Disturbed drummer sticks with Hawks
Befitting the image of his hard-rock metal band Disturbed, drummer Mike Wengren is also a huge fan of hockey and mixed martial arts.
But there's a soft side to all that testosterone and aggressiveness for the guy who drives the powerful beat in the popular band that originally went by the name Brawl.
"I have a 9-month-old daughter now and she keeps me pretty grounded," Wengren said in a phone interview last month. "I like the balance. I like the craziness of being on the road, but at the same time it's also nice to not go 24-7 all year round.
"When the band is off tour it's nice to come home and relax and chill and just spend time with my family. But, you know, there's always a hockey game or a pay-per-view coming up on TV, and I get my fix that way."
The Chicago native also unashamedly volunteered how he cried in June when his beloved Blackhawks beat the Philadelphia Flyers to win the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1961.
In the midst of co-headlining the Uproar Festival with Avenged Sevenfold through Oct. 4, Disturbed just released its fifth album, "Asylum" (iTunes | Amazon) on Tuesday. After previously selling more than 11 million records worldwide, Disturbed could see "Asylum" become its fourth consecutive album to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard Top 200 chart.
Disturbed will headline its own shows in North America before heading off for a European tour through December. Wengren said 2011 might feature another Music As A Weapon tour and possibly Australian and South American tours for him and singer David Draiman, guitarist Dan Donegan and bassist John Moyer.
"We've spent weeks and weeks just getting it right and you're going to see something from us that you haven't seen before on stage," said Wengren, who turns 39 Friday. "So everyone can be prepared to be assaulted from an audio perspective and this time from a visual [perspective] as well."
The Life spoke with Wengren last month to talk about the joy of the Blackhawks' championship, their dismantling because of the salary cap, MMA and of course, music.
The Life: So are you a lifelong Blackhawks fan, growing up there?
Wengren: Oh, yeah. I've lived in Chicago my whole life. My uncle had season tickets, so as soon as I was old enough to go to games we used to go to the old Chicago Stadium. And I just grew up there.
I've [been to] I don't know hundreds of games throughout my lifetime and, like you said a lifelong fan, for them to finally pull it off after 49 years was such an amazing moment. I mean I'm not ashamed to admit that I cried like a baby when they won the Cup. I did.
The Life: So where were you during the playoffs and finals?
I was mortified because here it was Game 6, we're in Berlin, Germany. To try and get an English-speaking TV station other than like CNN is just a task in itself. So I put out the word to our record label and said, 'Look, I don't care how it happens, it has to happen. I can't miss this game. You people do not understand how important this is to me.'” -- Mike Wengren
Wengren: It was actually a pretty crazy story. With our record coming out in just about two weeks here we've pretty busy lately with a lot of stuff going on. We happened to be out in Los Angeles during the Vancouver [second-round] series, actually we were mixing the record. We'd be up late in the studio as it went on or there was a couple times we went out to the bar after the studio just to catch the game.
We had to go out to Europe for a quick little run of press, and I was mortified because here it was Game 6 [of the Cup finals], we're in Berlin, Germany. To try and get an English-speaking TV station other than like CNN is just a task in itself. So I put out the word to our record label and said, "Look, I don't care how it happens, it has to happen. I can't miss this game. You people do not understand how important this is to me. I am here, I am working, I'm doing my job, but this game, it means everything to me. I have to see it, and I don't want to see it recorded. I have to watch it live."
And somehow, I don't know how they did it. They were able to pull it off. They found some bar that was able to stay open late. Because with the time difference the game started at 2 o'clock in the morning our time in Berlin, Germany.
So, sure enough, myself, my manager who's also a huge lifelong Blackhawks fan and a couple of other guys from the band went to the bar and watched the game. And it was just unbelievable to be in this German bar, all by ourselves by the end of the night because at that point it was about 6 o'clock in the morning and here they were going into overtime and Patrick Kane scored the winning goal. And I'm sure you remember seeing it and everyone was like, "Wait, did it go in? Did it go in?" And we're all looking at each other and we're like, "Oh, my God." And then we were just so dumbfounded but just all started crying and hugged each other.
The Life: Was most of your group able to stay up with you there?
Wengren: Yeah, everyone. Most of us in the band and Danny and my manager Jeff [Battaglia], we're the bigger of the fans. Everybody else, crew people and the rest of the band were there but they had sort of petered out by the end of the game. They got tired and went back to the hotel, but not me (laughs).
And then the thing was I was tired because it was so late but at the same time I was so pumped up and so excited and then everybody that I'm friends with and knows how huge of a fan I was, so for the next three or four hours that's all I was getting was text messages and phone calls congratulating [me] and pretty much didn't sleep for like 36 hours.
The Life: Was that how you mostly spent your celebration, communicating with people, because like you said everybody else was pretty drained by that time.
Wengren: We pretty much between the three of us probably killed another bottle of Jager and then went back to the hotel and answered e-mails and phone calls and stuff (laughs).
I was bummed because we missed Game 3. Game 3 we were actually on the plane going out there. But Game 2 in Chicago I actually went to, I spent a ton of cash and I got myself right up against the glass next to the penalty box.
The Life: But well worth it to be at one of the finals games.
Wengren: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, it's only a small handful of times I've actually got to sit up against the glass. And I said, you know whatever I gotta pay for this one I've gotta do it because at that time I thought it was going to be the last game I was gonna be able to see live before we had to fly out and so it all worked out and yeah … pretty happy.
The Life: Have you gotten to know any Blackhawks players?
Wengren: I don't know any of the guys on the Blackhawks. It seems they're always out and we just never seem to crisscross.
My guitar player, Danny, he actually happens to know quite a few baseball players from different teams, he's really big into baseball. Throughout the years I've met a couple of guys here and there but never really stayed in contact with anybody.
The Life: I remember there are some famous rock 'n' roll hockey tales, such as the Cup getting damaged at a Pantera party with the 1999 Dallas Stars. So I didn't know if you were going to follow in that tradition.
Wengren: Quite a few years ago, back when Tampa won the Cup that year we knew those guys, a couple of the guys. And they'd come out to our shows and we'd go out to their games and stuff.
[Defenseman] Brad Lukowich and I think John Grahame, who was their backup goalie at the time, and we had a pretty crazy party backstage at our show and Grahame hadn't played in a while. He was the backup so he wasn't counting on getting called up to play the next day and (laughs), we tore it up, we got ridiculous, and I have no idea how he was actually able to skate the next day. But he got the call, he says yeah, you're starting today and he went in and he actually won. I was shocked, oh my God.
Yeah, we've had opportunities here and there but I'd love to meet the Chicago guys. Although here we are looking at nine of them gone already from this team.
The Life: Too bad, I thought you might have had a connection to take part in a day with the Cup.
Wengren: I wish, I so wish. I'd love just to meet one of those guys and take a picture with them and the Cup, it would be such a huge honor. But it always seems like we're working and not in the same place where they are.
If you've got any influence, put it out there for me. (laughs)
The Life: Hopefully they'll read this and there will be some mutual admiration with somebody on the team.
Wengren: I think the rock guy was [now Atlanta Thrashers defenseman] Brent Sopel, but obviously he's off the team now. We'll see who the next hard-rocking metal DJ is in the locker room.
The Life: Yeah, what a crazy offseason. I knew they wouldn't be able to hang on to all those guys, but I can't believe how much upheaval there has been. Of all the moves, which player they lost bothers you the most?
Wengren: Big Buff, Big Buff. I knew it was going to be tough, like you said, but I personally felt [now-Thrasher Dustin] Byfuglien had such an instrumental role in some of the series. Buff against Pronger was classic and I think he was such a big part of shutting down some of those guys and also camping in front of the net and scoring some of those goals. I thought they would have considered keeping him part of the nucleus, but I guess not. It was probably one of the very first deals that came across the table to try and clear up some cap space, so they just had to try and jump on it.
The Life: So much for a dynasty, but the core is still there. What do you expect this season?
Wengren: Well, I think they'll still be pretty competitive. I'm not sure, I guess we'll have to see how it goes if they're going to be an automatic contender. But I wouldn't definitely put them up there as the top choice. I think maybe in a couple of years, they have a lot of young players coming up in the system that might help them out a lot at that point. I still think they've got a great nucleus and I'm looking forward to seeing what level they can compete at.
There's definitely a lot of competition out there. I was shocked that Montreal took out Washington and Pittsburgh this year. I think they kinda did us a favor, so I guess we'll see where they end up as well.
The Life: So who's your favorite Blackhawk of all time?
Wengren: Al Secord. No. 20, Big Al from back in the '80s. One of the last guys in the league to not wear a helmet.
The Life: Oh, yeah, He could fight and score.
Wengren: He was part of the Blue Steel Line at the time you had Al Secord with Steve Larmer and Denis Savard. Such a great line. I love the physicality of it, Al's size ... I guess that's kinda why I was disappointed to see Buff [Dustin Byfuglien] go. To me [he was] the modern-day Al Secord, camping in front of the net, taking the hits and scoring the goals and like you said could fight with just about anybody out there.
The Life: They weren't the prettiest goals, but they still count.
Wengren: That's what Savard was there for, he had all the finesse and the spin-o-ramas or whatever and Al just camped out there and took the passes and put 'em in.
The Life: With the team turning a new page, if you could pick a Disturbed song to replace "Chelsea Dagger" [The Fratellis song played after goals at the United Center] what would you go with?
Wengren: Ummm, you know … "Indestructible" is a good one. We sort of wrote that with athletes and soldiers in mind. It's meant to make you feel strong and empowered and be able to go out there and kick some ass, so I think that might be a good one.
But we also get a lot of people saying they love one of our first singles, "Down With The Sickness." So, I'm not sure, it would be an honor whichever one they pick.
It's only happened a small amount of times, but it's always insane to me. In interviews we get asked often, "Do you guys still love it when you hear your songs on the radio?" And absolutely, definitely do. It's not that it's old, but for me … what makes me smile is when I'm at the stadiums, I'm at these hockey games and I hear the songs playing on the JumboTron up there. It just cracks me up.
The Life: I was going to ask you that about what it's like to hear your songs in a sporting event setting.
Wengren: It never gets old, for sure, on the radio. But, I don't know, it's almost like I get so into the games, every aspect of the game and then to hear my song playing in the background it's just like, "Whoa," that's when it just starts to hit you sometimes, pretty trippy.
The Life: And you're a big MMA fan, I figured some of your songs would be perfect for a fighter's walk-in music.
Wengren: If I had to pick a song for that I would say I could hear a fighter probably walking out more to "Indestructible" than I would to see the Hawks taking the ice. That's actually meant a little bit more towards that. At the same time, we have a song off the new record off "Asylum" here that's called "The Warrior" and it was actually written specifically about MMA fighters, so if one of those guys wanted to use that it would be cool, too.
The Life: So what fighters do you follow in MMA and are any of them from your hometown or around Illinois?
Wengren: Because we've been so busy, especially lately, I just haven't had a chance to get into some of the local stuff as much as I'd love to. But I do go to regional games here and there.
I actually live outside of Milwaukee now. I met my wife up there and she's from the area so I moved up there because obviously when I'm on the road she's back at home and it just makes sense for her to be near her family. …
I try to go to a couple of regional fights when I get the time, when I'm back home. I love it. It's one thing to watch it on TV, but just like any sport, going there and experiencing it live, feeling the energy, hearing the smack of the bodies on the mat it's just so primal.
The Life: Did you play hockey growing up?
Wengren: No, I wasn't very athletic. I swam. I wasn't a very athletic guy, I was a smaller skater, kid, and just didn't have the skill. But I definitely always liked to appreciate the science and just the sport behind it. I'm more of a, I guess, I like to study and spectate.
I did train a little bit of MMA, I should say. Back in the early days, right when UFC was just starting and Royce Gracie was dominating the first three UFCs there. Me and my best friend back in the time, this is before the band ever took off, we were just sort of a local thing happening, this was like you said back in the Brawl days. I had studied under a student of [Royce's father] Helio Gracie's just for about six, maybe seven months. And at that point the band had started taking off and I knew I had to dedicate more time to it, sort of had to give [MMA] up.
Ironically, here we are up on the Uproar Tour here, and our buddies in Avenged Sevenfold, one of their crew members is an MMA fighter. He's not contracted or anything, nobody anybody knows, but he trains and he brought some mats out, so I was just talking to him, we're going start picking that back up on days where we have some time and start rolling around a little bit and get back into it.
The Life: Back when you were training was it with the idea of competing or just more for fitness?
Wengren: Obviously, I mean, once you start doing that stuff you have to be fit to keep up with that. For me, I was always kind of a … I guess a geekier, dorkier guy in school where I just loved science, I loved the science behind it. Like the discipline, I love the chess match of it.
Especially Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is one of my favorite disciplines. Some people just get bored out of their minds when they just see a bunch of guys rolling around together on the ground. But to me, I'm studying their move and watching for an opening and it really … I can't even explain it, I love that, it's like the chase, the thrill of the opening.
You know just watching the fight the other night, Anderson Silva and Chael Sonnen, I was shocked when Silva pulled it off. I shouldn't say I was shocked, I mean he's obviously talented and the champ for obvious reasons, but he was getting dominated so badly that whole fight and here we are just about a minute and a half left in the last round and he pulled it off. And that's all it took. That's what I love: I love that anything can happen at any given time, no matter how much somebody is favored, no matter how anything is outweighed, anything can happen. Doesn't matter who's the favorite, doesn't matter who's the bigger guy or whatever, at any given moment, someone can get caught. I love it.
The Life: You've been out on tour for a while now, what songs from the new record are getting better reaction from crowds?
Wengren: As far as the new record is concerned, so far we've only been able to play the two that are out there. That's the unfortunate thing about the Internet these days. There's a strategy behind releasing a record at a certain time and we're trying to build it up and we'd love everybody to go and get the record the first week. So you have to kinda hold back on getting everything out there because once you either release it on the Internet or leak it or you play the song live … I mean on the very first day of this tour we had all this production out, that same night there were people who were already posting YouTube clips of it from their cell phone cameras and stuff.
One thing that kind of stinks about this era is once something is out there, it's out there. So we gotta kinda hold back a little bit. So right now we're only playing "Another Way To Die" [see video at bottom] and "Asylum." I mean so far the response has been great. We're using "Asylum" as the opener of the set and it's a great way to start the set off and people are digging it.
But at this point in our career we've been so lucky to have such a loyal fan base and with four records under our belt before this one comes out we've had at least three singles on each record, so if you're not even counting the new record that gives us 12 singles to pull from as well as the two new ones, so we're already looking at 14 songs. On a show like this that we may be headlining, it's not our own tour, we have so many bands we get to share the stage with. There's just a short amount of time, we only get about 65 minutes so there's a lot to try to squeeze into a short amount of time.
The Life: I don't know what day the Hawks are raising the banner, so I'm not sure if you'll be near home to get to that.
Wengren: With my luck I'll be across the globe somewhere. With this job, with this lifestyle there's some very cool perks that come with it but at the same time, you know there's always things that you miss out on. It's OK because when you do get to experience those cool things you just take advantage of them.
If I'm home, I am so there, trust me. If I'm not, my spirit will be there for sure.
I recently went out and got a tattoo of their logo on my leg, so I'm representing no matter what part of the globe I'm on.
Jim Wilkie is the editor of The Life and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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