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If one were to create a word cloud of all the adjectives ever used to describe Disturbed, "divisive" would definitely be in there, written in big, bold letters. To many, the Chicago-born band — whose sales rank them among the most successful rock acts of this century — are a reliable source for high-octane songs that are as headbangingly heavy as they are anthemically catchy. To just as many others, the way their music threads the needle between two contentious genres — stadium-rousing nu-metal and throaty modern hard rock — makes them an easy target for criticism.
The source of their power, and polarity, stems from singer David Draiman, who wields a unique baritone voice that swings between fierce, authoritative bellows and brittle, sentimental croons. He's got a peculiar register, and he's never been afraid to flex it, whether he's howling like a monkey on Disturbed's fitful breakout, "Down With the Sickness," or ambitiously purring one of the prettiest ditties in the American songbook, Simon and Garfunkel's "The Sound of Silence."
The latter is their highest-charting song on the Hot 100 (peaking at No. 42) and one of many ecstatic YouTube commenters dubbed it "the greatest cover ever," comparing Draiman's voice to "chiseled marble." Conversely, Disturbed's version of "The Sound of Silence" has a cumulative ranking of 1.26 out of 5 stars on the site rateyourmusic.com, where reviewers call it everything from "overdramatic garbage" to "a nasty slap in my face."
"Divisive" might be underselling it, but that's the word Disturbed chose to title their eighth studio album, which arrived in November 2022 and marked their first full-length in four years. Sure, the moniker was as much a statement about our disharmonic political landscape as it was a cheeky meta comment, but it wasn't like they were treading into uncharted waters.
Draiman's entire life has been typified by division and reconciliation. In his youth, he rebelled against his strict religious upbringing with drugs and rock & roll, creating a rocky relationship with his conservative parents. As an adult, he ditched the corporate "real" world to follow his lifelong dream of becoming a professional musician, and after a decade of reveling and indulging in rock-star excesses, he now lives his life a contented family man.
Whatever you think about Disturbed as a band, going inside Draiman's tumultuous upbringing and long road to personal stability will make you see the frontman differently. Here's his life story.
WHEN AND WHERE WERE YOU BORN?
DAVID DRAIMAN In Brooklyn, New York, 1973 in Flatbush, to be specific. In Maimonides [Medical Center], to be even more specific.
HOW LONG DID YOU STAY THERE AFTER YOU WERE BORN?
Not long. We moved when I was almost three years old, to Chicago.
YOU HAVE A BROTHER AS WELL. HOW OLD IS HE IN RELATION TO YOU?
He's about three and a half years younger than me.
WERE YOU GUYS ALWAYS CLOSE?
Hmm. [Laughs awkwardly]. Yeah, I mean growing up we were close and we're still close. But he lives in Israel and I live in Miami and he's been living there since he was 18 years old. So yeah, distance creates challenges … and we do the best we can.
WHAT ARE YOUR PARENTS LIKE?
Traditional. I come from an Orthodox Jewish background, so they're both pretty conservative and didn't really foresee themselves having a son do what I do.
HOW PREVALENT WAS JUDAISM IN YOUR LIFE DURING CHILDHOOD?
Oh, it was massive. I went to five different parochial [schools] — well, actually there were four that were parochial boarding and one was a regular non-boarding school — but they were all religious schools for high school. I kept getting thrown out of [them] for one thing or another. Nothing earth-shatteringly terrible.
WHAT WERE YOU DOING?
We weren't allowed to talk to girls. I went and talked to girls. It was a boys-only school. I just wanted to do the things a normal teenage kid would do. We sometimes took it a step or two further. I'm sure that nobody exactly encourages a 14-year-old kid to go and smoke weed in the boiler room in the school with a whole bunch of other students.
YEAH, MAYBE NOT.
And so since I was that guy, I was the "drug dealer," but I wasn't [dealing drugs]. Or I'd set my buddies up on dates when nobody else knew any girls, and so I was the "pimp" in the school. I mean, stuff like that, it was just exaggerated. It was normal stuff for the most part. But when you're forced to live a very, very restrictive life as an adolescent, it's not an easy thing. You see all the things that everybody else around you has and you want them. And that created a rebellion of sorts.
DID THAT CREATE A COMPLICATED RELATIONSHIP WITH RELIGION FOR YOU?
Oh yeah. And don't get me wrong, I was headed down the path of observance in my own right. I mean, I was about two years away from being ordained as a rabbi before I had a, I don't know what you want to call it, a crisis of conscience, or just awareness. University had a lot to do with me seeing things differently and looking at things differently.
AND I IMAGINE YOUR PARENTS WEREN'T TOO FOND OF THAT?
No, no, they were not. After university, I had intended to go into law and my whole education was set up as pre-law. I had gotten into a bunch of different law schools, was ready to go and had a literal crisis of conscience. Just because the only law that interested me was criminal defense and I just couldn't come to terms with defending people I knew were guilty.
So I decided not to pursue law. One of my degrees was in business administration, and I had a colleague of mine that was in healthcare and he told me about an opening for an assistant administrator position at a long-term care facility. And a year or two later I had my own administrator's license and was running healthcare facilities. And I had done that successfully for about five, six years — all while still having Disturbed in the background.
THIS WAS BEFORE THE SICKNESS, RIGHT?
Yeah, pre-The Sickness. And so I left a successful administrator's job. Six-figure salary, company car, company phone, company pager back in those days. And so leaving that to go try and be a rock star, my parents thought I was nuts. It created quite a rift at the time.
I IMAGINE YOU HAD THIS CREATIVE SPARK IN YOU SINCE YOU WERE YOUNG. WHEN DID THAT FIRST EMERGE?
Oh, since I was a little boy I was always singing. Part of Jewish culture is that during Sabbath holidays at our meals, there's what are referred to in Hebrew as Zemirot, [which] are traditional songs that are sung during these ritual meals. And my grandfather and my father, I'd enjoy singing with them. That led to choir and cantorial training. And in my early teens, I was already leading High Holiday services.
SO YOU WERE TRAINED IN MUSIC LINKED WITH RELIGION. DID YOU SEE THAT AS YOUR PATH, OR DID YOU ALWAYS KNOW YOU WANTED TO BREAK THE TWO APART?
I think it was buying my first record, which I did when I was about 10 years old. And it was KISS' Destroyer. That was the beginning of my path. Hearing the other side and seeing that there were other things. I got really into punk rock and new wave and was really into stuff like the Sex Pistols and Depeche Mode and the Smiths and the Cure. I still enjoyed hard rock and heavy metal as well, but not as much, to be honest, at the time. My first band was a punk-rock band.
HOW OLD WERE YOU IN YOUR FIRST BAND?
WERE YOU DOING THAT IN SECRET FROM YOUR FAMILY?
Oh yeah, everything was in secret.
HOW'D YOU GET AWAY WITH ALL THAT?
Oh, well I got away with so much. That's the tip of the iceberg or what I got away with.
WELL, TAKE ME A LITTLE BIT FURTHER DOWN THE ICEBERG.
Well, like I told you, I was doing things that I wasn't allowed to do in school. I was dating non- Jewish girls, which is a big problem for a traditional Jewish family. I had gotten involved with a college girl during my freshman or sophomore year, and she had a really nasty drug habit. She was a heroin addict; she got me addicted. She was the one that I wrote "Inside the Fire" about, off of Indestructible.
That was some heavy baggage as an adolescent to deal with. Your girlfriend committing suicide, that was a rough patch. Yeah, that stuff haunted me into my thirties, I would say. Still something I kind of carry a little bit of.
But yeah, in terms of getting away with stuff, I mean, my parents, and my mother in particular, they're still in a state of denial. They don't want to accept the fact that, Oh my God, he did this, he went through this, he had to deal with this. I think that there's some convenient horse blinders on so to speak. But thank God I survived it. I think that's part of the reason why as a professional musician I never really got dragged into the drug scene, per se. Because I had my time during my teens.
WHAT EVENTUALLY GOT YOU OUT OF THE DRUG SCENE?
It kind of came to a head by the time I was 18 years old, and I had a little moment of clarity and woke up underneath a car on New Year's Eve, my 18th year of life. No shirt, no shoes, no wallet, just my jeans, freezing to death. And I happened to know a buddy of mine that lived a couple blocks away and stumbled to his door and collapsed.
And my parents were looking for me for a couple days, still in denial after that. I was sick for three months going through withdrawal, coming off of everything. But that was the last time I touched anything heavy. And then for seven years I didn't touch anything at all. I didn't even smoke.
DID YOU HAVE ANYONE TO TURN TO AT THAT POINT FOR ADVICE WHEN YOU WERE STRUGGLING WITH ADDICTION?
No. I didn't. Very lonely. Very, very isolated at the time. Tough time. It took several rounds of therapy to come to terms with all that shit.
MOST PEOPLE KNOW DISTURBED BECAUSE OF "DOWN WITH THE SICKNESS," AND IN THAT SONG THERE'S THE PART WHERE YOU'RE ACTING OUT A BOY BEING ABUSED BY HIS MOTHER. WAS THAT INFORMED BY AN EXPERIENCE YOU HAD?
No, no, no. A lot of people don't understand it. It was meant to be an analogy. That's back during The Sickness era, our songwriting entity we referred to as Mother Culture Publishing. [That song passage is] the mother culture of society beating the child, yearning for individuality, into submission. In certain ways it was even reflective of how I felt being forced to be something that I wasn't. But yeah, it wasn't meant to be taken literally.
And I mean, don't get me wrong, it's not like my parents exactly spared the rod and spoiled the child. I got my smacks every once in a while. I probably deserved some of them. So, I mean, it is what it is. But was I abused? No, I wasn't abused.
WHEN YOU GOT BEYOND YOUR DRUG ADDICTION, WHERE DID YOU WANT TO GO IN LIFE?
I always wanted to be a musician. It's in my high school yearbook. "What do I want to do?" Back then in the yearbook, it says I wanted to be an alternative rock musician.
Yeah. Disturbed wasn't necessarily in the cards at the time. Everything that I was doing up until that point was more Faith No More, Red Hot Chili Peppers, more funk influenced, you know what I mean? Wasn't as heavy as we ended up becoming.
SO, YOU EVENTUALLY GO TO COLLEGE. WERE MUSIC AND YOUR STUDIES YOUR MAIN FOCUS? DID YOU JOIN ANY CLUBS OR FRATERNITIES?
I wasn't really immersed in that environment, to be honest. I mean, that was part of the reason why I chose to go to Loyola [University Chicago]. It was a commuter campus. I didn't have to be in the fraternity/sorority life. I really didn't want any part of it. Because at the time I was still an observer and I just wanted to go there and do what I needed to do to get my degree and move on. I was doing 20 to 30 credit hours a semester, plus summers. I got three BA's in three and a half years.
SO YOU DIDN'T HAVE TIME FOR A FRAT HOUSE.
No, I didn't have any time like that. During college, it was me trying to form my own band and trying to audition for other bands. And forming your own band is very, very difficult because as you probably already know, musicians can tend to be pretty flaky people. So it was challenging, but the love of music never left me. It was after college, once I finally was in the workforce and was an administrator already, that's when I went to audition for the Disturbed guys.
EVENTUALLY DISTURBED GET SIGNED. YOU PUT OUT THIS FIRST RECORD AND IT'S A HUGE SMASH. YOU'RE SOMEONE WHO'D ALREADY SEEN A LOT AND BATTLED ADDICTION. HOW DID YOU NAVIGATE THIS INDUSTRY THAT YOU WERE LAUNCHED INTO WHERE DRUGS AND SEX RUN RAMPANT?
Trial by fire, right? I mean, you're in it and you're kind of surrounded by it — if you decide to be someone who's social out there and, in the beginning, I definitely was. I was all over the goddamn place. For many [people] it was more about drinking, at least in our camp anyway. My guys still drink like most people probably don't ever even [attempt].
DO YOU STILL DRINK?
Yeah. I've never been a big drinker. Never been my thing. It's always been a means to an end. I'd be drinking socially. I never enjoyed feeling drunk. I never enjoyed the aftereffects and being hungover. [But] earlier in my career I would get stupid with everybody.
IN THE 2000S, DISTURBED IS HUGE AND YOU'RE RACKING UP ALL THESE NO. 1 ALBUMS. WHAT'S YOUR LIFE LIKE LOOK LIKE OUTSIDE OF THE BAND?
I was crazy. I was nuts. Big womanizer.
THE "PIMPING" FROM HIGH SCHOOL CONTINUED?
Well, then it [became] accentuated by these new Jedi powers that the rock star gives you. It's a whole 'nother level. It was a lot of fun, my 2000s were pretty nuts. I used to jump back and forth [between] a house I had in Chicago and a house in L.A.
WHEN DID YOU GET THE LABRET PIERCINGS?
There were two things I did once I quit my job. Once I knew that we had a record deal coming, I shaved my head and I did the double labret. And yeah, I just wanted to do something that was original that nobody else had.
HOW DID YOUR PARENTS REACT?
It took them a while before they saw it … and my mom cried. They were not happy.
TELL ME ABOUT HOW YOU MET YOUR WIFE.
Well, I originally met her during our "Prayer" music video shoot around 2002. She was dating one of the other actors in the video who was friends with the co-director. So she came on set to say hi. And I was instantly just smitten, a big no-no for me to be lusting after her because I was friends with her boyfriend. … She came to the next shoot and then we didn't see each other for seven years. And once I decided to finally make a Facebook page, I found her on somebody's page, and I asked her to "friend" me. And she didn't believe it was me.
Because I had a thousand imposters on there. And she's like, "If this is really who I think it is, tell me the significance of downtown L.A. circa 2001, 2002." I'm like, "My 'Prayer' music video shoot where we met." And she said, OK. She was a WWE Diva at the time. … I called her and I'm like, "Look, I have a show coming up in Chicago. Let me fly you out, no strings attached. Come hang out, invite a friend with you so [there's] no pressure. And if the vibe is cool, hang out for a day or two. If not, then consider it an all-expense paid trip to visit your friends in Chicago." She accepted and came out to the show and yeah, that was the beginning of our relationship.
I IMAGINE YOU TWO HAVE HAD PRETTY DIFFERENT LIVES. WHAT BONDS YOU AS PEOPLE?
Ironically, her understanding of the entertainment world made it easy. A lot of other girls didn't have a real concept of it and had jealousy issues. It's daunting dating a rock star and there's all these rumors, but she came from the WWE. She was used to the rumor mill. … But what bonds us together is our love for each other more than anything else. It's not like we're opposites attract — we had a bunch of things in common — but we're definitely our own people. She did not marry me because she's a big superfan of my music. [Laughs]
She likes it, but she prefers more dance stuff, more hip-hop stuff and it's all good. And in fact, I think the fact that she liked me — not because of what I do, but in spite of what I do — is a big part of what made it work.
YOU'VE BEEN A FATHER FOR NINE YEARS NOW, RIGHT? GIVEN WHAT YOU WENT THROUGH AS A KID — YOUR EXPERIENCES, YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR PARENTS — HOW HAS THAT INFORMED YOUR APPROACH TO PARENTING?
Not forcing anything on him, just making him aware of little aspects of his heritage. I'm very, very open-minded with my son. I try to be a stable element in his life and be someone he can talk to and shoulder to cry on if he needs to. And try and impart to him whatever wisdom I might have. And just be a balancing agent for him more than anything else.
DISTURBED'S MUSIC IS SOME OF THE MOST POPULAR ROCK MUSIC OF THE 21ST CENTURY. YOU'VE SHARED THE STAGE WITH SO MANY GREAT MUSICIANS. DO YOU EVER STRUGGLE WITH IMPOSTER SYNDROME AT ALL?
I worry. Being honest: I worry about how I'll be remembered after all of this.
WHAT WORRIES YOU ABOUT THAT?
I don't know. You spend 20, 25 years trying to make something that lasts after you're gone. Music is an amazing pathway to immortality. But yeah, I worry. I hope that people can at least still draw inspiration and strength and motivation from what we've created. And hopefully not too many people think I'm a prick. I hope I've left a good impression on enough people that, for the most part, people look back at what I've done positively, I guess.
THE NEW DISTURBED ALBUM IS CALLED DIVISIVE. DID YOU NAME IT THAT BECAUSE YOU THINK THE BAND, OR EVEN YOU AS A PERSON, ARE DIVISIVE? That's a part of it [because] I think that we're the kind of band that people either really, really love or really, really hate. There's not a whole lot of in-between, right?
YEAH. WHY DO YOU THINK THAT IS?
I think that anything that's worth feeling passionate about brings extremes of polarity to it. The art that should disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed, right? I've definitely figured out how to come to peace with it. I like the fact that people are passionate one way or the other about what we do. As opposed to just being like, Oh yeah, I think I've heard of them or … No, I'd rather they feel passionate one way or the other as opposed to being lukewarm.