Disturbed has had a pretty fine ride for the past year-and-a-half. They released their debut album, The Sickness, in March of 2000, landed a spot on the second stage of Ozzfest shortly thereafter, then scored a hit in the song "Stupify." They've seen their career blossom from there, highlighted by a series of major tours, including a second year with Ozzfest, this time on the main stage (after a near-riot in the second stage pit at their hometown stop in early June).
We caught up with guitarist Dan Donegan in the back lounge of the band's tour bus, just before Ozzfest kicked off, at the Q101 Jamboree in Chicago, one of those massive radio station sponsored events that brings just about every happening act together for one day of music and madness. We were kept waiting while a few of Disturbed's prettier fans made themselves presentable and left the bus, but Dan - and we must say he was in a great mood - made it all worthwhile, discussing the band's success, sharing his enthusiasm for the Ozzfest tour, and showing our video cameras a couple of his favorite licks.
Musician.com: Dan, the band really hit big in the past year. Tell us a little bit about what's been going on in the past 18 months.
Dan Donegan: A lot. We've been busy touring just all over the place - all over the country, all over Europe as well. Obviously, I mean we had a big summer last year being part of the Ozzfest 2000 and playing on the Second Stage. Things went really well for us and we've been a part of a lot of high profile tours since then. We've been main support to the Stone Temple Pilots and then toured with Godsmack, and then main support to Marilyn Manson over in Europe. And then we came back, in March of this year, and headlined our first full production tour. We had a great lineup with Mudvayne as main support, and Spineshank and Nothingface and it was just really a successful tour. It went really well. We're trying to move things up to the next level. We had the full sound, full lighting rig, full stage, and we're just trying to add something, visually as well. And we'll stay out on the road; we're doing Ozzfest again this year and doing the off-dates with Slipknot, and Papa Roach. Linkin Park and Mudvayne will be on that, as well, so we're just constantly touring.
Musician.com: Are you working on a follow-up to The Sickness?
Donegan: We're starting to write a little bit now. We probably won't hit the studio until maybe winter because we're just so booked solid with the tours. After Ozzfest, I know there's a couple possibilities of some good tours. We may go to Japan and Australia, as well, too. We want to get over there. We're making a third trip to Europe next week but we still haven't hit Japan and Australia so we want to hit that part of the world as well. And we'll probably end up doing some Halloween or Christmas shows; a lot of radio shows like the one today, the Q101 Jamboree here in Chicago. A lot of stations will have Christmas shows and we'll probably tour up until that point. And depending on what producer we end up going with, we'll come off the road and start preparing for the studio.
Musician.com: Last year you did Ozzfest on the second stage. This year you're on the main stage, right?
Donegan: No, we're gonna headline second stage [Ed. Note: The band was subsequently moved to the main stage.]. They offered us a slot on the main stage, as one of the opening bands, and it was a great opportunity. We still would have done it, but we had the option of that or second stage headlining and we chose to do second stage. Just basically, we had a great time on it last year. It was a great vibe. It's general admission tickets, so there's no seating. People can get close to the band. They can mosh, they can surf, they can do whatever they want. It's just a more personal vibe, and we wanted that feeling again. It's just a little bit strange doing the main stage and having that pavilion scene and people just kind of scattered around in seats waiting for Black Sabbath. This way we get a longer set being the headliner and we get to use our production - almost full production, except for the lighting 'cause it'll still be kind of light out, but I think it'll be cool. We're definitely looking forward to it.
Musician.com: It must be a good time being out on the road with some people who I'm sure you listened to growing up?
Donegan: Totally. I mean it's pretty overwhelming at times. We're from Chicago and two years ago we were hanging out as fans in the crowd at Ozzfest, watching some of the newer bands like Slipknot's first year out, and Static X, and Godsmack. And to be a part of it last year and to hang out with the guys from Pantera and Godsmack was great. It's overwhelming at times just to think that a year before we were trying to sneak our way backstage to try to hang out, just to meet anybody. And then last year, we're sitting there getting drunk with the guys from Pantera. It's cool to just kind of become friends with a lot of these bands that we are into and that we do like and then get the opportunity to play with them. I mean especially last year, playing with Ozzy, and now this year being with Black Sabbath is just unbelievable right there. I mean not many bands ever can say that they've been able to be a part of the biggest metal fest starring Black Sabbath. I mean that right there is just unbelievable.
Musician.com: Is there anything you've learned on the road that you think could have helped you get to this level quicker when you were still a local Chicago band?
Donegan: I don't know. I mean we were a hard-working band. I guess the thing that's definitely helped us is just to be able to play five nights a week, or whatever it is. In the summer it'll probably be more like six nights a week and I think it just makes us a better band. And I think just getting familiar with each other that often, on stage, and comfortable with each other - just the more and more we play like that I think it gets more comfortable, and hopefully the band continues to get tighter and grow on stage. And I think things loosened up a lot more from last year, as opposed to where we're at now. It's just a lot more comfortable. We're used to doing this a lot more, from being a local band when we would play maybe two shows a month. So it's a great thing to play as much as we do. It's become an addiction to us. It's like we need this in our lives and we don't like having days off. We don't know what to do with days off. It just gets boring. And it's great to be on tour. None of us are getting sick of it. We've been out straight over a year, with only one break for Christmas and New Year's and that was it, and we just love staying out there and playing.
Musician.com: Are there any things that you've learned from being on the road or from recording with your producer that, with the next batch of songs you'll say, 'Let's make this part simpler, let's keep the rhythm simpler,' or anything like that?
Donegan: Not really. I mean we can't over-think the songwriting process. I mean we didn't really change anything in the studio. We really beat up the songs as we're writing them. I think with The Sickness being our first record - you have your whole life to write your first record, so we really beat up the songs. We don't write 50 songs and then pick our best 12 to put on the record. Everything we write we record and put out. We put 12 songs on a record and we had two songs that we recorded and we put them on soundtracks, so we beat every song up. We make sure that we're happy with everything, so there's not really a favorite song to any of us. We put so much time into every song that they're all important to us and we listened back in the studio. We did a little pre-production just before we started recording just to listen back. We did a live recording in the studio and we wanted to listen back just to make sure that we were happy with the structure of the song. To just make sure that it flowed well and we were happy with where it was going. There were a few minor changes that we made, but for the most part everything stayed the same. We demoed a couple of the songs and they stayed the same.
Musician.com: Who were your guitar influences when you were first learning to play? How did you learn to play guitar?
Donegan: I'm just self-taught, really. There wasn't really any one guitar player that made me want to pick up the guitar. I think it was just going to concerts and seeing four or five guys on a stage, and having thousands of people in the crowd just fixated on them, and that energy exchange to see what four or five guys can do to thousands of people, and people reacting to songs that they created. It just blew my mind. I'm like, 'I would love to be able to do that someday,' and it's such an adrenaline rush. I think the first time of playing a show; you just become addicted right away. It's like, 'This is great.' And to be able to hit the stage and see the people react to something you created is such a great feeling. To see people singing the lyrics or listening to the music is awesome.
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