Latest release: Dream Theater (Roadrunner/Warner)

After the tumultuous departure of drummer and founding member Mike Portnoy in 2010 rocked the progressive metal world and the mixed reviews of their first album without him, A Dramatic Turn of Events, Dream Theater seems very much back on track with their latest studio release. A fortnight before tomorrow’s worldwide release of the band’s self-titled twelfth album, Loud talked to keyboard wizard Jordan Rudess about re-introducing instrumentals, 22-minute epic masterpieces and whether we’ll see them Down Under again one day.

Good afternoon Jordan, I hope you’re well. Does releasing a self-titled album mark some sort of new beginning for Dream Theater?
I think it was more that we wanted to put the stamp of a self-titled album here because we felt very strong about it. We felt like we’re at this great point where we felt that people should take notice. We’ve been very clear, we’re all getting along so well, musically we’re having a great time together in the studio and we felt that we’ve made a great album that we want people to know about. If you want to know what Dream Theater is about, check this album out because we feel that this is one of the best albums that we’ve done.

I’m pretty certain that your fans will let you know what they think of it very quickly.
I’m sure they will! They won’t spare any punches.

What is that like for you, because Dream Theater is one of those bands that has a fanbase that could almost be described as formidable in lots of ways?
Uh… yeah… It’s been a really, really good ride and we not only appreciate it, we also take it into consideration not only when we tour but when we record an album. We think a lot about where we are in our career: where we are, what we’ve done, what we haven’t done, what we want to do, what we can do. There’s a lot of considerations that are taken into all aspects of this organisation, and a lot of that kind of thought went into the self-titled album.

This album features some instrumental tracks, which is something that hasn’t been included on Dream Theater albums now for some time. What brought about the change?
We really wanted to do instrumentals. We’ve not done any for a while. It’s fun for us to just play. I don’t even know why there wasn’t any instrumentals earlier from us, but anyway, we decided when we went in to start writing that we definitely wanted one, but then we got two. So there you go.

Not only are there instrumental tracks, but the album begins with one.
Yes. Well the story behind that is, that usually when you go to a Dream Theater concert, there’s music that goes right before we hit the stage. So we decided, Wouldn’t it be cool if we could write our own music? It was John Petrucci’s idea, and he told me about it and I thought it was awesome. So I helped him write something crazy and orchestral like that, movie score-like. John and I went into the live room with just my keyboard and I called up the biggest patch I could with brass and strings and tympani and about two or three hours afterwards we came out with that piece.

So it ended up being a kind of overture to introduce the album?
At that point we were thinking it would be something that we would play before we went on stage, but then of course when we were putting it together, we thought we should put it on the album as the first piece. It totally made sense, so there it is.

Is there scope then for Dream Theater to maybe do a purely instrumental album sometime in the future?
I don’t think Dream Theater would do it. Tomorrow I’m releasing an instrumental album with Tony Leven and Marco Minnemann, so I’m interested in instrumental music. But we have a singer in the band. I don’t know if he would like being told to stay at home. But maybe he would like that. He could go on a fishing expedition or something for an extended period of time.

What was it like reconvening to record this time with Mike Mangini a part of the band?
He was really well behaved, so it was good. It was a lot of fun to have him there, unlike the previous album where we brought him in for the drum parts after the music was written. For this one he was there the whole time. Some people know it, some people don’t, but Mark Mangini is a very upbeat character. He’s very funny, he’s got a  very good nature, he’s lively and in front of the drums he’s a madman. He can play things no one else can play. So him being there personally with his upbeat personality and him contributing to the dynamic to the music we were writing really gave the music a real spark. So we enjoyed that quite a lot. With Dramatic Turn of Events, we had a good time writing that, but this time, all being together working on the album as a band was great. We had been on tour with Mike Mangini for a year, we knew that we all got along, we knew that we were a very effective unit with each other playing music. The fans had all voiced their opinions and they all loved our shows.

Tell us something about ‘Illumination Theory’, because that’s quite an extensive piece.
Well I come from a Julliard classical music background, I like pieces where motifs and ideas get developed and changed and can be allowed to breathe and that track’s certainly not any sort of standard pop song format in any way, shape or form. I just love the fact that we’re just really going for it and there’s all these kind of progressive parts where there’s interesting counterpoints and harmonic changes going on, and I’m also very fond of the fact that in the middle section of ‘Illumination Theory’ there’s that whole section that really is very ambient and very electronic-soundscapey which leads into a string ensemble part which was actually done with the help my young protege Eren Başbuğ, a young Turkish arranger/conductor who took what I had composed on my keyboard and fleshed it out for a string orchestra. And then the string orchestra came into the studio and he came in and conducted them. That piece just has so much to it. I love when we get deep and it all gets a bit wild, and I also love that in the midst of all that madness, we really let that middle section to really breathe and slow down and be melodic like a movie score.

There always seems to be at least one song on every album that really shows what Dream Theater is all about and that’s definitely the track this time around.
I think that’s really important, because a lot of the songs on this album are a little bit more concise. Believe it or not, there are two songs in the four-minute range on this album. It’s like we managed to bring our music a little bit more to the point, but at the same time we thought, “Hey we’re Dream Theater! We could do, we should do a track that goes for it and is more epic”, and that’s what ‘Illumination Theory’ was more about.

Obviously you’ve probably been deep into the album for some time, but when you’ve had a chance to stick your head up, is there any new progressive music around that’s caught your ear?
I was just listening to a newer band called Haken. I really really like what they’re doing. They have a new album called The Mountain which is quite excellent. They’ve done a great job and they’re very talented young guys. I like it because it goes from everything from sounding like a really Gentle Giant-y, to more like Dream Theater-like vibe to progressive rock… a little bit less metally than Dream Theater, although I know they’re big fans of ours. That really caught my ear. I think that they’re really good. And I’ve been listening to the von Hertven brothers out of Finland. Then I got turned on recently to the Sound of Contact, which is Phil Collins’ son Simon’s band. They’ve got a new album out that I felt is very good. I have it on my playlist here. It’s really good. Those are a few.

And finally, is there a chance for a return visit to Australia on the horizon somewhere?
Well for sure. I can’t say for sure at the moment but I would imagine that we’ll get there on this world tour, because we didn’t get there last time and we’re due for another trip to Oz.