Greece’s Rock Your Liferecently conducted an interview with keyboardist Jordan Rudess of progressive metal giants DREAM THEATER. A couple of excerpts from the chat follow below.
Rock Your Life: With your new album [“A Dramatic Turn of Events”], do you feel more creatively free as musicians and as a band now that Mike [Portnoy, drums] has left the band?
Rudess: Mike Portnoy was a very good friend of mine. He is a very open-minded guy and we had many great years doing many things together. However, one of the things we did with this new approach in the new album was that we thought how we could maximize who we are and make our roles even more vital. I should say that I loved that approach. In some of the music in the past, I thought that the keyboards could have been stronger. Sometimes, the approach in the past when we had a heavy riff was to just double it on the keyboards. We took away that kind of fear and went for more harmonic ideas. John Petrucci [guitar] and I decided to compose something cool. I am a composer and I love using this ability. Our new approach is more open to my keyboards than in the past.
Rock Your Life: In the last years, in every record you have a more “commercial” song that turns to be a single or a video like “Forsaken”, “Wither” and “These Walls”. Now, I think you did it with “Build Me Up, Break Me Down”. Do you have this in mind when you enter the studio?
Rudess: We are aware that the record companies like these songs. We have it on our minds but we do not “have” to write a radio song. In addition, we do not have this concern because we just like that kind of songs. So we write that kind of songs anyway.
Rock Your Life: I understand that in the past Mike Portnoy and John Petrucci were handling the production of your albums. This time although you had the chance to hire a producer you did not. Why?
Rudess: Well, John came to us and said, “Guys, I really want to produce this album. I think I can do a good job.” The rest of us thought, “Why not, let him do it,” and he did such a great job. John Petrucci has a very solid and strong personality. He is very clear and knows exactly what he wants plus he is very capable. So, what he ended up doing was to bring out the best of everybody. I felt, for example, that my energy was being used in the group. He did that with the others. He worked beautifully with [new drummer] Mike Mangini and John Myung [bass] who had a new spirit about this. With Mike Portnoy leaving, John became, like, free. The fact that Mike Portnoy left did not make us suffer. John Petrucci and I, we are the core composers of DREAM THEATER, and it has been that way since I joined the group. So, even though Mike was extremely talented, there were certain limitations of what he could do in terms of the production. So when we moved on, we looked at each other and said, “We can produce this album. We do not need somebody else telling us what is good or not,” and we enjoyed that challenge. The biggest difference in writing music to this album was that we decided to write this music choosing what is best for us without Mike Portnoy being the DREAM THEATER police telling us “yes” or “no.” I think that it took us a little more time to craft our music before putting our stamp of approval on it.