Revolver has teamed with Liquid Tension Experiment on an exclusive clear vinyl variant of their new album LTE3. It's limited to 300 copies worldwide — grab yours now before they're gone!
If you're the sort of Dream Theater fan who finds yourself thinking, Sure, the 10-minute epics are great … I just wish they had more crazy extended instrumental passages, well, you might have a serious prog problem.
But you'll also love the new Liquid Tension Experiment record, Liquid Tension Experiment 3. The all-instrumental effort finds Dream Theater guitarist John Petrucci and keyboardist Jordan Rudess joining up once again with drummer Mike Portnoy — himself a former DT member who now handles the kit for Sons of Apollo, Metal Allegiance, the Winery Dogs and any number of prog supergroups — and bass and Chapman Stick icon Tony Levin, who has played with everyone from King Crimson and Peter Gabriel to Yes, Alice Cooper and John Lennon.
The new record boasts eight extended and insanely intricate workouts, kicking off with the roller coaster-like, brain-scrambling riffage of "Hypersonic" and barely letting up in intensity — save for the whimsical drum-and-bass excursion "Chris & Kevin's Amazing Odyssey" — until the final notes of the epic 13-minute closer, "Key to the Imagination."
"There's a lot of notes and speed and real serious technical stuff going on," Portnoy says of LTE3. And while it's been more than 20 years since the four members released their last album, he also says when they got together it felt like not a day had passed.
"The minute we got behind our instruments, we were jamming immediately and going off on these little improvs," Portnoy continues. "And it was interesting, because there were two chemistries at work. One was the chemistry of the four of us — we hadn't written together in something like 22 years. And then the elephant in the room was the fact that it was mine and Jordan and John's first time writing together in over 10 years [Portnoy exited Dream Theater under strained circumstances in 2010, after filling in for Avenged Sevenfold following the death of their drummer, Jimmy "The Rev" Sullivan]. But it was like riding a bicycle. It felt immediately comfortable."
As for how it all went down? Portnoy gives Revolver the details in the following interview. He also reveals some of the guitar heroes — Dimebag among them — that he originally had in mind to draft into Liquid Tension Experiment, as well as just who, exactly, are the Chris and Kevin namechecked in "Chris & Kevin's Amazing Odyssey" (hint: they're both in the band).
IT'S BEEN 22 YEARS SINCE THE LAST LIQUID TENSION EXPERIMENT STUDIO EFFORT. WHY NOW?
MIKE PORTNOY The main reason is the insanity of 2020. The pandemic and the lockdown is pretty much what allowed it. But we've been talking about it for many, many years. It's been 10 years since I left Dream Theater, and it didn't make sense to do LTE while I was still in Dream Theater. Because it was three members of the same band. Then after I left, it took many years of healing and all the drama to pass and the dust to settle before the relationships with John and Jordan got real good again. And musically, Jordan and I played together a few years ago on the Cruise to the Edge, and then obviously John Petrucci and I played together last year for his solo album [Terminal Velocity]. So it seemed like the time was right to finally do it. And the pandemic, for better or worse, gave us a window of opportunity where none of us were on tour and we could actually align the schedules and do it.
HOW DID YOU HANDLE THE RECORDING WHILE STILL ADHERING TO SOCIAL DISTANCING AND OTHER COVID GUIDELINES?
All four of us, as well as the crew guys that were in the studio with us, quarantined beforehand, and we all got tested. So we knew we were coming in with a clean slate. And once we were together, it was only the six of us in the studio, then back to the hotel. There was really no contact with the outside world. So we spent about two weeks or so writing and jamming and pretty much came out with what we have, which is one main disc of composed songs, and then there's a bonus disc of improv jams. So there was a lot of music in a short amount of time. But that's the way it was for the first two albums back in the Nineties as well.
AS FAR AS THE TRACKS THEMSELVES, "HYPERSONIC," WHICH KICKS OFF THE RECORD, IS JUST SUPER-INTENSE RIGHT OUT OF THE GATE.
That was actually the last song we composed together. We knew we needed an album opener that was on par with "Paradigm Shift" on the first album and "Acid Rain" from the second one. But we took it a step further this time. With the first Liquid Tension Experiment album, you put it on and "Paradigm Shift" steamrolls you with this five-second onslaught of notes. This time around, with "Hypersonic," it's like a 30-second onslaught of notes. It just doesn't let up. It's completely relentless. So we knew it had to open the album, but we also knew it couldn't be the first single. I think it would have been way too much for people to digest. So we came out with "The Passage of Time" as the first official track.
I HAVE TO ASK ABOUT THE SONG "CHRIS & KEVIN'S AMAZING ODYSSEY," WHICH FEATURES JUST YOU AND TONY LEVIN. IT FOLLOWS TWO PREVIOUS PORTNOY-LEVIN JAMS – "CHRIS & KEVIN'S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE" AND "CHRIS & KEVIN'S BOGUS JOURNEY." BEYOND THE OBVIOUS BILL & TED REFERENCE, WHAT, EXACTLY, IS THE DEAL WITH CHRIS AND KEVIN?
The story behind Chris and Kevin is that when we were doing Liquid Tension Experiment [in 1998] we were taking the photos with a photographer who didn't really know us. And he kept calling me and Tony by the names Chris and Kevin. So when it came time to title our duet, I was like, "Oh, it's gotta be called 'Chris & Kevin's Excellent Adventure!' " [Laughs] So it's been an ongoing joke and, inevitably, we had to have a Chris & Kevin duet on this album as well.
IN THE PHOTOGRAPHER'S DEFENSE, YOU KIND OF LOOK LIKE A CHRIS.
[Laughs] We don't even know which of us was Chris and which was Kevin! It's kind of a mystery.
I REMEMBER ABOUT 10 YEARS AGO YOU GUYS PLAYED A SHOW WHERE JORDAN'S KEYBOARD WENT ON THE FRITZ AND YOU WOUND UP PLAYING EACH OTHER'S INSTRUMENTS. AT ONE POINT JORDAN WAS SHREDDING ON GUITAR, AND YOU AND JOHN BOTH TOOK TURNS ON BASS
Jordan's keyboard went down — during the show. So we figured, Okay, we'll jam for a couple of minutes until he fixes it. So me, John and Tony started improvising for five minutes, 10 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes … And the keyboard never got repaired. Next thing we knew, we had been jamming for literally an hour! Onstage, in front of the audience. It was such a unique experience that we ended up putting it out. [2009's When the Keyboard Breaks: Live in Chicago, credited to Liquid Trio Experiment]
I READ THAT WHAT HAPPENED WITH JORDAN'S KEYBOARD THAT NIGHT WAS THAT WHEN HE WOULD PLAY A NOTE, IT WOULD ALSO SOUND A HALF-STEP HIGHER. WHICH SEEMS LIKE JUST ABOUT THE PROGGIEST ONSTAGE MISHAP IMAGINABLE.
But for Jordan, that's his worst nightmare! Because Jordan has perfect pitch. He can pull any note out of the air and he knows exactly what note it is. So for his keyboard to be playing a half-step out, where he's looking down and playing, you know, in E, but he's hearing it in E-flat or in F, I mean, for him that was like Chinese water torture! It would have been impossible for him to carry on like that.
THE FOUR OF YOU CLEARLY HAVE A GREAT RAPPORT BOTH ONSTAGE AND IN THE STUDIO. BUT WHEN YOU ORIGINALLY CONCEIVED THE LTE IDEA, YOU HAD A FEW OTHER MUSICIANS IN MIND FOR THE GUITAR SLOT, AMONG THEM DIMEBAG DARRELL.
Well, the backstory is that I was given this outlet to put together some sort of solo thing, and I wanted to work with Jordan, who wasn't in Dream Theater yet, and I wanted to work with Tony. I also wanted to keep it separate from Dream Theater. So Dimebag was on my list. So was Tom Morello and a few other guys. None of which ever worked out, because of the timing or whatever. And so then I asked John to be part of it, and I'm glad I did because it really cemented the LTE chemistry. And it ultimately brought Jordan into Dream Theater. But yeah, I mean, Dimebag would have brought this to a whole different place, no doubt. So that's a crazy "what if" kind of scenario to consider.
FOLLOWING YOUR EXIT FROM DREAM THEATER YOU DIDN'T PLAY WITH JOHN FOR YEARS. BUT IN THE PAST FEW MONTHS YOU DID HIS SOLO RECORD AND THE NEW LTE ALBUM. HAVE YOU NOTICED ANY DIFFERENCES IN TERMS OF YOUR MUSICAL INTERACTION THESE DAYS, OR IS IT THE SAME AS IT EVER WAS?
Well, John and I were writing partners and producing partners for 25 years. And when we reconvened last year for his solo album, I guess I will say the difference was that the roles were redefined, because it was his album. It wasn't like Dream Theater where we wrote together and produced together. When I got together with him for Terminal Velocity I was coming in and playing a much different role, as was he. John had written it all and I was there to do a service for him. And I'm very comfortable playing that role, being a session guy or a hired gun.
But then when we got together to do Liquid Tension Experiment a few months later, that was more of the natural chemistry of us writing together, working together, making decisions together. Once we got to that relationship, it was exactly as it had been when I left Dream Theater. It was just so immediately comfortable.
THAT SAID, LOOKING FORWARD CAN WE EXPECT THAT WE WON'T HAVE TO WAIT UNTIL, SAY, 2041 FOR LIQUID TENSION EXPERIMENT 4?
[Laughs] Yeah, I think you could say that. And actually, our deal with [record label] Inside Out is a two-album deal. So we are planning on doing a follow-up. I don't know when it will be, but if I had to guess I would say it won't be another 20 years until you get it.