LaBrie – The Voice Of DREAM THEATER (with old and new Swedish connections)
Skriven av Petter Pettersson
Skapad 2012-01-19 18:38
DREAM THEATER is starting their European leg of the tour supporting their new album "A Dramatic Turn of Events" in a few days time. I get hold of singer James LaBrie who comes across as very relaxed about how the band is going but also about his own solo career.
As for DREAM THEATER, everyone knows that this last year has been turbulent concerning the fact that founder and long time drummer Mike Portnoy suddenly left the band last fall. Still, I start out by asking where's he's at right now:
– I'm at home right now, in Canada. And then I leave on Friday to fly to Finland.
So, James... you have recently released a new album that has been surrounded by a lot of turmoil, "A Dramatic Turn of Events", are you happy about it? – I am ecstatic about it! Seriously, I think that it's probably one of the strongest albums song wise that we've ever written, as far as I'm concerned. It forced us to look much deeper inside of ourselves in order to pull out the best that we could do, due to the circumstances. People would be much more scrutinizing and maybe have more room for criticism than for other albums due to the change. So it was up to us to prove that we're still the same band, and we had to write one of the best albums and I think we succeeded. We are all extremely pleased with the outcome.
You must be sick to death answering questions about Portnoy... – You know what? The fact is that, the truth is that people want to know what we're thinking, how we feel about it. It doesn't bother me if you put it in the correct perspective. It doesn't become a nuisance, it's just the reality.
Have you talked to him since his departure? – No. No, I haven't spoken with him. I mean the fact is that we've been very busy doing this, getting ready. Just the set-up for this release has been extremely time consuming, and then it was setting up the promotion and it was all about the tour so really, no. None of us have spoken with Mike. And I wouldn't say I'll never speak with him again but right now, the way things are going, it just doesn't happen. And he's extremely busy doing his stuff.
Is the title of the album connected to the turns around him leaving? – No, actually the title of the album is connected to what we are witnessing and observing around the world, the social aspects. There's huge transitions and huge transformations going on, regarding social, spiritual and economical issues, and political issues. So I think it just makes sense, regarding the lyrical content. It's all about change.
Now, since Mike Mangini started out as the new drummer, have you changed anything in the writing and recording process? – Well, I think the biggest difference is that when we went into the studio to record, or to write and record, there was no drummer with us. It was just the four of us, in the studio, working ideas, just what somebody brought in "to the floor", to be looked at and worked on and possibly be developed into a full song. And that was a real change. The environment was much... Quieter? Calmer. It was much more patient. So what we would do is that when we had completed an idea, or a section of a song, John Petrucci would write down a drum program in the computer and it was enough to show us that we had an idea, or a song idea, that we could honestly look at. And then, once we were completed with a song we would get it to Mike Mangini and he would listen to it, and he would start to gather ideas on how he wanted to approach each and every song. So it worked out really nice. That approach is going to be repeated again. Mike also has recorded on a few of my solo albums so I knew exactly what it was like working with this guy, but as a band, we hadn't. So we thought it would be best if the four of us were in the studio because we know how each other works and thinks and interacts.
Do you look at Mike as a full member of the band? – Absolutely! He was a full member when he was asked to join the band. He's involved. He's very passionate of what he's doing, and he's looking forward to this tour, in support of the new album, but he's also extremely stoked and excited about getting into the work for the next album, and showing to the world that it's a deep well of untapped Mike Mangini talent.
Nice to hear that. So, let's talk a little bit about your solo albums. You've made four of those, right? – Correct.
The last one, "Static Impulse", from last year, has some obviuos Swedish connections. – Definitely. What happened was, originally, haha, we [James and Matt Guillory, James' creative partner in the solo projects] had asked Mike Mangini if he wanted to do another album. And at the time he had full time work on Berklee College of Music in Boston, he was a professor there, and he couldn't find the time to break away from his obligations at the college where he was teaching. And so, at that point, when Mike was out of the picture, Matt Guillory and myself started talking about other possible drummers. And Matt had heard these Swedish guys in DARKANE, and I loved the energy that band had. So we looked into the drummer, Peter Wildoer, and I looked at some of his drum videos on youtube, where he's just in the studio playing and I was like "oh my God, this guy would be an amazing fit". Especially where we wanted to take the new music, which was more aggressive, a little more heavy, you know, getting somewhere into that thrash metal area. And then, unbeknownst to me, he was also doing these screaming vocals and I was like "this would be perfect if we could somehow infuse these kind of vocals amongst what I'm singing." So it was kind of like a dream come true because not only is Peter Wildoer a phenomenal drummer but he's got a great voice for that kind of vocal. I think he's one of the best out there, he's got great sound, great tonality, he's got a lot of balls and energy and he's also a fantastic guy to work with. He's really intelligent, and he's an easy guy to approach. And the other thing is that he's very quick, I mean, you mention something to him and he can turn it around and blast it right back at you. A true professional. So getting him into the band, into the solo arena, was for me and Matt a godsent.
But you recorded it in the United States, right? – No, no, we recorded it in Varberg.
Ah, I knew you mixed it in Örebro with Jens Bogren... – Yeah, Jens Bogren mixed it. What happened was, the four guys. Marco Sfogli, Ray Riendeau, Peter and Matt, they recorded all of the bed tracks for the album in Sweden, so we did all of the music, all of the instrumentation, in Sweden, and then I recorded my vocals in Toronto. And it just worked out amazingly because it made perfect sense. We knew that we would be working with talented people and it's what I think we are planning to do for the next album as well. More than likely, to record all of the instruments in Sweden and then I'll do my stuff right close to home.
When I listen to "Static Impulse" I must say that I can hear influences from a bunch of Swedish bands. Maybe it's just something I make up but... – No, no, go ahead. Who are you hearing?
I'm hearing SOILWORK, for one... – Yeah, absolutely!
...and I hear some IN FLAMES-stuff, you know? – Yeah, haha, absolutely. It's funny you mention SOILWORK, because we are working on the next solo album right now, and we're working with Peter Wichers! He's come in, he's excited, he's working with us right now. And this guy is frickin' unbelievable, I mean, he is the riff master of the riff masters! He reminds me of Dimebag, there's just something about him. He presents a riff and just the way he interprets what you might think a guitar riff may, or an idea, what he does with it is just phenomenal. He's an amazing talent. So, he's gonna be on the new album as well as Marco Sfogli and Ray Riendaeu and Peter Wildoer, so we are all going to get back together. I gotta tell you, it's gonna be a pretty sick album!
And next week you are going to play with DREAM THEATER in Stockholm. – Yeah, nine days away!
Are you going to focus on the newer stuff, now with Mangini and all? – You'll hear everything, I mean, the way we want to present the show is that obviously we have to give a big nod to our catalouge so obviously we are going to play the older material as well as the new material. And we have created what we think is a good balance between the old and the new. And the light show and video show we have going on is really phenomenal. Wherever we've played the fans has been absolutely loving it, the whole new visuals that we have implemented. The whole stage set-up and everything, it's really cool! A great evening both visually and sonically.
Do you have any funny covers with you this time? – No. To be quiet honest with you, we're staying away from that arena. To us right now, especially right now, it's up to us to go out there and re-establishing that DREAM THEATER is full, well and intact. And the new album speaks for itself, at least we think so. We are around and we are better than ever. So to us right now it's all about focusing on what DREAM THEATER is and not giving attention to covers or anything.
I must say, though, I have always thought you guys were pretty intelligent when it came to choosing covers. – Well, thank you, I appreciate you saying that. A lot of it came from Mike Portnoy. He was the driving force behind that. He was more into finding the quintessential songs from other bands. That was cool, it was really cool.
On the special edition version of the last album with Portnoy, "Black Clouds and Silver Linings", you covered the QUEEN song "Tenement Funster" (from "Sheer Heart Attack"). I was really pleased because I thought I was the only one in the world appreciating that song. – Are you kidding? I'm a big QUEEN fan, I'm a huge fan. Freddie Mercury was by far my favourite vocalist in the world, I was extremely inspired by him as a young child. I remember listening to him going "what is it about this guy?" He's gut such a unique voice, phenomenal, very identifiable, no one else sounds like him, you know. I had many vocalists, as young, that I was inspired by but Freddie was one of a kind. And the band themselves, I mean, Bryan May and Roger and John! So for us to do that song was just, I was in my glory, singing that, being a part of that, trying to bring it to life. It was really cool. I mean we had fun doing that but at this point in our career our focus is to be who and what we really are.
And, finishing up now since our time is up, just for my own curiosity, do you have any connection with Kevin Moore [DREAM THEATERs original keyboard player, later CHROMA KEY and OSI] these days? – Haha, you know Petter, I haven't spoke to Kevin Moore since ninety... seven? Or '98. I mean, him and I, we got along, there are no hard feelings. I think he's a great talent, I think he's a nice guy but he's moved on, and he's done things in his life that he's connected to and that he's more part of. Unfortunately I haven't spoken to him for a good 14 years. It's hard to believe but hopefully one day we'll reconnect, and we'll talk and we'll see how life has been treating us.
I think he's living in Europe now but I'm not sure. – Well, last I heard he was back in the States, I'm not sure but I was speaking with a friend of his and he said he was back but I'm not sure.
I wrap up the interview, noticing that we are well over the time the record company gave us. LaBrie really made a good and heartly impression, spilling love over everybody he's been working with, and will work with in the future. He sure is a creative musician.
I never had the heart to tell him that Freddie Mercury isn't the actual singer on "Tenement Funster", QUEEN drummer Roger Taylor sang on that one on the original. Still DREAM THEATER covered a bunch of Freddie medley style songs after that and I guess these were the ones he was talking about.
Check out DREAM THEATER's new album, check out James' solo stuff, and if you can, check them out in Stockholm next week.