little technical and together with the vocals, makes it kinda a unique thing.

So you’ve got an established sound by now, and you’re doing on your sixth album – does it become a struggle to look for new angles on your sound or do you just not really think of that when you’re writing?

No, we definitely think about what we’re doing direction-wise and stuff and this record we knew we wanted to slow things down, which really made the record easier to write, not focusing one everything being blazing fast, kinda just left a lot of open space for vocals. Besides the time frame that we had to do it in, this record was rather fun to create and listen back to when you were done with it, it was written kinda hectically though. I think the rest of the guys would attest to that. It was a little overkill y’know? Cause we were getting together however many days a week  with a lot of intensity, we all do our writing in my room which is really small and we’ve done every record there it seems like so it can get a little intense when it just the three, me, mike and jeff just writing it out. Sometimes there was arguments and stuff like that but that’s what happens.

Is there any particular reason that you had to do it last minute?

It was the path we chose, we just said we have this tour and this tour and then ok we can do the record now, it can be released then which puts us on a good schedule around these tours so its like OK, lets buck up and lets just do it, lets not go “well we’ll get around to it” we came up with some solid schedule dates and stuck to it.

Do you write music all the time when you’re on tour or is it just in that time of focused writing that you write the music?

No, I don’t think anyone writes music all the time when we’re on tour, but if you’re on a tour and you know theres a record coming up and you know its about time to start writing, you’ll start fiddling with stuff backstage when you’re in the mood. The most we ever wrote on tour for an album was the last record (Beast) because we saw the deadline so we tried to get a lot of the work done when we were on the road.

Whats your biggest influence from your perspective as a drummer?

Y’know in the early days it was a lot of Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer all that kind of classic stuff, lately its been Mario from Gojira as a drummer. He’s one of the newer guys, they’ve been around quite a while but are coming into the spotlight a bit more and he’s doing something really unique and the definition of what a drummer can bring to a band. He’s really exciting.

So what do you see as the definition of what a drummer can bring to a band?

He’s just the whole package, the beauty in a band like Gojira is they find the simplicity and make it complex but not to the point where it’s over your head. They can find these really cool, simple, grooves and somehow tweak it on the drums and guitars a little bit to make it unique and as a player he’s flawless live, he looks the part, he’s fun to watch and he makes it seem so effortless and smooth and that’s kinda what every drummer strives to be.

I notice that you don’t play a huge amount off Pray For Villains live, is that because you can’t fit all of the songs off that record that you want to play in with the other songs that you think fans will want you to play. Or is it because you felt that there was less of a fan reaction to that record?

That’s a good question, erm, its like a little bit of everything. For a while ‘Fate Stepped In’ and ‘Pray For Villains were a staple of our set, pretty much for that entire record cycle and we would trial other songs, we did ‘Back With A Vengeance’ sometimes and ‘I’ve Been Sober’ and every once in a while we did ‘In The Cards or ‘Forgiveness’ and not many seemed to be our favourites. In terms of crowd reaction. We’d also like to do stuff that we have fun doing so we actually chose an odd-ball for the show tonight. We’re not like trying to forget the album, we’re really proud of the album but sometimes things translate differently live and this brings me to another point which is the focus of the new record – to write songs that do translate better live.

So there aren’t any plans to play something like ‘Resurrection Boulevard’?

I think I speak for everyone in the band that thats our favourite song off that album. Some people didn’t seem to think so, but in general we just had that feeling that its not one of those songs that’s not going to translate that well live. But we WILL play it one day. We’ve talked about and, to be honest, its more on my part why we don’t – I just haven’t gotten round to rehearsing it that much but the other guys have all got it down.

Have you got a favourite song on the setlist?

I have a lot of fun playing a really old song called ‘Cry For Me Sky,’

Oh, off the first record?

Yeah, yeah! We’re playing that, that’s really the definition of a song that we would never write in this day and age but man its really fun to play and the crowd love it.

Are there any personal favourites – you mention ‘Cry For Me Sky’ but are there any personal favourite Devildriver that you don’t get to play live that much?

That we don’t get to play live that much? Yeah, I really like a song off our last record called ‘Blur’ and a song called ‘Hardened’ that we don’t really get round to playing that much. I really like a song called ‘Axe Shall Fall’ off our third record, the last song on the album, we played it live on a tour and its just one of those things where we felt it didn’t translate that well compared to the other stuff.

Whats your favourite Devildriver song that you’ve had creative input on?

I don’t know, I’ve pretty much had creative input on every song we’ve done. Except for a couple of tracks on the first record so I don’t know, its your own band, sometimes it just goes into cycles of liking or thinking you can do better than that. Sometimes I listen to our old stuff and think “wow that was really awesome” and sometimes I think “we’re way better now” its all part of the fun of being in a band.

What do you think has ben the most important Devildriver show to date?

I knew it right when you asked that question – I believe it was Download 2007 when we played the tent – I just think we set a tone on that show and from that show we gained a reputation – really brutal live, or crowd response. I don’t know, just something about that show that catapulted us.

Yeah, its one of those Download sets where everybody goes were you at Devildriver?

Yeah, yeah, that kinda thing. It was talked about it and got a lot of hits on youtube. It was just one of those things where we seemed to do the right thing at the right time and that’s why it sticks out to me.

This tour with Cannibal Corpse have you encountered any divides between the audiences of both bands? Or do you think theres quite a lot of crossover appeal?

Going into the tour I expected to see some of that but really, to be honest, no. Its been an accepting crowd if you will.

Napalm Records is quite a lot heavier roster than Roadrunner, did that come into the decision of saying we’re going to make the album a bit simpler.

No, we didn’t make a business choice based on how heavy the acts they work with are, you make the business choice based around y’know fiscal numbers and stuff like that. In general when looking at what label you’re going to you look at how much are they going to pay attention to us? How much do they really care in relation to other acts. How many other acts have they got to deal with so are we gonna get swept under the rug at some point? so we kinda like found a label we thought was the right size for us and, erm, seemed so far to have given the right amount of attention that we thinkw e deserve.

Was it at all a conscious decision to go with a European label?

No, we shopped around a bunch of labels and had a bunch of different offers so we just had to weigh them all out and pick one that ew thought was good. Where it was based at? Yeah, theres a little fear that maybe do they know how to market right in the US? But in general they’re a label that you can work together and get the numbers that you want.

Have you got an approximate release date for the new album?

Uhhhh, August something, I’m not sure, August 22nd sounds correct to me.

Are there any particular new bands that you’ve been enjoying recently?

New bands? Well I don’t know like many of new bands, first record that have just come out but new, up and coming bands I really like After The Burial a lot. I think they do a really fun mix of traditional metal flavouring and a good mix of singing and screaming whereas its not predictable, that every single chorus is sing-song versus heavy and they’re really, really, talented players.

What are the plans for the rest of this year?

We’re taking all time off until August and then we’re going to come back, do a short Euro run, we’re gonna play Bloodstock, do a couple of festivals here and there and then tour out America for the rest of the year.

 You’ve played Download quite a few times, are you looking forward to playing higher up the bill at bloodstock?

Yeah, I mean  I’m looking forward to something new, its kinda uh we could’ve played Download I believe, but you can’t do the festival markets over and over. If you do it one year you have to take the next year off but in general I’m looking forward to doing something on a smaller level it’ll be cool. Something I’ve never done before.

When you’re writing the setlist do you find it easier to write something for a support slot for Machine Head or do you find it easier to pick all of the songs that you want to play for a headlining slot?

Its never really easy y’know something like Machine Head we tke into account that we’re going to be playing really, really, big rooms and we always take into account that with a band  like machine head, maybe if we play more of our mid-tempo songs we’ll have more of a power and presence and sound a little bigger in those huge arena’s, trying to have the most impact possible on the people who hadn’t seen us. A setlist with us is never really easy it always seems like somebody else doesn’t want to play something or somebody else wants to play something theres a lot of back and forth stuff but I think we really found a setlist that, for the first time once we started it, it has not changed since the end of the tour. I think this is the most happy we’ve been with it. A Lot of times we start off with these songs and then three dates in we’ll go “this song sucks lets get rid of it” but this whole tour from day one the set seems to flow really good.

Just got one final question; could you deck a horse with one punch?

Me? Yeah, probably. I mean the reality of that… dude, honestly, honestly if you decked a horse as hard as you could it would just be like huh? It’d probably kiss you!

As discussed Devildriver will be making their Bloodstock debut at Bloodstock Open Air 2013 this coming August, alongside headliners Lamb of God, Slayer and King Diamond. Bloodstock will be Devildriver’s next UK appearance. For the latest metal band and artist interviews please keep checking back with on a regular basis.


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