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Interview: Dream Theater “We knew we wanted to do a heavier album”

Prog metallers Dream Theater unleashed their fourteenth album, ‘Distance Over Time’ earlier this year and it was as heavy as hell.

We caught up with Dream Theater’s front man James LaBrie before their show at Download 2019 to find out more about the album.

Check out the interview with James below to discover what prompted the band’s change of direction, how social media inspires his lyrics and where he’d take the Download Dog in Toronto.

It’s your third time playing Download, how does it feel to be back?

Each time we’ve been here it’s been an incredible experience…it’s always an amazing vibe, it’s always an amazing feel – you’re completely pumped.

What do you want  people to get out of the show today? 

I would hope they get the full gist of whom Dream Theater is musically, they’re jamming with the songs and they’re having a great time. That’s really what the message is.

You released your 14th album ‘Distance Over Time’ at the beginning of the year. How does it feel to be 34 years into your career and still releasing critically-acclaimed albums?

That’s the ultimate compliment for any band to be 14 albums in. Wherever we’re playing…people are like, ‘man, we want to hear more of the new album’. That’s very uncommon for a band that far into their career where [the fans] are actually interested in the latest album…That’s a huge endorsement from our fans, we’re quite thrilled.

The album is doing amazing, the label is at our show yesterday and they were really pumped and everyone is pretty stoked.

You’ve released three singles from the albums, when can we expect another single?

I think like anything it’s a campaign, you keep talking about it and you say, ‘ok, what would make sense next? What would be the best track to go forward with?’…Between the tours we’re going to be doing after Europe we’re introducing new songs, so let’s play a couple of songs from the album that we haven’t played yet. So, there’s all that going on as well.

Have you been working on new material whilst on the road?

Not so much. When we get together to start writing we’re always coming in with seeds of ideas. There’s plenty, trust me, there’s more than enough. While we’re on tour we’re pretty much focused on the aspects of touring.

‘Distance Over Time’ is heavier and more concise than your last album, ‘The Astonishing’. What was thinking behind this change in direction?

We were very focused, first and foremost, as we knew we wanted to do a heavier album. Secondly we knew that it’s really easy for us to go and create these epic tracks, very long tracks. Why don’t we just focus on strong structure and making it something that’s undeniable and memorable.

You’d be amazed at how many times we’re in the studio writing and all of a sudden you start going off on a tangent, like: ‘Guys, woah woah. Pull the reigns in’. So, then you get back and start thinking again and pull it back and wrap it up. We’ve said all we can basically say, without going on a big long tangent and instrumental section, that’s easy for us to do.

The first single from the album ‘Untethered Angel’ is about people who are afraid to take risks. Where else were you looking for inspiration?

To really put it in a general concept, I look at my interaction with people, the books I’ve read, social media, movies and stuff like that. [For] ‘At Wit’s End’ I saw this documentary and it was talking about how many couples never seem to survive after one of them has been raped.

It was also kind of because of the ‘me too’ movement and thinking, ‘how long are women going to deal with being looked at as objects and being disrespected and irreverent’. I think that’s what inspired me to write the song and that’s pretty deep. At the same time it shows this is what some people have to deal with, because of the misconceptions in the world and the sickness.

The way that I wrote it there’s a little ambiguity there, so at the same time you know what’s going on here and you might also be looking at something else; just a relationship that’s strained or something like that. It’s up to the individual to read into what I was actually saying.

It’s the 20th anniversary of your classic album ‘Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory’ this October. What are you favourite memories from that album?

It was our first album with Jordan Rudess coming into the band. We went back to BearTracks [studio] where we recorded ‘Images and Words’, ‘A Change of Seasons’ and ‘Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence’. So, there was always a very spirited setting for us.

Going into that album and making our first conceptual album and coming out the way that it did, was amazing, absolutely amazing – it was everything we could have hoped for.

When it was released we didn’t know as much…You don’t know until it’s actually out there to see how the fans and people in general are going to respond. Fortunately for us, they responded wholeheartedly so it was amazing.

 

What else do you have coming up for the rest of the year?

We go back to North America in the fall and come back to Europe next January and February. We’re going to do a headlining show where we’re going to play ‘Scenes from a Memory’ in its entirety.

If the Download Dog was going to come to your hometown of Ontario Canada, where would you take him?

I’d take him up the CN Tower and I’d hang him off the edge..you can do that.

Have you done it? 

No, no, no. There’s always human error!

Download Dog CN Tower

Download Festival returns on 12th-14th June 2020 to the hallowed grounds of Donington Park.

Tickets on sale now at early bird prices!