Disturbed 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
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
"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
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.