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Dream Theater

James LaBrie: ” The planet can go on without us, but we cannot go on without the planet.”

Onlangs kwam Distance Over Time uit, het verrukkelijke nieuwe album van de Amerikaanse progressieve metalreuzen Dream Theater, waarop de band terugkeert naar een heerlijke vurigheid van weleer, met diepgravende teksten over de wereld om ons heen. Deze knaller wordt uitgebreid besproken in het gezellige onderonsje dat we hadden met de rustige, eloquente zanger James Labrie. Het werd een zeer fijn gesprek!

Door: Vera – 4 maart 2019

Distance Over Time shows a remarkable return to earlier and heavier works. More metal. Does the tour, playing Images & Words in its entirely have any influence on that approach?
No, playing Images & Words as a whole was in itself just fun in the first place, to go out and give recognition to this very iconic album for the band, but beyond no proper influences. I would say, some of them, maybe going through these songs every night, it kind of reminded us of the kind of compositions that we were creating back then. Maybe subconsciously it might have bled into our minds and maybe it was somehow a bit responsible some of the influences or the direction that we went, but it was not a conscious decision or something like that. But as I said, it might have been seeped into our sub-consciousness.

I think it was very important for the general vibe of the album and the music we hear, that you really came together to create this album on a farm annex studio?
Definitely. We thought it would be cool. The last time we lived together in a house to create an album, it was actually during the recording of Images & Words. The difference with this one, Distance Over Time and Images & Words was that it was already written. It was just a matter of us living in a house and recording the tracks at the studio. With this approach, living together, it was different, because we were there before any of the music was written. So it was about living together, not only to get the album done, but write the album and then record it., but it was also fortified and we felt that, by living together and being together and just closing ourselves off of everything that was going on in the world, would allow us to be extremely focused and driven to work on what we were there for and that is the music. I think it really, really shows off, because there is a synergy of cohesiveness that really allowed us to move forwards.

You were not only there as musicians, but you must have getting to know each other better again as persons as well.
We loved this experience so much. It is definitely something we are thinking about doing again. I mean, the studio was only a hundred meters away from the house that we were living in, so it was very convenient. You just walk to the studio every day, it took you a minute to get there and it goes beyond being in the studio, all of us together to actually write the material. All those in-between free times, when you are sitting together, having a meal together. We did not only talked about the music, we talked about life, we talked about the world and politics and our families and all that. But finally the conversations always came back on the song that we were working on, or the direction, or what we felt we still needed to do to really create a very dynamic and exciting album. So I think the fact that we were together 24/7, really ended up in a big part of the energy and a big part of what is the result of this album.

It has its reflection in the lyrics too, because you really get a peep into the hearts of the musicians. At least that is my experience when listening to the album.
That is very cool that you see that, because it is really true. I have always said: If you look at the lyrics of any artist in any given time in their discography, I think the lyrics are like a crystal ball into what the band members were going through, what was affecting them, what was influencing them. Where they were in their lives. What was going on in the world. Because if you think about it, lyrics are always primarily based upon our relationship with people, our relationship with nature, with the world, the environment, the political end of things around the world. You can definitely see what was going on at the point with that band when the band was creating that album, what was very important to each and every one.

In the first song Untethered Angel you talk about the youth, being raised as individuals who have fear. That is not a fine evolution for coming generations.
If you think about it, the world is moving at an alarming rate, transforming so fast. Technology is responsible for a lot of that, because all of a sudden, we are all connected. Communication is a global thing now, where before it was much more segregated or isolated, for each country to be dealing with their own situations. Nowadays anyone from anywhere on any given moment can know what[/I]s going on with all the creatures on the planet. Surely for young generations it can be overwhelming, because the information is only available through technology. And because of that they are not able to spend enough time with whom they are and what matters to them, where they belong. They are absolutely invaded with things of today. It is a totally different planet today than when you and I grew up. I do not know in which decade you grew up, but when I was a child, or in my teens, or even when I was forty, the world was a totally different place compared to now.

Same goes for me, being more or less the same age. Maybe that is why I am also attracted to the song Barstool Warrior, with quite an unusual topic for Dream Theater. Please tell us something more about it?
It is funny, because John Petrucci and I were sitting around one time and we were listening to that song with only the music. We were just joking, you know. It started off as a joke, because it is such a cool riff and a cool energy and vibe. It is a very dynamic song. We were fooling about a guy who was sitting in a bar, in a kind of one horse town. We were laughing about that and I said: there is actually some coolness about that. That would be a playful kind of lyric, something we have not done yet, but at the same time something that people can relate to. So John said to write the lyric and he came back with that lyric and it actually turned out very funny. We did it, writing something about that subject. And it goes further than that, it is about a guy. He is kind of stuck and living in a seaside kind of town and there is not much going on. It is a bit of a depressed area. He has not realized everything he wanted to be in life and then it skips to another character, of a woman that is in an abuse relationship and she had not really lived the life that she had dreamt of living when she was a child. So it is two people finding themselves somewhat stuck in a rod. Ending up like they never expected to end up. Now they had to face reality that they have let their lives slipped by, you know. And now it is almost too late to do something about it.


Another song that goes my heart is Pale Blue Dot. Of course we only have one planet and I like that you incorporated the universe in it, giving it a spatial touch.
I think it is something that we, as species, as human beings, we always have questioned to think about it. Each and every one of us think about: what is this? What is it, that we are experiencing life, existence? And what is the reason and why is it that there has to be what there is. It is overwhelming and it is mind-blowing. And Carl Jung, who was the guy, the philosopher talking about those questions, said: none of us has any specific answers why we all do exist, or why anything does exist. But what we cannot take from this existence, is to be kind to one another and to appreciate and really protect what we have. We only have this isolated speck in the vastness of space. It is the only place we have, so we have to keep it healthy. Because the planet is also alive and if we abuse it, it will see to it that we are gone. The planet can go on without us, but we cannot go on without the planet. It is a different perspective and it put things in the music and the arrangements in a wonderful manner. The music really allies to that kind of subject. When you have the whole experience with the music and the lyrics, it brings you to a whole new level.

The bonus track Viper King is a surprise in style and subject.
What the cool thing about this song is, is that we have always played around with rock and roll during soundchecks and when we do rehearsals. We have always had that kind of playful sides musically and it reminds us of Van Halen in a way. That bluesy rock, even Deep Purple had that bluesy rock feel to it. We thought to do a little spin on it, but different. We had been fooling around with that idea during sound checks on our last tour and when we came up with it, we said: we must put this song on the album, at least as a bonus track. It was really a fun track, I did not want to write a serious lyric to it. Rather the spirit of letting your hair down, enjoy life, take everything life has to give. There are moments in your life you just have to enjoy the thrill of the ride. So I was going to write a song about something that I have always loved and that is the Dodge Viper, that car. I always loved it and it is an amazing car. An amazing vehicle. So I wanted to write about it and that is why I kept that lyric a bit more playful. It is all about the adrenaline rush when you get into something that you really love to do. That is about getting behind the wheel of a beautiful vehicle and drive down the road, feel that rush and embrace something that you are completely enthralled with and thrilled of.

When looking back at the making of this album, how do you look back at your vocals?
Oh I think I am extremely happy with the vocals, because I wanted to get back to singing very clean. I wanted to go back to more the sound I had at the time of Images & Words. Clean, strong, extremely expressive and showing that clean and evocative side to how I sing. I think that each one of those songs was allowing me a different form of expression, but at the same time allowing me to concentrate on the true essence of sound of my voice. So that was really what I was focusing on, on this album and I think it definitely displays that from beginning till end.

I am enchanted by your vocals, you hear that you are at ease.
Well, the truth is, singing is not for everyone and when I met singers from all over the world, over all the years that I have been touring, each and every one says there are tough times, but you have to accept you are singing, because when you are sick, you will not be singing like you would like to sing. But you have to be tough enough to take that and be able to take and accept the criticism because each and everyone from us has been in that situation when feeling rather sick. The important thing is to get through and get back to being 100%. And that is all that matters. It is an organic instrument, you have to treat it with a prodigious amount of respect. It is hard for everybody in the band, you know. We do almost three hour shows, it is very physical demanding, it is mentally demanding. So each and everyone in the band really has to pay attention to stay healthy and really be in shape. It is all about training and getting ready for going back on the road, because it is an extremely demanding environment to be. Day after day, week after week and month after month.

Are there many plans for touring?
Yes, we are going to begin our world tour on March, 21 in San Diego in the States and we are going to tour in North America till May, 6. May 5 I think we end up in Mexico. June and July we are going to do huge festival shows in Europe. In Autumn I think we will do a Pacific run, Australia and things like that. Following that will be South America and then possibly back to Europe to do a big headlining tour. Then probably back to North America to do the next headlining tour. So we will be out on tour for the next year, year and a half.

Wow, that is heavy!
Well, you know, we go out for five, six weeks and then we go home for about a month. So we are not on the road constantly all the time. We should all go nuts, we would all go mad! We take our breaks, be sure. You have to be home to regenerate and get the battery back to full charge. Otherwise you get burnt out.

To occlude, let us shine a light on the video clips for the new songs.
There are videos for Fall Into The Light, Paralyzed and Untethered Angel and now a video with snippets from the new songs. I think overall, and usually when you look at those lyric videos, I think anyone can see that, basically, the overall theme is about humanity, which is what you and I started off talking about, the way of the world, the young generation, the transformation that we see going on with our world. Visually that is going to be a very strong element with this album when we are going to play live. There are going to be amazing visuals, lighting, design as well, but it is all based around how the human element and the technological aspects of our world now intertwine. Making a balance between the two is essential for both to be able to benefit from one another, otherwise you get lost in the shackle of one becoming more important than the other one and there is no longer a synergy or harmonious gathering so to speak.

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