DREAM THEATER’S James LaBrie – “It’s About Us Being Ourselves”

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With total album and DVD sales exceeding 10 million worldwide, are an iconic band in the prog rock world. After over 20 years and multiple albums, 2011’s A Dramatic Turn of Events earned the band their first ever GRAMMY nomination for On the Backs of Angels. Vocalist James LaBrie recently took some time out of a busy tour prep schedule to speak to Screamer Magazine.

DREAM THEATER-COVER recently put out their twelfth studio album, a self-titled release. Since  self-titled albums are often a band’s initial offering, why might a band more than 25 years into their career make that move this far down the road? According to LaBrie, “I think that we felt that we had a pretty momentous transitional period, a transformation, in 2010 when our original drummer (Mike Portnoy) left the band and we brought in Mike Mangini as our new drummer. With A Dramatic Turn of Events, that album coming out- it was a matter of us proving that we were the same band. Yes, we had a new member in the band but we still were ; we still sounded like . And we all felt quite confident with A Dramatic Turn of Events that we put out a very powerful album… I think with going into this album, it was just about us saying, ‘ Ok, look. We don’t have anything to prove. It’s about us being ourselves and writing an album that we feel epitomizes who and what we are as a band’. So what better time in our career than now to write what we felt would support that with a self-titled album. And it’s a very bold move because you want to make sure that it is going to be one of your strongest and most powerful albums–almost quintessential, so to speak. And so we felt that be writing in the direction that we wanted to, that we could definitely be successful and I think we did with this. I think the reaction has been extremely positive and everyone has accepted it for exactly what we did, and that’s releasing a self-titled album this far into our career.”

For this album, the band worked with engineer Richard Chycki, who has worked with artists such as Mick Jagger, Aerosmith, and Rush. Chycki is also no stranger to Dream Theater. Says LaBrie, “ He and myself have a very, very long history. We were in a rock band in the late ‘80s called Winter Rose. He was the guitar player and we’ve been good friends for a good twenty-five years.” As someone who had followed the band from the very beginning and a talented musician in his own right, Chycki was “the kind of person that we wanted in the studio with us as the engineer and also as the mixer.” LaBrie goes on to describe how the studio process works for the band: “We get together in a room and one of the strategies is that we revisit any ideas that we think were cool from sound check when we were out touring. There were a few instances where we did pull from a couple of really cool ideas from soundcheck. The other approach is that we all sit around in a room and we all play themes or ideas that we have from over a period of time. So it’s kind of funny. You have five guys sitting a room with their iPhones, playing all these things,” he says with a laugh. “So we pick from all of those ideas from the individuals that we think are really cool and we document it. We put them on a big easel board and we give them working titles so that we can refer back. And the real magic starts when we start jamming and one thing leads to another. One idea fires another idea and that whole interaction with one another really starts to formulate the songs and ultimately the direction we want to go in.”

Dream Theater 2The first single, The Enemy Inside, deals with the topic of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). While making the video, the band was connected with an organization called Save A Warrior, whose goal is to embrace returning veterans and offer programs for veterans suffering from PTSD. The band will be working closely with this organization to bring awareness to the topic. Says LaBrie, “We definitely do need to shed more light on this organization and help them in any way we can… in order for people to realize the hardships, the atrocities that people have to deal with not just physically, but psychologically, from being in conflict in conflict and war.”

 The band also just released a DVD, Live at Luna Park which was filmed in July 2011 in Buenos Aires and includes many extra features, in addition to the show itself. “You see the band rehearsing and going through the songs prior to the shows. There’s also backstage footage, what we’re  doing individually, some little antics, joking around,” says LaBrie. “So there’s quite a bit that really brings the fans even that much closer to who and what we are as people and how we go about inevitably stepping on stage and making everything seem like it was just meant to be. There’s so much work that goes into it. There’s a lot of footage behind the scenes that really lets you see just how much preparation and detail we attended to in order to achieve making a show like that seem seamless.”

While some bands rely on the showmanship of their singer to carry them, each and every member of Dream Theater is at the top of their craft. With John Petrucci on guitar, John Myung on bass, Jordan Rudess on keyboards, Mike Mangini on drums, and of course, LaBrie on vocals, a primary feature of the band is extended, elaborate instrumental compositions that spotlight the soloist, showcasing their technical skills. Therefore, during a live show, there are periods of time when LaBrie has a little time to himself backstage. So where does he go? What does he do? “Well I have a thing that I refer to as ‘the tent’”, he says. “I go into the tent and I cool down with a towel. And I always have a canteen, onstage and in my tent, and it’s just warm water or room temperature water with honey in it. And there’s other water there, just normal water, that I sip on. So I do that and I just hum, just really low humming, just to kind of keep myself in place. And I do a little bit of stretching when I’m back there, if I have enough time to do so.”

Dream Theater 3In an era where many bands are judged on their ability to have their songs in constant radio station rotation, Dream Theater has been able to make their mark, despite not receiving the massive amount of airplay that many bands do. Dream Theater is the band’s third consecutive top ten debut on the Billboard 200, and debut in the top five in Japan, Germany, Italy, Canada, Argentina, Switzerland, Holland, and Finland. According to LaBrie, their success stems from old-fashioned hard work: “I think a lot of it has to do with Dream Theater kind of cultivated our base from the very beginning through incessant and relentless touring around the world. We’d do an album and then we’d follow the album with a tour that lasts anywhere from a year to a year and a half and then we’d take a few months off and then we’re back in the studio. So it’s almost like a 2-3 year cycle that we’ve kept up since basically 1992 when we came out with Images and Words. So I think that really gained us some notoriety around the world. As far as North America goes, a lot of that has been through making sure that we get into as many areas as possible every time we tour and building the audience that way. and I think basically that is what we’ve attained throughout the many years; building our audience from being known as a live band, a live entity and that’s really helped to create this awareness of us.”

James LaBrie - Impermanent ResonanceLaBrie has released several solo albums as well, including his latest, Impermanent Resonance, released in August. How does he find time for solo projects alongside his Dream Theater schedule? “Well, a lot of time management for sure. You just tend to make the time…As far as the melodies and the lyrics, I could work on that while  I was on the road with Dream Theater. But it is a bit of a juggling act on my end to be able to see where there’s going to be that window of opportunity to be able to do my solo stuff as well as making sure that I’m giving Dream Theater a priority.”

Dream Theater will be touring in support of their album, visiting 30 cities in 16 countries, with a North American tour beginning in March 2014. LaBrie closed out the interview with an invitation to all the fans: “To all the readers, hopefully we’ll see you. Come on out and see the show. It’s going to be absolutely phenomenal. We have such an amazing production put together; visuals, the lighting. It’s going to be an incredibly exciting show to actually witness, so we’re pretty stoked. Everyone is really excited to get this out on the stage, so when we’re in your area come on out and see us!”

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28 thoughts on “DREAM THEATER’S James LaBrie – “It’s About Us Being Ourselves”

  1. I apologize if this was incorrect. The information I had was from the official press release: “Filmed during the final leg of their “A Dramatic Tour Of Events” world tour in July 2011”. I will see what we can do about getting it fixed.

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