David Draiman was a cantor as a kid, a good boy, often leading his congregation in prayer.
Book smart, he’d earn a business degree as part of a triple major at Chicago’s Loyola University, also studying philosophy and political science.
He was a pragmatic Judas Priest fan, an aspiring rocker, but with no stars in his eyes, no time for daydreams.
"Everyone always give you the advice, ‘You need something to fall back on,’ " says Draiman, who’d eventually come to fame fronting popular heavy metal battering ram Disturbed. "So I was always setting up something to fall back on, because I never thought that this would really materialize."
And so after college, Draiman became an assistant administrator in the legal realm, the kind of job where your tie can start to feel like a noose if you’re not careful.
"It was just a means to an end. I even used to pirate funds out of one of the facilities to fuel the band, (maintain) our mailing list, Fed Ex promo packs out to record labels, all kinds of stuff like that," Draiman chuckles.
"I couldn’t live with the whole legal career," he continues. "I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror and know that I was going to be an attorney. I couldn’t end up doing it."
He wouldn’t have to. His career wouldn’t need a safety hatch.
Instead, Draiman would begin racking up platinum album sales and touring arenas.
Still, his background testifies to his level-headedness, which is not always the most obvious trait that comes to mind when thinking of famous metal dudes.
Draiman’s different, he knows it, and he’s always been this way.
And it comes through in his music.
You see the man onstage, and he certainly fits the role of the modern day metal god: shrouded in leather pants, bare arms jutting out from a sleeveless T-shirt, he sings with his chest out, barking like a drill sergeant at some fresh recruits.
His voice is sonorous and commanding, sufficiently gruff at times, but not so much so that it keeps Disturbed from being a staple on hard rock radio, where the band has notched eight No. 1 singles.
But at times, there’s something of a disconnect — and a welcome one at that — between the poise and power that Draiman exudes in concert and the words that he’s actually singing.
His lyrics often betray a vulnerability, occasional jags of self-doubt and uncertainty, that contrast starkly with the macho-isms that have long been rife in metal.
On the band’s latest disc, "Indestructible," Disturbed’s fourth overall and third straight album to debut atop the "Billboard" charts, Draiman continues to pick at his scabs in sometimes startling detail.
One of the album’s singles, "Inside the Fire," recounts an experience Draiman had as a teen, when his girlfriend committed suicide, having a lasting emotional effect on him.
The rest of the disc is similarly rife with this kind of inner tumult, with songs about shattered relationships marked by a palpable longing.
"It felt darker, from the onset, before any music was written," Draiman says of the disc. "The guys sat down with me at a lunch meeting and asked me where my head was at, where I wanted to go with this record, and I told them, ‘Based on the past couple of years of life experience, gentlemen, please feel free to throw at me the darkest, nastiest, most brutal stuff that you can come up with.’ They were only too eager to oblige."
A recurring theme in many of Draiman’s lyrics is religion and spirituality.
The song "Prayer" is a conversation between Draiman and a higher power after the death of his grandfather; "Believe" examines the notion of faith.
Raised in a strict Judeo-Christian household, Draiman spent a year in high school studying abroad in Jerusalem to help him make up his own mind about the theological identity that had been handed to him from birth.
"That was my year to find out what I truly believed in as opposed to what I had been doing out of habit — finding out the truths that really felt true, as opposed to the ones that were said to be true," Draiman says. "It needed to happen, and ever since then, I haven’t been a very religious person. I’m definitely still spiritual — I believe in a higher power of some kind, but it depends on what you refer to it as."
Speaking with him, Draiman doesn’t pretend to have the answers to the many questions he raises in his songs.
He’s not an overly dogmatic dude, but a fairly contemplative one.
As such, it’s not always easy getting in touch with one’s sensitive side considering his position in life.
After all, there are no tears to be shed in heavy metal, unless, of course, someone chopped up an onion in your codpiece or God forbid, Budweiser should go out of business.
"It’s always difficult," Draiman says of delivering the emotional content of some of his tunes. "But it’s necessary. Otherwise, you can’t pull the song off with the same conviction. It doesn’t mean the same thing to you," he continues with a pause. "There’s really no other way to properly do it."
Contact reporter Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476.Preview Disturbed 8 p.m. today The Pearl at the Palms, 4321 W. Flamingo Road $41.50 (942-7777)