INTERVJU: John Petrucci från Dream Theater

Dream Theater besökte nyligen Stockholm för två konserter där man framförde senaste konceptalbumet “The Astonishing” i sin helhet. Några timmar innan andra konserten satt vi ned med gitarristen och huvudmannen bakom Dream Theaters senaste skapelse, John Petrucci. Vi pratade bl a om arbetet med det mastiga albumet och musikens betydelse för människan, vilket är ett av flera teman på albumet:

We knew it would be a challenge. It´s the same thing as watching “Lord of the rings”, you have to put the time aside. The thing that is funny to me, is that there is this underlying theme in the concept about the importance of music and the power of music and also people not having the time for music. I think it´s kinda ironic that you actually have to make the time to listen to it.


The new album (The Astonishing) is quite the challenge to listen to all the way through. I´m thinking these days with everybody having ADD and people can hardly focus on anything beyond 3 minutes. What´s your thought on that?

John: I knew that for sure, exactly what you´re hitting on. First of all, this whole thing was written to be a show and that´s why it´s so long. If we were just doing a concept album, like “Metropolis part 2: Scenes from a memory” (1999), it could´ve been an hour or something like that, but what we wanted to do, is write a standalone show, like we´re performing tonight. If you go to a Broadway show or an opera or something, you´re gonna be there for over two hours, so we couldn´t just write an hour long thing. Basically we wrote two albums worth of material, so that´s number one. Doing that, we knew it would be a challenge. It´s the same thing as watching “Lord of the rings”, you have to put the time aside. The thing that is funny to me, is that there is this underlying theme in the concept about the importance of music and the power of music and also people not having the time for music. I think it´s kinda ironic that you actually have to make the time to listen to it. (laughs)

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In ten years’ time, do you think you´ll look back at this album as your finest moment?

John: You know, it definitely right now feels like our careers have taken this path that kind of leads up to this moment, because for me and for the guys as well, it brings together a whole bunch of things that we´re interested in. It´s not only music, but it´s performance, it´s visual art when you see the show, it´s storytelling, it´s movies and literature and sci-fi and it´s all kinda rolled up into one. Creatively, it´s been so satisfying and even as far as the way that we´re presenting this publicly, as far as marketing and such, it´s been more interesting for everyone. So yeah, it´s definitely a crowning moment for us.

You must´ve started writing this album about the same time you finished the last one “S/T” (2013)? Were you on a creative high?

John: (laughs) Yes, you´re 100% right. It even started earlier than that. First of all, going back three years or so, I knew that if we were to do something like this, it was going to need to be well thought out and it was going to take time, because not only do you have the story and doing the album and everything else, but we have this show that we wanted to present and that takes time to develop. While I was doing a promo tour for the last album, we hadn´t even put that one out yet, and I was like “Whoa, lightbulb!” and started to work on that and that process just went on. As far as writing the music for it, between Jordan (Rudess) and I, I think we literally finished our last show in October of 2014 and we were together in November writing, so we didn´t stop, just because we knew it would take that long.

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It must be a lot of fun to be in such a creative mode? Is it kinda like you don´t really wanna go to bed, because you just wanna stay up and write?

John: Exactly. It´s funny because it doesn´t shut off and it´s really only until now, that I´m sitting here with you and we´re on tour, that I´ve actually relaxed into it, because there was so many pieces to this that had to be put together and so many things that had to go right and so many things that took longer than expected and were more complex than expected. The entire album is orchestrated, real orchestra and real choir and just to put that together was ridiculous.

Listening to the album, you really get the feel of a movie going along with it. Any plans for something like that?

John: Right. When we first started thinking about this, again, it wasn´t that we were just writing an album, we wanted to write something that would cross different medias and could be whatever we imagined it to be and I was always so impressed with rock musicals like “Jesus Christ Superstar”, “Tommy” or “American idiot” and it was like “We´re like the perfect band to do something like this. We´re called Dream Theater.” Doing that, is a goal that´s on the horizon. Being able to score a movie is something that people have always said, “You guys should score a movie.”, but we never did, so it´s kinda like we scored our own thing. To have that turn into something visual like a movie would be awesome. Some of the things that are already in development, are a videogame, which it is perfect for, and a novelization, which we haven´t announced officially, but we´re in talks with that. We´re taking the steps to get there and hopefully it will turn into this other thing.

How involved will you be in this videogame?

John: We will be consulted as far as development goes. It is essentially a mobile device game and I think it will eventually be presented on PC and Mac, but it´s a mobile game. It´s interesting and it´s not something I personally know too much about, I´m not a gamer. We have to do a lot of deffering, “Are you sure this is right?” (laughs), but the company we´re working with is really capable and really into it and they will include us in it.

Is it coming out next year or earlier?

John: I think it´s going to be sooner. I heard spring, which is right around the corner and I don´t know how they are going to do that, but that´s what I heard. We´ll see.

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Could you see yourself working on movie soundtracks? Something totally different than Dream Theater?

John: Sure. I would love to do something like that. It´s not something I necessarily pursue and maybe you have to have an agent that kinda pursues that, because it´s not like I´m getting calls, but you´ve seen it with somebody like Trevor Rabin (ex Yes) where all of a sudden his doing these soundtracks to popular movies, so yeah, it would be amazing.

Last time I talked to you (2013), you played me these sound clips of Joe Pesci from the movie “Goodfellas” that you used to inspire Mike (Mangini) in the studio. Did you something similar this time around?

John: That´s so funny. Probably. I probably said it in my own voice though. There were so many funny moments, because the way that we wrote the album, Jordan and I wrote the music and we demoed it either at our homes or eventually in the studio and the demos exist just with a click track, guitars, piano and whatever mock orchestral sound Jordan put on there and that´s it. This is what we were sending to the band and Mike for example, had to learn all that, ingest it and think what he would do as a drummer and the thing that blew me away, was that he would come in and we´d talk about the song or whatever and then we´d literally press record and he started playing. All of a sudden, this music that was existing in a very raw form, turned into a song, like “It sounds like Dream Theater now.” and that´s an incredible thing to see. It still blows me away. It´s not like “Let me try this idea.” and then fumbles or something, it was just “He does it.” It was more like “Ok, next!” (laughs) You almost start to second guess, “Should we do that again?” and you go “No, I don´t think so.” It´s really impressive.

When you were writing this story, did you try to work office hours or did you just write way into the night?

John: In the beginning when I was writing the story, that´s when I really needed very private, quiet time, so I would pick the time to do that. Whether it be when I was travelling and there was nothing else to do or at home late at night, that was necessary. When it came to actually writing the music and not just musical ideas that I would throw on my phone, but really sitting down and saying “Ok, let´s storyboard this out and organize it.”, we knew that we needed blocks of time, so we would just be in the studio for 10-12 hours. That´s how we did it and it was the only way to get that really focused creative time. At that point it´s not so much about inspiration, it´s about craftiness. There´s 34 songs and that takes time.

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Could you see Dream Theater do something similar in the future?

John: Yeah. I think that this is something that is a really massive undertaking and it´s not something that can be done all the time and nor would I want to, because it consumed my life for sure. I don´t think it´s something we can do every time, but eventually do something, whether it´s based on this story or not, it would be fun. Right now, this itch has been scratched for us and it feels good.

Are you keeping track of young up and coming guitar players?

John: Yes and no. I get stuff through suggestion or people saying “You should hear this guy or that guy.” Guys and girls are getting younger and younger and better or better and I can´t even keep up with it. It´s ridiculous and I think it´s awesome. I also think it´s awesome to see the kind of music that we like to create, which is this kinda prog metal, and see it infiltrate into younger kids psyche and you have more bands doing this style and it has become something that´s risen up and that´s really cool. It means the musical landscape is changing and accepting.

How do you feel about the way music has changed and the way people listen to music today? You were there when bands sold records and now it´s so different.

John: There are two ways to look at it. Back in the day, just for example of having commercial success and charting or whatever, so many records were sold, so the pop artists kinda took over with that stuff. You couldn´t even compete, because they were selling millions of records. Now there are so many less physical sales of cd´s and records, that for a band like ours which such a powerful worldwide audience, we are actually able to compete and we don´t have to sell a million records to chart in top 10, so it´s pretty crazy when you look at that. The thing is, and again it´s the underlying message with this album, music is being consumed in more of a passive way. With streaming and downloading it´s just too easy to kind of make it some background thing, so the idea that we wrote something that almost forces you to have to sit down and listen to it, we used to do that and we base a lot on our own experiences. As teenagers we used to listen to entire Rush albums, entire Pink Floyd albums and shut down the lights and it was great. It was not like today when you listen to a song for 30 seconds.

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Still ,music has been important throughout time, just looking back on the “summer of love” (1967) and music being really revolutionizing. Sometimes you kinda hope for that sort of musical revolution in society again.

John: Yeah. I´m not sure that that type of thing could happen again, because of the fact that rock music is pretty young. Back then, starting in the 50´s, when it hit the mid 60´s it was still new and still something that was rebellious and new. I´m not sure if that time in history could come back again.

Text: Niclas Müller-Hansen
Foto: Therés Stephansdotter Björk