In 2010, the Chicago-based hard rock act Disturbed had just issued a new studio album, Asylum. Like the band’s previous three albums, it debuted at the top of the Billboard charts. In fact, Disturbed is one of only three bands to have four consecutive albums debut on top of the charts The group headlined the first annual Rockstar Energy Drink Uproar tour with Avenged Sevenfold.
When singer David Draiman was diagnosed with a throat condition, the band canceled some tour dates to let him heal. But once he recovered, the group was back at it, playing the Music as a Weapon V tour in 2011 with Korn and guests Sevendust. More festival dates followed.
And yet, the band was ready for a break. So in July of 2011, the band took a hiatus.
“We stepped away from it for a little bit,” says drummer Mike Wengren. “It was getting to be too predictable for us. Things were great. But it was a constant cycle of write and record and tour and repeat. It was amazing, and I wouldn’t change a thing but after so many years of not taking any time off, it started to get close to feeling like it was punching the clock. We felt like it was best to step away from it and pick it up when it felt like it was right. It was great to get away. Anyone who works a 9 to 5 day in and day out knows it’s good to take a vacation. We decided to step away and it was great to be home and raise our families.”
Some guys got married. Others devoted their time to coaching their kids’ football teams. But they couldn’t resist the urge to reconvene, so they had the proverbial band meeting and decided to start writing some songs together. Even though they could’ve easily sent each other audio files and cobbled together some new material, they wanted to take an old school approach.
“We just wanted to go in a room and write and play together like we were a local band again,” says Wengren. “That’s what we did. It was awesome. We felt like we were rekindling the energy we had when we first started out. The vibe was really killer. We didn’t want to have the pressure of a timeline. We decided to not tell anybody. We wrote and wanted to have that luxury of doing it on our own time. Before you knew it, we were in the studio recording and the record was done and here we are again.”
, the record to which Wengren alludes, also topped the charts upon its release. It includes a rendition of the Simon and Garfunkel tune “The Sound of Silence” that retains the original’s somber tone while adding singer David Draiman’s distinctively bellowing vocals. After weeks at No. 1 at rock radio, the song has charted at mainstream radio and has sold almost a million copies. The video alone has 65 million views, and the band’s performance on Conan has become one of the show’s most popular musical performances of all time.
“Every time we’re in the studio, we throw ideas [for covers] around,” says Wengren. “It goes back to when we were a local band and liked playing covers. For whatever reason, nothing was coming across. One day, I threw out Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘The Sound of Silence.’ We were getting very personal and emotional on this particular record with songs like ‘The Light’ and songs such as ‘Save Our Last Goodbye.’ We had a good friend of ours who contracted pancreatic cancer and then nine months later he was gone and left behind three young kids and his wife. It hit home with us.”
Actually executing a rendition of the song that stayed faithful to the original proved challenging.
“It’s daunting to think about how we can tackle the song,” says Wengren. “It’s one of the best written songs of all time done by legends. We didn’t want to disgrace the song. We just started to experiment with it. It was [guitarist] Dan [Donegan’s] idea to go down the orchestral route with the haunting piano and strings. We knew David’s voice was capable of delivering a performance that would carry the song. We could have gone back to what we’ve always done with covers by adding chunky guitars but we wanted to give this a shot. The more we worked on it, the more it took shape and we just fell in love with it. I can’t believe the ride it’s taken us on so far, performing on Conan and having it featured on Dancing With the Stars
. It’s been crazy, some of the outlets it’s been on.”
The song again confirms the way in which Disturbed can straddle genres. “Down with the Sickness,” one of its biggest singles from the 2000s, also had crossover appeal even though the gruff vocals and heavy guitars had more in common with underground metal than mainstream pop.
“I think it’s hard to put us in any specific genre,” says Wengren. “Everyone likes to label things. We don’t fit in just one area. We’re generally just a rock band. Some people call us hard rock or heavy metal. If you listen to ‘The Sound of Silence,’ that’s not a metal song per se. That’s one of the things I love about the performance. It’s redefined the categorization of the band. I don’t know exactly where we fit but we like it that way.”
Post-hiatus, Wengren says the band now has renewed energy and plans to continue to tour and record with regularity.
“We’re just getting started,” he says. “I know the record has been out for a year now, but we have a lot of touring under our belts for this cycle. We are very invigorated right now. We have a fire under us. I think we want to ride this thing out until it’s time for the next break.”
Disturbed, Breaking Benjamin, Alter Bridge, Saint Asonia, 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 13, Blossom Music Center, 1145 W. Steels Corners Rd., 330-920-8040. Tickets: $29.95-$87.95, livenation.com.