Dan Donegan interview: A Real Trooper
DONEGAN I usually play two rhythm tracks and combine them. I use the same guitar but I put it through two different amps: my Randall 1086 and a Bogner Ecstasy head. That’s the bedrock of my sound. I do some layering here and there, and that’s when I’ll try things through Marshall or Diezel amps. All the toys eventually come out. Whenever I’m tweaking parts, the guys joke around and call it “The Danny Donegan Orchestra,” because I act like something of a mad scientist experimenting with different sounds. It’s probably boring the rest of the guys to have to sit through all of that, but for hours I’m totally absorbed. Every pedal that I have, every pedal the studio has—I’ll just tweak everything out till we find the best tones and frequencies that sit in the mix.
GW How much are you using the Washburn Maya on the album?
DONEGAN I don’t think I changed it once.
GW I imagine it must be pretty cool to have your own signature model guitar.
DONEGAN The whole thing is pretty mind blowing for me. I remember being a kid playing in a garage band who dreamed about getting onstage. I never, ever thought in a million years that a big company would want to make a guitar for me. That said, when Washburn first approached me, I really wasn’t looking to make a switch from what I had been using. But because Washburn is only an hour from where I live, and because they wanted me to be very hands-on with the design, it led to some great discussions. So I went to see them, I told them about what I thought I was looking for, and they built a prototype that knocked me out. Once I tried the prototype in the studio, that was it. I said, “Let’s do this thing.”
GW Now, you have your own DigiTech pedal, the Weapon. How much am I hearing that on the album?
DONEGAN It’s definitely on a few tracks. There’s some overdubs you can hear it on. I actually used that pedal on the Ten Thousand Fists record on some drum parts. Mike wanted to create these drum loops, so he ran them through some distortion, and then I put them through the DigiTech pedal.
GW The riff of the song “Inside the Fire” is one of those curlicue patterns that could go any number of different ways. How many versions of a riff like that will you come up with before you know you’ve got it?
DONEGAN I beat myself over the head with every riff, probably too much. The guys are always making fun of me ’cause I’m such a perfectionist. But a lot of the time, after Mike has laid down a drum part or David has done his vocals, I’ll hear the riff and want to approach it differently. I admit that I get carried away with going back and trying to make improvements. That’s just the way I am though.
GW But what is your process for writing riffs? Are you one of those guys who just zones out in front of the TV and jams?
DONEGAN A lot of the time, sure. Being at home is the best thing for my writing. Even if it’s, like, four in the morning, I’ll just wake up and start noodling around for a couple of hours.
GW The solo in “Inside the Fire” is a pretty big guitar hero statement. At this stage in your career, and because you’re receiving such acclaim for your playing, do you feel pressure to deliver such Olympian-type performances?
DONEGAN I don’t feel any pressure. I don’t really think about it that much. I want the solos to serve a purpose but never as an excuse for me to show off. The majority of the time I try to play something that is influenced by what David is doing vocally or what the backing track is doing for me.
GW I find it hard to pinpoint your guitar influences—which is another way of saying you have a fairly unique style.
DONEGAN I don’t think it was ever one main guy. Of course, I was very influenced by classic metal bands: Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Queensrÿche, Metallica, Pantera… They were all powerful to me. I try to pick a little from all of the guitarists in those groups. And over the years, I’ve learned a lot from so many people. But there wasn’t really one player who made me pick up the guitar; it was more like everybody did.
GW You’re all over the whammy bar on “The Curse.” I don’t hear too much whammy action on the rest of the album.
DONEGAN Something about that song and the riff just made me want to go for it. Having more solos on this record than on anything else we’ve done, I guess I had a few tricks up my sleeve. Some songs had a little finger tapping, others had cool arpeggios. “The Curse” just kind of screamed out “whammy bar!” There have been players over the years—Dimebag and Randy Rhoads—who did amazing things with whammy bars, so maybe I just thought of them while I was playing.
GW As a player, do you ever feel restricted with your role in Disturbed and the music the band makes? Might you ever do a solo guitar record?
DONEGAN I don’t know. I don’t know where I would have the time to do that. I have my plate pretty full with Disturbed business. You know, we’ve worked so hard and been so dedicated to our fans—I wouldn’t want to deny them anything the band has to offer. Plus, I don’t know if I would feel right being away from the other guys. It feels…I don’t know…like cheating on your wife or something. [laughs] I’m not saying the grass couldn’t be greener on the other side, but you know…why chance it?
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