Dream Theater: All Five Members Reflect on Their Year of Dramatic Events
Please pardon the pun, but it's been a dramatic year of events for Dream Theater.
In the wake of their split with founding drummer Mike Portnoy, the prog-metal icons Dream Theater found themselves at a serious crossroads moment. But as all five current members shared with Noisecreep, they not only survived, but they also managed to channel all of the turmoil into some of the finest music of their celebrated career.
It was one year ago this week that the band entered the studio to begin recording what would become their acclaimed 2011 album, 'A Dramatic Turn of Events.' Several months after that, after a documentary featuring the auditions the band held to take over Portnoy's position, Dream Theater announced Mike Mangini as his replacement.
After touring this past summer and fall, the band received news that they had been nominated for their first ever Grammy award. The song 'On the Backs of Angels' was included in the Best Hard Rock/Metal category. As all five members describe, they are very satisfied with how they spent 2011, but they are even more excited about what 2012 may bring.
Keyboard player Jordan Rudess tells Noisecreep, "The year I joined the band, there was also a healing process going on, so I could relate to what Mike was feeling this year. And his passion and focus are just what we needed. But before we had the documentary to find a drummer, we knew the most important thing was to make a good record."
Guitarist John Petrucci completely agrees: "It's hard to believe it was a year ago, but when we entered the studio we felt lots of support from both family and fans. And as much as people like to talk about Dream Theater as being a bunch of guys who really take time to try and master their instruments, we're always very focused on creating good songs."
But as the songs developed, the issue of a new drummer still loomed. Petrucci says that they chose the documentary concept as a way of letting fans in on the process as a way to say thanks to the faithful. To the band's happy surprise, the reality show-styled production also seemed to attract new listeners to the band. The buzz and spirit of competition struck a chord and lead singer James LaBrie saw the results during many of this past year's shows.
"It started to almost look like crowds at a Rush concert" the vocalist says. "I'd say that the age range was from about 15 to 65 – and more girls too." He started to joke, "Why couldn't this have happened 25 years earlier, when we were still good looking [laughter]? But seriously, I really think the documentary helped expand our audience because it was a chance to watch so many amazing drummers compete for something important."
Mike Mangini, who ultimately got the gig, had a hunch that the competition would attract many hopefuls, but he never thought about the pressure. "Every drummer had fans that followed the documentary, which is a very cool thing. When I went in there, I was focused, relaxed, and in the moment. I felt myself playing on a whole new plane, and I felt that everything I had worked for in my life was about getting to this moment. I have so much respect for these guys, especially because every day they try to improve. They never stop trying to get better, and I feel the same way".
Bassist John Myung looked back on the experiences of early 2011 and describes it as a test of will. "A lot had to come together quickly. It was a test of resilience and a very revealing time as far as how connected we are to our fan base. But as intense as everything was, the energy was all extremely positive and there was a lot of goodwill and support among all of the band members. Our main goal was to raise the bar, but I think that's always our main goal when we approach a new record. There were different pressures this year though, and I couldn't be happier with the results."
'A Dramatic Turn of Events' was released in September and debuted at the number 8 spot on the Billboard Top 200 chart. Sales numbers aside, Dream Theater were more excited by their fans' reaction to the new material out on the road. "I felt so different on stage. I felt energized and felt that we really had something at stake. But to see the positive reaction to the new songs was one of the best things ever. I've had very memorable moments in this band, including the recording of 'Images and Words,' which was very special to me, and the radio city shows we did with a full orchestra. But watching this band come alive with this material onstage has been unforgettable," says LaBrie.
Jordan Rudess: "The meet and greets on these recent tours were really fun because of what everyone tells us about the new record. It really validates everything we've been through this year and I feel like onstage everyone seems to have a new fresh energy. We're really having fun."
And then came the Grammy Awards nomination – the first in the band's four decade history – for the the album's first single, 'On the Backs of Angels.' It was John Petrucci who first got the word and started calling his bandmates before a show in San Diego the night of Nov. 30.
"Talk about validation. It's such a huge deal and so humbling to be acknowledged like this. It was the first song we wrote for the album, which is kind of nice, but what I think I'm most proud of is the fact that it's the full version of the song. Not a radio edit, but the full nine minutes, which is just the way we want our music to be heard," Petrucci exclaims.
"It's great when the industry recognizes you like this. Now we know what it kind of feels like on the other side, because it's something we're not totally used to. And we like how it makes our fans feel too," says a proud LaBrie. Bass ace John Myung is excited about the attention the Grammy nod might bring to the veteran band. "It's a beautiful thing to be recognized on this level. We've gotten used to just being what we are and doing what we do. And to finally get this was really unexpected but completely appreciated. I think it puts us in a new position," says Myung.
Still new to Dream Theater, Mike Mangini got really emotional upon hearing the Grammy nomination news. "I got goose bumps when they called me, and it brings a tear to my eye just to think about it now. I have such respect for these guys and I know what they've been through, but I think our journey this year has been special and the Grammy nomination is an acknowledgement that it was all worth the effort."
Dream Theater will hit the road again later this month for a tour of Europe. The performances will no doubt feel extra triumphant given all they achieved in the past year and the enthusiasm they're feeling at this moment. While the next year may be less dramatic, it promises to be no less exciting for our favorite prog-metal heroes.