Accompanying Dream Theater’s extraordinary new album, Distance Over Time, lead singer James LaBrie caught up with Wall of Sound to discuss the intricacies and stories behind its powerful musical statement.
Released on the 22nd of February, Dream Theater have composed an album that focuses heavily on their concise, yet effective potential, despite songs having a ‘long, progressive and epic’ reputation. After the last album The Astonishing was spread over two discs whilst following a dramatic and theatre-like story, this album is packaged into a blizzard of digestibly sized masterpieces, collectively summing to under 1 hour.
“The songs are more concise. We get in, make a statement and it’s very defined, but nothing takes away from the music. Obviously, there’s no epics or elongated arrangements, but that was a conscious effort. We wanted to get in and write songs that were around 4 minutes long with a little more than that here and there.”
Naturally, as a Dream Theater fan, my heart skipped a beat. Could this be a new step for Dream Theater where there are no extended songs filled with innumerable details and progressive themes?
“No, absolutely not haha! This is just an interlude you know? The way that it works is, whenever we start winding down a tour, we start having discussions of where we want to go next with an album. Every one of us wanted to be a little more concise with the arrangements, but still make a very bold and very, very strong statement.”
“When we start having those discussions about the next album, when the Distance Over Time tour starts winding down, it could very well be about, you know what? Let’s go in and write a 25-minute song and then 4 or 5 other 8-minute songs and then be done. That might be the discussion and it might be about creating that kind of an album.”
“For us to say this is the end of Dream Theater writing epics would be like cutting off our right arms. It’s not going to work haha.”
That was definitely a relief to hear. As a whole, the album features some of Dream Theater’s heaviest tracks to date. With the knowledge of their instruments and from previous releases, we were all aware that there was potential for more aggressive tracks. As other progressive themed bands like Periphery and Northlane have recently released considerably heavier singles than previous works, it looks like 2019 is going to be a year of aggravated neighbour noise complaints… oh well.
“In the discussions leading up to this, every one of us wanted to write a heavier album.”
A new horizon awaits in future years as the band have signed to a new label: Inside Out Music, a label run by a long-time friend and fan of the band. The band will be with this label for the next 3 albums. Although Dream Theater are not a band that requires the input of a label, it seems the personal connection they have with the manager has offered a very productive atmosphere.
“When we’re talking about Inside Out, we can’t help but mention Thomas Waber who is the president of Inside Out. Thomas has been a fan of Dream Theater since Images and Words. I remember talking to him way back then and he’s a very intelligent person, very musically inclined. Signing with Inside Out/Sony for the next 3 albums; it just made perfect sense. Thomas has always, always been completely honest with us about each and every album that we released.”
“Having him as our president but at the same time as our confidant really added to this album because he heard everything coming out of the studio, he heard everything as we were writing it, and he really was our sounding board. Not that we need anyone to tell us if we’re going right or wrong, but it was an added and very productive feature to have when we were creating this album.”
An interesting note that makes this album special is the debut lyrics of drummer Mike Mangini in ‘Room 137.’ For those who have met or even experienced footage of Mike, you will know he is notorious for being extrovertly happy. The words of the song however, follow more of a serious and intellectual path that may come as a surprise to some listeners.
“The flip side of Mike is he’s extremely smart and he’s very profound in his thoughts. He can be quite the sobering individual to be around at times too, just because of the way his mind thinks. I think that’s what’s made him the kind of musician and phenomenal drummer his is. I don’t get it sometimes, the way he’s wired, haha it’s very absurd.”
“For him to write a lyric like this, it only made sense. Mike loves mathematics and he always has. He read some books and one of the books he read was on this physicist by the name of Wolfgang Pauli. This was a physicist that was obsessed with explaining and trying to have a definition of the number 137. Basically, it describes the dimensions of the universe, it describes our dimensions as Homo sapiens and the trees and the birds and any other animal.”
James goes on to describe how the lyrics formed…
“Every time we go to start writing a song, we always say, ‘Hey mike what’s the temple?’ and on this particular song he said, ‘Hey guys it’s (being funny) 137.’ And we were like ‘so the temple is 137 okay cool.’ Later on when we took a break, he said ‘Hey guys I don’t know if you know this, have you ever heard of this guy Wolfgang Pauli?’ He went onto explain the basis of Pauli’s work. At one point in his life he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and when they brought him into the hospital, they brought him into room 137, if you can believe it or not. Originally Mike wasn’t even going to write a lyric to this song. About a week or so later, he shot myself some of words he wrote down and he shot John Petrucci some of these words and said ‘Hey guys, here are some words that I’ve strewn together, I don’t know if you like them or if you want to use them.’ And we were both like wait a minute man, we can definitely develop these words into a lyric. So, a long-winded story but that’s how his debut lyric became a reality.”
LaBrie has also been in contact with the band’s agent regarding a tour around the Pacific rim, which would hopefully mean Australia. Although dates have only been confirmed through the US and Europe, there is a possibility of seeing some of this album live towards the end of the year.
“I’m hoping in September we’ll hit the Pacific rim. At that point it makes perfect sense to get in and do a great tour through Australia. I know we’re already having the talks with our agent because we love going there and we have a lot of fans. I’d hate to think we’re not going to.”
Interview by Kurt Boldy
Go check out Mike’s debut lyrics now alongside the rest of the album! Purchase a variety of hardcopy packages HERE, or find the album on any major streaming platform.
Revisit our review of Distance Over Time right here
Distance Over Time is out NOW.
Dream Theater – Distance Over Time tracklisting
1. Untethered Angel
3. Fall Into The Light
4. Barstool Warrior
5. Room 137
7. At Wit’s End
8. Out Of Reach
9. Pale Blue Dot
10. Viper King (bonus track)