Guitarist Meegs Rascow's tattooed arm
Covered from head to toe in leather, chains, tattoos, piercings and make-up, few would mistake Coal Chamber frontman Dez Fafara as a kindergarten teacher when he takes to the stage.
But that doesn't mean he can't be a good role model.
Amid a music industry full of self-indulgent stars who make it big pumping out paint-by-the-numbers music and "keep it real" by boasting cut-along-the-dotted-line rock star personas, Fafara and company have released one of the few knock-you-down, standout albums of 1999, and have done so by holding fast to their integrity as artists and people.
But Fafara's goal is to do more than make mosh-ready music, he wants to reach out and touch America's youth. With their new LP "Chamber Music," Dez, Meegs Rascow (guitarist), Rayna Rose-Foss (pregnant bassist) and Mike 'Bug' Cox (drummer boy) make reaching out to the youth a full-contact sport. Teenagers of America, fasten your chin straps.
"It is nothing preachy, but I've had a lot of negative s--- in my life, and I believe that you can take any negative situation and you can turn it around into a positive situation. ... That's what my lyrics are about, and that is how I live my life," explained Fafara via phone from the famed Sportsman's Lodge Hotel in Los Angeles, where his band was holed up for the night in the midst of its current U.S. tour.
Coal Chamber has long prided itself on standing out, at least as far as integrity goes, amid the ever-growing clamor of hip-hop rock hybrid bands that some would argue have plundered and pillaged modern rock.
On the new album, in part to further distance themselves from the hip-hop rockers, Coal Chamber boasts a new sound (which is both hard and melodic -- like an symphony of lawnmowers) and a new look (more leather, make-up and bondage accessories) but they hold fast to the same message.
Noting recent displays of youth violence like the Littleton Colorado shootings, Fafara said his band felt obligated to reach out to their listeners and offer something positive.
"I think people who are making music right now should say something, and we just wanted to be the first in our genre ... to have some kind of statement and some kind of message," he said.
Fafara gets down right blatant on "Chamber Music," especially in "Tyler's Song."
The story goes that one day Fafara's son called and told Dad that he was getting beat up at school.
"Basically what I told him was to 'raise your guard.' What I meant was that he should just keep his guard up, because most of those kids don't give a damn about him, and at the same time I told him not to compromise his principles, respect his mom and remember that his dad loves him, Fafara says.
"For me it was like somebody needs to say that now. I watch bands sell something like 5 million records, but they haven't said a thing to change a child's life -- to me that is so wrong.
"How many times can you tear down? Society has been tearing itself down for too long. I don't want to see people break s---, I want to see people make s---," adds the singer, pausing to admit he easily could go off on a substantial rant.
"I love to see (mosh) pits -- but you know what I like to see more than that? I like it when some small kid falls down in the pit, and I see 10 hands swoop down out of nowhere and pick this kid up, and he is back up in the circle again. That for me is what society should be like," he said.
Positive messages aside, it is the album's jet engine fury that will make such messages interesting to the MTV generation. Fafara said his band worked hard to make sure "Chamber Music" came out like nothing those impressionable youth have heard in quite a while.
"We had to hold hands and jump from this train of bands that is running the industry right now. ... We wrote 35 songs and they all sounded different. It was important to break way from that whole scene," he said.
The scene Fafara refers to is in fact a scene Coal Chamber helped start. Four years ago when a then-obscure band named Korn began selling out venues in L.A., their biggest competition was Coal Chamber.
"Putting it straight out there, people compared us to Korn," said Fafara. "What people don't realize is that at that time we were selling out the same clubs. They made it out there first and all of a sudden we were 'Korn Jr.'"
Fafara said there are no hard feelings, no matter who sells the most tickets.
"Whatever. We all are really good friends, it is a tight circle. It is just our time to break out."
The album is defiantly devoid of the so-called hip-hop flavor, and instead relies on thick-as-a-concrete-slab guitar workings and Fafara's multi-pitched roar.
There is something else about the mix that makes the second effort from the band more appealing than their first, and Dez isn't afraid to admit it might be maturity.
In fact, "Chamber Music" boasts melody, an orchestra, a few balladesque numbers and even, dare we point it out, an acoustic guitar -- all of which Dez said are signs that the band is evolving.
"We wrote 'Loco' (arguably the first album's most rockin' track) and "My Mercy" (a ballad on the current release) on the same day five years ago, but we didn't put "My Mercy" on the first album because we didn't have the maturity to do it properly. Now we have grown as people and as musicians, and we wanted to so it," he said.
Age brings about maturity, but for Coal Chamber at least some of that maturity is the spawn of the band's close-knit relationship with rock promoter Sharon Osbourne, who has been a major support for the band since they met three years ago.
"If you wanted to see a vision of an angel you would see Sharon," said Fafara. The band met the promoter while playing Ozzfest, where she was the tour's promoter, as well as Ozzy's wife.
Needless to say numerous encounters between the band and Ozzy Osbourne have followed, and Fafara has been fortunate to forge a strong relationship with one of hard rock's most eccentric forefathers.
"I want longevity, a family, respectability, I want to get rid of any kind of drug habit that I have, I want to say something positive and I want to break away and be myself -- and all of these things I have learned from my peers -- guys like Ozzy," explained Dez.
Ozzy sings backup on what promises to be the album's most notorious singles -- a cover of Peter Gabriel's "Shock the Monkey."
"If you are going to do a cover of 'Shock the Monkey,' you tune it down really heavy, you do vocal ad-libs and you wonder if radio will even play it because you made it so heavy," Fafara explained. "... We made it grainy, like wood."
As dark as they may get, Fafara insists everything from the gloom to his multiple piercings are a part of the band's plan.
"It entices you in. It gets kids in because they think they might be doing something else, and then they realize that though it they may be getting a really good message.
"If you want to get crazy, come to our shows, but be good to people when you get out of there. Don't be afraid to be yourself, or different, and don't be afraid to be afraid of people who are normal, because most of the people who inhabit normal society are really f---ed up."
The bands' initial plan for touring on a split bill with The Insane Clown Posse came to something of a halt in late July when Coal Chamber decided that ICP were not going to live up to their end of the contractual agreement.
"Basically we had a co-headlining thing ,and we got out there and they didn't give us any soundchecks we didn't get to use any of our pyro and we realized we couldn't give the kids the show they deserve, and they have so much logistics going on with props and what not, that there was just no way it was going on. None of the other bands were getting soundchecks -- it was ridiculous. For me it was a really unprofessional thing. So we bailed," Dez explained.
Yet the setback was only temporary. Gathering several labelmates from Roadrunner Records, including Slipknot and Machine Head, Coal Chamber organized a fall tour in a two blinks of a mascara-lined eye.
Helping out on the tour will be a new bassist, Nadia, who will be taking over for Coal Chamber bassist Rayna as she prepares for her child's birth in September.
Yet the birth of a new Coal Chamber clansman does have a sobering echo for the frontman who looks at the future with a short supply of optimism.
"Kids these days don't know what to be angry about. A band should give them a direction for that angst. If you are going to be angry, be angry because they are not planting enough trees or something like that."
Fafara says music should also serve as an outlet. "When some kid comes up to me and tells me that some song I wrote helped them get through a fight with their parents -- that is what it is about to me."