Exclusive Interview: John Petrucci from Dream Theater


Dude, I can totally tell you’re in Canada right now. When the chick at the front desk of your hotel answered the phone I couldn’t understand a word she said!

Yeah, it’s the whole French thing.

You’ve got a lot happening right now…You’re on tour, right?

Yeah, actually today is our first show with Yes. We’ll see how it goes.

How long will this tour last?

This one’s a while. I think it’s around five weeks or so, so there are a lot of dates.

What does Dream Theater have in store for this tour?

We’re opening for Yes so it’s a much shorter show than what we’re used to playing. We’re used to playing three and a half hours and I believe now we’re playing an hour. Basically, we’re playing – I’m sure there will be Dream Theater fans – but we’re trying to play to a new audience. As hard as it is with the amount of albums and the length of our songs, we’re trying to give a sampling of what we’re all about.

How hard is it to pick an hour-long set list? I know you’re used to mixing up your set lists from night to night…

Yeah, we can’t really do that this time. It’s tough enough to come up with one set list that samples what we’re about. Plus, a lot of our songs are real heavy and it’s not necessarily appropriate for the setting.

So you guys are going out with a structured set list this time…

Yeah, exactly.

I’m just curious – When you’re on a headling tour and you mix up your set list from night to night, how far in advance do you pick the set lists?

Pretty far in advance. Everybody would need to know, not just the band members – like the lighting director. We try to come up with a few in advance so everybody could prepare. It’s not like we get it that day, you know?

What’s a typical rehearsal schedule like before Dream Theater goes on tour?

Strangely enough, we don’t really like rehearsing. We like playing and everything, but it’s kind of tedious. Our golden rule is for everybody to do most of their preparation at home. Like anything else, if you know the music you can play it.

It must be really cool to be in the situation where you can say, “Work on this at home,” and just get together and it works out.

That’s the only way…You can’t be sitting there trying to figure parts out and wasting people’s time. Every so often there’s a technical section that we need to work on a little bit. We work on the segues and cues in between songs. As far as the music, at this point it’s everybody’s responsibility to be prepared so you can play the songs. A lot of the time spent before a tour is more technical, like gear, setup, and programming.

What will Dream Theater have lined up for 2004?

This tour will be the end of the tour cycle for Train of Thought. Then we’re gonna start getting into a new album. It’s actually our last contractual album with Elektra so it’s kind of exciting for us.

Dream Theater’s music sometimes sounds very complex and complicated. Is it easy for you guys to write new material or do you dwell on it for a while?

It actually doesn’t. We write fairly quickly, I think. Sometimes when we’re writing, if something is highly technical we don’t have to rehearse it until we have it nailed before we record it. It’s usually a general idea and when we go in to record we refine it. A lot of times when we play through the songs for the first time, if you were to listen to those demos they’re just sloppy as hell. It’s just us plowing through the ideas.

One thing I definitely want to talk about is your CD with Jordan, An Evening With… It’s still on a lot of internet charts as one of the most requested titles. Did you think it would be received as well as it has?

You know, really I had no expectations. This is an album that I had originally released on my own label and that one is a re-issue through a licensing deal with Favored Nations. I really didn’t give it too much thought. In fact, even doing press to me seems a little strange. Once again, this is something that originally came out in 2000 on my site. The night of the show had a special magic. I like the pieces. It’s all highly improvised. If there are people that are digging that, great. I think it really says something for improvised progressive jazz music – or whatever you want to call it. I’m glad people are out there enjoying it. It’s just one-off, highly improvised, personal, music that in a lot of instances wouldn’t even be shared. They’re almost like little jams you would do in your room with your friends, so it’s kinda cool.

What led to Steve Vai’s Favored Nations picking the record up?

He got wind of the album when I did the G3 tour with him and Joe. Someone turned him onto it and he really enjoyed it. He thought it would be a great release to do on his label. We talked and made it happen.

It’s just human nature that when you get a taste of something you like that you want more. Is there any chance of you and Jordan doing another project like this?

There’s always a chance. Jordan and I had a lot of fun doing it. It’s certainly something we could do but we’re always so busy. Things like this kinda pop up every so often. I would do it again. It didn’t take a lot of preparation so it’s fairly easy to do.

On top of all of that stuff I heard you just finished a new solo album.

That’s correct. In fact I finished it a few weeks ago and I’m working on getting it out. That project took a while and it DID take a lot of thought and a lot of planning and a lot of time. I’m real happy with the way it turned out and I can’t wait to get it out there.

What’s it like musically?

It’s all instrumental and a trio – guitar, bass, and drums. You’re gonna get a ton of guitar. There’s a lot of solos and melodies. It runs the gamut of my style and things I like to do. There’s jazz, blues, real progressive stuff, hard ‘n heavy, more straight ahead rock, some Morse stuff, some Satriani-ish type stuff, there’s a techno song. It’s about things I like to do wrapped up in a very, very guitar dominating album. It was mixed by Kevin Shirley and sounds really great. I’m very happy with it.

I miss the days of Vinnie Moore, Vai, Satriani, MacAlpine, and all the guitar heroes. They used to be all over the place. I definitely appreciate new guitar oriented records. I’d almost prefer a Vai or Satriani type CD over most bands that are out today.

Definitely. Yeah, I hope you’ll like this one. To me, whether I’m doing a Dream Theater album, the An Evening With… album, or a solo album, the songs have to be strong. It has to thrill me, move me, and interest me before I can put it out. Even on the solo album I think the songs are really strong. You’re not going to hear an album full of just noodling over backing tracks. There’s some real writing in there. That’s something I concentrate on and pride myself in with Dream Theater and try to carry it through with everything else.

Dream Theater has a very loyal, always growing, fanbase. Does it ever enter you mind how hardcore these people are over your music?

First of all, I think it’s what our career is really built on. I remember, maybe not to the extreme of some people, I remember as a kid waiting in line for tickets to go on sale or getting a record the first day it came out. I’d read all the little tidbits about a band and analyze the lyrics. I remember being that way so I appreciate why we have the fans that we do. We think about that whenever we play and whenever we do a record. We try to put ourselves in the position where we realize that people are coming to see us and they’re psyched, been looking forward to the show for who knows how many weeks, they took off from work or whatever. We need to give them what they deserve to see and hear. We definitely respect that.

That’s nice to hear because some bands get an ego after so long and they say they’re no longer writing music for the fans. They want to make themselves happy first. They’re forgetting who put them in that position to begin with – their fans!

When we started we had no fans. We were writing music that we like to write and there is still that going on. You really can’t try to please everybody. There is a very definite sense of identity when we write music. It’s not like we sit back and think, “What’s this guy or that guy going to think?” At the same time, once it’s done and once we put ourselves into it – it’s 100%.

Thanks for taking time out of your day for this. What would you like to say to your fans and all the readers?

I hope to see people on this Yes tour. I think it will be interesting because I’ve always seen our band as the heavy metal Yes. We have the same orchestration. When we were younger we were really into the long songs and the passages and drama. We like the artsy-fartsyness of those Yes albums. Even down to the album covers. You can really see back to back a different incarnation of a classic. We’re really looking forward to it and it will be interesting to our fans who have never heard of Yes. They’ll get a taste of what influenced us and vice versa. You may get some older guy who we’ll come across as Marilyn Manson! I don’t know – we’ll see!