Disturbed interview, Mike Wengren interview

A chat with Mike Wengren of Disturbed

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Emerging from the nu-metal ashes of the early part of the decade, Disturbed have proven themselves to be a formidable hard rock band. As the group prepares for an upcoming European tour run, Bullz-Eye caught up with drummer Mike Wengren to talk about touring festivities, the recent “Land of Confusion” video, Ten Thousand Fists, and the most challenging Disturbed track of all when it comes to pounding the skins.

Bullz-Eye: I wanted to start off by talking about all the tour stuff you guys have going on.

Mike Wengren: Okay, cool.

BE: How did Ozzfest turn out for you this year?

MW: Man, Ozzfest was amazing. You know, it was our fourth year on the tour. We had been off for a couple years before this touring cycle. It was just really cool to go back and be one of the veterans on this run. We know the staff real well, all the touring crew, and everybody who runs the tour was great, so on the first day when we got back it was great to see everybody and, you know, hugs and stuff, and just see how everyone’s doing. From a performance standpoint we tried stepping it up this year, you know we try to step it up every year, of course, but it was really cool to see Ozzy on the second stage this year, you know, watching him headline second stage. It was really inspiring, man. It was like you were a young kid all over again. It was just really inspiring.

BE: You guys have a European tour getting ready to kick off.

MW: Yup!

BE: Tell us about that.

MW: We got some dates to make up. Unfortunately, we had a couple tours this year that got cancelled or postponed over in Europe, so we’re looking forward to getting back over there and finishing out these dates that we were supposed to in the beginning run. We’re just looking forward to it. Ironically, the cancellations seem to have worked in our benefit simply because some of the venues not only sold out but they had to bump them up to larger sized venues and those are sold out as well, so it should be a good fun run for us.

BE: How do European audiences compare to American audiences?

MW: You’d think there’d be a language barrier, especially when David (Draiman, lead singer) is addressing the crowd in between songs. That never really seems to be the case. Both lyrically and from a communications standpoint, they seem to eat it up and we always seem to be able to win them over whether it’s through just talking to them or rocking out with the dudes. The European crowds are awesome over there.

BE: I was also reading up on your guys’ ‘Music as a Weapon’ tour.

MW: Yeah, cool.

BE: That’s going to be coming up and I saw you have Stone Sour on the bill. Are there any other details on that?

MW: I’m not sure if we can actually say. We’re hoping to have a total of four or five bands and I’m not sure if the other bands that we’ve been talking to are confirmed yet, so I don’t know if I can make an official announcement yet or not. It’s going to be a really good bill. We’re trying to put together a bill that will be equal to or better than, say, a Family Values tour.

BE: I have to ask: do you have a favorite song to play live?

MW: Actually, I do. I know a lot of people like to try and cop out and say, “Oh, they’re my children and I love them all,” and that’s true, but being a drummer I like playing songs that are most challenging to me and one of the most fun songs for me, especially on the new record, is the song “Ten Thousand Fists.”

BE: I almost thought you’d say “Down with the Sickness,” only because I caught you guys the last time you were here in Columbus, Ohio at the Newport Music Hall and it seemed like the crowd, when you guys started playing that song, just went off the hook.

MW: Well, that’s definitely been our biggest single to date and for me it’s cool because I get to start out the song myself with my little signature drum riff in there. That’s definitely cool. I guess from a challenging standpoint, “Ten Thousand Fists” would have to be one of the most challenging ones for me, but definitely, the intro to “Down with the Sickness,” you have to include in there as well.

"Man, Ozzfest was amazing. It was really cool to see Ozzy on the second stage this year, you know, watching him headline second stage. It was really inspiring."

BE: Switching gears a little bit, I also wanted to cover everything you guys are doing with “Land of Confusion.” I’ve watched the video and everything, and it’s absolutely incredible. What was it like working with (director) Todd McFarlane on that?

MW: Oh man, Todd was amazing. It was an honor for us to get to work with him. It all started with this little smiley figure icon on our first record, and when we were local, that we used to use in our artwork. We kind of strayed away from it on the second record, Believe, but when it came time for the third record and we were thinking about artwork, we decided we want to bring this guy back, but we wanted him to develop not just a one-dimensional icon. We wanted to have him become this three-dimensional character, not to rip off, but to almost like Iron Maiden’s “Eddie.”

BE: Right.

MW: We were fans of McFarlane’s work simply from Spawn and even way back to when he was doing Spiderman in the Venom days. So we thought, who better to take this smiley face maniacal grin than McFarlane himself, you know? So we contacted him to see if he was into it. We sent him some music and he was down. We had a couple meetings and he drew the character. He also came up with the artwork for the album itself. When it came time to do the video, I don’t know if you remember the original video from Genesis with the puppets back in the ‘80s…

BE: Oh, yeah.

MW: …well, we decided what better way to complement the song than having McFarlane himself come up with the game plan and animate a video. We had worked with him for the last few months, working out some ideas and going over the game plan. Man, what he came up with we were really, really happy with. He’s the master.

BE: The video just has so many great visuals and it’s just a great watch. Same goes for the artwork on the album. You can spot that in any music store right off the bat.

MW: I appreciate that. He’s definitely amazing at what he does and what I love about it is that a lot of his artwork is so detailed you have to almost study it to appreciate everything that’s in there, especially the video. I love watching it because every time I see it there’s always something new that I pick up that I didn’t see the last time.

BE: What factors contributed to your decision to cover “Land of Confusion” in the first place?

MW: It’s kind of a funny situation. We had all the songs for the record itself written and ready to go and we had some down time to kill while we waited for our producer, Johnny K, to finish up the record he was working on. He was doing someone else’s project. So we had about a month or so to kill. We were at rehearsal one day and our guitar player, Danny (Donegen), came in said, “Hey, you know what, I was watching one of those ‘80s flashback video shows last night, and the ‘Land of Confusion’ video from Genesis came on.” It was in the background, you know, and it just kind of caught his attention. He heard the original’s synth line and thought this could be a really cool guitar part. I thought let’s just mess with it. At the same time, lyrically it really fit what was happening with today’s times; Iraq war, Afghanistan, terrorism, and everything that’s going on today. It really fits. We messed around with it just to have some fun and we really wound up digging what we came up with and decided, you know, we like how it turned out, let’s throw it on the record…what the hell? It wound up becoming a bigger song for us than we thought and here it is now, our new single, with an accompanying video that Todd McFarlane did. It’s crazy.

BE: I also wanted to check in on David Draiman to see how he’s doing with his recovery. I did see he had surgery a couple weeks ago. (This was surgery to fix a deviated septum that was hampering his vocals).

MW: Yeah, he did. He’s been having some vocal issues during this past touring cycle. He’s been seeing doctors on and off and I’m glad to say that we think we’ve finally gotten to the bottom of one of his problems. Back in the earlier days when he was a younger kid he had his nose broken a bunch of times, and due to all that he had a deviated septum. He went in to have surgery to have that repaired and I’m happy to say that he’s doing amazingly well. We actually just went out last week to New York for the parties for the MTV Video Music Awards. We weren’t nominated, we weren’t presenting, we weren’t even performing, but we were going out there just to do some press, say hello to some friends, and just hang out at the parties. There’s a band that performs in L.A. called Metal Skool, I don’t know if you’ve heard of them.

BE: Yeah, they’re an ‘80s cover band, right?

MW: Yeah, and they’re amazing, man! They’re really amazing musicians, but it’s kind of like they’re sort of poking fun at the glam base, you know, but they pull it off really well. Anyways, they call musicians up from time to time to go up and jam with them. We’ve been out to L.A. a hundred times and we know those guys really well. I guess they came up to New York to perform that night and we were at the club. They called David up onstage and David was like, “Oh, I haven’t really tried to sing full volume since the surgery. I’ve tried in the shower and I feel good, but I’ll give it a shot.” So he went up there and did “Whole Lotta Love” from Zeppelin and actually “Pour Some Sugar on Me” from Def Leppard. He rocked it, dude. He fucking nailed it big time!

BE: That’s quite a combo of songs there to be performing back-to-back!

MW: Yeah, those guys rock those songs out. They have a lot of fun with it and it’s really cool. I’ve heard David do a couple of songs with them before and he always has fun with it and nailed it. But from being his drummer, who normally sits behind him onstage, it was cool to sit out in the audience and hear him perform and do his thing. I don’t want to sound like I’m trying to blow smoke up his butt, but man, I swear to God, he sounded stronger than he has in a long, long time. We’re really happy with the result and looking forward to getting back out there and having us back to full speed again – all four of us.

BE: That’s great news. Do you guys think you’ll have any more singles off Ten Thousand Fists?

MW: We’re definitely hoping for a fourth. We’re talking about it. The label feels very strongly about putting out a fourth single. We’re tossing around a couple songs. The only problem we really have is nobody can really agree on which song. You know, there’s probably two or three frontrunners and everybody feels really strongly about a couple songs, so we’ll feel it out. I think the deciding factor will really be what the radio stations and what the fans really want to hear next.

BE: I guess that kind of fits in with my next question, which was if you guys were going to head back to the studio anytime soon, and if so, what can fans expect on the next Disturbed album?

MW: Right now I’d say the plans for the next year are the European run coming up now, then we’ll take a couple weeks off, then we got Music as a Weapon. Supposedly, I think (the tour)’s starting sometime in mid-November. We’re gonna go on through the Christmas break, pick it back up for the second leg at the beginning of January, and hopefully carry that through to roughly sometime in mid-to-late February. Then we’re talking about going over to New Zealand and Australia for one last run and wrap up the touring cycle at that. Then we’ll take maybe a month or so off come March or April, then April/May we’ll get back together and start putting all the material together for the next record. Hopefully, let’s say June or July, we’ll be back in the studio working on record number four. We definitely, definitely don’t want to take as long between records as we did last time. You know, we had a lot of issues we had to deal with in between records – the departing bass player issue and our guitar player, Danny, got married and had a baby, and we had a lot of personal stuff going on, too. We got a lot of material riff-wise that Danny has and it’s just a matter of getting us in a room together without the distractions of the road and putting those songs together. We’re actually really excited and looking forward to the next record.

BE: Excellent. I think that’s about all I have. Are there any closing comments you’d like to make?

MW: I just appreciate all our fans sticking by us and I can’t believe the record has already been out for almost a year. I’m looking forward to doing Weapon in the fall and doing the European leg coming up – just kicking ass with everybody.

BE: I just want to wish you guys the best on the next tour and thank you very much for the time.

MW: Thanks, Bill. Good talking to you, man.