Disturbed is back with a new record that has a strong “back to the roots” vibe. RockUrLife tried to find out more about this new release by talking to Dan Donegan, guitar player for the legendary nu metal band.
This new record Divisive is much more guitar oriented, closer to what you did on The Sickness, could you tell us a bit about your state of mind when you were creating these new songs?
Dan Donegan (guitare): We got probably nearly 200 songs together for this album. We always try to challenge each other and do new things and try to develop as songwriters and show different sides to the band. Like with our last album Evolution being half acoustic and half electric. So this time around, we branched out to show other flavors of the band in the songwriting. We wanted to come back to the core key elements of this band. From the beginning of those heavy guitarists and that big, syncopated drum and the more animalistic side of David‘s vocals as well. So even though we discussed it, that’s where we wanted to see it go. It really had to come down to like. Picking up our instruments, getting in the room together and just naturally see if it would take us there and it did it. We were in that mindset and especially after being. After the world stopping with COVID and having all this time off, there was a lot of pent-up anger and frustration of having everybody having their lives taken away from them for some time. Having to figure out a new way of life and how to get through this lockdown and the mental toll it can take on you and all of us and I think that helped influence a lot of that heaviness of this album.
It’s pleasant to hear you go back to your heavy roots.
Dan: Yeah. It was just trying to get all that, that big sound back, those big heavy guitars and just that empowering feeling. And there’s only one power ballad on the album, “Don’t Tell Me” but it’s always nice to kind of try to branch out and just show those different elements. It was just an emotion you feel that day. I didn’t feel like writing something super heavy. I felt like writing a ballad.
There is a lot of work on the songs with special effects, electronic touches and different sonorities to sound maybe more modern or to try to have more impact. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Dan: I think I’ve always liked some other electronic elements. We grew up, me and David especially, into some of the Chicago industrial sound in the early days of bands like Ministry. And there was a good industrial scene coming through here and even bands like Nine inch Nails used to come through Chicago. We are influenced by that scene. So, I like the electronic element in there. And even if you listen back to our album The Sickness there was some of those electronics with the gain. A lot of that was just me experimenting, I wasn’t really much of a keyboardist or anything like that. It was just me basically going out and buying a keyboard and a sequence or just turning knobs and pressing keys.
We were just making noise. It was fun and it was experimental, and we wanted to kind of bring a little bit more of that back this time around. And that was a big reason why we seeked out Drew Falk, the producer that we used for this album. I wanted somebody who was young and fresh and hungry and somebody that might help us bring a little bit more of that modern technology to the sound of Disturbed. And I think it was just a great chemistry. I just found myself excited, every day going to the studio. We were starting to uncover new things with the band. And once we were feeling it out, it was it’s like having it. He wanted to be a fifth member to the band. We opened that door to let him in. And we started gaining that trust with his ability and allowing him to help shape some of these songs with us.
You mentioned that there is a song that really stands out in the record, it’s “Don’t Tell Me” The song is a duo with Ann Wilson. It is something that none of us expected from you. So could you tell us a bit about how you met how you decided to work together?
Dan: As people are learning from us, sometimes you don’t know what to expect from us because we’ll throw a curveball every now and then. Just like we did with the last album of having half of it acoustic and or when we did our version of “The Sound Of Silence”. People didn’t expect those departures we take. But I like being unpredictable. I like not doing stuff that the fans will expect. We’ve always loved Ann Wilson and Heart. She’s probably the best female vocalist in the rock industry. In our opinions she’s always mentioned in the top three, probably in everybody’s opinions I would think. And a few years back she was doing an interview and she tweeted about it. Somebody had asked her if there was anything new that she found inspiring and she said: “Disturbed, “The Sound Of Silence”“. At that time, we were excited because she knew of the band and that was enough for us. Like: “Oh my God, she knows that we exist? And she said the band’s name!“. That was just exciting enough for us to know that we were acknowledged by a rock legend like her. That kind of opened the door. I think David messaged her a couple times through social media and they started writing to each other. I had a different ballad at the time that I was working on. David was working out the melodies and it was good, but it just wasn’t quite there yet. It just didn’t feel like it was a home run. It felt like it was just an OK song. One day I came into the studio, I felt really creative, and I said to Drew: “well, let’s just start over“. And me and him started working on the music and immediately the guitar part came out of nowhere. We did not tell David anything, and when heard the music he started just coming up with a melody and it already just felt better.
So how did it turn into a duet?
Dan: As he went further with the melody, David said that this could be a duet. Ann was at the top of the list of people in mind and we thought we would try to get her to sin on this. He reached out to her. He mentioned it to her and almost instantly she’s said, yest. We were really excited about it. We wanted to make it as easy on her as possible. We waited for her to tell us what her schedule was, and we flew out to San Francisco. Me, David and Drew. We found a smaller studio inland, I think closer towards Oakland, CA or something. Ann came out, walked in the door ready to work. Very professional, working on the harmonies with David. It was amazing just to be in the room and watch the two of them just work out these harmonies. I’m just like sitting on the couch in the studio, in the control room, I felt like a little kid watching Ann Wilson singing with my singer, working out these parts. She probably sang for about two or three hours of just working out the parts and laying down the tracks and. It was just amazing. She left her room and I and I was just, I think we were all in shock of like: “WOW, did that really just happen?“. I hope that the fans really love it as much as we do. I think that the old school fans and our generation of fans are going to really respect the fact that it’s like a badge of honor.
How did she react when she listened to the to the song when it was complete?
Dan: I haven’t spoke to her personally. I’m hoping that she loves, the final outcome of it. I would imagine so because the performance is so great and their voices sound amazing together. David is my favorite singer, my favorite male vocalist and rock. To have the two of them sing together is heaven.
When you recorded “The Sound Of Silence” you didn’t think that the success will open so many doors for you. But now that it has, is it a burden or a chance for you? Did it put more pressure on you because you attracted all these people who fell in love with your music though this song?
Dan: “The Sound Of Silence” was like catching lightning in a bottle. It was just one of those things. It just got big. I don’t look for approval and I don’t do it for other people. If it was that easy, then everybody would know that formula and everybody would do it for success. We do it for ourselves to challenge ourselves to try. The only critics I’m worried about is my writing partners in the band. I write to inspire them. I try to write music that inspires David to want to sing to you. That’s all I’m worried about and luckily, we have a fan base that can relate to the songs. When we do cover songs, it pushes us because we’re not just covering the song. We’re trying to make it Disturbed; we’re trying to walk that fine line keeping it authentic and paying respect to the to the original artist who wrote it. But how could we put our stamp on it to take a little bit of ownership too, to make it sound different enough to make it Disturbed. And so, when we did “The Sound Of Silence” the first reaction was, well, it’s a slow song. Everybody would think you were going to make it heavy. And at that time, I remember saying to David and the guys, I don’t wanna do that. That seems just like predictable and think that’s where we would go with it. I just thought it would be more challenging to keep it slow. How do we take a slow song and keep it slow and make it different enough. I knew it was going to be experimental, but I said: “I think we could do it in a way to make it darker and more haunting“. Piano and orchestra are elements that could set the vibe and create a better music for David to allow him to show his vocal ability. If he would have done a heavy version of it, it would have probably done a cool and heavy version. It might be more typical Disturbed with heavy riff, heavy drums animalistic David. But I really wanted the song to push David vocally to. Our producer helped shape that song with us. He gave David some guidance and some input on where I wanted to go sonically. He helped with the arrangement of the strings and helped David finding the right key for him to sing and to be able to build that song vocally. The original song is great. It’s just one guitar, straight folk performance with great harmonies, but there’s not really peaks and valleys in the song. That’s one thing that we really wanted to bring out.
You say that you are writing to inspire your bandmates. Is that the secret for such a steady lineup?
Dan: We just feel that we’re honest with ourselves, we write about songs, lyrically that means something to us, whether it’s relationship issues or just thing or just a world events, things that’s going on. We don’t push that stuff down people’s throats. We’re not trying to force them to believe what we don’t even agree on. Those things that are important to us. We’re just fortunate. And we realize that there’s an audience that can relate. There are people that can find it’s not gonna be every song, but they might not relate to certain songs. They might not relate to “Don’t Tell Me” or maybe they do, or they might not relate to “Unstoppable” but we’re we always try to have enough of a variety in there that hopefully they get something within the group of songs that helps them through life or through difficult times. We always try to for the most part have songs that are empowering and uplifting to help you through tough times.
You were supposed to celebrate the anniversary for The Sickness, but unfortunately due to the pandemic you didn’t have the chance to go on tour and to have the right festivities to really enjoy this moment. So, is there anything new coming up? Like a your tour with a callback to The Sickness?
Dan: We wanna get back on the road. We obviously deal with COVID and that’s slowing down the whole it’s stopping the world but slowing down the music industry and in the touring world it was tough on a lot of bands, and it’s been a slow comeback. I know so many bands have come back already, it’s becoming difficult. More and lore bands are canceling because of inflation and how hard it is. Production costs and how hard it is to even travel out outside the US. I’m hoping that things can improve in time. It’s our intentions to get back out on the road in 2023 and to do some tours. We plan that we want to come back to Europe. It’s definitely something that’s in the works right now. It’s out of our hands. It’s more in the hands of the promoters.
We need to hear it live because David said that the idea behind this record is to broadcast a wakeup call to show that we have much more to gain being together. That’s a powerful message and we think that’s something that you need to put out there.
Dan: Music brings people together. Music in general, no matter what artist you are, there’s so much division in the world these days, especially here in in the in the United States. It’s been very difficult to see people and the country so divided lately. Music is just that chance for us to escape all the chaos in the world and for people to come in the room together and no matter what race or color or religion or rich or poor. It doesn’t matter. You’re in a room and you’re sharing that moment and it’s the one place you can go to really be united when everybody can be so different. Outside of that, it’s just we forget about those differences, and we unite, and we enjoy a moment together. We have that escape.
And that’s what we need right now. So, last question: as our website is called RockUrLife, what rocks your life, Dan?
Dan: It’s a big question. My kids rocked my life. My two teenage kids they always keep me grounded. To them I’m just the dad who’s embarrassing them all the time. I’ll do something kind of dorky because that is our role as parents to try to embarrass our kids. They grew up in this lifestyle. They grew up on the road a lot with me. They came out a lot on tour and they love what I what I do. They love the fact that I might have certain perks to get them into other concerts because they’d rather go see some other bands. So, it’s kind of funny. It’s not like they’re #1 Disturbed fans. They’re like, dad, could you give me tickets to go see Harry Styles or tickets to see Kanye West or somebody else? They’re good kids and they keep me laughing on a daily basis. And that’s really what it’s all about. To be able to feel good and to laugh. you need people to make you laugh. And, besides my kids, it’s music and friendships and the fans. The fans have always been there for us. I’d be lost without music. If you’re an athlete, you look for those songs that pump you up. If you’re going to the gym to work out, you want songs like “Unstoppable” and “Indestructible”. And if you’re going through dark times and you need something encouraging and we’ve had songs like “A Reason To Fight” off the last album that touched on addiction drug or alcohol, or depression or suicide and we try to have those songs because we relate to that. We’ve had family members or friends that have gone down some of those dark roads. We have those songs that the Disturbed fans could turn to for first empowerment of getting through those tough times. That’s wat rocks my life.