DREAM THEATER’s Guitarist JOHN PETRUCCI Offers Insight on Band’s Upcoming “A View From The Top Of The World “Album: ‘There Were No Preconceived Ideas when Recording; It Was All Off The Cuff’

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Two-time GRAMMY-nominated and millions-selling progressive music titans Dream Theater will be releasing their newest progressive-metal masterpiece, “A View From The Top Of The World,” on October 22nd via Inside Out Music / Sony Music.

The new album lives up to Dream Theater‘s reputation as a band that can blend well-crafted guitar and vocal melodies with the sheer brute force of progressive metal.  It’s a powerfully cohesive album that reflects the talented musicianship of James LaBrie [vocals], John Petrucci [guitar], Jordan Rudess [keyboards], John Myung [bass], and Mike Mangini [drums], all working together in the spirit of pushing their musical boundaries.

Fans will marvel at John Petrucci‘s brutally heavy rhythm guitar playing mainly on “The Alien” and the band’s ability to jam out on their 20+ minute title track, “A View From The Top Of The World.” All songs are varied soundscapes yet tied beautifully together with John‘s guitar tone, the power of his unfaltering right hand, and the light touch of left for his lofty solos. His guitar playing is the perfect marriage of fury and grace.

“A View From The Top Of The World” Album Artwork

  “A View From The Top Of The World” can be now pre-ordered in various configurations including:

  • Limited Deluxe Box including Gatefold 2LP (180g bright gold vinyl) with exclusive alternate cover, limited deluxe 2CD+Blu-ray Artbook with exclusive alternate cover, Zoetrope Slipmat, Beanie, Enamel Keychain, 8 x Artcards, Poster, Hand-Numbered Certificate of Authenticity in a Lift-off Lid Box.
  • Limited Deluxe 2CD+Blu-ray Artbook
  • Special Edition CD Digipak
  • Gatefold 180g 2LP+CD+LP-booklet in black and colored versions.

The Blu-ray contains a 5.1 surround sound mix with full album animations, plus ‘Digging For A Spark – A View From Inside DTHQ’, a specially filmed documentary that gives a glimpse behind the scenes of the band’s new home-base and the making of the new album. The album is also available for pre-order digitally and fans that pre-order the digital version will receive an instant download of “The Alien.”

Pre-order the album HERE.

Correspondent Robert Cavuoto spoke to John Petrucci for an in-depth discussion about the writing, recording, and challenging guitar playing that went into creating the band’s latest masterpiece, not to mention a detailed account of the difficult decision the band faced to postpone their tour to 2022. Listen to their chat in the links below (or read the transcript), and remember that for more interviews and other daily content, make sure to follow Sonic Perspectives on FacebookFlipboard and Twitterand subscribe to our YouTube channel to be notified about new content we publish on a daily basis.

[INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT]

When we spoke in 2019 for Dream Theater’s release, “Distance Over Time”, you were excited that the band lived together while writing and recording that album. I’m sure COVID foiled the opportunity to duplicate that idea, but did you try to incorporate any elements of communal living while writing and recording this new album?

We all went to live and work in a very remote place for “Distance Over Time.” It would have been perfect now because we would have been totally isolated. This time it was a bit different in that we recorded it in our own space. We now have our headquarters, which includes a recording studio, storage for equipment, and lounge. It wasn’t finished back in 2019 when we were working on “Distance Over Time.”. It makes things very convenient now. I recorded my solo album, “Terminal Velocity, which was my first solo album recorded there. Then in the summer of last year, we recorded “Liquid Tension Experiment III,” then Dream Theater went in there last October. In that sense, the location and the feel were very different because we weren’t in the mountains in a house and barn with that sprawling landscape. It was similar in that it was only us in our own space, outside of the engineer and my tech Matty. The only person who couldn’t join us was James LaBrie. He lives in Canada and couldn’t travel here with the restrictions. He would Zoom in on a TV screen in our live room. It worked out well, and I think he liked it better [laughing]. The band was all together; it was safe and without incident, which was great.

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Photo by Joel Barrios

I never asked you before, but when you set out to recorded with the other band members, do you start writing from scratch, or do you all bring in demos/ideas and proceed from there?

It really depends on which album you are talking about. Most of the time, I and some of the other guys will come in with ideas. Those ideas can be anything from a quick voice memo on an iPhone to a demo with a part sectioned out. We are not the type of band that brings in finished songs, passes them out, and says, “Learn this!” We bring in nuggets and seeds to get us started; musical conversation starters. This time around, there wasn’t so much of that. I had completed my solo album then LTE and the state of touring was very uncertain when we were going to play again. We weren’t supposed to go into the studio, so last October, we just decided to start a record and see what happens, and we were not sure when it would be released. It was better than sitting around doing nothing. Because of that, there weren’t a lot of preconceived ideas; it was let’s just see what happens. It was off the cuff, being collective, and just seeing how it goes. Albums like “Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory” got more direction because it was a concept album, and we were working around a story with themes. This time was different, and let’s just see what happens.

Your guitar playing is the perfect marriage of fury and grace as it combining the power of the right hand with a gentle touch of the left which expresses a unique emotion. A perfect example of that is the balancing act of heavy and light guitar playing is on “The Alien” and “Awaken the Master,” where you go from heavy rhythms to smooth solos in a heartbeat. Is that a conscious decision or just the organic nature of your playing?

It’s a little bit of both. I really like expressing both sides of that. There is the very exciting, energy-driven, adrenaline rush playing where it almost makes the listener nervous with its aggressive and fast passages. It’s like going on a roller coaster, driving a jet ski, or a fast car. It’s a rush to play like that, particularly when the band is doing it all at the same time! Listening back, it gives you that feeling that puts you on edge. At the same time, there is this pulling at your heartstrings kind of feeling that I’m drawn to as well. In music, we always recall and remember the most beautiful themes and melodies, whether they are in a movie soundtrack or your favorite song. It’s like being on a speed boat going at a fast pace, and it being very exhilarating. You then get to the middle of the lake, and you stop the boat. It just floats, and the scenery opens up all around you. You can see the mountains and the trees. Those are the melodic moments of the song that creates the contrast. “The Alien” is a perfect example. It is very chaotic in this 17/8 time, which is very weird. There are several different angular sections, and you are not sure what is going to happen. Then it just settles and opens into this thematic passage. I love realizing that contrast. It also makes the song more interesting. It makes it more dramatic or cinematic. The melodic sections can really act at themes. You can take that theme and either incorporate it into a vocal or bring it back.  

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Photo by Joel Barrios

Your rhythm guitar tone is brutal, yet the solos tones are lofty with crystal clarity. What is your philosophy for setting your amps in getting the different sounds you want, when you need it, and as quickly as you need it?

Thankfully I have been able to develop an ear that has helped me realize my own tone mission, which happens to be the name of my company, Tone Mission. We are all on a mission to find the tone that is in our heads. I have been playing Boogies all my life, and now to have a signature Boogie that does exactly what I’m looking for and being with Ernie Ball/Music Man for 20 years to develop a guitar with Dimarzio pickups. I’ve honed it into doing exactly what I’m looking for. With the amp dialed into the rhythm sound, it’s creating something heavy but not too distorted or compressed, something that is aggressive but not annoying. Something that is full yet has a low end but isn’t floaty. That is all the nature of my Boogie JP-2C and EQ section. Going for that type of sound is going to bring out the articulation and pick attack when you are playing tight rhythms. On the lead side of it, I have three channels where I’m dialing in something like you said, is a little more liquidy; it uses more gain, less high-end, and more mid-range, as you want the notes to be more vocal. When the guitar comes to doing a melody or a solo, that is the focus. It should take the same sonic space and attract the same attention as the vocal at that moment. So, it is the combination of the guitar, pick-ups, amp, and engineering. Our engineer James “Jimmy T” Meslin, did an incredible job selecting the right microphones, pre-amps, and recording in-depth. Then, of course, Andy Sneap mixing it the way he did. All of us were on the same page, envisioning what the guitar sound should sound like. It was a team effort, but it is the result of a lot of years searching for something and then being fortunate enough to develop gear that will help get me to that place. That’s the really long answer [laughing]

That’s great insight, but I think you forgot to mention your touch also has a tremendous impact on the sound of Dream Theater’s music.

Thank you so much. There is a way I approach playing certain sections of music on the guitar; it definitely does change the way the guitar sounds and reacts through the amplifier. The level of pick attack and the velocity at which you’re picking at vs. something where you are trying to have more of a dynamic touch and approach. Then you switch that up. Every guitar player is unique, and that is why everybody’s sound is so different and like themselves even when playing through the exact same gear. Everybody has their own identity.

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Photo by Joel Barrios

My favorite song on the album is “Transcending Time,” with its beautiful melodies on the guitar, keyboard, and vocals; it’s reminiscent of an Asia song and lets the album breathe. Can you tell me about its creation?

When we got together for this album, there were no rules; let’s just see what happens. We are not trying to write certain types of songs like we did with “Distance Over Time,” where we were trying to write Dream Theater music in a more conscience package. It was a fun experiment. The first few songs we wrote for this album were very long, progressive, and heavy; they were “The Alien” and “Sleeping Giant.” After we had done that, we switched gears as we got it out of our system; let’s do something different. There were a couple of things that I wanted to do on this album that was a bit of a different. One was to write a giant epic, and the other was to write a major key, Rush, Boston type of song. It’s a challenge, and we have done it before on certain albums. It’s a challenge because every time you go to writing as a metal or rock band, you walk a tricky line of it sounding too poppy and too light. You think of all the tough songs from Van Halen, which are in major keys, uplifting, and have a positive vibe. They were able to do that so well and walk the line perfectly. If you don’t do it right, the song can end up sounding cheesy or sound like you’re attempting to write a pop song that is out of character and doesn’t sync with the album. That’s the challenge, and I really wanted to try it. It’s funny because there are so many incarnations of the opening riff that I was playing it. You would be surprised just by changing around one or two notes how it sounded like something else, or it didn’t sound tough enough or too poppy [laughing]. I had to give a lot of thought in experimenting with that opening riff and how to do it. I think it does fit in with the album and breaks up all the other darker, heavy, more progressive stuff. It’s not light in any way. It was one of my favorite songs on the album. Whenever I listen to the album in its entirety which I had to do a million times [laughing]as I was producing it, I always looked forward to that song. It presented this feeling of a nice change.

The title track is 20 + minutes and covers everything people love about Dream Theater’s music. Was there ever a time where you had to self-edit on how long a song would be or is longer better?

In the very beginning, we didn’t self-edit, and you will hear that in how long our songs are. We grew up listening to Rush and YES, who had 14–20-minute songs. It’s the nature of progressive rock, and that is what we like to do. There are only certain moments where we specifically said, let’s try to keep this down. There were times with albums that we conscientiously went in with the thought, “What would happen if we tried to make music in the style of Dream Theater with no compromise except, keeping them shorter?” So, in general, we don’t self-edit. Looking back at some of the songs, I can say, “Maybe that passage didn’t need to go on for so long!” [laughing]. Now, if a song is a certain style and going in a direction like “Transcending Time” or “Invisible Monster,” it doesn’t make sense to make it a 14-minute song. Doing it for the sake of doing it because it is prog would ruin it. I think you get more of a sensibility as songwriting to what is appropriate and when. It comes from experience as opposed to this; this doesn’t have to be this long; let’s chop these parts. Every once in a while, we have to do radio “edits” of our songs [laughing]. We chop this, chop that, lose the intro, and it’s a horrible feeling.  It really bothers me.

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Photo by Joel Barrios

It was disappointing to hear about the postponement of the Dream Theater tour. I have to imagine it was a tough decision; how did the band come to their decision?

It was an unfortunate decision, John Myung and I really wanted to tour. We are dying to tour and support the album. Unfortunately, we couldn’t convince the other guys to do the same. It wasn’t a unanimous decision, unfortunately. It’s frustrating for me because everything has opened up, concerts are happening at theaters and arenas, and bands are out there. A lot of my friends are touring successfully, and there are ways to do it safely, which we were very prepared to do. Like I said, we couldn’t convince the other guys it would be safe, so we had to push it off. I’m the kind of person who hates disappointing our fans, so it’s definitely an unfortunate decision.

I don’t think there is a right or wrong way to that decision, and your fans will support you when you get out there. Was there any thought about touring solo?

Yes absolutely! The challenge there is having time to shift gears and plan to put it together quickly. My solo album came out last year, and I didn’t tour in support of it because nothing was open, and we couldn’t tour. Once it did open up, the priority would be Dream Theater for the new record coming out in a few weeks, so timing was important. The fact that it ended up being postponed put me in a position where I would love to tour and support my solo album; it’s just a matter of doing that shift quickly.

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