Amongst the inevitable backlash that arises from any lineup announcement and the outrage against last week’s first Soundwave 2016 line up announcement, there seemed to be one beacon of light, one act, that was seemingly Teflon to the whole situation.
In fact, Chicago heavy rockers Disturbed are being championed anywhere they play these days, after triumphantly returning from a four year hiatus in June this year.
And those cheers of support are well earned – the rock stalwarts have been cultivating a massive legion of fans across the globe for the better part of two decades, and when they called it a day back in 2011 they were arguably at their career peak.
However, unlike so many acts before them who seem to lose their way post reformation, the period of hiatus for Disturbed has so far proven to be a masterstroke for the four piece, who utilised their time out of the spotlight to craft what is arguably their greatest album in years – Immortalized – without the pressures of prying eyes and media scrutiny.
Music Feeds spoke with the group’s lead singer David Draiman about the alternate pressure such a situation presents, in that a massive band returning from a long time away with a new record needs to deliver; how getting back to their song writing roots helped them rediscover and even improve upon some of their earlier magic; and where they got the idea (see balls) to cover Simon and Garfunkel’s The Sound Of Silence on the record – and why it turned out so friggin’ awesome.
Listen: Disturbed – Light
Music Feeds: Sometimes bands can be a little slow to return to form after a period away, but you guys have come out guns blazing with what many people are calling for one of the best records of your career. Were you aware that you had such a strong album when you finally announced your comeback?
David Draiman: I think that our confidence in the material is one thing and the fans response to it is something else. We felt confident. We definitely wanted to give the fans a record that seemed to justify the amount of time that we took away. At least we’ve matured, grew, developed – something [laughs heartily].
So I think that most people would probably agree that this is the most diverse disturbed record as well. It’s hard for me to say. We always try to deliver the best we can and we think that this was par for the course of what we’ve set as standard for ourselves to continue to do. I definitely think it went in directions we haven’t gone before and charted new territory. It was a really liberating record in a lot of ways.
Was there any nervousness or caution though after being away that long?
Oh yeah! There’s nervousness and caution every time [laughs]. Whether we were away for a long time, whether we were away for a short period of time, there’s always a nervousness and caution. It’s a very fortunate blessing that we have and that colleagues of ours have that we’re able to do this for a living. You’re always trying to stoke the furnace a little bit and make sure that it keeps on burning. So yeah, that nervousness was a constant thing and the minute that you stop being nervous at all, you have a problem.
While you were away you worked on other projects like Device and went through some pretty big life changes in becoming a father, so there were a lot of other distractions going on. But during that four year hiatus period, were thoughts for lyrics and melodies percolating in your brain for possible Disturbed material?
Oh no doubt, no doubt. More themes than actual phrases. There’s no shortage of subject matter, that’s for damn certain [laughs]. I try not to beat too many dead horses when it comes to that, and so I sometimes look to the other guys to kind of feed me some themes they might want me to write about from time to time. They’re pretty good with that actually – Danny and Kevin in particular were really good with it this record. This is probably the most collaborative lyrically as well that we’ve been on record.
I mean every single song, when I’d come up with something, the lyrics were thrown up on the big screen in the control room and we’d all nit-pick the shit out of them every single time – all of us. That was very, very open because they [the lyrics] were all very infant and left in that state of infancy and being very undeveloped and very fresh. All the music was done that way – undeveloped – until we got into the room with Kevin [Churko – the album’s producer] and had his additional, creative element.
You wrote this new record in what seems like a really enjoyable way – doing at your own pace, all together as a solid collaboration out of the spotlight. How did making this album compare to other records you’ve made previously in terms of – was it fun?
It really was. There was a lot more fun this record than we’ve had in a very, very long time. I think that the most amazing part of it all is that “fun” really isn’t a powerful enough word to use for what it feels like when you’re able to get in a room with the guy or guys that you were kind of put on this planet to create your art with and know that at the end of literally every single day you’re walking away with something that sticks in your head. Which is fantastic! To be able to do that, to be able to do it consistently, to be able to know that we can rely on one another to inspire one another consistently and know that we still have that massive chemistry, is incredible inspiring.
And this recording process and writing process in particular was different than it had been for many, many years. Since the Believe record to be exact in 2001, where basically we were all writing in the same room together. We didn’t allow technology to take the place of us actually being in front of one another this time. We didn’t send files back and forth to one another from across the country. We all live in different parts of the United States now, so it’s not like we just get back together on rehearsal day like we used to back in the day. But this time we did. This time we made the time.
Listen: Disturbed – Open Your Eyes
Was it kind of like re-opening a bottle of that essence of chemistry you guys had when you first started writing together and becoming successful?
In certain ways it was even more satisfying. I’ll explain – because when you discover something like that for the first time, it’s fantastic. You’re elated and blown away and all of the above. But when you’ve gone away for a while and you let the ugly spectre of doubt actually enter your mind because you’ve been away for as long as you have – you’ve done other things and your other guys have done other things – when you get back together you’re like, “Shit, are we still going to able to do this? [Laughs] Do we still have the ability to come up with cool shit?”
And low and behold we did and we were very pleased. So far the reaction we’ve gotten from the fans has been pretty damn amazing. I’m very, very enthused to see how strong the reaction has been to the new record overall.
That being said, judging from the lyrics and the video for the big single The Vengeful One, you’re still holding the world accountable for a lot of its actions in your lyricism – the media has become a target of your fury, as has humanity’s complacency – amongst other heavy topics. When you write songs like The Vengeful One, do you find catharsis in the writing process? Is it a venting process for you? And is it therapeutic to perform those songs time and time again?
Yes and yes. You just nailed it. It’s all of that. Every single one of these songs is cathartic in nature. Literally. Whether we’re talking about something that was personally experience or something that is just perceived, there’s still feelings about various situations or scenarios or world events – so you’re definitely going to get that, you’re going to have that cathartic release. This whole music thing, for people who I guess do it the way we do, which is the only way we know how, it either comes from great pain or great joy. You know what I mean? No great art, whether it’s music or anything else, comes from being mediocre or just kind of passive. You’re either very, very happy or very, very angry or very, very sad. It’s never “I’m okay.” Unless you’re the ‘Don’t Worry Be Happy Guy.’ Don’t worry be happy has never really been our thing [laughs].
Listen: Disturbed – The Sound Of Silence
A big surprise on the album is the cover of The Sound Of Silence – which is fucking epic. Were you concerned at all at how people might react to that? And where did the idea to even cover it come from?
Let me answer the second question first. We left the daunting question of “The Cover” to the very end of the recording process. It was like that dirty little skeleton that we didn’t want to pull out of the closet that we knew we were going to have to deal with at some point. And that was just because we hadn’t had any good ideas for it. We were like kicking our own ass and we’ve made it a thing that Disturbed likes to do a cover song every major release, so we were really breaking our heads trying to come up with something that a) hasn’t already been done, and b) would be appropriate for us. And we’ve picked a lot of songs from the ’80s like Land Of Confusion or Shout or any that we’ve done.
I said “Why don’t we look back a little bit further to the ’60s and ’70s?” It was actually Mike that came up with the suggestion of Simon & Garfunkel’s The Sound Of Silence. When he mentioned that it got real quiet. Everybody shut up instantly and we were like, “That’s a heavy suggestion,” because that’s one of those songs that’s kind of almost viewed as being untouchable.
It’s a classic of classics. It was one of those timeless songs. Then we looked online and saw one or two guys had tried to cover it, so then it didn’t feel like it was so taboo anymore [laughs]. I thought originally we might approach the way we’d approached songs like Land Of Confusion or Shout by making them more aggressive and upbeat and rhythmic and more a Disturbed style stereotypically.
It was actually Dan’s suggestion to not do that – to stay very ambient and ethereal and acoustic and orchestral. I was kind of shocked initially but kind of enthusiastic about it at the same time, because that really opened up the playing field for me. And then Kevin came up with that piano line that you hear that starts off the song and he played it for me one day when we were kind of going over all this shit and I had not planned on singing at all that day but the sound of that piano inspired me and we found an octave that felt comfortable to do that shift you hear in the middle of the song where we go up an octave, and then we started tracking.
I tracked for three hours, maybe more, and it was the longest I’ve ever tracked a vocal session in my career. And it was the only vocal session in my career where the entire – where Dan and Mike were in the control room while I was tracking the entire time. That’s never happened, so that was interesting too. I did every possible variation of melody and rhythm and different runs and harmonies and tried all kinds of stuff.
Three days of Kevin accounting it later he played it for me, I loved it, but I didn’t let him know because I listened to it three times in a row without saying anything and he got really nervous [laughs]. I turned around and thanked him. To me it moved all of us. All of us were really affected by it. It’s puts my voice in a place where people are not used to hearing it – so a lot of people were shocked by it. But it was really nice for me to know that I still could.
Disturbed play Soundwave 2016, get all the latest details right here.