Dan Donegan interview: A Real Trooper
The aptly titled Indestructible (it’s named for both the band’s inner resolve and as a tribute to the U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan) is Disturbed’s angriest, most politically charged and, well, its most disturbing to date. On songs such as “Enough” and the title cut, Draiman paints brutal, vivid landscapes of war and all its horrors. Elsewhere, on the tracks “Deceiver” and “Inside the Fire,” the singer dives into his own soul and exorcises the demons that are past girlfriends. “David has a lot on his mind pretty much 24/7,” Donegan says. “Which is great, because he’s never at a loss for material. No writer’s block with that guy.”
As for Donegan, he surrounds himself with a fortress of guitars. On past albums, he sometimes appeared to be more of a supporting player, gamely pumping out riffs, squeals and rhythms but shunning the spotlight. “I never lose sight of the fact that the song is the thing,” he says. “People buy Disturbed records, not Dan Donegan records.” The new album, however, sees the guitarist assuming a starring role—every song features a solo and a significant riff—with spectacular results. And so the former construction worker from Oak Lawn, Illinois, is a guitar hero now. A real one, too, not merely a collection of pixels in a video game. And real guitar heroes have this funny way of being indestructible.
GUITAR WORLD It looks like congratulations are in order. You’ve gone from being an unknown guitarist in an unknown band to a guitar player in a band that sells CDs. And now you’re a bona fide guitar hero on the cover of Guitar World. What’s next—are you going to Disney World?
DAN DONEGAN [laughs] Yeah, right. I should! You know, I’m still getting used to the fact that my job is to play the guitar, let alone that I'm supposed to be a—you know, “guitar hero.” [laughs] I don’t have to tell you that most bands, even ones that achieve some success, have very short-lived careers. There’s no guarantees anywhere. So to be in a band that has loyal fans, a band that’s getting bigger and is still climbing the ladder—there’s no way I could describe how amazing it feels. I get letters and emails from kids all over the world telling me how my playing inspires them. That’s unbelievable to me.
GW Nowadays, it seems as if there are a lot of metal bands coming from all points across the globe. Disturbed are one of the few big metal groups to hail from America. Numbers-wise, do you feel that the States are not representing?
DONEGAN I think metal bands have always had to break down doors and barriers. I think it’s great that there are so many bands coming everywhere and players are getting recognition. As for us being an American band, hey, we’re just doing our part. The funny thing is, I never knew where we fit in with any particular genre or anything, and I still don’t. [laughs] When we first came out, we were called nu-metal because that’s what was happening at the time. Now people say we’re not metal enough. Whatever, you know?
GW What was it like producing the new album by yourselves? And in the process, what did you learn about the band?
DONEGAN It felt like some added pressure at first. I think the record label was a little nervous. You know: “What are those guys doing? Are they going to mess this thing up?” We were pretty confident though. We had worked with Johnny K on the first three records, and we were very comfortable with him. But that’s the thing: we were too comfortable. It was time to shake things up. Funnily enough, we ended up making the record at Johnny’s studio, Groovemaster Recording, and we used his engineer, too [Tadpole], so we weren’t totally out of our element. We’ve always been perfectionists in how we approach the writing and pre-production. We beat the hell out of every song. Did we allow ourselves a bit more room to experiment? Possibly. But we don’t go into the studio without a clear picture of what we’re going to wind up with.
GW Your drummer, Mike, is a very fluid player. As a guitarist, do you have a particular way of working with him?
DONEGAN It’s funny you say that. I’ve been with Mike the longest of anybody in this band. Musically, we know each other very well. Going into a record, if I have riffs I’ve been working on, I’ll play them for Mike to see what he’s going to do with them. It’s only when I have a very strong idea of what the drums should do that I’ll give him any kind of direction. Most of the time, what he does instinctively is pretty magical.
GW The opening track of the new album, “Indestructible,” begins with the sounds of war: bombs, helicopters, machine guns. What kind of statement are you hoping to make?
DONEGAN We’ve always been very vocal about being pro military but anti war. Nobody wants to send their sons and daughters off to war, especially one that we can’t all agree on. But the fact that the troops are there—that they’re doing their jobs and they don’t question their mission, that they’re making such a huge sacrifice for this country—we respect that. Throughout the years, David has always made comments about the war and his support for the troops. He gets the crowd going at shows, shouting “U.S.A.!” Those are very powerful moments.
GW What was it like to perform in Kuwait for the troops?
DONEGAN It was definitely the most memorable moment in our career. It was a little frightening going over there and not knowing what to expect. I remember sitting on the plane and looking at the monitor and seeing that we were flying right over
Baghdad. That was a little shocking. I thought, you know, maybe we’d just go around Baghdad. [laughs] But the look on the troops’ faces when they saw us, and their appreciation for us being there… It was unbelievable.
GW The “wall of guitar” tone on the album is very consistent. How many guitars do you generally record on any given song?
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