Hi James, thanks for doing this interview this short before your gig here at Bospop. You do that often?
Oh sure, no problem, well it depends really where we are coming from and where the reporters are coming from. Whenever we can we do interviews in the afternoon like today... we just arrived from the Lorelei Festival which was really amazing and the landscape is gorgeous.
Time is scarce so we better get talking about the new album which I heard yesterday for the first time; was this the most difficult album for Dream Theater to make given the circumstance?
No, to be honest it wasn't. It was something that we knew, that is was going to be an important album and it probably will get scrutinized and there will be room for skepticism and stuff like that. We approached it like we always do but now it was just the four of us in the studio, no drummer. We were able to focus in on stuff that we already had circulating and now we could develop it more. In Dream Theater the songs are mainly starting with riffs by John Petrucci or a melody by Jordan Rudess. And then everyone comes in and say what they like and what should be extended and so on. In that sense it was very similar but the advantage was that we could sit back and say, let everything find it's place before we move on.
Was Mike Mancini already in the band when you started writing?
We went into the studio with a drummer but before that we decided to write the album without. Because it's a new personality in the band and we didn't knew how that would occupy our time. We know where each of us stand in the studio and decided to keep it at that and later we will see how Mike adapts to the songwriting and how he will mash with the band. We wanted to stay in our comfort zone. I've known Mike Mancini for thirteen years and I know how he is, after this tour we will see what will happen when we get to work on new stuff, we don't know. We all have immense respect for the guy. He's one of the true gems of the drummer world.
Did you hope Mike would step up to the plate when you started the auditions? You worked with him before on your solo albums…
I didn't want to that because then I would be favoring him. What I really wanted to hear was their open mind. Mike getting the gig has nothing to do with the fact that I have been working with him on three solo albums. It was really looking at all seven players and the one who would be the guy had to feel the most natural for us. Then he came in and blew us away; he played confident, fluid and relaxed. And he had the spirit of wanting the gig so much, no to say the others didn't. Peter (Wildoer) who I worked with on my last solo album too, was amazing and Marco (Minneman) was incredible too, performed very well. It was just a matter of us keeping our heads together and say what felt the best. It wasn't a discussion, we looked at all the tapes and it was a no brainer really.
Did you set out of what kind of an album it was going to be? More heavy, or progressive, or both…
We knew that we wanted to make an album based on Dream Theaters' classic elements; and heavy ánd progressive. But we also felt that it had to complement each other, keeping it in balance. I was a really conscious effort, one element shouldn't overshadow the other. A big part of us is being progressive but we're also a metal band, we like the heavy things too and it was important to bring this together without one thing overtaking the other and I think we achieved. It think the message is very clear; we're still Dream Theater and we are taking it to new and another level.
The same, but not the same…
Absolutely. We love doing what we do and if you genuinely believe in what you're doing that's what it comes down to. It comes through when you want to be the best you can be. If you are just going through the motions than that's exactly what you are presenting.
How long did it take for you to begin and finish the album?
We started work in January, shortly after New Year and we finished writing in mid/late March. We had Mike come in the first week of April and he nailed it all in a week, then we worked of keyboards and bass and then I was up in Canada recording my vocals. We were done with that mid May and then we started mixing with Andy Wallace, finished that by June 3rd I think.
How did that work with the writing as you did that without a drummer there?
John Petrucci did that with a drum program and we would send that to Mike so when he came into the studio he had it all worked out already. He had been studying it so we didn't have to ask him what do you think of it and that saved us time of course. He nailed everything so well. I worked with him and so I had told the guys that when Mike would get in the studio he would blow their minds and so he did. I knew he would come in completely prepared, ready to go. I didn't have to tell him what to do or expect from us in the studio, I was sure about this working out the way it did. Just before he joined us he called me and said how he ready he was…
…and that's want you wanted to hear I can imagine…
Exactly! I didn't say or ask him anything about what he thought of the songs. I knew that it would just happen the way it did.
In the writing process someone wasn't there this time…did it feel strange or anything?
I will tell you Winston, the first days we had a feeling about 'just' the four of us…it felt as if Mike (Portnoy) would come walking through the door at any time. That was a little weird but having done the auditions and stuff it only took us a couple of days to lose that feeling. We knew what was coming, how we wanted everything to be. The only actual difference was that we had time to let things breathe. We were able to talk amongst ourselves and say; hang on what did you do there and what do you think about this…it was just a very comfortable environment for us. And when he had everything we were going; what, are we done? It didn't feel rushed, strained or tensioned or anything like that at all. Mike was always everywhere and very energetic; “we can do this here, and then this and then that”. This time we could let things grow and so we did.
One song I wanted to point out is 'Bridges In The Sky', how on earth was that particular intro made?
That was all Jordan's idea. He is always tapped into these sonic worlds and we had already started working on it. We then felt that it needed something to set the song up, before the riffs kick in. So Jordan went scanning through all of his sound banks and samples and came up with it. I remember we were sitting in the room and let u shear hundreds of little sound bites. So he came across that voice thing you hear at the beginning and when we first heard it we all went what the hell is that, it was so cool! Then the Gregorian choir came behind it and so we slowly developed that. I can see it as the intro to the shows we will be doing on our own headlining tour, that will be really cool I think.
That would be very cool indeed, great idea! James thank you very very much for this chat, good luck tonight and see you on that tour for sure!
No problem Winston, we are always happy to be in Holland and we hope to see a lot of familiar faces!