Earlier this week, Dream Theater announced that they’d re-signed with Roadrunner Records. While they’ve had a successful run with the label over the last five years, recent staff shakeups at Roadrunner had the potential to make them look elsewhere. In an exclusive interview, guitarist John Petrucci discussed what led them to stay with Roadrunner, how the new album is shaping up, and his pick to take home the metal/hard rock Grammy.
Also, Metal Insider is giving away a pair of film cels from the “Forsaken” video signed by the entire band! With Roadrunner in the process of moving offices, they unearthed a few gems for us. There are two ways to enter: via the entry form below, or by liking us on Facebook. We’ll pick two winners at random on Friday, December 14. Sorry, US residents only.
Congratulations on re-upping with Roadrunner. What led to your decision to go with them again?
We’ve been with Roadrunner for about five years spanning the life of the three records we’ve done with them, and it’s been amazing. They’re a great record company, we love all the people there, they get Dream Theater, and they’re truly on board with what we’re all about. Having said that, when we heard there were some changes, especially some big ones, of course we were concerned. It’s fairly common in the music industry, and we’ve experienced it before. We were on Warner since our original contract with Atco, and that deal, which we signed when we were really young, was for eight albums, which is insane. The label changed so many times, it was Atco, it was Atco/EastWest, it was Elektra, and there were constantly changes in personnel. There were presidents leaving, key people in A&R leaving. So we were concerned with it.
It was really a matter of asking the right questions, and speaking to everybody there. Some of the key people aren’t there any more, like Monte (Conner, Sr. VP of A&R) who I worked with so closely and become friends with over the years, that was a very upsetting change. And the recent change with Jonas (Nachsin) leaving, those are big changes. At the same time, there are people that are still there that are equally as big a part of our career. The idea that those people were staying and were still going to be a part of this was incredibly reassuring. We’ve also had a bit of a good experience with this kind of change that I wasn’t even aware of. When similar changes happened a few years ago and the offices in Japan merged, I didn’t realize that a lot of those people had merged into the Warner office, and our experience in Japan last time was incredible. So fortunately, I didn’t notice anything that was a problem.
Another big concern for us was Europe and the UK, where we have a very big market presence. So the idea of those offices closing and not working with those people was very shocking to us. But it was a matter of speaking to Roadrunner and talking about the new arrangement between them and Warner. And we felt really good about it. We felt like re-signing and continuing to build off of the history. Doing three albums together means three tours, means a lot of promotion, and a lot of working together. So we felt like it was definitely the right move.
It doesn’t hurt that the last three albums have been among your most successful.
Absolutely. They have in so many ways. Black Clouds and A Dramatic Turn of Events were both top ten Billboard- charting albums for the first time in our career. The last album got us the first Grammy nomination in our career. So over the last three albums, we have grown as a band all over the world, so that confirms that that growth period happened during the time we’ve been on Roadrunner. It’s been a great move to sign with them, and it’s equally as great to continue.
Were there other labels sniffing around?
Yeah. There were other offers that we were considering, but we definitely felt strongest about Roadrunner and building on the relationships and the history. With the people that are there, and what we’ve done together, and how they know how we operate and how we know they operate, there’s a lot to be said for that. When the label understands the band, and the band understands the label, there’s a bond. Every band’s unique, and every band has a different kind of audience. We’re definitely not your average band as far as the music we play and the audience we appeal to. It’s hard to get people that understand that. Since that relationship was strengthened and developed over three albums, continuing made so much sense.
Did the signing of fellow prog band Rush play into your decision to continue with Roadrunner?
Absolutely! We’re huge Rush fans, and we operate by WWRD, What Would Rush Do, in terms of career choices, from having Hugh Syme do our artwork to always trying to get our shows to come as close to a great Rush show as possible. So the fact that they signed to Roadrunner meant a lot to us. We’re happy for Roadrunner, and it was a great move, and it’s huge. It puts us into great company with our contemporaries, and gives the label a lock on the progressive scene. That definitely played a factor.
How developed is the new album?
So far it’s not very developed at all. We’re scheduled to go into the studio in January. Being a month out or so, we have a handful of ideas we compiled while we were on the road, and we have those archived. And since I got back from the road, and have had some off time, I’ve been spending more time compiling, writing and demoing some things. There are a bunch of seeds, a bunch of ideas, and a definite direction. Everybody is hired, the studio is locked, and the vision for the type of album has been talked about and secured. The only thing that’s not there is the main material, but we’ll go in January full force.
You mentioned you have the direction figured out. Is that anything you’re prepared to discuss?
Not yet, it’s too early. Before we go into an album, I like to sit down and think about what we’re going to do instead of just going in and winging it. I’ll usually come up with some sort of proposal, and we’ll talk about it a bunch of times over the course of the month, and get everyone on the same page. This way, people can start to think about musical ideas in that direction, and get in the right headspace. For me, it makes everything so much clearer when you’re in the studio. If you have a direction and a goal, you get better results.
Will Mike Mangini be more involved in this record?
Yes. For the last album, he wasn’t involved in the writing. We wrote it without him for 2 ½ months, and he came in and tracked. This time, he’s going to be in from day one, so we’ll write together as a full group. The tapes that we have from doing that a bit on the road have been incredible. At soundcheck, if I’d come in with an idea and we’d start jamming on it, he was really quick and had great creative concepts. I think it’s going to be a very cool experience.
Any time frame as to when the album will come out?
I’m not sure. We’re on the same schedule as A Dramatic Turn of Events, meaning that we entered the studio at the same time to work on that album, and it didn’t come out until September. It’s too early to tell if it will follow the same release schedule. By the time we’re done, writing, recording, mixing, mastering, it could be May-ish, and then we hit the Summer festival season in Europe around July or so, it’ll probably be a similar schedule.
The last band you did here was with The Crimson ProjecKt, who are absolutely a progressive band, and you’ve also toured with heavier bands like Trivium. Is there one type of band you prefer to tour with?
I like mixing it up. Those are two great examples. The Trivium guys are such great guys, nice guys and an amazing band. They’re a younger band with a lot of fire, a lot of drive, and great music, but heavy. And you’ve got Crimson, who are a classic band, and also great guys. The Crimson ProjecKt is a mix of older members and younger members. Tony Levin, I’ve worked with and known for so long. Getting to hang out with Adrian Belew for the first time, and with Trivium, getting to know and hang out and become friends with Matt have all been great experiences. The thing that links it, even though ones more classic prog and one’s more modern metal, is that the players are incredible. In both situations, you have amazing music and people that care about making amazing music, care about doing something different and breaking boundaries, and it makes for an amazing show. It’s our philosophy as well. We want to be the best players we can be, and try to play better, and try to make the show look better, and try to break new ground. Touring with bands like that, you can’t go wrong.
As a Grammy-nominated band, do you have a pick for the metal and hard rock Grammy this year now that the nominations are out?
I think it would be amazing if Lamb of God got it, because that’s a great album. And I know they’ve been nominated before. And Megadeth has been nominated before as well. I don’t think they’ve ever won, so that must be really frustrating.
Speaking of Lamb of God, what are your thoughts on Randy’s legal troubles.
First of all, nobody should be on the stage, nobody should be jumping up there. Secondly, I don’t know enough about the situation, but I’m sure Randy didn’t purposely try to push someone off or have anything to do with that. It’s really sad and unfortunate. I feel horrible for the kid that lost his life, but nobody should be onstage.