6000 People Become One
A Conversation with James LaBrie of Dream Theater
By Dave Schwartz 

Dream Theater 1As I sat and waited for the phone to ring, I reviewed the questions I planed to ask Jordan Ruddess, keyboardist of the renowned progressive rock band, Dream Theater.  In March of 2002 I was lucky enough to sit with him in his dressing room just prior to the band's performance at the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles.   I found him a kind yet purposeful man and I was very thankful for his accommodation. 

But sometimes life throws you a curve and when the phone rang this time, unbeknownst to me the pitch was already well on its way to the plate.  I answered on the second ring.  It was the publicist from Elektra Records explaining that she was connecting us through a conference call.  When the connection was finally made I found myself asking a question that I hadn't suspected. 

"Hello, who am I talking to today?"

"This is Dave from DaBelly," I replied. "Who is this?"

"Hi, This is James LaBrie". 

Okay, I was surprised.  I started to laughed.  In researching this interview I couldn't recall seeing any other interviews with LaBrie online.

"I didn't expect to speak with you today," I explained.  "I was scheduled with one of the other members of the band."

"Yes I heard you were to speak with Jordan," LaBrie replied.  "Unfortunately Jordan is dealing with some technical issues at the moment."

"You don't do very many interviews do you?" I started.

Dream Theater 2LaBrie chuckled a bit, "While I'm on the road I kind of like to chill out. But you know, I will do them, as this is proof.  But generally speaking, on the road I just like to do my own thing.  I guess, you know, when we do have an album come out I tend to get more involved, you know, in interviews, because there is just so many to be done."

LaBrie was alluding to the fact that Dream Theater was out on a summer tour without a new record to support.  This is a bit of a rarity for such a prolific band, so much so that I lead directly into my first question. 

"You're kind of in a unique position," I said. "You're out on tour without an album to support.  Do you find this liberating?" 

Enthusiastically LaBrie replied, "I think it's a great move for us.  We already have the album recorded, minus vocals at this stage.  So when I get back we have a week off and then I get into the studio and start doing vocals.  And I think in this case it's really cool, especially for me, because it's keeping me in great shape vocally and I think it's really going to show itself when it comes time to do the vocals for the album.  I think the other great thing is that we're having a really good time out here and we are once again in touch with our fans because basically, after this tour we're not going out until January 2004.  So this is kind of cool. We're out with Queensryche and we've been talking about doing something for the past 10 years.  Finally our schedules have coincided so we could make this a reality.  So I think this is a really good thing.  It's definitely been a plus."

We found ourselves chatting about the great time all the bands were having on this tour.  I commented that it was interesting that Dream Theater seemed to have hit their stride being on the road with Queensryche and Fates Warning. 
"Yes, well these are two bands that we respect and we've known for quite some time," LaBrie agreed.  Fates Warning has been out with us on previous tours so we're all good friends.  There is a mutual respect throughout the entire camp.  It's a good thing.  We're having a really exciting and enjoyable time."

Dream Theater 3I explained that while doing my research for the interview, I had found myself following several of the bulletin board threads on the DreamTheater.net Web site.  Since there wasn't a new record to support I found myself at a bit of a loss for current information.  So I thought it would be interesting to grab onto some of the discussions and get his impressions. 

The first question seemed to cut directly to the point on the minds of many of the Dream Theater fans:

Q.  Has anyone heard anything on when [the new record] will be released?

A. Lots of posts on this site coincide with JLB laying to vocal tracks after the tour and then a release sometime between January - March.  We should know more after the tour.

LaBrie seemed a bit surprised at the question and, for that matter, the answer,  "Well, yeah, there is a part of that that's correct.  Yes, definitely after the tour, a week off and then into the studio to lay vocals.  Um, right now we are slated for a release near the beginning of October and that's pretty much has been written in stone as I speak to you now.  Give or take a week, you know?  We really don't have much time to play with.  I have to get back and get the vocals done and then we have to allow time for the mix and packaging and everything else you tend to do with every release.  It's going to be a very busy time for us.  But it's do-able.  We can certainly do everything and have it completed exactly the way we want it.  That's the plan at this point.  An October release and then we start with a world tour in January.  I believe we start January 15th in Manchester, England."

Over the years it has been fairly common for Dream Theater to open their tour in Europe before working their way across America and on to Asia.  I asked about the European fan base. 
"We have a great fan base in Europe and Asia and, believe it or not, the fan base here in North America has constantly been growing, and more expeditiously on the last couple of tours.  We have really noticed solid growth in numbers and in the type of venues that we've been playing.  So I think it's been a real plus for us to just keep in the faces of people in general and I think it's really coming around; to really present us to the people for what we are and giving us a little bit more limelight.  We've been much more accessible to people because our greatest access element has been through the live thing.  Because being the type of band we are, our music by nature doesn't really dictate being played on each and every radio station.  It just doesn't seem to be a marriage for us," LaBrie explained. 

It was time to go back to another fan question.  I have to admit that when I first read this question and more particularly, the answer, I chuckled a bit.  But then, I thought, this is Dream Theater and anything can happen!

Q:  Does anyone know about the title [of the new album] or what their influences were during writing?

A:  We don't know anything concerning track names, album title, etc.  But we know that the album is influenced by "Master of Puppets" and "The Number of the Beast," which were covered by them in their entirely on their "World Turbulence" tour the last year.

DreAm Theater 4Again, there was an awkward pause after read this to LaBrie, one that could only be broken with a bit of laughter from both of us.  I had certainly stepped into an area that he wasn't completely comfortable with.

"You know what, at this point, to be quite honest with you, we don't even want to dive into that water!"  His explanation was punctuated with more laughter,  "I'm not telling you if they're close or far.  Put it this way, I will tell you that it is going to be an incredibly intense album and we are really psyched, excited, ecstatic, you name it, we are there!  And I think that we truly believe that the fans are just going to be completely embracing what we have to show on this next record.  It is really going to be powerful.  That's all I can say at this point.  We do have a title and we do have some track titles, but at this point obviously I'm not going to delve into that.  We are really keeping a tight lid on this."

Through the course of my interview preparation I had also read several show reviews.  It impressed me that there had been some passionate discussions about Dream Theater and Queensryche playing together.  They mention specifically Geoff Tate getting up to sing "Peruvian Skies" and of course the encores both bands play together.  I was curious how it was all worked out.

"It was decided before the series was started," LaBrie shared.  "It was discussed amongst the bands and we thought it would be cool to get both bands up on stage and jam the other's music.  And so we could put our interpretation, as far as the vocalists go and the players, you would be allowed to hear the way each band interprets the other band's music.  It's a real cool thing and I think it's exciting for the people because you see the entire ensemble on stage, minus Fates Warning.  We're having a real good time with it.  We're having fun and, like I said, there is that mutual respect, so we're all totally into doing this and having a lot of fun with it at the same time."

LaBrie was correct.  The fans were raving about the two band encore and much more.  I shared a portion of one review in which a fan commented on, "James' slimmed down look and revitalized energy and voice to Jordan's sudden emergence as a true stage presence."

"Geez, that's cool!  Where are you seeing these quotes?" LaBrie asked.  

I quickly explained that they were taken right off the DreamTheater.net bulletin board.
Laughing LaBrie asked, "They are?  Maybe I should visit there once in a while!  No, actually I do visit.  I haven't been on there for a few days but ah, yeah!  That's cool, I mean, you know what, the response to this, to our set and the whole entwining of the bands has been very positive from the very beginning of this tour.  I couldn't ask for anything more, right?  That was definitely the goal."

Dream Theater 5Looking into the future, it appeared that LaBrie would be having some well-deserved time off, that is, right after tracking the vocals on the new album!  I asked what he did with his downtime. 

"I generally like to spend as much time with my wife Karen and my children Chloe and Chance," LaBrie said.  "So I spend as much time as I possibly can with them and we just do the family thing.  The other time is spent, I'm doing another solo album.  I just finished an album called "Madmen and Sinners" with a guitar player named Tim Donahue.  He's an incredible guitar player.  That should be coming out sometime in February.  And I'm involved in another project that I can't go into right now, but it's pretty exciting.  Needless to say, when I'm at home I really have to schedule so that priorities are the family and then I somehow squeeze in all this other stuff going on around me.  I'm also, believe it or not, on August 11th I'm performing on Broadway at Lamb's Theater.  I'm performing with all the Broadway stars from, you name it, 'Rent,' 'The Lion King,' 'Phantom'..." 

I asked if he was part of a benefit.

"It's for AIDS research," LaBrie replied.  "Yes, it's definitely a benefit. But you know it's something too that I'm speaking to agents and directors and that on Broadway and it's something that I'm eventually going to do.  Immerse myself within a play and perform there.  It's something that I've always wanted and it's coming closer and closer."

I suspected that he must have heard this opinion before, but couldn't help making a suggestion.  Wouldn't "Scenes from a Memory" lend itself in that direction? 

"Oh absolutely.  I think it would make a fantastic play.   It has all of the ingredients that people are looking for to move them, yeah, absolutely!"  Then with a slight hesitation he finished, "Well, who knows, eh?"  LaBrie started to laugh, "Who knows what the future will bring?"

I thought that I would close the interview with a bit of a philosophical question, but before I could get my words out, our interview was invaded. LaBrie was suddenly in another conversation.  I listened closely while trying to discern what was happening.  And then just as suddenly, laughing, LaBrie was back on the phone, "Geoff [Tate] was just asking if I had my oxygen for the night.  We're in Denver.  I told him I would share his! Geoff and I get along really well.  We hang out and talk and he's just really cool.  I mean there is a definite respect for one another."

We kidded back and forth about Tate's comments and then LaBrie asked me which show I would be seeing.  Universal Amphitheater in Los Angeles I replied.  We made small talk for a bit and then returned to the closing question. 

Dream Theater 6As I explained, it's a bit philosophical, but what is the most important lesson in life?  Did you learn it in school or from the family or...?

LaBrie became very serious for a moment, "For me, as I continue on this experience of life, I think every day has something to offer.  You obviously learn from your mistakes or misinterpretations and you try to better yourself constantly.  I think one of the most important things that I've focused on over the last five to six years is to be able to communicate with others, to take people for what they are or represent.  I think that, as corny as it sounds, I think most people just want to be accepted.  If people were to accept others for their idiosyncrasies and differences that it would be a much more harmonious planet to live on.  So the lessons in my life are learnt everyday, to never take it for granted and to try to build on yourself, to make yourself a better person with each morning that you rise."

With that, the interview ended.  Two nights later, while kneeling in the pit in front of the stage, I thought about our talk.  I reflected on the joy in LaBrie's voice as he spoke of that special camaraderie among the bands, as well as the depth of the lessons he has learned and his implied wish of a united world.  Behind me 6,000 fans began screaming as the house lights went down.  I reached for my camera and, like a thousand previous nights, the stage came to life and instantly, 6,000 people became one.

For more information, check out the Dream Theater Web Site at www.dreamtheater.net

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