Jordan Rudess is well known to the prog community for his work with Dream Theater since 1999’s Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From A Memory, to the current masterpiece from the band, Distance Over Time, which was released earlier this year. However we’re here today to talk about the upcoming release of his latest solo album, Wired For Madness. It’s been four years since he last wowed us with The Unforgotten Path, and now Jordan is back with an eclectic musical portfolio to expand our sonic horizons.
As you settle into the album and truly experience it, you find that in one moment it’s as if Jordan is channelling Frank Zappa before moving onto something bordering a Bachian expression, which then segues into King Crimson via Hendrix, and finishes off with a bit of Pink Floyd. While it is very much his own sound, it’s clear that the album has become an analogue of his musical influences over the years. Jordan agrees as he explains, “That’s just it, you’ve listed a number of my influences there, and I like to keep absorbing and processing what happens around me into new music ideas. I live to be creative. Give me my space and freedom to do my music, and I’ll be like an antenna to the thoughts and feelings around me. Of course I get inspired by other music I hear. Could be anything from wild Electronica, like Richard Devine or Aphex Twin to classical music like a beautiful Chopin Nocturne.”
The title tracks, ‘Wired For Madness Parts 1 and 2’ reflect this the most, but as you move through the album, it twists and turns back through these musical channels, often in surprising ways. However the album overall is very balanced, and while it does go from one extreme to the other as you go through the tracks, it never totally gets out of control. Which Jordan explains, “Yeah, you know, although I play so many different styles of music, there are certain things that I really go for, more often than not, and I kind of like that. As much as I’m into wild and crazy prog, and adventurous music, I’m also into things that are mellow and spacey, and have that vibe.”
Further adding, “a funny quick story about the creation of this album, is that I started writing the title track, and was really enjoying it. I started going deep into my prog head, and I was having a lot of fun and was excited about it. I came in and I played some of the music for my wife, and she was like “are you going to have anything that’s you know, easier to absorb, more apropos on the album” – and I was like “no, this is what I’m known for! All this wild, crazy stuff!” And she said, “well you can’t do that,” and I was like, “but why?” And she said, “because you need to have it a bit balanced, and have some of your nice floaty spacey stuff…” And I walked out of there going, like meh… But in the back of my mind, I was thinking maybe she’s right, and so the next day I realised she was right, and I better write some other stuff. Just to create a balance, which is always good.”
The standout track on the album, however, has to be ‘Just For Today’. The timbre of the piano, played against the contrasting melodies that feature throughout, adds a further cutting feeling to the sadness behind the lyrics. You really feel what the subject of the song is experiencing. A very elegant song, it is one that I find myself coming back to quite often. Jordan agrees, adding, “It was important to add in nice gentle things to offset the wacky, intense metres, and crazy sounds.” The remainder of the album is made up of tracks ‘Off the Ground’, a short piano centred piece framed by a dream-like vocal and underpinned by a synth backdrop, which reminds me of Gabriel era Genesis. Continuing the Peter Gabriel theme, ‘Drop Twist’ truly does just that. It drops you in and twists you through an instrumental kaleidoscope of sonic spheres that wouldn’t have been out of place in Gabriels early solo work. ‘Perpetual Shine’, throws a bit of funk into the mix, and struts along nicely into ‘Just Can’t Win’.
Another brilliant, yet completely unexpected track on the album is ‘Just Can’t Win’ which features Joe Bonamassa on guitar, and a full blues brass ensemble to boot. This fun little track elicits quite a bit of excitement from Jordan as he explains, “’Just Can’t Win’ is a dirty blues song! The Dream Theater guys call me Blues Man because at 8 a.m., after sleeping on the tour bus, I sound like a recreation of an old blues man soul. When I had the idea of the track I thought, “oh I should call Joe and see if he wants to join me for a little something.” And so he said “yes” and that was really exciting. I was at the Dream Theater Hideaway working on Distance Over Time, one morning before everyone woke up, when I got the call to say that Joe wanted to play on the track, and that really inspired me and I put together this tune. For my prog fans, this is Jordan Rudess in an alternate universe!” As a fan of both artists, I personally would love to hear a full on collaborative blues album by Jordan and Joe in the future.
‘Why I Dream’ forms a languid expression of Zappaesque progressive Jazz fusion and brings the album to a somewhat psychedelic end. With a metaphysical theme running through it, it’s almost as if the track is the subconscious glue that ties the entire album together.
However, this all pales in comparison to the title tracks of the album, which could have quite frankly been an album release all on their own. Discussing the concept of ‘Wired For Madness Parts 1 & 2’, Jordan explains that they are, “one long and evolved track, that I developed a whole story for. In fact, my author friend Peter Oruillian, who did work on the Astonishing book, is actually working on a book for Wired For Madness, because he’s really switched on to the idea of the story. Basically the short story, for now, is that it involves a character who is mentally and physically declining, and he has the option of going for a procedure that would allow him to become partly robotic, or computerised, and in doing that, it creates all kinds of intense challenges, because it’s the first time it has been done. This leads to his mental and spiritual challenges, and after an angel visits him, the listener is left wondering whether he is experiencing true enlightenment, or if he’s moving out of the physical world into the next dimension. At the end, when James LaBrie closes it out with his great vocal, the story is left open to interpretation, so you don’t know if he’s had some kind of amazing awakening, he’s died, or had a total breakdown. Perhaps I can explore it on the next album!”
It is fair to say that the final ingredient that provided Wired For Madness with its unique sound were the amazing cadre of musicians which guested on the album. Through each track you can hear the excellent chemistry at play and how that transferred into the music. “There are a lot of guest artists on the album,” Jordan explains, “and a lot of them came in for a brief solo appearance, and that’s the majority of appearances. They’re just little spots. But the ones who had the more substantial impact are like the drummers, Marco Minnemann who played on Part 2 of the title track, which was like a 22 minute thing, so that was a major addition. Rod Morgenstein, played the first part of that, along with Elijah Wood, who played on ‘Drop Twist’, and ‘Perpetual Shine’, so the drummers were vital to that.”
“My MVP of the album, as far as guests go, was Alek Darson, he’s the guitarist in a group called Special Providence, and he did everything from help me to arrange the brass for ‘Just Can’t Win’, to playing a lot of the rhythm guitars all across the album. So he was great. Then my guest artists, were people like Vinnie Moore, Joe Bonamassa, Guthrie Govan, and John Petrucci played on the album and did a couple solos. On vocals I had Marjana Semkina, who is the wonderful singer from the group I Am The Morning, a prog band out of Russia, The Page Bros’ did beautiful backing vocals and harmonies, and Jonas Reingold from the Flower Kings played bass on ‘Perpetual Shine’, and that was like my cast of characters.
Wired For Madness is truly a musical experience for any audiophile or music lover regardless of preferred tastes and genres. The deep and epic nature of the songs, the plush recording values, and brilliant execution of the orchestration and musicianship on the album has created a tour de force that Jordan should be proud of. However when Jordan set out to do the album, he didn’t have a clear vision for what he wanted to achieve, and it took shape as he entered the creative process, as Jordan explains, “I knew I wanted to get something out like this, out of my head and into the world, and I wasn’t exactly sure what I was going to do. I just got in there – and you know, it’s always hardest as an artist, whether you’re a painter, a musician, or a writer to get something started. But once you get it off the ground, you’re kind of like “OK, here we go, I got a little groove going,” and you find it just flows.” And that is exactly what this album does. It flows in and out of your consciousness as you are pulled along by the musical currents that make this such a special album. I cannot recommend it enough.
Jordan Rudess – Wired For Madness
James LaBrie – vocals
Marjana Semkina – vocals
The Page Bros’ – harmonies, backing vocals
Vinnie Moore – guitars
Guthrie Govan – guitars
Joe Bonamassa – guitars
John Petrucci – guitars
Alek Darson – guitars
Jonas Reingold – bass
Rod Morgenstein – drums
Elijah Wood – drums
Marco Minneman – drums
Wired for Madness – Part 1
Wired for Madness – Part 2
Off the Ground
Just Can’t Win
Just for Today
Why I Dream
Written by: Erik De’Viking
My Global Mind – UK Editor
Erik De’Viking is a London based freelance music journalist. His musical interests include music in all its forms, and he is constantly on the lookout for new bands and genres to discover and later preach about to the masses.