“I’ve Never Been Afraid to Say What I Think” — An Interview with Device’s David Draiman

It quickly becomes abundantly clear that there are few things David Draiman isn’t comfortable talking about. The man’s been around the block more than a few times, with a decade-plus behind him working with Disturbed, and his new album with super-group Device has breathed fresh air into his creative process. So he’s excited to sit down prior to the band’s show tonight at Ft. Lauderdale’s Culture Room to talk about the new album. Just don’t ask repeatedly what’s happening with Disturbed and all’s fine.

Is Disturbed getting back together? When is Disturbed getting back together? Why did Disturbed break up?” he laughs. “We didn’t break up. We will be getting back together. Stop asking me about it! It’s a hiatus – look up definition of hiatus!”

With that out of the way, there’s plenty of time to talk about what went from being a one-off project for a potential soundtrack contribution to becoming a project which would consume his creative energies and push them in new directions. In the process, however, he also discusses what it’s like to hear early Disturbed albums more than a decade later, why he no longer feels trapped by his own voice, and that he really really wishes there was an app out there to smack “motherfuckers who say stupid things.”

It’s definitely a wild wide — you’ll want to read along below!

[Read the “Hear! Hear!” review of Device’s album,
which came out officially on April 9th!]

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You’ve referenced Maynard James Keenan’s work with A Perfect Circle when asked about why you hope fans will accept Device as willingly as they have your work with Disturbed. Are fans today as willing to embrace artists experimenting with more than one project?

I hope so! [Laughs] I think that all of us are definitely stretching our wings out. It seems where there’s room to create art there’s then a reason to do it. This is, as I’ve said in previous interviews, not something I set out to do or planned. It’s a very fortunate accident. Geno [Lenardo] and I meant to write a song for a soundtrack together, not for the material to lead to writing more songs, or for those songs to lead to the creation of a band. The grouping of material was so strong, even after the first two week period when we already had seven songs in the bag, we were so cohesive and powerful it became a very compelling idea with powerful momentum behind it. When you are creating, the music tells you what to do. The music will always dictate where it needs to be. This grouping of material spoke very loud and clear.

Though the industrial sound of the new album does draw comparisons to Nine Inch Nails and Ministry, I’ve always noticed your interest in reviving something of a New Order 80s industrial pop sound. This album updates that in a more modern context, particularly on the cover of “Close My Eyes Forever.” What drew you to cover that song in particular? What was it like finally working with Lzzy Hale after she’s been such a longtime supporter of Disturbed?

And we have been longtime supporters of her, and I will continue to be a longtime supporter of her until the day I die. She’s an amazing woman. In my opinion she is the top of the mountain as far as female rock singers are concerned. I don’t think anybody holds a candle to her – she is the best of the best.

That’s a song I’ve loved for years, since it first came out. Who could forget the video? Who could forget the hook? It was such a memorable moment, one of the great rock duets of all time, so timeless. And Lzzy and I have been talking about doing this since she first started supporting Disturbed way back in the day. Initially we thought about doing it with Disturbed, but I’m very glad we ended up doing it with Device because in Disturbed it couldn’t have gone in the direction it did, with that ambient nature, the more synth-heavy, string-heavy sample-laden vibe to it. And I think it needed that. I think doing a heavier version wasn’t necessarily the answer.

You told Tony LaBrie of Flint, Mich.’s Banana 101.5 that after twelve years of cycling between record and tour with Disturbed, you all started to feel like “part of the machine.” That plus the album cover’s twisted take on technology absorbing our humanity, do you ever start to feel totally out of place in the modern world of social media?

I don’t know, man. I think that people are as heavily invested in the social media and that they follow the details as rapidly as they do because they are continually interested, and there is that continual desire for more, to be a part of the life, to a certain extent, of the artist that you love.

Does there come a point where a fan’s need to know everything about a band makes it impossible for an artist to ever try anything new or interesting?

You know, the minute you are focused on any expectations other than your own as an artist, that’s the minute that you fail. It should never be about trying to fit within a certain demographic or style. You have to stay true to yourself. You have to make music or make art that fulfills you, that speaks from your heart. That’s really the beginning and the end of it. The fans, you hope, will always value your music whatever direction you take. Maybe there are some fans of Disturbed who won’t dig where Device went with some of these new songs, with some of the more synth-heavy or electronic-fueled factors. And that’s okay! Device is going to appeal to some people who Disturbed wouldn’t, and the reverse as well. That’s why you do something like this, hopefully, is to be able to go in some of those different directions. I’m obviously also haunted by the identity, which is a blessing and a curse, of my voice. When I sing, it sounds like me no matter what the direction.

Right. You’ve said “as a vocalist you become a prisoner to the style you develop.” I found that interesting, because fans who listen closer to the vocals over time will hear how you’ve developed that style, adding more melodic tones to the staccato rhythms of the delivery. Do you still feel trapped by what you’ve done with Disturbed vocally? Or could any of that be solved by a few Meatloaf-esque “Bat Out Of Hell” moments?

Maybe. [Laughs] Maybe, man. It really is wonderful to do more of the “classical” delivery. To not always have to go to my safety spot, to the spot that I know I can own pretty well which is that rapid-fire staccato style delivery.

That and the microphone-assisted growl.

Yeah! That just comes out if there’s a primal element in the music, if there’s something that brings it out. That’s another thing which isn’t necessarily planned. Some of these rhythms are as tribal and primal as anything on a Disturbed record, sometimes I push the envelope even more. So it definitely can sometimes bring the animal out of you. But it’s really satisfying to let one of those things rip. Satisfying to be able to go back to your home base or even more satisfying to be able to expand it.

I love the things that I did on “Run For Cover.” I love being able to write a song like “Through It All” for my wife on the record, working with Glenn Hughes, where had I not gone in that direction, having a voice like his and mine on the same track wouldn’t have made sense. Or even a track like “Haze” – no one has ever heard me sing the way I do on the verses of that song anywhere on any record at any point in time. So it was really nice to be able to go into those directions and to still be myself, to be unashamed of being myself. At the same level I allowed what I’ve become to grow, and that’s been very refreshing.

What did become stifling and has become stifling was what the expectations were for a Disturbed record. “Okay, we fit within certain parameters, we have to stay within those parameters relatively, you have to know who your fan-base is, to know who you’re playing for, performing for.” We always did, and we kept that identity strong. That’s part of why we’ve been able to maintain the level of success that we have. But it also can be trapping when you are forced to do that much of a direction all the time.

I can hear that, listening to the albums in order like I did prepping for this conversation. You can hear how far you guys have come from doing a song like “Dropping Plates” to what you would do with “Never Again.” I can’t imagine many would have expected to hear “Never Again” based on what they heard on the first album.

I would agree with you. And to be honest, even though that first record captured us at a point in time where we were very raw, primal, and a lot of people really connected and loved that, there are parts of that record where I listen back and I cringe a little. “Oh my God, what was I thinking? Did I really think that was a good idea?” It really seemed to work back then. Lyrically, definitely there are things I wish I could have done better. But I was just starting out, feeling things out. I certainly didn’t have the knowledge base or even the fundamental skills that I do now. So it’s nice to come from that and to grow, to continue to learn and I’m continuing to build on what I’ve done with each passing day.

Well, it progressed quickly – I’ve always been interested in the way you’ve discussed your religious heritage through your music over the years, and I still think “Never Again” and “Prayer” don’t get nearly the critical respect they deserve.

Thank you!

What message would you hope fans would take from a song like “Opinion,” where you sing “Are you blind? Are you cold? How can you say you don’t have an opinion?”

That is a call-out to all those people who say “ignorance is bliss.” And they’d rather not know what’s going on in the world, they’d rather live in their own little bubble. Whatever happens outside their door doesn’t really affect them. “I don’t have an opinion.” Well you have to. If you don’t have an opinion then you don’t have a voice, and nothing ever changes. Then we can never affect change. There’s so much change that is necessary in this world, it takes people who have their eyes open and if you keep your eyes closed too long something ends up coming by and smacking you in the face. It’s definitely a wake-up call.

Are we all so afraid to offend anyone we won’t actually say what we really think anymore? Or has the world of social media made it too easy to empower ourselves anonymously without ever really saying anything worth standing behind?

Definitely. Oh, no shit. But as you’ve probably borne witness to, I’m never afraid to say what I think. I definitely think that the Internet has made people exceptionally mighty, unnecessarily and unjustifiably so. There are no repercussions. There’s no responsibility – you can say anything you want, pretend to be anybody you want, and somehow that’s okay. I don’t think that it is. I think that there should be consequences for actions. I am a believer in freedom of speech to a point. I don’t believe in hate speech. I don’t believe people are entitled to do that. I don’t believe people are entitled to bully. I don’t think that’s a right, that we’re protected to do that. I think other people should be protected from it.

That’s a flaw in the way that our laws are structured. I think that we give too much license to be predators, to do damage for the sake of quote-unquote “freedom of speech.” And that’s not freedom anymore. People should be free from being bullied, from being persecuted, from being tormented. That’s a freedom as well, and people often will go ahead and waive that freedom of speech flag and think that it entitles them to say just about anything.

You know what? It doesn’t. There should be repercussions. I often say I would pay a million dollars for an app that enabled me to just smack people through the computer. I mean it, I would pay a million dollars. There would be so many dumb motherfuckers getting smacked, it would be a smacking spree. And all of a sudden everybody would have a little bit of consequence. “What the hell is wrong with you? You are not just some computer jockey, some wannabe maniac sitting behind a keyboard trying to one-up the next guy in insulting some poor individual.”

And I can take care of myself. I’m not talking about me, I’m talking about the countless others out there who fall prey to these online predators and end up taking their own lives or end up living in isolation. They’re unable to deal with their own image of themselves. It’s disgusting what some of this technology has empowered people to do.

Well, maybe after this runs somebody will come up with Digital Bitchslap or something and you’ll get credit for it.

Dude, I’m in! If you know some developer guys, let’s go ahead and do it. We’ll build in some kind of shock technology into the computer. I’m in, let’s co-found the company!

After more than a decade working in the world of music, is there any subject you wish simply wouldn’t be brought up anymore?

Is disturbed getting back together? When is Disturbed getting back together? Why did Disturbed break up?” [Laughs]. We didn’t break up. We will be getting back together. Stop asking me about it! It’s a hiatus – look up definition of hiatus, I don’t have any other way to explain it. And I’ve explained it in a hundred interviews and everybody still ends up asking me the same damned question.

Look, this way we’re all going to grow in our appreciation of each other as a group. Everybody steps away from it for awhile, the band and the fans. It’s not something that’s predictable anymore, you know you’re not going to get a new Disturbed record every other year. When a Disturbed reunification does occur — and it will occur because we don’t go ahead and dedicate sixteen years of our lives and all our blood, sweat, tears and souls to walk away forever — when the time comes we’ll come back to it with renewed vigor and inspiration, make a killer record and take this thing to new heights! But everybody needs to be conscious from here on out that when Disturbed does get back together, does make a new record, that’s a special occasion. It isn’t something that’s going to happen cyclically every other year anymore. We all need to cherish it, not just from the fan’s perspective but even from the band’s perspective as we become re-inspired by it rather than feeling like we have to do it. It’s going to make a tremendous difference.

In the reverse, what do you wish someone would talk to you about in an interview, yet they never do?

I’ve never been shy about talking about anything, brother. So I really don’t know that too much hasn’t been covered. I’ve gone in pretty much every direction I could possibly imagine. All I can do is reassure people and consider it a tremendous compliment that people love Disturbed to the point where they become so worrisome, so fearful. I think that’s a great thing. People should care, and I’ve definitely been shown that they do. I’m flattered for that.

In the meantime, you’re out on tour with Device now, not Disturbed. What would you tell those fans who wait for the inevitable reunion? What would you want them to get from seeing a Device show?

The same sort of release, man. That’s what music is about, even though it’s electronically saturated, this is still hard rock, so it’s still all about catharsis, having that moment of empowerment and release. Feeling like you can transcend the obstacles of life, that still draws water from the same well and I think this well is even more diverse. It can give people a lot of different flavors they’ve never had the opportunity to experience with Disturbed. You should just enjoy the ride. Please, come on board, because you’re welcome!

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