MUSIC, ENTERTAINMENT, LIFESTYLE AND LOW RENT CULTURE

DREAM THEATER INTERVIEW

Dream Theater
Dream Theater

 

INTERVIEW WITH DREAM THEATER

Ross Baker talks to Keyboard Maestro Jordan Ruddess about line up changes, virtuoso musicianship and the future of this band of master musicians.

Sat in the press area at High Voltage festival, Dream Theater keyboard player Jordan Ruddess cuts an unassuming figure. While a mild mannered individual, he is clearly intensely passionate when it comes to the subject of his band’s music and takes his role very seriously.

Straight off the bat, I ask the keyboardist about the writing process for the forthcoming new opus, their eleventh studio album “A Dramatic Turn Of Events” and what was different since the departure of drummer and songwriter Mike Portnoy.  “It was really important for us to make an album that was a strong statement because of everything that happened with Mike leaving the band. We wanted to come out of this really positively and show the world that we could handle this.”

The new D.T. record is certainly as challenging musically as it was to make, sprawling technical guitar parts with oodles of orchestration which embellish the complex arrangements. It’s a grandiose recording.

At any point when writing music do the band ever eschew an idea if they feel it isn’t technical or complex enough? “There are lots of elements to that. If we can create something where we are all smiling then that’s the most important thing. One of the things that have helped us a lot on this album is that previously Mike Portnoy and John Petrucci produced the album together but this time John produced it alone. John really came to the table and guided us. He took on the producer’s role which made us feel really positive. This made it easy for John and I as the core composers of Dream Theater to write. The other guys also contributed to the writing a lot more. John Myung contributed more than he has since he joined the band which was amazing. The other thing that changed a lot was we weren’t writing with a drummer. Mike Mangini is a great drummer but we wanted to work on this album by ourselves before bringing Mike in to the writing process. Mike has brought a new energy to the band which is very exciting.”

Since Mangini wasn’t involved in the writing process, I wondered what the biggest change had been for the group since Portnoy’s departure. “Mike is a very nice happy guy. He just wants to play the drums to the best of his ability. He doesn’t pretend to have all the overall skills that Mike Portnoy did outside of being a drummer. Portnoy did a lot of good things for us but Mike is one of the very best drummers on the planet earth! Playing onstage with Mike is awesome; it has changed the dynamic of the band. He’s as solid as a rock! We have been so happy as the people who have seen us live have gone crazy for us! He’s added a new element to our organisation!”

While it’s good to see that D.T. feel rejuvenated on their 11th record and the band members are regularly nominated for best musician awards I asked if the band had ever felt any pressure due to being labelled a virtuoso musicians’ band.

“The two Johns and I are completely about trying to be the best at our instruments. Not for the sake of looking cool but just the internal desire to be the best. Mike Mangini has joined us on this quest which is great. We love writing fast riffs and technical patterns but we all love a good melody and are unafraid to slow things down. I come from a classical piano background and still love that. We have worked with people like Steven Wilson from Porcupine Tree and I understand the dynamics and the energy level of a lot of types of music. I think the difference between Dream Theater and other bands that want to be like us is we are unafraid to be melodic and slow things down. It’s important for us to have a really good technique on our instruments but it’s important to get a balance.”

Following the release of “A Dramatic Turn Of Events” in September, Dream Theater will be embarking on another lengthy world tour. Considering how passionate the band are about writing music, how do they keep things fresh and interesting for themselves and what do they do to wind down when they aren’t creating music or performing? “I really love going out and playing live to share the music with people and also love being surrounded by my synthesisers in the studio. They are very different things but I love both equally. We have a lot of work to do on our instruments but I like to go for long walks and check out local cultures, John Petrucci goes to the gym and lifts things, John Myung has his meditation and Mike Mangini loves his cigars and a bottle of red!” he chuckled.

Since the creative process has changed so much with other members taking part in the writing process, I wanted to know if Jordan saw Mike becoming involved in writing and where does Jordan see the next step in the band’s evolution taking them?

“I’m sure Mike Mangini will contribute more to the band and influence us compositionally. We didn’t want to bring him in as a composer straight away and we are still learning about him but we knew he could do this gig. He’s upped all our games. He’s been a professor at Berkeley School of Music for years and has taught us a lot more about rhythm. He is certainly going to be an influence on writing.  I don’t know what the future holds but I’m so excited!”

“For the fans we have had for so many years, we want them to see how the band has worked hard to create a great record and get a high quality Dream Theater experience. Some people will miss the experiments we did with the growly style of metal but there are lots of other bands that do that. This album is about being harmonic and melodic and I think has all the things that make this band great. Musically I’m into a lot of electronic music as well as classical and stuff like Porcupine Tree and Sigur Ros. I listen to things that are more mellow than things I’m involved with professionally. I still love my old Gentle Giant records and King Crimson stuff too.”

While Jordan might take inspiration from a lot of non metal artists these days, there are still some heavy guitar parts on the new album that should satisfy the band’s devoted fanbase. Clearly “A Dramatic Turn Of Events” will mark an interesting new chapter for this band of master musos.

Considering the upheaval the band has been through, it’s encouraging seeing them overcoming a difficult phase in their career and refocus on planning for a future without their influential former sticksman. Following the completion of touring the U.S., the band plan to return to Europe in the New Year for more shows by which time fans will have had the chance to familiarise themselves with the new material. This is something Jordan is relishing “We can’t wait to come back and give the fans an awesome show and we are very happy with where we are at musically right now. It’s a bright new day for us and we can’t wait to share it with our fans!”

ROSS BAKER

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