Dream Theater

By Clare McCabe

Dream Theater are back with a new self-titled album. The album was recorded at Cove City Sound Studios inNew York with John Petrucci producing and Richard Chycki (who has worked previously with the mighty Aerosmith) engineering and mixing.

I had a chat with lead singer James LaBrie by phone a few weeks back during the pre-release promotions of the new album. He declared the album awesome (his words).

Haven't heard the new album yet but we're really looking forward to it here in New Zealand.

James LaBrie: Ok I'll just tell you, it's awesome.

Yeah, can't wait to hear it. I've been looking at the Studio Episodes that you guys did while you were in the studio and it really looked like you were enjoying what you were doing and enjoying working together again. How was it for you?

There are two worlds that you try to create when you are in the studio. You're in a creative environment first of all so you need to be really focussed. But at the same time you need that release or that balance between the two worlds because it would just be too much to stay focussed every single day - I mean we're in the studio on average for 10 hours per day.

So we have the comic relief where we're all quite comical or humorous, our engineer Richard Chycki, who also mixed the album, he's very funny. I've known him for over 25 years. He can impersonate anyone. We're having a fabulous time in the studio and we really feel that it's almost like a second stage in our career. It's a whole new spirit being breathed into the band.

It's something that I think is really strongly reflected in the music, just the spirit of the band. I think you have to be there, it's not something you can fake and even bad vibes and negativity can serve its purpose in writing music as well. As long as you are still creating music the way you usually do you could benefit from that situation. But that's a very taxing and spiritually draining situation to be in and every band goes through that right, you have some tough times, but right now everything is amazing.

I notice that you did a lot of the writing process in the studio at the same time as recording. How was that for you? Is that what you normally do?

We started doing that approach as far back as Scenes from a Memory, I'm talking 1999. Previous to that album it was what a lot of bands tend to do, and more so these days than ever. You would work out the songs in rehearsal and as a band you would put the songs together and you would demo them so that by the time you got to the studio it was just a matter of recording each and every song and each other's parts would be recorded separately.

But we felt the kind of band that we are, we work best when we are all together when we're writing. So, why not just be in the actual studio where we're going to record the track. So that while we're writing and as soon as we land on something that is definite we could start recording it.

Agreed - so you could do it as you go?  And it would obviously sound better and you could change it as you were going.

Yeah and you know there's something to be said for spontaneity and when something is fresh so to speak or is something that has just recently been written, there's an energy there, there's a vibe there that's hard to re-enact or create once again at a later stage. So it really works in our favour.

For instance, we would be on the floor, like we'd all be in the studio together and somebody would land on a riff or a section and we would feel, yeah that's exactly where we want to go.

Mike Mangini is a brilliant drummer/musician, and he's very spontaneous and instinctual and he's also very intuitive which you need to be or otherwise you're just not going to get what the band's about. But we already knew that was what we were getting because that's the kind of musician he is. A lot of that drumming that you hear it's like the first take on some of them, the second take on some of them. I mean the guy was just so incredibly fast with developing and what he was writing - it was just incredible.

But it works well for everyone. I mean myself, I'll sit in there and write some melodies and ideas from stuff that's going on. But by the time that I'm in the studio and actually singing, the melodies are going through four different stages. Then we would sit down with John and Jordan and we would refine the melodies a bit more. Once the lyrics are written you start singing through it again and then you're like hmm, you know what, that doesn't feel right, I don't believe that that's going to sing right.

The fourth stage when you're behind the microphone and when you actually start hitting the songs and singing for real, you're still furthering the alterations here and there in the melody because this word you might have thought was going to sound amazing, that's not necessarily true. It's just an environment that works very well for us. It allows everyone to sit with the material and then there's that immediacy and spontaneity that really works in our favour too.

How was it recording with the live string section/orchestra on the instrumental part? Did you do that in the studio as well?

There were two parts to that. On the more symphonic parts, Jordan would play down some of the ideas just on the synthesiser and John would also be writing something that was more melodically driven. Then it was a matter of bringing those pieces and having the string section come in and perform it.

It was a matter of them really, it wasn't a live thing, it was them almost rehearsing it and getting familiar with it. Because you know the way that an orchestra works too is that something might look great on paper but it doesn't necessarily translate that way.

They have to really get inside of your head and understand what it is, how you want it to play out, how you want the movement to actually be executed, how you want it to feel, it's all about the feel. And then eventually you got there. It was a process, but really if you look at it they're still incredibly fast with being able to get it to the part where you're like Yeah, that's the take or that's exactly what we're looking for.

So that was exciting as well - a very cool situation.

Another thing I read online was that you did a listening party for the new album in New York at the end of July - how did that go? Have you done that before?

No this was the first time and Roadrunner was all about just creating something that they felt would excite and really start this whole process a little differently than ever before. We felt that it was necessary - you know it's just the way that the industry works nowadays. Let's get a whole room of however many, 15 or 20, journalists from all over the place and have them sit in a room and let's crank the album and let's play it from beginning to end. And we'll have hors doevres and drinks for everyone and we'll just sit around. Then after the listening is done we can walk amongst the room as if we're having conversations with friends and talk about it. It was a really interesting evening. We had a huge sound system there so that they could hear the songs properly and really feel that they were right in front.

Lastly, any tour plans for the new album?

Yeah already the tour is being put together. We start in Europe. January 16th is when we kick off the world tour. Each one of our tours lasts at least 14-18 months. We're definitely going to be touring it and going to as many places as possible around the globe.

I'm hoping that we can get back to New Zealand. We've only been there once.

Yes I read recently that you played the Civic in Auckland in 2009 and apparently it was crazy.

Yeah it was a lot of fun. It was like a blank to me. We arrived and we performed and then before I knew it we were on a plane taking off again. So hopefully we'll have a bit more time to see your city next time. I liked New Zealand it was very cool.

Maybe you could come at the end of the tour next time and stay a bit longer?

Yeah, exactly. We definitely hope so, and we're in talks with the agency who books us all over the world, to let them know that there are areas of the world that we would really like to see and get back to. Because, you know, you don't start a relationship and then just let it go, we want to continue it and cultivate it so to speak.

And that was it. My time was up and James moved on to his next journalist. Thanks so much for the interview James - catch up again when you bring the tour down our way.

I have now had a chance to hear the new album in its entirety and I can totally see why they had such fun recording it. There's heavy, theatrical, a bit of orchestra (which we spoke of) serious drumming (for some reason reminds me a bit of Slayer), a heavy Pink Floyd influence in a couple of tunes and the grand finale, the epic "Illumination Theory" which ends the album in all its 22-minute splendour. Old fans will love this album and I am sure it will gain DT quite a few new ones.