Disturbed & Disturberer
Behind every successful rock star today, it seems, stands a couple of lousy parents who couldn't care less.
From Eminem's pill-popping momma to Benji and Joel Madden of Good Charlotte's absentee dad to Staind frontman Aaron Lewis' neglectful hippie procreators, dysfunctional couples with the poorest of parenting skills have inadvertently given a whole generation of rockers and their fans a Billboard chart full of psychodramas.
David Draiman, lead singer for Disturbed, can certainly lay claim to a messed-up childhood. "I got the crap kicked out of me when I was a kid, on more than one occasion," complains the shaved-domed songwriter, taking a break from some studio work in his hometown of Chicago (where he admits he still hasn't visited the folks). "But I'm not writing about it in one of my songs."
Draiman says the screamed psychodramas in metal hits like "Down With The Sickness" (sample line: "No, Mommy, don't do it again! I'll be a good boy! I promise! Don't hit me!") are merely inspired by personal history, not a literal journal of his own tortured upbringing. "I'm really talking about the conflict between the mother culture of society, who's beating down the child yearning for independence and individuality, and the submission of the child." Uh, sure, dude. Whatever.
Chevelle's Sam Loeffler, on the other hand, has nothing but nice things to say about his mom and dad. "I love my parents, and my brothers and my sisters," gushes the oldest of the three Loeffler brothers who make up the heavy metal trio, who along with Disturbed are performing on this year's Ozzfest tour. "But that doesn't mean we don't have our own family issues. I mean, with us being brothers, it is hard to get along sometimes."
Together, Loeffler and Draiman make up a kind of mismatched buddy team on this summer's Ozzfest extravaganza, like a badder Fonz and Ritchie Cunningham locked in a battle of the bands at Arnold's.
Both Chicago natives, both entering their thirties (Draiman passed the milestone this year; Loeffler is 28), the Disturbed singer and the Chevelle drummer seem to possess precious little else in common. Draiman still apparently has genuine beefs with his parents. He recently offered them one of his platinum records as closure for their lack of support in his musical goals -- then complained in the press that they didn't deserve it. "They still never see me play," he said sourly.
The Loeffler brothers, conversely, sound like they have little in their upbringing to be angry about. "We grew up going to car shows with our dad," recalls Sam fondly. "The biggest thing we'd freak out about when we were little was who got which Matchbox cars." Chevelle's very name, in fact, stems from a passion for classic cars the seven Loeffler kids inherited from their Chevy-collecting dad.
Loeffler's band has also been embraced by the religious right as an example of a growing trend towards spiritual longing in mainstream rock music -- even Christianity Today found "nothing offensive or crude" on Wonder What's Next, the trio's first major label release (the band's debut effort was distributed on the Christian label, Word Records).
Draiman's lyrics for Disturbed's latest release, Believe, by contrast, are teeming in profane anger even while the Jewish-raised singer is quoting the Torah and encouraging the listener to "liberate your mind." A 17-year student of theology, Draiman is an outspoken critic of Christian religions -- a theme that surfaces in several songs on the band's latest album, Believe. "As far as I'm concerned, the Vatican should be knocked down, the gold taken out and melted down and donated to charity," he says flatly, in a voice that sounds distractingly close to the more talkative half of Beavis & Butt-Head. "God does not need your money."
Can an emotionally scarred Jewish boy with a devilish braided goatee share a stage with a Matchbox-collecting Christian choirboy -- on a tour headlined by America's favorite dysfunctional dad -- without driving each other (or Ozzy) crazy?
"I honestly don't know what it's gonna be like," admits Loeffler, whose band worked the less-lofty second stage on last summer's edition of the perennial moneymaker. "But with the Ozzfest crowd, crazy' is not necessarily a bad thing!"
In today's metal, a tortured childhood carries as much street cred few graze wounds do in the rap game. But turning personal pain into lighter-waving arena rock can be a process more excruciating than Janovian scream therapy.
"It's very frightening," says David Draiman. "Because here you go, you've decided to be open and bare a part of your soul to these people, and lay it out on a platter for them to observe. So until you know that the listeners are getting any part of what you're saying, it's incredibly frightening."
To cushion the process somewhat, Draiman strives to vent his personal angst in broader sweeps at society. "Down With The Sickness,' for instance, wasn't meant to be an indictment specifically against parents -- certainly nothing specifically against my own," Draiman insists. "The record was an indictment of this whole way of life, this set of morals and ethics and rules, that was laid down by the norm in society."
The reaction Draiman got from the majority of the two million fans who snatched up Disturbed's 2000 debut The Sickness, however, was more along the lines of, "Hey man, my parents kicked my butt, too!" They may have missed the far-reaching symbolism Draiman was trying to couch his pain in, but they got where he was coming from anyway.
"It's kind of weird, because I try to write these songs cryptically, so that it's open to self-interpretation," he says. "But then, so many people take the songs literally. I mean, what do you do about all these kids who are thanking you for dealing with abuse in one of your songs, when that really wasn't the point?
"There were so many kids who found greater meaning in the literal notion of thinking that it was about a specific abuse situation, that I finally had to let go of my grander notions and just say Have at it.' I'm not going to tell you what this song should make you feel. If that's how it makes you feel, and it helps you deal with that situation and come to terms with it, then use it. That's what music is for."
The payoff for Draiman is when Disturbed plays his universalized psychodramas in concert for thousands of fans and they sing back his words in a humongous chorus of shared emotional wreckage.
"Once you've tasted that whole sensation of being onstage and playing live to an audience of people who want to hear you, who relate to what you're saying and feed you all of their energy, it's the single most intoxicating sensation you've ever felt," he says. "We're addicts of it -- we need it, as often as possible."
For Sam Loeffler and his brothers Pete and Joe, the most tortuous part of creating hits in a genre ruled by angry emotions is sometimes just finding enough things to be angry about.
"Geez, as far as problems go, everyone every day has problems," Sam says. "You know, whether they're money problems, relationship problems. Girlfriend, fiancé, wife. I mean, we can pull from any of those things -- if we want to write about bad things.
"But lately, it's like we've gotten to the point where a lot of our issues are about how we've dealt with our business of just being a band," he continues. "And what that's been like: Signing contracts, trying to figure out where you're getting screwed on the contract. You know, stuff like that."
It's not exactly the stuff of searing hatred-with-hooks new metal. But then, Chevelle's strength seems to lie more in generating the mainstream sound of aggression, rather than working through the issues that create the need to express it. Despite their goody-goody roots, the three heavy metal fans seem to have developed an excellent ear for how anger should sound.
"We try to write heavy songs because that's what we like -- that's what we're into and what we hear in our heads," says Sam. "We're all about powerful melodies. I love big choruses and anthemic things that people can sing along to, without having them be cheesy."
Chevelle's breakout hit, "The Red," on the band's current release, Wonder What's Next, was an angry-sounding song about nothing more than anger itself -- the "seeing red" stage that signals when the average bruiser is about to start throwing some punches. "Send The Pain Below," the band's latest heavy-rotation smash, offers a prescription for dealing with anger without pinpointing its symptoms. And the tune most likely to inspire mosh pit mayhem on the new CD is a song simply about the idiocy of mosh pits.
"That's exactly what the song Forfeit' is about," Loeffler reveals. "How dumb it is to fight over something, to ever come to blows or ever raise your fists at an event where everybody's coming together out of some shared interest. Just how stupid the whole thing is. And now we do shows and we see those meatheads out in our crowds, and we're like, What is your problem?'"
Loeffler agrees it should be interesting to see how songs like "Forfeit" are received when Chevelle plays them on the main stage on the Ozzfest traveling circus. It's not like Loeffler is going to get angry about it, after all.
"There's a lot of happiness in our success right now -- and that's a good thing," he stresses. "For sure, playing shows and having people sing things back to you is a good feeling. And there's nothing wrong with simply enjoying that."
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