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An Interview with James LaBrie: Sleight Of Hand

An Interview with James LaBrie: Sleight Of Hand

—by , October 2, 2013

Best known for being the frontman of progressive metal stalwarts Dream Theater, Canadian vocalist James LaBrie likes to expand his horizons and master his craft when he’s not with the famous quintet. In August, the legendary singer released Impermanent Resonance, his third solo full-length, and while it may shock listeners expecting a dark, heavy metal release, this experimental, personal album will nevertheless blow people away. LaBrie is at his absolute best here, and whether you’re new to his music or a lifelong fan, you’ll take great pleasure in hearing him deliver these powerful lyrics with his dynamic voice.

In addition to this laudatory CD, LaBrie is having a phenomenal time with Dream Theater. The prog geniuses wrapped up a 14-month, 34-country tour last year in support of their 11th LP, A Dramatic Turn Of Events, and while they won’t be back on U.S. soil until presumably 2014, they recently released Dream Theater, another electrifying album to add to their vast discography. Furthermore, they’ll issue Live At Luna Park, a two-day concert filmed in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on DVD and Blu-ray in November. It began screening in movie theaters last month.

I recently spoke with LaBrie and keyboardist Matt Guillory about Impermanent Resonance, their dynamic chemistry together, and future touring plans. LaBrie also discussed Dream Theater, the new album, and how it feels to be hitting the big screen. The transcription is below:

Congratulations on the solo album. How much have you guys been paying attention to the reviews and charting so far?

Matt Guillory: Thanks, and yeah, the reviews and the whole charting thing has been amazing. It just seems like every new album we do, it’s just more exciting than the last, and this is no exception. It’s actually overwhelming, at least that’s how I feel about it.

James LaBrie: Yeah, I mean, I think what’s happening here, Giorgio, is that Matt and I, we’ve been working for 14 years together. We started with the MullMuzzler thing and then we just went into James LaBrie, the name, but really, it’s our band. Basically, everybody is involved in the sum of the parts.

I think what’s happening—and we kind of felt that trend from Elements Of Persuasion [2005] moving forward—is we’ve been kind of creating a name for ourselves, and there’s much more awareness with each and every release. Like Matt says, each time it comes out, there’s more of an anticipation to it and there’s more of an acknowledgement to the fact that we are putting something out there. We really noticed it with Static Impulse [2010]. There was this critical acclaim that we received worldwide and it brought it up quite a bit; we just entered a whole new level. And once again, that progression is quite evident to us with this release, Impermanent Resonance. So I think it’s really exciting.

I think what it’s saying to us is that everyone—the fans and the journalists around the world—are taking it seriously, and that’s exactly the ultimate compliment for Matt and I. And what we’ve been chasing is that this is to be taken seriously; it’s not a fly-by-night thing. Matt and I, as I just mentioned, we’ve been working together for 14 years, and it didn’t come without a price to pay. It’s like anything, you really got to get yourself through that door so that people start taking you seriously. So I think it’s real gratifying to both of us and the other guys—Ray Riendeau [bass], Peter Wildoer [drums] and Marco Sfogli [guitars]—who are making this what it is as well. It’s like I said, the sum of the parts, and so it’s very gratifying.

Were you trying to zero in on one thing in particular on Impermanent Resonance?

MG: Well, the emphasis and focus is on the vocals; the vocals are the priority and I think they should be with this. I mean, James is such an amazing vocalist that he should be singing the strongest vocal possible and it totally makes sense with what we’re doing. And I love vocals so much that 98—probably 99—percent of my time when writing is spent on crafting the vocals and making sure they’re the strongest that they can be and as catchy and as memorable as possible.

JL: I agree. It should be noted that Matt is the main composer here, and granted we brought in Peter Wichers and Niclas Lundin, but as noted and duly noted, Matt produced this and as I’ve said, he really did focus on… I remember throughout the process him just saying these melodies have to be undeniably hook-driven and something that’s memorable and something that is going to really ingrain itself within the listener, and I think we definitely achieved that, absolutely.

It feels like Impermanent Resonance is a very personal, emotional, and almost uplifting album. Do you two feel this way as well?

MG: Yeah, it’s very personal. A lot of it is very, very personal, but yeah, it’s also uplifting and very emotional. How do you feel, James?

JL: Yeah, I think that the vibe—the music that it gives—is something that has such a big, solid backbone to it, and I think a lot of that comes from the fact you have the players that you do in this band. You have a phenomenal drummer Peter Wildoer and so on—an incredible guitar player, bass player and keyboard player—so if you listen to the vibe and the energy and the mood that the music sets, absolutely, I think it’s very uplifting. There’s no darkness or blackness to the music where it just feels a little devil-driven. It’s uplifting, it has more of a mainstream, even pop sense to it, but with a real heavy, aggressive edge as well to it.

But I think too, beyond that, lyrically, it’s both Matt and I writing the lyrics. Matt comes from a more introspective and very personal angle with his lyrics and I’m coming from a more observational viewpoint, whether it’s my personal interactions with people or just what I’m seeing around. So I think that that combination of the lyrical content really lends itself quite well to the mood that the music itself is inflicting. Overall, I think that’s the way people are getting it; they’re getting that it’s a feel-good vibe from the beginning to the end.

Looking at the new Dream Theater album, what are your thoughts on how it stacks up with the others?

JL: I think it stacks up phenomenally. The reason for that is the fact that when you hear this album, you’re going to hear that there are a lot of the core influences with Dream Theater, but at the same time, just making it very relevant as to what’s going on with Dream Theater today—some of the things that we feel keep us in the now with the musical context.

The three focal points for me on this album are that we finally wrote a song, the opening track, “False Awakening Suite,” which is very cinematic and movie soundtrack-like, then you go to the middle of the album and you have this big, epic kind of instrumental song, “The Enigma Machine,” and shortly there followed with “The Bigger Picture.” So these songs really kind of create that excitement.

I mean, to me, one of the things that I looked forward to when I was getting Rush or listening to any band like that—Yes or anything—was when I found out that there was going to be an instrumental track on the album. So I think that’s always been a big part of who and what Dream Theater is and endears us to our listeners; it just adds much more dimension to the band.

And then the end track, “The Illumination Theory,” is this big, epic 20-minute-plus, but what it does is it just incorporates all these things that really make Dream Theater who they are; it really identifies strongly with the kind of band we are. It’s aggressive, it’s very symphonic at times, it’s very atmospheric at times. This is the first time where in the middle of an instrumental, we didn’t all of a sudden go into this big, interactive display of musical and instrumental prowess. What happened was the whole thing just kind of disappears—the whole band disappears—and all of a sudden Jordan [Rudess, keyboards] comes in with this big, atmospheric approach, followed by a very symphonic string section, very melodically-driven, and then going into something that feels like a meteorite hit the planet, you know, if you go into the section called “The Pursuit Of Truth,” where I’m like, screaming my head off and everything like that. I mean, it’s a very exciting ride and it’s a classic, epic piece for Dream Theater.

So this album, just with those three key points that I pointed out, really make it something that I think is very, very suggestive that the band is feeling that we’ve arrived at a new place and we’re walking through a door that kind of creates the next chapter for us, so to speak. And that’s not to take away from the other songs; I think the other songs are very powerful within themselves, so that’s where I’m coming from. Yeah, it’s a great album.

There hasn’t been an instrumental track on a full-length since 2003’s Train Of Thought, and there’s not one but two instrumentals on this CD. You were trying to make this more theatric, right?

JL: Yeah, I mean, before going into the album, we knew that it was going to be a self-titled album just because we felt that we just walked over a bridge, so to speak. With A Dramatic Turn Of Events, that album was more or less about us letting everyone know that we are still the same band and we’re going to continue to write music and not lose our identity, but the music is going to be where it’s at, that we haven’t lost a thing; if anything, we feel better about ourselves. So that album was more or less about proving it to our fans and to the journalists around the world that we still are who we are and in fact, we feel even that much more confidant.

So with that being done, this album was more or less about us just remembering and saying, “You know what, we’ve done that, we’ve proven that, let’s just get back into having a great time together and writing an amazing album and that we can say this is the beginning of something new for us.” This is a whole new chapter in Dream Theater’s career that we feel this album will be the kick-start to that. So yeah, going in we just knew this was the album we needed to write, and I think we achieved it.

Out of the new songs—both on Dream Theater and Impermanent Resonance—which ones in particular are you looking forward to playing live?

JL: Well, with the solo band, I mean Matt and I, we’ve come to the conclusion that we’re not going to be touring as the band, the James LaBrie Band or whatever. [James to Matt: We need to come up with something there Matt, holy shit, man.] But anyways, it is inevitable that we are going to tour and it’s just going to have to wait until the Dream Theater world tour has concluded. So we’re talking probably at least a year or a bit more before Matt and I feel that we’re going to be in a position that we can start putting together a tour for that, for the solo band. As far as Dream Theater, yeah, we’re going out in January.

But [getting back to your question], which songs I’m looking forward to doing live. When the solo tour starts, I’m going to definitely look forward to doing “Back On The Ground.” I’m also going to look forward to “I Will Not Break,” I’m going to look forward to “Sleight Of Hand” and many other songs from the other albums as well. With Dream Theater, I’m really, really looking forward to on the next tour doing “The Bigger Picture” and “Illumination Theory.”

Live At Luna Park comes out in November, but it’s hitting movie theaters worldwide first. How big of a deal is it for you that Dream Theater will be playing on the big screen?

JL: It’s amazing, man. We’re all completely pumped and excited. I believe September 19 it’ll be screened in I think 120 theaters at this point, and they’re adding to that every day. So yeah, that’s extremely exciting. I think it’s the best way to see a band like this; first of all, that you can look at our ugly faces on the big screen (laughs), but then it’s going to be in surround sound. It’ll be in surround sound, which is amazing, and we heard some of it and it sounds fucking amazing. We’re really, really excited about that. It’s exciting, we’ve never done this aside from shooting the two nights in Buenos Aires, which was a huge thrill, and having 16 cameras capture this thing live; it was phenomenal. So I’m looking forward to that, sitting in a theater and watching it and feeling that vibe and that electricity in the room. It’s cool, it’s very cool.

 

James LaBrie’s solo album, Impermanent Resonance, is available through InsideOutMusic. Dream Theater is out now via Roadrunner. For more information, go to jameslabrie.com and dreamtheater.net. 

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