DREAM THEATER vocalist James LaBrie and guitarist John Petrucci recently spoke with Pablo Abarca of Metal Hammer Spain. The full conversation can be seen below. A few excerpts follow (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET).
On the differences between new album "Distance Over Time" and its divisive predecessor, the 2016 conceptual double album "The Astonishing":
James: "I think ['The Astonishing'] is a phenomenal album musically. It's a rock opera, theatrical opus. I think it speaks loudly of the kind of band we are, the diversity of the band, whereas now when you shift over to 'Distance Over Time', everything's much more concise. This album's going more predominantly in more [of a] heavier approach to songs, but still maintaining the technical aspects of DREAM THEATER. It's classic DREAM THEATER."
John: "People who like 'Awake' and 'Images [And Words]' and 'Systematic Chaos' and 'Train Of Thought' maybe listen to ['The Astonishing'], and they're, like, 'This doesn't sound like DREAM THEATER. This is not what I expect.' With that in mind, I think and I hope that with an album like 'Distance Over Time', it might be more what you would expect. [It's] more DREAM THEATER-y, whatever that is."
On its similarities to 2003's "Train Of Thought", generally perceived as the band's "heaviest" album to date:
John: "The writing process and what we did reminds me of what we did on 'Train Of Thought'. With 'Train Of Thought', we set up in a rehearsal studio in New York City. I forgot how we did the demos — we had, maybe, two microphones, and when we finished writing a song, we would just play it live and record it live, and that was the demo. Something like that — it was super, super simple. The demos are not elaborate at all. With 'Distance Over Time', we did that same process. We were basically in an empty studio that had no gear in it. Our engineer put two mics on the drums. That's it. Everything else was just direct. We had Pro Tools, we pressed record and all the demos were live."
On how the manner in which "Distance Over Time" was written and recorded affected the album's musical direction:
John: "The nature of us being together in a room — and when I tell you it was loud in that room, it was loud in that room. [Laughs] In fact, we had to put, like, a [buffer] in front of Jordan [Rudess] because he was just getting bombarded by guitar. Mike [Mangini], he kept commenting how he loved that he can hear the guitar echoing off the wall, and [that] it was really inspiring. When we're in that setup, it kind of naturally happens that you write this sort of energetic, heavy, progressive, fun, spirited music, because you're all sort of feeling it. You feel the groove."
James: "The overall goal was, 'Let's write an album that is going to sound like a classic, heavy rock album.' That's why we've been stressing that it's very organic-sounding, because a lot of the way that the whole album was written, it was, so you want to also capture that essence when you're actually sending down the tracks for real. That's the magic of why I think this album sounds like it does."
John: "You'll hear moments in the songs where the guitar drops out or the keyboard drops out, and it's just a three-piece. There's no additional musicians — there's no extra strings, choir. There's no iPad sounds. It's just the guys playing."
On drummer Mike Mangini, and his primary contribution to the new album:
John: "This is his fourth album with us, and I would say — and he would definitely agree — this is the most he's been creatively involved. He had this idea for ['Distance Over Time' song] 'Room 137'... It started [when] we were writing the song and we were deciding on the tempo. Mike, who is very mathematical, said, 'I'm going to set the tempo at 137.' We were like, 'Why 137?' He went on to tell us this whole story about how that number is this prime number in the universe that keeps repeating everywhere, and that this philosopher names Wolfgang Pauli basically drove himself crazy trying to figure out the spiritual and scientific connection."
On continuing to make albums as the music industry is shifting back toward singles:
John: "We're still kind of romantic with the idea that a record is a piece of work, and to sit down and experience it from beginning to end, like watching a movie. The streaming services are definitely good for [when] you want something right now — you want to hear it, you want to check something out, you want it on your phone. Great; beautiful. You can get it anywhere. But the idea of a record coming out on vinyl — you look at the artwork, you take the time and make an event out of listening to the whole thing..."
James: "It's much more intimate."
John: "It is, and if you listen to a DREAM THEATER record — any of them — there's an arc. There's a reason why there's an intro song, even if it's not a concept album. There's a reason why 'Pale Blue Dot' closes ['Distance Over Time']."
"Distance Over Time" was released on February 22. The disc, which marks the band's first for their new label InsideOut Music, was produced by Petrucci, mixed by Ben Grosse and mastered by Tom Baker.