It’s a few songs into Disturbed‘s headlining set at Uproar Festival, and I can’t help but notice how many people have already left. David Draiman is telling the crowd to salute his airtight troop’s latest lockstep, and he gets about 5,000 fists in the air. Tinley Park is a shadow of its former self. An hour ago, Avenged Sevenfold stole the thunder from Disturbed’s subverted lightning bolts. Nightmare is the album of the summer, judging by the exiting T-shirts, and a return to City Of Evil form for the post-metalcore group surviving the loss of drummer/songwriter James “The Rev” Sullivan. Disturbed is practically the Ozzy Osbourne of the post-Ozzfest festival circuit, playing this amphitheater every August: “Indestructible,” right? Wrong. It would be Disturbed’s second-to-last hometown show before the nu-metal staple went on hiatus in 2011.
Today, Mosh finds the lone member of Disturbed who still resides in the area at his home near Tinley Park. Guitarist Dan Donegan is planning the official launch of his and Disturbed drummer Mike Wengren‘s transformative side project, Fight Or Flight, and discovering that rehearsals are a lot more difficult to arrange than when his old band (without Draiman as Brawl) started out in the mid-’90s (vocals were another story). The members of Fight Or Flight all live in different states, and Donegan says he’ll head to a nearby warehouse after this phone call, grab his gear, and take flight with the new rock. But will it be taken for granted, like Disturbed was at the 2010 Uproar Festival down the street?
The 12-song A Life By Design? (due out 7/23 on Warner Bros.) suggests Fight Or Flight isn’t a vanity project fabricated to complement the platinum pillars Disturbed built last decade. Donegan breaks with his palm-mute character and favors soft/loud spirals that leave breathing room for Dan Chandler‘s (Evans Blue) expansive, inclusive vocals (“Emphatic,” “It’s Over”). Staccato-riff grit finds its way into the music (“Eraser,” “If It Hurts”), but unlike Draiman’s Device (Allstate Arena, 7/9), Fight Or Flight isn’t maintaining the sound of Disturbed. It’s building a bridge to the present day.
Fight Or Flight performs for the first time – opening for Avenged Sevenfold – on July 16 at La Crosse Center in La Crosse, Wis.
Mosh: People will be surprised how much more melodic Fight Or Flight is than Disturbed. Does the stylistic shift open up your performance as a guitarist?
Dan Donegan: The nice evolution for me is I’m now writing with a different singer [who] also plays guitar and can write progressions and chord changes. With mine and David Draiman’s collaboration, it was usually me musically bringing in ideas to him, and then David would work on melodies on top of that. With Dan Chandler, it’s a little bit different approach because he is also musical as well. Not taking anything away from Draiman, because a lot of times just verbally he could mouth rhythms or suggestions or beats, but with Chandler, I definitely wanted to take the opportunity to really try to see how both of us musically could bring something that would be different, so that the Disturbed fans aren’t going to get just another version of Disturbed. It was important to me to keep the two of them separate.
M: Disturbed debuted with The Sickness right around the time CD sales peaked. What are the expectations of A Life By Design? now that it’s getting difficult to even find a record store in the United States?
DD: It is a different day and age, and those album sales are not even a fraction of what they were 10 years ago. But I want to go out there and get our music out to people. Any way we can get out and perform and turn people on to the sound of the band and to the songs, then that’s my goal. [Expectations are to sell] enough to where we can keep our heads above water so we can go out and tour. Because that’s our passion: just playing. I grew up going to concerts. I played thousands of concerts in Disturbed. So when I’m away from it, I miss it. And I’m going to concerts now, and I just went to see Papa Roach two nights ago out here. Whenever there are concerts coming to town – Sevendust, anything. I’m going to see Fleetwood Mac this summer. I get that itch. I’m in the crowd, just like when I was a kid and dreamt of being a musician. You’re in the crowd and the adrenaline rush is there, and I want to do something that’s going to get me back up onstage.
M: Musicians consider Disturbed one of those bands that worked very hard to get into the public eye, from handing out tapes at shows to mailing 8-by-10 glossies to record labels. How different is the process with Fight Or Flight?
DD: I wouldn’t say easier. It’s still tough. Just because we have a relationship with [Disturbed and Device’s label] Warner Bros., it’s still a business to them, [and] if they’re going to put the same amount of time and effort into side projects, they’ll want to see results . . . Back in the day, when we were passing cassettes and CDs out, it was a different approach then. We didn’t have the social media sites like we do today. Everything was the old-school way of just getting the word out on the street and having to build that following. It’s a new band, so we have to start over. This isn’t a guarantee of anything.
M: Did you consider the mid-’90s a difficult time for metal in Chicago? It was an era when venues made the subtle but distinct switch from bands like Energy Vampires to bands like Pigface.
DD: It was hard for us to find a home in Chicago because we were kind of going through that transition of not really having our foot in the door just yet. There were a few bands that were leading the way that were a step ahead of us at the time. Lungbrush was probably one of the heavier bands at the time that was a true metal band that had a big following. They were drawing crowds. More and more [nu metal bands] were starting to come out: us, Soil, No One, Relative Ash, From Zero, Five Pointe O. There was a metal fanbase, [but] it was just everybody trying to barge the door down to make something happen. It was a challenge, but something that we were used to. We were used to having to go out and prove ourselves and work for it.
M: Have you ever crossed paths with Cianide?
DD: No, we haven’t. We were stuck out here in the south suburbs for most of our shows, and that’s where we built our following because it was the only place where we could really go and play. When doing the bar scene, they wanted cover songs because they want to draw people, which is understandable. . . . Champs out in Burbank, Side Tracked in Lemont, and J.J. Kelley’s out in Lansing: Those were like our three that we would make the rotation for. J.J. Kelley’s was a little bit more open to original bands at the time, and we started working our originals more and more until we started proving ourselves and people were actually familiar with our originals. We were already doing songs like “Down With The Sickness,” “Stupify,” and the cover of “Shout” [in the bars].
M: I was one of those guys in the mid-2000s who struggled to accept Disturbed as heavy metal. But when Disturbed’s last two studio albums were released with nods to traditional metal, I noticed. You even released a CD single with a cover of “Living After Midnight” and a “Painkiller” reference shortly before the release of Asylum.
DD: Labels never really bothered me. We just came out at a time when everybody was looking for a new sound. They were looking for a new transition into what the next thing would be after grunge. It was a new decade coming up, and people were looking for it. So they wanted to put a [nu-metal] label on that. It doesn’t matter to me. I know our background, what we grew up to, and what our modern influences were. So the way I view it: We were brought up on the classic metal bands, but we were fans of some of the newer bands that came out in the early to mid-’90s, [including] Rage Against The Machine, Korn, System Of A Down, and Tool . . . At least with David, we knew that he wasn’t trying to copy anybody’s voice. He was trying to find his own voice. This was a new thing for him to have to sing with an aggressive band with a classic metal background, just trying to develop how to sing that way. In the beginning, he was doing a lot of damage to himself because he was trying to figure it out. We have all those elements. I think people change what metal is to them over the years, and it’s not the same as the way I viewed it when I was a kid. Now we’re not metal enough if we’re not screaming or if we’re not monotone and everything’s as fast as you can play. I think there are just different categories of metal. To me, metal was always those classic bands like Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and Iron Maiden. All those bands had double bass drums, syncopated. It was guitar-riff driven with a melodic singer. And I think those are a lot of the elements that we carry on in [Disturbed].
M: Were you the member of Brawl who placed the ad for a vocalist in Illinois Entertainer?
M: What kind of response did you get?
DD: Oh, it was terrible [laughs]. You get every knucklehead, karaoke-type singer who thinks he can sing and doesn’t really have his shit together, so it’s a painful process, but it was your publication that helped us eventually find Draiman . . . We went through a screening process over the phone because our first round of auditions was kind of an open calling for anybody to come out, and it was just really painful to have to deal with that process. [With] the screening process, at least we got a better feel for some of these guys, where their head was at, and who seemed like they had their shit together. Me and David kind of hit it off over the phone. We were just discussing some of the bands we grew up on or what we were into currently. And it was enough to spark the interest to say: “Let’s get together and jam. Let’s try this out and see where it goes.” We had a few guys lined up to do the same thing, but David clearly stood out. The first day, it was pretty obvious to me.
M: Will Disturbed still be on hiatus in 10 years?
DD: I have no idea, to be honest with you. I really don’t know. We never discussed it. I think collectively, we just said: “You know what? Maybe it’s time to kind of take a break for a bit.” And not only for us, it’s for the fans, too. We’ve gone through the same cycle over and over and over . . . [and] it’s hard to walk away from that when we’re headlining big festivals, we’re going all over the world, and we’re a big draw just about everywhere we play. It’s hard to walk away when we feel like we’re still on top of our game. I think we wanted to just give the fans a little bit of a breather.
THERE’S A METALHEAD IN THE PARKING LOT: Warped Tour shouldn’t be the first thing that comes to mind when trying to decide which summer festivals have the best metal bands (my picks below), but that’s exactly where you’ll find The Black Dahlia Murder (FMBA in Tinley Park, 7/20). Waterford, Michigan’s answer to the Gothenburg scene (At The Gates, Dark Tranquillity) aims to “scare the pants off a lot of” insufferable post-emo enthusiasts, says vocalist Trevor Strnad, taking cues from one of the more adventurous choices in the punk-derived tour’s 19-year history.
“I saw Ice-T there,” he recalls, having attended Warped Tour a few times in his youth. “He was yelling at the crowd and stuff. We were in Pontiac, Michigan, and he was like, ‘I’m gonna get one of y’all white bitches out there pregnant tonight!’ I’m like, ‘Holy shit, this is awesome!'”
The less than serious death metal act is celebrating 10 years on Metal Blade this summer with Everblack, 45 minutes of sister-city bludgeoning as lethal as any of The Black Dahlia Murder’s numerous swings of the post-metalcore sledgehammer. It’s an extreme-metal starter kit for Warped Tour scene kids who happen to get whacked by the only truly heavy band on a bill of over 100.
“We realize that it’s not a metal tour and we will definitely stick out like a sore thumb, and I’m looking at that as a good thing,” Strnad says. “I think we’ll make some waves there. It is a really, really young tour. I think they should be sitting ducks.” How did it go for Ice-T? “He didn’t get me pregnant – no one I know, either – but I hope that he reached his goal.”
MOSH-WORTHY . . . LIVE: Minsk (Empty Bottle, 7/8); Amon Amarth, Children Of Bodom (FMBA, 7/27); Weedeater (Ultra Lounge, 8/1); Jungle Rot (Cobra Lounge, 8/2); Ghost B.C. (Lollapalooza, 8/2 and Double Door, 8/3).
MOSH-WORTHY: Stone Magnum From Time . . . To Eternity (Rest In Peace); Church Of Misery Thy Kingdom Scum (Metal Blade); Coffins The Fleshland (Relapse); Autopsy The Headless Ritual (Peaceville); Death SS Resurrection (Scarlet).
— Mike Meyer