Disturbed has rattled audiences across North America with their politically charged, heavy metal sound since their debut album The Sickness (2000) that sold over 3.4 million copies. The band’s longevity has surpassed the fate that haunts beginning bands when they enter music’s competitive corporate industry. Following the success of the first album, Believe (2002) has to-date sold 1.6 million copies. Disturbed still remains on the American forefront of Alternative-hard rock bands. The band has successfully balanced poignant lyrical content with a vicious sound, that is arguable unlike any other on the current rock scene.
Although 2007 tour dates have been postponed as the boys are in the studio, they are nominated for Spike TV’s first-ever “Guy’s Choice Awards.” The category is for the “toughest meanest guys and gals you see. The “Guy’s Choice Awards” results featuring Disturbed vs. Lamb of God are scheduled to air June 13, 2007 on Spike TV.
I had the opportunity to speak with Vocalist David Drainmain, and guitarist Dan Donegan before their performance in London, (in June 2006) to discuss their latest politically charged album, Ten Thousand Fists, Ozzfest, and the defining sound of Disturbed.
Ten Thousand Fists: “It’s a Symbolic Image of the Crowd, the Live Experience and the Power of Unity.”
Does your audience typically follow a particular rock, “alternative” genre?
David Drainmain: it’s kind of hard to say. I think there’s a good mix. I don’t think you can stereotype them in any one specific way. I think there are some like what you’re describing that have a very eclectic sort of rock taste, there are a lot of them that are much more with blinders on, that only listen to stuff that is much heavier, and then there are the ultra heavy listeners who don’t even listen to us. There’s a wide range. It all depends on who you’re calling “alternative” or “rock”, it’s a very wide dispersant of people.
Do you think it’s more of a media device, so it can be categorized. Do you guys just consider yourselves a rock band?
David Drainmain: you probably know better than we do. I don’t think we’re a part of it, to be honest with you. I think we’ve been lucky to somehow find a niche in the framework of it but I would never, in a million years, call our selves “alternative”. We’re just a hard rock band. Would you have called, not to say that we are as-great-as or have accomplished as-much-as, but would you call Iron Maiden or Judas Priest alternative?
You know, it’s almost like, what ever the hell we consider ourselves doesn’t really make a difference. For a very long time, we always just considered ourselves a metal band but if you look at todays standards of what’s considered metal; for instance, turn on Head Bangers ball any given day, we don’t really have a whole hell of a lot in common with 90% of the bands on that show, and if that’s what’s metal is, which has really become metal-core, hard-core, black metal, and death metal, we don’t have anything to do with it. So, if that’s what you’re using as the classifications, then we’re more of a hard rock band.
Dan Donegan: Metal to us was more of the classic metal bands of Black Sabbath, Maiden, and Judas Priest. Bands that were aggressive but had powerful vocals and melody throughout their songs. Even though we’re fans of some of the metal core bands that are out today, it’s a lot of monotone type of singers, it’s more just straightforward pure aggression throughout. To us, we’re just trying to follow in the footsteps of those classic metal bands we were influenced by.
You’ve been featured a couple times already on Ozzfest, it seems that that’s where a lot of people became acquainted with your music, was Ozzfest a foundation for your success, or did it just propel you further?
David Drainmain: Ozzfest was a foundation for many band’s success, not just us. System of A Down played [there] early in the day, Incubus played early in the day, Slipknot got their start on Ozzfest.
Dan Donegan: Godsmack, Chevelle…
David Drainmain: You name it. Just about every hard rock or metal band that has been associated with the festival has been able to use it or gain it’s scope, it’s size, from the festival. It’s one of those things which are like training grounds for hard rock and heavy metal bands. You get on it and you learn how to move more people. You have this mild competition that happens between the bands, that’s friendly competition, but when you’re on stage with other great acts it makes you want to play better, play harder, play tighter. It’s always like “god, the band before us really smoked, we better hit it up a notch or two”. You can’t put a price tag on what Ozzfest brings to the right band, you can’t put a label on it, it’s invaluable.
Are the festivals considered elitist, or do bands have to be accepted into them?
David Drainmain: There’s no immediate acceptance on Ozzfest. There is an elitist element simply in the fact that the bands which have already established themselves obviously are given priority. Let me tell you, when we first started out, we were the first band on at ten in the morning on the second stage. There was no-one in the venue when we started playing our set; there were three or four people in front of the stage, and by the end of the set there was about three thousand. Do what you need to do in Ozzfest when you are a baby band, the door isn’t going to automatically open for you, you need to knock it down. That’s just like any other band. Elitist, it’s about accomplishment and you’re either able fight the war and you win or you fight the war and lose.
On the topic of industry competition: What bands have influenced your music, and what current bands have earned your musical respect?
Dan Donegan: For the most part, more the classic metal bands like Sabbath, Metallica, up through the grunge years, Alice In Chains, Sound Garden, Faith No More, all these bands kind of inspired us to want pick up instruments and start to play. I think the bands that are out there today, the bands we’re fans of, are bands like System of A Down, and Korn, bands which are original and innovators in what they do; bands that aren’t going to jump on a bandwagon and sound like everyone else, bands that have an identity. I think we go down that path, there is something to say about our sound. The second you hear a riff or the second you hear David’s vocals, you know it’s Disturbed, we just do our own thing, and we just have respect for those bands that created their own sound and have their own style.
What is it that really gets you fired-up about corporate prototyped bands?
David Drainmain: Unfortunately what fills the plethora of alternative programming these days, much to our chagrin, is a whole bunch of copy-cat bands, the exact anti-thesis to what Danny was just describing: A hundred bands that sound exactly the same of each-other; all whining about the same nonsense, all with their suits and ties, with their retro ’emo-screamo’ nonsense, garbage. Crying about getting in a fight with their teenage girlfriends and hobbling home on their skateboard, it’s nothing of any depth, or content, or value, there’s no realism to it, 90% of the bands were in some reggae acts two years ago, or some other garbage, and they all jumped on the bandwagon just to make a buck, and their pathetic, their worthless, and I don’t care who hears them.
And then you wonder why rock is hurting, and then you wonder why alternative stations are closing up shop all over the country. Because all of a sudden you took rock from something that was cool, and dangerous, and had darkness in it, all the elements that would draw the core fan-base of millions of people that span the entire globe, the very same people that fill up Metallica’s arenas every time they play anywhere on the planet, [and] you go ahead and you start trying to cater it more to little 14 year old girls, who were never the core base of rock or alternative music to begin with, who never got Nirvana, who never got SoundGarden, who never got any of the bands who started the entire movement, but yet people try and widen the scope, and by doing it your killing it. You’re taking everything that was sexy and cool, and provocative away from rock, and you’re giving it to these little mamma’s boys, these pussies, who have no business jumping on the stage. Do you want me to elaborate more.
Would you say Pop music has not only had a detrimental effect on “alternative” music, but also on society?
David Drainmain: No question. You know something, there was a big thing that happened a couple of years ago with the revival of swing. Lasted about two or three years. Where the hell are they now? Came, gone, nowhere. It’s gonna happen.
For example, Ryan Seltzer, The Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, there’s a whole big thing that happened, what was it, five or six years ago when the Swingers movie came out, then all of sudden there was a million swing bands that came out, out of nowhere. We had a lot more respect for those bands because at least they were really good at what they did, and were original about it. [Rather] than this band wagon nonsense, the eye make-up, suit wearing bullshit of the bands that are out there today. It’s embarrassing when unfortunately, you get thrown into a situation, like what will happen on many a radio show, we’re the only band that is anything like us on a number of these bills, because thankfully we’ve been able to have radio hits, and the rest of these little mamma’s boys get up on stage try to affect the crowd like we do, they simply can’t do it, they end up looking foolish, then we end up feeling stupid because their opening for us.
I would have to say our music is more real. if your talking about it as a contrast to say, Pop, we deal with real issues. We deal with our souls, things that affect human nature, things that are a part of our psyches, things that we fear, things that we dread. Things that don’t paint an ultra shiny picture. The music is therapeutic; the music is meant to inspire, to be therapeutic, to come and deal with issues, not to ignore them and place yourself in some sort of fantastic candy coated existence that isn’t real.
Back to your albums, how much do you try and stretch the instrumentation beyond the drums, bass, guitar and vocals?
David Drainmain: We’re purists, we definitely do try and incorporate other elements, we like to call it the Danny Donegan Orchestra, he’ll bring in God knows how many different effects via pedals or keyboards; this and that. We use many different aesthetic elements in the music. Sometimes it will be so layered and so complex, it’s a challenge when we think of how we’re going to replicate this stuff live, we always end of managing and finding a way to do it.
Dan: A lot of this stuff too, is just meant as some nuances, just for ear-candy. We like creating something to where, maybe, it’s just something low in the mix, to where you maybe pick it up on headphones, or you might not catch something till like the hundredth time you hear the song. I think it gives life to an album. If you can go back and listen to something, like I said, the hundredth you listen to it, you might pick up a new sound or factor, something going on back there. To me that always gives it longevity, it gives it life, makes you want to go back to the little elements back there.
On the new album the classic rock influences really come across, and the sound is more accessible. Was this a conscious effort or did it just evolve?
David Drainmain: We don’t sit down and draw an outline and say this is how we’re going to make the record.
Dan Donegan: It always comes naturally to us. We don’t say let’s go in this direction, or let’s try and write a song like this. It’s just kind of bringing out some riffs and improvising some ideas. Whatever we give David musically, we see what inspires him lyrically and what he wants to sing about. We’ve all been in some aggressive moments, early on in this album, during the writing process, some of the earlier tracks like Guarded and Decadence were some of the first two tracks that were written on the record musically, so that kind of started off the direction of we were going . It was more or less just sitting down and improvising some riffs.
David Drainmain: If anything those two are less wide open to people, where we started off. We probably started off a hell of a lot more aggressive. This record, in general, is more aggressive, and more biting, than the last.
The title of your latest album Ten Thousand Fists seems to reflect a politic punch to it. Was this something you wanted to get across in the title?
David Drainmain: It’s that symbolic iconic image of the crowd, of the live experience, the power the unity.
In one of the songs there is the samples of George Bush’s speech-
David Drainmain: Deify.
Does that aura hang over the album?
David Drainmain: But don’t give him that much credit. Deify is simply a song against people being deified, against people attributing god-like supernatural powers to everyday normal human things. Bush is just a very clear example of that, you could be talking about the pope or Ted Turner or any body else whose in a tremendous position of power. It just warns against that sort of behavior and what kind freedoms you can end up losing by endorsing it.
Your sound has become more operatic, encompassing a much larger scale, is this an adjustment to appealing to a wider audience, or, once again, just the natural development of the band?
David Drainmain: All of us in the band, weather it’s vocally, guitar-wise, rhythmically, we’ve all tried to push ourselves to our limits. Like Danny mentioned earlier in the conversation, our influences are much more based in the classic metal artists, your Priests, your Maidens; you didn’t have screamers in those bands, you had bands that were fronted by tremendous vocalists, Rob Halford, Bruce Dickinson, Those were people who really had voices and I can only hope that I hold a candle to them. between that, between Danny beginning to solo on this record which we’ve been encouraging him to do for some time, we’re happy he is broken out of the cage, shredding it up, doing what were so proud of, having mikey getting more intensely rhythmic, poly rhythmic, even more furious on the double kicks, and his tom patterns and everything else, with the addition of Jon on the bass with his very staccato sound with the pick playing on the bass, which is an element we didn’t have before, we’re just trying to step it up on every level. Again, there is no conscious effort to try and make the songs more appealing to anyone but ourselves, to be honest with you.
David Drainmain: I mean, if it was that easy everyone would be doing it. We don’t second guess; we can’t. We just do it naturally, and we’re just fortunate that it appealed to the masses. We just keep doing what feels right to us.
You can check up on the tour and the new album Ten Thousand Fists at their website http://www.disturbed1.com.