Images and Words captivated the world of progressive rock and metal upon its release 25 years ago and continues to do the same today. As it lives to be the favourite album of many Dream Theater fans, the 25th year anniversary tour will surely be a phenomenal concert to experience.
Before the tour began in Nagoya, Japan, Dream Theater’s and one of the world’s most iconic bassist, John Myung, spoke of the band and how its gears run. The 29th of January, 2016, saw the last release from Dream Theater with an epic, rich story-based concept album; The Astonishing. This style of writing was new ground for the group, so members such as Jordan Ruddess (keys) looked to inspiration from cinematic compositions like Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings and even Game of Thrones. Myung described how inspiration differs from album to album; however a significant amount of the inspiration just comes from being around the band and creating magic in the rehearsal room.
“The most important thing is what actually transpires when we’re all together in one setting. It’s always great to regroup and think about what we’re doing, for enthusiasm. For the most part, it’s always been gearing ourselves more towards the challenging sort of writing; things that challenge us musically. That’s sort of who we are when we get all together. It’s a great thing and I really appreciate it; it definitely pushes me to ask more of myself.”
The Astonishing features more strings, choral arrangements and overall, has a slightly cinematic flavour to it. As a group or as individuals, I personally think it would be interesting if another step was taken in that direction to create music for film, TV or game. The band have been interested in the endeavour; however it’s one of those projects that, sensibly, they would not rush into. If the time is right, anything could happen for the band.
“That’s something that we have been open to and are still open to, it just hasn’t happened for us.”
Typically, a Dream Theater song is not shy of hitting the 10 minute mark, so it was different to see nothing of this length on The Astonishing. Jordan Ruddess and John Petrucci (guitar) played a big roll with the compositional aspects and in that process gave a very conscious approach to song length as the sheer size of the story needed to fit in appropriately, whilst still having a balance of awesome music.
With The Astonishing, a phone game was released alongside the concept. Myung found it an interesting concept to have alongside the album, as it complimented the story in its own unique way. A game company out of Norway helped to develop the application, but it seems music always comes first with the Dream Theater bassist; “Honestly, I find it a really cool things to have but I myself don’t find much time with it.” With Images and Words being an album built on a band that practiced together for 6 hours a day, on top of music knowledge gained at Berklee, it’s understandable that these virtuosos need to spend a vast amount of time continuing to master their instrument.
Playing Images and Words front to back has given time to allow the members to evaluate their past and the time spent creating the music. Myung seems to almost fantasise the time of the album when everything was falling into place; the band were making their big break. It hits him as a body of work with “a lot of tonal magic qualities” and mentions how the circumstances and headspace lead to the music; “I don’t know if you could ever recreate what we did because there was just so many things happening at the time.” He gives an enthusiastic recollection of producer, David Prater, creating sounds through techniques unheard of to Myung, like using a Zoom guitar headphone amp as a specific layer in the sound of guitars. At 25 years of age, having all of their dreams as musicians fall together was a surreal experience.
New bands and genres have poured out over even the past decade, so it was interesting to hear that Myung had difficulty tagging any new bands that gave inspiration. The three bands he idolised growing up were Rush, Iron Maiden and Yes; “every record I couldn’t wait for… but to be honest, I feel lost with who I feel that way about now.” It can certainly be hard to compare bands to idols that have defined the way your career has progressed and how you play music. Inspiration mainly comes from playing with the guys in Dream Theater and also from his side project; The Jelly Jam.
The new music video for ‘Water,’ by The Jelly Jam was just released for their fourth studio album, Prophet Profit. Describes as “a real 70’s kind of vibe,” the album is less progressive and less processed than Dream Theater. The band enjoy focusing on important topics to the world through their music too.
“I find it a really cool blend of 70’s headspace writing, cool storytelling and really cool tonal sounds that happen on the record are a strong point.”
No whispers or rumours regard Dream Theater slowing down have been released, so it seems new music from them will eventually come over the horizon. What’s next for the band? The music they create is dependent on the jam and the particular musical perspective everyone has at the time, so there isn’t a specific answer for that question. After recently finishing what Myung considers an “experimental” album, he would “like to see us go back and do something a little more deliberate and more of what’s expected of us.” After the previous self-titled album, the “expected” sound of Dream Theater is large enough to tear down buildings, so Myung’s desire to create more is very exciting.
Interview by: Kurt Boldy
Dream Theater – Images, Words & Beyond 25th Anniversary Tour
Tuesday, September 19: Hordern Pavillion, Sydney
Wednesday, September 20: Palais Theatre, Melbourne