Disturbed Interview: A Chat With Mike Wengren

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AltWire discusses Disturbed’s surprise album announcement with Mike Wengren of Disturbed. Check it out below:

With the advent of technology making it easier than ever before for fame-seekers to leak exclusive media to the masses, and thus ruin deeply guarded plans, it’s always incredible when a band or artist are able to unveil a project completely by surprise with no earlier hints or speculation. Done before with great success with artists like Drake and Beyonce, the idea of a surprise album release is always an exciting moment for the music industry.

One band that has achieved such a coup recently is the recently returned popular rock group Disturbed, who returned from a hiatus after four years to reveal their brand new record, due for release on August 21st. Recorded in secret over the course of the past year at the aptly named Hideout Recording Studio in Las Vegas, Immortalized was announced by surprise on June 23rd, 2015 along with the simultaneous release of the band’s new single “The Vengeful One”.

As excitement for the band’s new release grows to a fever pitch, and the band prepares to embark on a slew of soon to be announced tour dates, we here at AltWire sat down with drummer Mike Wengren to discuss a range of topics ranging from the recording process of the new record, to social media, the 15th anniversary, and much more. Read what Mike had to say below, and stay tuned for our upcoming review of Immortalized within the coming weeks!

AltWire [Derek Oswald]: In an ever-changing music industry where artists constantly find new ways to première their music to fans, what lead you guys to essentially record an entire album in secret and just début the first single out of nowhere one day?

Mike Wengren / Disturbed: When we decided to take the hiatus and we were away from each-other for close to four years from a creative, writing and performing standpoint, we started to talk about it and rather than just tell everybody ‘well now we’re back from hiatus and now we’re starting to write’ – while that may be exciting for some, we didn’t have anything else to say. We didn’t know what was going to happen and how long it was going to take us and when we were going to have a record, because that would ultimately be the follow up question. ‘Oh great! You guys are back together, that’s cool, when’s the record coming out?’ and well, we didn’t know. So we decided to just keep quiet about it, and wait and see how things develop.

By that time once we were in the throes of recording the album, it just was like ‘well we kept it a secret for this long, let’s do the same thing’. I thought, let’s keep it a secret and then it’ll just add to the excitement. Then when we do make the announcement, not only are we back together and not only are we back to writing, we’ve actually already wrote the album and it’s done! And in fact, here’s a new song and guess what…in six weeks there’s a record coming out so BOOM!

I don’t want to say this a personal vendetta against social media because social media is a great tool for us to interact with the fans,  but today just in general social media is all about instant gratification. The minute you do something, you go ahead and you tweet it or post it or whatever, it’s out there for everybody to know. So it almost became a fun little game for us to try to keep it a secret so we don’t leak it. We went out to Vegas to make the record, and usually we record the album in our hometown of Chicago, so we decided to go out of our comfort zone and go into Vegas.

To try to add to the secrecy and keep the secret alive, we would fly home to see our families at least every other weekend if not every weekend. And when we were home, we’d post on our social media ‘oh we’re over here with our family at this event’ or that event. The Stanley Cup playoffs were going on and I’m a big Chicago Blackhawks fan, so I was going to the games and making sure I was socially posting where I was at so people could see ‘hey I’m Chicago at the game, I’m not in Vegas secretly recording the record!’ [laughs]. It was definitely one of the most challenging things we ever had to do, but it was also a lot of fun at the same time. Once the secret was out, it was fun to see everyone else’s excitement that we were back, and that we didn’t just have that bit of information to share but everything else as well.

AW: I’m really impressed that you were able to do this without even so much of a rumor leaking out to the press. With cell phones and social media, I imagine it would’ve taken only one person totally blow the roof off of this whole thing. Speaking of, your band-mate David, recently was in the news for deciding to completely walk away from social media due to growing tired of the growing trend of internet trolls. Do you agree with your band-mate that social media has  began to go downhill?

Mike Wengren / Disturbed: I guess you really have to take it for what it is. It’s a fantasy world out there on social media most of the time. People get upset and they get jealous because of what they’re reading, but what most people are posting isn’t usually the reality. It’s usually at least embellished or fluffed up a bit and so I think it depends on how you look at it. David was extremely active on his pages and maybe he just got burned out with it, I’m not really sure. I wouldn’t give trolls too much credit. You’re going to have haters and trolls in any aspect no matter what it is.

But for me, I really enjoy it. With something like Twitter, like I said before, I’m a big hockey fan so I follow a lot of the beat reporters and I follow a lot of the news agencies as well, so I use it as a news source. But at the same time it’s also a really great way to interact with the fans. I feel fortunate enough to have people like my pages or see my posts, because that was something we didn’t have when this band was coming up in the late 90’s. Social media didn’t exist in the way does now. I think Myspace was around and that was about it. If you wanted to talk to your fans or if the fans wanted to interact with us it was usually at the merch table after the show or if you could catch us by the bus. So it’s cool, I think it’s a great tool and I like it. It’s fun.

The key is though that with some people it becomes their lives. They’re on it constantly and every chance they get they’re checking their phone. I see so many people these days who go to dinner and they’re not even talking to each-other, they’re looking at their phone. So I think it’s a bit ridiculous if you take it to that extreme, but it’s like anything else. If you take it with a grain of salt and use it for what it’s for and you can control yourself, then it can be great!

AW: When premiering the new track, the band said that you all intended this album to be an album that justified the hiatus. Do you feel personally that the band has accomplished that goal, and further…what’s your proudest aspect of this record?

Mike Wengren / Disturbed: Oh man, there’s so many things I could talk about for that! Do I feel as if we’ve accomplished it personally? Yes I do. But that’s just my opinion. I feel that the music will show growth. When you get the three of us in a room together or when we play together it’s always going to sound like Disturbed because we are Disturbed, and our styles are what make us who we are. As people we change everyday and as musicians we change and we grow and I definitely think that on this record we wanted to make sure that when we came back that we had something to show people. To make them go ‘okay that’s awesome, this what they took the break for! I can tell that they’re revitalized and that they’re excited to be back.’ We didn’t just want to pump out another record again.

It’s hard to say exactly. It was amazing – don’t get me wrong – but it became such a machine. This vicious cycle (but a great cycle) of write/record/tour, write/record/tour. It became sort of monotonous and we just needed to take a step back from it, just to take that breath. We missed it in no time and that’s when we started calling each-other and saying ‘okay lets do this, but let’s do it different than it has been in a while’.

AW: When you think about it, 2015 is big for your band in two ways. It’s the year that marks your return to the scene, but it’s also the 15th anniversary of your début. Looking back, how would you compare the way you felt just starting out as a major label artist VS how you feel right now?

Mike Wengren / Disturbed: Ironically enough, I feel pretty much the same. I feel just as hungry because we’ve been away from it for so long. Since we’ve started this band, and since the band got a record deal, and put out the first record and did the first tour, that’s all we’ve done. There was barely any time off, and that’s the way we wanted it. It was amazing. This is the first time in our careers that we actually took a significant amount of time to just go home and be with our families. So I feel like it’s been a lot longer than it has.

Then when you add in what we’ve been working on the last year in secrecy, we were dying to tell people [laughs!] We were dying for the song to come out, we were dying for the record. I can’t wait for everybody else to hear what we’ve done and I cannot wait to get back on the stage again.

AW: Speaking of getting back on stage, any plans to do an anniversary tour for The Sickness, or do you feel you’ve already taken care of the anniversary celebrations with the 10th anniversary re-release you did a few years back?

Mike Wengren / Disturbed: I would be open, I think we’d all be open to doing something like that . Like you said we had done the re-release, but for where we are now it’s obviously going to be all about the new record. Don’t get me wrong, we’ll play plenty of the older material that everybody wants to hear, but we’re so excited about Immortalized coming out on August 21st that we’re very focused. We’re kind of one track minded right now on that, and because we kept everything so quiet – I didn’t even tell my own parents – now that everything’s out we couldn’t even tell promoters beforehand. Because the way the industry works the promoters will say ‘okay here’s the time the record is going out, so let’s do some dates in the summer’, and we couldn’t tell those guys that. Now we’re playing catch up and we’re working on trying to plan the next year’s worth of touring. We’ll definitely play songs from The Sickness, we always will. That was one of our biggest and most successful records, and it was definitely a lot of people’s favorites. As far as just doing an anniversary show or tour, that isn’t something that is on the radar now, but I’m definitely open to it so we’ll see!

AW: I had a chance to listen to the record, and one part that just blew me away beyond all words was your cover of The Sound of Silence. I knew it was coming from the track list, but it was still just so unexpected. It’s so vulnerable, emotional and so totally different from anything you’ve put on record before. How did the idea come about to tackle such a well-known song?

Mike Wengren / Disturbed: We always throw the idea out there with every record that we do [to cover a song], because it’s something we enjoy doing from back in the day with the very first record when we did Tears For Fears’ “Shout”, and every time it comes around we always toy with the idea of should we do a cover, and if so what should we do. So for a while we threw songs back and forth and tossed around ideas and one thing we like to do is make the song our own.

The band Simon and Garfunkel came up and I actually suggested the song and brought up the band. The reason for that is that both my father and my mother-in-law were huge Simon and Garfunkel fans, you know…going back to their day. I remember when I was growing up as a boy in my house, on Sunday morning that was their time to clean the house and do chores. So my dad would have his favorite music cranking on the stereo in the background and everyone would be doing their chores. Simon and Garfunkel was a big part of that. It was something that was very near and dear to me and I brought the idea to the band, and they thought it was a great idea.

I didn’t initially think of it as going in this direction. That was actually Dan [Donegan]’s idea. He said ‘let’s show vulnerability, let’s show a different side of David and his vocal ability and let’s show the emotion’. That’s something where we haven’t really gone down that path before, at least not to that extreme. When we did ‘Land of Confusion’ by Genesis that was probably something that people would expect us to do, and there’s almost a formula that we do that we could apply to any song. That would’ve been the easy thing to do, and we always felt that if the version we did didn’t work out, we would’ve taken it back in the studio and gone that route. But as the song progressed the beauty of the song and the emotional aspect just took over. There were so many times during the tracking process when David was singing, where it was such an emotional moment that I found myself getting misty eyed.

[on ‘The Sound of Silence’] It’s one of my favorite songs that we’ve ever done and it really just evokes a lot of emotion for me.

AW: Honestly, I had the same misty feeling listening to the track!

Mike Wengren / Disturbed: Thank you! I’m excited to hear that because there’s a bit of nervousness in the back of our minds. Like ‘okay, well how is this going to be accepted’? To me the irony behind it is that as the drummer of the band, there’s no drums on it. I didn’t do any acoustic drums [for the track]. But I was in the room the entire time and we all had a big hand in the journey that the song took. We all had suggestions for each-other and Danny and I sat in the room as David tracked and gave ideas. It’s one of my favorite songs that we’ve ever done and it really just evokes a lot of emotion for me. Even to this day I’m in the car and I’m listening to it by myself and I got it cranked up, and I’m in there being that person. I got a little tear running down my cheek and I’m screaming it at the top of my lungs and I’m so proud of that song. I’m very excited to hear from what you said yourself hearing it, that so far it’s being received well.

AW: To follow up on that question, with your band’s love of doing covers on Disturbed albums, has there ever been any talk of doing a full on covers EP or album?

Mike Wengren / Disturbed: That hasn’t been something that we’ve talked about per say. Right now it’s more just the energy and the excitement of coming from the hiatus and having the record come out, but that could be something we could look towards in the future. With us we’re always looking to improve, and push boundaries and do stuff we haven’t already done. We don’t like to rehash stuff, and like I said when we get together there’s always going to be elements of us there and it’s always going to sound like Disturbed, but because of that we like to push the limits and just try to go out of our comfort zone and try new things. Not that it would be reinventing the wheel doing a cover album, but that’s something we haven’t done yet and it’s certainly something I would love to consider.

AW: Well that’s about it! Anything else you’d like to add for the fans picking up the album up next month, or anything else you’d like to tell them to look forward to?

Mike Wengren / Disturbed: I know I bounced around a lot during the interview, but this time around I’m just so excited and my energy level is so high. I find myself doing these interviews and then the label person chimes in, and they usually say I’m running out of time because I’m so excited and I feel like I’m just jumping all over the place. But I just want to say thanks to all the fans for sticking with us. Their excitement for us being back, is shared by all of us and it’s nice to be back. We can’t wait for everyone to hear the rest of the music! It’s exciting to hear your response to some of the songs, especially ‘The Sound of Silence’ and I can’t wait to hear everybody else’s response. So thank you, and we’ll be coming to your town very soon!

Check Out Disturbed’s Comeback Single ‘The Vengeful One’ Below:

Disturbed - The Vengeful One [Official Music Video]

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