Few rock and metal vocalists are as well-spoken, candid, and interesting as David Draiman, best known for his extraordinary vocal talents in Chicago-based hard rock band Disturbed. Now, Draiman is unleashing a new band, Device – a delightfully abrasive, rhythmic attack of industrial-flavored, heavy, hard rock music guaranteed to floor longtime followers and newcomers alike. Device’s debut, slated to arrive in stores Tuesday, April 9th, is intense, energetic and volatile, yet contagiously melodic, intelligent, and remarkably catchy. There are moments of goosebump-evoking, overwhelming emotion (“Through It All”, a genuinely beautiful song which Draiman penned for his wife) and hints of haunting, frenetic ferocity (“Penance” and “Vilify”).
And despite Draiman’s unmistakable and inimitable vocal delivery, to label Device as Disturbed, Part 2 would be a grave mistake. With all due respect to the immense talent of Disturbed, it should be made clear early on that Device can hold its own.
Sheila Esmaili-Doki, Music Examiner, had the opportunity to speak with the man himself by phone on April 8th about the new release, the clear differences between the two bands, the impressive lineup of guest musicians on Device’s debut, and much more — read on.
Sheila Esmaili-Doki: This is the day before the Device album release – exciting! Congratulations.
David Draiman: Thank you. I’m nervous as hell. (laughs)
SE: The record is phenomenal. I’m a longtime Disturbed fan, but there are so many new and unexpected elements in Device’s sound. What is the origin of Device’s band name?
DD: You know, the band name came after the band. We needed to find a name to fit what we had created, and not only that, to find something that wasn’t taken…so it was difficult. We scoured the Internet, and scoured with my attorneys, and…you name it. We ended up choosing Device because of what the name implies. The name implies intelligent design. It implies the utilization of technology. And it implies explosive nature…all of which are indicative of what Device delivers.
SE: Absolutely. This is your first non-Disturbed project, aside from your Queen of the Damned contribution – “Forsaken”, a Jonathan Davis song. Why is this the perfect time to unleash Device upon the world? Was Device something thought of after Disturbed’s hiatus began, or prior to that?
DD: It really wasn’t planned, to be honest. The hiatus was meant for the world, and for us, to simply take a break from the machine of Disturbed: the make a record, tour, make a record, tour monotony and predictability – for us to finally have a chance to do anything other than what was so all-encompassing for 16 years. (laughs) I always had these intentions of potentially producing other bands – which is why I produced the Trivium record – or co-writing with some other artists, which is why I did some work with Dave Mustaine from Megadeth for the new Megadeth record. It was never my intention to start another project. That really came together quite by accident. Geno Lenardo, formerly from Filter, an old friend of mine from way back in the day – we met originally at Pukkelpop Festival in Belgium when he was still in Filter. He’s a local Chicago guy, I’m a local Chicago guy. We used to run into each other out on the scene from time to time. He reached out to me and said he was doing a bunch of tracks on the Underworld: Awakening soundtrack; he’d done one with Pete from Chevelle and he’d done one one with Lacey from Flyleaf. He had some music in mind for me, so I said, “Yeah, go ahead and send it to me.” I listened to it, and loved it, and obsessed over it the entire night, and wrote an amazing song out of it. I called him the next day and said, “Dude, this is hot…we have to track this.” Flew to Chicago the next week so that I could get it tracked in time so that it could be delivered to Lakeshore…just before we were about to leave with Disturbed for South America. Tracked it, mixed it, delivered it, Lakeshore loved it, wanted to use it as a lead track on their soundtrack, but there was a conflict because we were working a song from the Disturbed B-Sides compilation, The Lost Children – a track called “Hell” – at radio, and we didn’t want the two tracks to be fighting each other. So we decided to hold on to the song that Geno and I had written, which is called “Hunted”. Now that song continued to germinate in our brain. We listened to it, in our spare time, brought it with me to the gym…it really grew on us. So after a month or so, we started talking about writing some more. I said to him, “It’s clear we have some writing chemistry – why don’t we try writing together a little bit more, see what comes of it – maybe we can sell the songs.” It was never really with the intention of making another group. In March of 2012, Geno came to my home in Austin, Texas, for the first of two two-week writing sessions. And those two two-week writing sessions gave birth to the material that became the Device record.
SE: How did you approach the recording and writing process differently with Device than with Disturbed, particularly in terms of your vocal delivery and your lyrics? What could you do with Device that you had not really ventured into with Disturbed?
DD: It was different on multiple levels. It was different even from a musical perspective because I got to be there with Geno as he was crafting his sound design electronically, as well. I really got to be more hands-on and involved with that as well. But, it was really nice to not have to worry about what Disturbed had to be, and what was appropriate for the band. You know, for example, a track like “Through It All”, or a track like “Haze”, or the “Close My Eyes Forever” cover with Lzzy Hale (Halestorm)…or even the way that the chorus is sung in the opening track on the record, “You Think You Know”. All of those styles really wouldn’t have been appropriate on a Disturbed record. It was nice to be able to go ‘outside the box’ a bit and try some more classical delivery, try some more purely sung deliveries, and try some different textures and vibes. I definitely will never divorce myself from the rhythmic, tightened cadence – sort of rapid-fire delivery – that I’m known for. It’s something I’ve been doing since even prior to Disturbed. I’ve always been a very big lover of rhythm, and will never really free myself from that, nor do I want to. (laughs) It just feels right. So that’s why you hear still…me sounding the way that I normally would, on a track, let’s say, like “Vilify” or something like that. It’s just a powerful and comfortable spot to go to sometimes. But, this definitely did give me the opportunity – on the tracks that I elaborated on before – to really spread my wings a bit, and go in some different creative directions, which was really refreshing.
SE: It is. Your voice is one of the most distinctive in hard rock and metal, but aside from that, I don’t hear many familiar Disturbed elements. Initially, this whole thing fell together accidentally, but during the writing process, did you plan for the record to be so varied? You go from a track like “Through It All” to “Vilify”, a more aggressive track; did you initially intend for it to be this versatile?
DD: No. I don’t think there was a game plan, so to speak. I think for most musicians, when you approach something like this scientifically, you’re doomed to fail. You really have to listen to what the music tells you. I’m a big believer in that. The song lets you know where to go. You’re simply revealing the piece of art that’s lying dormant within the excess that you have to chip away, much like a sculptor creating a statue. You simply have to listen and let it dictate to you where you are to go. The music will always tell you.
SE: This is an all-star lineup of guest appearances – Serj Tankian (System of a Down), Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine/Audioslave) – who was the first person you initially reached out to after you and Geno had written the songs?
DD: That would be Lzzy. That is because we’d had conversations about doing the cover for years, ever since Lzzy first supported Disturbed back in the day with Halestorm. And I had thought about doing this song as a cover – not necessarily with her, but as a cover in general – way prior to that. That was the only one that was planned, to be honest. The others kind of came together within a number of days. I was mixing the record in L.A. All of the tracks were already tracked with my vocals on them, even “Close My Eyes” was tracked with my vocals and Lzzy’s parts – so she’d have a guide track when I went to work with her, so it’d be easier for her to know where to go. But all of the appearances really were, again, another matter if fate, if you will. Tom and Serj and I have been friends for years. We often get together for dinner when I come into Los Angeles and catch up. It was something we’d talked about from time to time, about collaborating on something, doing something for charity, or for a soundtrack, or something like that. So, with our respective main projects, we never entertained the notion of guests. But with Device, there were no preconceived notions or rules, so I figured, ‘What the hell?’ We were at the tail end of the mixing sessions, like I said, and all the things had been tracked and mixed, I was actually two songs away from completing the mix. Serj had invited us over for dinner – my wife and I – two nights before the end of the mix. And Tom came over as well, and I’d brought Geno with me. It was actually that night that we ended up solidifying their arrangements. We ended up deciding to donate half of the proceeds from both of the tracks that they contributed to to the Axis of Justice charity – doing a little bit of good with the record as well. Then the next day I was invited by my friend Glenn Hughes to his autobiography release and book signing at the John Varvatos store in Malibu. Went to go see him, he did an acoustic performance, killed it – as he always does – with his inhuman ability, it just blew me away. And I thought, ‘you know – now that I’m entertaining the notion of guests, his voice would sound amazing on “Through It All”.’ And I went up to him and talked to him about it. And he was like, “You know what, I’d love to do it.” He invited myself and my wife to dinner with him and his wife, Gabby, later that night – we were having dinner conversation and sitting at the table is Geezer Butler and Kenny Aronoff, and a bunch of other very esteemed and accomplished musicians, and it came up that Glenn had decided to contribute. Geezer and I had just reconnected at the Dimebash event that year in L.A. We had known each other since the early Ozzfest days. I said, “Glenn’s on it – would you like to be on it as well?” He said, “Sure, I’d love to.” You know, he even set some time aside from the Sabbath sessions to track it. So, within a couple days of just catching up with friends in Los Angeles, I suddenly had five guests on the record. And so with “Haze”, the one that M. Shadows (Avenged Sevenfold) guests on, I had always had in the back of my mind the idea that it would be really cool to have another very strong, distinctive male vocal on a track – and who is stronger and more distinctive than Mr. M. Shadows? I am very, very proud of what that band has grown into, the leviathan that they have grown into; I have been privileged to be friends with them over the years and tour with them. I’m just completely humbled, overwhelmed, and so, so grateful for everybody’s mighty contributions to this record.
SE: Especially “Out of Line”, with Serj and Geezer Butler – that is an outstanding song. Can you tell me about the meaning of that song?
DD: It’s basically calling out all the injustices of the world, all of the dictators, tyrants, and maniacs out there who continue to perpetuate death and destruction, strip rights away from normal human beings on the face of this planet. It seemed a very appropriate song for Serj to come on (laughs). “Opinion” is kind of in the same vein. We definitely picked the two most politically charged songs on the record for those two to guest on.
SE: So you had already written the lyrics before you got Serj and Tom to guest on those songs?
DD: Yes, the songs were written in their entirety. However, Serj came up with a couple really cool harmony lines that we threw in as overdubs in the chorus, the outro chorus – and Tom wrote a solo for the bridge of “Opinion” and blended some of his own high frequency magic into the mix – it was really, really amazing, getting things to the point where they are at the tail-end of things.
SE: Let’s talk about the first single “Vilify”, which might be the most familiar feeling to Disturbed fans, even though it is entirely its own entity. Can you tell me about the video for that, the futuristic, technology theme of it?
DD: That’s all Paul Brown’s vision – I have to credit him completely, I had nothing to do with it (laughs). It was all his brilliant vision — and my gorgeous wife (Lena Yada) as the model, the android. The idea is that we as society are slaves to technology, and that is what the black circuitry, the goo that they’re all trying to escape from signifies or symbolizes. The white android is the idea of the new device, the entity, the machine, the one pure element, the pure, powerful element, that is born from this sea of blackness, from the mass, over-abundance of technology that we surround ourselves with.
SE: It is everywhere. On the topic of technology, changes, and that — things like Spotify, downloading – things which have arrived since Disturbed’s inception, what are the most significant changes you’ve seen?
DD: Oh my God, I don’t know if we have time to completely elaborate on an answer to that question (laughs). I am a big believer of Spotify. I have been since its inception. I have been a champion of it. I am their ambassador of rock. So I could not be more happy with its continued growth and continued success. I think that it’s a beautiful way to take away the demonization of the consumer, and enable people to have access to as much music as they possibly can, whenever they want, as long as they have a 3G signal or better, and even if they don’t have that, they can save it to the memory cache, the PDA, on their computer. It’s a perfect utilization of the technology, and it takes all of the attractiveness away from illegal file sharing because you get access to all of this material at a high level of sound quality for a very reasonable price, and/or for free, if you’re subscribing to the Premium level, and at the same time, there still is a revenue stream directed back to the artist. No one is being stolen from, people are being compensated, and everybody’s happy. That is really what I wish would have happened 10 years ago – 15 years ago, even. I had always been pushing the record labels in particular to negotiate directly with the ISPs way back in the day. We’re talking 10 years ago, there were 70 million people subscribing to ISPs. If you built in a fee into that subscription price, $2.50, $5.00, whatever the case may be – and that entitled you to unlimited file sharing, bonuses, extras, early releases, and so on and so forth – who wouldn’t be down for it? And then all of a sudden 70 million people times $5.00 a month is a whole lot of revenue that everybody’s been missing out on. It takes away the demonization from the consumer, you don’t have the RIAA filing lawsuits against kids for not buying products anymore..that’s what I wanted to happen for years and years, it took something like Spotify to actually make it feasible for everyone. I really thank God for it.
SE: Disturbed did several tours with elaborate stage shows, yet some were really simple and to-the-point. What is to be expected of Device’s live show?
DD: Lean and mean (laughs). Lean and mean out of the gate. This is a baby band. We’re not going to have fire and explosives right out the gate. I think that it’s definitely going to be tasteful, but it’s going to be the songs that do the talking for us, and the power of our performances, the way that old school rock should be. I know we’re definitely doing it with a new flavor and a new edge. That’s really where our heart is at. Don’t get me wrong, we’ll definitely still fit the vibe – I’m still very, very much driven to theatricality, so there will definitely be elements of that in the performance, but it’s going to be projection, the power of these songs – when people hear these live versions of them, which I’m so excited to have been playing for the past couple of days with the band, I think they’re going to be blown away.
SE: And the live experience is the topic of “Haze” – as you mentioned earlier, the song with M. Shadows – how would you describe your inspiration for writing this song about that intoxicating feeling of live performance?
DD: It’s my most – or I should say, my last (laughs) – addiction. The one that I will never be free of, and the one that I never want to be free of. It really is the most intoxicating sensation of existence. I have really been – I don’t know if you want to call it ‘blessed’ (laughs) – but I have been able to taste many of the vices in life and the pleasures, and nothing compares to it. So, this is our acknowledgement of our favorite addiction, of our thirst for playing live, it seemed to be a very fitting tribute.
SE: You have always been known for doing a lot of interacting with fans on your Twitter account, and even back in the day, posting frequently on the Disturbed message boards. What do you feel is the importance of that, connecting really well with the fanbase? It is a great thing, and a very rare thing.
DD: I think, you know, we owe everything to them. When I started my Twitter page a little less than two years ago, I did it with the intention exclusively, like if I do this, I’m not doing a play-by-play of what I do throughout the day, like a lot of people utilize it for… that’s not really my thing – I use it as a means of Question-and-Answer with the fanbase, trying to help people with their problems, trying to give them a little bit of strength and encouragement, maybe a bright moment for their day, to let them know what’s going on inside my head, the things that I believe in, the things that are important to me, the things that I think people should be aware of. I try to treat it responsibly and to really utilize it as a good, connective means to the people who give us life and, I’ll never ever forget that.
SE: Are there any new albums or new bands you have been listening to lately which have really impressed you?
DD: Right now, I can’t stop listening to the new Trivium record I just finished [producing]. It’s epic, and I’ve said this before, it’s a defining moment in their career. I’ve been listening to the new Sevendust record – loving it – and I heard a bunch of snippets off of House of Gold and Bones, Part 2, the new Stone Sour. I heard a bunch of the new Volbeat which is coming out. I’m really excited about all these records. I think we have a banner year ahead of us for rock. There are so many powerful releases coming. And I’m super-excited about Sabbath – can’t wait to really get a full grasp of that. The Alice in Chains record, I’ve been listening to a bunch of the songs from it. There’s almost too much (laughs). It’s hard to keep your attention focused, there’s a lot of good stuff out there.
SE: I didn’t think anything could possibly top the Alice in Chains record coming out, based on the couple songs I’ve heard from that, but this Device is simply tremendous, it’s outstanding.
DD: Thank you. I am completely flattered – thank you.
SE: When it comes to the future of Device, you have spoken of Disturbed returning – it is a hiatus, not a breakup – is it too early to say if there will be more Device coming up?
DD: There will definitely be more Device coming up – it’s not too early to say. This… has become too important. It has become too significant. These songs are commanding that; the nature of this record commands it, it’s kind of out of my hands (laughs). You can be the proud papa…and you can try and raise the child as best as you can, but ultimately, it’s up to the child where it goes, and I think the child has definitely let the world know where it wants to go at this point. There will definitely be a future for Device. I treat it with the same level of sincerity, seriousness, and passion that I do Disturbed; it is equally important, and I intend to do everything in my power to brand it and to make sure that the future is a bright one.
SE: Device launches a tour here in just a couple days, in Alabama – does this feel at all like it did when going out on tour for The Sickness… the “new” feeling?
DD: It feels very similar. You know, the irony is that it is so rare in life that you get to relive amazing experiences, and poignant moments in your life. How often do artists get to relive being the “new guy”, being the band that everybody is curious about, being the band that everybody’s buzzing about, that everybody is curious to see, to hear, that renewed sense of excitement and energy? Being the new kid on the block again, I never thought I’d be… (laughs) It is both humbling and exciting at the same time. And I’m really, really excited and looking forward to a whole new world of experiences.
SE: Thank you so much, David, for taking the time to do an interview. I am looking forward to seeing Device on tour.
DD: Excellent. Thank you so much for your support.
Check out Device, coming to a town near you — tour dates here.
Read Sheila Esmaili-Doki’s review of the Device debut record here.
Many thanks to David Draiman for granting the interview, as well as to Jill Augusto and Kate Cafaro from Warner Brothers Records for setting it up.