Interview with Dream Theater’s John Petrucchi in Zurich, Jan 27th, 2014 (Raw English Version)



Whiskey-Soda Magazine:  John, thank you for taking your time to answer a few Questions for the readers of our German music magazine Whiskey-Soda. We’re in Switzerland, yesterday you were in Munich. That’s what my first questions is about. Our Magazine is called Whiskey-Soda: So, what did you have yesterday: Some Whiskey Soda or a good Glass of Bavarian beer?

John Petrucci: Actually I had wine yesterday, but I will have some Bavarian beer. We’re going to play in Nuremberg in a few days so I will have some Bavarian Beer and Food. I love that.

WS: In case you haven’t before, you have to try the Weizenbier, that’s the best. It’s my favourite, to be honest.

JP: Yeah, I have, it’s very good.

WS:  We have to talk about the Grammys today, because we’re day one after the Grammys, where you reached your second nomination. I think the Celebration started 2 a.m. Central European Time. Did you sleep bad with excitement? J Did you go to bed at all? Did you watch the broadcast on the internet?

JP: Actually the whole band was watching last night after the show. The category we’re in gets announced in the pre-telecast during the day, it’s earlier. So we all watched after the show in Munich, we had a streaming from – but we didn’t win. But you know: Sabbath – it’s pretty much guaranteed, right?

WS: Yeah, sort of. I thought about it a little bit today, discussed it was some friends and Metal-Enthusiasts at Facebook. I think it’s the safe decision to chose Sabbath, but it would have been a lot more courageous decision to take Dream Theater.

JP: Yeah, that’s true.

WS: Although you were competing Sabbath, which is quite hard, do you think it’s  harder to win a Grammy or another prestigious award as a Prog-Band? Because Prog is quite complex, it’s not the mainstream 4/4 stuff everybody listens to.

JP:  Right, well. I would have thought it was even more difficult to get nominated. But now, that we have been nominated twice, to me that means that…. You know the Grammys are voted on by the Members of the Recording Academy. So it’s all musicians, engineers, producers – everything like that. And the fact, that our Prog Music is recognized in those circles means that there is more of a presence, there is more of a relevance and importance to the scene. So again: Just to be nominated in itself is difficult and then to win is a whole different thing.

WS: So do you think, that it was maybe even harder to get nominated with prog ten or twenty years ago?

JP: I don’t know. I also don’t know the history so much about what bands have been nominated or not. I think, one of the things that we’ve done, which is a maybe a little bit different and which is more in the scene today, is that we mixed Metal with Prog. So where not the traditional, 70’s based sound. We’ve that metal sound to us and the category we’re in is Best Metal Performance. So that crossover kind of brings us into focus a little bit more.

WS: So as for the nominated category, you’re glad that you’re not some kind of Retro-Prog-Band, right? (laughs)

JP: Yeah, we’re not, exactly. I mean, Metal is a style we love to do. I love the sound of Metal Guitars  and everything. And it’s also a powerful style of music. It keeps our audience young and growing, because a lot of kids are into it. I can see it in young metal bands

WS: You don’t look very disappointed to me about not winning. But I thought by myself, if you will not win today, at the day of our interview, I will have to bring you some comfort. So I brought you  a little present. But before you get it, I have to ask you (Laugh) What kind of presents does a famous Rock Musician get? I don’t know, from fans, or maybe even from journalists? Do they all bring you the CD’s of their own bands to get a record deal? 🙂

JP: Well, people bring us their CD’s or their friends CD’s. You know, this is my band or my brothers band. Our fans are really great, they bring us very nice presents. Last night, I got a really, really nice bottle of wine yesterday from a friend and fan. They bring chocolates and specialties of the area we’re in. This is something of my hometown. Some of them are artists and they draw portraits of us and they give us those. So, they do really nice things.

WS: You already even mentioned it:  I brought you some Swiss Chocolate. J (Give Swiss chocolate in blue metal tin). I had a hard time finding this because first, I was looking for a gold metal box, like the colour of the Grammy. Then I was trying to get a black metal box matching the current album cover artwork,  but I didnt succeed. But I only found this blue one – the Chocolate is really great, though.

JP: (Smiles) It’s perfect. Thank you so much.

WS: But, as my mommy always said: You have to share it with the boys! (Grin)

JP: (Smiles) I promise I will. You know, stuff like that disapeears very quickly.

WS: (Laugh). Yeah, somebody takes it. „Has anyone seen my blue tin of swiss chocolate?“

JP:  Thank you very much, this is very nice of you. Awesome.

WS: You’re very welcome. This is something Switzerland is famous for. I didn’t bring cheese and a Swiss Watch is to expensive for a poor music journalist. (Laugh) You guys are considered to have had the biggest impact on Prog Metal in general.  Almost always somebody talks or writes about progressive metal, Dream Theater is mentioned as being some kind of a blueprint. Like this band sounds similar to Dream Theater, or this band does make Prog Metal, but doesn’t sound like dream Theater at all. So, Do you keep track of what’s going on in the Prog-Metal-Scene? Maybe there’s even something you can recommend to our readers? Some new blood you’ve been listening to? Do you even find time at all to listen to all the new stuff and the music you get from your fans.

JP: Right, well the interesting thing is, everybody’s different. For me, personally, I don’t really persue new music a lot. I never have been that way. If people turn me onto it or if I am in the right place at the right time and I read something, then it’s great. Last time we were in the UK I sat down and read Prog Magazine. I was going through and there were all these bands I never heard of. But one of them, Tesseract – I really like those guys.

WS: I saw them a few days ago.

JP: How were they?

WS: They were great!

JP: I love their latest album, it’s really cool.

WS: They have a really great singer. It’s very special because the guitars, the drums and everything are quite hard, but the singer does sing very clear, not like a metal singer at all.

JP: Yeah, he doesn’t. He’s almost like a Pop Singer.

WS: It was great, it was a quite small venue about 50 Kilometers from here, not a lot of people, but they created a great atmosphere.

JP:  Yeah, I like those guys. So every once in a while, even in the band someone says: Have you ever heard of this one? You gotta check it out. I know there’s a lot of great stuff out there.

WS: So your recommendation would be Tesseract, right? Fine. As for Progressive Music I’ve got another question for you. Imagine there’s someone that really means a lot to you and He or She tells  you : Progressive Music is tiring and made from  egomaniacs. I dont’t like it at all ! How would you convince him or her about how exciting Progressive Rock or Metal Music can be, without using your Position in one of the most famous Prog Bands in general. Just as a regular guy?

JP:  Well, there’s a couple of things. One thing is: Go see it Live! I meet people that never have seen us before and it’s their first time and you know – they Love it! It’s a different experience. The other thing is: You might have to ease people into it. So for us, we have a different kinds of levels of how proggy the music is. Sometimes it’s a little easier to digest for people that not listen to that kind of music. So you have to play them the right song first. You don’t wanna start them off with a 25 minute epic-extravaganza.  Maybe ease them in a little bit.  And of course it depends on their taste, too. You can get to somebody who might like a certain style. If somebody is really into Metal, I’ll play one of the heavier songs. Or if somebody likes more poppier stuff, ballady stuff,  I’ll pick something more in that direction, maybe acoustic. And then you play that and then  you have their attention.  They realize: There’s melody, there’s meaning, Lyrics, it’s produced nice – it sounds good. Then you can go on and tell them: Now check this out!

WS:  As a music enthusiast and a music journalist I hear and read a lot of stuff of Fans like : Slayer isn’t Slayer anymore without Dave Lombardo. Or Dream Theater isn’t Dream Theater anymore without Mike Portnoy. What do you say to these guys?

JP: It’s definitely not true. There will be people who say that…

WS: There are a lot of them!

JP: Yeah, you know, that’s their opinion. But for me it’s all about the spirit of the band, the attitude and the mission, the writing and everything. It’s all been Completely intact and we had different members changed throughout they years. Different singer, different keyboard players and now a different drummer. So to me Dream Theater is always Dream Theater.  It’s not just about one person, it’s bigger than one person.

WS: Yeah, I think so –  it’s not my personal opinion my the way.

JP: Yeah. And again: Sort of a remedy for that maybe to see the band live. That’s something I noticed. Obviously Mike was there from the beginning and such a integral part of the band. Before the people saw us with Mangini of lot of them were like: „What’s this gonna be like?“ But as soon as you see the guy play with us it’s like: Alright. Question’s anwered. So anybody who feels that way like „It’s not the same anymore“ I encourage them to see the Band live. Because there’s two things: He’s tremendous as a drummer, he’s mindblowing. That’s Number one. And Number two:  As far as the old material he respects the way it was played and he plays it like you used to hear it. So it‘ s cool.

WS: You just released the Live at Luna Park DVD-stuff, where you had a string ensemble joining you on stage performing with the band. I think your music fits this approach very well to mix it with classic stuff. Metallica once recorded a whole Live-Album with the San Francisco Symphonic Orchestra. Is this a challenge you would take for Dream Theater to do something similar? And if yes, would you use songs from your existing catalouge and arrange them new or would you write new material especially for this occasion?

JP:  There’s a couple of different approaches. As far as an orchestra playing with us and the material we currently play – we’ve done that before.  Not for a whole concert, but we’ve done it at the „Score“ DVD filming at the Radio City Music Hall 2006 in New York. And we’ve an event coming up in Boston in March where we are playing at the opera house in Boston with the Berklee College Orchestra and Choir playing with us. That’s an approach that works pretty well, because we’re just playing our music and they’re playing along. And a lot of the way that we orchestrate our music already has, at least the bigger songs, they already have this string-things in it. So it works. As far as writing pieces specifically for that, that would be cool. That’s a whole different mindset, you have to go in with an arranger, string musicians and whatever and do it. It’s different and we’ve never done that before. That might be interesting.  Who knows?

WS: Are there any reasons for you, not to do something like that. Maybe it’s too big logistically or something?

JP: No. (smiles)

WS: So if you like the idea, you go for it!

JP: Yeah, you take on different challenges. I mean even at the Luna Park Shows, that was at the end of the tour for us, I think it was in August and we’ve already been on tour for fourteen months or so. Our show was pretty much dialed in and then we decided we’re filming a DVD. Let’s bring back this song, let’s bring back that song, and by the way, we’re gonna have string musisicans on stage with us. There are all these different variables that we are not used to, meanwhile we’re filming and so on. But to me, I think you have to take these chances to make the evening a little bit more special, to make the DVD a little bit more interesting than just one night on tour. It presents challenges because now you bring in something new and new people, a lot of things can go wrong. Usually it’s not that great as you hoped it would be (laughs) . There are always problemes, they try to mice the little violin, the guitar is bleeding through all this stupid things that happen.

WS: And it’s keeping it exciting for you as well, right? A lot of musicians, especially progressive rock musicians tell me: „Well, at first I do it for myself, for my own joy and fun. If other people like it -great. I hear that a lot. So it think you have to keep it special for yourself as well.

JP: To me, that’s a funny statement. Because to me, the music is all about sharing. Like the chocolate and what you said. When I play a show, yes, I’m thinking about my performance and that I play good. But I’m thinking more about the people that are there watching it, you know? Because they came to see us and they’re expecting something. They made plans to come, they spend money on tickets and a T-Shirt, a babysitter and whatever they had to do to come. At that moment I feel it’s more about the audience.

WS: That’s true. I think the few musicians I mentioned they meant it for the reason of: If I enjoy it for myself and even play it for myself it’s authentic – and then the people like it. The people realize when a musician just plays his instrument as a job. Nobody will recognize.

JP: You know what? That’s a 100% true, the people are smarter than you think.  They know, when it’s not authentic. And if it’s something that comes from your heart and you believe in it, they’re gonna like it or they’re not gonna like. But at least you know it’s something authentic. It’s all about integrity.

WS:  You are on the show for almost 30 years now, how many years did it take you to loose stage-fright?

JP: It’s funny because it’s so long ago, it’s hard to remember the first shows really. But I don’t really get nervous before we go to the stage. But every once in a while, for no reason whatsoever I feel a little anxious right before I go on stage. But normally I’m calm.

WS: You are professional and feel cool about it.

JP: Yeah, and the reason why I feel cool is that the band, the guys, everybody’s gonna do their job, I know that we have a reliable crew, I know that the light and the sound – everything we worked for and planned is going to go well. It’S well organized. Anxiety comes from not being sure, like being unprepared, right? So if you’re prepared and feel comfortable and have confidence in the people around you it makes you feel good. And any time you feel like: Oh shit, I don’t remember this song or something’s gonna happen, there’s something broken then you tend to be a little bit insecure.

WS: Yeah, and of course everybody sometimes has a hard day, like today is not the day. I’ll better do that tomorrow. But then, YOU have to go out on stage (Laughs)

JP: Most of the time nobody knows the difference.

WS:  What’s the most Rock-Star-Esque thing you’ve ever done?  I mean besides the usual sex, drugs and killing babies stuff? I want some proof you can catch up to the cliches as a rock star!

JP: (Laughs) Oh my god! (Thinks)

WS: There’s nothing you can recall. Come on!

JP: Once I flipped an entire table full of stuff backstage took it and tossed it.

WS: You were angry or something like that?

JP: (grins) No, just because I wanted to. I was just feeling goofy. Does that count? (Laughs)

WS: Hmm, just only a table? Not an entire hotel suite?

JP: No, no, no, no, no. I’ve never done that.

WS: There are special bands that were famous for devastating whole levels of hotels. I don’t know, like Mötley Crüe. These guys were crazy! (Laugh)

JP: Oh my god, I can’t even imagine, I’ve never done anything like that.

WS: Do you have a funny or awkward anecdote to share with our readers that took place in your long career? (Maybe something about the most unusual spot you ever did a Concert)

JP: Well, there’s a lof stories like that. There’s one story I remember. We came over to Italy to do just a few shows. My guitar tech was not the guy that usually is my guitar tech but my Buddy from New York.  He’s a winemaker. I did a guitar clinic and we went to the clinic together and at the end of the clinic a guy came up to us and said, okay we gonna have dinner. That’s usually typical a clinic or a workshop. The company that you do it for takes you out to dinner or whoever hosted it, the distributor or other people. And he said: „My friend owns this restaurant, it’s closed but he will open it for us. So we go to this guys restaurant, it’s cloed, but he opens it especially for us. The chef makes this unbelievable meal, he’s bringing out one thing after the next after the next. And we’re enjoying it, we’re drinking wine and grappa and cracking up. A couple of hours into the meal a said: So, you work for the distributor, right? No! You work for the guitar company? No! So you work for the, eeeerr, venue, right? No! And at this point I look over to my friend and we’re cracking up laughing, you know? Who the hell is this guy? And I said: Who are you? And he said: I fix the cars. It was just a guy, a fan who was a mechanic who took us to this restaurant and set up this whole thing and meanwhile we thought it was the host of the guitar clinic. We didn’t notice at all. But we had a great dinner with italian cuisine. One thing I remember when they brought out the grappa, the bottle had a stem on it that that was so long he was pouring from the other side of the table. That was a very funny situation.

WS: A last question, because I know you’re in a hurry on your way to the venue and everything.

JP: Sure.

WS: It’s a big one. You’ve had a career of almost thirty years, you toured the world, you recorded albums and Live DVD’s. But what kind of unfulfilled or unreached artistical dreams does a person like John Petrucci have?

JP: One of the things that we’ve never done is, we never scored a movie. It’s something we’ve talked about for the longest time. For some reason I guess we never have been asked to do it or we haven’t persued it. I’ve always felt that our music would be perfect in some kind of movie to score it. Actually see it, to write the music for the movie, all the different moods and things like that, I think we’d do a really good job. It’s something that we haven’t done yet, but that would be very cool.

WS: And what kind of movie would this be? Something you like or something you think that would suit your music.

JP: Our music would probably be best for sci-fi or fantasy.

WS: Are you into that stuff?

JP: (Laughs) Who isn’t?

WS: (Laughs) A lot of people.

JP: (Laughs) Really? Who doesn’t like Star Wars? I like this dramatic stuff and I can picture our music working really well with it. Even with the Harry Potter stuff and the Tolkien stuff – the fans that kinda like that stuff, the different levels of the story and the characters are very similar to the fan we have. They dig into the music on that level, it’s a very similar mindset, so I could picture it working. But somebody has to ask us. (smiles)

WS: Well, I could picture it working as well and would be ecxcited to see that movie one day and listen to the music you wrote for it.  Would be great.

JP: Yeah, it have to be good, though.  Couldn’t be like a cheesy one, not something like from a bad independent film maker.  It had to be something good.

WS: What about this: The next time you get nominated for a grammy, you will win it. Because there’s a saying in Germany „Aller guten Dinge sind drei“, which means: The third time you gonna make it! So you win the Grammy and then you get an offer to score a movie.

JP: There you go. That’s the way to do it! I like that!

WS: Thanks for your time, even though there was this misunderstanding where to meet.

JP: You’re welcome, and don’t worry about that, it’s all good. I was talking to my wife on the phone and I thought I had to go but then Rick said: They’re gonna be late. So I could talk to her for another moment.


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