‘A Retreat with Gear’: Guitarist John Petrucci on How Dream Theater Bonded over Barbecue While Writing 14th Album


When Dream Theater made its first vital splash with its 1992 sophomore album, Images and Words, the Long Island quintet’s mixture of prog, steel and melody stood out like a sore thumb within the panorama of well-liked music. You might argue that the identical holds true right now, but the band has been resolute in sticking to its sonic weapons.

Two Grammy nominations and 15 million in worldwide album gross sales later (based on its administration), Dream Theater is getting ready to launch Distance Over Time, theband's 14th studio album, on Feb. 22, in a number of configurations. Having already launched movies for album tracks “Untethered Angel” and “Fall Into the Light,” the fivesome right now delivered the official animated video for “Paralyzed,” which will be seen beneath.

With Distance Over Time, Dream Theater as soon as once more demonstrates its penchant for writing music that strives to be technically rigorous whereas additionally rewarding from a melodic standpoint. Keyboardist Jordan Rudess and frontman James LaBrie stack the brand new materials with layers of concord that develop into particularly obvious as the entire band executes a number of dramatic chord modifications, which has develop into considered one of its hallmarks. Meanwhile, guitarist John Petrucci, bassist John Myung and drummer Mike Mangini proceed to exert their prodigious chops, with Petrucci's thrashy riffs sustaining a stage of aggression not usually anticipated from an act approaching its 35th 12 months.

That mentioned, as Petrucci tells Billboard, human connection stays important to Dream Theater’s inventive course of — whether or not or not it’s discovering the thread between the music and the emotional underpinning of its lyrics or the members’ bonds with each other. Case in level: For Distance Over Time, the band determined to room collectively, sequestering itself for 18 days at Yonderbarn Studio within the Catskills — a choice that Petrucci says had a profound influence on the tone and form of the album. 

Read our dialog with the guitarist beneath. 

The final time the entire band stayed collectively whereas engaged on an album was for Images and Words. Looking again throughout its 25th anniversary in 2017, you mentioned there was a whole lot of camaraderie throughout that recording. What about this time?

John Petrucci With Images, we stayed collectively after we had been recording, however we didn’t write it like that. We’ve type of by no means finished this earlier than. The closest we got here was for [1999’s] Scenes From a Memory, the place we lived in the identical space, staying in inns and writing within the studio. It’s one thing we’ve finished very often, the place we’d lock out a studio and the blokes would commute, or, in the event that they lived distant, keep at native inns. But that is actually the primary time that all of us went away.

So the camaraderie couldn’t have been higher. The vibe was simply so cool. It made for a extremely relaxed session as a result of no one needed to go anyplace, drive house or depart at a sure time. We simply had this actually relaxed schedule the place we might consistently take into consideration the music — whether or not it was whereas we had been writing collectively, or the next day making breakfast and mentioning one thing from the night time earlier than.

You had been dwelling collectively like roommates, even cooking for each other. What did you study your bandmates on a private stage?

At this level, with the period of time we’ve spent collectively, everyone knows one another rather well. There’s no new surprises. But the cool factor about this was that, despite the fact that you’re onstage and on a bus collectively once you’re touring, you discover methods to type of be in your personal world so much. It’s not such as you’re simply hanging out on a regular basis. But on this state of affairs, we lastly had an opportunity to only hang around, to do issues like prepare dinner breakfast and barbecue collectively, to have some wine or bourbon collectively, reminisce and inform tales, watch TV or no matter it was.

And then, the extra informal conversations would begin to come up about household and “How are the children doing? What’s happening in your life?” It was an opportunity to essentially hang around as mates. Picture that you just’re mates with a gaggle of men, and possibly so usually you’ll meet for an occasion or one thing. That’s not the identical as if you happen to all go away collectively. That’s when you’ll be able to let unfastened and have deeper conversations.

It was virtually like a retreat — solely with gear.

It was completely a retreat with gear. It’s like, “Let’s write some music in between determining what we’re going to barbecue tonight and the subsequent episode of Shark Tank.”

The final time there was a lineup change was in 2010 when founding drummer Mike Portnoy left, and also you mentioned it was very tough as a result of your households had been very intertwined. How a lot is that also the case?

It’s nonetheless the case with Mike. We simply frolicked over the vacations. Our households will at all times be intertwined. Our wives are mates, and our youngsters are mates. With the 5 of us now, a whole lot of us discover ourselves in very comparable conditions. Our children are the identical age, the place they’ve all both graduated faculty or are into their careers or are adults dwelling in flats. So we’re all onto the subsequent part of our lives, apart from Mike, whose children are little nonetheless.

What else did you bond over?

A few the blokes are into golf. Just a few of us are into cooking and barbecuing. We’ll discuss our youngsters’ path in faculty and issues like that. TV reveals, films, sports activities, soccer — all of the issues that mates discuss. It’s form of like this little membership. This was one of many first occasions in a very long time that we highlighted that, like, “Let’s embrace that and rejoice it and make a document that basically speaks to that.”

What would you advocate that bands do to allow them to stop dropping that human connection?

So many issues will occur, for higher or worse, in your profession, and it’s very straightforward for these issues to lavatory you down or devour you. But once you get an opportunity to look again, you notice that these weren’t the issues that had been actually essential. When you reminisce, you don’t say, “Remember that point you bought sued by so-and-so?” No, you say, “Remember after we performed right here and it was unbelievable, and we went out for that unimaginable meal and that humorous factor occurred?” Those are the essential moments.

Given the brand new album title, how a lot did the Images and Words anniversary tour make you extra acutely aware of the passage of time?

My favourite a part of these reveals was when James would take a while to inform tales in between songs and provides the viewers just a little little bit of perception as to what was happening in our lives and the way completely different our lives had been again then. I might’ve gone for much more of that. It was good to hook up with that once more.

The band has finished idea albums, however this one has a wider vary of topics. What was in your thoughts with the lyrics you contributed?

For “Pale Blue Dot,” the large epic on the document with an interstellar type of sound, a bunch of issues got here collectively in my life serendipitously that made me wish to write concerning the Voyager mission and Carl Sagan’s well-known quote concerning the pale blue dot. It was very particularly a few sure reflection I used to be doing at that exact level. For “Barstool Warrior,” I placed on my storyteller’s hat. I believed the sound of that tune was very old-school ’70s Genesis-style prog. I pictured Peter Gabriel telling considered one of his tales. And then with [first single] “Untethered Angel” and “Paralyzed,” I wished to jot down about some real-life matters that I used to be excited about.

Watch the video for “Paralyzed” beneath:

But the essential factor with a lyric is that it has to mix seamlessly with the musical type. You have to essentially be in contact and in tune with the temper of the tune once you’re developing with a subject. When you get that proper, when it clicks, the tune simply comes throughout as one large large related emotion.

Dream Theater at all times has centered on consistently bettering as gamers. What would you inform John Petrucci, circa 1992, about his method? Would your youthful self’s chops mild a fireplace underneath you now?

Oh, yeah. There are some issues that, once I was youthful, I did so much higher than I do now. [Laughs.] And there are some issues I do now that I by no means would’ve considered again then. I believe what I’d’ve advised myself is, “You don’t should make modifications only for the sake of doing that.”

How would your present materials problem who you had been as a youthful participant?

Oh, man, it could problem me so much. There’s undoubtedly some stylistic issues which have modified. My method is so much heavier and aggressive. When I examine albums like Images and Words to later data like [2003’s] Train of Thought or [2007’s] Systematic Chaos, the technical parts are far more superior, so my youthful self must wrap his head round how one can get these strategies down. But my youthful self would even have the innate fluency to have the ability to do it. It’s a bizarre factor, as a result of there are particular issues that had been simpler then which are more durable now, and there are particular issues which are simpler now that had been more durable then. It’s not only a regular graph.