James LaBrie of Dream Theater
Interview by Andrew Daly
Since 1991, James LaBrie has fronted Dream Theater to international, market-breaking success. So much success, in fact, that it’s hard to believe that for a moment, there was a version of Dream Theater that not only didn’t feature LaBrie but even manifested an album in 1989’s When Dream and Day Unite.
Of course, none of that matters to the band’s diehard fanbase. Moreover, the previously mentioned international success came hard and fast once LaBrie was in the fold by way of 1992’s Images and Words. And in short order, a deluge of heavy metal meets prog-rock ecstasy, followed by way of earthshattering and decade-defining records Awake (1994) and Falling into Infinity (1997).
In the years since Dream Theater has kept at it. Some eleven albums later—the last being 2021’s A View from the Top of the World, which earned the band a Grammy—Dream Theater is still hammering away, perpetually redefining all we know about heavy metal music’s potential expanse.
And while it would be easy to say that all of this happened by accident, the truth of the matter of that the members of Dream Theater—John Petrucci (guitars), Mike Mangini (drums), Jordan Rudess (keys), John Myung (bass), and LaBrie (vox)—are far too talented and exacting to leave their music hanging in the proverbial balance.
More ambitious than ever and still featuring LaBrie out front, with their Grammy Award for “The Alien” tucked in their pocket, the future of Dream Theater is somehow brighter than ever, which is really saying something after over 30 years in the game.
“We’ve made some big albums,” LaBrie proudly says. “And maybe we won’t make any that are as big as those again because those classic records have already stood the test of time. But I think any artist would probably like to think that the best is still yet to come, right?”
He continues, “Every time we go in to do another album, we still push ourselves to the maximum. We still want to keep growing. We’re still evolving as a unit. So, maybe we haven’t made our best album yet. I’d like to think that it’s out there still on the fringes of the horizon.”
In support of the Dream Sonic Tour, James LaBrie dialed in with Classic Rock History to talk touring, his favorite songs to sing live, Dream Theater’s definitive record, the prospect of new music, and more.
Tell me about the Dream Sonic Tour.
James LaBrie: It’s a little different than your traditional tour that’s backing up an album. We’re out with Devin Townsend and Animals As Leaders, so the setlist is a bit different. Basically, we’ve tried to create a package where it would be intriguing to a variety of music lovers, and I think we’ve done that with Devin and Animals As Leaders.
They’re both amazing bands featuring amazing musicians. But as far as Dream Theater is concerned, we’re working to make it an exciting and fun-filled event for the fans. We know that this lineup will attract an eclectic group of music lovers, and if it goes over well, it’s something that we might look to repeat on a yearly basis, but with a different lineup.
What does a tour like this say about the health of the metal community in 2023?
LaBrie: It’s interesting because we can now listen to anything we want in pretty much any way we want. It can be through streaming, radio, physical media, or whatever; people have a lot of different ways to satisfy their musical hunger. But the thing about the metal community, and Dream Theater specifically, is that we’ve always stayed true to ourselves. We value integrity and creating music that we feel best represents us at that moment in time.
And because of that, we’ve been enabled to have a very long and fruitful career. And I think other artists within the genre see that and want to be a part of it. They want to be a part of something that’s grand and that they can make a career out of, too. So, I’m noticing a lot of young metal bands like Trivium and Periphery are doing very well because they’ve stuck to their guns. They’re creating what they want to create. And that’s attractive to a lot of people who are looking for something that has substance.
Dream Theater took home its first Grammy in 2022. How meaningful was it for you to get that sort of recognition?
LaBrie: Third time’s a charm [laughs]. Jokes aside, I think that it was something that each of us in the band thought would elude us. If you look at a band like Rush, they’re great but never received one. A band like them should have received a dozen Grammy Awards, and that’s the problem with the system. So, we never thought we’d get one.
The possibility was there in 2011 or 2012, but we didn’t earn one, so maybe it was just a matter of time for us. And then, in 2020, with “The Alien,” it happened for us. So, we’re ecstatic, we really are. It’s definitely a feather in our caps, and it also maybe opened us up to a group of listeners that might not have discovered us otherwise.
Do you feel the Grammy’s are fair to metal and progressive music?
LaBrie: I think the way they look at it doesn’t necessarily represent everything out there that’s worthy of consideration. But then again, I guess that’s a tall order for anyone to be able to say, “Okay, we’re going to sit down and listen to everyone that should be considered.” I can’t even imagine that kind of task being put on anyone because the number of people you’d need at your disposal to monitor something like that accurately would be insane.
But regarding metal and progressive music, I think there needs to be a bit more education so that people realize how many incredible artists there are out there. There are so many that should be considered for that type of recognition, but they aren’t. Now, I don’t know what the parameters are, what they’re dealing with as far as how they come to that conclusion, or how much research is put into it, though. So, I’m in the dark regarding that part of the process.
Which tracks do you most enjoy playing live?
LaBrie: In the current setlist, I think “Answering the Call” would have to be my favorite track to sing. It touches on all the points that I want to convey, and the imagery we have playing on the big screen behind us makes it very powerful to witness live. That aside, I’ve always loved performing “The Count of Tuscany” and, of course, “The Alien.” Those songs touch me deeply inside. We’re also doing a few songs from Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence because that album was big for us. A lot of the fans seem to be enamored with those songs, and a lot of them always seem to lift my mood.
There’s an argument to be made that Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence was one of Dream Theater’s creative peaks. Why do you feel that was?
LaBrie: I think it was our headspace. I’ve always said that when you look at any particular album, it’s a true telling of what was going on in the world or what we were personally dealing with at the time. It could be something within society, politics, or anything we’re reading; each album represents the emotions it conjures up within us. And that creates the template to be able to make music, at least it does for me.
Is that what keeps you creatively searching?
LaBrie: I think that wherever I happen to be in life, whatever is powerful to me at that time, is usually what comes through musically. When that happens, we usually get something I can sincerely become a part of and express. And fortunately, I have a band to be able to do that with. So, if you look at an album like Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, I think we were all in a good headspace. We always talk about the sort of album we’d like to make, and that usually includes making songs that will leave an indelible mark on everyone.
If someone gave you the choice of never making a new album again or never playing your classic records again, what would you choose?
LaBrie: I think I’d have to choose never to make an album again. I mean… how sad would it be to never be able to play a song like “Metropolis” again? How awful would it be to never play songs from Awake, Images and Words, or Falling into Infinity again? There are just so many great songs, and I don’t think I’d ever be able to wrap my head around not doing those songs. If that happened, all the wind would be out of my said. Without all those songs that I love, I’d feel utterly defeated.
What is the definitive Dream Theater record to date?
LaBrie: That’s hard to say… but I guess I’d have to go with Metropolis Part 2: Scenes from a Memory. I think that’s a true representation of who we are. Because, yes, we’re a progressive band, but we have a very real edge to our music. Of course, we’re referred to as “progressive metal,” and the songs from that album are pretty damn heavy. But there’s also some beauty there, too. So, I would say that if I had to introduce someone to Dream Theater, Scenes from a Memory would be the album I’d steer them toward.
And from there?
LaBrie: I’d probably tell them to listen to Images and Words because that album put us on the map internationally. And then maybe listen to Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence because, as we discussed, that’s another great album to listen to from beginning to end. From there, I’d tell them to listen to A Dramatic Turn of Events because you’ll see where we were later. Yeah… I think that’s the way that I would do it to get somebody on board and get an overall picture of who and what Dream Theater is about musically.
Is Dream Theater working on its follow-up to A View from the Top of the World?
LaBrie: No, not yet. Right now, our concentration is on this team, which is the last run for a bit. We finished our official tour in support of A View from the Top of the World back in May, so this tour is an entirely new entity. So, when we finish this leg throughout North America, we’re going to take a break.
And I’m only guessing in terms of timeline, but I’d assume that after the break, that’s when we’d go into writing mode, which would be sometime in early 2024. So, maybe we’ll see another album in the summer or fall of ’24, and then we’ll be back on the road again. It’s all cyclical. So, more than likely, that’s what you’ll see us doing.
James LaBrie of Dream Theater: The ClassicRockHistory.com Interview article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023
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