From the Archive: David Draiman and Don Donegan of Disturbed Discuss their 2002 Album, 'Believe'
From 2002: Disturbed's David Draiman and Don Donegan discuss their latest album, Believe.
In addition to letting the chords ring out more on choruses, you often choose to overdub single-note guitar lines on top of the progression.
DONEGAN: Right. Sometimes I'll lay down certain melodies I have in my head and Dave will write to that, or vice versa -- maybe he'll have a melody and later on I'll overdub a line that complements his part. We keep it interesting, but without getting too crazy We want to lay enough ear candy in there to give this album some life. That way, you can listen to it 50 or 100 times and still hear something new.
So while there are no solos on the record, you do sneak in your "Guitar God" moments.
DONEGAN: Yeah. I play little melodies to complement certain parts, but there's never any overplaying. On the chorus of "Remember,' for example, there's a guitar line going on underneath one of the most melodic vocals Dave has ever sung. And the lick is almost like a solo -- I'm just totally going off -- but it's a melody as opposed to just mindless shredding. It doesn't take you away from what's being sung.
Dave, what were you going for vocally on these new songs? It sounds like you're using a lot more of your range this time around.
DRAIMAN: I am, and that's because I now have that option. My voice had been suffering for a while, and I recently had to undergo surgery to reconstruct the valve at the top of my stomach, because it had completely herniated away.
As a result of your singing style?
DRAIMAN: Yeah. The way I sing is extremely physical, and it was causing acid from my stomach to wash up to my vocal cords and burn them. Because of that, the day after a show my voice would be half gone. I tried everything to take care of it, but nothing worked. So eventually I had surgery. And that forced me to start taking better care of myself, because nothing is more important to me than this band. I mean, I used to drink a hell of a lot, and do other things as well. But over time, the complete abuse of my body led to its deterioration.
So now you have to resist certain temptations when you're on the road?
DRAIMAN: Yes. The song that Dan just mentioned, "Remember," is about that. The chorus goes, "If I can remember to know this will conquer me/ If I can just walk alone and try to escape into me." There's the necessity to persevere amongst all the temptation and not let it get to me; to let people know that I'm aware of what has been given to me. It would be irresponsible of me to not take care of myself, if only for the sake of the gift that this band has been blessed with.
Are the other guys respectful of that, or after the show are they like, "Hey, Dave, have a beer!"
DRAIMAN: They've always been very respectful of my boundaries. But at the same time, they certainly don't hold back at all. They go ahead and do what they've gotta do.
DONEGAN: But there's no peer pressure placed on him. We respect Dave for taking his job seriously, because we're a hard-working group. We want to do this for a long time -- we want to be a career band. We're not gonna fuck it up by acting like a bunch of idiots, you know? So if something is wrong we fix it. In this case, unfortunately, it happened to be something that took away from some of David's favorite... umm… habits. [laughs] But he took responsibility for that. He fixed the problem and now he's able to occasionally join us for a drink again.
What are some of the other topics you deal with on the new record?
DRAIMAN: Everything is tied together under the one universal theme of "believe," and all the songs deal with different aspects of that -- self-belief, belief in God, belief in the future of humanity, belief in the potential for love and relationships, belief in life after death. And of course, there are songs that touch on all the changes that are going on in the world. The world is a radically different place than it was when we released our first record, and I feel that it's our responsibility to reflect that. Another album like The Sickness would be redundant in today's times, and it probably wouldn't be what the world needs, or what we need, even. We have to believe in something. We have to have hope.
So was the subject matter on The Sickness more internal -- how things related specifically to you -- while the new record is more about relating to the world at large?
DRAIMAN: I suppose, but then again, with every song the idea starts from the internal -- if it doesn't then the feeling isn't genuine. It has to come from what I was feeling at that particular point in time when I wrote the lyrics. Otherwise I can't have the conviction necessary to carry the words through. At the same time, I always try to make the lyrics cryptic enough that they can be embraced by each listener according to that person's individual needs.
What are some of the personal issues that figured into this album?
DRAIMAN: Well, the death of my grandfather had a lot to do with this record, may he rest in peace. He passed last August while we were on Ozzfest, and I couldn't go to Israel for the funeral. I've felt guilty about that ever since, and also about what's going on over in Israel in general. I'm incredibly frightened by it. I have 250 relatives in Israel -- my little brother lives in Jerusalem, and so does my grandmother. So it scares the hell out of me. It's insane to me that from different beliefs -- Islam and Judaism -- there's war. This record isn't called Believe simply because we needed a name -- it was chosen very specifically and intentionally.
So the concept of belief was there from the outset?
DRAIMAN: It was all about finding that theme, and then the words started coming. I don't like to write a body of work where, from a lyrical perspective, one song has nothing to do with the next. I feel that every Disturbed album should have a theme, something that ties all the songs together. So figuring out what was going to be the theme of this record was something that plagued me for a good month and a half before anything could really materialize. And it certainly didn't make it any easier that, the way we write, the music usually comes first. As a result, the lyrics are basically being written to a preconceived rhythm and melody So it's very difficult, but it's also proved the most constructive and effective way for us to write.
Vocally, does the music you're hearing direct you down a certain path?
DRAIMAN: Absolutely The vibe of the song pretty much determines where I go lyrically with it.
Dan, has there ever been a situation where, since you've already written and recorded the music, you have a vocal melody in your head that clashes with what Dave comes up with?
DONEGAN: Not really; because there's just a lot of mutual respect and trust in each other's work. So I don't really even think about the vocals. Although there was one situation, again with the song "Remember,' which has a verse riff that's in a really weird time signature -- different from anything we've ever done. I kept thinking, Should I make it straight 4/ 4? Should I make it a little easier for Dave to write to? Eventually I said to the other guys, "Let's give it to him this way and see what he comes up with." And now that I hear the finished product I'm thankful that we didn't give him an easy way out.
DRAIMAN: I kept insisting to Dan, "I will figure it out." I was determined to, because the hook is so there -- that sort of "off" timing gives the part its character. I didn't want to let my temporary inability to come up with something change what had been written, because what had been written was great.
What was the writing process like?
DONEGAN: It was different from the way we've done it in the past. Normally, we would go into our rehearsal space and work out songs by playing them full blast. But we realized that that makes it hard to hear what each guy is doing. So this time we started out at my house, playing at low volumes. We had a little eight-track Pro Tools setup, Mike used a Roland V-Drum kit, I went through a DigiTech Genesis and the bass went direct into the board. It was a real simple setup, but it was enough for us to lay down some decent-sounding demos. Then we would burn a CD right there, give it to David and let him work with it. Afterward, if there was something that we felt needed to be changed, I could cut-and-paste in Pro Tools or just retrack the part entirely. The whole process allowed us to work really quickly, because as soon as we had an idea we were able to record it on the spot. And playing at those low volumes made it possible to hear the dynamics of the music a lot better.
One thing that's instantly noticeable is that the electronic side of the band has been toned down this time around.
DONEGAN: There's certainly nothing as sequencer-based as "The Game" [from The Sickness] on this new record. And any electronic sounds that we did use on this album weren't really voices you'd find on a keyboard or sequencer -- they're things that we created from scratch. I would play two notes on the guitar, for instance, and then Johnny K would dump it into Pro Tools, we'd add an effect and create a sequence out of it. We wanted to come up with completely original sounds.
How did you first hook up with Johnny K?
DONEGAN: I've known him for a long time He went to high school with my brother and grew up in the neighborhood. He's a totally laid-back guy, very talented, and does the best-sounding demos. In fact, some of the tracks he produced for our first demo actually wound up on The Sickness. And I'm sure that, in addition to the songs themselves, the sound of those demos was a big reason we got attention from. labels. So when we got signed and it came time to choose a producer for our first record, we knew he was the guy.
It's surprising that a major label would allow a brand-new, unproven band to have a say in who produces its debut album.
DRAIMAN: Well, they heard the demos.
DONEGAN: We knew that Johnny could execute, and Giant was supportive of that. It was a lot of pressure on the guy, considering that this was not only a shot for us but for him as well. And Johnny stepped up to the plate. His first major-label album sells two and a half million records. Not bad.
So it was a no-brainer that you were going to work with him again.
DONEGAN: From the outset we were intent on not feeling that added pressure of the big "sophomore album jinx." So recording at home in Chicago and working with someone we already have a great relationship with was very important to us. We went back to Groovemaster Studios -- the same place where we recorded The Sickness -- did one day of preproduction and then started tracking. And everybody at the label believed in us enough to not be around while we were writing and recording these songs. We sent stuff out and let them hear the progress, . but they let us do our thing.
It sounds like the label is pretty hands-off with you guys.
DRAIMAN: Well, two and a half million records sold buys you a little bit of space. So we've earned it on a certain level, but then again, I'm sure that if the first few songs we sent to the label didn't come out as spectacular as they did, they wouldn't have been so accommodating. But we were certainly thankful that they were willing to let go and allow us to do what we do.
With The Sickness it was a slow build to get to that two and a half million point. Do you feel like Believe has the potential to explode right out of the gate?
DRAIMAN: We can only hope. We've certainly been hearing a lot of talk about that, but the thing is, people will talk from morning to night. Ultimately, our own feelings are what we trust the most. If the hairs on the backs of our necks aren't standing up when we play any of these new songs, we haven't done our job. And thankfully, every single song on this record gives us that feeling.
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