Intervju med John Petrucci i Dream Theater.
John Petrucci var i Stockholm tidigare i veckan föra att skapa lite intresse inför nästa skivsläpp. Jag mötte upp denne trevlige jänkare på Lydmar och kan bara konstatera att jag i fortsättningen bara vill göra mina intervjuer på detta hotell. Det har blivit några intervjubesök där det senaste året och atmosfären är mycket tilltalande.
Visserligen känner man sig som en katt bland hermelinerna när man omges av det lite finare folket, men trevligt är det.
John berättade bl a att Portnoys band The Winery Dogs säkert skulle kunna öppna för DT på turné och delade även glatt med sig av diverse ljudklipp av Joe Pescis karaktär i "Maffiabröder", som han använde i studion för att reta upp sina bandkamrater med, men dessa går ju tyvärr inte att dela med sig av här.
A self titled album? Was that something that you thought of right away or did it come as you were working on it?
John: Actually, we decided it or brought it up before we ever got into the studio. I had kinda written this proposal up for everybody, outlining what I thought were some of the things that would be cool to try to tackle. Certain engineers and mixers we could use and what kind of album, sound and direction and within that part of it, was the idea, at least to discuss, that it might be a good idea to self title this one. It wasn´t set in stone and if there was something that was just obviously way more fitting to what we were doing, then we were being open minded. Keeping that in mind as we started to talk about the kind of album we wanted to make, we had Mike Mangini there in the room with us and we´re writing these songs that were coming out really powerful and very signature of Dream Theater, it started making a lot of sense. Then when we had presented it to Roadrunner and our management and only after hearing four songs, they were all aboard and thought it was the greatest idea. Included in the initial proposal, and again with the possibility that it might change, was the idea of just the way the album cover came out. It would just be the symbol, a very understated confidence and basically not titling it, not having our mind on the cover and only using the symbol, was a bold, strong statement. Kinda like they do in the movies when a new Superman is coming out. You see an S and you don´t have to say anything else.
Is it usually you coming up with album titles and such or is it a group effort?
John: It depends on what it is. Whoever comes up with the title or the concept for the album, is always discussed. Sometimes somebody will just have an idea and sometimes it just happens on the road. You´re hanging out with each other a lot and your mind kinda starts to fast forward to the next sequence. You start talking about things out loud. When we did “Scenes from a memory”, when we were writing it, we started talking about making a concept album and it was just like the timing seemed right. When we did “Train of thought” and we made that album the way we did, it was very focused and it were all discussions like “It would be cool if we did this!” and then these discussions turn into concrete directions.
Just using the band name for the album, was that also something to do with it being the first real album with Mangini? Like a fresh start?
John: In a way. It´s funny because we´ve been together for 28 years and one of the things that always bugs me with bands that have been around and have a history, you hear fans going “Those guys, are they still around?” or they go see them playing live and the band is trying to play a new song and it´s like “Don´t play the new song! Play the old stuff!”. I don´t want that to ever happen to us. I want us to always reinvent and always having another opportunity to catch people´s attention. Sometimes, the way it works out is that, the first time they heard our band might be this album and they won´t even know the back catalog.
How do you push yourselves and challenge yourselves after all this time?
John: It´s kinda part of the fun, to be honest. We take a lot of pride in what we do and when you take a lot of pride in it and you hopefully put that into what you do so there´s quality to it. People kinda get used to the fact that you´re not just gonna be lazy or complacent or not try hard. It´s like when BMW are coming out with cars. If you look at the history of cars, they get better and better. The materials get better and they learn new technology and it´s like they´re proud of each one, it´s a heritage. They´re not gonna come out with a shitty car that doesn´t work. (laughs) The challenge, as you bring it up, to be creative, is the fun of it. It´s like “What can we do better?”. It´s kinda cool.
With every band there´s always one or two albums that people look at as the top album. With Dream Theater, a lot of people see “Images and words” as your best one. Within the band, do you look at it as being your top album too?
John: In a way. There are certain ones we have in common. “Images and words” is special to us as a band because it´s the first album for James and that was his Mike Mangini time and he ended up being the voice for Dream Theater. It was special because before that we had really struggled. We had put out “When dream and day unite” and it didn´t really do anything. We didn´t tour, the critics liked it but it sold two albums and that was the end of that. We didn´t know that we were actually gonna be able to do this again and then “Images and words” kinda broke out for us in a time when Nirvana and grunge and everything was really growing. We were just the odd man out, but somehow it poked through and our career as a global band, spawned from that. It will always be a special album for us. There´s a lot of it that´s very dated sounding and there´s a lot of things we´ve learned since then, but it´s certainly special and I relate to, as a fan of other bands, saying that. Even if you take AC/DC, they have tons of great albums, but man, “Back in black”!
And I remember the video for “Pull me under” getting played on MTV and other channels all the time and them really pushing it. That doesn´t happen with metal bands anymore.
John: Definitely not. It was funny because that was kinda the end of the whole “Headbanger´s ball” thing and all that and it all went away after that. It was also weird because it became like a rock radio hit. I remember being home in Long Island or being in New Jersey, turning on the radio and it would be on, so that was bizarre in itself and it doesn´t really happen that often.
Is there an album that stands out as being a disappointment? That it didn´t turn out the way you wanted it to?
John: You know, they all signify a certain part of your life, so you don´t just wanna discredit them. The album that had the most inexperience was of course the first one. We had never gone into the studio before. I remember going in and I brought my little amp but we didn´t even use it. We had about two and a half weeks to record the whole thing and there´s a lot of shit on it that I would´ve loved to have done differently, but it´s also special because we were so young and those songs were around for a while, so it has meaning.
What are you like as a producer, since you´ve produced a lot of the Dream Theater albums?
John: I´m a hardass! (laughs)
It just feels like it would be easier having an outsider telling you what to do, than one of the band members?
John: Well, here´s the thing… we´ve had those guys… “That was horrible! That sounds like a bad Van Halen solo!”. (laughs). There are certainly a lot to be said for outside producers who are talented and I´m sure we would benefit from that and we have in the past. With myself producing, the benefit that I have that they don´t have, is that I know those guys better than anybody. I know how they work and not only do I know how to get the best out of them, but I know how to do it in a way where they still respect me in the end. You´re not demoralizing somebody. (laughs) We leave our egos aside and we´re comfortable with each other enough to literally say “It sucks!”. We´ll laugh about it and I´ll say “You need some coffee or something, because you´re playing like you´re sleeping?”. (John pulls out his iPhone and plays me a bunch of sound clips with Joe Pesci from the movie Goodfellas, that he uses in the studio when someone screws up.)
After playing together for so long, do you still surprise each other in the studio?
John: Absolutely! That´s the amazing thing with working with guys at that level. They´re so talented at what they do and they countinue to want to push themselves. We´re constantly blown away by each other. It´s really amazing to see. Most recently, working with Mike Mangini in a closed setting, everybody behind their instruments and working out ideas. Like Jordan and I were working on this part for some time and it was pretty intricate and there´s some syncopations and crap going on and Mike´s sitting around, “Hey Mike, you wanna try something today?” and then he just plays this unbelievable thing and we´re all just laughing, going “What planet do you come from?”. We absolutely surprise each other. It was great having Mike in the studio as part of that writing process, because you kinda feel like as you´re writing these riffs and ideas, you have a guy that can just do about anything. It was like “Mike, you think you can do that?” and he just said “Yeah, I think I can do that.”. (laughs)
Since 2003 you´ve released an album every other year. Is that like a set schedule or does it just happen?
John: The schedule is really based on the whole cycle of the album. We have to sort of work things backwards and really look ahead as far as not only when we want the album to come out, but maybe even what tour dates afterwards we´re trying to secure. As you work backwards it kinda takes a while. This album we started in January and we delivered it at the end of June, so it´s six months later and then you need time to set it up and release it, so it comes out three months later in September. Then the tour happens four months after that, so you´re already a year later. Certainly we could sit home and just kinda wait (laughs), but it´s fun.
I recently talked to Alter Bridge and they had a song recorded that didn´t make the cut for the new album. Does that ever happen with Dream Theater?
John: No, we kinda don´t do the extra song thing. I don´t know? You put so much time into each one, so you don´t wanna leave any of them off. We really don´t spend time with anything we don´t believe in. If it´s not working, we kinda know already. We might get to that point where we´re working on something for a while and then we scrap it, but we never fully actually record it and then feel like “No.”. It would be a major disappointment, but a lot of bands do record a surplus of material. The flipside is that they have all this extra stuff, which we never have. (laughs)
As a producer, with all the new technology coming out, it´s gotta be hell keeping track of everything and learning new stuff?
John: Yeah and that´s why you hire talented engineers to do that. (laughs) I´m a guitar player first and I try to stay up with what is the latest and greatest out there, which in guitars is kinda funny because it goes in two directions. It goes in the more old school, trying to capture what was direction and then you have the cutting edge stuff with the direct digital plug ins and things like that. I try to keep up with all of it. Whether or not I use it all, is another story, but with recording technology and things, I definitely defer to the people that I like to work with because I´m not an engineer or a mixer. It´s in the same way that I wouldn´t try to wire the electrics in my house.
Is every member in the band replaceable?
John: No, I wouldn´t say that. In fact, you don´t even wanna think about it. It´s a weird thing to think of. It´s like one of those competitive slogans “Everyone´s replaceable.”. I guess it´s true in concept, but I think it gets to the point where if a certain combination or a certain person isn´t in a certain band, the sound is gone. It depends on each band and who it might be. You don´t wanna get too cocky about it, right, because “everyone´s replaceable”… (laughs)
Will there be another “Rock discipline” DVD?
John: It´s kinda funny. I did that one so long ago and it was the first time I did it and I did so much preparation and I made this whole complete video and I never had the desire to do it again. I´ve done other instructional things, like books and collections of articles I did for Guitar World, but I´ve never since then, done another one. I get asked a lot to do it and I appreciate it. Eventually, maybe that´s something I would do. It´s not an itch that I have to scratch. I think that when I feel like it´s something I really wanna do, I would love to do it. The second part of that is the schedule with Dream Theater. You´re either in the studio, on tour, thinking about a tour, recovering from a tour, writing music… Yeah, you could fill up every last week of the year, but then you have no life, so the other part is finding the time. I would only do it one way and that´s the same way I did the other one. I´m not gonna rush in and do something half assed.
Last thing. Could you see Mike Portnoy´s band The Winery Dogs opening up for Dream Theater, if he asked you?
John: Yeah, I mean… I said this a long time ago. When you play with somebody for that long, I don´t see that you would never see that person again. I can picture us playing a festival or something and we have history involved with all of our ex members. Sounds like a club! (laughs) I think the best thing to do is keep that type of thing friendly. It´s just the way to be in life, you know, but the next tour we´re doing is just “An evening with Dream Theater”, so there are no opening bands.