Were there any bands you were listening to while recording that influenced the record toward a more aggressive sound?
I’m a huge music fan and I’m always listening to other bands’ music, and that’s always a big part of what’s swimming around in my head everyday. So whatever I’m listening to, I’m going to bring to the table when where we’re in the studio, whether it be Opeth or Lamb Of God, you know, whatever. So it’s inevitably going to come out, but as a band we all have different tastes, we all listen to different things. George might be listening to more jazzy kind of stuff and James might be listening to more pop oriented stuff and I listen to some like, really heavy stuff, so when we come together it just kind of all spills out onto the table and we make it become Dream Theater. If you listen to any of our albums you can hear sounds that range from Pantera to Pink Floyd, and it’s that combination that makes it Dream Theater.
Your vocal tracks seemed to take on a whole new life with this release. What was it like for you to play more of a vocal role?
I’ve been singing for many albums now, but on this album I think it took more of a front seat because on the heavier tracks, specifically, ‘Constant Motion’ and ‘The Dark Eternal Night,’ it seems like James’ voice is more operatic and high just naturally, so when you have these fucking heavy, brutal riffs, it seemed to really convincingly convey that kind of aggression you needed a heavier voice, so we decided my voice would help balance out, added along with James. So me and James singing this stuff together kind of thickens it up and makes it a bit heavier.
Speaking of vocals, I read on your website that you invited fans down to the studio while you were recording to add background vocals. How did that turn out?
Yeah that was cool. Hundreds of people came down, but we could only let like 50 people in because the studio was really worried about the fire marshal. They’re not used to having fans swarm the studio, so we limited it to like 50 or 60 people, and there were a few hundred others outside that couldn’t get in. It was for a song called’ Prophets Of War’ and it has this chorus that just felt like it could be really cool if it had like a bunch of people gathered to make it sound like it was at a rally or something, so we thought it was a good idea to put it on the website and invite some fans down. We made a fun afternoon out of it.
What was it like to direct the special edition CD/DVD for Systematic Chaos?
I loved it. I’ve been doing it for a while. I directed the last three Dream Theater DVDs so it’s something that I love. Film is as big a passion for me as music, I really love the process.
Ever thought about doing any other film projects outside Dream Theater related stuff?
I would love to. I mean, I envy Rob Zombie, I would love to do what he’s doing, but I don’t know if I would have the tolerance for the industry and all the bullshit that goes along with it. When I’m directing Dream Theater videos I have full creative control and final cut and it’s basically my baby, but I know if I was ever to try to do a real movie I would have to play all the Hollywood games and compromise, and I don’t know if I would have the tolerance and patience to go down that road.
After a long hiatus from making your last music video, what sparked the band to start making videos again?
Well we stopped making them about 10 years ago ’cause we figured a band like Dream Theater isn’t going to get played on MTV so it was a waste of time and money, and then through the past few years or so, it seemed like videos were being used in so many different ways that you don’t need MTV. With YouTube and different websites there’s so many ways to utilize a video that it seemed like it was the right time to start making them again. So we were enthusiastic about it when Roadrunner decided to start doing them for us.
How does it feel to be part of the Roadrunner family after being with major labels for such a long time?
You know it was natural. We had been signed to a major label for the past 15 years with Atlantic and Elektra and we saw pros and cons of a major label. The pros are the distribution and the ability to be in a lot of stores and get a lot of exposure, but the downside of it is that it’s such a huge industry, and the whole corporate thing really doesn’t have patience for a band like Dream Theater. Luckily we have this great fan base that has sustained us all these years. Basically the record label relied on our fan base to sell the records, so we were really looking forward to getting the hell out of there and being with a label that actually appreciated what we had to offer and respected our history and respected our fan base and wanted to continue to develop this band.
Well after being around for more than 20 years and winning countless drumming awards, you now have a new label and a new record. What are your goals at this stage in your career?
Well personally, I’ve got to admit, all my personal dreams have come true. To have won like 25 Modern Drummer Awards and to be the youngest person put in the Hall Of Fame, that’s like better than anything I’ve ever dreamed of in my entire life. So I feel like on a drumming level, what’s left to achieve is to try and continue to be the best I can be and continue doing music and projects that are going to excite the fans. At this point Dream Theater has done so much and toured with almost every band we’ve ever wanted to tour with. It’s just a matter of sustaining it and I guess that’s the goal, to continue to do it for as long as we can, and luckily we still inspire and excite each other with the music we make so it doesn’t matter that we’ve played Radio City Music Hall with an orchestra. That’s a nice goal, but really a bigger goal is for us to continue making music that excites us, and every time we make a record we still get that kind of creative satisfaction. It’s not even a material goal, it’s more of an artistic one really.
Dream Theater will be playing at PNC in Holmdel, NJ on Aug. 24 and at Jones Beach, NY on Aug. 26. For more info and tour dates visit dreamtheater.net