Ben Draiman Talks ‘The Past Is Not Far Behind’ EP, Family Ties + More
Ben Draiman is adding to the musical legacy of the Draiman name, joining his brother — Disturbed / Device frontman David Draiman — in the music world. Draiman has recently made his way to the States for a tour in support of his new EP, ‘The Past Is Not Far Behind,’ and Loudwire had a chance to speak to him about his burgeoning career. Draiman spoke about the disc, the support he’s received since covering Disturbed’s ‘Stricken’ and what it was like growing up in a musical family. Read our interview with Ben Draiman below:
First off, congrats on the EP. One of the first tastes we got from the disc was the song ‘Avalanche.’ It’s definitely a powerful track. Can you talk about the creation of the track and if there was anything in particular that inspired the song?
I was in college at the time going through a particularly difficult time. I was adjusting to a new culture along with dealing with the usual pressures of school and trying to find my place. I have always loved the works of Franz Kafka, who often deals with very absurd situations in his literature that the protagonist must attempt to sort through. The more he tries to figure things out the complicated things get. The path to salvation sometimes lies in one’s ability to embrace the reality as it is, accepting it without question, and moving forward.
This became the theme for ‘Avalanche’ and pretty much a theme for my life. It’s almost a spiritual journey fueled by faith. “Find the strength to rise again and return from the place you’ve been. And find the courage to believe again in that which can’t be seen.” Only by looking forward and having faith that the future holds something better can one best deal with the present, rather then spending all the energy on trying to figure out why it’s happening in the first place.
You can tell by listening that the lyrical content is very important in your music. It’s not just about how it sounds, it’s very much about the message, as well. Can you talk about your focus on songwriting and how you got started?
I’ve been writing since I was quite young and when I learned piano at age 13, I finally had a medium to express myself in the way I wanted. I was constantly writing and singing then, pouring my entire adolescence into my my music. It was my personal diary, my salvation, my greatest friend. What I created was deeply personal and not necessarily intended for audiences. But the performer in me wanted to share what I created, while not entirely believing that people could connect to what I had felt were my own unique experiences.
I was wrong. I was very honest about how I went about things as there was simply no reason to hide because it was intended only for my own personal use. And it turns out that was exactly what everyone connected to. Experiences I thought were so unique to me were shared by many, and my words and my music became a means for other people to project their own experiences. I eventually began to look at my own words differently, realizing that many could indeed be interpreted in different directions. And it was something quite beautiful.
You obviously have the same last name as a very well known hard rocker. You and your brother David have both gravitated toward music. Can you talk about what it was like growing up in a musical household and what set you on your musical path?
We were both always deeply immersed in music. I was constantly raiding his music collection and we actually have very similar influences. There was always music playing and one of my first concerts was sitting front row at a Cure show together with my brother. I had actually been quite stage shy at the time and certainly never imagined myself performing, but I did love music and went to every show I possibly could. It always has and always will be a really important part of my life. But it was David who was always the singer growing up. I was just a guy who liked to sing and therefore never stopped. But when I started performing it was really hard to stop and that need to share my creations with people who will listen is what continues to fuel me to this day.
The Draiman name can kind of help and hurt. Obviously it will get you attention, but it may also make it harder for you to establish yourself apart from the name. Recently you covered Disturbed’s ‘Stricken.’ Was it a difficult decision of whether or not to take on the song given the inevitable comparisons? And how was it personally to cover a Disturbed song?
The name makes me the pretty girl at the party that everyone wants to talk to. That’s a really big advantage in a world where everyone is constantly competing fiercely to get noticed. But if I sucked it would make little difference. It can get annoying sometimes but for the most part I don’t mind. I developed my artistic voice very early on and I never try to be anyone else but myself, so the comparisons don’t really phase me much. Though the two of us being bald does make things difficult where people claim we look so alike.
The decision to cover ‘Stricken’ was based on a number of things. Quite a few years ago now when I had started doing acoustic shows, my brother came out to one. In his honor, I decided to cover one of his songs, and the one song from the ‘Believe’ album at the time that I felt could be done on a piano was ‘Darkness.’ So I did it. It wasn’t my best performance but I thought it would be fun to put it on YouTube, which I had just gotten into at the time, to see what others would think. And the response was pretty amazing. It quickly became my most popular video. It drew, of course a great deal of Disturbed fans. Because the genres were so different in my mind I was often skeptical of potential fans but so many had convinced me that there was something about the intensity and the raw emotion in my work that made them connect in the same way they connect to hard rock or metal.
Since then, parts of the Disturbed community have embraced me and my music with open arms. So doing another cover was in part to redeem myself for the first one. It was also in part to pay tribute to a band that for me was also a tremendous inspiration. And finally it was my way of saying thank you to the Disturbed community for taking me in and supporting my music. Taking a hard hitting song such as ‘Stricken,’ one of my personal favorites, and turning it into a ballad was something I didn’t think was possible, but when I first figured it out on my piano and began singing the verses I found myself connecting with it so deeply that I felt it was something I might have written myself. Ultimately it was a great way to introduce people to my music by demonstrating how a good song can be interpreted differently. I did it my way with a little help from my friends.
We know from David’s social networking that he’s very familiar with world issues, especially when it comes to Israel. You personally have been residing in Israel. Can you talk about how living day-to-day in the country has affected you and how much we may see of that in your music?
I’ve always felt safer in Israel than I ever did growing up in Chicago, no matter what you read on the news. It’s a beautiful country and the people are very special. But for the most part I continued to be interested in Western rock music primarily so the culture and music had little effect on my music. Only one song, ‘Apathy,’ which was released separately from the EP has some Middle-Eastern elements in it because in production it fit.
You’ve come to the U.S. for dates supporting your music. Can you talk about the reception and what you’ve encountered as your music is starting to reach more people?
Through the Internet I was able to reach people all over the world even before the album was released. A few have even had tattoos done with my lyrics because it meant so much to them. The pics of the tattoos became the album art for the album which was a great way to make the fans a part of the process that they helped create.
I’ve done two shows in Houston so far on this run and the response was remarkable. These hardened rockers weren’t ashamed to reveal their emotional and sentimental sides to me following the show. One former soldier, albeit a bit drunk at the time, commented that it was worth surviving what he went through in Iraq to be able to experience the show. I do wonder what he might have said had he not been so drunk, but the comment really moved me. It’s moved beyond the realm of entertainment and into a slightly different world where the experience seems to bring out sides of people they didn’t always show or connect to. It has been pretty amazing! I’m looking forward to my next two shows in San Antonio on Feb. 14 at Fitzgerald’s and Theo’s in Corpus Christi on Feb. 15!
The EP is out and you’re currently touring the U.S. What’s next on the horizon for Ben Draiman?
I’m working already on my next project. It’ll bit heavier than my current work, almost entirely guitar-based. I will continue the solo project in some capacity but most of my efforts will be focused on this band-based project. I believe collaboration with other musicians is far more fulfilling than doing things on my own and I’m anxious to explore new directions. I’m also working on releasing a music video for ’21 Seconds’ which I’m very excited about.
Our thanks to Ben Draiman for the interview. Fans can pick up ‘The Past Is Not Far Behind’ EP, which includes his cover of ‘Stricken’ as a bonus for those ordering through his webstore, at this location. For more on Ben Draiman, visit his official website.
Watch Ben Draiman Perform Disturbed’s ‘Stricken’