March 7, 2014 Interview – Josh Brown of Full Devil Jacket
Sometimes in life we are detoured from the very things that make us who we are. Jackson, Tennessee’s Full Devil Jacket blasted onto to the alternative metal scene in 1999 with a raw sound and style separate from what other bands in the scene were offering at the time. Their ability to stand out landed them a record deal with Island Records and their self-titled debut Full Devil Jacket (2000) quickly went gold. The band found themselves touring among other heavyweight rock acts. In the midst of the joyride, the band came to an abrupt end due to an addiction problem that almost ended vocalist Josh Brown’s life. Clean and sober for over a decade now, Brown has taken the time to recollect himself. Along the way he form the Grammy nominated rock band Day of Fire. Though the journey has been long and full of many windy roads, Brown finds himself returning home to Full Devil Jacket for the first time in thirteen years with a new perspective on life. Recently we sat down with the rejuvenated songwriter/vocalist for a personal look at the return of Full Devil Jacket, the hard cold truth about the music industry, undying love for creating, and much more.
CrypticRock.com – Full Devil Jacket really started in a promising fashion with the success of the EP A Wax Box (1999) and your self-titled album Full Devil Jacket (2000), a spot on Woodstock, touring with Creed, Nickelback, and Type O Negative. Then at the height of success, the band came to a abrupt ending. Now thirteen years later Full Devil Jacket are back. Tell us about the decision on resurrecting the band?
Josh Brown – We came out with a bang and definitely had a lot of success with as many bands I could think of; if I heard them on the radio we were touring with them. I had a horrible addiction to drugs and was pretty much on the path to destruction. I pretty much overdosed on heroine, got cleaned up, and decided I had to walk away from the band. Over the next few years I got out of the music business completely; I thought I never wanted to be in it again and didn’t want to play music anymore. I ended up a few years later starting Day Of Fire. We toured around, put out three records on a few different labels, but I always kept in touch with the Full Devil Jacket guys. What I learned over the past ten years was no matter what happens in our lives and in business, when you spend that much time with people you love, it is real. You can’t replace spending fifteen years with someone, you just can’t do it. I stayed in contact with the guys and a couple years back my guitarist Michael Reaves died of cancer. We got back together to play a couple of shows to benefit him and a project he had. At those shows we decided to try and do another Full Devil Jacket record. It just never happened; over the next few years we got together a couple times and it never happened.
About six to seven months ago I was living in Texas working at a bar we opened there. I realized no matter what, I wanted to continue playing music. The Day Of Fire project ended a few years ago so I called up my drummer Jeff Foster and I told him I wanted to start doing music again. He really pushed for bringing back Full Devil Jacket to try it one more time. I said it was never going to work, we tried three years ago. He said let’s try it one more time. I committed to him to do another Full Devil Jacket record. I said no matter what you and I are doing this record, that’s what happened. I went down to Jackson, TN six months ago, I thought the record would take two months and it took six months. We just finished the record and I would say the one thing makes this record different, and a lot of the stuff I heard on modern and alternative rock radio, is it is genuine. It is from heartache, the songs are real; they are coming from a real place. That is why we are excited to put it out. So far everyone that has listened to it which are old fans love it, new fans love it, and main thing is we love it. It is a snapshot of who we are in our lives today. I always feel like if you can be genuine behind a microphone and guitar and tell a story, people are going to listen.
CrypticRock.com – This comes with a lot of excitement to many fans because when it ended it left those which knew the band yearning for more and wondering what could have been. Is that something you have contemplated over the past decade?
Josh Brown – No, because I know what could have been as far as success and money. I stepped away from the music industry and the dreams others told me I should have. I stepped away from the idea of success that someone else wrote for me. I don’t regret the decisions I made to step away; I was about to die. I had a lot of money in my pocket and I was going down the wrong road. The decisions I made to step away from Full Devil Jacket at the time was the best I could have made. For me wonder and excitement comes from exploring song writing; exploring writing music with my friends. At the time, and the second Full Devil Jacket record that was going to come out, for me it was the most uninspired piece of music that I had ever done and I was just out of it. I had to step away and get my life together, that is what I did.
CrypticRock.com – In the end you did the right thing. Your life is the most important thing. In absence of Full Devil Jacket you were active in rock music with Day of Fire. The band went on to release three successful rock albums between 2003 and 2010 before going on hiatus. Tell me a little bit about your time in Day of Fire and the experience with that project. Did it allow you time to recollect yourself as a person and musician?
Josh Brown – No doubt. When I became acquainted with the idea of getting back into music it was three years after Full Devil Jacket ended. I had people around everywhere trying to get in bands and start bands around me. I said I am not feeling it, I don’t want to do music, and I don’t have the desire anymore. In that time period I realized the reason why I was created was to do music. I realized there was a purpose behind it, and when I grabbed hold of that purpose then the song writing came back to me and the desire to play came back. Until then, I was just lost. What is so crazy with the first record with Day of Fire. I look back and I don’t think it was the best vocal performance I had done, but the song writing was real. I felt like I was just a witness to what was going on with that record and everything that was happening. I felt like even though I wrote all the lyrics and around eighty percent of the music, I was just a witness to what was going on. When it came out, it came out so quickly. The music just flowed so quickly, that it felt effortless.
Before Day Of Fire I had never even left the United States. I got to go play in eleven countries and received a Grammy nomination. I guess what it showed me was I do have a talent and gift and I should be using it. What’s crazy is music and the music business are two different things. What happens when you are a writer you believe that if you write the right kind of song, connect with the right people, and make all the right moves you are going to get this big fortune. What happens is as you create from your heart you start trying to turn that into hard sales and try and chuck and jive with the big business guys. You get your heart broken, you start measuring your success as a song writer by financial gains. You start looking at people around you as numbers and if these people can help me or not; I will hang out with this person more because they will be able to do more for my career. When you start thinking of life that way and as an artist, it kills you because life is not that way. To be a true artist you have to see it at a deeper level. Going on tour with Day of Fire and doing three records with that band, I absolutely learned the difference between the music and the music industry. I learned through that experience I love to play music. Yes, I have to make a business out of it, but no matter what I am going to be a songwriter and performing because that is what I do. Whether anyone gives me an award or money, I am still going to be a singer and songwriter. There is nothing I can do about it, that is just the way it is.
CrypticRock.com – That is a great outlook and sounds like an enlightening experience. Now Full Devil Jacket has a fresh new look with only
yourself and Keith Foster returning from the original line-up. How is the chemistry of the new members?
Josh Brown – It is great. The other guys they could not commit because life happens. We love those guys, we love Jonathan, Kevin, and of course Michael which is no longer with us. It is a new band, but it is kind of not a new band. The guys that are in the band; Paul Varinek, Bruce Douglas, and Brian Kirk, I grew up with these guys. I have been playing music with them or watching them play music my entire life. When we all got in a room together, even though we never jammed together as a band, we all jammed together at one point in different bands. It feels right, it is fresh and new, but it feels like making music I love with people I love to make music with. It is a good thing.
CrypticRock.com – It sounds like a good environment that feels like home. The new album Valley Of Bones is set to come out soon. It is really astounding seeing this record pick up exactly where your major label debut left off. With such a long time between working on Full Devil Jacket material, what was your mind set going into this record?
Josh Brown – You know it was just getting out there and doing heavy music again. Day of Fire was heavy rock-n-roll. Full Devil Jacket has always been edgier and more raw. My mind set going into the record was being honest and do what you do. I have been cultivating my song writing since I was fifteen years old. For me, I wanted to bring some truth, I wanted to say some things in my songs, and I wanted my music to be about something. When I listen to music today, maybe it is because I am old and I am a grumpy old man when it comes to music, I hear younger hard rock bands using all these important sounding words, but I don’t hear any message in it. When I grew up listening to Pantera, Alice In Chains, Marilyn Manson, or whoever, these bands were using the same kind of words but they were saying something they believed in. They were speaking something that they truly believed in, whether you agreed with the message or not, they were speaking from heartfelt experiences.
When I came into the idea of doing this record I said I am going to be brutally honest with the people that love my music and be brutally honest with my life. I am going to sing exactly what I am going through. A good friend of mine who produced the last Day of Fire record , Roger Masson , he said something that always stuck with me. He said, “The greatest song that you can sing are the words that you are almost afraid to tell your friend right next to you. If you are afraid to tell it to me and you can put it in a song you have something”. That is where I lay my writing now, if I can allow myself to be vulnerable in my writing, if I can really lay it out there the way I see things and what I am going through, then I feel I have something that is real. That was my outlook with this album. There is so much going on in the world today and there are so many things to write about. When I hear music on the radio a lot of it is singing about the same garbage, not all of it, some of it is amazing. Some of it is just regurgitated material. I felt like I want to write something that is deeper than that, not to say my music is better. I don’t think my music is better, but that is not what moves me. What moves me is the human experience.
CrypticRock.com – You really tapped into that with Valley Of Bones, not only musically but lyrically. What is great about this record as well is you definitely revisited the aggression and rawness in your vocal approach. One can imagine that was something fans were curious about, what were you going to sound like on this record. Going into the studio were you itching to get out there and do some really raw aggressive vocals.
Josh Brown – I really was, but I will be honest with you; I call myself a vocal stylist or vocal performance but songwriting is my gift. I am no Chris Cornell by any means. I do like singing heavy music and what I realized in the studio is I have a lot of work to do and I am looking forward to the next record. I think Van Halen said this, if you can go out touring your record for a year and then go back and record it, that would be amazing, but that is not the way life works. I was very excited to do heavy vocals. Over the years I really kind of nailed my own way of producing vocals as far as stacking harmonies and octaves. With this record I kind of went back to the way I used to do records before I really knew how to do them. Back when I was seventeen or eighteen years old I would just put enough vocal layers on there until it sounded good to me. That is kind of what I did with this album. The producer, Justin Rimer , had a really heavy hand in the harmonies on this record. I don’t really hear harmonies, I hear in octaves. Justin and I really sat down and put a lot of work into the harmonies. I kind of brought in the idea of vocal layering.
My favorite records as far as vocal production are White Zombie, The Great Southern Trendkill (1996) by Pantera, Marilyn Manson’s Antichrist Superstar (1996) and Mechanical Animals (1998), Soundgarden’s Superunknown (1994) and Down On The Up Side (1996). When you listen to these records it is not just one vocal take and music, you have layers and layers of harmonies. It is very Beatle-like but done more in a heavy metal sense. Love those records. When I hear new records come out I always wish it had more harmonies and more layering. I probably went a little overboard on this record, but that is what I do, I go overboard.
CrypticRock.com – It is really cool to see you are so passionate about music. What are some of your musical influences?
Josh Brown – I say great music transcends genres. I am a fan of good songwriting from Hank Williams Sr., to Hank Williams Jr., to some of the new pop songs. Some of this pop production that is on the radio now blows me away. I just heard a song yesterday by Lana Del Rey called “Summertime Sadness”. It is a pop dance song; the production is brilliant. What we can do with the technology today is truly amazing. I love the fact that you can take a person out on the street has a little talent and decent voice and you put them inside this system and you can make music that can move the heart of generations. That to me is amazing.
As far as new music that has come out in the last ten to twenty years, I am really amazed be everything Jack White does. As far as newer rock, Queens of The Stone Age are incredible. I listen to David Bowie and Metallica. I just kind of explore and look for music that moves me. I don’t let the genres throw me off. I just look for true song writing and something that speaks from the heart. If you are doing that I am probably going to latch onto it.
CrypticRock.com – You are right, is all about the songwriting. Sometimes people get caught up on genres. They will say it is not metal or it is not this. Who cares as long as the song is good, that is all that matters.
Josh Brown – No doubt. I love when I hear a genre of music I am not that into it, but that artist takes me there. Lupe Fiasco does that. Kid Cudi, that kind of music is special; it is people talking about real things and it is a production that is original. If it grabs me I will really get into it. I don’t listen to music as much as I used to, I kind of miss it. When I was young I would grab a record. I remember buying my first Metallica record, And Justice For All (1988). I listened to it for seven months. I listened to it every day and I dug into it to understand it. Those years I explored music to that extent and it shaped who I am today as far as being an artist. I really miss that. Life right now does not allow me to sit around and listen to records the way I used to. It is my hope through putting out more music and re-focusing my life as music as a career, continuing to produce and put it out, that I will be able to explore music more. Music is a gift and a beautiful thing.
CrypticRock.com –Agreed. My last question is pertaining to films. CrypticRock.com cover music and horror movies so we like to focus on all the genres. If you are a fan of horror films, what are some of your favorite horror films?
Josh Brown – I don’t watch a lot of them right now. I grew up as a kid, seven or eight years old, watching all the Friday the 13th movies. My grandmother would take me if there was a new Friday The 13th, or A Nightmare On Elm Street, or whatever new horror film; she was taking my brother and I to see it. It was definitely intense and definitely opened my brain up to some crazy thoughts. The best new horror movie I saw was Insidious. I thought it was a great horror flick. When What Lies Beneath (2000) came out, I remember going to a movie theater and it freaked me out. It was done in an older style that Alfred Hitchcock would do. I really dug that. I don’t particularly just go out and watch all the new horror movies. A lot of the ones I do end up watching that get a lot of hype, I am just not impressed. I guess I am just old.
CrypticRock.com – The Horror films from the 70’s and 80’s had more soul than the newer films.
Josh Brown- I think you are right, but when a movie does have it, it blows you away. Another great horror film I liked was the remake to Last House On The Left (2009). It’s pretty intense and I love how it turns around in the end.
Also contact Josh Brown on facebook.