An Interview with Disturbed: Burn, Baby, Burn

Fire, lights, and good music—what more can you ask for? From passionate, original songs to covers of longtime favorites, the members of Disturbed are rearing to go this spring. Deep, velvety vocals radiate from speakers as they pair up with gentle piano notes as they waltz together through hardcore audiences. Then—BAM. Back to the band’s usual wicked riffs and heavy vocals. Talk about an emotional rollercoaster.

Although the anticipation to get on stage has cooled for the band, audiences across the country are anxiously awaiting the musicians’ arrival. Of course, a ton of work had to go into this tour cycle. With a lengthy set and the call for pyrotechnics, plenty of work had to be done so as to not set someone aflame during the set. I was lucky enough to speak with the band’s guitarist, Dan Donegan, early on in their tour and get the scoop about everything that goes into a Disturbed tour.

How’s the tour been going?

            It’s great—we’re up in Saskatoon, Canada. Well, we started off in Fargo and made our way up into Canada so it’s a little cold and snowy but it’s going good so far. The fans are great and showing up in a big way and we’re carrying some new production and playing probably some of the longest sets that we’ve ever played in our career. It’s been a lot of fun. We’re up there just for… probably about an hour and 40 minute set. We’re playing a few songs that we haven’t played in a while.

That’s great! Are you playing any of your newer material?

            Yeah, we’re doing quite a blend of all of our albums and a couple of bonus spots, we’ve decided to through in a cover of a medley section and kinda change directions, too, and get into some acoustic short performances, too. Our song “Remember,” we broke that down into an acoustic version and then we go into “The Sound Of Silence” which is a nice departure out here. Especially with this long of a set. It gives the fans a little bit of a roller coaster ride of changing things up vibe-wise for a moment.

I’ll get up there on piano and we’ll switch John [Moyer] over on acoustic guitar and I’ve got my guitar tech sitting in on guitar as well and then we’ll have local artists—a cellist and a violinist to come out and sit in with us and perform. So each city we’ll have somebody new to come up there and sit in. That’s been a lot of fun! They’ll come in here and we’ll rehearse it with them, make sure everything’s good, and then show time they’ll come up there… And it’s been great. Fans receive it well and they’ve been loving it.

That’s gotta be fun for you guys. It must keep you on your toes sometimes.

            Yeah—I mean, I think with this long of a set… I mean, typically in the past, whether we’re doing festivals or something, it might only be an hour or an hour-15 set at the most. For us to have this flexibility and to have not that many restrictions… Some venues, they might have a curfew where we have to limit it a little bit, but we’ve been squeezing it in as best we can to give the fans as much of it as we can. So, like I said, between every album, there’s stuff in between and that’s when we give them that little change so they can have that little roller coaster ride and we can offer them something different.

You’re about four shows in now, what’s been the best show so far?

            So far? I don’t know… The first one in Fargo was great just to be back and doing it again. The anticipation for the fans was a lot, but for us—we were just sitting around and going to rehearsals, gearing up for this, working out the production, fixing up the pyro queues, setting up the lighting to give it a good visual… And with the anticipation, it was nice to get that first show under our belt. And at this point, things are starting to improve with each show as we make adjustments; we’re feeling out the flow of the set, and tweaking out some of the lighting and the pyro, and just trying to fine-tune things out here.

There’s been improvements in each show on that end of things. ‘Cause we wanna get into that autopilot mode and just keep playing and do what we do. Because of the production, we wanna make sure that we have a good visual show to go along with it. Something that’s gonna bring just a big vibe to it and bring cool looks to it. It’s very time-consuming, but we’ve got some great guys out here working with us.

And quite a few of our guys come from the Mötley Crüe camp and we’ve worked with them before and are familiar with them—we’re not going with as much pyro as the Mötley Crüe goes with, but (laughs) enough to definitely heat up the stage. I don’t know how far back—the first 10-20 rows, I’m sure they feel the first blast of heat. But it’s a lot of fun. Fire always makes things look cooler.

I completely agree. Aside from working on production, what’s a typical day on the road for you guys?

            A lot of waiting around. A lot of just getting in the venue. It’s just a long day. We’re early risers, so… A lot of bands don’t usually come to the venue until late because they’re not needed until then. But we like to get into the venue and see the place and watch the stage, the lighting, the P.A. and everything come together. We do some press, and work in the dressing room, we have a warm-up room in there which has just a small electric drum kit and I have a small amp. So we go in there and just throughout the day, we kind of try new things in there. We might work on certain dynamics, or we say, “Hey, maybe we can try this,” and incorporate a crowd moment.

So we’ll rehearse those things and warm up and come out of stage usually later in the afternoon when they’re ready for us and do a soundcheck. That’s it. I mean, it’s really just a lot of hanging around the venue. It’s not that exciting. It kind of become like Groundhog Day—especially up here because most of them are hockey arenas and they all look the same and you feel like you haven’t left.

But it’s fun when we get days off. Then we have the opportunity to get out and go do something. Like we get to go out to dinner, we got to go see the movie Deadpool the other day which was awesome. And then we went to a hockey game the other night, which was pretty cool. A few of us went out to a Winnipeg-Boston game. So, there are some fun moments. We’ll go out and have a few drinks (laughs). We definitely make the best of those opportunities.

You’d hope—I mean, if you can get out and see different states and cities, go for it!

            Yeah! I mean, when we can, we go out. But we’re in a part of Canada where it’s like the middle of nowhere and it’s been really cold, to that makes it a bit tougher to do much. But once we get out and about when there’s good weather and more places to do some sightseeing, we’re all about that. So I don’t spend much time sitting around in a hotel room. When there’s good weather, I’m usually out the door and exploring.

Have you ever tried writing while on the road?

            We have at times. I mean, we never really dove deep into it. I might just record some stuff and save it for the future. We do carry Pro Tools and we’ll work on things occasionally. It gets tough for us because once we’re out here, our heads are in full-on touring mode just about playing and stuff. Occasionally, with the downtime, I mean, we haven’t even been thinking of writing at the moment, but in the future, once there are moments of downtime, I might just record a few riffs here and there, save it, and then forget about it for a while. I’ll have to dig back and refresh my memory of what I even played and see if it catches my interest then, six months down the road and then we’ll see. But sometimes I’ve taken riffs and I’ve given them to David after a touring cycle and see if it strikes anything with him as well.

That makes sense. It’s so hectic out there. But when you aren’t on the road, how do you guys tackle writing?

            Usually, it’s been a lot of working on riffs at home and I assemble what feels like a good structure to me. And then sometimes Mike [Wengren] will come down—I’m the only one left in Chicago and Mike’s up in Wisconsin—so he’ll come down to me and we’ll work on some stuff musically, record it, and then I’ll send it off to David [Draiman] and we’ll interact that way. But this last album was a lot nicer because we didn’t get too married to the idea of just sending files back and forth. It’s a good starting point for us, but there’s nothing better than being in a room together and feeding off the energy of each other and you kind of lose that when you’re just sending files.

It’s convenient to do and you can make an album that way, but it’s time consuming as well. Once we got those first, initial ideas out, then David would either fly out to my house from Austin, Texas to me in Chicago, or I would fly to him and we would work on it in person. That way, you really sense the energy and if somebody is connecting with it or not. We really made an effort this time to make it a priority in the writing process.

We get our best results when we’re in the room together so, if I’m working on a riff, and Mike’s playing a beat with it, we can tell if David’s onto it and he’s feeling it, if he’s inspired by it, or if it’s not going the way we want it to, then we’ll just change things up on the spot. But the chemistry has always been there. I guess we’re pretty fortunate that nothing has changed there during the hiatus. As far as being away from each other for many years of not writing together, there was a little concern of, “Oh, did we lose anything?” But, it’s just like riding a bike. The second I had riffs, immediately, he had ideas to through melodies back. So the writing process has been pretty easy for us.


Catch Disturbed as they pull into Theatre Of Living Arts on April 2 and Irving Plaza on April 4. For more information on the band, visit