JOHN PETRUCCI: Along for the Ride

Dream Theater's John Petrucci

Dream Theater have recently embarked on an extensive world tour billed as Along for the Ride, promoting their latest self-titled studio release. The album brought the band their second Grammy nomination for the best metal performance for the leading video single The Enemy Inside, after 2012′s nomination for On the Backs of Angels (taken from 2011′s album Dramatic Turn of Events).

The second video from their new album was for the song The Looking Glass, which was released last week.

The above were some of the topics covered in our recent interview with guitarist and founding member John Petrucci. The band is currently in Europe and are getting ready to return to North America to continue their Along for the Ride tour.

Receiving a second Grammy nomination for two albums in a row must be quite flattering. What does it say to you as a musician coming from one of the most influential contemporary bands?

You know, it’s really awesome. We were really surprised with the first one, and this one. You know, two albums in a row – it’s just really unbelievable to us, it’s amazing. We’ve been doing this for a long time – this kind of music, music that we believe in and to have it recognized by the Recording Academy. And to have this style of music, progressive (styled) metal, it’s relevance shown by being nominated in the metal category, it’s an amazing feeling, it’s really, really cool and we’re so happy about it.

Did this year’s Grammy nomination come as a surprise to you? How did you and the band feel at the time?

Yeah, definitely. On the last one it was a major surprise, it being the first time. This time around, again you know, there is so much great music that’s put out throughout the year, and you really never know. So, we were just really, really happy to find out that we were nominated again. And it’s great, because it’s a great organization. It’s all producers and engineers, and recording artists – and so it’s great to have that kind of recognition and encouragement from our peers. It’s really, really cool. Great feeling.

Can you contrast the differences between being recognized for your achievements and work by fans from one side and being recognized by the Recording Academy, from the other side?

We write, record and perform the kind of music that we love to do. So, we are very fortunate that, on one hand, we have incredible fans all around the world that genuinely appreciate what we do. They stayed with us for really long time. We’re on tour right now, so we get to see everybody and they are really excited to be on the show, they love the music – you know, it’s a mutual kind of respect thing, and really we couldn’t ask for more. But on top of that, having a recognition from the Recording Academy – it’s another angle, it’s a respect from industry professionals, and it’s really satisfying, brilliant.

This year’s Grammy Awards were held on January 26, but it was early in morning for you due to your stay in Germany, if I’m not wrong, for the European leg of the Along for the Ride tour. Did you guys follow what was going on in L.A.?

Actually, the night of the Grammy’s we were in Munich, Germany. We were streaming the show and watching that together. It was cool. We are happy for Black Sabbath that they won, it’s a great album. Unfortunately, we weren’t there this time. Last time we went to Grammy’s, it’s really a lot of fun.

Dream Theater in 2014

Do you think that with two Grammy nominations we have progressive metal receiving some kind of recognition after all these years?

It definitely seems like that. I mean, this is the style that we’ve done from the beginning. We believe in it, and we know that all around the world there are people that appreciate that kind of music, there’s fans of this style of music, it’s been around for many years and our metal twist on it, it’s something that we’ve been doing for almost 30 years now. So yeah, I think it’s relevant and it’s important since today’s music scene is definitely reflected, not only by a lot of young bands that are fusing the style into their music, but also by being recognized by many different organizations, including the Grammy. So, it’s really cool. Because it’s something we love to do, we believe in it and it’s great to get that kind of recognition.

Last week you released a video for The Looking Glass taken from your new album, a song that is inspired by RUSH and is sort of your tribute to the Canadian proggers. Why did you pick this song in particular for the second video after The Enemy Inside?

That’s a song that we thought was a really strong and powerful melodic song, and in fact, in the beginning when we were deciding which song to put out first it was definitely up there with The Enemy Inside as contender. We kind of always had a plan that would follow up as our second single and second video. So it’s just kinda natural, it stood out on the album and the style of the song – the strong melodic content and it’s going very well live too which is great.

How do the lyrics of The Looking Glass reflect on the visuals you presented in the video? The video itself features a woman holding a crystal ball inside which you can see the band playing. Can you elaborate on this?

That was our director Ramon’s vision for that video. We really primarily wanted to do a performance video. The Enemy Inside video, its whole concept doesn’t show the band at all. So, with this one we wanted really just to show the band playing and performing and just have a little bit of a conceptual step. So, it’s his interpretation of having a woman looking into the glass and holding it, which is just a way of tying in the title and the themes very loosely. It doesn’t really cover so much in a lyrical meaning, it gives a little bit of a conceptual footage to make sense of all of our performance. But again, primarily it’s a performance video, you know, you can see us playing, see the parts, see the interaction of the band.

The North American Along for the Ride tour kicks off on March 20 in Toronto. Will you be making any drastic changes in the setlist, comparing with the setlist you perform in Europe?

No, the set’s gonna be the same and the way that we are doing things this time around it’s very – there’s a certain flow through the set and through the story. Everything has a meaning and a purpose, all of the songs that we chose, all of the visuals and everything. So, it’s more like a storyline that goes through the show. In order to deliver in a most professional, exciting and consistent way it was important for us to keep the same set, so it’s gonna be the same and I’m actually really excited to bring it in North America, because we’ve got incredible reactions to it here in Europe. It’s a very unique set, it’s a lot of music, it’s an evening’s worth, there’s three hours and it’s really intense. I can’t wait to bring this to North America – US, Canada, Mexico. It’s gonna be great.

The Boston show of the upcoming North American tour will include orchestral arrangements performed by students of Berklee College. What can fans expect and what are your expectations for this concert?

It’s gonna be a great show. It’s a beautiful opera house in Boston, Massachusetts and we are collaborating with Berklee College, which is a very important school to most of us in Dream Theater, as that’s where myself and John Myung went to college many years ago, and Mike Mangini was a professor there for eleven years. Eren Başbuğ who conducted and arranged the strings on the latest album is a student there, so it’s a great way for us to get back and join him at Berklee to celebrate the beginning of the new school year and the new studio and dorms they’re building. Their orchestra and choir are gonna join us on stage and it’s gonna be really fun night.

This tour is being billed as An Evening with Dream Theater and you wanted to present is as a unique experience for your fans. Do you think that the name of the band feels right more than ever now when you are playing these shows?

You know, I think it’s really strong. I mean, what we really wanted to do is kinda create a world in the venues that we play in, where you can sort of step into our Dream Theater world or experience. We kinda fantasize that things are the way they used to be as far as people buying and listening to full lengths and albums, getting into the artwork, getting into the lyrics as a whole thing. So we kind of make that all comes to life with our stage, the pre-show that we do, all the videos, the animations, the things that really kind of really do take you off for a ride during the show. It stands in a very powerful way and we have fun every night. And I can see by looking out at the audience that everybody is enjoying it as well.

John Petrucci with Dream Theater, January 25th, 2014 @Arena Wien, Austria

John Petrucci with Dream Theater, January 25th, 2014 @Arena Wien, Austria (Photo credit: Uranian Willy –

Speaking of the setlist for the running tour, an emphasis was put on songs you didn’t perform before, as well as songs you rarely play life. An example for that is Space-Dye Vest and it’s obvious that it is a big surprise for many fans. Do you think performing these “new” songs, to put it simply, in some way deepens your connections with the fans?

I think so. You know, I think that this set is something that satisfies a lot of our fans that have been with us for a long time because, as you said, we are playing songs that we never played live before, which is a request we get very often. It’s also a lot of music which is something that people really want to see from us as well and we play tribute to albums that were released 20 years ago or 15 years ago, so people are really big fans, maybe that’s the first album they heard, to come to the show and hear a group of songs from albums like that. I think, it really, really satisfies the audience and it does leave them that connection for sure. That’s why we called it Along for the Ride, it’s a mutual experience, it’s something that we wouldn’t be able to do without them and the music is meant to be shared and that’s kind of the whole idea with this thing, so yeah, I think it does connect, for sure

So, in regards to the new album, what were the biggest challenges you faced while writing it?

We wanted to make this really powerful statement, so we initially thought about self-titling this album. We kinda had a really big mountain to climb because self-titling an album this far to your careers is going to immediately create some form of expectation. We wanted to make sure that the music would be able to live up to that self-title, and so we wanted it to be really powerful. Another challenge was that some of the songs we wanted to actually keep a little bit more concise, as you see on the new album. Of course we do have Illumination Theory that’s twenty minutes long, but throughout the album we have songs that are under five minutes, we have four, five, six minutes which is something that we don’t typically do, but we wanted to make album a little bit more varied and keep it moving very quickly. So it was an experience that you know, kind of hits you in such a way where you are always stimulated the whole time, as you are listening to it. And to do that is a challenge, to keep it exciting and interesting the whole time, maybe keep a few songs shorter but maintain the style of intensity that we love to do.

Dream Theater - Dream Theater album coverYou decided to take a different approach in the studio for this album. The idea was to capture the live energy of the recording session. How much did you succeed in doing so, in your opinion?

In my opinion I think that we completely succeeded in that. We had a great engineer Richard Chycki, he’s set all the sounds so it’s really dialed in from the beginning, so anything that we wrote and recorded from day one we were able to keep. And so there’s a lot of spontaneous performances that are captured that you hear on the album. I think like doing things that way, it kind of makes the energy level and the spontaneity that much higher and that much more of an element on the album. I think we definitely succeeded, I can feel it. You know, when I listen to it, crank it up in my car or wherever, to me it’s very exciting. It has a lot of attitude, energy and spirit to it.

What is that statement that you wanted to make by releasing a self-titled album after almost 30 years?

Well, it’s sort of like, you know, renewing our commitment to what we do, to what we love to do, to our fans that have been with us for a long time in this thing. The band, this year with this album is just as enthusiastic and passionate about what we do, we’re excited about it, we’ll never stop putting our best foot forward. We’re always going to love doing this kind of thing and we wanted to illustrate that with the title, and share that, demonstrate that the music we have been doing for a long time is something that we believe in and it’s something that we still feel really strong about. And we also appreciate everybody that stayed with us for so long, continuing to like that kind of music. In a lot of ways its a renewal of our commitment to the music and to the band and it felt like the right time to do it, for sure, on this album.

The last instrumental piece you had on a studio album was Stream of Consciousness on Train of Thought. Enigma Machine is not an instrumental that serves for proving the band’s technicality, but rather a track that is quite musical. Was this on purpose?

Yeah, absolutely. We wanted to do another instrumental, but we wanted to make it more of a song oriented instrumental, more of the theme oriented. So, we worked hard at getting a big main theme, and you know throughout a rock history there’s been few instrumentals out there that have done that. It doesn’t have to necessarily be a very technical showcase, but it’s more of like just the song is carried through the musical lines and themes that the band is playing. It still retains a lot of power, a lot of energy, and there is definitely a lot of over the top playing. Everybody is featured – drum solo, bass solo, guitar, keyboard – but it’s definitely more thematic. And, it’s great, ’cause when you play that thing live, you know, people actually sing along to the themes,which is great feeling.

John Petrucci

It’s been almost nine years since your solo album Suspended Animation was released. You already had some talks about the new studio release, any updates on that?

Yes and no. [laughs] It’s something that people ask me all the time. I’ve been involved with Dream Theater throughout the years and it’s hard to find the time to do that. But, I do have some music written, some of it written during the G3 tour in South America last year, and that’s something that I’m gonna do, I’m gonna get back into a studio this year and get that on. It will be coming soon, you know like you said it’s been a long time since the first one. I’m excited to get that out and get that going.

Nikola Savić is a prog enthusiast, blogger and author, in addition to being the founder of Prog Sphere, Progify, ProgLyrics and the ongoing Progstravaganza compilation series.
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