David Draiman can’t say precisely when he decided to quit Twitter. Sure, he announced at the end of June that he would be pulling the plug on his account, but what actually prompted him to step away from the online bear-pit isn’t quite so clear. There was no specific tweet that tipped him over the edge; no one single straw that broke the camel’s back.
What had started as a direct conduit between the Disturbed singer and his band’s fans had become a battleground between a musician unafraid to speak his mind and an army of people determined to bait him. It was a war of attrition. And for once in his life, Disturbed’s frontman was on the losing side.
“It wasn’t worth it,” he says. “I’m just a pin-drop in a giant ocean. What am I going to do? I made a commitment to respond to everybody. And it was a difficult commitment to keep. It opened me up to constant bullshit and attack.”
He should be used to those two things by now. In the 15 years since Disturbed’s debut album, The Sickness, turned the Chicago band into one of the standard-bearers for nu metal’s second wave, David has earned a reputation as one of the most outspoken and divisive rockstars of his generation. And let’s not beat around the bush here – like him or not, he is a rockstar.
But just as with great power comes great responsibility, so having a big gob and a surplus of self-confidence comes hand-in-hand with an inordinate amount of mockery, derision and outright hate. You could argue that the frontman was his own worst enemy. His unfiltered opinions on hot-potato topics such as the anti-vaxxing movement, Gamergate and, most controversially, the Israel-Palestine conflict (he was emphatically on the side of the former) have made him more enemies than friends. When he says, “I’m horrible at bullshitting – part of my Achilles heel for my own career is that I’m too frank,” it’s hard not to sympathise (though in fairness, it’s equally hard not to argue, either). Hence the social media hara-kiri – and the unexpected reinvention of David Draiman.
“Nothing good came out of that whole thing,” he says, then corrects himself. “On a rare occasion it kind of did. But what are you getting? You’re getting validation from people who already follow you, that are already gonna be inclined to listen to what you have to say. So what real difference are you making? I don’t have any delusions of grandeur, brother.”
He sighs. “I’m done trying to push anything on anybody.”
Today, half of Disturbed – David and guitarist Dan Donegan – are sitting in one of the mercifully air-conditioned rooms high in one of the towers of Hammer HQ. The pair arrived in the country yesterday from Berlin. Tomorrow they return to the US. It’s that kind of visit.
It’s also the first time they’ve done this together in four years. Back in July 2011, the band (completed by drummer Mike Wengren and bassist John Moyer) announced that they would be taking an indefinite hiatus, with absolutely zero in the way of clues as to when they’d be back. David stepped away from the musical spotlight for a year and a half, before producing Trivium’s sixth album, Vengeance Falls, in spring 2013, and releasing music with industrial-tinged side-project Device a few months later. In September, he became a father – an event he describes as “life-changing in every single way.” Music went on hold again.
But Disturbed’s prolonged break came to a sudden end around the same time the singer picked up his metaphorical ball and stormed off Twitter. In June, the band announced that not only was their time away coming to an end, but that they’d managed to record an album, Immortalized, over the previous 18 months in utter secrecy. That’s some achievement in 2015.
“No shit,” says David wryly. “It was incredibly, incredibly difficult. There were a lot of nondisclosure agreements, a lot of white lies, a lot of veiled threats, a lot of bullshit. But it was time to go ahead and take the beast out again.”
“We were ninjas,” adds Dan. “We somehow pulled off the impossible.”
The break actually ended way back in January 2014, when Dan visited David at his home in Austin, Texas. It was the first time they’d seen each other since the singer became a father. Conversations about reactivating the band became reality and, over the next year, they worked up the songs that would become Immortalized, recording them in Las Vegas with producer Kevin Churko (Five Finger Death Punch, Papa Roach). Ironically, considering what was to come, social media would be their friend.
“It gave us plausible deniability,” says David. “Dan and Mike kept flying home on days off and posting from there. The other aspect of plausible deniability was that if you see any of the Disturbed members in Las Vegas, that’s not the most ridiculous thing to imagine. We like Vegas, we like gambling, we were still friends.”
Given that Disturbed were one of the few metal bands of the noughties not just to keep their heads above water but to end that decade in a stronger position than they started it, it raises the question: why take a break in the first place?
“When you make a record, tour, make a record, tour, it breeds sterility,” says David. “We didn’t feel that we had as much of the passion and fire that we should have.”
Was there any tension between you all? Were you ever in danger of splitting up?
“No,” he says. “We kept in touch with each other during the whole hiatus. No, it was always about taking some time to be human beings for a bit.”
The David Draiman of 2015 is subtly but noticeably different to the pre-hiatus David Draiman. He still exudes the sort of supreme self-confidence that could be read – or misread – as smugness. When he talks, he fixes you with a stare that’s part openness, part challenging. He might be done pushing his views on people, but he’s definitely not done pushing his personality.
But something’s changed. The combative motormouth of old is gone. He’s still as eloquent a musician as you’ll meet, but there’s an air of caution and, even weirder, humility to what he says. It may well be fake humility, but it’s still humility. The reason for the change? Fatherhood.
“Very much so,” he says. “The one thing you’re guaranteed to be when you’re a father is scared to death for the rest of your life for the safety of your child. You want to be a pillar of strength for your family as long as you have breath in your lungs.”
The first track from the new album to appear on YouTube is The Vengeful One. That song is an apocalyptic vision of the 21st century, complete with Old Testament imagery of a judgemental Hand Of God. It sounds like the work of a man concerned about raising a child in a world on the edge of chaos.
“Oh, it definitely is,” he says. “People would assume you have this peace, this calm, this serenity. Are you going to have the same edge? Are you going to have the same fury and rage? Let me tell you, it’s been intensified. Now I have more at risk. I have a wife and child to think about. And there’s nothing I would not do in their defence. The world we live in is a very fucked-up world, full of all kinds of dangers. There are many more things to take issue with.”
Is he bringing his young son up in the Jewish faith?
“I’m not bringing him up in any faith. I’m going to let him choose for himself whatever he wants to do. I’m not a religious person. I don’t really subscribe to it personally. And those who do, God bless them.”
It’s interesting he says that, as Jewish identity seems to be fairly central to his life…
He lets out a sigh that’s part annoyance and part frustration. “I’m sorry, brother, but I’ve really talked about that a lot already,” he says firmly. “I don’t want to go into it again. I’ve beaten the hell out of it already.”
He puts his hands flat on the table and the stare hardens. His body language says: ‘The door is shut.’
In that moment, both David Draimans exist at once. The old one, stubborn and combative. And the new one, too – the one who can see potential controversy coming a mile off, who is determined not to repeat past mistakes. Does he ever regret being so outspoken?
“Yep, yep, yep,” he says, nodding mechanically. A thin smile. “I should have shut up a long time ago.”
It’s something Dan agrees with, at least in part. The guitarist thinks that his bandmate might sometimes have been too outspoken. “Yeah, I do,” he says. “We’ve had those talks a lot. He’s a very opinionated guy, as the world knows. When you put yourself out there so much, it gives people a reason to debate it and disagree with you. A lot of times he’s taken the bait. He’s like a brother to me, and I’ll always have his back. I’d tell him, ‘Who the fuck cares that they don’t agree with you? Don’t let it bother you.’ But sometimes those things would bother him.”
So what’s the difference between David then and David now?
“David having a kid has helped everybody,” says Dan. “We’re strongly opinionated guys, and sometimes we’re not on the same page with something. But we’re all fathers, and him having a kid, it gives us even more of a reason to relate to each other.”
That’s not to say parenthood has dampened the fire of Disturbed themselves. Immortalized is a characteristically chest-beating rallying cry that crackles with a mix of anger, triumph and, occasionally, despair. There are few other bands making records with such self-assurance these days, which makes David Draiman and his bandmates a rarity. But the question is, why does the world need a new Disturbed album in 2015? Why does the world need Disturbed, full stop?
“The world doesn’t need anything other than to save itself,” says David with a snort. “We need Disturbed – the band needs it. But it‘s up to the fans. Our opinion is a subjective one. Theirs is the one that matters.”
So if he’s not shouting about how great his band is and he’s not pushing his opinion on anyone any more, then what is he doing? Aren’t those two things the job of a rockstar?
“I don’t know what a rockstar is supposed to feel like,” he says. “You know what, brother, I feel like I’m a rockstar when I’m onstage. When there are a thousand, 10,000, 50,000 people in front of me, and I have the strength of my brothers behind me. That’s being a rockstar. You set people free. You feel powerful. They feel powerful. Anybody can get drunk and do drugs and fuck women. Not everyone has the ability to do what I just described. And I am blessed.”
The smile returns, and so does the stare – the one that challenges you to disagree with him. Maybe we’re mistaken. Maybe the old David Draiman is still there after all.
Disturbed’s new album, Immortalized, is out August 21 via Reprise
Inside metal’s stupidest parody video
Thanks to those ‘monkey’ noises and his distinctive piercings, David Draiman has become one of metal’s most recognisable figures. In Disturbed’s absence, comedian Brandon Muller saw fit to fill the void with a spoof video, The Greatest Hit Of Disturbed, which has had over a million views. We asked Brandon why he chose to celebrate the man and his vocal delivery…
Why did you pick on Disturbed?
“As the mountaineer George Mallory said, ‘Because they’re there.’ He was really into rock. But I am a fan. Whenever I read about how ‘Disturbed blow’, it’s like a personal attack because I enjoy them.”
Did you single out any specific song to spoof?
“For no reason, I always sang ‘yuh-nuh-muh-nuh’ to Stricken from when it came out. Only later did I try to apply it to other Disturbed songs.”
Was there anything you wanted to do in the video, but then thought better of?
“I wanted to include Disturbed doing that Rihanna song where she sings, ‘Oh, na na/What’s my name?’ [that would be What’s My Name? – Rihanna Ed]. That video clip would have been cool: Draiman walking around in a red wig, heels, etc. But it was too much of a hassle.”
An English musician named Archie Wilson sings the song – why not you?
“Because I didn’t want to read any more ‘My ears are bleeding’ comments like on my  Linkin Park parody.”
Have you ever met David Draiman?
“No. He offered Archie and me free gig tickets on Twitter, but he’s since deleted his Twitter account, so that’s a clever way of getting out of that…”
Check out Brandon Muller at www.nonrandomnonsense.com