Another incredible human, another amazing day in the music world. Neal Tiemann, guitarist of DevilDriver, is a busy musician with an extensive musical history. He is also the lead guitarist and songwriter for the Midwest Kings, whose vocalist is David Cook, the winner of American Idol in 2008. Tiemann has worked with Burn Halo and Uncle Cracker, among many others. He is a powerhouse of a guitar player, and one of the most humble, easy going, and kindest of humans. He politely took some time out for Metal Nation to discuss the upcoming DevilDriver record, Dealing with Demons I. Tiemann has been with the band since 2015, and has been a big part of the writing process ever since.
DevilDriver started in 2002 by vocalist Dez Farfara formerly from 90’s power nu-metal group, Coal Chamber. The line-up since the beginning has had a few change-ups, as happens with bands, and has now settled into five extremely talented guys: Fafara, Tiemann, Mike Spreitzer (lead guitar), Austin D’Amond (drums), and Diego Ibarra (bass). They have created a strong dynamic in the metal scene and have continually progressed and evolved as each album releases. Dealing with Demons I is another evolution of their sound. It is the old DevilDriver sound mixed with a new concept and is lyrically an emotional encounter all throughout. Here is what Tiemann had to say about it all.
Dealing with Demons I is coming out October 2, 2020. First concept album, third album you have done with DevilDriver. What made you decide to do a concept album?
“Most of the idea came from Dez. Ever since I have been in the band Dez has been checking off this list of things he wants to do in life. One of them actually hits two in one, which is doing a double record, as have I and most musicians, and he also wanted to do a concept record so here we are.”
It seems like it might be a little easier to put together when you know the direction you’re going.
“It does make it a little easier, sometimes I would think, ‘Man, I can’t think of anything. Well maybe it should just be in line for the rest of the songs that we are writing now, since it is a concept album.’ Not to say that every song sounds the same. We actually tried very hard not to make it so, but yeah schematically it has a vein running through it both vocally and musically.”
I think you guys did a good job of that with this album, I think it is the best thus far. There is the surprise with Dez doing clean vocals on “Wishing”. Is this another thing Dez had on his list?
“Maybe so yeah. I think the older we all get and the more coming into our own deciding into our roles with DevilDriver, what are we going to do to push the envelope but also keeping our signature style to it. We’ve really all come into this place where we are just trying to serve the songs. I don’t feel like I need to sweep all of the songs to prove I am good at guitar to anybody anymore. So, I don’t for the most part. Of course I do like wanking off on my guitar, who doesn’t, that is a lead guitar player, but it is not about that for me, it is about serving the song and I think in the instance of ‘Wishing,’ the same can be said for what Dez did. He heard the demos and just took it where it needed to go, not necessarily where he would have always done something like that, it was a little different because it was needing of that.”
You do a lot of the writing, where the previous guitarist Jeff Kendrick didn’t, which brings a different flavor into the music. Is that something you came in knowing you would be doing?
“Yeah. I joined the band before the record came out and we started touring at the beginning of 2015. At the time Dez had already lost Jeff and John Boecklin. John was also a huge piece of the writing up until then. So I think Dez knew he needed someone that not only could fill the guitar role that Jeff left, but also be able to write a little bit. Of course Mike [Spreitzer] is a wonderful writer in his own right and could probably could have done it without any of us *laughs*. I was fortunate enough that there were talks from the very beginning about, ‘Hey if you are going to do this for us, we need a writer too’. Which I have always been. If you look at my tax returns that is what I do for a living, so no new thing there. It was a fun challenge to get to do a lot of metal.”
Has the transition into a metal guitarist been difficult?
“No. This is my first worldwide metal band that I have been in, but I have always been playing metal. I grew up listening to metal, that’s where I got my chops. Learning early Megadeth, learning Ozzy. That’s how I cut my teeth, so it is something I have always wanted to do it just never came around until now.”
I saw an interview with Dez where he puts you up there with Zakk Wylde and states you are one of the most amazing guitarists he has met. I thought that really showed his respect for you as a player.
“*laughs* That is very kind of him. I would not say the same about me, but that is very nice of him to say. Zakk Wylde is a titan of the instrument. One of the first real ‘I have to do this for a living’ moments when Osmosis came out in 95’ I think. I was 12 and that is when I really started thinking I wanted to do this. I know most people don’t hold that album in the highest regard, but I do. I love that record.”
There is something about those albums that have those musical influences for us that might not be everyone’s favorite, but it is where our motivation and inspiration started and came from and that is one of the many beautiful things about music.
“Yeah it is.”
DevilDriver has already released three singles from the new record; “Keeping Away From Me”, “Iona”, and “Nest of Vipers”. How has the response been so far?
“Really good. A little better than the Outlaws record *laughs*. Which whatever. We are super stoked with how everybody is into it so far. It has been a little better than we thought it would be.”
I don’t know what everyone’s problem with Outlaws was, I thought it was very well done versions of older country songs.
“I think it was pretty polarizing. It is no secret we did that record for us. Not that we don’t do every record for us.”
Well yeah if you aren’t doing it for yourself anymore then what is the point?
“Yeah, it doesn’t seem to last long for those that do otherwise.”
I feel there is an evolution with this album, even though it is still DevilDriver, it is an evolved version. Is this something you discussed or did it happen naturally?
“I think it is just a part of us. We always want to do something better, do something that feels right at the time. In some cases it is something entirely different than you felt five years ago. I think a lot of it had to do with our producer, Steve Evetts, who also did the Outlaws record, but in this one it was way more hands on. We really tried to take, at least sonically, a different approach than any other DevilDriver record. Normally you just get a metal tone and get a bass rhythm tone through the whole record and go from there, we actually took every song as its own entity and did a different sound left and right which I realize is no new news to anybody, but this is kind of a classic rock way of looking at things. Things they did in the 70s, 80s, 90s. In our case we have on one side me playing one amp and Mike on another side playing another amp. These amps switch and vary between songs so you are left with something to me vastly sonically different then the other records. It is my favorite sounding record so far.”
Even though there are unique sounds to each song, it still flows very well.
“It is intentional. We put a lot of intent into that.”
Do you have any idea when the second part of this album will be released?
“Covid kind of threw it all against the wall. We will see where anything lands at this point. The last I heard was still maybe next year. At the beginning of this, before all the lockdowns, we were going to release each part separately, but close to each other. If I had to give a number it was something like an 8 month difference originally. So it would have been one and then eight months later the other one. The idea was to keep touring through the whole thing supporting it. Obviously that is not going to happen now. I don’t know that we have talked with management and the label about that at this point. I think it is more that we are getting this out, we will see how it goes, and then just finding tours whenever we can next year.”
I am so thankful music is still coming out this year given the circumstances. I think music is many of our lifelines, and it is important to have music especially this year. The lyrics of this album oddly go along with these times too.
“Yeah right, they were all written long before this too. Thank you for saying that. I feel like we were put in this position by the fans only that we are fortunate enough to be able to release records right now. So hopefully people will buy them and that’s where we are at.”
I try to talk often about how much we need to support our favorite musicians and bands at this time because the music industry is getting hit hard right now and are suffering financial setbacks. We need to keep the music going by buying merch and tickets to online streams. You guys in particular are one of the hardest working bands in metal and I am sure are really feeling the struggle.
“Yeah of course it is my main income in the past couple of years in touring. It is affecting a lot of people. Bartenders are out of work and don’t know when they will be back. Guitar techs, sound guys, etc. are sitting at home just like me. But they can’t just go online and play guitar for a bit and get tips like I could. It is nice for people like you to reflect on that to financially help out. The bundles and extra T-shirts really help out right now.”
What is the best way people can support you right now?
“The extra bundles mainly, vinyls, t-shirts, etc. It may seem like they are another $10 more than usual, but that is to help with the money we are losing not having the opportunity to tour. We are not trying to gauge anyone, we are just trying to keep afloat so we can go back on tour as soon as we can. Streaming from Apple and Amazon help a bit more than some of the others for streaming, streaming from anywhere helps some though, but those two are a little better for us. I feel like we are just at the level to be okay right now, only put here by the fans, that we can so far handle this and wait this out. We are going to try to do some live streams.”
Do you have any dates on the live streams yet?
“We don’t yet. At this point we are going to try to do two before this year is done. It is figuring it out. Dez and I both have really bad asthma so we have to take everything really seriously. It is the only reason we haven’t done it yet, we haven’t found a space that seems big enough to accommodate for space between us and the whole deal. That is why we haven’t done it yet, but we want to do it but we want to do it right. I don’t want it to be my last show.”
We took a some time talking about people we have been close to that we have lost due to Covid and how his doctor told him how important it was for him personally to take this seriously and be careful due to his severe asthma.
What have you been doing to keep sane and busy throughout all this year?
“I am an avid reader to I have been reading a lot. I wrote a ton of music in the beginning of it all, probably 13 completed songs for after this double release. I have been trying to enjoy the downtime I have with my wife. The hardest part about it all was telling myself I can take a break. My normal schedule is writing when I am home, going on tour, take a couple of days off after the tour, then write again until the next tour. That was my life and I loved that life and miss that life. After writing a bunch, I took a few days off then I started to feel guilty and thought ‘What the fuck are you doing?’ Just sitting here and watching TV for the third day in a row. I had to have a conversation with myself and realize it is okay for me to take a little break and reassess and then start whenever I feel the writing coming again. I mean, my job isn’t there, it is not going to come back to me just sitting here and being upset about it. It will come when it comes. The hardest part is being okay taking a break.”
He made the mistake of mentioning books. We went on a book tangent for an almost embarrassing amount of time. Then that transitioned into books adapted into films. Mainly The Shining and Doctor Sleep. He enjoys sci-fi, drama, and horror, if you were curious. In 2017, DevilDriver watched the movie The Martian over and over. It was their go-to movie of that tour. We laughed about the complete derailment of the conversation.
You play mostly Dunable guitars.
“Yes, get my head back into music, yes I mostly play Dunable the R2 shaped is my favorite. I also use a Dunable prototype of the Asteroid and I have a couple of Gibson’s. One is a custom flying V and regular Gibson RD’s. Maybe a third of the record is on a Baritone it is from this company called Warmoth that makes guitar parts and put it together and also an LTD Baritone. I think Mike uses a seven string ESP on some of those too.”
What about amps?
“We used about six or seven amps and Mike and I would switch between whatever flavor would work the best. The main ones for me would probably be, I have this old Soldano SL-60. I have had that one forever. We used a Bogner Ecstasy. We even used this Rocktron Rack amp. It sounds like grimy, dirty, it only works for certain songs.”
We went on another tangent about Star Wars, Star Trek, and Doctor Who. We made a deal for me to start Star Trek and him to start Doctor Who before our next interview
You guys have been playing some Coal Chamber songs on tour lately. Is that something you will continue to do, or what that just because you were playing with nu-metal bands on that tour?
“I don’t know. I am not against it. I like playing it live if it can connect with other people. If it enhances the show, then I’m all for it. I would be surprised if we never played it again. It went over so well and its nice celebrate Dez’s career. I think that we would at least play ‘Loco’ from here on out. I think.”
The main question many people have asked me to ask you is, what is it like working with Dez?
“*laughs* Everyone wants to know about this, its so funny. Mike and I both get asked this all the time, it is like the number one question on tour. Working with him is just as you would imagine. He is super passionate, great guy. I am lucky to also be his friend as well as work with him. It doesn’t get too much better. It is great doing that with a friend.”
I am really excited for everyone to get to hear this album. I think it is one of the best.
“Thank you so much for those kind words. I can’t wait to get it out either.”
Tiemann is a humble, easy going human who made this interview one of my favorites thus far. He is quick to give credit to fans and other members of his band. While he won’t say it, I will, please continue to throw support to these guys who work incredibly hard to bring the metal. Make sure you hop over to DevilDriver‘s website and grab the new album. It is absolutely amazing! We need to keep supporting our favorite musicians and keep the music going. It is our sanity! Check out these links to get your hands on Dealing with Demons I. It is my favorite album of theirs so far, which says a lot.