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The 'Devil' is in the details: Interview with Jeff Kendrick of DevilDriver

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Reveling in the aftermath of their sixth and grooviest release to date, Winter Kills, DevilDriver has been on the road with heavy metal maestros Trivium (Vengeance Falls) in a tour that has been destroying cities across the U.S. Accompanied by After the Burial and Thy Will Be Done, DevilDriver and Trivium have been lighting up venues across the states, playing the songs fans love and material from both bands’ 2013 releases. Well-known for their groove infused, complex string laced brand of heavy metal, DevilDriver has been defying the odds and expectations of the metal world since their introduction in 2002. Never ones to re-issue the same sound time and again, the guys knew they had to change their game plan with Winter Kills, and according to critic and fan review, they succeeded. Examiner.com got a chance to catch up with guitarist Jeff Kendrick before their show in Asheville, N.C and talk about the album, the recording process and the steely-eyed man behind the axe.

What were you guys thinking going into conceptualizing and recording this album (Winter Kills)?

JK: Musically we wanted to focus on songs that weren’t as fast and complex as Beast. There’s some very intricate stuff for sure on the album, but it’s slower tempos and more emphasis for the vocals than we have for the previous records where we were like let’s play as fast as we can and as technically as we can. The vocals in there and the songs we wrote had various parts where before we would’ve tried to make more complex or faster, but decided the vocals were gonna be the important thing here. So that was something we thought about as we were working. I mean there’s still some technical stuff, but it’s different, it’s a different record.

Absolutely. Now, we have to talk about the guitar work. You were just talking about the technicality, but what was it like recording and tracking that for you?

JK: Um, I mean it was good. All of us track guitar in the band. John Boecklin, the drummer, writes a lot of guitar. Mike (Spreitzer) does a lot of stuff, too. It was a little bit different in how we set up the sound, like the amps and stuff like that. It was a good process; I think we have a better grasp now, at least being able to get in the studio and record, then listen back and see if it’s good or (not). In the beginning we needed a little bit of guidance because it was just kind of an arduous process doing a record and now I feel like we have a good grasp on it. And Mike Spreitzer produces all the demos, so in many ways we record the record and it’s like 90 % done at his house. Even though we don’t use all of the sounds, we do use some of the parts, depending on what it is. We have a very, very methodical approach and we work on it for a long time and I think that’s what works for us is just writing far in advance. I kind of equate it to writing a paper. You don’t write the final draft of an essay the night before it’s due, you need to write multiple drafts over long period of time to make sure that it’s good. I mean some people can do that, but it’s not the norm. If they can, then there are all kinds of exceptions or whatever, but essentially how I think we approach it.

So, I take it you were a fairly meticulous student?

JK: (laughs) Yeah, somewhat. When I tried. Yeah, I was a good student but I was also one of those people that could not got to class and then the day before the exam stay up all night (studying), which I do not recommend doing. But that’s more the kind of thing you do when you’re younger and you’re in college in a band and wanted to party, too. Now it would be a different story.

What did you major in?

JK: Well, I did poli sci (political science), business and economics. I didn’t finish, but my course of study was right at the point where I was going to have to declare a major right before I stopped going to school. I actually took a macroeconomics class last year online, but econ and business is the kind of stuff I really gravitate to. When I was younger, because I’ve been out of school for about ten years, it was political science, but I like econ and business more, finance and stuff like that.

So, has that come in handy, at least what you did learn, the longer you’ve been in the music industry?

JK: Yeah, yeah, absolutely! Also, outside of the band I have several businesses and an internet company. I’m just really interested in learning about all that stuff and it’s kind of like an autodidactic approach where I just kind of teach myself which is what people have done in the past and that’s kind of my approach now. I read to learn, tech myself stuff and teach myself math and do complex formulas, and it’s very, very tough, but I enjoy doing that and keeping my mind active. It definitely comes in handy, I feel I have a pretty good grasp, at more than a lot of musicians, of the business and finance world. (Laughs) I’ve got a Forbes (magazine) subscription, so that’s what I read, too! I’ve got big plans, big dreams.

Nothing wrong with that, it’s very admirable actually. Now, a lot of people like to draw parallels between albums, do you do that as well? As an artist, do you ever compare who you were then to who you are now?

JK: Yeah, I think for sure. Like when the band started the first record that we ever did compared to what we have now is far, far different and I think that we’ve grown leaps and bounds, especially between the first two records. The first record was predominantly written by the original guitar player and myself, and then John Boecklin filled in the blanks. But the second record was John Miller and then Mike Spreitzer joined the band and that’s when I think the band developed its sound. So, the differences between those two records are the most striking compared to anything else and then even if you look at from the first record (DevilDriver) to like Beast. I think from Beast to the first record is the full spectrum, and then I even think Winter Kills is more like a combination of stuff from Beast, stuff from Pray For Villains, and stuff from The Fury (The Fury of Our Maker’s Hands), but also similar to the first record, but more evolved and mature. So yeah, we definitely draw parallels and comparisons between our various records.

Who is one person you consider a hero and why?

JK: James Hetfield. He is the reason why I started music and started playing guitar. I mean that guy is it. He’s my hero and he’s one of the only guys I haven’t met, but I look forward to meeting him one day.

What is your favorite Metallica album?

JK: Master of Puppets is my favorite record of all time, hands down. There’s things I like about other albums, but now with technology and YouTube…I’m one of those guys that will go online and listen to “Sanitarium” guitar only because I’ve never heard it like that and that’s how into the band I am. Metallica came along for me at a time and had an affect on me that I feel is the most pivotal moment of my life. I don’t think there’s been anything else that’s even come close that’s affected me in the way that that band did when I was a child when I was 11 or 12 years old, and where it went from there…It literally I was a jock I was an athlete. I played four sports, varsity. Not Division I or anything, but decent teams, but once the music thing started my whole focus re-shifted. Thankfully, now I’ve taken all that and I’m actually making a living and in many ways walking in a band like Metallica’s footsteps, not comparing us to them, but we get to do music for a living and I’m very thankful for that.

Any last words or message to the fans?

JK: Thanks for all the years of support and we’re here for you guys just like you’re here for us.

Kendrick also said that he and the men of DevilDriver feel extremely lucky to still have such a loyal following keeping them going considering the unfortunate fates of other bands that came up around the same time they did. There are still some dates left on this incredible tour and you won’t want to miss the madness as it unfolds! All the bands deliver fierce performances, charisma and incredible humility- a rare and intoxicating combination in metal. So, pick up your copy of Winter Kills, check for tour dates near you, and get drunk on the symphonic string work and sonic intricacies of DevilDriver.

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