Dan Donegan and fan, Cody Brown at NAMMDisturbed with Dan Donegan
By Dave Schwartz

Roaming the main floor at the annual NAMM (International Music Merchants Association) convention in Anaheim, California you never can be certain who youíll run into. Sure, Stevie Wonder is hanging out in the Yamaha showroom, Steve Lukather and Alvin Lee at Ernie Ball, Journeyís Neal Schon is in the Gibson room talking guitars. But then, arenít they always? From a journalists perspective that is one of the greatest benefits of having access to NAMM, the worlds largest "music store."

Another one of the more predictable attendees is Dan Donegan, guitarist from Disturbed. It seems every year our paths manage to cross. Last year we shared a beer at the Coffin Case show and laughed as CC Deville, in a brown sequined jacket that could only have been stolen from a backup singer at the Grand Ole Opry, stumbled through a couple blues classics before butchering a version of "Talk Dirty to Me." And predictably, every year we also seem to have the same conversation. I ask for an interview, he is on his way to or just returning from and doesnít have the time. This year he took mercy upon me. As we walked the main aisle, past the Marshall booth where the 80-plus year old Jim Marshall sat proudly in front of a mountain of amplifiers, I offered congratulations and asked about Disturbedís most recent record, "Ten Thousand Fists." Then I asked about the musical growth that is so apparent.

"Weíre just trying to continue growing as a band and songwriters," Donegan smiled. "We were experimenting a lot. We had a lot of time between albums to work on material so we tried to bring new elements to the band and evolve. We continue to push each other and bring something new. I mean weíre always going to sound like us, but weíre also going to push to evolve."

One of the more obvious evolutions came in Doneganís playing. I enjoyed that he stepped into this record with the intent to solo on the tracks. Better guitarists play primarily for the song and, having read several interviews, I knew that he hasnít felt the need to place his guitar at the forefront. Nonetheless it was nice to hear that signature Disturbed crunch with a guitar solo.

"The guys have been encouraging me to step out a bit and bring some of that element back into our music. We did a lot of that when we first formed back in í96. There were a lot more solos, but as we were trying to develop our music and find each other we drifted away from the need for a solo. So now weíre trying to bring some that back. Itís like the first days of Disturbed," Donegan confided.

The origins of Disturbed can be traced back to the Chicago area and, to a lessor extent, Milwaukee where Donegan, vocalist Dave Draimen and drummer Mike Wengren and former bass player Fuzz grew up and ultimately first met and performed. Playing that region of the states has always had its challenges. Since forming in í96, the face of music has continue to change and the music of Disturbed has helped push that change.

In 2000, Disturbed released their first album, "The Sickness," selling more than 3.4 Million records. "Believe" followed in 2002 selling 1.6 Million records. Before recording "Ten Thousand Fists," bassist Fuzz departed the band over creative differences. In 2006 "TTF" was released- the sound was reminiscent of the first records aggressive, almost primal feel but the vocals and guitar work continued to stretch the boundaries.

Donegan knows the ebb and tide of music firsthand. You donít want to necessarily follow trends, yet at the same time you donít want to be the odd man out either. Innovators push the boundaries of music, never completely departing from the current trends, but always forcing them in directions that arenít anticipated.

"When I was growing up we always had bands with big guitar solos. If it feels right for the song then go for it. I never was the type of guy that needed to have a solo in every song. Certain songs have that feel and you go for it," Donegan shared.

Another area that garnered much attention on this record was Disturbed's cover of the Genesis hit, "Land of Confusion." Disturbed has taken a stab at cover songs in the past, but before "TTF" I donít think anyone couldíve pointed to that song and suggest it was a great fit for them to cover. That didnít mater to Donegan.

"We had some down time. We were waiting on our producer to become available," Donegan explained. "During the downtime I saw the old video and it sparked something with me. I started thinking about the lyrical subject matter and how appropriate it was for our time. And it fit with a lot of what Dave [Draimen] writes lyrically so started messing around with the riff, trying to beef it up and put the Disturbed stamp on it. We like where the song was going so we tracked it and decided to put it on the album.

"I think the band was a little shocked when I first suggested it to them too," he continued. "So we expected that reaction from most people. We wanted to take the song, it has great lyrics and syncopation and we thought we could really put our stamp on it, maybe get the song out there a little bit more by making it harder than Genesis."

With Disturbed currently off the road and the band enjoying some well-earned free time I asked if Donegan had begun thinking about the next record.

"Iíve got a bunch of ideas," Donegan replied enthusiastically. "We havenít sat down as a band yet but probably next month [February] we will start regrouping and start working on our musical ideas, weíll see what direction the songs take us."

I then asked about the method that the band writes, individually vs. collectively.

"I work a lot with riffs," Donegan said. "And once I have a basic idea in my head Iíll have Mike [Wengren] our drummer come in and start working on beats and see where it ends up musically. Itís all up to Dave from there. Hopefully the songs move and influence him enough to write some great lyrics."

Long ago I read an interview in which Donegan commented about the collective influences of each band member. In that interview he discussed the positive changes that occurred when vocalist Dave Draimen joined the band. Given their writing style, it would seem that respect and chemistry are two of the greatest concerns to Disturbed.

Donegan agreed, "I think like you said, when you first get with a musician you try to figure out what each guy has to offer. And of course you try to develop your own skills. I think we continue to try to grow and push each other to become better."

I hear that nothing draws a crowd like a crowd. Of course the hazard of conducting an interview on the main floor of NAMM is people begin to take note and itís only a matter of time before the interruptions begin. As I finished what turned out to be my final question, one of Doneganís friends crept up from behind to try and startle him. Too bad, I wanted to ask about the Richard Cheese remake of "Down with the Sickness" and Todd MaFarlaneís contribution on the "TTF" album cover... Maybe next time.

I want to thank Dan Donegan for allowing the interview this year.

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