By: Adam Harrison (@AdamRHarrison) –
It is often the case with rock stars that the clothing doesn’t make the man; a truer statement could not be made for singer-songwriter, David Draiman. Best known for his seventeen years serving as the mastermind behind heavy metal band, Disturbed, he’s a man who is not afraid to explore touchy subjects like the politics of war, anti-Semitism or even suicide. Like a heavy metal Wizard of Oz, on stage Draiman comes off as an intimidating hard ass, accentuated by his signature scowl and chin rings, but the man behind the curtain couldn’t be further from that. From the second you share words with Draiman, he is genuine and approachable.
Currently on hiatus from Disturbed, he’s started a new industrial metal project called Device with Geno Lenardo, formerly of Filter. While in Toronto, finishing up the 2013 edition of Gigantour with heavy metal legends, Megadeth, Draiman and the touring members of Device sat down with us to talk about their new direction before their last set on tour.
Draiman explains the idea for Device stemmed from a song he was working on with Lenardo for the Underworld Awakening soundtrack called “Hunted,” which can now be found on Device’s self-titled debut album. “Geno kind of comes from that world, he’s a student. You know, the wax tracks era of Chicago.” He expands, “His expertise at the sound design, the electronic and the palette that really comes from that era is fantastic.” He refers to “Hunted”, “It was really that first song that became the template stylistically for where we went with the rest of the songs on the record. We wanted them to have the same level of saturation, of electronica, and to have those textures and those voices be reminiscent and reflective of that era from a sound design perspective.” It’s interesting to see how the music adapted from there, as “Hunted” never made it to the final Underworld Awakening soundtrack, nor was it a single released by Device.
Although Lenardo wrote the album with Draiman, he doesn’t tour with Device. Instead, Will Hunt and Virus join Draiman on the road. Hunt, an experienced drummer who has played with Skrape, Static-X, Black Label Society, and even filled in for Tommy Lee in Mötley Crüe, is also the current drummer for Evanescence, Dark New Day and SOiL. Virus, who is most recognized for his work with Dope, also tours on the regular. Including the lead guitar role for American Idol finalist and Tony Award nominated Rock of Ages vocalist Constantine Maroulis, which eventually got him a spot on the Broadway show itself. He’s also been a touring member of Lords of Acid and Big & Rich.
When asked how this group of misfits came together, Draiman explains “I’ve known Will for years and years and years. We originally met back in the day when he was in a band called Skrape.” Hunt, obviously the joker in the band, jumps in, “If you take the ‘S’ and the ‘E’ off, it’s crap.” After a good laugh, Draiman continues “Will came into the fold because he was one of the first people to hear any bit of music that Geno and I created initially… when it was just being mixed in Ben Gross’ studio. Will was also doing some work there.” “Ripped my face off,” Hunt exclaims. He tells us his parting words to Lenardo before going back on tour with Evanescence were “Hey man, if this turns into something, please call me. I love this music, it’s awesome, it’s out of the box, it’s futuristic, it’s everything I love.” Six months later, while Hunt was in Beirut, Lebanon with Evanescence, Lenardo reached out to him via Facebook to let him know Device was a go. “I’m like wow, I heard [five] more songs and “Hunted” completed and they were all as good if not better than “Hunted” and I was just blown away. I said sign me up.” The timing was right and Hunt joined the band.
Draiman explains it was Hunt who suggested bringing Virus aboard. “Virus and I had just met a couple of years prior at Navy Pier in Chicago and we were both hanging out with our respective families. It was just ironic that he mentioned it.” They got together at Draiman’s home in Austin, Texas; just to make sure they had energy as a unit. “I didn’t have to test either one of these two guys’ abilities, nobody needed to audition, I knew how good they are.”
Draiman comes from a very different history, only being in one other band prior to Device. “Let me count the ways,” he says in reference to how working with Device differs from Disturbed. “Let me talk about things that are relatively neutral.” He first states the obvious facts that stylistically they are very different and Device doesn’t perform with a bass player. He then expands, “We have a much heavier saturation of electronica… We also incorporate different aspects of the electronic hits within both Virus and Will’s individual instrumentation. [Virus] has keys within his guitar that actually triggers certain parts of the sound design that you hear. And Will will have his pads activated above the kit to trigger different things as well.” Draiman feels there is a lot more pressure on them in Device and describes the expectations as being much different from Disturbed “I don’t have this arsenal of radio hits and material that everyone is aware of, that they’re waiting for the minute you hit that stage. It’s a much harder battle, we have to fight to win people over because the awareness of the record is not as great.”
Draiman feels refreshed being in Device after seventeen years with Disturbed. “It’s really nice expanding our horizons creatively and just being able to play with other artists. It’s nice to learn from these guys.” Hunt agrees, “I’ve been in twenty bands… But that’s the thing about it that’s cool, like he said, getting to play with all these different people. That’s part of why I do it. I’m so lucky that I get to play different styles of rock music, but all of it’s very different. So for me and [Device], it’s kind of the same deal, but with him being in Disturbed for so long, this is kind of the first time he’s been able to do something like this.”
Draiman, now a married man for almost two years to former WWE Diva Lena Yada, embraces his wife every minute he’s not working. He even showed her off on stage during their set. Yada is currently seven months pregnant with their future son, Samuel Bear Draiman. He tells us that he’s been having dreams of himself singing to his son. About following in his footsteps, Draiman responds, “I think that with any child, the first thing that comes is voice. Who knows if I’ll get him to mimic… I’ll be supportive of whatever my son wants to embrace.”
Considering some of the troubled moments of his early life, it’s somewhat surprising that Draiman is such a humble character. But don’t mistake Draiman’s sincerity for being a push over. During the first song of their set in Toronto, an arrogant, bad-mannered critic of his gets Draiman’s attention, provoking him to throw water. “You’re lucky it wasn’t full of piss,” Draiman stated. “Whether you like us or not, you will respect us,” he continued, “there is always one bad apple that ruins it for everyone.” However, he doesn’t let the event get to him and happily continues the show.
It’s those dark memories of his past that are the basis for many of Draiman’s songs. For example, when he was just 16, his girlfriend committed suicide. Later the subject of Disturbed’s hit single “Inside the Fire” was the description of this experience. Turning something tragic into something positive, Draiman explains that it’s the music that speaks to him first before he writes any such songs. “What I end up feeling from the melodies and the rhythms are really what takes me to a place and time, a memory or an emotion, or a scenario and situation that I happen to be particularly passionate about.” Just like any artist, Draiman’s work is an extension of himself. “Much like a sculpture, a song is a piece of art that you need to pull the layers away from. You need to chisel a way to find the art that’s already there within you. You need to reveal it. It’s speaks to you, so you need to be able to listen and hear it and respond to that.”
Also not unlike many musicians, Draiman has a particular aid when writing songs. “Typically, I get really, really high,” he states light-heartedly, “It’s the truth, my wife will attest to it.” He mentions however that the use of marijuana wasn’t as prominent in his recent work with Device as well as the work he was doing with Trivium on their latest record. “But I need peace,” he explains, “That’s the most operative aspect of why in the past I’ve always smoked a little weed and got into the shower and let my thoughts go and let the melodies kind of develop and try to find the openings within the musicality. To find where I could fit my cadence, where I could fit my melodies.” He stresses on the importance of relaxation. “If you can not overstress about it and not overanalyze it, you step away from it for a minute, and let it just envelope you… It really requires a certain level of almost meditation, to kind of put yourself in the mindset of being able to create.” He concludes on his use of the drug, “I don’t know if I’d necessary call it a ritual, but it’s definitely a necessary catalyst.”
The Device album features guest appearances from some of hard rock’s most iconic heavy hitters like Serj Tankian of System of a Down, Geezer Butler of Black Sabbath and Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave. Draiman voices his pleasures in working with these figures and stresses that he’d rather ask them to contribute than construct. “I’ve always thought it was pimpy when somebody tries to approach another artist when they’re at that point in the record and say “hey, would you write something for me?” I’m not doing that, I don’t want to be presumptuous, but I would love to have your performance, I would love to have your voice. If we can make it as original as you’d like to make it and as unique to yourself, let’s do it.” Draiman’s genuineness shines as he describes their contribution to the Device record. “Serge actually added a couple of his own cascading harmonies that he does in his eastern type of delivery in the end, which was fantastic. Tom came up with his own thing entirely just based on the direction that I wanted him to go in… I basically asked him to give me some of his high frequency, his wizardry, and to rip a solo and he just killed it. He can make one instrument sound like a million, its unbelievable.” He continues to list them off, “With M Shadows from Avenged [Sevenfold], he also came up with some really great harmonies and my God, Geezer’s tone and his definition and his attack on “Out of Line” make it the heaviest track on the record, by far. Glenn Hughes, him taking the melody I had written to heights that I could not even physically attain without a lot of effort, which he does effortlessly, was staggering to me. His abilities are just inhuman. Lzzy [Hale] as well, she is so damn good, so bulletproof, so resonant, and it comes so effortless out of her and she’s so easy to work with.”
Draiman says he has a laundry list of others he’d love to work with, but his top three would be James Hetfield, Ozzy Osbourne and Bruce Dickenson. “I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of them,” Virus jokes. He mentions more names like Jonathan Davis, Al Jourgensen and Trent Reznor, who he approached during the making of this Device record, but was unfortunately unavailable. “I’d love Amy Lee (of Evanescence) to do something with us in the future,” he says as he looks over at Hunt. “I’m open to collaborating with any of the artists that I respect and admire.”
Draiman voices his concerns with the current state of the music industry and it’s future for such people as his son growing up. “It is the most difficult environment in the history of professional music to be a professional musician. Obviously the Internet has a huge role in that occurring. The ability that we have nowadays to get information out as efficiently as we do and to expose new things as efficiently as we do is a double-edged sword. I think that the industry is in a state of crisis and trying to reinvent itself as we speak.” He reassures though that he has tremendous hope. “I’m a big believer in platforms like Spotify and what they’re doing to try to combat piracy and to still bring music to the masses in a very cost efficient and affordable way but still having a level of fidelity and availability and incentivizing people to become a part of it as opposed to trying to just pull something of a bit torrent site that sounds like crap.” Proving that he’s obviously done his research, Draiman shares some specific stats. “I love what it’s done in Sweden in particular, in terms of now 70% of the market share is streaming and that their percentage of actual music sales as a result of the streaming entity has risen by 60%. There are some definitive and demonstrative steps that have been taken and I am very hopeful.” He continues to be positive, “The one thing that is incredibly encouraging, even in the age of the Internet, is that it is very clear that there has never been a stronger desire for music, people definitely want it, people definitely thirst for it. So as long as that’s there and as long as there are those of us who continue to try to fill that need and do it in a powerful manner, in a manner that actually brings quality to the situation. I think that music isn’t going anywhere any time soon, it’ll just metamorphose and pivot the way anything else does.”
It’s clear that his accomplishments with Disturbed sastisfy Draiman, and at the same time he’s passionate and optimistic about his future with Device. Their debut album is nothing short of impressive but somewhat flew under the radar. However the same can be said about Disturbed’s inauguration. It’s no doubt that his immense talent, hard work and expressive personality will aid him on his newest journey with Device as it did with Disturbed.