With four consecutive No. 1 albums in both the US and New Zealand, DISTURBED are no doubt one of the most successful hard rock / metal bands on the global scene right now. Touring on the release of their latest album ‘Asylum’ the band has rewarded the loyalty of Kiwi fans by visiting our shores for three shows: Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. NZRock caught up with guitarist Dan Donegan and drummer Mike Wengren before the Auckland show…
NZRock: So you guys have had four No. 1 albums in US and New Zealand now. How did you do it?
Mike: I wish we knew so we could keep it going! haha!
Dan: Yeah we’ve just kept touring hard, we’ve built up that fan base over the past 11 years now and you know, we just keep coming back and giving them a live show. The fans have been loyal to us and dedicated and I think they know that each time we put out an album we’re going to put out the best material that we can at that moment. So we’re very fortunate that they’ve been ready for it every time and they’ve definitely stepped up and shown how loyal they are to us.
NZRock: Do you attribute part of the continued success and growth of fan-base to the guitar solos which you started including from Ten Thousand Fists.
Dan: Well, I don’t know if it’s based just off of that. I think just because we’ve been around for as long as we have now we’re starting to see it branch out over the years. The kids that might’ve been in high school 10 years ago that were listening to us and are older now are bringing younger brothers, or even some of the ones who may have been in their 20s and might have some younger kids that are starting to come out to the shows. So we have a wide age range that comes out and its a nice surprise to see how much they range from a 5 year old kid to someone in their 60s.
NZRock: With the latest DISTURBED album ‘Asylum’, the first thing that struck me about it was that intro track ‘Remnants’. It’s really dark, atmospheric and not something that you’d instantly pick as being a DISTURBED track. Who wrote it?
Dan: That was the first song that we wrote for this album. It kinda started out accidental. I was just noodling around with the guitar, just warming up and saying OK, we’re off the road, we done touring and we wanting to start getting into writing mode. I had the riff for ‘Asylum’ to begin with you know, so it was kinda heavier and aggressive so I just started messing around with the acoustic guitar and just kind of wrote this little segway piece just warming up. I just recorded that and started warming up soloing over it and it started getting vibey and creating a mood and then we just though we’d tag it onto the front of the song. And like you said, it was something a little bit unexpected from us. It’s our fifth album and we wanted to have something that might keep you on the edge of your seat because you’d never heard something like this before. It was a cool build up to ‘Asylum’ because it was more old school and more aggressive of a track.
NZRock: You guys have self produced the last two albums. How does that sit with the label when you tell them, hey, we’re going to self produce this recording?
Mike: I think we’ve got a proven track record and a good relationship with them. They respect what we do, what we bring to the table and they kinda let us do our thing. I mean they always have a say towards the end but so far we’ve been able to deliver so I don’t think there have been any issues.
Dan: And that’s going off even the first album. It’s not just that we’re self producing now. We’ve had the freedom to do what we want on every album. Like Mike said, ultimately the label is going to hear the finished product or say no, write more. We’ve just been fortunate that they’re as smart as we are about it haha! And that they get it, that they behind the album when they hear it and they trust what we do because like he said, we’ve proven ourselves over the years.
NZRock: So with four No. 1 albums is the pressure now on to get another one or do you not care about that too much?
Mike: It’d be a great accomplishment but it’s never something that we’ve focused on. It was never like the priority. It’s something that’s in the backburners but I think the pressure really comes from ourselves. We always want to show growth as musicians and we never want to have a carbon copy of any of the previous records. So its always going to sound like us, there’s going to be signature playing in Mike’s playing, my playing, Dave’s singing etc. So you know, we just go from there really.
NZRock: DISTURBED has got right behind this Free the West Memphis Three cause. What’s the story behind it and do you have personal ties?
Dan: Well the case you know is from the early 90s and there have been other celebrities throughout the years who have got behind it and shown their support. That was just watching the Paradise Lost documentary and just knowing that now with better technology with DNA testing that there’s a chance for these kids to be proven that they’re wrongfully accused. There’s no link to these three boys who were teenagers at the time, they were convicted of these murders. You know, so we just wanted to raise money for their defense to let them get a fair trial and hopefully prove that just because they wore black clothes and listened to heavy metal and were outcasts because they lived in the Bible belt of America, that that’s not enough reason to put one of them on death row and the other two life sentenced. There’s no physical evidence. I think because there was so much pressure for the law enforcement to find the killers that it was easy to point out these kids and give the community what they wanted and set their minds at ease. And you know Mike was saying earlier today too that there were so many careers built off of this case and the prosecutors and everybody else who were given bonuses or increases or promotions, they’re not going to admit that they’ve made a mistake here. They’d rather have these kids still remain in jail or on death row because they’re going to look bad once the real evidence comes out that they made a mistake. We’re just trying to do something to raise an awareness of the case and hope that it can contribute to give them a fair trial.
NZRock: So DISTURBED is not the kind of band to avoid political issues then?
Mike: I wouldn’t necessarily say that we’re a political band but if there’s an issue that touches us or something that we belive in we’ll definitely get behind it.
NZRock: In terms of current affairs, what about the whole Osama Bin Laden being killed thing?
Mike: We’re definitely glad that they got him but I think that he’s just a face of the organisation and you know, there are plenty of other guys underneath him that are just going to step up. Al Quada is not done now, we’ve still got to be on our toes…
Dan: Now we’ve got to be concerned with retaliation after that…
Mike: I applaud the soldiers who got him and I’m happy for the families of 9/11, maybe they get some closure now. But I don’t think this story is over.
NZRock: So back to the band, what are your plans for the rest of the year and is there anything happening new album-wise?
Dan: Right now when we’re on the road our focus is the shows and the touring. Occasionally if I work on a riff or something I just record it and put it on the backburner until we’re done and off the road. So right now we’re going to continue touring and after this run we’ve got a couple more festivals in the States. Then we go to Europe in June for some festivals, we headline the Mayhem tour in the States. That’ll be us GODSMACK, MEGADETH, MACHINE HEAD, TRIVIUM, IN FLAMES… there are probably about 12-15 bands on the bill. We’re probably going to finish up the year of touring maybe mid-August and then come off, take a break and just regroup and figure out what we want to do as far as writing and recording. Usually by that point we’re all exhausted from living out of our suitcases that we’re looking forward to going home. Then you go home for a month and then you start missing the road and missing the stage because that’s our addiction, that the reason why we do it, to perform and be on stage. So it’s just a matter if we’re all on the same page at the same time, if we’re all hungry for it and have the desire to get back into writing mode then we’ll jump into it.
NZRock: Just speaking of being exhausted from touring, I remember ‘The Sickness’ being thrashed on stereos while I was in University. That was something like 10 years ago but it’s still an essential in the DISTURBED live set. Even so, after playing it so many times are there ever times when you just think shit, do we have to play this song again?
Mike: Honestly no, because the reaction from the fans whether it’s one of the old classics like ‘Down With The Sickness’ or one of the new ones, the reaction… theres nothing more empowering than the four of us feeding off the energy of each-other and performing for our fans and seeing their excitement when they’re singing every lyric. Whether it’s a brand new song or the old ones, that always re-energises any song for me honestly.
Dan: Yeah for sure. I think going back 10 years ago and I probably had that thought of God, if we have to play that song forever you know, I’d probably get sick of it. But like Mike said, you can’t. Even though ‘Down With The Sickness’ was the biggest hit off our first album, the second that Mike goes into that drum beat and they recognise that song, the crowd explodes so that always energises to want to play the song because that energy keeps it exciting for us.
NZRock: Yeah you can really pick that with you guys because with a lot of other bands, they’ll give it away by speeding up or making changes to a song when they’re playing it live, but listening to DISTURBED’s live recordings you’ve kept it the same.
Mike: I can never get sick of that moment. Like Danny says, I go into that drum beat and the crowd just roars, it’s deafening. The hair on the back of my neck stands up every time. I’ll never get old haha!
NZRock: So DISTURBED is playing Christchurch on this tour which is a cool after everything they’ve been through with the earthquakes. Bcause of the quakes though, was there ever a time when you thought you’d have to cancel that show?
Mike: This tour, Australia and New Zealand was booked prior to the earthquake and management and the booking agent actually cancelled the New Zealand portion. Well they were going to and we were very strong and refused. We told them it doesn’t matter and we have to make it happen. Like you mentioned we’ve had 4 No. 1 records in a row here, we can’t turn our backs on our fans. We feel for them going through this and we want to give them the chance to still have some fun for a day you know. Rock out, you’re going through a rough time right now.
Dan: Right, they may need something like this just to have their therapy and get their release. They’ve been so supportive to us and we need to show our loyalty to them. So like Mike said, we put our foot down with management and the promoter and said figure it out cos we’re going.