DISTURBED – by Nikki Neil
When Dan Donegan (guitarist), Mike Wengren (drummer), and Fuzz (bassist) were sick and tired of auditions with people who just didn't have the vibe that they were looking for, they finally discovered David Draiman (vocalist). He also brought along a name for their band. And that name was Disturbed... We first met them in a small Chicago club called Delilah's and drank with them at Liars Club, Shortly after opening for MINISTRY they became one of the biggest bands on the circuit. It took us two years to get this interview. After they entered number 1 on the Billboard charts with their latest album, "Believe" an interview reality was becoming un-believable. So "down" and out, we "sicked" Nikki Neil from LA to track down the current taste of the metal world, and it was nearly, I-M-P-O-S-S-I-B-L-E. Finally after putting off the deadline and not getting Dave, she got a founder of the band. It too was bumped. But two months was shorter than two years. So now, finally, we give to you, their fan, our interview with Disturbed.
Nikki Neil: How have the fans reacted to the new material?
Dan Donegan: Great. As each week goes by they get more and more familiar with the new songs. We have noticed a big difference from when we first started touring for this new album.
NN: Where were you when you got the news that Believe debut at #1 on the Billboard chart?
D: We actually flew back home for a day. We were getting together with our management and with our families and friends. We kind of had a heads up that there was a pretty good shot of debuting at #1.
NN: Did you worry about how fans might react to Believe being that the songs are more melodic than those off the last album?
D: Musically there is still a lot of aggression and syncopation with the double bass drumming and the guitar riffs. David’s vocals have continued to improve, as has the whole band. We wanted this album to show an evolution of the band. I don’t really worry about what other people’s expectations are. We have to do what comes naturally to us and hopefully enough people will connect with it and will be more interested in the message of the songs.
NN: What was going on within the band when you guys started to write the material for Believe?
D: We had just finished twenty-two months of touring in support of The Sickness and I had a bunch of riffs that I had recorded and saved. We didn’t really write a whole lot on the road because it was just too difficult. I needed to come home and be back in the environment that I was comfortable with and doing it the way it’s always been done, which is just sitting in my bedroom with my guitar and just working out ideas. So we came home last December and I sat home for a month. I worked on some ideas, and we got together right after January 1st. Mike and Fuzz came to my house and I showed them the ideas that I had. As we recorded the music I burned a copy to a CD for David and he worked on some melodies and then I collaborated with him to finalize the structure. The album just came together quickly. The writing process went a lot quicker than it had before.
NN: Did the band expect to spend that much time on the road in support of The Sickness?
D: We had no idea what to expect. We didn’t see any reason to stop touring because of the success of [The Sickness] and because things were continuing to heat up for us. We had a lot of great opportunities. We played Ozzfest 2000 and then came back for 2001. Then we went on a lot of great tours with bands like Stone Temple Pilots and Godsmack and we were able to have two successful headlining tours. Things were still going well. The singles were going strong, and the album sales were going strong. But, it finally came to the point to where even though it wasn’t dying down for us it was time for new material. We’d go to a city and someone would say, “Hey this is my sixth or seventh time seeing you guys,” and we we’re like “Okay, well….” Not that they were complaining about it, but we don’t want to bore them either. We figured it was time for something new.
NN: We’re you surprised to find that as you continued to tour the band’s popularity kept increasing?
D: Yeah. This whole thing is just overwhelming to us. What I like the most and I appreciate the most is the fact that it wasn’t an overnight thing for us. It was a steady growth. We had not played any shows outside of Chicago until after The Sickness was released. We had so many good touring opportunities. We were playing in front of thousands of people thanks to Ozzfest and the other tours that we had done. So we saw it grow. Each time we came back to a city we would see a bigger turn. I just think that by knowing we had that connection live we realized that we have a pretty solid fanbase. I much rather obtain a fanbase through hard work and being on the road touring. Because of that a majority of these people are fans for hopefully the length of the band’s career. I’ve seen it happen where a band may have one big radio hit and some of their fans are only fans of that one song and not so much of the band. So knowing that we had to really work to get our fans and to get to the point where radio has embraced us is something that we really appreciate because we know we had to work for it.
NN: I noticed that a number of different religions are represented in the symbol that is one the cover of Believe. What is the significance of the symbol?
D: We’re not a religious band. It is more of a spiritual symbol. We wanted to take the four religious symbols and intertwine them and mesh them together to symbolize unity. It’s more about a belief in one. This album is very positive and that is the message that we were trying to send this time.
NN: Obviously the symbol on the cover correlates with the album’s title.
D: Yeah. It’s about a belief in yourself – a belief in humanity. We wanted something that would shed a little bit of light into such a dark world. A lot of the messages on this album are done in a positive way to try to instill a little bit of hope. I believe that there is a God. I don’t practice a specific religion. I was born and raised Catholic, but I don’t really follow it or go to church. I don’t believe in organized religion. It’s more of a business than a religion.
NN: At what point in your life did you start playing guitar?
D: I probably got my first guitar when I was about ten. I didn’t actually take it seriously until I met a few friends in high school who were getting serious about music. And, then I started playing with other guys and we kind of learned from each other. When we finally played our first show, I remember being scared to death and nervous and when the show was over I remember just wanting more. It just became an addiction at that point. I couldn’t imagine not doing it anymore.
NN: Do you ever get stage fright?
D: Not ever since that first show. During that first show I probably didn’t even move two feet. But, as the show went on I got caught up in the excitement and the adrenaline and the crowd’s response when it was over. It was just a rush. The last time I had any kind of…I wouldn’t say stage fright but I was just really star struck when Ozzy Osbourne came out to watch our set. That is probably the last time I felt a little bit of nervousness because to us he is the godfather of heavy metal and in the two years that we played Ozzfest I’ve never seen him come out and watch any band. After the first show we were moved from headlining the second stage over to the main stage because of the chaos and the turn out that came to the second stage. Sharon Osbourne and the rest of the Ozzfest camp had asked us, mainly for safety reasons, to move to the main stage. So that very next show, which was in Alpine Valley, Wisconsin, Ozzy and a few other bands came out to watch the set because everybody was curious as to why we got moved to the main stage after one show.
NN: Are there any guitar players out there right now that have impressed you with their style?
D: Tom Morello from Rage Against The Machine, actually Audioslave now. I ran into him the other day in Los Angeles. I think he is an amazing guitar player. I also think that Adam Jones from Tool is incredible. He’s probably one of my favorite guitar players out there today.
NN: Does it give you a rush when you have the opportunity to play with the musicians that you grew up listening to?
D: Definitely. It’s still hard to swallow it all knowing that these bands have become friends of ours. Like the guys from Pantera. We just played a show on Halloween night in Dallas, their hometown, and Vinnie Paul and Dimebag [Darrell] came onstage and played with us. We played one of their songs as a tribute to them because we’ve always been big Pantera fans. I don’t get stage fright from walking out on stage in front of 25,000 – 50,000 people, but when we share the stage with some of the musicians that we respect and who have respect for us it is pretty overwhelming.
NN: What was MTV’s reason for banning the video for “Prayer”?
D: They weren’t too specific about exactly what it was that they were offended by because if we decided to go back and change those things and then they still probably wouldn’t have played. It would be like, “Well, you said this was the problem.” We can only assume that they were sensitive to the earthquake scene with the building crumbling, and when it came down to it we chose not to re-edit it. We felt that there was a very positive message in the lyrics and in the visual aspects and if we were to change it then we would be admitting that we felt the message was wrong. I think it is kind of hypocritical that they had a problem with the message that we were sending, but whenever you turn on the television, every day, some channel is showing scenes from 9/11 including MTV. When we submitted the video to MTV it was near the one-year anniversary and, at the time, MTV and pretty much every channel was showing those exact images. They are the ones putting those images in people’s heads. The message that we had was about going through life with its trials and tribulations and struggles and trying to give people hope by showing that you can find the strength within yourself to make it through the difficult times. We wanted something big and we chose to go with an earthquake scene. And, after the building crumbles we come out on top of the ruble and finish the song as a band coming together as one and showing that we made it though a difficult time and by doing so we were trying to give people a little more hope.
NN: Obviously you all had to make a lot of sacrifices in order to get to the point where the band is today. Would you say that those sacrifices paid off in the end?
D: Definitely. We still continue to make sacrifices. It is difficult to have a normal life when we are on the road. It’s hard to have relationships. We’ve all been through that. We’ve all been through pretty big break-ups and it is something that we all continue to struggle with at times. It’s not easy to have a girlfriend when you’re 1,000/2,000 miles away from home all the time. It is difficult to do. Some people can do it. We’re very involved in the business of this band, and we have a hard time trusting other people or giving them the ball to run with.
NN: What is your biggest non-musical influence?
D: Probably my family. My brother and everybody that has believed in me and pushed me to prove that I can do this. There were struggles early on because there was a time when my parents said, “Okay Dan you’re going to have to grow up and get a real job. This is a nice hobby you have.” In a way that was an inspiration to me to have to prove my father wrong and show him that I can do this. Every time I was told that I needed a plan B and something to fall back on that inspired me to work harder at this to prove that I never even thought of a plan B.
NN: Being that Disturbed is part of the Ozzfest family, how did Dave Williams’ (Drowning Pool) death affect you?
D: I was very shocked. We were very close to him and all the guys from Drowning Pool. We spent most of 2001 with those guys because we were both on Ozzfest that year. We immediately became really good friends with them at the start of Ozzfest. A few days before Dave’s death the band was in Chicago for Ozzfest and we were at home working on our set and rehearsing for the tour. We had gone out to see the show and right before I left that night I hugged him and said, “I’ll see you soon.” If anything, I’m glad that my last memory of him was leaving like that.
NN: If something happened to David, aside from him leaving the band on his own accord, do you think Disturbed would continue?
D: I really don’t know if that is possible. I couldn’t even imagine that happening. There is certain chemistry within this band that works. Each guy brings something to the table here. If something happened to any one of us I don’t know if it could continue as Disturbed. I couldn’t even imagine that happening.
NN: If you had to describe various aspects of who you are what would they be?
D: I’m very down-to-earth. I’m the same guy. I have to be that way. I was raised that way. My mother has a very good heart, and I couldn’t let her down if any of this ever changed me. I think she is more excited about the fact that somebody comes up to her at one of our shows and tells her how down-to-earth her son is. That makes her more proud than just being a fan of the music. I’m just a normal guy. I love music. I love to hang out and be on the road with my best friends and perform. I’m very confident in what I do without being arrogant in any way. I just believe that anything I want to accomplish happens from hard work and dedication. I don’t know if I’m giving you exactly five words, but I’d say, dedication, motivation, confidence, and down-to-earth. Those words pretty much sum up who I feel I am.
NN: A major music magazine recently did a poll where they asked their readers if they thought musicians should have an expiration date. What do you think?
D: No. I think music is a way to express oneself. There is no better way to express your feelings and your emotions than through music and lyrics. I think that it is a good way to vent and release.
NN: I hear ya. If you had the opportunity to do this all over again what would you do differently, if anything?
Posted by Alex Zander at November 1, 2003 12:00 AM
D: Nothing. I think it is all a learning process. I think that we’ve all paid our dues and we’ve done it in other local bands and there is a reason why we all came together. It was all part of the game plan. I’ve known Mike and Fuzz for many years and we’ve played in different local bands on the South side of Chicago. And through those times I’ve seen them shine in their bands knowing that they shared the same hunger that I did and they had the same drive and the same motivation that I had and that is what brought us together. We quit our projects in order to start a band together, and we searched for that final piece of the puzzle, which we got immediately when we found David. This will probably be another long run for us. As long as people want it and if things continue to succeed for us we’ll probably spend another 22 months on the road. Whatever it takes. If things are going good we will stay on the road. We want to continue to make music and put it out there. Our passion is the stage and in order to do that we’ll just keep on putting out music so we can keep on performing.