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Disturbed embrace evolution and the sound of silence 

click to enlarge Burning sensations: “We got to do something that wasn’t really predictable.” - TRAVIS SHINN
  • Travis Shinn
  • Burning sensations: “We got to do something that wasn’t really predictable.”
On tour after tour, throughout their two-decade history, Disturbed have listened to a heavy metal playlist in the dressing room before their shows. On their last tour, however, that playlist changed.

That change, in part, led to the band’s new album Evolution, which was released in October and features as many acoustic-rooted ballads as it does hard-riffing rockers.

“Our drummer Mikey [Wengren] always had the all-metal i-whatever — iPod, iPhone — but this last tour we started listening to all the classic stuff,” says singer David Draiman. “The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Styx, REO, Journey. The list goes on. The great classic bands from that era. Those amazing records, they have such an amazing diversity. We said, ‘Let’s try to recreate the journey that so many of those classic records took you on.’”

There was a second, equally important element that factored in to the making of Evolution, a title that aptly describes what has occurred with the hard rock/heavy metal band over the past three years.

“The last record cycle, we got to do something that wasn’t really predictable, that looked impossible, cross over in a big way with something that wasn’t associated with us sonically. That was a very liberating feeling,” Draiman says.

That seemingly impossible crossover was Disturbed’s dramatically anthemic, largely electric guitar-free version of Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence,” which was released three years ago.

It went to No. 1 on the Billboard magazine Hard Rock and Mainstream Rock charts and became the band’s highest-charting record ever on the Top 100 singles chart. It has since sold more than 1.5 million digital downloads and been streamed more than 50 million times. The music video, meanwhile, has reached more than 450 million views, while the live video of the band’s performance on Conan has been viewed more than 85 million times.

Draiman says Disturbed didn’t have a clue that any of that would happen when it recorded the song and decided to issue it as a single and music video.
“How could we?” he asks. “It really, within the genre, was unprecedented. Never in a thousand years would I have dreamed it would be that massive and be used in all the places I’ve heard it used, figure skating, Dancing With the Stars, with the 9-11 Memorial, and getting the blessing from Paul Simon when we met him last year on Maui. The thing, surreal doesn’t cover it.”
The success of “The Sound of Silence” let the band give itself permission to do something it had been thinking about trying for years, to make an acoustic EP.

“This time around, we just started doing the acoustic stuff and trying to create that,” Draiman explains. “When we started creating those songs, they were so strong, powerful and anthemic, it didn’t fit just having it on an EP anymore.”

Meanwhile, Draiman’s lyrics are now addressing serious issues like death, war, addiction and political division. He largely attributes that to inspiration from the band’s music.

“It always comes after the fact,” Draiman says of the songwriting process. “Lyrics, for us, are literally the paint on the sculpture, the very last thing that comes. For me, what you write the song about needs to be evolved from the feeling you get from the music.

Several songs on the new record, including “Hold on to Memories” and “Already Gone,” pay tribute to Chester Bennington of Linkin Park, Vinnie Paul of Pantera and Chris Cornell of Soundgarden and Audioslave, each of whom died during the period when the album was being written and recorded.

“There are multiple songs on the record that deal with the subjects of pain and loss and addiction,” Draiman says. “Those poor lost souls — my friends, our friends — how could they not be part of the fabric of the record? It had to be there, because it affected us so much, not only them, everyone in the band lost someone. I lost my grandmother. It’s a main theme of the record.”
That said, Evolution still has its share of hard rock assaults of the sort that Disturbed have been making since the release of their platinum debut back in 2000. Among them is “Are You Ready,” the opening track that jumped to the top of the charts when it was released as a single in September.

“That’s Disturbed 101 for sure,” Draiman declares. “It was not only Disturbed 101, it had one of the strongest hooks on the record. It was an obvious first single for us… and it’s done a lot for us.”

On the personal front, Draiman lives in Honolulu these days, having recently moved after spending years in Austin, Texas.

“My kid was ravaged by Austin allergies,” he explains. “He had to live life like a boy in a bubble. It was a nightmare. I got him the hell out of there.”

It turned out to be the right move. “The kid’s at 100 percent improvement in the quality of his life,” reports Draiman. “I’m not at 100 percent improvement as far as the taxes I pay, the property values and how much it just costs to live out here. But you do what is best for your family. And, yes, it is in Hawaii.”

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