Dream Theater: the new era starts now

In the following interview, the least you can say is that James Labrie is full of praise for his new drummer: “incredible”, “full of unbelievable amounts of energy and excitement”, “a phenomenal drummer”, “extremely musical”, “very talented”, “very intuitive”, “very spontaneous”, “very instinctual”, and so on. If those highly enthusiastic comments are to be believed, his arrival within the band has put new life into Dream Theater. And in the end, those same comments sort of highlight what remains unsaid, or rather what is implied, about the band’s former leader, Mike Portnoy.

But this interview also revealed the extent of the pressure the band found itself under because of the line-up change. The vocalist mentions that the band had to prove themselves all over again during the tour promoting A Dramatic Turn Of Events, and suggests that they were particularly attentive to their fans. In point of fact, during the whole conversation, Labrie kept referring to the fans to justify Dream Theater’s desire to prove that nothing has changed, and that their new, self-titled album gathers all the elements that are to be expected from the band.

James Labrie reveals all below.

« [Mike Mangini] was very integral to the shape, the energy and the feel that this album brought on. »

Radio Metal: A Dramatic Tour Of Events was the first tour with the new Dream Theater’s line-up. What was the response of the fans?

James Labrie (singer): The responses were absolutely incredible. I think that, what it came down to is that our fans could see that we were up on stage having a great time, we were supporting an album we completely believed in, we have a drummer that was a perfect fit, it was seamless, it was natural, it supported who and what we were musically. So, I think that all of that translated very powerfully to our fans around the world that we were the band that they come to love and that we were continuing on with this musical journey. It was all amazing. Dramatic Turn Of Events was an incredible tour for us and, as I’m sure you know, we also recorded a live DVD at Luna Park in Buenos Aires. We thought it was also important to document that tour because of the energy of what we were going through and that would be something that we won’t be able to replicate or reenact at a later stage in time.

Can you tell us more about the release of Dream Theater’s new live DVD, Live At Luna Park? Why was it postponed?

Probably because it was the most expensive and complete DVD that we’ve ever done in our career. I mean, obviously, we shot two nights in Buenos Aires, so because of that in itself, there was over five hours of footage that we had to go through and edit. We had to make sure that all the songs that we incorporated in both of those nights would be represented in the best light. There are many visual aspects to this. Everything had to be right as far as the actually concert footage. And then, beyond that, we had tons of documentary footage, there are little bits and pieces of our trip on the South American tour. Not to mention that behind the scenes we were sitting around talking about the upcoming DVD, all the preparation and preproduction that goes into something like that. This is all a huge undertaking. And you rely on a lot of people to make something like that happen and seem effortless when the night is actually happening and you’re shooting it in concert mode. There was so much material, both from the actual concert footage and from all of the extra bits and pieces from moments that were very telling about what was happening to us at that particular point in our career. Not to mention that we wanted to feel that we were giving the fans everything that we could possibly lay out to document that period in our career, and make this the most complete and most professional DVD that we could possibly release. It’s quite an achievement for us. I’m very long with it but to answer the question, that’s what delayed the initial release in the spring. So that’s why we decided that it would be best to take our time and do it properly to release it in November 5th around the world. But additionally, what is also adding excitement to this, is that on September 19th up to the 22nd, it’s going to be screened on various movie theaters around the world. It’s a perfect environment for a band like us, to have our fans go into a movie theater, see it on a huge screen and, not only that, hear it on a 5.1 audio surround sound. That’s also adding excitement and anticipation to this really unprecedented DVD release for the band.

Was it planned from the start to have the concert played on theaters?

Not initially. I mean, we were really thinking about that but it was Eagle Rock, the company that is releasing the DVD, that thought it could be really cool and handsome to just add to the whole vibe and excitement that we were bringing in and stepping it up a little. So it was partly us just mentioning that other bands have done it and them thinking that, with the kind of band that we were, it made perfect sense for this to be screened trough various movie theaters around the world.

« [We] proved to our fans that we didn’t go anywhere, that we were still the same band – if anything, we’re better « 

Apparently you guys have started writing this new album at a very early stage, during the sound checks of the last tour. Do you think that, since it took more time, you had more hindsight on the songs?

Well, no. I mean, it’s true that we’ve been experimenting at sound check, trying ideas and stuff like that and some of those stuck with us. We were able to go back at a later time and use some of those ideas. One in particular that I can think of that made it’s way on to the album was the very end of “Illumination Theory” that is very grandiose, very emotional, very majestic. That was one of the ideas from a sound check in Asia. There was one other particular moment on the album that comes from a sound check. But for the most part, all of the ideas and the magic really start when we’re on the floor of the studio, when we’re sitting and engaging with one another and interacting with our creative ideas. That’s really where a lot of the music comes from. And beyond that, each guy came in with snippets of ideas here and there that we documented, labeled, named, and put it all on a huge Easel board so that we could look at it and refer to it, if we felt that any one of those ideas were something that could fit into what we were doing musically or creatively. It’s not a difficult process, there are always ideas going around, we have more than enough ideas at any given point. It’s a matter of feeling that we‘re going and taking the album exactly where we feel is important or that it’s in accordance with what we think we are at this particular point in time, what we want to achieve.

This is the very first time the new line-up of Dream Theater writes an album, since the previous one wasn’t written with Mike Mangini. How would you describe this new dynamic?

The new dynamic from Mike Mangini was incredible. He came prepared and ready to work. He was ecstatic. He was full of unbelievable amounts of energy and excitement. He’s a phenomenal drummer, this speaks for itself, but beyond that he’s extremely musical. He’s a very talented individual, very intuitive, he understands our music, he understands who and what we are. He was on the same page as far as what we wanted to create. And he’s very spontaneous, very instinctual. He guesses things immediately and he’s able to rifle off something on the drums that is mind-blowing. A lot of the recordings is first or second take, and it’s right off the floor, right off from one of his ideas, from the initial response toward whatever particular section or song that we were working on. So it was incredible. He was very infectious. He was raising the bar, so to speak, and we all got pumped and excited about that, and all of a sudden we were rising to the occasion. So, as you can tell throughout the album there’s a lot of amazing energy and rawness. There’s an organic feeling to the vibe and the feel of the whole album, it’s really an intense feeling. At the same time, it’s very fluid and beautiful. He was very integral to the shape, the energy and the feel that this album brought on.

Is this because this album is the first one to be written by the new line-up that it is self titled? To say « this is who we are now »?

You know, that makes a lot of sense. With A Dramatic Turn Of Events, it was more or like a trial for the band. The fans around the world were very curious and, to a certain extent, skeptical. So, we went out there and we proved ourselves. We released an album that we’re incredibly proud of and very convinced by. And at the same time we went on a fifteen months tour around the world where we proved ourselves each and every time, on stage every night. We were there having a great time and there was this new vigor to the band, like a new spirited, enthusiastic front. So, I think that once we did that and proved to our fans that we didn’t go anywhere, that we were still the same band – if anything, we’re better -, this album was about just being ourselves and making an album that we thought was necessary, that we really thought it would symbolize that it is kind of a new beginning for us and it is a breath of fresh air to be where we are. We believed that we were beginning a new ride, a new musical journey that would go on for quite some time. So, self titling it is the best way to say that. This is us walking through another door. Things are only revving up for another chapter in Dream Theater’s career and it’s a bold and powerful statement.

« We believed that we were beginning a new ride, a new musical journey that would go on for quite some time. »

Dream Theater now has a self titled album. But it hasn’t any song called “Dream Theater”. If you had to choose one song in the band’s career, on this album or on the previous ones and call it « Dream Theater », which one would it be?

I’d rather stay with this album. I think that if there was a track that we could have called « Dream Theater » it would have been “Illumination Theory”. It really encapsulates everything that the band is about: the diversity and the elements that our fans, over the years, have become extremely passionate about and looked forward to. I think that that song really embraces all the musical elements that’s been dearest to our fans over the many years. I think that it’s just a beautiful unfolding of who and what we are as a band, musically, and it’s a great journey to take with us.

The first part of “Illumination Theory” has a French title, “Paradoxe De La Lumière Noire”. Why is that?

Because you just said it and it sounds beautiful when you say it. (Laughs) Instead of saying “Black Light Paradox”, I think it sound a hell of a lot better when it’s said in French, it’s a lot more romantic, it’s a lot more poetic. Really, that’s why John (Petrucci) wanted to title it as such.

And can you pronounce it correctly?

No. Say it again!

Paradoxe de la lumière noire.

(He tries to repeat it) Pardoxe de la lumière moire… (Laughs) I have to work on that!

The next interview you’ll do with me, you’ll have to prove me that you can say it!

Ok, no problem! (Laughs)

About the song « Illumination Theory », what is the concept behind it?

Musically, we wanted something that was dynamic and, like I said earlier, the epitome of Dream Theater: you have your progressive moments, your very hard rock bombastic moments, your very subtle, more melodic, beautiful and serene moments. Then you have this moment where all of a sudden it becomes atmospheric and that leads into this beautiful symphonic section, and then that leads into once more a very intense and bombastic feel, in “The Pursuit Of Truth”, where it’s like a meteorite hitting the planet, and then it has this grandiose, gorgeous, almost ethereal, crescendo, or climax, at the very end of the song. That’s exactly what we were trying to achieve: something that felt like the unfolding of a story or a movie and where you felt like you’re going along with this person throughout the entire journey, almost like a life journey, and at the end reach complete enlightenment, victory, euphoria and just a feeling of bliss. And lyrically too, it’s about asking: what are you willing to die for? What are you willing to do in this life that really shapes and really describes what you are as a person? It’s very much the trials, the tribulations, the hardships and the pains that we endure in our life that make us able to reflect and appreciate our victories. When we get to a more blissful state, a more happy state in life, it’s only because we’ve been through hardships. It’s the best way to reflect and understand that dynamic in life. It’s somewhat a dichotomy; it’s a continual reality throughout our existence.

« I think it’s safe to assume that you can expect a lot of surprises from us in the future! »

This is the first time in ten years you include some instrumental tracks – except for « Raw Dog », but it wasn’t on any album. Was the band missing that aspect of Dream Theater’s music?

I don’t think we were missing it but I think that we all knew that it’s definitely a big part of who and what we are musically, and it always has been. You know, I get as excited as any fan out there when we decide to do an instrumental. It’s like when we were growing up and learned that Rush was going to have an instrumental on this album or that album. That’s true for any band that you would attribute this kind of musical expression, you always get excited when you know that this is going to be a piece of the album. So, yeah, it’s been over nine years since we last did an instrumental and the band thought it was, not only what we have to do, but it was also part of what we felt would really endear this album to our fans. You have the “False Awakening”, a beautiful cinematic movie soundtrack. We’ve never really concentrated to make it its own song before. Then we brought in the middle of the album a beautiful instrumental, and “Enigma Machine”, it had more of that spy movie kind of vibe to it. And then at the end of the album, you have this big, huge, epic, gorgeous song. Those three pieces, if you think about it, they all work hand in hand, they accentuate the fact that Dream Theater is once again doing an album that features those elements that you’ve grown to love over the years. And one of the major factors that makes this band what it is, are the inclusion of instrumentals.

Your vocal lines often seem to be linked to Jordan Rudess’ keyboard lines. Often the voice and keyboards seems to be in unison. Do you have a special working relationship with him?

Oh, we’ve all had a special relationship for many years now. But, that’s not done on purpose. Sometimes what he’s playing on the keyboard makes perfect sense to support it vocally as well. The only reason that happens is that we feel it fits that particular vocal section.

The last three albums were very classic Dream Theater albums. The band was also known for surprising its fans by taking risks and trying new things, such as a full length metal album like Train Of Thought or a concept album like Scenes From A Memory. Can we expect Dream Theater doing that in the future?

Oh, well, look at the kind of band we are. We’re very unpredictable! I think it’s safe to assume that you can expect a lot of surprises from us in the future! (Laughs) You know, does it make sense for us to do another conceptual piece or album at some point? Absolutely it does! As far as when will that happen, it’s a little premature to say. Or whether we’re going to do another bombastic full on heavy metal album like Train Of Thoughts, I mean, anything is possible for the band. It really comes down to what we think represents who and what we are at a particular point in time, what we think will best represent us musically. I have a lot of faith in the fact that, yes, the future will definitely bring another conceptual album from Dream Theater. I just can’t tell you when that’ll happen.

This is a busy year for you, since you’re also releasing your new solo album. When did you find the time to record both albums?

The solo album is something that Matt Guillory and I started working on over a year and a half ago. We didn’t see it only finished right around the same time as the Dream Theater album was coming out. We didn’t foresee that happening. But because of our various obligations and commitment, things kept being pushed back further and further for us to complete the solo album. But I think that in the end, the fact that we’re willing to take our time and make sure that everything was done properly is the reason why Impermanent Resonance came out sounding great. Both Matt and I, and Peter Wildoer, Ray Riendeau and Marco Sfogli, we’re all extremely proud of it.

Will you tour as a solo artist?

We will tour as a solo band sometime after when the next Dream Theater world tour concludes, when it is finished and done. Then leading up to that time, we’ll start putting together a tour that we feel will best represent the solo band. We will go out eventually, it’s just that our fans will have to be a little patient, but it’s going to be rewarded because we really want to go out there and do some amazing shows around the world.

Interview conducted by phone on August, 19th 2013 by Metal’O Phil
Transcription, introduction: Spaceman

Dream Theater’s official website: www.dreamtheater.net
James Labrie’s official website: www.jameslabrie.com

Album Dream Theater, out since September, 24th 2013 via Roadrunner Records
Abum Impermanent Resonance, out since July, 29th 2013 via InsideOut Music

Laisser un commentaire

  • Arrow
    Slipknot @ Lyon
  • 1/3