Peter Hodgson of I Heart Guitar Blog recently conducted an interview with guitarist John Petrucci of progressive metal giants DREAM THEATER. A couple of excerpts from the chat follow below.
I Heart Guitar Blog: [“A Dramatic Turn Of Events”is] a very colorful album. As a producer, how did you approach it?
Petrucci: It’s the first time I produced by myself. I had an idea in my head of all the elements coming into play and working together. Having Paul Northfield engineer it and having Andy Wallace mix it, those all contributed greatly to that goal. I wanted this album to be big and have a powerful sonic impact but to be really hi-fi and polished, and with a lot fidelity where you can hear all of the instruments, but have a lot of balance where you can hear not only each player but the songs, the songwriting too. The songs need to be strong. The writing, the riffs, the motifs, the melodic passages, the choruses, the chord progressions, everything needs to be thought out and honed in to the best they can be. That was my mindset as a producer going in.
I Heart Guitar Blog: One thing that really struck me about the album was that there were a few particular melodies that really stuck in my head after the very first listen.
Petrucci: Oh cool! That’s great! I mean, I’m a big fan of melody and meaning in songwriting and lyrics. Obviously that’s something I’m striving for as a songwriter, and by the time we’re done, we’re listening to it and going, “Wow!” If you can be objective and step back and say, “This is really cool, I really like the way that came out,” or “There’s something about this melody that I can’t get out of my head,” you have to trust your instincts. And when people give you feedback, like the way you just did, for example, it kinda reassures you that we made the right decision and it was working. It’s a matter of being focused and also having a lot of confidence to know when it’s right.
I Heart Guitar Blog: I understand that this time around you had a big role in composing the drum parts. How did you go about that?
Petrucci: Well, what I did was, when we were writing the music we were all set up in the studio and we’d write a section of music, whether it be a riff or a chord sequence or whatever it was, and I wanted to be able to present it in such a way — Mike Mangini wasn’t available when we were writing — and I wanted to be able to present ideas in a way that, instead of just giving him a click with guitars and keyboards, I thought it would be better to give him more of a blueprint of what we were thinking as far as the feel and groove of the sections. I didn’t go crazy programming the drums. I did it on a basic level. I didn’t want to waste a lot of time being very nerdy with the drums. It’d be a waste of time! Y’know, I’m not a drummer, I’m a guitar player! But when all is said and done, the songs existed as full demos with full drums. I used the Superior drumming program, which sounded great. So we were able to send that to Mangini, and he was able to get a really good feeling as to what we were going for. And, of course, him being really creative and a master drummer, he was able to take care of that in his own way and add incredible fills and segues and turnarounds. He would catch things that people were playing and make it a hell of a lot more interesting than my little drum programming! It’s important that people realize how creative he is.
I Heart Guitar Blog: Well, there seems to be a really positive feeling to the whole album. It doesn’t feel like you were bogged down by Mike Portnoy‘s departure.
Petrucci: Well, y’know, the thing that may be important for people to realize is that we are a band. We’re not a band that’s focused on or about one particular person. It’s the collective thing, it’s the synergy, it’s us together that makes it special. Of course, having a member leave or changing members is definitely a big deal, but this is something that, from my perspective, I started from the beginning and have been doing for 26 years or so, so there’s no question in my mind. This is what I want to do, what I love doing, and it’s the kind of music I was born to write and play. So if there’s no question about that, then you can move on and react in a positive way. It certainly doesn’t mean it was hard for us, it certainly doesn’t mean that it wasn’t emotional and heartbreaking, which it was, but it hits that point where you realize that things change in life, you embrace that change and move on, and make sure you focus on your strength, and have that self-confidence that I talked about earlier.
I Heart Guitar Blog: Watching YouTube videos of the Europe gigs, Mangini fits in so well that I can’t wait to hear it first-hand.
Petrucci: Yeah, he really does. It’s tricky when a band member leaves. It’s like, anything can happen. There are so bands in the world and so many musicians trying to get together and make things work, and chemistry is such a big part of it. The fact that we found Mike Mangini after this and he fit in so well, not only as a person but as a player on the record and as a band member that’s touring, it kinda boggles my mind. I’m really, really thankful for that. I feel like I’ve been playing with the guy for 20 years. Again, anything could have happened, and when you bring somebody new in, there are so many variables. We’re very, very fortunate to have him as a member of DREAM THEATER. He’s very happy to be here and the band sounds great with him. I’m really, really looking forward to the album coming out, but playing live want people to see him and hear him and to hear the band with him. It’s a lot of fun.
Read the entire interview from I Heart Guitar Blog.