Interview & live photographs by Dave Baird
The day after Night of the Prog VI I spoke with Dream Theater’s keyboard player, Jordan Rudess, on the phone. I had the chance to go and see him in person, but after two days of photographing at Loreley I was quite exhausted, plus I didn’t want to risk the wife filing for divorce… I only received the new album the same day, so not much chance to take in the music beforehand. We talked about the show from the night before, Mike Mangini’s place in the band and the upcoming and much anticipated CD, A Dramatic Turn of Events.
Dave: Good evening Jordan, how are you tonight?
Jordan: Pretty well. I’m at the Bospop festival backstage getting in the mood to play.
Dave: I was at the gig yesterday, at Loreley.
Jordan: Oh, yes? Did you like it?
Dave: Yes, it was a great show.
Jordan: Oh cool man, awesome!
Dave: Of course it was marvellous to see the new line-up.
Jordan: Yeah, right, exciting isn’t it!
Dave: Before yesterday’s gig you were quite delayed getting on stage, you had some technical problems?
Jordan: Yes, we had a non-working mixing board.
Dave: Oh, that’s quite serious…
Jordan: Yeah, it’s really serious, I was even wondering if we were going to play. I was standing back-stage waiting and heard them say “ok, let’s use the monitor board to do the show instead of the mixing board, and I was like “Woah!”
Dave: That’s some re-patching…
Jordan: Yeah some serious re-patching! Incredible, what a great crew, huh, to make that show happen for us?
Dave: Well the crowd didn’t realize the severity of that.
Jordan: I’m sure they didn’t, and why should they be worried about it, but it was incredible that the guys pulled it off
Dave: No shit!
Jordan: It was a funny thing to keep on my mind though while we were playing, wondering what it sounds like, that was the monitor guy mixing the show.
Dave: Actually the sound was really excellent, but a little loud.
Jordan: Wow, that great, I’ll let him know.
Dave: Well down the front it was waaaay to loud though, but that always seems to be the case these days.
Jordan: Yeah a couple of people told me it was too loud, I wonder why, normally our guys get the right volume going; maybe it was the stone (Dave: stage) making the sound harsh.
Dave: The band on-stage seem really pumped-up.
Jordan: Yeah, we are. There’s a definite positivity that’s surrounding the band right now. The basis of that I think is that we just brought in one of the world’s greatest drummers who happens to not only be amazing on his instrument, but he’s also a wonderful guy for getting along with. He emits positive energy, he’s just a pleasure to have around and we’re just enjoying hanging out with him, and enjoying being on stage with him. You know, we’d been through some very tough times in this band, it’s no joke, we were pretty much in a state of shock months ago when this whole thing went down with Mike Portnoy, but I think we’ve recovered really well. We had the intention, right after our jaws came up from the floor, basically we stuck to the intention that we were going to go on, that we were going to find a great drummer and we were going to keep this thing happening, rocking… And here were are today, on tour, playing with this great guy and feeling like, holy-shit guys, we did it!
We’re like survivors here, we’ve made a great album, at least I think it’s really great, and we’ve made it on tour and we think it’s pretty, well, cool!
Dave: It must be a huge relief just being out there and playing?
Jordan: It is, you know it’s been a total whirlwind, just getting to the studio and getting the album done. The album process took a bit longer than we anticipated and led right up to the touring where John Petrucci, who was producing the album, was in the studio with Andy Wallace who was mixing right up until the last minute, basically practicing for the tour while he was hanging out in the studio. It was pretty crazy, but here we are on the road.
Dave: For the fans this is quite a big deal, Mike Portnoy, like all members of the band has a lot of fans and a lot of detractors, but he was a big part of the band… and to bring in a new member – of course you’re not the new kid any more, which is nice I guess…
Jordan: I’m thankful for that, yeah!
Dave: …- it’s a big thing for many people to take, but I think it’s going down pretty well now?
Jordan: Yeah I think so, absolutely.
Dave: Mike Mangini has nailed the songs and you were smart enough to put a drum solo fairly early in the set so he could show us his chops.
Jordan: Right, for sure, just in case there were any doubters! “Check this out, check what I can do with one hand!”
Dave: He is known as one of the most competent drummers on the planet.
Jordan: Yeah, well he’s incredible, I just find him to be so technical, but also so musical. I’m going to have him checked to see if he’s truly human one of these days.
Dave: Does he ever stop smiling?
Jordan: Oh he smiles, it’s so wonderful, everyone back there is so happy.
Dave: How has the dynamic in the band has changed?
Jordan: The dynamic is just really good at the moment. Our entire crew and band are just emitting this wonderful positive energy, we’re relaxed, we’re having a good time, you walk around and everyone is smiling, and I think the band is really playing well too, which is really important.
Dave: And no more spitting on stage, right?
Jordan: Exactly, no more cleaning up with a suit, the drum-tech is really happy about that right now.
Dave: On the tour, about six dates so far, it’s understandable that you’ve a static setlist at this stage. However on the first night you played “Learning to Live”, but then you dropped it from the set, why’s that?
Jordan: We were actually going to play that last night, but because of the mixing-board problem we ran out of time.
Dave: Ah, shame. How come you don’t throw “A Nightmare to Remember” and “Dance of Eternity” in there, I guess Mike knows these already, right?
Jordan: You know, we had to make a choice. One of the things we did before we put the setlist together is that we all went around and made a list of the songs that we really wanted to play and Nightmare to Remember wasn’t one of them. Nightmare to Remember is a long song and personally, given the choice of that or The Count of Tuscany, I feel more attached to Count of Tuscany, it’s just such an open, melodic, harmonic song. Nightmare to Remember has a little bit more of the angry side of metal mixed into it, really super-dark, almost ultra-theatrical and I don’t know, I feel like that’s one of the things I wanted to kinda get a break from and let go of a little bit.
Dave: Seems that you’ve tried to take one song from each album, or there a bouts, right?
Jordan: Tried, yeah. So after everyone was done listing the songs they wanted to play then we went though a process of purring it together in a good, cohesive setlist. Of course that was one of the things that Mike Portnoy did very well and took care of and we definitely miss that. It’s not impossible to do, but it’s also kind of a pain. But anyway, we had a good time doing it and it’s one of the reasons we’re so happy, we’re playing the songs we really want to play.
Dave: It’s interesting to note that you’re not playing any songs with lyrics by Mr Potnoy…
Jordan: Yeah? Hmmm, you tell me, I don’t know…
Dave: Well you know that everything you guys do is analyzed to the nth-degree…
Jordan: (laughing) Yeah, sure, I appreciate it. Sometimes though, like now, I find out things that I just didn’t know.
Dave: OK, so the next question was going to be whether this was a ‘statement’ by the band or a temporary thing for legal reasons.
Jordan: Oh no, not at all, we played whatever we wanted to play.
Dave: And you’re playing your iPad on-stage?
Jordan: Yes I am. I addition to being in the band Dream Theater I’m also an app developer these days
and I have a partner and we have a company called Wizdom Music and we have a new app in the Apple iTunes store, it’s called SampleWiz. It’s doing really well actually and I use it out there on stage. I use it because I can basically sample, or put any sounds I want into it and I’m having some fun with it, playing it like at the beginning of Endless Sacrifice, the opening synth lead and the opening, spacey part of The Count of Tuscany, with the little bells come in…
Dave: And also at the beginning of On the Backs of Angels?
Jordan: On that I’m actually playing my other app, MorphWiz…
Dave: Right, they’ve all got “wiz” on the end, so they’re easy to identify…
Jordan: Yeah, everything’s go this “wiz” thing, it’s stemming from this whole thing where keyboardists, good keyboardists that is, sometimes get the title wizard, so I’m running with that in a kind of fun way.
Dave: And of course the wizard animation you have, that’s synched with the music isn’t it?
Jordan: You know that’s something we’ve had for a while now, it was created by a guy from Australia, who’s name is Robert Medina and he’s been doing stuff for the band for a while. That is totally in synchronization with what I’m playing, when I play on they keyboard it moves the character on the screen. It’s something that we could have taken hours and hours to animate, but in reality it’s a real-time effect.
Dave: And you’ve got this whacko tilting keyboard stand…
Jordan: Yeah, I have a new stand made, I’m always trying to change-it-up and have some fun. I’ve a guy, who actually lives quite near to me, Rick Nelson, and he’s made this really cool stand for me. It does the whole 360-thing, so I can spin-around like I usually do, but now I’ve got this whole thing where I can tilt the keyboard in various ways.
Dave: I thought my eyes were deceiving me when you first started doing it last night!
Jordan: Somebody told me that they thought the keyboard was going to fall, like “oh my god” and they expected the techs to come out and catch it.
Dave: Sounds a bit Spinal Tap.
Jordan: Yeah, right, that really would be funny.
Dave: On to the new album, which I received only today, so have just heard a couple of times so I can’t be too specific, but some general questions… Firstly, was Mike Portnoy involved at all in the writing of the album?
Jordan: No, not at all.
Dave: And how much freedom did Mike Mangini have with the drum parts?
Jordan: Well the album was basically written without a drummer in the room, mostly by myself and John Petrucci, but John Myung also too and James came in from time to time. So a drummer-less writing session and we used a drum-machine to refine our ideas and so he had a little bit of a beat to work with while we were writing. Mike Mangini came in later when it was time for the drum parts and did his Mangini thing – he just took our ideas and went nuts.
Dave: So in the end he just had to follow the structure and time signatures, but otherwise he had total freedom with it?
Jordan: Yeah, I mean the songs were pretty much written and the drum programming was just so we had something to listen back and to demonstrate where the accents that we were feeling in the writing process are. And then he had freedom to try different things, and he did. We took, you know, a different approach, but I think it worked very well.
Dave: Of course the general public already know On the Backs of Angels, but now I’ve heard the whole album I would say this track is falling roughly halfway between the mellow and more technical stuff on the album.
Jordan: Right, right. I think it’s funny, because we chose that track for release because: “Here’s a track, you’ll recognize it as Dream Theater, this won’t change things up to much for you; it’s not too mellow; it’s not too crazy, but when you hear it then you’ll”, well we hoped, “would say the Dream Theater’s alive and well”. And then people will checkout the album, and as you know now, they’ll hear it goes wilder, it gets more progressive, a little bit heavier, definitely more mellow.
Dave: On the Back’s of Angels had received a very positive response, if you read the feedback on the forums, many are saying, “Wow, Dream Theater are back”.
Jordan: Yeah, this is a really good sign. You know people are just responding to the energy in the band in such a big way. I’ll meet people that I haven’t given any information to at all and they say to me, “you guys just seem so happy”. They’re really feeling it, it’s great.
Dave: What people can’t hear so well on YouTube is the production/mix of the album, it seems a bit fatter, wider and bassier, nice and meaty…
Jordan: Yeah well, holy-shit, you know we had Andy Wallace mixing it and Ted Jensen mastering it, we had the big guns in for this album.
Dave: The most common complaint is that we can never hear John Myung, this time we can, nice and clear.
Jordan: Yeah and I think the keyboards sound really good on the album to, they really survived very well against all the other sounds, like the big guitars and everything.
Dave: You’ve brought quite some new patches and sounds onto this album.
Jordan: Yeah, yeah, it’s funny, as a keyboard player you know what happens is that you come in and what happens is, you know like every year I have more and more sounds that I’ve made. Let’s say as an example that I have a thousand tones that I’ve used through all the different albums, but then of course you’re writing music and the new album comes and it’s king of like “yeah, lets try some different sounds for this” (laughing). It makes me laugh, because you have the guitar player who’s like, “OK, I’ve got my clean sound and I’ve got my dirty sounds”, and that’s it! With me it’s like, “OK, here we go, so you want more than a thousand sounds? OK let’s work on that”.
But it was a nice opportunity to dig-in and get nice and sonic. I don’t now if you know the names of the songs yet, but for instance at the beginning of Outcry there’s some nice electronic stuff and this big vocal introduction on one of the songs…
Dave: Bridges in the Sky? You’ve got this big choir thing going on. We’ve never heard anything like that in Dream Theater before.
Jordan: Yes, yes, change-it-up a bit! There’s a smattering of electronics here and there too…
Dave: There’s some techno sounds in a couple of tracks, that’s going to cause some discussion!
Dave: And then there’s a lot of nice clean piano and wide strings…
Jordan: Yeah you know I had a great time with the orchestration on this. From an orchestral point of view I invested for this album in the Vienna Symphonic Library, which is a great library for strings and brass sounds, so I used it a lot, especially you can notice that on the ballads, all the strings are basically me. I also used on of my favourite sound libraries, it’s something by a company called Spectrasonics, it’s called Omnisphere. That’s the source of a lot of the vocal stuff, like at the beginning of Bridges in the Sky, a lot of ethical sounds. They have one particular choir sound that really works well on a lot of the stuff that I mix in with some of the strings. You know for me in the studio it’s a bit like being a painter, I’ve got all these different colours and it’s just a question knowing how to put them all together in order to be effective in the Dream Theater sonic environment.
Dave: Well I was going to say that there is a real epic, almost cinematic feel almost to the songs in places
Jordan: Wow, that’s cool. Well it was brought out really well, Andy Wallace did a phenomenal job of mixing, he really did. A lot of times in the past, I felt that when I put the sounds down they were larger and orchestral, but they didn’t always survive when it came to the final mix.
Dave: And do I hear a Hammond organ being used?
Jordan: Yeah, I got in, well it’s not really a Hammond, one of the keyboards I use as an organ is by a company called Nord and they do a great organ, I think the one I was using was called an Electro… or something like that (DAB: NordElectro 3), really good organ sounds, so I tapped into that a bit to get some colours.
Dave: Far From Heaven, this must be the softest ballad that Dream Theater have ever done
Jordan: Yes, I think so too.
Dave: But again it’s that little bit different once again.
Jordan: Yeah, well we wanted to be the Dream Theater that everybody knows and loves, but at the time it was a nice opportunity to try a couple of different things.
Dave: In Bridges in the Sky there is one part that is thematically quite a lot like a section from The Root of all Evil, is that planned or coincidence?
Jordan: It’s purely coincidence, I can’t even think of the part…
Dave: It’s where James is singing “The piece of me that died will return to live again”
Jordan: Yeah, could be, I’ll check that out to see what you mean. It’s possible, but it wasn’t at all intentional.
Dave: OK, but you can be sure that there will be pages and pages written about this
Jordan: Yeah, right, all the analyzation (sic.), nothing goes untouched!
Dave: In that respect, Dream Theaters’ a funny band. By that I do think you’ve got some of the best fans in the world, but there’s so much love and hate generated…
Jordan: Yeah right, it’s so funny, it is so funny to me!
Dave: And even targeted at yourself, “Jordan’s the best player”, “Jordan plays too much”, “I don’t like the sounds Jordan uses” etc. Do you read any of this stuff?
Jordan: Do I read it? You know the stuff has a bit of a hook and how can you avoid it? I mean like I’ll find myself reading it and then I say to myself “I’ve gotta get away from this stuff”, it’s like poisonous. One of my friends was saying the other day that the Internet was invented for critics, everybody’s now a professional critic…
Dave: And it’s so easy to hide behind the anonymity… OK Jordan, thanks for the nice chat and speaking to Dutch Progressive Rock Page. Have a great show tonight, say “Hi” to the guys.
Jordan: Thank you so much, I will do so, see you soon.
Sept. 24 San Francisco, CA The Warfield (with Trivium)
Sept. 2 5Los Angeles, CA Nokia Theater (with Trivium)
Sept. 27 Seattle, WA Showbox SODO (with Trivium)
Sept. 28 Vancouver, BC Queen Elizabeth Theatre (with Trivium)
Oct. 3 Royal Oak, MI Royal Oak Music Theatre
Oct. 4 Pittsburgh, PA Trib Total Media Amphitheatre (with Trivium)
Oct. 6 Toronto, ON Massey Hall (with Trivium)
Oct. 7 Montreal, QC Place des Arts (with Trivium)
Oct. 8 Quebec City, QC Pavilion de la Jeunesse (with Trivium)
Oct. 10 Boston, MA Orpheum Theatre (with Trivium)
Oct. 11 Morristown, NJ Mayo Performing Arts Center (with Trivium)
Oct. 12 New York, NY Beacon Theatre (with Trivium)
Oct. 22 Cleawater, FL Ruth Eckerd Hall
Oct 25 Houston, TX Verizon Wireless Theater (with Trivium)
Oct. 26 Austin, TX Bass Concert Hall (with Trivium)
Official Website: www.dreamtheater.net