It’s been nearly two years since Disturbed started its planned hiatus after more than a decade at the top of the hard-rock heap. Frontman David Draiman has kept busy during that time, producing the forthcoming album from Trivium, working with Dave Mustaine on a handful of songs for the next Megadeth record and launching a new band of his own, Device, which obviously features Draiman’s unmistakable voice but adds electronic, industrial-like sounds to the mix. On Tuesday, April 9, the day the self-titled Device album (which debuted at No. 11 on the Billboard 200) hit stores, Draiman discussed his new project and more with Live Metal’s Greg Maki.
LIVE METAL: Hey, David, how are you doing today?
DAVID DRAIMAN: Doing amazing, a little tired, a little nervous, but excited. (laughs)
Yeah, I can imagine. Today is the big day, the release for Device, the self-titled album. Did you do anything special to mark the occasion—buy a copy or anything like that?
Oh yeah, I did. I bought one yesterday at the signing we did here in Austin. It’s a tradition for me. I always buy a copy of my own records. Always.
Today, with Volbeat, Stone Sour, it’s a big release day for hard rock and metal. Did you pick up any of those others?
It’s a good day for rock. I love the wave of new rock records that are coming out this year. You’ve got this week. You’ve got the Sabbath record coming, you have the Alice in Chains record coming, you have so many amazing records—Five Finger (Death Punch) will be debuting a new record this year, Avenged (Sevenfold) will be debuting a new record this year. It’s gonna be a banner year for rock. I’m really looking forward to it.
So talking about Device, how does it feel for you at this point in your career, after all the success you’ve had, to be basically starting over with a new project?
It is a little humbling (laughs). But I’ve got to say, it’s so rare in life that you get the opportunity to relive experiences that you thought you’d never get the chance to relive. To be the new band again, to have that new level of excitement, the new level of curiosity and heat behind you and buzz, and to be the one that everybody wants to check out, it’s really a delicious sort of experience. I’m really relishing it. I’m looking forward to getting out there and just slaying crowds with this material. Our practice sessions here at the house have been devastating, and I can’t wait. I’m really looking forward to it.
A couple years ago, when you and the other guys in Disturbed decided to take a break, what were your plans initially and how did Device develop?
My plans initially were to work with producing some other bands or maybe writing with some other artists, which is why I went and produced the Trivium record. That’s something that myself and the Trivium guys had been talking about doing for quite a while. I had the tremendous honor and opportunity to work with Mr. Dave Mustaine on a number of tracks on his new Megadeth record, “Super Collider.” Those were things that I planned on doing—all things that I never had time to do while the Disturbed machine was running. It was never the intention to start another project per se. It was a pleasant accident, if you will.
Geno Lenardo, formerly of Filter, reached out to me during the tail-end of the “Asylum” touring cycle—we only had our South American run left; we had just finished Mayhem—and he was doing a number of tracks for the “Underworld” soundtrack. That’s kind of his forte, film soundtracks and film scoring. He had done a track with Lacey from Flyleaf and one with Pete from Chevelle, and he had a track in mind for me. I said, “Yeah, I’m interested. Go ahead and send me the music. Let me hear what it sounds like, let me get a vibe for it.” He sent it to me, I loved it, I obsessed over it an entire night and, by the next morning, had made an amazing song out of it. I got on the phone with him and was like, “Dude, we gotta put this down, because it’s hot.” So I flew to Chicago that weekend, tracked it and mixed it, delivered it to Lakeshore. They wanted to use it as the lead track on their soundtrack, but there was a conflict of interest, because we were currently working a song from the Disturbed B-sides compilation, “The Lost Children,” at radio—a track called “Hell.” We didn’t want the track that Geno and I had written, which was called “Hunted,” to conflict with it and to take away from its momentum. So we decided to hold on to it and wait for another soundtrack opportunity or a video game or something else to marry it to.
We lived with the song, and it grew on us, and it became a very compelling argument all on its own. We ended up getting on the phone and talking to each other. I said to him, “It’s obvious that you and I have some writing chemistry together. Why don’t we get together and see what happens? Maybe we can sell the songs to some other artists or whatever”—still not with the intention of making a project out of it, 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.
I think “Vilify” was a good choice as the first single. It’s a good entry point. Everybody knows you from Disturbed, and it has a similar feel but also some new sounds. Was that intentional?
Completely intentional. (laughs) I didn’t want there to be too much culture shock for the Disturbed fan base. I love and I respect them so much. I wanted to give them some sort of aspect of familiarity while still giving them something fresh and new to start off with. Sometimes when you’re trying to make love to a girl, you gotta start with sticking the tip in, right, not the whole thing? (laughs) You’ve gotta ease your way in a little bit. (laughs)
I think that “Vilify” was a good bridge to bring people in. You have the staccato, rhythmic, rapid-fire type of cadence that I’m typically known for. It’s a very comfortable place that I can go to. It’s a style that I’ve had since even prior to Disturbed. In fact, when I auditioned for Disturbed, the very first line that I actually started to sing was a line from the track on “The Sickness,” record “Want.” It was a song that we wrote our very first day, which is a very rhythmically, cadence-heavy line, and that was really coming from my love of rhythm and my background with my prior two projects prior to Disturbed, which were more funk influenced.
The one thing that I have as both a blessing and a curse is that my voice is very identifiable, and no matter what, people hear my voice and they think Disturbed, because it’s been associated with Disturbed for the past 16 years—they should. But I definitely had the opportunity to go into a bunch of different place and directions with the record on tracks like “Through It All” and “Haze,” the Lita (Ford) and Ozzy (Osbourne) cover of “Close My Eyes Forever” that I did with Lzzy Hale (of Halestorm) and even something like the classical style of the vocal delivery in the chorus of, say, the opening track, “You Think You Know”—all these are things that would not have been appropriate on a Disturbed record, and I’m very glad I had the opportunity to go in those directions with this one.
Did you find your approach to writing lyrics changed at all?
No, no, I’ve got annals of darkness and depravity stuck in my head that are good for a hundred more records. (laughs) There’s no shortage of life experiences that I have stored up. Or if I really want to go ahead and find some inspiration just off the cuff, all I have to do is turn on the news, and I’ll see something that pisses me off enough to write about it. So it really kind of came from the same place it always does. It’s not satisfying any other way for me.
One of the things that is very different from anything you’ve done with Disturbed is all the special guests you have on the album. How did that come about? Are they all friends of yours?
Yeah, I’ve been blessed with an amazingly talented and accomplished group of friends. I am very grateful for their contributions and for their friendship and their camaraderie. It really was also accidental—not accidental but a matter of serendipity, if you will. The only collaboration that was intended was mine and Lzzy’s. That was one that we had talked about doing for years.
Now Tom (Morello) and Serj (Tankian) and I have been friends for years. Very often, we get together for dinner when I come through Los Angeles and catch up. They’re amazing guys, both of them. I have the utmost respect and admiration for them. We always toyed with the idea of potentially one day working on something together, whether it was a soundtrack or for charity or something like that. It was never really an option for us to collaborate on our main projects, because, as you said, with Disturbed or with Rage (Against the Machine) or with System (of a Down), we never entertained guest vocalists or guest performers per se. So with Device, there were no rules, no limitations, no preconceived notions. So I figured, what the hell?
We first talked about it via email, and then, actually two days before the end of the mix in L.A., all of the songs were already tracked with my vocals—I had to do recalls for all of the additional performances, which I would’ve done a hundred recalls to get all of these guys. We ended up getting together for dinner. Serj invited myself and my wife Lena over to dinner at his house with him and his wife, and we had an amazing Lebanese dinner together that they prepared, and Tom came over, as well. I brought Geno with me, and that night, we finalized their arrangements, and we decided to donate 50 percent of the proceeds from the tracks that both of them contributed to, to their Axis of Justice charity. So we were able to kill two birds with one stone per se, as far as what we’d always wanted to do.
The next day, I was invited by my friend Glenn Hughes to his book release, his autobiography release and book signing at the John Varvatos store in Malibu. I drove out there, he did an acoustic performance, nailed it as he always does, knocked it out of the park with his inhuman abilities. Since I was already entertaining the notion of guests, I’m like, “Oh my god, his voice would sound amazing on ‘Through It All.’” So I talked to him about it, and he was like, “I’d love to do it.” And then he invited myself and my wife Lena to dinner with him later that night. We’re sitting at dinner with him and his wife Gabby and Geezer Butler and Kenny Aronoff and a bunch of other very accomplished and esteemed musicians, and it came up in dinner conversation that Glenn had agreed to do a guest spot, and Geezer asked me about the project. At first, I thought there’s no chance in hell, but he and I have known each other since the early Ozzfest days when Sabbath was headlining, and we had just reconnected at the Dime Bash event that year. I said, “Geezer, would you like to do a spot, as well?” He said, “You know what, I’d love to. I’ll even set time aside from the Sabbath sessions to do it.”
So within a couple days of reconnecting with old friends in Los Angeles, I suddenly had five guests on the record. Since I was already on the path, I had always had in mind for “Haze” to have another strong, distinctive, male vocal featured on it. I always thought that would be cool, and who is stronger and more distinctive these days than Mr. M. Shadows? I’m just so proud of what they’ve (Avenged Sevenfold) grown into, the leviathan they’ve become. They’re probably the dominant rock band in the genre. It’s been amazing to watch them grow, and I’m very privileged to call him my friend and the band my friends and colleagues. I’m really just overwhelmed and humbled and ever so grateful for everybody’s contributions.
Speaking a little more about “Close My Eyes Forever,” you’ve done other covers in your career with Disturbed. Have you ever had a chance to play your version for the original artists or hear what they think about them?
I played it for Lita. She loved it. She came through town here in Austin, Texas, and she loved it. I haven’t had the opportunity to play it for Ozzy. I’d love to. It’s certainly done out of the utmost admiration and respect. I in no way, shape or form envision myself as the modern-day Ozzy Osbourne—nobody can. He is living legend. I have such respect and I look up to what he’s done and who he is so much. I’m so thankful to both him and Sharon for everything that they’ve done for me and Disturbed over the years. I can only hope that he loves it and that Sharon loves it and that they see it as a fitting tribute to his greatness.
The first live show for Device is tomorrow.
Yeah, chomping at the bit, man. Can’t wait to play these live. Cannot wait.
You’ve got Virus and Will Hunt in the live band. How did you end up with those guys and what can people expect when they see you live?
Will was on a short list of drummers that we were looking at. It really came down to three guys, who are the top guys in the field. Will is Will. Will’s a monster. And he’s just got an amazing heart, great depth of character, sweetheart of a guy. So it was an easy choice to make. And it was actually on Will’s recommendation that we actually first talked to Virus. I had just seen Virus a couple years back. When I was on tour and we had a day off at Navy Pier in Chicago, I ran into him and his family when I was just walking with my wife. So it was kind of ironic that Will brought it up. It was like, “You know what? Yeah, he’d be great for it.” He came out to the house for a couple days, and we spent time together just as guys, talking about the band and getting a vibe for one another. I already knew what his musical abilities were. I already knew what he could do, so it wasn’t a matter of him having to be tested in that way. It was more about whether we gelled together as a group, and we definitely did. It was a very easy decision to make afterwards.
The starting-over question kind of applies here, too, for the live shows. In Disturbed, for a while, you’ve been playing arenas, headlining festivals. Are you looking forward to getting into some smaller venues and, at the festivals, playing maybe in the middle of the afternoon under the sun?
We have to pay our dues like anybody else, and I am looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to the intimacy. I’m looking forward to making it grow again, to building it all over again. I’m looking forward to being that band that is the buzz band that everybody’s curious to check out. I have no problem earning my stripes, brother. I’ve done it before, I’ll do it again, and I have some great help and the arsenal of music to do it with. I’m confident and excited and nervous all at the same time.
I know you’re just getting started with this, but do you see more Device music in the future?
No doubt. I intend to keep this going. I treat this with the same reverence and importance as I do Disturbed. I definitely see this being a continual project, one that continues to incorporate guest appearances, in fact—I love the brotherhood and camaraderie that it evokes. Device isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. It will—hopefully, hopefully—stay hand in hand with Disturbed, and I’ll be able to switch off between them from cycle to cycle.
I don’t want to take up a ton of time, but you did briefly mention a couple of the other things you’ve been working on. Can you talk a little bit about working with the Trivium guys and Dave Mustaine?
Wait ‘til the world gets wind of this Trivium record, is all I can say. It is going to be a career-defining moment for them, a life-changing experience for them. They have been elevated not one level but 10. It is a metamorphosis that has occurred. They are still very much Trivium but with so much more added artillery and so much more complexity and so much more melody and hook, anthemic nature to the songs without losing any of the aggressive aspect of what they do. It’s going to be a life-changing experience for them, and I’m very, very proud and happy to have been a part of it.
And with Mr. Mustaine, I’m beyond honored and humbled to have worked with him. Just a brilliant, brilliant man, sweetheart of a guy. I continue to try to learn from all of the people that I have been privileged to work with, and he definitely was one of them. I look forward to it.
I know you’ve said it before, but for anyone who hasn’t been paying attention out there, Disturbed definitely will be back together at some point.
Yes, absolutely. This is a break. It’s just a hiatus. Sometimes you’ve got to pull yourself away from the machine. Sometimes when it becomes too cyclical, when it becomes too assembly-line-like, it can be stifling to creativity and stifling to growth—when you become predictable, when the fans know they can see you every other year, when you have to get back on the horse because you’re required to, not because you want to. It was time for us to remove ourselves from the equation for a little bit, for the fans to have a break, for the band to take a break, for the sake and the health of everyone. I think that it’s going to end up being good for Disturbed and its fans, and for all of us in the long run.
Well, David, thank you very much for your time this afternoon. Is there anything else you would like to say?
I look forward to playing, man. I look forward to unleashing this beast. And I thank you so much for your support, brother. It means a lot.