"Let's make history, shall we?"
David Draiman is behind the mic at the Whisky a Go Go on the Sunset Strip for the very first time, standing on a nightclub stage made famous by generations of rockers, from the Doors to Led Zeppelin to Metallica. For Draiman, singer for the multi-platinum metal juggernaut Disturbed, tonight (November 18th) represents some high-profile moonlighting, as he joins guitar phenom Nita Strauss at the end of her show to perform their raging rock radio hit, "Dead Inside."
As expected, the fans in West Hollywood are going nuts as Strauss unfurls a snarling riff and Draiman paces the stage and launches into an angry staccato vocal: "I see it crumbling, right in front of me/There's no stopping it so get that out of your mind!"
The performance is an early glimpse of Draiman's mood as he prepares to dive into a new recording project with Disturbed for the first time since the coronavirus sent the music world into limbo, crushing all touring plans with it. Among the casualties in 2020 was a planned 20th anniversary tour to celebrate the distorted guitars and tribal beats of Disturbed's debut album, The Sickness. The band finally got back on the road this fall for a handful of concert dates, including Kentucky's Louder Than Life festival.
In the coming year, the Chicago-born alt-metal quartet will be returning to the recording studio and reaching back toward their "old-school" sound of melody and muscle. But the result won't be a full album, which Draiman blames on "the nature of the digital age and people's short attention spans." The band is instead aiming for an EP of five or six tracks, and the singer is already feeling positive about the ideas sketched out during writing sessions with guitarist Dan Donegan, drummer Mike Wengren and bassist John Moyer between live gigs.
"I feel really good about the new material in particular," he tells Revolver, sitting for an interview at a restaurant just ahead of his Whisky appearance. "It hasn't been this fun in a long time and we've enjoyed the shit out of it. We're all walking out of every session with stupid-ass grins on our faces."
SINCE YOU LIVE IN HAWAII, HAVE YOU FELT SEPARATED FROM THE REST OF THE U.S. THESE LAST TWO YEARS OF COVID-19?
DAVID DRAIMAN It's been nice being on an island during this past two years of absolute madness. We barely had to deal with what the majority of the rest of the country has had to deal with.
HOW DID THE REST OF THE COUNTRY LOOK FROM THAT PERSPECTIVE?
Pretty insane. You know, two years of the powers that be pitting us against one another, two years of capitalizing on everyone's fear, two years of us battling against a virus that doesn't judge people by what they believe in and doesn't give a shit. It's been a very revealing, shocking and educational past couple of years for everyone.
THE HISTORY OF HEAVY MUSIC HAS DEALT A LOT WITH APOCALYPTIC AND POST-APOCALYPTIC THEMES. WHERE DO YOU SEE THIS GENRE OF MUSIC FITTING INTO WHAT'S HAPPENING?
Oh, God, it's tailor-made for it. Hard rock and heavy metal are the best source of therapy ever created in my opinion. And there's nothing more cathartic than writing a song about how you feel about how fucked up the world is. I never forget how fortunate I am to be able to be in a position to do that, and for people to want to listen.
ARE YOU FEELING GOOD ABOUT HOW THE MUSIC WORLD IS RESPONDING AND COMING BACK TO LIFE?
Everybody was very quick out of the gate — and understandably so because people were dying to get back out there. The catastrophe that occurred at Astroworld is indicative of what has happened to us over the course of the past couple of years. [A crowd surge at Travis Scott's Astroworld festival on November 5th resulted in 10 deaths and hundreds of injuries.] I know a lot of people want to lay blame at the feet of promoters or at the artist himself. I was struck by the lack of humanity. I was struck by the every-person-for-themselves type of mentality.
I understand where it came from. We just spent two years being forced to be separated from one another and being forced to be concerned for our own well-being and being forced to be selfish. It almost seems like we're all suffering from a collective amount of PTSD. People forgot how to come back together. Instead of recording what's going down on your cell phone, extend your hand and pick somebody up.
And the fact that there are so many that didn't, it's not just heartbreaking — it's dehumanizing and disappointing beyond words. We've been damaged by what's happened over the course of the past couple of years, and it's not just the virus. It's everyone who stands to gain from continuing to pit us against each other and making us feel frightened and vulnerable and addicted to outrage. We need to get back to being family again, being human beings again, caring for one another, focusing on what we have in common.
THE CONCERT INDUSTRY HAS LOST A LOT OF PROFESSIONALS BECAUSE OF THE VIRUS AND SHUTDOWN OF THE LIVE MUSIC INDUSTRY. HAS THAT REACHED DISTURBED?
Thank God all of our crew are still our crew. I genuinely care very deeply for them. Once the shit hit the fan, I made sure everybody was taken care of — not just once, twice, but three times gave them our percentages. And I'd do it again in a heartbeat. There are so many aspects of reopening and getting back into the environment that weren't thought through. And I understand people are eager as fuck. But hopefully we're all learning on the fly. Hopefully we're rolling with the punches as we go. And I'm very hopeful that another year from now, things are gonna look a lot different in a positive way.
WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED ABOUT THE METAL AUDIENCE THROUGH THE YEARS?
That there's no one more loyal, more devoted, more steadfast. We take care of each other. We look out for each other. Hard rock and heavy metal fans are family.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT METAL THAT ENDURES?
It continues to call to the rebel, to the outcast, to the people who don't feel like they just quite belong. Do any of us? You need something to bind you together, something that we all can relate to. And sometimes it takes something more biting, more real, more heavy — something you can actually sink your teeth into. Don't get me wrong. There's a time and place for everything. And I've got really eclectic taste. I listen to all kinds of shit, particularly with an eight-year-old son that is subjected to pop music by his mother. So I hear all kinds of shit. And I like all kinds of shit. But the ability of hard rock and heavy metal to bring people together, no matter what walk of life you walk, is truly unique to the genre as an extraordinary power.
AFTER 25 YEARS AS A RECORDING ARTIST WITH DISTURBED, DO SEE WHAT YOU DO ANY DIFFERENTLY THAN YOU DID IN THE EARLY DAYS?
As time has progressed it's taken a different character and it changes what it means to you. It changes as your life changes. As you all of a sudden become a family man and a father and the world takes on very different colors and character once that happens. So it has evolved over the course of time, for sure. My feelings of anger and rebellion come from other places these days. You're never as defensive and as frightened of the world around you as you are when you're a parent.
WHAT CAN YOU SAY ABOUT THE NEW DISTURBED MUSIC YOU'VE BEEN WORKING ON?
We've come up with some unbelievable new material that is just pummeling and rhythmic and aggressive and anthemic and poly-syncopated — Disturbed 101, everything people fell in love with us for in the first place. It has really been a wonderful past couple of weeks, especially after two years of being apart, not being able to really create. You can create over Zoom or some shit like that but it's not the same, that inspiration in the moment in front of each other — the magic, energy and electricity that occurs — nothing really compares to it. It was a welcome rush back into the system. Fucking amazing. It's sounding somewhere between The Sickness and Ten Thousand Fists, for sure.
WHAT INSPIRED THE BAND TO GO BACK TO THAT ORIGINAL DISTURBED SOUND?
I missed the old-school stuff. We had this amazing breakthrough with "The Sound of Silence." We tried delving a little bit deeper into that pool of water with Evolution for half the record. I enjoyed the hell out of all the balladry. I dug my teeth into it. It was nice to be able to use different textures and take my voice to different places and to have a different dynamic to the [live] set where there's highs and lows. At one moment we had a sea of people in a mosh pit, and the next moment people are bawling their eyes out. It became a necessary addition to our repertoire. But given the tumult of the past couple of years and everything all of us have been feeling, when the guys asked me where I wanted to go, I didn't hesitate for a minute: We gotta go old school. We've got to go back to where we came from.
BUT YOU'RE LESS INTERESTED IN PUTTING OUT FULL-LENGTH ALBUMS NOW?
Beyond less interested. I'm determined to not put a full album out. We put all of our heart and soul into every single song we create. And to write 10 songs for three of them to get worked at radio and recognized and remembered by the fans, and then for the other seven to sit on a shelf collecting dust — why? There's no point in that anymore. So for the next couple, it'll be about five or six tracks at a time.
We live in a society and environment now where people consume things bit by bit. You can't fight it. And as much as I selfishly appreciate the concept album or telling an entire story, I can't force that on people who don't want to accept it. I'm okay with each individual song telling its own story at this point, and just accepting things as they are.
IS IT EXCITING TO HAVE SO MUCH ATTENTION DIRECTED AT A SINGLE SONG, LIKE YOUR "DEAD INSIDE" COLLABORATION WITH NITA STRAUSS?
That's the way that the culture has become, and thank God we've got lightning in a bottle right now. The song's doing so well, and I'm so proud of it. And I'm proud of her and proud of [drummer] Josh [Villalta]. We came together really organically. In literally 48 hours I had the melody and a beginning lyric, and I just pestered the shit out of them for days, all hours of the night, just texting my ideas till everything really finalized. And we tracked it in one day. When that chorus hits, and you feel those little goosebumps on the back of your neck pop up, you know you've got something.
WHAT'S THE MESSAGE OF THE SONG?
We deal with information overload of on a daily basis. The days of Walter Cronkite simply reporting the news are over: everything is spun. Everything is agenda based. Everything is married to a narrative. Everything has a little semblance of truth mired in a whole ton of bullshit. And people are trying to constantly shock you, constantly trying to trip you up, constantly trying to win you over to their side — you're so barraged by the shit on a regular basis that you become numb to it. Nothing shocks me anymore and I just don't believe you anymore. And you're dead inside.
ASIDE FROM "THE SOUND OF SILENCE," DISTURBED HAVE A LONG HISTORY OF TACKLING UNEXPECTED NON-METAL COVER SONGS, LIKE STING'S "IF I EVER LOSE MY FAITH IN YOU" LAST YEAR.
It's always fun to do a Judas Priest cover or something like that, which we've done true to form. But for us, it's a particularly satisfying challenge to take something that isn't who we are and do a version that honors the original, yet you make it your own. You put your stamp on it without offending anybody that fell in love with the original. It's a cool challenge. We don't always knock it out of the park, but we have a few times.
HAVE THERE BEEN COVER SONGS THAT OTHER BANDS HAVE DONE IN THE PAST THAT REALLY MATTERED TO YOU?
Metallica's "Turn the Page." Oh my God, fucking love that. Not only is the [original] Bob Seger song absolute poetry and basically the story of our existence, but I love the way Metallica made it their own and the way [James] Hetfield sings the emotion. His voice could be felt the same way Seger's did.
THAT SONG IS ABOUT THE LIFE OF A MUSICIAN ON THE ROAD. HOW DID YOUR FIRST LIVE SHOW BACK WITH DISTURBED IN LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY, FEEL?
Like having a gag taken off your mouth. Like being able to breathe again. When you take away the most cathartic and meaningful sensation in your existence, and it finally gets brought back to you, it's like rising from the ashes. There was a while there that I think all of us were wondering, geez, is it ever going to get back to normal? Are we ever going to be able to do what we want to do again? So finally being up there and feeling that energy and hearing the crowd and feeling the power of those songs channeled through my boys and me, there's nothing like it.
ARE YOU PLANNING ON SPENDING A LOT OF TIME ON THE ROAD?
It will be more infrequent. We're older. I can't sing for two hours a night five nights a week anymore. I'm still one of those guys who actually sings live. It'll be in spurts, and in a way that is commensurate with the balance of our current lives and our current families. We'll never be able to let it go completely.