Out of the darkness

Jerusalem-based singer-songwriter Ben Draiman may be joining his famous brother David (of Disturbed) at the top of the charts.

Ben Draiman 370 (photo credit: Courtesy of Ben Draiman)
Ben Draiman 370
(photo credit: Courtesy of Ben Draiman)
Is having a famous brother in the same field you’re trying to crack into a blessing or a curse? For Jerusalem-based piano-playing singer-songwriter Ben Draiman, whose older sibling David sells out arenas as vocalist of American hard rock bastion Disturbed, it’s neither – not a cushy “in” to the increasingly stingy music business nor a pervasive shadow that suppresses his every musical move.
“My brother has done me a tremendous service by making our family name a recognizable household item,” said the 35-year-old Draiman recently, sitting in the living room of his Jerusalem apartment that he shares with his cat, a keyboard and a bunch of recording equipment.
“But gone are the days when the head of a label hears a rough demo of your song and is willing to offer you a big contract and invest in an album.
These days, they want you to invest your own money and do all the work beforehand. And I’m doing that work and not looking for shortcuts.”
The work he’s referring to includes a slow-cooking half-decade career of solo piano performances that has evolved into a full band onslaught that is now gaining momentum with the release of The Past is Not Far Behind, an impressive new album consisting of six Draiman originals.
Drawing from musical influences growing up a child of the 80s in Chicago, like Depeche Mode, The Cure and Bon Jovi, Draiman has developed a knack of combining magnetic melodies and crunching arena rock choruses that accentuate the interplay between guitar and piano. He describes his music as exploring the common denominators of Evanescence’s heaviness and Coldplay’s prettiness. And his lyrics are straight from the heart, and so personal they prevented him from seeking to play his songs in public for many years.
“Music for me has always been a deeply personal thing. I never wrote for a target audience or tried to make a ‘hit’ but wrote for myself,” said Draiman, a trained psychological researcher who moved to Israel at age 18 from an observant home in Chicago.
That the Draiman household produced two stellar musicians is a happy mystery to the younger brother, who recalls both himself and David being passionate about music as teenagers.
“It’s interesting how we’ve kind of influenced each other. We were in bands together in high school even though David was three years older than me,” said Draiman. “And we’d joke to each other then, ‘if we ever get signed to a contract, we’ll just pick up and leave everything.’ But none of our groups were all that serious, and when he went away to boarding school, we started down different musical paths.”
While David eventually moved toward the metal scene and after spending time in Israel studying at yeshiva, formed a number of bands before joining Disturbed in 2000, Ben kept his music primarily to himself, as he moved to Israel and studied for a social work degree at Bar-Illan University.
But he never gave up writing songs or playing the piano, and the urge to share the songs grew.
“As a kid I wrote short stories, and at the end, when you finish, you want to share it with someone. They go hand in hand, but they also conflict with each other, the idea of sharing personal things,” said Draiman.
“So initially, I would just have little private concerts with people in my home. It took me a long time before I started thinking about a potential career and seeing how far I can go.”
That happened after Draiman started receiving incredibly positive feedback on his work from listeners around the world, who downloaded his original material, as well as a cover version of Disturbed’s piano ballad “Darkness.”
“A couple years ago, I started playing some small clubs, and when David was in Israel with Disturbed, he came out to see me,” said Draiman. “I love my brother very much and I love his music, regardless of him being my brother – it’s a little heavy at first, but when you get used to it, there’s a strong melody there, which is something that’s always been important to both of us. So at that show, I chose to cover his song ‘Darkness,’ Disturbed’s only slow song, to honor him.”
David Draiman told the Post after that show that he intentionally avoided performing a duet with his brother so as to not detract any attention away from his spotlight.
“The last time I went to see him, he called me up and I told him then to never do that to me again. I don’t mind being put on the spot, but I’m coming there for my brother and it shouldn’t be about me... it also makes me feel uncomfortable if I think that he feels any residual feelings over attention being given to me – I want it to be all about him and to honor him,” said David At some point after the show, Draiman uploaded most of the songs to YouTube, and despite the amateur quality of the clips, the performance of “Darkness” received over 35,000 hits.
“And even though I wasn’t looking for it, people made the connection between him and me,” he said. “And something interesting began to happen, I began to developing this community of fans from all over the world.”
That network resulted in shows in Austin, Texas, and in Prince George, British Columbia, a leading radio station 94X picked up his instant classic single “Soon Enough” and placed on their playlist where it landed in the station’s top 100 songs of 2011.
“All of these things kind of came together and made me start thinking that there could be something more to this than a little hobby. These were really fans who had become connected to and who believed in me,” said Draiman.
Those fans included Kfir Gov and Daniel Strassberg, partners in a Tel Aviv recording studio called Chaos, who invited Draiman to lay some tracks down which resulted in a professional recording of “Soon Enough” that snowballed into the six-song album being released next week.
Draiman will be debuting the album at a record release party on October 3 at the Yellow Submarine in Jerusalem, where he’ll be accompanied by his new band of metallic rockers, including Hanan Abramovitz on guitar, Michael Galprin on bass, Rom Gov on drums and special guests Shai Baruch and Orphaned Land’s Yossi Sassi.
“They’ve been great about coming on to a project midstream and adding so many new directions to the sound. The big difference for me is that, when you have a full band behind you, it’s harder to ignore the music,” said Draiman.
“I went from this very soft, mellow ballad music to this heavier sound, and when you incorporate the guitars with the piano, it adds a certain depth and texture to the music. The piano is always there, but it’s not always the dominant instrument anymore. The concept of the album and the live show is combining those elements.”
Opening himself up from a personal performer to a rocker has been a process for Draiman, but the essential motive of giving an audience something real to react to remains the same for him.
“After you play your songs long enough, you become a bit detached from the emotion that inspired them, but you can reconnect with it if you allow yourself to,” he said. “And that dynamic – between being an entertainer and being an artist – is always in play.”
“The personal nature of my songwriting is something that at this stage distinguishes me from others. It all depends on the place from where the music comes from, and for me, it’s still utterly pure – I have no audience in mind and no market in mind. It’s a personal therapeutic experience for me and ultimately, I think that’s what people can relate to. You don’t need to be the best singer or piano player, but when you give something else, when you mean every word of what you sing, that can be even more important.”
Even as they sing along to his anthem-like songs, it’s certainly a sentiment that Ben Draiman’s growing legion of fans believe.