Celebrating 20 Years of DaBelly! - This article first appeared in our 63rd issue of DaBelly in July, 2005.
An interview with John Petrucci
By Dave Schwartz
In early May I had my hands on the Dream Theater media release, a five-song sampler offered to media outlets to get a taste of the coming album. For most, a new Dream Theater record is like opening a Christmas package; youíre never really sure what to expect. The only constant you can be sure of, it wonít be like the last one.
I sat in my media room and listened to the first song on the sampler "I Walk Beside You." I remember thinking, Wow this is going to shake up the fan base! It was so different from past albums that I was certain of one thing, this record is going to set the message board alight! After going through the five songs I found myself almost as eager to hear what the fans would think as I was to talk to John Petrucci, guitarist for Dream Theater. But Petrucci was my first stop.
I spoke to Petrucci a few weeks before the release of "Octavarium." He was awaiting the record with great anticipation and as usual I had a hundred questions. I couldnít think of a better place to start than with the question that was burning a whole in my brain. Dude, whatís up with that sampler?
He laughed, "Yeah, you know itís funny. Iíve been speaking to people that have the five songs and without the full album youíre actually missing out on some of the more traditional tracks. Youíre getting an angled sampling!"
Angled no doubt! I explained that on the "Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence"
tour I was fortunate enough to interview Jordan Rudess. At the time, I teased
him a bit about whether or not the band could write a three minute song.
Rudess laughed, "I don't think so. What we're specialists in developing our
themes and having a great romp! We just go for it and play and we don't feel
any necessity to limit ideas. It's not where I come from, I'm from a classical
background. You know, you have a theme, you're going to modulate and you're
going to develop the theme. You put the theme in the bass, you change the
chords then you re-harmonize..."
"You know, itís something that we always try to do but fail. Petrucci explained. "There are so many great songs that we all love. All of us kind of have a type of song that we all have in common that we really connect to. I mean as well as our individual tastes. These are songs that are on the radio. They might be from Peter Gabriel or U2 or Coldplay or whatever. Songs like that we relate too so much and get into and itís like, I would love to be able to write songs like that. And what ends up happening is that we always get wrapped up in having an extended intro, an instrumental section and before you know it itís eight minutes later. So itís actually a challenge to write something that you know, has musical depth, intelligence and in this case a positive message. Itís hard to do. I think that we focused a little bit more on that with a couple of songs and Iím happy with the results."
I confessed to him that the sampler was an exceptional surprise. We all have expectations when we hear the name Dream Theater and suddenly, when you least expect it. Well, to be fair I guess you get the next album! Off the cuff I commented to Petrucci that without fail, whenever a Dream Theater record arrives on our doorsteps itís different than we expect.
"Yeah, thatís not only part of our plan but also the reason that weíre able to keep doing this and weíre able to sustain our career and have such great fans. You know, itís kind of the element of surprise to be different." Petrucci admitted.
I asked about the remainder of the album.
"I think that especially with this album itís definitely an eclectic mix of songs. And although there are songs that are more in the pop vein there are also songs to the other extreme that are probably of the most progressive nature that weíve written and will probably end up favorites in the show." Petrucci assured.
In recent albums, Dream Theater has developed a moral voice offering commentary on such controversial issues as religion, stem cell research and the struggle of the human mind. The constant interlace with musical themes often yielded dramatic results. I wondered where "Octavarium" was leading us.
Petrucci paused for a moment before answering, "This album definitely has musical themes throughout. As far as conceptually and lyrically, you know itís coming from a very personal place. I think that a lot of the subject matter is very inward and in that sense itís very sincere. At least that was my perspective when writing. Sometimes thereís a story going on or a topic thatís interesting, but not necessarily a reflection of a personal experience. 'Six Degrees' is like that and 'Scenes From a Memory.' These stories and observations whereas this is more like inward reflections that Iím writing about."
As is typical, Dream Theater will begin their tour in Europe before returning to America. In preparation for this interview, I reviewed their itinerary and was fascinated by some of the festivals they would be playing. The lineup for several of the shows included bands that I didnít think were still together much less would I expect to find on the same stage. I commented to Petrucci that such an eclectic mix must make for an interesting show.
"Yeah, it should be a lot of fun." Petrucci agreed. "Itís always great to go to Europe during the summer and the festival season will be on. You end up meeting a lot of interesting people and a lot of different bands. And the pace of a tour like that is a little more relaxed. Youíre not carrying the bigger load youíre more just a part of the picture. So itís different than normal touring. Iím looking forward to it. It should be fun. And itís funny that only in Europe youíll see these combinations of bands. Itís real interesting that so many people want to come and see it. Weíve been in situations of both extremes. Weíve done really metal shows and more obscure shows or pop shows. You never really know what youíre going to get."
When Dream Theater returns the states they will join Dave Mustane and Megadeth on their first festival tour of America. With all the positive feedback from the European festivals I wasnít surprised that Petrucci was looking forward to this tour as well. I asked about this merger of so many bands.
"Well that called the Gigantour," Petrucci said, "and itís a pretty extensive tour of America. Itís a festival with a bunch of bands: Megadeth, Dream Theater, Fear Factory, Nevermore and Dillinger Escape Plan. And thereís also a second stage. It should be really cool. Weíre playing all amphitheaters and stuff like that. Once again, you know, itís a unique and fun way of touring during the summer."
With such an extensive touring schedule itís remarkable to note the number of side projects involving members of Dream Theater. In some cases multiple projects are in the works. Petrucci has recently released a labor of love, his first solo record, "Suspended Animation." It didnít take much prompting to get him to beam with pride. I asked about shuffling such a hectic schedule and the results.
"You know thatís really part of the reason it took me so long to get a solo album done. It actually was conceived during the first G3 tour that I did in the United States about three to four years ago. And now my album was just released a couple of months ago just because itís hard to find time to get in there and record. But you know there are open pockets of time and you jump in. I got offered the tour in Japan with G3. That just happened a couple of weeks ago. And we were off the road so in any situation where youíre getting a bunch of artists together scheduling is a big part of it. Itís just a matter of whether you can do it or not. There have certainly been instances where there have been thing that have come up and I wasnít able to be a part of it because of Dream Theaters schedule. Itís the nature of the business and hopefully you try to do things that interest you, that are fun and Iím fortunate enough to be able to do that. We just had a great time in Japan. We shot one of the nights in Tokyo for a DVD. That will be coming out and be cool."
Although it is certainly premature to suggest that Dream Theater is entering their waning days, I asked a question regarding their legacy. Throughout their career,' Dream Theater has always been candid regarding influences and musical idols. During recent interviews with other bands the name Dream Theater has repeatedly emerged as an influence. I asked Petrucci his thoughts on the circle of music.
"I think thatís great." Petrucci confessed. "You know, of course the only perspective is my own. When I mention influences as a reference itís always been because the music means something to me deeply and it effected me somehow. Itís the language of music. You donít necessarily have to see the person play or be in the same room. Just hearing the person play on the radio can hit you. So itís a great connection to have and if people are saying that about us, that weíve effected them that way, thatís just a great feeling. Itís a full circle thing happening and itís very cool."
I asked Petrucci to look back and reflect on the growth of Dream Theater. I asked if the band we see today is the same band they might have imagined when first starting?
Candidly he explained, "You know I think itís certainly what we strive for and hoped for and dreamt for. When youíre young and you have a band and guys that youíre in a band together your dream is to be successful. Weíre going to be huge and this and that. You might not necessarily realize the type of work that goes into creating something like that but to be in the position that we are now, we are very thankful and humbled. Itís great that weíre able to continue to play as well. Weíre very fortunate. Itís hard to say that I never wouldíve imagined this in a million years because youíre just so passionate as a kid that you canít picture it any other way. And I think that that determination is what has driven us along."
I asked Petrucci if he had a closing statement.
"You know thereís two things that Iím excited about. One is my solo album that we talked about earlier. Iím excited that itís out there and Iím excited that my fans have embraced it. Itís my first one so itís really a good feeling to be able to do that. Itís called 'Suspended Animation.' I hope everybody gets a chance to listen to it. And of course our latest, 'Octavarium,' to me a perfect representation of where we are right now. We had a blast recording it at the Hit Factory in New York City, which is now closed. We were the last band to record there. And I think there is going to be a lot for fans and new listeners to get into."
As for the Dream Theater message board, on Tuesday June 7th it
lit up like a Christmas tree. Within hours of the official release fans had
already began analyzing the new record, weighing the pros and cons, calling
out the influences. "Octavarium" was the "best" and "worst" record Dream
Theater had ever produced. To some, "I Walk Beside You" sounded like U2. And
to the fans it was the new Dream Theater album and a day of celebration.
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