Interview and Live Photos by Robert Cavuoto
Dream Theater will be releasing their newest progressive-metal masterpiece, Distance Over Time on February 22nd via InsideOutMusic/Sony Music.
The new CD lives up to Dream Theater’s reputation of a band who can blend well-crafted guitar and vocal melodies with the sheer brute force of progressive metal. It’s a powerfully cohesive CD that reflects the talented musicianship of James LaBrie [vocals], John Petrucci [guitar], Jordan Rudess [keyboards], John Myung [bass], and Mike Mangini [drums] all working together in the spirit of pushing their musical boundaries.
Fans will marvel at John’s heavy guitar playing particularly on “Fall into the Light” and the band’s ability to jam out on “Viper King” with its distinctive groove reminiscent of Deep Purple.
On March 20th the band will embark on a headlining tour of the US tour before heading to Mexico, Russia, and Europe in May. The band will not only perform songs off the new CD but will also be celebrating the 20th-anniversary of Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From a Memory.
In my interview with John Petrucci, he shares the unique approach the band took to write Distance Over Time and how that approach helped him create songs that married an aggressive guitar style with melody.
Robert Cavuoto: I understand that the band lived together for a few weeks while writing the CD. Where you satisfied with the result and would you consider taking that approach again on the band’s next CD?
John Petrucci: Yeah, I’m incredibly satisfied with the results. I would do it again in a heartbeat. Everything about the way we wrote the album was so much fun. The location was beautiful, the atmosphere was wonderful, and the vibe was incredible. Originally we didn’t intend to record it there, but the room sounded so good we had to take advantage of it. The whole band was there for the writing process which was about three weeks to a month. After that, two guys would come in at a time to track the songs.
Robert Cavuoto: Was this communal approach of writing and working together any different from being on tour together?
John Petrucci: It is different from being on the road. On tour you are traveling together, playing on stage, and spending time together in the dressing rooms; but everyone gets into their own groove and sets up their own spaces. Not to mention we are all in different hotel rooms. This was more of a social retreat where we were living together, eating together, and cooking together all the while making music. It was different as it was more of a social hang then touring.
Robert Cavuoto: It sounds like a “mancation” to me.
John Petrucci: [Laughing] It totally was a “mancation”!
Robert Cavuoto: The video for “Untethered Angels” shows the band recording in the studio coupled with clips of everyone hanging out having fun. Did you film the entire writing and recording process for a possible documentary?
John Petrucci: We talked about filming the retreat for a possible documentary because of the way we were making this album, but decided against it. The reason being that we thought it might take away from the true purpose of us retreating together. We didn’t want any outside influences or anyone to act different or be self-conscious knowing the cameras were on. In some ways, it was a bit of a missed opportunity because it would have been really cool, but in other ways, I’m glad we didn’t. “Untethered Angels” was the only song that we purposely filmed everybody’s performance knowing that we would use it as a promotional piece.
Robert Cavuoto: Distance Over Time takes a very straight forward musical approach in its composition compared to The Astonishing which took several years to complete, incorporated an orchestra, and a choir. Was it liberating to take this straight forward approach?
John Petrucci: The scope of doing The Astonishing was so huge and all-encompassing. It took three years to finish and had so many moving parts like the orchestra, the choir, musical arrangements, and stories to be written. Its 2 hours and 15 minutes of music. So going somewhere together, hanging out as friends to making music together without any pressure or any other elements being added, gave the process a more organic, freeing, and primal sounding album. It also lent itself for everyone to invest their creativity into the making the album. There is this great band feeling on this album and we are all really proud of it.
Robert Cavuoto: What I loved about the CD was the aggressive yet melodic guitar. Was that a conscious decision or just the organic nature of how the band worked together on this retreat?
John Petrucci: I love that you picked up on those two elements. As a guitar player, to me, the guitar sound is something I’m really obsessed with as most guitar players are. There is also the melodic factor that I look to incorporate as a player and as a songwriter. It is something I put a lot of focus on and have a lot of pride in so I’m really happy that you picked up on it. I would say the guitar sound on this album is captured a little better as far as the heaviness is concerned. I didn’t change my approach as a player, but those elements of the riff being more of a focus, drawing in grooves, and then having the melody being strong were important elements to me. They may have come out a bit more because of the way it was recorded and the relaxed nature in the room bringing it out.
Robert Cavuoto: Speaking of great melodic grooves, my favorite song was “Viper King.” That song showcases your fluid guitar playing coupled with the old school Deep Purple-esque keyboards. Can you tell me about its creation and why it’s a bonus track?
John Petrucci: There is a side of Dream Theater that is a fun jam band. It’s something that comes out all the time at sound check and rehearsals. We don’t necessarily put that type of songs on our albums. I don’t really know why except the nature of prog-metal sound is more severe and dramatic. We love that lighter side too. The riff from “Viper King” came from a sound check. We were jamming to this Van Halen shuffle riff and recorded it. We were having so much fun at the “Yonderbarn” that we pulled it out and thought it would the perfect time to write this cross between a Van Halen shuffle, Deep Purple “Highway Star,” and Zeppelin’s “Black Dog.” James wrote the lyrics about his favorite car, a Dodge Viper. It’s a fun moment on the record, and we used it as a bonus track because we feel it is appropriate for that. It shows the spirit and mood we were in and doing things that make us feel good about being in a band. It might be different than what Dream Theater fans are used to, but it’s a side that we have none the less.
Robert Cavuoto: “Fall into the Light” is another favorite of mine; you have a very precise attack in your right-hand. Can you talk about how that helped with the creation of the song?
John Petrucci: I wrote that riff backstage at a G3 show when I was tweaking my signature Mesa Boogie JP-2C and out came this sound that was very Metallica-ish like “Master of Puppets.” I started playing and thought it was cool. I always record these riffs that I stumble on and make a list of them so that I can refer back to them. That type of tight percussive right-hand approach is a direct influence from James Hetfield. I added that approach very early on into Dream Theater making it a staple element of our style. You can hear that locked-in, right hand- guitar-drums rhythmic playing. You can get a lot of power and aggression out from that approach, and it really drives the song. When everyone is playing together, it makes the band sound really tight. It has a great impact on the listener and is quite the opposite from the open and freestyle playing.
Robert Cavuoto: You and the band always expend extreme efforts to seek the ultimate expression in a song. Do you know what drives that artistic work ethic?
John Petrucci: I think it is something that is within us. It’s pressure, in a good way that we put on ourselves. Everybody in this band not only loves the craft of their instrument but the art of being creative and having the opportunity to do that as a career. When we are given the opportunity to do another record; everyone wants to push and continue to do new things. The idea of getting stale or complacent doesn’t sit well with us. Nobody wants to that person. Everybody wants to continue to drive forward and try new things while keeping it interesting and unique not only individually but collectively.
Robert Cavuoto: Dream Theater is truly a global phenomenon. Can you explain what it is about their music that transcends to so many people around the globe in so many cultures in a positive manner and has inspired legions of musicians over the last 30+ years?
John Petrucci: That’s a great question. It’s wonderful if any of us can inspire younger musicians. I can relate to it because when I was younger, I was inspired by my favorite bands like Rush or guitar players like Randy Rhoads or Eddie Van Halen. Getting inspired as a young player is amazing. I’m always meeting young musicians who tell me that our music has played a big part of their life and I love hearing that. As far as being an international band, for as long I can remember we’ve had that reach. Even before the internet we were sharing our music and getting reviews back. Maybe it’s the progressive element of our music; there are a lot of musicians in the world, and we have that in common no matter what language we speak. Pop music from region-to-region and country-to-country can be very different as to who it appeals to. Maybe there is something more universal to the prog –genre that spreads out a bit more. One of the things that we did from the very beginning, which was done out of necessity but turned into a real strength, was we toured internationally. We didn’t have the ability for our success to be based on radio or television airplay. It wasn’t there for our style of music. We had to tour and worked hard by playing all over the world. Having that physical presence to perform in those countries from Japan to Russia to South America and everywhere in between could be part of it as well. I think people appreciate the band coming to their country and playing. Maybe that adds to the strength of our international appeal.
Robert Cavuoto: You have an upcoming world tour promoting Distance Over Time and celebrating the 20th-anniversary of Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From a Memory. You could have easily toured for the new CD alone; why couple it with the anniversary for Scenes From a Memory?
John Petrucci: We talked about the type of tour we wanted for this album. We are really excited about the new music, but our career is more than that. Every once in a while there is a milestone in your career that is worthy of giving a little bit of attention and Scenes From a Memory was our first concept album, our first album with Jordan Rudess, and beloved by the fans. We thought it was a great moment to couple it with the theme of the new album and to do an “Evening with” tour. This was the idea that everyone in the band was the most excited about and decided to go with it, so it should be a blast.