Dream Theater's new album Distance Over Time is out now. Have you had a listen to it yet? We were lucky enough to get our mate Dave "Higgo" Higgins on the phone with frontman James LaBrie to chat about the record. Check it out!
One of the great things about being a fan of Dream Theater is the ‘you never know what you’re gonna get’ factor. We’d heard the three singles, but that’s never a guarantee of which way a Dream Theater album is gonna go. Is that a conscious thing within the band, to keep people guessing?
I think the subject is more, what sort of album do ‘we’, first and foremost, feel is in our best interest to make? Where are we leaning? What’s our direction that we feel we’re unified and we all feel strong enough about going in that direction?
I’ve been asked several times: ‘when do you guys start conversations about where you wanna go with an album?’ and it’s usually when we’re winding down the world tour that we’re on, maybe 5-6 months before we’re done on the world tour. On a tour bus or wherever we might be, we start discussing, what do we think for the next album, what makes sense? So, with this album or with any album, it’s really what we feel makes the most sense for us musically and to take it into that direction.
We knew we wanted to make a heavier album and we knew how we wanted to go approaching that, and the fact that we were living together and writing - ya know the studio was a hundred meters away from the house we were living in - ya know, it’s a beautiful thing, and we’d do it again in a heartbeat, and it could well be how we do the next album.
We knew one thing was for sure, we knew we wanted to write a heavier classic Dream Theater album, maintaining the progressive end of things as well because that is a big part of our identity, and the diversity just naturally shows itself throughout the writing sessions. So I think that's about as much as I can tell you insomuch as we were all on the same page and as far as trying to create something that will be unpredictable, that is something that innately happens every time.
The timeline on this was pretty damn quick too. I’m not sure people know just how quickly this came together from the writing side of things
(Laughs) Ahhh yeah, well, ya know we kind of figured out we counted up the days of actual writing and we think it worked out to be 17 for 19 days. I think it was something like that.
Well that’s not mucking around
Yeah exactly, I know. but you know what some of the most classic albums and some of the classic bands - you think about the way that Led Zeppelin used to write and record and Deep Purple, you know if you think about these bands - they were in the studio writing and recording right off the floor and they’d be done with an album in 2 or 3 weeks. It was phenomenal what they were doing. And the thing is I still think it's possible because as long as you have a strong enough nucleus, which is supposed to be the band, then you can go forward.
One the things with us is, whilst we’ve never been shy on ideas going into the studio, we always start fresh. I can say with this album one of the ideas which was Fall Into The Light was something that John had, he had a riff, and then there was a bit of a piece that brought us into Pale Blue Dot, that was a bit of a seedling, but for the most part it’s stuff that just spontaneously happens because the five of us are in the room.
Somebody goes ‘hey man what do you think about this, what do you think about this?’ I mean John Myung was in the corner playing a riff and we started working on it, then we pushed it aside and started working on something else, and then it ended up being the last song that we worked on, which turned into Signal To Noise. The way it happens, it’s kinda like if you were a fly on the wall you’d be going like ‘holy shit, things are going at lightning speed here’ because the ideas are just bang bang bang, and then sometimes it slows right down to the point where you gotta works things out. Everything’s gotta be worked out to a point when you feel ‘yes this makes sense and yes this has been brought to its fullest point that it could possibly attain’.
So you chopped and changed from ideas more often than completing a song at a time?
Pretty much. I’d say a lot of those songs happened like that. we’d be diving in, say for example, At Wits End, and there was something we were working on for a good 45 minutes and we were like, 'ya know what, I don’t think this belongs here' but t was an amazing section that became a part that we put into Signal To Noise later on.
There was one song that happened on the floor and it was pretty funny - I’m talking about Out Of Reach - and what happened was, John just started strumming his guitar whatever ya know just working on sounds, and then Jordan just started playing this thing and John’s like, ‘Hang on a second’ and he starts strumming his guitar more and within maybe 40 minutes that song was written. So that kind of thing has always happened, but then the complete opposite can and does happen.
I wanted to quickly talk about Pale Blue Dot. It’s total Dream Theater fan nerd out time - just off the scale in all parts.
Yeah, you know what else is cool about that song? You know the very beginning of that song, like where the band kicks in? That’s live off the floor.
There are quite a few moments throughout the album where the parts are happening live off the floor. They may only be 10 seconds 20 seconds, but we thought it would be cool to have that, very inclusive within the scope of things.
I like that you guys have decided to capture and keep those live moments because they’re quickly disappearing from recordings, It’s just a natural progression of recording - budgets are lower, time is of the essence, bands work up a song, then record it separately, it’s nothing new. But I dunno, the old school part of me loves a raw, live recording to showcase a band's talents.
I hear what you’re saying, there’s definitely advantages to the human contact, right? When you’re all in the room together you’re all feeding off each other’s energy and that’s why we gravitate to some people and don’t gravitate towards other people, but it’s the way the energy seems to flow.
I’m guilty of that, ya know with my solo albums. A lot of that is done remotely. We send audio files back and forth and then we get the band in, and that’s why I’ve kept the same band line up on my solo albums since 2010. The longer you play together, the better the sound gets. You feel that cohesiveness and feel that energy, but as you said it’s the world we live in now that we are able to take advantage of technology, but you also do lose something along the way because of that.
But, it’s also opened the door to musicians, who would never have worked together, now have, just due to that, but I do believe that there is something that is lost. It would be interesting to have those same musicians, who did albums remotely, which still came out sounding great, have them in the same room as each other live and see what comes out.
Before I let you go, I do have to ask - you’re regular visitors to Australia, so when can we expect you next?
Well, I can tell you this: it has been communicated, forcefully, to our agents that it is something we wanna do. When we do the pacific rim next fall (spring in Australia), it only makes sense that we should get into Australia, and ya know I’d like to see, this time ‘round, where it’s more than just Sydney, Melbourne. I'd like to see Sydney, Adelaide, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth, which we haven’t been to in quite some time. I’d like to see all those cities included in the next Australian tour, so from my lips to God's ears, I’m hoping that it happens for sure.
As always we look forward to seeing Dream Theater here in Australia. Congratulations again on Distance Over Time, it’s a ripper album, and thanks for your time today James.
Awesome, appreciate hearing that Dave, see you soon, thanks for your time.