A few weeks ago, I got an invite to go to David Draiman’s house in Texas. He was going to provide food from the best barbecue joint in Austin. The catch? I had to listen to the new album from his new project, Device. Mmmm, barbecue. How bad could it be, right? Mmmm, barbecue.
‘Mad’ David Draiman. He’s the singer from Disturbed. He made that weird monkey noise in rock club floor-filler, ‘Stupify’. He’s the guy with those massive lip piercings. He tweets in 100 PER CENT CAPITAL LETTERS on Twitter. He’s right up there with Fred Durst and Coby Dick as a premier larger-than-life nu metal personality – ostensibly macho and totally metal. There’s a lot to make fun of and cynical old me? I’m sceptical about this whole shebang.
But then again…sound
JUST FOR THE RECORD…ANYONE WHO THINKS ITS OK TO BE TEACHING A 3-4 YEAR OLD CHILD “GUN SAFTEY” RULES, IS OUT OF THEIR MIND. PERIOD.
— DAVID DRAIMAN (@DAVIDMDRAIMAN) May 14, 2013
My thoughts, as I sat on the Warner Bros minibus outside an incredibly fancy hotel in downtown Austin revolve around, “How rude can I really be here? The guy’s inviting me to his bloody house! Maybe I can leave now…” But no. The minibus pulls away. I’m going. I’m in it for the long haul. It takes about half an hour to drive to Draiman’s massive house and those thoughts of dread and terror circulate for the whole journey. I can’t stop thinking about how I can both be respectful to this guy in his home but also retain my critical composure. Oh well. C’est la vie and whatnot.
The main problem in my anarchic plan is that as Draiman meets us at the gates to his massive house in a black t-shirt and trousers, flip flops and (sadly) no facial adornments. He’s really, really nice. He just looks like someone’s dad. We’re immediately welcomed into his home and he tells us to pour ourselves a drink (a slightly too massive Jack Daniel’s and Coke) as he and the label cronies crack open the take away barbecue. It’s from Franklin’s – apparently the best bbq in Austin – and it smells delicious. It tastes better.
We start eating smoked turkey and brisket, potato salad and beans and we chat. We make small talk like normal people who don’t really know one another, but want to. He explains how he moved to Austin from Chicago because the taxes are lower here and this particular part of the weirdest city in Texas is one of the best school districts in the country. The dad vibes increase. The metal superstar vibes are present only in the high ceilings and the half-mile vista we walked down to get to the house. Then he shows me a photo of his fluffy white dog and I demand to know why I can’t play with him. Apparently the dog likes Texas barbecue even more than I do so he’s shipped his former WWE Diva wife and the dog off for the day. He’s a family man, but this is business.
During a few moments of meat digestion in the blazing sun whilst looking out over the enormous acreage known as David Draiman’s Massive Back Garden, we discuss how David had to spend tens of thousands of dollars fixing the water heating system in the house after he moved in because it was originally installed by a bunch of cowboys. After we finish having the kind of boring conversation only DIY (home improvement, not hardcore) fans can have with one another, we walk past his classic black 1969 Ford Mustang and up the stairs into a room that turns out to be the studio where the album was recorded. It’s tiny. There’s no equipment – it just looks like a normal home office. This is where we listen to the Device album through David Draiman’s awesome sound system.
The fact of the matter is that the Device album is ok. If you’re a Disturbed fan, you’re far more likely to enjoy it than if you’re not, but there’s enough in there to appeal to fans of industrial music and plain old classic rockers too. It’s not pulling up any trees, musically speaking, but in terms of just being a well-balanced but varied album full of pretty well-written, well-performed songs, it gets a very solid 3.5/6. From the enticing male-female vocal-duelling soft rock of ‘Close My Eyes Forever’ – a genuine improvement on the Ozzy Osbourne/Lita Ford classic – to the irregular beats of familiar but unspectacular opener, ‘You Think You Know’ and ‘Penance’, which features a new as-yet-unidentified animal noise from Draiman, there is variety. While the closing track, ‘Through It All’, is possibly the strongest track with its jumbo power ballad vibes, it’s ‘Vilify’ that encapsulates best what Device is all about, mixing metal and industrial with electronics. It’s like Disturbed meets Nine Inch Nails, if I’m being really lazy about it.
What’s most impressive, however, is the list of personnel that Draiman has roped into the project. While he is joined by Evanescence drummer, Will Hunt and former Filter guitarist, Geno Lenardo as permanent members, guesting on the album are Tom Morello, Serj Tankian, Lzzy Hale, M Shadows, Glenn Hughes and Geezer Butler. They’re not small names. Like Draiman, they’re names that have transcended the excellent bands they’re most closely affiliated with. Just take a moment to consider how much respect Draiman must command among his peers for them to want to make music with him.
You’re clearly very successful. You’ve got dozens of platinum discs on your walls…
“The platinum discs that are up there are not there to be seen – they’re there to inspire greater accomplishments; to encourage you to be more than you already are. If they were to be seen, then they would be right there when people walk into the house.”
What are your reasons behind Device then?
“The fact that it is new music is what’s driving me. I think that just breaking free of the cycle of ‘make a record, tour, make a record, tour,’ with the same band since 2000 is a long time, and it’s a long time where the fans have come to expect that every other year they get a tour and a record from you. That predictability can harm not only the band itself but it can harm the fanbase as well. It’s healthy for everyone to just leave each other alone and do different things for a while. Anyone in Disturbed who ever wanted to do anything else never had the chance because Disturbed was this all-encompassing machine and it became cyclical and automatic. It became assembly line.”
Do you think that it’s a metal album? I definitely think it fits into the broader spectrum…
“It’s isn’t metal. Could you say that Tom Morello is metal? [Yes – me] You’re one of the few. Most metal fans these days think it’s something very microcosmic and exclusive – it’s not inclusive. I never claimed that Device is a metal project but the guitar tonalities… it’s drop-D tuning, it’s still super low and super thick. For me, if I’m going to have music that I’m playing to, it needs to be guitar-driven. Even though there’s a huge saturation of electronica within Device, the dominant sonic element musically is always guitar. Is it metal? Not by today’s terminology – not by any stretch of the imagination. I think it’s hard rock fused with heavy electronica. The argument can be made that it isn’t stereotypical industrial either because it’s not, it just derives inspiration from industrial. How do I define it? I have no fucking idea.”
So what does the future hold for Disturbed?
“We love it too much to not go back to it. We’ve sacrificed too much building it to just abandon it. We talk to each other, all of us guys. They’ve been very supportive of the project. It’s a chance for us to just be ourselves.”
Then I had to turn off my dictaphone so he could play us the title track from Trivium’s forthcoming sixth album, Vengeance Falls. Draiman produced it. He goes on to explain that he’s been a fan of the Florida metallers for a while but didn’t think they had reached a high enough standard for him to work with them until he heard In Waves. Unsurprisingly, he claims that this album will take Trivium up to the next level. To hear such genuine passion is the mark of a man who holds heavy music in exceptionally high regard. From one listen, I can say that the song is good – it’s interesting and unpredictable. He might be right.
He cares about the furtherance of his career. He cares about his family. He cares about society. I didn’t follow David Draiman on Twitter before I went to his house but I started, mainly as prep. The thing is that he talks so much sense, it’s difficult to stop. In amongst the PMA, self-help style memes, you’ll find a barrage of strongly-positioned political message that places Draiman firmly in the Good Guy camp. That he stylises himself with the Caps Lock does take away a certain gravitas, but the messages are there nonetheless.
Why have you chosen to invite us round to your house today?
“It’s South By Southwest! Everybody’s in town. I would just be rude not to invite you all over. Originally I was thinking about doing a show but I can invite you to any show you want. This is just a chance to be human beings for a minute.”
That’s pretty cool, eh? But then he ruined it all by point blank refusing to feed me BBQ food for a hilariously staged photo, so I am left with this. Yes, that’s me looking drunk, sunburnt and a bit embarrassed. Cool.