Lord of the Strings: Shred King John Petrucci Discusses Dream Theater's New Self-Titled Album

by Richard Bienstock
Posted Sep 11, 2013 at 10:42am

This is an excerpt from the November 2013 issue of Guitar World magazine. For the rest of this story, plus a John Petrucci poster, a feature about Petrucci's signature Music Man JP13 guitar, and features about Santana, Gov't Mule, Guthrie Govan, Zakk Wylde, Lamb of God, Joan Jett, Slash and more, check out the November 2013 issue at the Guitar World Online Store.

When it comes to shredding, John Petrucci rules. On Dream Theater’s new self-titled album, he proves once again that he’s earned the right to wear the crown.

“Complacency is the enemy,” John Petrucci says. “In order to move forward and continue to try to do great things you have to constantly challenge yourself.”

The 46-year-old Petrucci certainly knows a thing or two about challenging one’s self. In more than a quarter century with Dream Theater, the native of New York’s Long Island has regularly raised the bar for six-string (and sometimes seven-string) fretboard wizardry.

Over this time—a period that encompasses 11 studio albums, numerous audio and video live documents, and hundreds, if not thousands, of performances across the globe—Petrucci and Dream Theater have established themselves as the undisputed leaders of the progressive rock world.

As their ambitious new self-titled 12th album demonstrates, Dream Theater have no intention of stopping. “With every new album, we get that opportunity to push ourselves again,” Petrucci says.

True to Petrucci’s word, Dream Theater hardly sounds like a band resting on its considerable laurels. Rather, it shows Dream Theater—Petrucci, singer James LaBrie, bassist John Myung, keyboardist Jordan Rudess and drummer Mike Mangini—continuing to expand upon and refine what they do so well.

The disc is bookended by tracks—“False Awakening Suite” and the 20-minute-plus “Illumination Theory”—that feature lush orchestration courtesy of a live-in-the-studio nine-piece string section, the band’s first time working with a multipiece orchestra since 2005’s Octavarium. The seven cuts between them feature some of the most hard-hitting and tightly arranged music in Dream Theater’s history. The first single, “The Enemy Inside,” and the instrumental “Enigma Machine” are ferocious and riffy metal monsters, while “The Looking Glass” and portions of “Surrender to Reason” recall the bright and snappy prog-pop of Rush.

These are complemented by the highly melodic power ballads “The Bigger Picture” and “Along for the Ride.”

“We wanted each of these songs to pack a punch, and one of the ways for us to do that was to keep most of them pretty direct,” Petrucci says. “In our case, that also meant trying to keep them below the six-minute mark. And I gotta tell you,” he says, laughing, “that’s a challenge for us!”

Dream Theater is also significant in that it represents the band’s first effort with drummer Mike Mangini functioning as a creative member of the unit. Mangini first joined Dream Theater in 2010, after the smoke cleared from the group’s very public falling out with founding drummer (and, in many ways, band figurehead) Mike Portnoy. Various reasons for the split with Portnoy have been reported over the years, though they all seem to boil down to his desire for the band to take an extended hiatus, ostensibly so that he could pursue other artistic endeavors, including a stint with Avenged Sevenfold that ultimately soured.

At the end of the day, Dream Theater and Portnoy went their separate ways, and after a rigorous audition process, the band hired Mangini, who had previously played with Extreme and Steve Vai, among others, and taught as a professor in Berklee’s Percussion Department. The drummer made his debut on 2011’s A Dramatic Turn of Events, though for that album his parts were written for him by the other members using drum machines.

This time, however, Mangini made his presence felt from the start. “Mike did an incredible job during the writing and recording sessions,” says Petrucci, who also served as producer on Dream Theater. “And his personality is really strong on the album.”

He continues. “Overall, it was a just great experience in the studio, and we’re all really proud of the record. And it’s interesting—we’ve been doing this for a long time, but we feel just as passionate, or maybe even more passionate, about the creative process now as we were when we first started. We still get excited about making records and also about playing our music in front of people.”

To that end, there is at present plenty of activity in the Dream Theater camp. In addition to the self-titled record, there is the impending release of the DVD Live at Luna Park, which captures the band performing in Buenos Aires last summer on the A Dramatic Turn of Events tour. Then there is the world tour for the new Dream Theater, a massive undertaking that will keep the band on the road for the foreseeable future.

According to Petrucci, that tour will kick off at the beginning of 2014, which leaves a few months open between then and now. But for the guitarist, there is hardly time for relaxation. He plans to continue to challenge himself, with a eye toward recording a solo album, the follow-up to his 2005 solo debut, Suspended Animation.

“I think about when that album was released, and it was a long time ago,” Petrucci says. “I’m certainly ready for another one. And doing the G3 shows [with Joe Satriani and Steve Morse] in South America last year was a catalyst for bringing out some new material. I debuted three new songs on that tour, and I have a bunch more stuff ready to go as well."

Photo: Dale May

For the rest of this story, plus a John Petrucci poster, a feature about Petrucci's signature Music Man JP13 guitar and features about Santana, Gov't Mule, Guthrie Govan, Zakk Wylde, Lamb of God, Joan Jett, Slash and more, check out the November 2013 issue at the Guitar World Online Store.

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