It has been a confusing year for fans of the Chicago-born group, Disturbed, as they have watched the band’s members explore individual projects after five platinum-plus selling albums and 14 years together at the forefront on the modern heavy music scene.
Bassist John Moyer’s Adrenaline Mob project has a full album under their belt. Likewise, vocalist/lyricist David Draiman has released a CD with his buzz-worthy new band Device.
But it’s Fight Or Flight – the new project anchored by Disturbed’s guitarist Dan Donegan and drummer Mike Wengren – that has heavy music fans worldwide most excited. Fight of Flight’s 14-song collection “Life By Design” was released July 23 via Warner Brothers.
Although Donegan is super excited about Fight Or Flight, he is quick to alleviate fears of Disturbed having split-up. “We never said, ‘That’s it, we’re done!’ It’s always a hard decision to stop the machine for a while, especially at the peak of our career when we’re headlining a lot of the big summer festivals and filling amphitheatres. But at the same time, we needed a break from the routine and the feeling that it was becoming an assembly line and predictable. Everyone is on track to return to Disturbed when the timing is right, but at this time we all have other priorities in life,” assured Donegan.
Self-taught guitarist Donegan hails from Oak Lawn, Ill., and despite the fame and fortune acquired with DISTURBED – whose multi-platinum sales made them one of the most successful heavy bands of the last dozen years – Donegan has remained rooted on Chicago’s South Side with wife Nicole, daughter Maya and son Justin.
The Times caught up with Donegan and discovered success had not gone to his head. The 44-year-old guitar-slinger is still the same well-grounded, respectful and musically passionate person he was during his early club days at haunts like Club Dimension, J.J. Kelley’s and Haymakers.
Q: Tell me about the Fight Or Flight line up?
A: Well, Mike Wengren from Disturbed is our drummer. Mike is living in Milwaukee these days where our other guitarist Jeremy Jason played local bands. Dan Chandler is from St. Louis and was a singer in the band Evans Blue. Our bass player Sean Corcoran is from Boston and did an album and touring with the band RA.
Q: You co-authored the songs on “Life By Design” with vocalist Dan Chandler. How did you two meet up to start writing and how did that evolve into Fight Or Flight?
A: I became a fan of Dan’s band; Evans Blue after Disturbed played the Rock On The Range festival in Ohio with them a couple years ago. I really liked Dan as a vocalist, I thought he had a strong voice and great pitch and they were a great band. Dan and I started talking through social media and became friends. When Disturbed went on hiatus, I suddenly had this musical void in my life for the first time in my career. Dan had some unfinished ideas for songs, so I asked him to throw them at me because I had time on my hands.
We didn’t start out to form a band, just to work on songs, but things evolved after we cut demos in my home studio. We knew we had to record them properly. So I called Mike Wengren and he jumped on board. The three of us made the record and took it to the label (Warner Brothers) who liked it. It was all done at my home studio except for the drums, which we recorded at Groovemaster Studio in Chicago. Then we put together the band with Jeremy and Sean and here we are.
Q: Disturbed was a Chicago band but when the money started rolling in everyone in the group left Chicago except you. What’s kept you rooted here?
A: Yeah I’m still a Chicago Southsider. We live in Homer Glen, about 10 minutes west of the Midwest Bank Amphitheatre in Tinley Park. It’s the character of the people here. Along with my family and my friends being here, there is just something about that Midwest attitude and blue collar work ethic that I love. I grew up here, around people who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty and work hard for what they have, people who know you sometimes have to struggle to get what you want. I’ll complain every winter when the weather gets bad like everyone else does (laughing), but I just can’t see myself leaving here permanently. My wife is from up North, from the Park Ridge-O’Hare Airport area, so it’s the same for her. This is where we want our kids to grow up.
Q: How does the sound of Fight Or Flight differ from Disturbed? Only your first official single – “First of the Last” – has been posted on line and it’s a pretty heavy tune. Is it typical of the rest of “Life By Design”?
A: No. That song is probably the most ‘Active Rock’ track on the album. This new record has a lot of variety. Once we decided to do this project, we didn’t want Fight Or Flight to be a watered down version of Disturbed. We wanted to explore different things and show another side of us. There’s some unpredictable things, some real surprises, some lighter tracks, some acoustic tracks, things people might not expect from Mike and I. We respect Disturbed for being its own thing and we want to let Fight Or Flight become its own thing. Otherwise, what’s the point?
Q: Was Disturbed becoming restrictive creatively?
A: Not at all. I never felt restricted creatively, because to me there are no rule books. You create what you want to create. When everyone puts their stamp on it, there’s certain chemistry between the people involved and things come out a certain way with a certain sound. When it’s me and David (Draiman) and the guys it becomes Disturbed. When we work together there is a kind of formula so things come out as Disturbed. When I’m writing with Dan Chandler for Fight Or Flight it’s a different approach. I’m working with a different songwriter and we have a different way of approaching the songs, so it has a different sound. It’s still very organic and natural, but having different people makes for a different sound.
Q: Fight Or Flight is a strong name. How did you come up with it?
A: Ever since Disturbed got signed, I got a little superstitious about things. I started paying attention to certain things that looked like a sign to me. When I was thinking of names for this band, my wife just said ‘fight or flight’ in passing. Two days later, I’m watching an episode of the TV show ‘Dexter’ and Dexter said ‘fight or flight’, so to me that was a sign. I heard it twice in two days, so I said ‘That’s it! That’s our name!’
Q: You are back to the starting line again with a new band, new songs, a new album. What are your expectations for Fight Or Flight
A: You can’t go into it with expectations. I learned that with Disturbed. We didn’t expect what happened to Disturbed to ever happen. Not in a million years. We just made the music we felt and it struck a nerve with people. That’s what we’re doing with Fight Or Flight. We’re making music we feel and hope people will like it. We just wrote songs and put them on an album. What happens from here all depends on if people like what we’ve done as much as we do.
Q: So what’s the game plan to get this music heard?
A: The best way for a band to get heard is to get out and play shows. So we’re lining up dates now for a tour. There’s nothing like being up on stage and playing and when you don’t do it for a while, you really miss it. I’m very excited about this band and the songs. We all are.