Disturbed’s Dan Donegan spills the secret sauce for his latest guitar tone

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Disturbed’s Dan Donegan spills the secret sauce for his latest guitar tone

Words by Niam Hegarty

Disturbed are seeking to spread unity and the power of music on their upcoming studio album ‘Divisive’

Disturbed are a unique band, rising to worldwide stardom with their five-times platinum debut The Sickness in 2000 they have quietly dominated the hard rock world consistently releasing albums that have had huge commercial success.

More recently, they have continued to maintain and increase their popularity while maintaining humble and committed to their craft.

Read up on all the latest interviews here.

We spoke to guitarist and songwriter Dan Donegan about their upcoming eightth full-length album Divisive that drops on November 18 through Reprise Records.

Mixdown: Hey Dan, can you tell me about the new album Divisive in terms of how you approached it sonically?

Dan: After the past couple of albums, we were trying different things, we had success with ‘Sound Of Silence’ then the last album Evolution (that was half acoustic), with this one we were really trying to push ourselves as songwriters and musicians and try different things. We wanted to come back to the key elements of the band; more of the heavy guitar riffs and animalistic vocals from David – it’s still melodic but definitely a little bit more attitude and some new production elements.

This is our first time working with Drew Fulk as producer, it was a very good relationship with Drew, he’s a younger producer so it was a great marriage, we had to bring this young guy in that’s a little bit more in touch with some modern elements of production.

In terms of the guitar work, what was the approach recording the guitar elements you were using?

Drew came in and he had this Quad Cortex and immediately I was digging the tones, we started pre-production just getting the riffs down and we got really into the tone and the feel of it, we tweaked it a little bit to give it more of my own signature. Also with the tone, a lot of it is in your hands and the way you play but that was my approach and I have a signature guitar that Schecter built me a few years back, it just felt good soon after I plugged in – we had a tone dialled in already.

When writing the album what was the timeline with that?

It took a while to get into the groove, once covid hit everything was put on pause. We were planning for a big 20th Anniversary of The Sickness, our first album, it was going to be the 20th anniversary tour and we had to cancel it. It took a good amount of time to get into the right headspace. It was hard as I always turn to music when I’m going through difficult times and I’d never had it taken away from me like that, I was going through a divorce, covid wasn’t easy on me.

So, it wasn’t until really in probably November of last year in 2021 we did some shows in the US and we had a couple of days off and we took those days to stop at producer Dave Fortman’s place, he’s one of the original guitar players of the band Ugly Kid Joe. He’s produced Evanescence, Slipknot, Godsmack, and many others so we took a couple of days to hang out in his condo. I just grabbed a guitar off the wall, got improvising and that is really what got the ball rolling for us.

In terms of lyrics for the album I know some of the lyrics have dealt with addiction and mental health. I know the band has been vocal about addiction and mental health issues, is there a reasoning behind that?

I think all of us have probably either dealt with it or had a family member or somebody close to us in our lifetime that have struggled with some form of depression or alcoholism, drug addiction, or suicidal thoughts, and I think when you’re younger and particularly when I was a teenager, some of that stuff you were afraid to talk about.

We just want to bring awareness to these issues, that it’s nothing to be ashamed of and that we can all relate, we’ve all either been there ourselves or have somebody in our lives and we want to encourage people to know that they’re not alone. We’ve done that on our previous album with the track ‘Reason To Fight’ and we would do something in our live show where David would address the audience and say, ‘By a show of hands, who here has dealt with addiction or depression or any of these thoughts’, and you see the whole room raise their hand and you realise you’re not alone.

It was a powerful moment, it made people open up and acknowledge and not be afraid to admit the struggles. We take a lot of dark subject matter and hope to shed some light on it, we’re not pretending to save the planet here but if it’s enough to give some people some hope and some encouragement and to continue their fight then hopefully, we’ve done a small part.

“You go to a concert to escape the chaos in the world, whether it’s your job, your family life, struggles with your boss. Music is that outlet for all of us to get away from all that and it brings us all together.”

It seems you guys have managed to consistently stay wildly successful in a changing music environment. You’ve been around for a long time and the music world has changed so much in that time. Do you have any insight as to why that may be, you’re still at the top of the hard rock genre.

We’re very fortunate, it’s quite shocking I have to pinch myself at times and remind myself is this real, can we continue still being very relevant and on top of our game?

I guess the only answer I can give is this music is written for us, to be therapeutic to help us through troubled times and struggles in our lives and we realise when we’re expressing ourselves and we wear our heart on our sleeve there’s an audience that can relate to that. We’re very fortunate it continues connecting with the audience.

When we’re writing as a band, I’m never thinking about the expectations of what the record label wants or what radio wants or what anybody wants. I’m only writing music with the hopes that it’s going to be inspiring enough to the guys that I’m writing with. That I can give some music that I feel a connection with that might want to trigger David to want to sing something over it. So, we’ve built a great deal of respect and there’s this chemistry within us to where we have that partnership that seems to work.

In terms of the new album, you said it’s a return to the hard rock stuff. How are you feeling before the release and is there anything you want to say to fans?

Yeah, we still have a lot more left in the gas tank, we have something to say. There’s always something to sing about, there’s always something going on in the world or something in our lives, and these songs have been therapeutic to us so when we get on stage, and we have the fans singing the songs that we wrote it’s just like one big group therapy session. Music is such a powerful thing, it brings people together from all walks of life, when there’s so much division going on in the world.

A big part of the reason we called this album Divisive, is because of the state of the environment, especially in the US where we’re just at each other’s throats on a daily basis, we’re trying to hope for more unity and realise the power of music – I’m not just saying Disturbed’s music, it’s whatever band you’re into. You go to a concert to escape the chaos in the world, whether it’s your job, your family life, struggles with your boss. Music is that outlet for all of us to get away from all that and it brings us all together. It doesn’t matter the colour of your skin, your religion or your sexual orientation when you’re in those moments, all your differences don’t matter. You’re uniting and that’s quite the addiction, I love that feeling.

We can’t wait to get back to Australia, we love it there, we’ve committed ourselves from the very beginning and the fans have committed to us, we’ll never take that for granted. We acknowledge the fans in Australia have given us a home and given us life to continue to spread our music there.


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Preorder Divisive here