Dream Theater’s latest opus that is “The Astonishing” is going to take some time to really take in, it’s a very ambitious and challenging album that may divide some fans as to whether it’s up there with their best work. When I talked to keyboard wizard Jordan Rudess about the new concept album, he seemed genuinely pleased with how it turned out but not after a lot of time and work was put into it as I found out in our discussion on the eve of it’s official release.
Andrew: Thanks for your time today, it’s much appreciated. The first thing we should talk about is the new album “The Astonishing”, we received a copy of the album a few days ago for review and to say the very least, it was a little overwhelming with the amount of tracks on there and the grand, epicness of it. But you must be super happy with how this album has turned out!
Jordan: Yeah I’m really excited about it! It’s a big offering, I think it’s some of our best work and really excited that it’s coming out tomorrow (Friday January 29th) for everybody to check out.
Andrew: Yeah it’s quite an ambitious and challenging effort, are you interested to know how people are going to be reacting to this whole album?
Jordan: Of course! You put this much effort into something so we’re curious how it will affect everyone. What’s really nice is that people like a lot of reviewers have heard it around the world and we’re getting some very nice feedback from the people.
Andrew: How long did this whole thing take from the initial idea to the finishing of the record?
Jordan: Well John Petrucci wrote the story and he started to conceive the story about 2 and a half years ago and then at the end of the last world tour, he presented me with the synopsis of it to see if it would be inspiring to write music to and I thought it was great! So we started to do that, so if you can consider that he started back then, that’s how long.
Andrew: Yeah it’s quite a feat! One of the things I noticed on this album is that your role on this album is quite prominent, there’s a lot of keyboards and that kind of stuff that’s more than the usual stuff that you’ve done. Was that something that was needed for this album?
Jordan: Well because there’s a real story, the approach was to treat it almost like a filmscore, for writing music for like a musical. So we needed to come up with all the different kinds of music which would help to kind of bring the story to life, which meant it had to be very dynamic and really call for a lot of different styles including a lot of electronic bits and orchestral things so I think that’s why. One of the things that we did right from the get-go was that John and I knew that we had to really focus in the compositional process, to do something a little differently than we ever done before. So we decided to just work together, we ran it by the band the idea that John and I would just go into the studio with the keyboards and guitars and really compose this music. So the process was different in the approach and just in the way we setup to do it so yeah, despite the nature of what it is, it kind of demanded a different output from us. What’s interesting actually to complete that thought is that it’s 2 hours and 13 minutes worth of music and yet there is a lot of stylistic things that maybe are somewhat new but also there’s a lot of prog and there’s a lot of metal mixed in, just a big album.
Andrew: What was the most challenging thing as far as putting this whole thing together?
Jordan: The most challenging thing was that we had to make it really cohesive and we had to pay close attention to this very detailed story. So we wanted it to be thematic and we wanted it to have repeating themes when appropriate, so we had to keep a really close eye on what the characters were doing through out the story. So we would have meetings and stuff and kind of discuss where we were in the story, even before we started to compose so we could make sure we could keep everything on track. So as John was working on great detail on the storyline everyday, we would also do the same kind of approach with the music.
Andrew: And what was the inspiration behind the story itself? For those that don’t know, maybe elaborate on what the story is as well?
Jordan: Well the story was written by John Petrucci and I think he was inspired by probably the classic kind of concept albums, especially something like “The Wall” or even “Tommy”. And then into musical theater like “Jesus Christ Superstar” or “Les Miserable”, big things like that. The story is set into the future, about 300 years into the future and there’s a dynamic between these machines called the Nomacs which are machines that generate sound and they are part of the government system and the machines are really taking over by almost hypnotizing people into a kind of trance like state you might say, and nobody really remembers what true music is all about. But meanwhile there’s an uprising going on outside of the city where the main character of the story has the gift of music and people are kind of discovering this and either they haven’t seen this in a long time or they have never heard it. And they are beginning to flock towards this person’s power and so there’s an uprising that happens and really the whole story is this dynamic between the people discovering real music and this government trying to control people with these machines. And within that, there’s a lot of classic kind of story elements. Like there’s a love story that happens and there’s drama and violence, that’s kind of what it’s about.
Andrew: I guess one of the first things that I recalled as far as the concept was that it took me back to when you did “Scenes From A Memory” and obviously that album was a concept idea as well but this is a little more elaborate than that. It really feels like a rock opera which I guess is the right word, it seems like you could take this thing on stage to Broadway or something. Would that be something you would ever consider doing?
Jordan: Yeah we would love to do that, obviously right now the focus is on getting it on stage as a Dream Theater show but certainly what we did with the story and with the music, we’re totally open to having it end up being in other forms as well. That would be great to have it on Broadway and it would be great to see a film made and a book, some of the things that we started to put together already.
Andrew: Yeah it does seem very suited for that kind of thing, it’s a very cool idea. What have you got as far as touring plans for this year?
Jordan: We’re about to go into rehearsals in a few days and then we’re going to be starting our tour in Europe on February 18th, so we have 5 weeks or so in Europe and then we’re coming back and we’re going to tour in America. I’m not sure what happens after that but I hope we get down to Australia as that would be cool.
Andrew: Absolutely, we would love to see you come back. I guess one of the most difficult things for the touring aspect for this album is picking out the songs that you’re going to play. Do you have any idea which ones you will bring out on the road?
Jordan: The whole idea behind this tour is that it’s going to be “The Astonishing” from beginning to end. We decided that, we’d been touring for so many years and it would be really important for us to do something really different. We knew early on as we were creating the album that we wanted to do this as the whole show, so we actually hired this company out of Montreal with amazing visuals and staging and they kind of took over to help us craft this experience. So anybody that is coming to see us should know that that’s what we’re doing and if they are coming to see “Pull Me Under”, then you’re coming to the wrong show.
Andrew: [laughs] Well it makes sense because the feeling I get from these songs, or this album I should say, is that this is more of a collective experience and not so much the individual songs. More of an album experience which is an interesting take especially in this day and age when people have shorter attention spans and all that.
Jordan: Yeah we knew that going in. I mean if anybody is going to do a concept album at this point, it might as well be Dream Theater or a group like us. We still have fans all around the world that really love to listen to music and invest the time and energy to do it so with this album, we’re putting it out there and certainly at the show where people are coming to see the show, you’ll be listening to this from the beginning to the end. So unlike the mainstream where people are just downloading individual songs and not really able to focus on the whole thing, we’re kind of appealing to our fans certainly and hoping we maybe have an influence on the state of affairs if you will where people can get back to being able to focus and listen to an album.
Andrew: Yeah absolutely. You mentioned earlier about Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” album, I had heard recently that you almost were going to appear on that album?
Andrew: What was the story behind that?
Jordan: Well I was at a friends house and he was hired to be the one to round up the snare drum players for – well we didn’t know what it was at that time – and I told them I had played the snare drum when I was in 3rd grade, so we were hanging out and I decided to come along. So we showed up at the studio and he had all these drummers and I was playing but I hadn’t really played in about 20 years at that point, it was fairly obvious I wasn’t the best snare drum player! So Bob Ezrin the producer kind of waved at me and said, ‘No I don’t think so’. But it was fun that I got to see the session and I even got to go into the control room and hear that whole section ‘Bring the boys back home’ and at that point we knew it was a Pink Floyd record but hearing that vocal and that section was really [out of] curiosity so you didn’t know what was going on. But of course when the album came out, it was like oh ok, now I understand what that was.
Andrew: Oh right, that would of been quite interesting if you had made it on to that album and a nice thing to put on your resume I guess!
Jordan: Oh it was kind of interesting to not make it on to that album and to check it out as well!
Andrew: Yeah absolutely! One thing I do want to ask you before I let you go, Mike Mangini who is a phenomenal drummer. It’s been a few years since he joined the band so how has everything been so far?
Jordan: Well Mike is a very unusual person in every way, he’s very smart and very funny and he plays the drums like nobody else and he’s kind of on a different planet or something like that, both physically and mentally. What he does with his arms and his hands on the drums that nobody else can really figure out how to do. When you talk to him and check out his personality, it all becomes kind of one thing and you realize he’s a straight out of the box kind of human being. But he’s been great for Dream Theater because everybody is kind of unique in the band but he is, in the drum/rhythm compartment, especially gifted so makes for a very cool element to our band.
Andrew: I was quite excited when he first joined the band as I knew Mike Mangini long before he joined the Dream Theater when he was in bands like Annihilator and stuff like that. So I was a huge fan of his work already.
Jordan: Oh cool!
Andrew: He’s a really good fit for you guys and he does a fantastic job on this album as well.
Jordan: Oh I think so too, he played so great.
Andrew: Hopefully you guys can come back to Australia and do a headlining run, we would love to see you back here and see this epic “The Astonishing” album in it’s entirety. So good luck on the tour, it’s been an absolute pleasure talking to you today!
Jordan: Nice to talk to you too, I hope to see you down there!