James LaBrie of Dream Theater: A Dramatic Turn of Events

"The fans want us all to themselves..."

For close to three decades, Dream Theater have carried the torch for progressive rock, they have seen three decades of new movements, musical milestones, fads and fanatical genres yet have not shifted their course. Never ones to roll with the pack, re-invent the wheel or have a cocktail of genres. The musicians of Dream Theater have simply spent a career improving and experimenting with one and this is a noble feat. Metal As Fuck sat down with Dream Theater lead vocalist James LaBrie to mull over the many highlights of their current world tour, shark attacks and dysfunctional democracies.       

What a world tour! The band have been going hard at it since the start of the year, 10 months in and currently in sunny Brazil, how has it all been going? “It’s not sunny in Brazil and I can’t pronounce where I am [laughs] it’s been raining all day, our hotel is right across from the beach but I am told that this particular beach is second to South Africa for its shark attacks. So even if it was sunny, I wouldn’t be swimming. Every leg of this tour has been a highlight – what was great about this tour, I’m talking like its done and for all practical reasons it is, we have a couple more shows in Brazil, then off to Asia and Australia, with Sydney being our last show of the world tour. I would say the entire tour has really been a huge achievement for us for the fact that we were able to bring back ‘an evening with...’ so it’s a three hour show and our fans like to see the band this way, they want us all to themselves [Laughs] they want an evening of it, they don’t want a support act, they want as much Dream Theater as they possibly can. So having this type of show has been advantageous for us as it allows us to be more expressive and flexible with our discography and also beyond that it was really cool because of the production we took out with us, the lighting, the layout and the overall visual aspect of the show has been really incredible on this tour”.  

I understand the band is playing a lot from the catalogue on this tour, where do you begin when constructing a set list these days? “Well there is the one way we approach it, there are two steps – each member submits their favourite list; their A list, their B list and their C list, so we get a feel as to what songs are showing up most on our lists. Then we chat about what songs we should be recognizing, you know albums that are celebrating anniversaries etc. So you have to pay some homage to those. It’s not logical to play an album in its entirety, those sorts of tours are anniversary tours [Laughs] and I guess we will get to a point where we’re just out in front of our fans playing an assortment of albums and not necessarily focusing on a new album but for me personally I hope it’s never a reality because what drives a band and keeps them going is the ability to keep growing as a musician and that’s only to be represented and fully recognized by the latest material that you’ve done”. Do you have any personal favourites that will always be on your list? “With me I’m a little more methodical, looking back at songs and shows and seeing the songs the fans missed out on. This tour in particular I am really enjoying playing the Awake material, to me the songs mean a lot and to the band. You’re able to touch upon so many musical expressions when we play Scarred or The Mirror for instance. And Illumination Theory from the latest album; it just has so many classic Dream Theater moments”.    

Now correct me if I’m wrong but I hear that the band are ‘planting the seeds’ for album number 13 already? “Yeah we’re in discussions right now, throwing around ideas, we have a pretty good idea, no, we have a final concept for what we want to do. [Laughs] We always take advantage of being around one another and whenever we find ourselves in the position where the tour is starting to wind down, it’s when we really get into discussions for the future, what is it that we need to accomplish or what is absolutely crucial at this point in our career, so these are the talks we’ve been having over the past few months actually”.  

The bands accolades run miles long and the knowledge and passion you all have for music is evident – so seeing as that it has been a long time since 1990 what keeps you motivated and devoted after all these years? “We really love doing what we do, even the fans around the world comment on this you know, we really, truly are having a great time out on the road. Every night we go on stage we’re having a great time and I think that was missing for a while, every band goes through the highs and lows and prior to A Dramatic Turn of Events was released I think we experienced our ‘low’ on the slippery slope of the industry, we lost our fire and inspiration, once we had come out with the album everything was very clear to us that we were doing something we fully believed in and something to be extremely proud of and committed to and it’s been this kind of a ride for the past four years, I’m not saying that the Black Clouds tour or Systematic (Chaos) didn’t have its moments, it certainly did but there were so many elements – I mean I always say that being in a rock band is like being in a dysfunctional form of democracy and I think sometimes it’s more apparent; it takes five people with five different personalities... idiosyncrasies [Laughs] and you somehow have to make it work and it’s not just about creating and producing the music you can stand behind and be proud of but also being able to really understand and appreciate each other for our differences and I think that’s what so many people have noticed in the last four years; a renewed sense of spirit within the band”.

Spirit surely to be seen in a short amount of time, so you are preparing for shows in South America at the moment, hitting Asia, then jumping over to Australia, what are your anticipations for the Australian tour? “New spirit!! [Laughs] No [Laughs] It’s been a while since we’ve been to Australia so that in itself is going to make it amazing, I think both shows will be explosive and it is by far the best show we’ve ever done, just with the production, the music and the state of the band right now – we’re all playing our best and I’m singing my best. It’s simply an incredibly high energy, fun, exciting evening and for our fans to be there and experience the songs they know, new and old”.

What does 2015 have in store for the band? “2015 will be primarily writing and recording this new album. A lot of our time and focus will be going into that, if we do tour I’d say it will be very, very late 2015 if not 2016. Its good you know, it recharges the batteries and gives us excitement again to go out and rekindle the interaction with our fans”. Taking a well earned break after this tour I am sure? “Well I am going out with the Metal Allstars in November, but after that I will be chilling out at home with my family.... for a while”. [Laughs]