Revolver has teamed with Dream Theater for an exclusive gold vinyl 4LP edition of their new live album, Distant Memories, limited to 300 copies worldwide. Order yours before they're gone!
Dream Theater may not have had the chance to complete their most recent world tour — COVID-19 put a stop to that — but for those fans who missed out, the prog-metal titans have something big in store. The band's new Distant Memories live album and film, which is due out on November 27th, captures Dream Theater in action onstage at London's Apollo in February of this year.
And let it be known that this was no mere live gig: rather, it was part of a tour unlike any in the group's more-than-30-year history, combining a clutch of songs from their stellar 2019 studio effort, Distance Over Time, with a 20th anniversary full-album performance of their landmark 1999 concept record, Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From a Memory. The result, as heard on Distant Memories, is over two-and-a-half hours of music, with almost all of it comprised of cuts from arguably their two strongest efforts of the past two decades. Beyond that, given the traditionally epic length of Dream Theater compositions, "there was only room for maybe two other songs anyway," guitarist John Petrucci says with a laugh.
Turning more serious, Petrucci goes on to state that it was imperative that Dream Theater — which also includes singer James LaBrie, bassist John Myung, keyboardist Jordan Rudess and drummer Mike Mangini — record a show from this tour for prosperity not only due to the unique nature of the performances, but also because "the live show is such a big part of what we do and how we built our career. So it's an important side to share."
And while Petrucci and the band have been temporarily grounded by the pandemic, they've also been staying plenty busy. This past summer Petrucci released his second-ever solo album, Terminal Velocity, which, to many fans' delight, features former Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy playing on all the tracks — their first work together in a decade.
Furthermore, Petrucci let it drop to Revolver that, within a week or two of our conversation, Dream Theater would be heading back into the studio to start work on the follow-up to Distance Over Time. As for what that record might sound like? Your guess is as good as his.
"We're going in fresh," he says. "Between all the things I've been doing, I haven't time for writing. So yeah, we're starting from scratch. Blank page."
Until then, Petrucci was happy to chat with us about the new Distant Memories, onstage mishaps and if there might be any more full-album performances in Dream Theater's future. He also discussed reuniting Portnoy, the upcoming Dream Theater recording sessions and the decidedly (and disappointingly) non-Rocky-like atmosphere of their early rehearsals in the basement of a Long Island meat shop.
HOW DID IT FEEL TO BE PLAYING A SET THAT WAS BASICALLY SPLIT BETWEEN MATERIAL THAT WAS BRAND NEW AND THAT WAS FROM A 20-YEAR-OLD CONCEPT RECORD?
JOHN PETRUCCI It was great, because the design of the tour got fans really, really excited. First of all, Distance Over Time got such a great response when it was released, so there was a lot of anticipation about us playing that music live. And then celebrating Scenes From a Memory, which is one of our fans' favorite albums from our catalog, but to do it bringing in all the video and stuff to go along with it, made that a brand-new experience. Even if somebody saw the original Scenes tour, they were getting something completely different this time out. That made it a really fun tour not only for the audience but also for us. And it was super-successful … up until we couldn't continue because of COVID. But the shows that we did play, which were quite a lot, were all amazing.
WAS IT MORE CHALLENGING TO PERFORM THE NEW SONGS LIVE FOR THE FIRST TIME, OR TO HAVE TO GO BACK AND TACKLE MUSIC FROM A DIFFERENT PERIOD IN YOUR LIFE, MUCH OF WHICH YOU PROBABLY HADN'T THOUGHT ABOUT IN A LONG TIME?
If anything, it was more challenging to dive back into the older stuff. Because some of those songs from Scenes, like "The Spirit Carries On," we've played a bunch of times live. But some of it we haven't played in quite a while. So having to go back and relearn it and refamiliarize myself and practice the parts and everything was definitely a challenge leading up to the tour. Once we got into the swing and the flow of the tour, it became second nature, but there was a lot of prep involved in bringing back an entire record like that. You can't wing it. [Laughs]
IN ADDITION TO PLAYING SCENES FROM A MEMORY IN FULL, A FEW YEARS BACK YOU WENT OUT ON A 25TH ANNIVERSARY TOUR IN SUPPORT OF 1992'S IMAGES AND WORDS. DO YOU ENVISION REVISITING ANY OTHER DREAM THEATER RECORDS IN THIS WAY?
You know, it's interesting — in some ways doing that is fun and, of course, I think it's appropriate to pay tribute to some of your biggest records, the ones that either really resonated with fans on a global level or were very important and which represented pivotal moments career-wise. For us, Images is definitely one of those and Scenes is another. But to start having an obligation to have to do every album on its anniversary in its entirety gets ... to me that becomes a little cumbersome. So I think it's going to be a matter of choosing what and when to do these rather than saying, "OK, this album is now 25 years old — time to play it in its entirety!" You're painting yourself into a corner where you have no choice but to do it. I don't like putting that limitation on us.
GIVEN HOW DEMANDING DREAM THEATER MATERIAL CAN BE, HAVE YOU HAD ANY ONSTAGE MOMENTS OVER THE YEARS WHERE YOU'VE JUST MESSED SOMETHING UP COMPLETELY?
Oh, it happens all the time! I used to say, "I hope everybody was drunk enough to forget about that tomorrow." But now everything's captured on YouTube, so you have to relive it over and over.
Yeah. [Laughs] As a professional you try your best to perform as consistently as possible, and we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to play the best we can and to deliver the goods every night. But sometimes something just goes horribly wrong. And it could be by your own fault, where you mess something up or you forget a part or you ... trip. [Laughs] And then sometimes it can be gear-related or the venue loses power or something where you have no control over it. I mean, there's so many things that are bound to happen with the amount of shows we've played. But, you know, you roll with the punches.
SOME DREAM THEATER ALBUMS, DISTANCE OVER TIME AMONG THEM, LEAN TOWARD HEAVIER MATERIAL, WHILE OTHERS EMPHASIZE THE BAND'S MORE PROG AND ART-ROCK TENDENCIES. WHEN IT COMES TO THE LIVE SHOW, DO YOU PREFER PLAYING ONE STYLE OVER THE OTHER?
That's a good question. Because I've noticed that, for example, when we wrote [2003's] Train of Thought, which was probably one of our heaviest records, the thinking going into it was that playing heavier material live, especially if the riff is really powerful and good and memorable, it really engages the audience because there's so much high energy. So we wrote a whole record with that in mind — it's fun to play, the heavy stuff translates well, the crowds will really get into it, etc.
But having said that, those big dramatic, melodic, progressive moments are also so epic live, and so enjoyable on a different level. Even with Distance Over Time, I notice playing something like "Barstool Warrior," where it kind of breaks down in the middle and has this very thematic guitar, you can feel it from the audience as they're singing the melody. So I've come to discover that it's a little bit of both. There certainly is truth to the idea that the big guitar riffs and the heavy and energetic songs get the crowd revved up. But those super-dramatic melodic moments? Those are the times you look out and you see, you know, grown men arm-in-arm. There's nothing like that! And you're only going to evoke those moments if the music is pointed in that direction.
AS FAR AS HEAVY MUSIC IS CONCERNED, IS THERE ANYTHING ON THE MORE EXTREME END OF THINGS THAT PEOPLE MIGHT BE SURPRISED YOU'RE INTO?
Probably not. [Laughs] Put it this way — I don't think there's anything heavy that people wouldn't know about. Like, they wouldn't be surprised to know that I like Animals As Leaders. I'm trying to think about anything that's like crazy extreme ... Not really. I hate to disappoint!
YOU RECENTLY RELEASED YOUR SECOND SOLO ALBUM, TERMINAL VELOCITY, WHICH FEATURED FORMER DREAM THEATER DRUMMER MIKE PORTNOY. HOW WAS IT TO WORK WITH HIM AGAIN?
It was awesome. I hadn't done anything musically with Mike since he left Dream Theater over 10 years ago. But we remained friends, and I asked him to play on my solo album. He came up to my studio, tracked the drums and we had fun for a week. And the reaction has been phenomenal.
DO YOU FEEL LIKE FANS WERE REALLY CRAVING A MUSICAL REUNION BETWEEN YOU GUYS?
Definitely. I mean, as soon as I made the announcement that Mike was playing on the record, there was so much excitement. There's a certain sort of, I don't know, nostalgic recognition of the sound of us playing together, and people really reacted to that. And there could have been a whole bunch of drama B.S. that went along with it, but there wasn't. Everybody was really cool about it and just happy to hear the music.
DREAM THEATER IS ABOUT TO BEGIN WORK ON THE FOLLOW-UP TO DISTANCE OVER TIME. FOR THE RECORDING OF THAT ONE, YOU GUYS LIVED TOGETHER IN UPSTATE NEW YORK AND SPENT TIME BARBEQUING AND JUST HANGING OUT. WILL YOU TRY THAT AGAIN?
So this new one is different. Since the last record, we've built a Dream Theater headquarters that houses our own studio. It's where I recorded Terminal Velocity. And it's fantastic.
SO NO MORE BARBEQUING?
No, it's definitely not the same thing as being up in the mountains in the summer. This will be more bagels and pizza instead of barbecuing and chipping golf balls.
AS FAR AS DREAM THEATER AND MEATS, I REMEMBER YOU ONCE DESCRIBING HOW, IN THE EARLY DAYS OF THE BAND, ONE OF THE PLACES YOU WOULD REHEARSE WAS IN THE BASEMENT OF A MEAT SHOP ON LONG ISLAND. IN MY MIND, I'VE ALWAYS PICTURED A SCENE OUT OF ROCKY, LIKE A REFRIGERATED LOCKER WITH YOU GUYS SURROUNDED BY SIDES OF BEEF.
Like hanging meat everywhere? Not really. [Laughs] But we actually rehearsed in a couple of funny places when we were developing our career. We didn't want to rent the basic, like, hourly rehearsal place — we wanted to have our gear set up and be able to go every night and play. And it's very limited where you can do that. But every once in a while we'd find a shop owner that had an empty basement and was like, "Yeah, you guys can play down there. Just keep it neat. Lock up." And these were not glamorous places at all. But we'd move all our gear down there and as soon as the business closed we were able to rehearse. One place was in the basement of a hair salon, and another was ... it was more of, like, a pork store, I guess. So they didn't have meat downstairs. Just picture a crappy basement, cement walls, completely unfinished.
I THINK I'M JUST GOING TO CONTINUE TO PICTURE ROCKY, IF THAT'S OK.
[Laughs] You could. Lots of meat, lots of blood, that's fine.