Disturbed's David Draiman takes back his life

The Jewish, Israel-loving frontman of Disturbed finds his energy onstage.

 DISTURBED’S DAVID DRAIMAN:  The darkness keeps creeping in once in a while. (photo credit: ALON LEVIN)
DISTURBED’S DAVID DRAIMAN: The darkness keeps creeping in once in a while.
(photo credit: ALON LEVIN)

“I need it so badly, I can taste it... maybe more than I ever needed it in my life.”

David Draiman, everyone’s favorite world-famous, American, heavy metal demi-god who happens to be a staunchly vocal defender of Israel, wasn’t talking about drugs or drink, but getting on stage as the frontman for his band, Disturbed.

Speaking to The Jerusalem Post over Passover, the 50-year-old Draiman was counting down the days until the hugely popular hard rockers launched their first major tour in over three years, in Montreal, in support of their new well-received album, Divisive. The tour, which began last week, will see the band return to Israel after their breathtaking show in 2019, on June 28 and June 29 at the Tel Aviv Exhibition Center.

Labeled the Take Back Your Life tour, the sojourn and its name have special significance for newly divorced Draiman.

“It’s been an upheaval – divorce is not an easy thing to handle. It affects everything, not just my work,” he said via Zoom. “It’s been a rough start to the year, so it’s nice to be able to have something positive to focus on and try and get re-centered. But the darkness keeps creeping in once in a while.”

 DISTURBED ONSTAGE in Rishon Lezion in 2019. (credit: ALON LEVIN) DISTURBED ONSTAGE in Rishon Lezion in 2019. (credit: ALON LEVIN)

Seeing the vulnerability in the potentially menacing, black-wearing, bald-pated vocalist who can prompt thousands of fans to go wild with the pumping of a fist, is a clue to Disturbed’s appeal, described by Draiman as 90% heavy and 10% kind, loving goodness.

ALONG WITH his bandmates, guitarist/keyboardist Dan Donegan, bassist John Moyer and drummer Mike Wengren, they’ve sold millions of albums since their 2000 debut and in 2015, they cracked the mainstream with a passionate rendition of Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence” that shattered the heavy metal stereotype the band had fostered.

Hard rock site Metal Hammer called them one of the most commercially successful metal acts of all time, citing their streak of five albums debuting at number one on the Billboard 200 as a feat equaled only by Metallica and the Dave Matthews Band.

The site’s review of Divisive said there were no surprises in the band’s well-developed amalgam of mainstream metal.

“Since the late 90s, Disturbed has mastered the ability to craft muscular, radio-friendly anthems that have varied relatively little over the years. Long embracing the idea that what isn’t broken isn’t in need of repair, Divisive puts this principle into practice,” their review said.

“Thank god, we’re still able to write some great hooks that create catchy songs that stick in people’s heads,” said Draiman with a laugh.

“I’m very happy with how well it’s been received and the band feels great coming out of the gate. That energy and exuberance we had while making the record is definitely going to translate into how people hear it. And I can’t wait to be able to unleash the songs in the way they deserve to be presented: in a live setting.”

Four years since Disturbed's last performance in Israel

When Disturbed last performed in Israel, for 10,000 fans at Rishon Lezion’s LivePark in 2019, Draiman spoke to the audience in Hebrew, donned a t-shirt with an IDF insignia and sang “Hatikvah” proclaiming, “This is for all the IDF soldiers.”

“There’s no doubt that Israeli audiences have a different level of intensity because they’re not as blessed with as many performances as the rest of the world,” said Draiman. “Generally, when you leave the United States for Europe or South America, the energy level of the crowd goes up a bit, but especially in Israel because when shows do happen, they’re literally celebrating that the performance actually took place and nothing happened to stop it.”

DRAIMAN, WHO used to lead High Holy Day services as a teen at various Jewish day schools and yeshivot he attended, claims to have close to 200 relatives in Israel, including his brother, Ben, also a musician, and his grandmother. A militant anti-BDS proponent with a highly visible and outspoken social media presence, Draiman said that he doesn’t understand why Israel is treated differently than any other concert destination on the itinerary of other touring artists.

“I don’t think there’s ever going to be a time to visit Israel and absolutely nothing is happening. But you can say the same of Chicago, New York or any major US or European city. Look at Paris! There’s potential danger everywhere. If three years ago you would have told me there would be a problem in performing in Kyiv, I would have said you were crazy,” said Draiman.

“Of course, if a major conflict broke out before our shows, then yeah, we’ll have a problem. But I don’t think you can deprive people of the means to bring them to true escape and salvation in a way that nothing else can simply because they live in a bad neighborhood.”

Although the band is at the top of its game, with the band members entering their 50s and the music they play appealing to those half their age, Draiman is aware that time is starting to be a factor in the band’s shelf life. When looking at the continued dominance of Metallica in their 60s and Bruce Springsteen touring at 73, he holds out hope.

“Physically, I’m ok. I’ve lost 20 pounds since January and I’ve been doing vocal training. It’s the mental aspect I have to try and get past. But I know the most amazing way to transcend every single issue to feel that energy onstage,” he said.

“May we all be able to thrive in the way that the aforementioned musicians thrive that late in the game. I hope we can because I still love doing it. What we do can be considerably more physically challenging, but it’s my own fault and the nature of the music that we write and perform. We’re a product of what we create and I wouldn’t have it any other way. That’s the only way it can be truly satisfying for me.”

A fan of democracy

David Draiman chuckles when asked if he follows the news out of Israel – both the internal conflict over the judicial overhaul and the ongoing battle against terrorism.

That’s because Draiman’s Twitter and Facebook accounts are freshly stocked anytime you look with new observations, comments and remarks about all the things that interest him, including Israel. So it’s not surprising that he has some opinions about the state of the country he greatly identifies with.

“I think you know I follow it closely on a day-by-day basis and you know it pisses me off,” he said.

Sinat hinam (baseless hatred) brought about the destruction of the Temple. Our enemies smell blood and they smell weakness when we are divided. It’s easier or at least perceived to be easier to be attacked when you’re divided. Of course, they attack anyway, so we have to remind ourselves of that – that Israel is always in the crosshairs.

“I never imagined I would see the divisiveness in Israel that we saw in the United States during the Trump election. I never thought I would see two sides of the demographics in Israel split like this,” said Draiman who proclaimed himself a fan of democracy.

“I don’t think people in positions of power should change the playing field in order to further their own power. It’s playing with fire and it’s understandable why so many elements of the proposed reforms have been met with the kind of fervor they have been. It’s justified, but in other ways, it just gives both sides more fuel to add to their respective fires when they get up on their respective podiums and scream. Israel has bigger issues to deal with. People need to remember what brings us together as opposed to concentrating on what divides Israeli society.

 “But you have to appreciate that Israel is the one country in that entire part of the world where you see what happens takes place peacefully, for the most part. Democracy thrives in Israeli in a way it doesn’t anywhere else in the region.”