Disturbed: We met Pantera, we saved our pennies to buy their albums!
Overnight success was actually a long haul for Disturbed, Metal Hammer #30 sat down with the band in 2001 to talk about their landmark debut album, The Sickness
Intelligence is still a rare commodity in rock, occasionally even an off-putting one. With the instant ego inflation and meteoric rush of fame that being in a band can afford you, it’s understandable that we want our stars to be slightly taken over by the circus: dumb-as-y’like, and thrown into the mess to amuse us with idiot-savant pratfalls and the reassuring feeling that they won’t think about it all too much.
More importantly, in these times when bands are all starting to say the same things, the notion of intelligence is handed out like confetti: string a sentence together, sing about something other than titties ’n’ beer, have a coherent message, avoid all contact with Fieldy from Korn and it’s easy to be hailed as an ‘informed voice’, a ‘keenly self-aware’ model of rock’n’roll intelligentsia.
S’all horseshit, of course (lyrical monomania so often equals spiritual myopia), but when you speak to David Draiman of rising Chicago nu metal stars Disturbed, the first thing you notice is how intently he speaks, how he considers what he says before he says it, and how much of what he says shows he’s given – and gives – the world more thought than your average megalomaniac frontman.
With Disturbed’s debut album The Sickness riding high in the US, and the rest of the world anxious and ready to find out what all the fuss on the Ozzfest tour was all about, Metal Hammer spoke to the band on the eve of their sell-out debut UK Astoria show to ask them how they plan to spread The Sickness.
“From the beginning, what all of us realised was that this was a band of four individuals who prized their individuality above everything else,” explains David, speaking about the band’s formation.
“That connected me, Dan, Mike [Wengren – drums/programming] and Fuzz [bass] immediately because we knew none of us would take a back seat in this. It’s a democracy of conflicting personalities that creates something whole and coherent and real. With any one of us not in on that, the whole thing would fall apart. This came out of us, this grew from us like a sore. There wasn’t a specific band or bands we were trying to emulate. Yes, we each individually have our own influences, but it is truly a product of the four of us combining that makes our sound unique.”
“Me, Fuzz and Mike had had a band and we’d gone through so many lead singers we were wondering if we’d ever find one who was right,” says Dan. “It wasn’t so much that they were all bad singers, it’s just that there’s a real lack of ambition in rock music at the moment. People are really happy to just retread old ground and try and make a sound that’s as close to a facsimile of bands that they know are popular and successful.
“It’s rare to find other people who were intent on making something new. When David came in, we were totally just blown away that someone other than us wanted to be original, had the balls to come to music with something to offer, rather than going on others’ coat-tails.”
“Every single one of us is a perfectionist at what we do,” states David. “We don’t miss a thing. So many bands seem to think that music’s just indulgence, this excuse to say all the stupid shit you want. For us, music is about being concise, about focusing your ideas and your beliefs into the clearest communication you can. With four people engaged in that process of purification and formulation, it’s inevitable that the results are powerful. That’s what happened with The Sickness.”
If this all seems a little rags-to-riches at this point, think again. “This was a struggle for us,” says Dan. “We were from suburban Chicago and there really wasn’t a scene at all, apart from kind of vague alternative rock.”David continues: “Smashing Pumpkins, Liz Phair, Veruca Salt, yadayadayada… We were pretty much stunned for a while, and we had to build up a following and prove that we were an economically viable entity before some of the inner-city clubs booked us.”
So how are you coping with being liked?
“I’m constantly overwhelmed by it all,” says Dan. “The opportunities we’re getting now are just unbelievable, and it would be real easy to let them go to our heads. But at the same time, every time we meet one of our heroes it brings us back down to earth and makes us more determined to show the kind of determination they have. I mean, jeez, we’ve just been to Tommy Lee’s house, hung out with Pantera, hung out with bands like Static-X and Godsmack – bands that a year ago we were saving up pennies to buy their albums. It’s just insane!”
“A lot of our life in the past year has been totally fucking surreal,” says David. “Sometimes you snap back, realise where you are and it just destroys you – you cannot believe it’s happening to you. The other day, on Ozzfest, we were hanging around with Pantera. I’m sat there sharing a bottle of JD with Dimebag Darrell and Dan’s chatting with Phil Anselmo and we just suddenly look at each other and we’re smiling ’cos we just can’t believe it’s happening!”
“It’s a good reality check,” says Dan, “because no matter how well we’re doing, we’re talking with guys who have made four or five albums, have been in the business for years longer than us, and it makes you realise, ‘OK guys, calm down, you’ve made one album. There’s a hell of a lot longer to go yet.’”
“Right now, we’re all having to get used to the idea that what we love doing is what we’re doing,” says David. “That’s the oddest thing at the moment. But we’re confident because we know we’re on to something that no one else is. No one else sounds like us or says what we’re saying. Every band says that, I know, but for us it’s our raison d’être. We’re gonna keep on saying the unsayable and playing the unplayable and the fans will respond to that. Despite all of the people telling us we’ve cracked it, we’re nowhere near doing everything that we want to do yet.”
Do you want to be stars?
“I don’t think it’s about naked ambition or getting heard for the sake of it,” explains David. “I don’t wanna be a star in any conventional sense – I want to change the idea of what a star should do. A star shouldn’t back up or support the system that’s put them there – a star should question it, blow it apart. We live in a world where you’re barraged by stimuli – whether you open up a magazine or you turn on the TV, or your parents preach to you, or the church, or whatever you believe in. It’s not allowing you any ability on your own to develop yourself as an individual. Half the time I see teenie bands and even rock bands being all sweet and plastic and basically saying, ‘God bless the American way!’ and I just wanna rip their heads off – it’s so antithetical to my notions of art and expression that it’s like they’re speaking in Venusian or something.
“We can show the audience their own strength and create a situation where we can both – band and crowd – feed off each other’s strength; the strength that society calls a disease. Disturbed are viral.”
And catching. Get dosed up on The Sickness and realise things are only gonna get more intriguing the more time David Draiman can open his mouth and preach his perverted gospel. He’s got The Sickness and he’s got the remedy. Do you wanna be cured?
After an extended hiatus, Disturbed unexpectedly returned with 2015's Immortalized album. They joined Alexander Milas on the Metal Hammer Magazine Show to explain why they came back and where they'd been.
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From the archive
Disturbed are playing the Friday of Download festival, 2016. Tickets for Download are available via the official festival site with further artists to be announced in due course.