Yesterday I had the chance to interview John Petrucci, guitarist of Dream Theater, quite possibly the biggest progressive metal band in the world. In this interview, we discussed the band’s second Grammy nomination (for “The Enemy Inside”) and their current tour in Europe and their upcoming North American ‘Along For The Ride’ tour. We also spoke about John’s appreciation for Sleepytime Gorilla Museum and how the band views touring in countries that are having political turmoil. Check out this exclusive interview below!
For me it was a thrilling interview simply because he was a huge inspiration while I was learning guitar and several of his riffs and solos still send goosebumps up and down my spine.
Make sure to pick up Dream Theater‘s new album Dream Theater on iTunes.
Bloody-Disgusting: Hello sir, how are you doing?
John Petrucci: I’m very good, thank you!
BD: How’s Europe treating you?
JP: Really nicely, it’s moving along. I think we’ve played six shows so far. We’ve been in Portugal, Spain, and tonight is the last of four shows in Italy. So, it’s going well!
BD: Congratulations on Dream Theater’s second Grammy nomination! It must be very exciting for you and for the band!
JP: Yeah, it’s real exciting. thank you! It was great to hear. The first one was like, wow! Just amazing! And to receive it two albums in a row is…yeah, it’s just pretty incredible. We’re all pretty excited about it. The Grammys are this Sunday so we’ll see what happens. But yeah, it’s awesome to be nominated again. We’re just really really honored and excited about it.
BD: You guys must be sitting on pins and needles waiting for Sunday then!
JP: Yeah! In that category you have Anthrax, Killswitch [Engage], Black Sabbath, and Volbeat. It’s a lot of great bands. So who knows what will happen! But still, it’s fun waiting for the day and we’ll…yeah! You never know!
BD: [Singer] James [LaBrie] recently said in an interview that he thinks the only real competition you guys have for the win is Black Sabbath. What are your thoughts?
JP: You know, it’s really hard to say because obviously Sabbath is definitely a huge name and of course deserving with Ozzy coming back. It’s a really great album! But all the albums are really good! The Killswitch album is great. It’s, it’s just in the hands of the Recording Academy and I try not to really think about chances because you never know! I’ve seen in the past when we weren’t nominated and I was watching or following it, and I’d think “Oh, this band’s definitely going to win,” and they don’t and somebody that you didn’t expect wins. So it’s really hard to speculate. But we’ll see!
BD: While it must be amazing getting a Grammy nomination, the foundation is not really known for showing much love or appreciate to the rock and metal genres outside of their own categories. It often feels more like a popularity contest rather than an actual appreciation of music and the hard work that goes into it. Do you find yourself having these types of feelings at all?
JP: You know? I don’t. I’m a member of the Recording Academy and I see the way it works and even with the whole voting process it’s broken down into specific categories. There are Pop categories and Dance and Rock and Metal and Film and Score and everything else. Basically when you are voting you are urged not to vote in the category that you don’t know anything about and to base your vote on the music itself. It’s not based on popularity or friendships or anything else. It’s a pretty big pool of voters.
The style of music that we’re playing, this progressive metal style, has always been an upstream battle for us. We don’t usually get a lot of commercial exposure. I think that this genre being represented at the Grammys in the Metal category for two years in a row now is a recognition and an acknowledgement of something that’s less mainstream and more on the periphery where there’s tons of fans all around the world but the average person might not know about it.
So, in this case, I think it’s quite the opposite. I think they’re starting to recognize styles that haven’t been quite exposed in the way that a lot of pop music might have been.
BD: Do you think there’s some reason for this recognition? Some sort of catalyst that caused it?
JP: I don’t know. I’ve always said that there’s a huge progressive rock, progressive metal audience out there, in the world. We see it when we’re on tour. You can be in your own little sort of bubble in your hometown in the US and you hear what’s on the radio. If you don’t go beyond that you don’t know. But we’ve seen it all over the world, in South America, Europe, Asia, across the US and North America and Australia. There’s huge audiences for this stuff. For me it’s always been there and it’s just a matter of time before the people have more of the means to spread the word. It’s probably no coincidence with the internet and social media and the word being able to spread beyond the radio, where fans can go and talk and congregate and trade stories and a band could communicate news very quickly and in a worldwide basis. I’m sure that’s helped in bringing in this case us to more of the forefront of peoples attention.
BD: I want to turn to the upcoming ‘Along For The Ride’ North American tour the band has planned. I know that Boston will have a really special night when the Berklee World Strings and Concert Choir will be joining you. Are there any other surprises in store for other locations?
JP: Well, actually that special event is the only one planned. It’s a special event that we’re doing in collaboration with Berklee College given the history that we have, being alumni, having the guy who conducted and arranged strings on our current album being a Berklee student, Mike Mangini having been a Berklee professor for eleven years, the band formed at Berklee… So, there’s a lot of history. It’s a cool event where we can give back to the school.
But as far as Detroit and New York and other cities, there won’t be anything quite like that. But the show itself will be pretty special and it’s quite unlike anything that we’ve ever presented, so I think you’ll be happy either way!
BD: Hearing you talk about this Boston performance it’s obvious that it’s going to be a very gratifying experience because, as you stated, there is such a history there. What are some fond memories you have of Berklee?
JP: Well, I remember feeling for the first time going somewhere where I was part of a community where I didn’t feel like an outcast. I felt like I belonged. Everyone had a guitar strapped to their back. You were just with your peers, people like you. I went up there with [bassist] John Myung and I’ll never forget driving up there, we drove together, looking at our dorm for the first time. There was this one time where we’re in the dorms and I put my amp in the window and faced it towards the courtyard, cranked it and I played I think some [Jimi] Hendrix or something. I got a swift knock on the door from the RA. [laughs] I wasn’t allowed to do that! But it was fun! [laughs]
BD: Sounds like something out of a comedy show! You’re at a school specifically for music and they’re telling you to turn it down!
JP: Right! Exactly! Well, we used to do that. We used to rehearse and that’s where the roots of Dream Theater formed. Y’know, we used to play cover songs and jam to [Iron] Maiden and stuff but we were writing songs and it was this metal, loud style and we’d constantly get knocks on our door, because the rehearsal rooms were right next door to each other, and these jazz guys would be like, “Can you guys turn it down a little?” [laughs]
BD: As you mentioned earlier, the internet has really opened the way for congregation for people. And, as a result, it’s brought about an explosion of new bands and new ways to share bands that people haven’t heard of before. I’m wondering, what bands are you listening to that other people may not have found out about or heard?
JP: Ah! I don’t know! I don’t have very eclectic tastes in music. When we toured with The Crimson ProjeKCt last year Tony Levin turned me on to Sleepytime Gorilla Museum. I almost rely on other people to say, “Hey, you ever hear of this band?” [laughs] And I’ll say, “Oh, I’ve never heard of that!” And I listened to them and thought, “What the hell?” It’s this bizarre, experimental, prog but really weird and scary and nightmare sounding but the guys are really good and they play instruments that they’ve made. It’s just pretty sick stuff!
BD: I know there have been interviews where you’ve mentioned there’s already talk of a new album and I’m wondering what does the rest of 2014 hold in store for you, the band, the group as a whole?
JP: This year it’s really focused on touring. We spent from January to June last year writing and recording our latest album and then preparing for its release with promotion and activities for not only the release of our studio album but also our Live At Luna Park live concert DVD that came out in November. So, with all those releases, this year it’s time to put that aside and hit the road. Right now we’re in Europe for a long extensive tour and, as you know, we’ll be in North America and we’re gonna be doing festivals in Europe over the summer. We’re going to be doing Asia, South America, and all the territories that we usually hit and hopefully some new ones and that’s going to really bring us through the year. We’re going to be busy.
BD: Dream Theater is known for touring extensively and is very popular around the world, in fact much more so than here in the States. Are there some areas that you love revisiting and just connect with you?
JP: It’s interesting because Europe, for example, where we are now, I’ll use this to illustrate it, you’re traveling at a very fast rate. Maybe there’s a couple of shows in one country but you’re kinda just going from country to country and you see not only the differences in culture and food and mannerisms but you also see the differences in the crowds and even the sizes of the crowds. Again, there’s different levels of where we do well throughout Europe. Fortunately, for us, it’s pretty great all throughout it. But, for example, we’re in Italy now and we know that Milan is gonna be insane, Rome is gonna be insane, and we know Paris is gonna be insane and places like Norway and some cities in Germany and in Holland. You anticipate that they’re gonna be big shows. This time we’re going over to Russia and we played in Moscow before and it was just great.
When we first started and started hitting new places for the first time, you kinda didn’t know, because we were new. Sometimes we played tiny little clubs and sometimes we’d play a larger place. But now that we’re established and we have a history we know that we can expect people to show up and to have a good time. We know it’s going to be successful and it kinda makes the whole thing really enjoyable for us. The audiences are just great. So, there’s nothing like a place that doesn’t do it for us. [laughs]
BD: A lot of countries that you tour have some very negative press regarding their governments and their policies. For example, there’s Russia and their view on homosexuality or Ukraine and the current riots. Bands like Pain Of Salvation have used that to say they won’t tour a country because of these political situations. Is that something that Dream Theater thinks about or do you just go, play for the fans, and ignore the government?
JP: I’m realizing this more and more that it’s one thing to get involved with your own political beliefs and stand behind you believe in personally. But as far as bands doing that in a way where they think they’re going to fight the government, the only people they’re really hurting is the fans. I hear it all the time in countries that you wouldn’t expect or where there are lots of problems. There are still fans there and they don’t give a shit. They love the music and they want to see you and it’s a shame that sometimes they can’t. So, this is all about the music and music is a communication. It’s a two-way street. You need people to play to in order to make that connection complete. That’s the way we look at it.
You can’t chase that. The world changes so quickly. Last tour we played in Kiev and it was incredible and look at it now! They’re having so many problems! It doesn’t mean there’s anything different with the fans or how they appreciate our music or how we think of them. We were just there, it was great! So you really can’t think that way in our case.
BD: John, thanks so much for taking the time to talk and I really look forward to seeing you and Dream Theater in Detroit! Best of luck and safe travels!
JP: Thank you so much! I appreciate it! Look forward to seeing you in Detroit!