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Progressive metal giants DREAM THEATER have commenced work on the follow-up to 2011’s “A Dramatic Turn Of Events” for a tentative late summer/early fall release via Roadrunner Records. The band’s guitarist, John Petrucci, and keyboardist, Jordan Rudess, recently spoke with Roadrunner Records about the process. A couple of excerpts from the chat follow below.
Roadrunner Records: How prepared are you going into sessions? Are songs fully plotted out, or are there just vague ideas that get shaped in the studio?
Jordan: Well, with DREAM THEATER, we really like to write together, but that’s not to say we have no ideas going in. We’ll have seed ideas, things to get us started. Riffs, motifs, eight bars, maybe 16 bars. For the most part, that’s how DREAM THEATER works. Occasionally, John will bring in a ballad he wants to put on the album, but we enjoy having these seeds that whoever came up with them did, and then we all work on them together.
John: We always talk about the concept for the album, so we always come in with a plan, the direction of the album, the type of album we want to make, and we get everyone literally on the same page, so that we’re all focused in a general sense and even in some specific senses. But as far as actual ideas, throughout the touring year, as we’re playing live, if someone has an idea and they bring it into soundcheck and we start jamming on it, we always record it, and so those little recordings, whether they’re jams or chord progressions or whatever, we’ll archive them and have them ready to go. And then, ideas that I come up with by myself at home, in the hotel room or whatever, I archive them in a special folder, New Album Ideas, whether they’re completed demos or just little seeds or riffs or whatever, but those are good starting points. We’ll go through all that stuff and use what we want, and at the same time we come up with fresh stuff in the studio, just having nothing to do with previous ideas. So it’s a combination.
Roadrunner Records: How much writing do you guys do on the road? Do you practice together or separately, and does it ever bleed into a writing session?
Jordan: Sometimes. We don’t generally write on the road, but on this last tour there were a lot of times when we’d be inspired, partly because we had this amazing new drummer and we’d just sit there and go “Wow,” and come up with some cool musical ideas, or [new DREAM THEATER drummer Mike] Mangini and I would walk onstage a little bit earlier to do the soundcheck because we knew we could just go have some fun, so we’d start playing and record it and review that at some time during our stay in the studio. So there’s definitely stuff that happens in soundcheck, but we’re not formally trying to write on the road. As long as I’ve been in this band, it’s been the kind of thing where we know we’re going to block out a certain amount of time, and it’s going to be our job to go in over the course of these months and write an album. And it’s really great for us, because all of us are family guys, we’ve got kids and families and responsibilities, but we love our music and we want to be able to focus on it, so to be able to put aside a block of time where we know that’s what we’re going to do, that’s what really seems to work best for all of us.
Roadrunner Records: What’s Mike Mangini‘s role in the writing process this time around? Are you looking forward to having him be a participant in the creative process?
Jordan: Well, we just got started, so it’s hard to answer that. I will say that Mike comes into this being very respectful of all of us, understanding that we’ve been a functioning organization without him for all these years. So Mangini comes into this knowing that the compositional forces are alive and well in the band. [laughs] And yes of course he’s somebody we want there, because we think he’s fabulous, but he’s coming in with some care and understanding. That’s first of all. But Mike Mangini is one of the biggest rhythm experts on the planet Earth right now. He can do things with rhythm no one else can do. He’s inspired; for him, math and music is totally one thing in his brain, and it’s an incredible thing for us to have that mixed into the writing process. It’s exciting. Because somebody like myself, I’m really terrible at math, but somehow when it comes to rhythm, I’m really good. Not as good as Mike Mangini — I don’t think anybody is. But having that skill, as part of a band that already has a fairly high skill set when it comes to different aspects of writing music and making music, is pretty cool. It’s major for us. I feel like it brings in this element that will put us even more on top of our game. So that’s what I’m looking forward to in the writing, and so far, even though we’re just getting started, I can tell that’s the way it’s going to go.
John: First of all, it’s been going great with him, and as much as we’ve been a band together for about 15 years, we haven’t really experienced that process together. We’ve been in the studio for a few weeks now, and he’s been amazing. Amazing chemistry is great, the writing process and the whole vibe is great, and his role is to let his personality shine as a drummer, creatively and to have his input and his musical personality really come through. And I gotta tell you, it’s happening. When people hear the drumming on this album, they’re gonna be pretty freaked out. On the last album, he did a great job, but he wasn’t there for the writing process and he was interpreting drum parts that I had programmed. Even though he used his creativity, of course, to change them up and do his thing, I feel like now he’s just Mike Mangini unleashed. It’s all him. It’s all his creativity, all his decisions and ideas and man, the guy’s an animal.
Read the entire interview from Roadrunner Records.