"The Great Adventure is not only a worthy successor to Similitude—it is one of the finest musical works Neal Morse has ever been involved with." album review by Jerry Deschler
Lightning Strikes Twice With the Neal Morse Band’s The Great Adventure
What group in its right mind releases a double concept album based on a seventeenth century novel, and then follows that up with another double concept album based on the same novel??? The Neal Morse Band, that’s who. When the news broke that The Great Adventure was to be a double album and sequel to 2016’s The Similitude of a Dream, I am sure I was not alone in feeling a great sense of trepidation. But once I heard the album, any misgivings I had were instantly dispelled. The Great Adventure is not only a worthy successor to Similitude—it is one of the finest musical works Neal Morse has ever been invloved with.
The Neal Morse Band (Neal Morse, Randy George, Eric Gillette, Bill Hubauer, and Mike Portnoy) released what many consider a masterpiece in Similitude, which was highly praised by both fans and critics for its musical complexity and storytelling. The Great Adventure successfully takes the band’s stellar composition, performance, and storytelling to a new level with the active participation of Gillette and Hubauer. The story is moving and easy to relate to. And the songs are just a blast to listen to.
Whereas Similitude followed the journey of faith by a man identified by name as “Christian,” The Great Adventure shifts protagonists and follows a similar struggle and journey of Christian’s son, Joseph. Christian felt compelled to leave the “City of Destruction”—a cold and wicked place—and embark on a journey of self-discovery and spiritual fulfillment. Although he pleaded with his wife to take their children and accompany him, she could not bring herself to leave the City behind, and chose to stay. Years later, Joseph has endured life in the City without his father, and is bitter. The lyrics say it best and set the stage for Joseph’s journey: “But the young man hates his father. HE LEFT. And that’s the bottom line. That’s the bottom line.”
Neal’s cold, spoken-word delivery of “That’s the bottom line” perfectly captures the emotion of the moment. And it reminds me that a recurring lyrical theme in Neal Morse’s writing is dealing with father/son issues, whether dealing with physical fathers and sons, God the father with his children, or God and Jesus.
As is typical of Neal’s writing, this album deals with all three of those relationships, often exploring more than one simultaneously, and often using one as an allegory for the other. There is a real warmth and genuineness in the way Neal handles these themes, and combined with the universality of father/son relationship issues in general, helps make Neal’s writing and storytelling accessible and relatable, whether one believes in God or not.
Joseph’s journey takes place over five “chapters” spread across the double-CD set. Each disc begins with an overture that sets the musical and, to an extent, lyrical stage for what will follow. The first overture fades in with a very dream-like, ambient introduction that swells and quietly calls back to Similitude before cleverly transitioning into one of The Great Adventure’s major lyrical motifs and then exploding into the more traditional “overture-y” introduction and overview of many of the musical themes that will be fleshed out later in the album. The Great Adventure then follows Joseph as he leaves the City to pursue his own dream and encounters trials and tribulations along the way.
Interestingly, on Joseph’s journey, he finds himself in many of the same places as his father. And, yet, the nature of his struggles at each location is somewhat different than those encountered by Christian. This helps the narrative of The Great Adventure stand on its own and not be repetitive of Similitude. It also highlights what I believe to be a sub-theme of the album: that although we all must walk our own paths in life of self-discovery and/or spiritual exploration, and we may encounter many similar things, people, and places, the specific struggles and their impact on each of us can be quite unique in shaping our own identities.
It should come as no surprise that the album concludes with Joseph coming to terms with things and essentially finding what he has been looking for. It is not the “end” of his journey so much as the beginning of the next one. Musically, the end of the album is not hugely bombastic or “epic” in the way that many prog concept albums typically conclude. But the band gives the album the conclusion it needs. Sometimes, a great adventure, with its wearisome journey and intense struggles, ends with huge pomp and bombast. Other times, it ends with a sigh of contentment. The ending to The Great Adventure lies somewhere in between and is exactly what is called for by the story.
Musically, The Great Adventure feels like it is often darker and more intense than Similitude. It also seems to have more guitar-driven moments than prior Neal Morse albums. As one might expect, the musicianship is always top-notch. But so is the actual composition of the songs. I do not recall where I first read it years ago—but I remember reading that when Mike Portnoy first approached Neal Morse about collaborating on the project that would come to be Transatlantic, Portnoy made a comment along the lines of, “I really like the way you write music.” Yes, Neal Morse can write. Man, oh man—can he write! Indeed, the album is so strong and vibrant because of the exquisite songwriting and the variety of emotion invoked by the music and lyrics. There are times when the music is lighthearted and fun (“Hey Ho Let’s Go,” “Vanity Fair”). At other times, it is moving and emotional (“A Momentary Change,” “A Love That Never Dies”). At still others, it is dark and even heavy (“Venture In Black,” “The Great Despair”).
Each of the musicians is given plenty of opportunity to shine on this album. I could go into detail, but there are far too many standout moments to mention. And the mix is clear and allows each of the instruments its own space.
The lyrics are wonderful. Even when Neal and the band are being silly, it is to further the plot or to invoke an emotion that is key to the narrative. That said, there is one lyrical sticking point that gives me pause. I have no idea why the lyric “Don’t try to lay no boogie woogie [pronounced “boo-djie woo-djie”] on the kings of rock and roll” is even on this album. I am sure Neal is making a point. But I have no idea what it is or how it fits the story.
As with any Neal Morse album, lyrical and musical themes recur, taking different forms and evoking different emotions. This device is used to great effect. And it does not hurt that the major themes—such as the Welcome to the World, Dark Melody, and Love That Never Dies themes—are so good!
In addition, there appear to be a few lyrical and musical themes from other albums hinted at on The Great Adventure. For example, there is a note progression that shows up here and on Similitude that is very reminiscent of a theme from Testimony. Neal also revisits the lyric “revolution in the air,” which is a theme of part of Neal’s own spiritual journey from Testimony. Is Neal dropping breadcrumbs for the astute listener to make the connection to Testimony and hinting that the spiritual struggle portrayed on The Great Adventure may be somewhat autobiographical, or at least similar to some of Neal’s own struggles? Only he (and perhaps his band) knows for sure. But there is a lot on this album that feels very personal and intimate in a way that I have not heard from Neal’s more recent output.
Despite the comparisons to Similitude, it should be noted that The Great Adventure is not that record’s “little brother.” It firmly stands on its own as a fantastic musical ride, and fans of Neal Morse are in for another exciting and grandiose journey from one of prog rock’s top artists.
Author: Jerry Deschler
Editor's Note: This review has been updated from its original version.
The Great Adventure will be release January 25th, 2019 via Radiant Records / Metal Blade Records
Neal Morse - vocals, keyboards, and guitars
Bill Hubauer - organ, piano, synthesizers, vocals
Eric Gillette - lead and rhythm electric guitar, vocals
Randy George - bass, bass pedals and vocals
Mike Portnoy - drums and vocals
Chris Carmichael - strings
Amy Pippin, Debbie Bresee, April Zachary and Julie Harrison - background vocals on “A Love that Never Dies”
“The Great Adventure” track-list:
Chapter 1 (12:50)
The Dream Isn’t Over
Chapter 2 (23:48)
Welcome To The World
A Momentary Change
I Got To Run
To The River
Chapter 3 (17:59)
The Great Adventure
Venture In Black
Hey Ho Let’s Go
Beyond The Borders
Chapter 4 (18:13)
The Dream Continues
Fighting With Destiny
Chapter 5 (30:57)
Welcome To The World 2
The Element Of Fear
Child Of Wonder
The Great Despair
A Love That Never Dies
So Far the band has released 2 videos - Welcome to the World and The Great Adventure - and you can watch them here:
STAY TUNED FOR MORE!!!
Combining intricate riffs and furious rhythms with anthemic, cascading vocals, LestWeForget’s unique brand of progressive metal synthesises those two most disparate of things - the complex and the catchy.
Praised especially by BBC Introducing’s Dave Gilyeat, LestWeForget’s 2017 release ‘Sweet Serenity’, mastered by TesseracT’s Acle Kahney, is the most emphatic manifesto of their style to date, and can be listened to on Spotify alongside their wider back catalogue.
Since appearing to a crowd of 6,000 at the Proud2 in London’s 02 Arena during the final of Live and Unsigned, at which the band played for high-profile industry professionals such as Kerrang!’s Alex Baker, LestWeForget have obtained notable support slots with bands such as Yashin, Fearless Vampire Killers, Press to Meco, Wars, Chapter and Verse, and Martyr de Mona, among others.
They have sold out the 02 Academy 2 in Oxford, and have performed at prestigious live venues across the country, including The Fleece in Bristol, which hosted the band for a show in which they were the headlining touring act. They will return to the 02 Academy, Oxford, as headliners in February 2019, alongside Cypher16.
LestWeForget continue to work as an exciting and inventive force in the UK scene and today they are back with their latest single, Zero Won. This is their first release with new guitarist/vocalist Paul Heavey. And I must say that like Heavey’s clean vocals better than the previous singer. While there is nothing spectacular about his voice, he has a good range and less gravelly than his predecessor, which I think makes for a better juxtaposition when the shouting vocals kick in. The riffs are still technical and heavy but I find it more melodic than previous releases. Part of it is due to the fact that there is less of the growling type vocals in this new single (which fits my personal tastes just fine), but also in that they have written a catchy heavy tune with progressive overtones. Production wise, there is a lot of low end in the mix, but yet it’s not muddy, and rather adds to the heaviness of the sound. I’m going to be very interested to hear what the rest of this record will sound like when it comes out in the spring. For me Zero Won it’s a solid 8/10
You can hear Zero Won here:
For more info of the band:
Please take note…this review is strictly for the 2 disc audio version of the show. You can purchase the accompanying DVD of this show, but that is not reviewed here. In fact, I purposely did not watch it prior to this review so that the audio review would stand on its own merit outside of the visual presentation of the DVD.
20 years. That’s a long time in anyone’s book. Many bands aspire to be relevant for but a portion of that time frame. Yet Lacuna Coil not only persist, but seem to be thriving as they enter their third decade. But after 20 years as a band, this Italian outfit have released this live album as a celebration of this anniversary. The title is a nod to their song of the same name “1:19” from their second studio album. Its meaning has long been a mystery, but the fans of the band have taken the title and designated January 19 as “Lacuna Coil Day.” So what better way to mark your longevity than by having an epic concert, on that day, to celebrate, and then record it to share with your fans?!
We are treated to a 2 CD set of 27 tunes that span their career. There are songs from their original EP all the way to their most recent release here. There are three from the EP, two from In a Reverie, four from Unleashed Memories, three from Comalies, three from Karmacode, two from Shallow Life, two from Dark Adrenaline, three from Broken Crown Halo and two from Delirium. That is a pretty well rounded and album represented set list. I am sure that not every Lacuna Coil fan will be totally satisfied with the set list. I’ve read some comments about certain favorites not being in the show. But honestly, what set list satisfies every rabid fan? Plus I think the band wanted to pull out some material that fans don’t normally get to enjoy in order to add a little extra for this legacy show.
The show starts with a keyboard intro before the band launches into “A Current Obsession.” You can tell the crowd was pleased with this an opener. From there the band launches into the track this was named after, 1:19 and the crowd goes crazy. Vocalists Cristina Scabbia and Andrea Ferro do a nice job live of juxtaposing her soaring vocals with his earthy growls. Their wonderful interplay continues on “My Wings” and “End of Time.” Next comes “Blood, Tears, and Dust.” The band crushes this one. It’s the very definition of modern gothic metal. Heavy and atmospheric, beautiful and dark. Probably the highlight of the performance for me. “Swamped” follows and the crowd appreciates being gifted one of their favorites. The second disc also features some nice moments. After powering through several tracks, the heaviness lifts for “Falling.” This track is just piano and Scabbia. The vocals are raw, emotional and vulnerable. “Wide Awake” follows in a similar manner. But the band brings the power back in the last three tracks to close the show. Starting with the catchy “I Forgive” and then their quite good cover of Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence.” They close with “Nothing Stands in Our Way,” no doubt serving notice that the band is far from done and still wish to push forward and keep rocking on.
Now onto the recording itself. Live recordings have a long history of being difficult to review. Some people love live recordings. A good one will show what power a band has live. Others fall flat and are not a great representation of the live experience. Plus, many fans don’t like listening to songs in this format and are happy with the original recordings. In this age it’s definitely easier to get good sounding live recording. So where does this show stack up sonically? It’s not perfect, but overall it’s nicely done. I spent a long time with this one. I listened to it on several systems. Home system, headphones at work as well as in my car. What really stands out to me is the vocal production. Cristina’s and Andrea’s vocals are at the very front. And they should be. The music revolves around what they bring to the table in my opinion. There are times when I feel the production gets a little muddy and others where all the pieces meld together perfectly. On the first disc, there were times early in the set where I felt the keyboards were pushed back too far in the mix and caused a “sameness” in the presentation of the songs. By the time “Swamped” starts at track 7, things seem to have improved. The lead guitars were usually sharp throughout the recording and Diego Cavalotti grinds it out nicely. But there were times when the rhythm sections were drowned out a little by the bass track. There were times too, where I felt the bass was not sharp, but other times where it drove the tracks nicely and really grooved. Despite my criticisms, overall I think it was a production success. But, as I said, the vocals are where it’s at with this band, and in the end those did not disappoint.
So where does that leave us? A career spanning and defining show recorded for posterity done very well. Certainly any hard core Lacuna Coil fan will see this as a must have. I think that even the casual fan will be pleased with this release and happy to have in their collection.
Lacuna Coil – The 119 Show – Live in London was released on November 9th, 208 under Century Media and it is Available as 2CD/DVD, Blu-ray/DVD/2CD, Digital Album.
2. A Current Obsession
4. My Wings
5. End of Time
6. Blood, Tears, Dust
8. The Army Inside
9. Veins of Glass
10. One Cold Day
11. The House of Shame
12. When a Dead Man Walks
13. Tight Rope
14. Soul Intro Hades
1. I Like It
2. Heaven's a Lie
6. Our Truth
9. Wide Awake
10. I Forgive (But I Won't Forget Your Name)
11. Enjoy the Silence
12. Nothing Stands in Our Way
The Tangent are back with their latest effort, Proxy. This is the 10th release by the Andy Tillison led outfit, and is only a year removed from their last release. Now, I’m going to be up front. While I have heard of The Tangent, I have somehow never managed to give this group a listen. A mistake I will be correcting immediately.
Proxy was written and recorded while they were on the road as the backing band for bassist Jonas Reingold’s other band, Karmakanic. And you can tell it was written as a group functioning on all cylinders. This disc is tight. The band just absolutely feed off each other and easily weave together all their individual styles into an amazingly flowing patchwork of sound.
Is it obvious that Andy Tillison has influences based on 70’s era progressive rock? You betcha. But there is so much more here than that. So much more. There is a lot of jazz present throughout, and the band slips through styles and influences seamlessly.
The album starts off with the 16 minute title track, a wonderful mix of 70’s progressive rock complete with the sound of mellotrons. The lyrics are political, and leave no question as to where Mr. TIllison stands on the subject. The the focus is the music here. One would think a 16 minute song would at some point become tedious. I know for me, even the best of epic progressive tracks have a few spots where you wish they would “just get on with it.” But I have to tell you, I did not have that happen with the track. Here I was, sitting at my desk with my headphones on, tapping along, when I looked at the clock and realized the track was almost over. I could hardly believe my eyes (or ears for that matter).
Next up is the jazz-fusion instrumental, The Melting Andalusian Skies. Guitarist Luke Machin shines on this track. The title is dead-on in describing the music. There is a total Mediterranean feel on this track in its rhythms and styles. And it features flamenco style picking throughout. It’s a great instrumental piece that sees a band running at full stride.
The next track, A Case of Misplaced Optimism, is teeming with amazing bass grooves and riffs. It’s loaded with funk, and the band describe it as an ‘attempt to find the link between Porcupine Tree and Jamiroquai.” A bold goal, no doubt. Whether the band succeeded in that attempt is up to you, the listener, but it’s a fun ride none-the-less. The horns really set the mood here, blasting away behind a great, 70’s funk inspired track. Did I mention the bass groove?
The next song, another 16 minute epic entitled “The Adulthood Lie,” is a sprawling song where the music seems to sweep across the lifetime of the author, who seems to be pondering if maturing and adulthood is all it was supposed to be. Should he really be acting his age? The track features quick pace with a dance groove. It feels like it starts in the 70’s, but not progressive 70’s, but rather the dance feel of the era. You can feel the funk and wah-wah pedal feel of the 70’s full with the flute over the top. Only the keys seem to keep you in the present. As the song progresses, so does the music, transitioning to a more modern dance feel, yet keeping that same beat. After a quick bridge, it even gets into electronica, but with a subtle atmosphere just below the surface. Yet while in that realm, Machin rips off a little jazzy guitar solo. A real interesting meld, indeed. It finishes with a rollicking jam with an 80’s synth vibe.
The last track, “Supper’s Off” clocks in a hair under 10 minutes. Its got a nice pace, and the galloping bassline plays a major role in giving the track its early feel. Sometimes spoken, sometimes sung, the lyrics decry a world gone wrong. How simple it used to be, when things were free. How the generation that enjoyed Woodstock and wanted to change the world turned into the very people who have allowed the current world to become commercialized, changing music from a tool of change to a tool of profit. He laments how a Rolling Stones song could be used by a politician. The song breaks into a ripping guitar solo over that amazing Reingold bass. It rounds into a notable synth solo before reaching a crescendo that drops quickly yet effectively into the last two lines of lyric.
5 songs and 57 minutes later what do you have? A very good eclectic mix of music. The 70’s era English progressive base is there and out front, but The Tangent bring a lot more than that to the table. They play tight, and their jazz jams are amazing. Each song is different in its style and composition. Very different in many cases. This is a talented outfit for sure. I really need to check out their prolific back catalog (10 releases in 15 years!). I’ll give it a very solid 7/10.
The album was released November 16th, 2018 under InsideOut Music
NOTE: THIS REVIEW IT'S BASED ON ONLY 5 SONGS AS THOSE WERE THE ONES WE RECEIVED IN OUR PROMO COPY.
01. Proxy (16:07)
02. The Melting Andalusian Skies (8:51)
03. A Case of Misplaced Optimism (6:13)
04. The Adulthood Lie (16:05)
05. Supper’s Off (9:53)
06. Excerpt From “Excerpt From “Exo-Oceans” (10:25)
Andy Tillison – Vocals, Keyboards, Composer, Lyrics
Jonas Reingold – Bass Guitar
Theo Travis – Saxophone, Flute
Luke Machin – Guitar
Steve Roberts – Drums
Göran Edman – Vocals
“It’s surprising how prolific and how fast things were coming together in the writing of the new album” – Dream Theater’s James LaBrie discusses the writing of the new album “Distance Over Time”and more!
A new Dream Theater album is always an event met with much anticipation by the prog metal community. Upon the announcement of their 14th effort “Distance over Time”, the band promised a return to their roots. All five members retreated to a barn studio in the Catskills and worked unstoppably in the writing and recording, and thus a new chapter in the band’s lengthy career was written. With two very short samples having already been shown to the fans, along with the cover art, the first tour dates and a handful of track names, there is still an aura of mystery surrounding the new album. After an interview with Jordan Rudess last October, Rodrigo Altaf spoke with singer James LaBrie, and he revealed more details about the writing sessions, the touring plans, setlist choices and many other topics. Read it all in the transcript below, and please let us know your thoughts at the end of the article.
Lotsofmuzik: Thanks so much for agreeing to the interview. I imagine this is a very busy time for you with the upcoming release of the new Dream Theater album “Distance Over Time”, right?
JLB: Yeah, I mean everything is pretty much starting to gear up. We're at the point where the album is being mastered, there's a release date for February and then we're going to start the tour in March down in San Diego. I believe March 20th is the first date, so everything leading up to that. There's a lot of prep work, not only musically. We decided on a killer set list that most fans are going to really embrace. But there's also, you know, obviously all the promotion and all the interviews such as what you and I are doing here today. And everyone's in high gear, that's for sure.
LOM: For this album, you guys decided to convene in an isolated property and work together in the album. When I heard about that, I couldn't help but think about the old Led Zeppelin albums when they’d go together to Headley Grange and write and record the whole thing. Did anyone make that connection at the time?
JLB: I think first and foremost, John Petrucci, John Myung and I recalled the last time we did that as a band, when we were recording the “Images and Words” album. We were at BearTracks Studios in Upstate New York, and we actually all lived in this house. It was about 10 minutes from the studio in Tomkins Cove. That was the name of this town that we were in, and we were all living together in the house throughout the duration of the recording. So we were all talking and kind of reminiscing about those times and so it was kind of cool to come back to this- it was like a summer camp, but at the same time what you're doing is you're there to produce a new album, new material. And it was cool because I think what it allowed us to do is that it enabled us to come up with ideas together and slowly but surely we formed them into complete songs. Sometimes we’d just be chilling out, sitting around one another, and more often than not the conversation obviously comes back around to the music and where things are at and how we feel and the direction that it's going and maybe even focusing on that particular song at the moment that is being worked on. So it's kind of cool because it, it doesn't allow you many distractions, right? You're not getting away from it, but you're in that zone and you're there. Pretty much 24/7.
LOM: We have a couple of tracks whose names were already revealed: “Fall Into The Light”, “Paralyzed”, “At Wit's End” And “Barstool Warrior”. How have you contributed to those ones? And did you have any involvement in the music this time or just the lyrics?
JLB: Only the lyrics. I was there the whole time though, observing the music and if anything felt a little weird to me then I'd voice my opinion. But the amount of times that I would say that is not even worth mentioning. When it came time to write the melodies to the songs I got involved, and I wrote lyrics to three songs. And we had this discussion about me being involved and being a part of the process so that I could listen and kind of gauge where we're going and where we're at and what the end result is going to be. And so for me it's kind of cool because part of the whole process with any band that when they're writing is that you'll leave all your egos at the door and you're just basically candid with one another. What was surprising with this was just how quickly it was going on. I don't know if you were speaking to any of the other guys, but I believe you did an interview with Jordan and he might've mentioned to you that at the end of the day, the actual days of writing worked out to be something like 17 days! That's how prolific, how fast things were coming together. Like I said, I wrote the lyrics to three songs, one of the songs being the bonus track on the album. I think everything came out exactly as we had hoped and as we had been discussing leading up to the actual time in the studio to actually start writing.
LOM: That's good to hear! And it seems that you took the same approach as the self-titled album to a certain extent, in the sense that the songs are a bit more direct, right? Not necessarily shorter but more direct, more straight to the point.
JLB: Yeah, absolutely. Our last album was very conceptually based and very theatrical as well. So it was about getting back and about encompassing or encapsulating all of our roots, where we came from and our influences originally and what does that say to each and every guy in the band. And also chasing something that's a little more organic, and then ultimately creating something where we can say that each song is always going to be who and what we are. It always has to be identified as Dream Theater. But we felt that we were creating something a little more than what was previously done. I think when everyone hears the songs they're going to be going “wow!” I think each track is very, very exciting and very, very unique.
LOM: Very cool! At the same time it's already been announced that you'd be playing the album “Scenes From A Memory” in full. For me in particular, it's very special because I missed that tour. I was living in Brazil at the time and you guys didn't go there! But do you remember the last time you played the album in full?
JLB: Oh my God. I could be wrong, but I'm going to try…was it when we were in South America? It wasn't Buenos Aires, was it?
LOM: No, it was in Sao Paulo. I wasn't actually in Brazil at the time - I was living in Australia. I travelled from Perth to see that tour in Japan. But what I heard from that night in Sao Paulo is that you got the news of a family member passing away halfway through the show and you carried on!
JLB: Oh yeah, right. That was my father, man. He died while we were on that tour on December 11th and the guys were completely behind me. They said “if you have to go home, you have to go home”. And I said “well, no, I'm not going, you know, my family's going to wait for me to get home after the tour”. And it was tough, you know, I really had to kind of hold it together and I think what I did each night is, I just went on there and I kept saying “this is for you dad”. My dad was a huge influence to me musically. He loved to sing and he was in a barbershop quartet singing and he's also the one that really introduced me to people like John Coltrane and Miles Davis and really made me appreciate jazz and instruments and how they spoke, you know, how they each had a voice. I owe a lot to him because he was my biggest fan and it was just amazing, amazing who he was and what he was during life. So yeah, it was a little difficult, but I think the shows went on and they went down great.
LOM: So without revealing too much, are you planning to change any arrangements of the “Scenes From A Memory” songs?
JLB: At this point I'm going to say that that's always a possibility, but none of those conversations have taken place yet. From a personal standpoint, I think, that just due to the fact that it's the 20th anniversary, I think that aside from a few improvisational moments here and there, in order to really do the album justice and to really honor the album for what it is, it would be cool to just play it like was written. I think nothing beats it, just stick to what was there originally and I think that will even make it that much more magical. I think just the fact that we're going to be honoring that album and playing it from front to back, it’s just going to be a thrilling experience, not only for the fans but for the band too. It'll really be an inspirational moment for each and every one of us.
LOM: For me, it's a second chance to tick off a bucket list item! [laughs]. And having seen you guys in the “Images, Words and Beyond” tour here in Toronto last year, you guys seemed to enjoy that trip down memory lane. I have a question about that time when you joined the band and moved from Canada to the US. Was that a move you were already planning to make regardless of the invitation to join the band?
JLB: Physically I never moved to the U.S., but I see what you're saying. Like, getting into that whole U.S. headspace. I was in a band called Winter Rose before Dream Theater, which everyone knows, or most fans of Dream Theater would know. And at the time, you know, I was already starting to deal with U.S. labels like Atlantic, who were very interested in signing Winter Rose. So I had already started to wrap my head around the fact that this was a completely different market. It just allows for so much more to be had, on a much larger scale just because the country's population is 10 times that of Canada. Ultimately what really mattered to me is, “am I going to be able to make something of this?” you know, if I get into Dream Theater? I believed right from the very beginning that we had all the potential and we had all the earmarks for a very unique and individual band to be able to say something and bring something that most bands weren't even entertaining in the slightest bit. So I knew that if we got our fair shake, it would really take off, and fortunately for us all it did. But the whole point to me, to be honest with you Rodrigo, I just wanted to make it, and survive off of music. And [at the time I thought] if there's any band that can do it, it's this band because we're so unique and so diverse and the virtuosity within the band was incredible even at that time. So to me it was, you know,”God willing, I hope that this can be something that's successful”.
LOM: Did you think from the get-go that you guys had created something unique? When we talk about prog metal, there were other bands doing something similar like Fates Warning and Queensryche, but they surely didn't have the same impact or influence that you guys had in the scene.
JLB: I was definitely aware of the other bands that were out there and that were, you know, kind of carrying the torch for that progressive element within music. But I just knew that what Dream Theater was doing musically was just standing on its own. It was its own language and I just thought “if we play our cards right and this album is captured, the magic is captured with these songs of ‘Images and Words’, and if the right people hear it and the right amount of people hear it, then it's a no-brainer that it's going to be a success”. And you know, also there was that little bit of trepidation because you have to remember that when the album came out in 1992, grunge was huge at that time. You had bands like Nirvana and even Soundgarden too to a certain extent. But Soundgarden to me was more like a true classic frigging rock metal band, you know, and I thought they were freaking amazing and I always did. But just going into that environment musically was great. I remember Derek Oliver, who got us signed to ATCO or Atlantic, telling us stories of when he was going to the label and saying “there was this band, Dream Theater, you know, we gotta sign them, they’re freaking amazing”, and most of the people at the label were like, “are you sure about this? Their music doesn't sound like anyone out there”. Thankfully, Derek was there and he was also a journalist and a big, big music fan, he thoroughly understood us, and thoroughly appreciated who we were musically. And he was our guy in the ring, he went in there and he got us signed when I think most people were very apprehensive to make that move. So thank God. But beyond it, um, you know, like in anything in this world, like in any business, you need key people of influence – you need the powers that be to be willing to believe in you. And that was our situation.
LOM: And what would the James of today have told the Jas of 91, 92 if he could?
JLB: Good question. I guess the only thing I could say to him is “holy shit, man, enjoy the ride because it goes fast”. I still can't believe that, it's already been 27 years, and it's just amazing, you know, we've had such a brilliant ride all along and, and not unlike anyone else. In the music industry any band that's been around that long or as long as we have, there are the highs and lows and the challenges and everything else that goes along with. But, you know, we were a strong unit and we were able to really just stay focused on the music and who we are. And let's face it, I don't know many other bands that tour harder than we do, going for a year and a half at a time. That last world tour was two years and we were all completely burned out, burned physically, mentally and all that. We went from “The Astonishing” right into the 25th anniversary for “Images and Words”. So it was very, very taxing, but at the same time, very thrilling as well.
LOM: And aside from Dream Theater, you also had a very prolific solo career: two Mullmuzzler albums, a couple of solo albums…some fans are wondering if and when you're going to release new solo material.
JLB: I think what it comes down to is Matt Guillory and I that we've kind of started this thing way back in 1998 and it did start, like you said, with the Mullmuzzler albums and then it morphed into my solo albums. But for all intents and purposes, it's just as much Matt Guillory’s thing as it is mine - he's an integral part of it. With that being said, the situation is this: I need to wait for Matt to find the time to really be able to sit down and put all these songs together and to put an album together. And I mean, there's many ideas. We have many ideas and that's not what's lacking. What's lacking is that he has a full time gig, and at this point I'm kind of at the mercy of Matt being able to find the time and us being able to put aside hours of each and every day to be able to put this together. So I think at this point we speak off and on, on a regular basis, and we're just kind of saying please be patient. I'm trying to make a window of opportunity available so that we can actually sit down and put all the songs together and get another album and we will eventually do another album. At first we thought we were going to have one out even a year ago and then things come up in people's lives and you have to be cognizant and considerate of that. As far as I'm concerned it'll happen. I just can't really give you a definite timeline.
LOM: A lot of people say that the material in your solo career favors your singing style more than Dream Theater’s material. Would you agree with that assumption?
JLB: That’s interesting, and I've heard it, and many times I've read it. I think maybe what it might be and my analogy of it is that when Matt and I write together, it's very, very “vocal, vocal, vocal” oriented. And that's not to say that there isn’t incredible musicianship going on because everyone in that band, you know, Ray Riendeau, Peter Wildoer, Marco Sfogli, Matt Gillory, they're all phenomenal musicians and there are many, many times in all those songs that they're able to show just how virtuosic they are there. They all are great, great players and there's a lot of moments in those songs where the instruments are really at the forefront. But I think overall, the predominant element that's been focused on is when Matt and I are working on these songs, we're thinking vocals, we're thinking melodies. And so it kind of lends itself to, the vocal really being the focus. And I think because of that, it tends to kind of show itself a little bit more. It's a little bit more naked and upfront and that's my observation. I think with Dream Theater we've always been known as this progressive metal giant. But at the same time, we've also been very highly recognized for the instrumentation in the band, so it's not, I just not necessarily one instrument more than the other. It's a bit of everything, you know, a keyboardist that is incredible, an amazing guitar player, bass player, drummer, you know, and singer! So, so you're trying to make all these five elements make sense at the end of the day. And I think that we've done a phenomenal and an admirable job keeping that in mind and keeping it for the most part very balanced. But it’s different, it's a different monster. It's a different beast, you know, because of the nature of Dream Theater and where we go musically, the direction that we go is quite different than where Matt and I tend to go musically and the direction that we tend to make.
LOM: It's a shame that you don't get a chance to tour as much as well with your solo stuff. Actually, I spoke the other day with a drummer that toured with you John Macaluso , and he sent his regards to you!
JLB: He's phenomenal! He's, he's such a great guy, and an amazing drummer! He was out with us in 2005 when we went out and we had a great time. It was such a cool thing…we were only out for four weeks, we did five or six shows in the New York state area and then we took off and went over into Europe and all that. It was a great experience and the band sounded freaking amazing every night. I'm always hoping that that is a possibility, but, you know, I gotta be honest with you, Rodrigo, it's so time consuming with the Dream Theater thing and, and I tend to do things on the side. Actually, just today there was a video that I shot with a band called Last Union which was released. They’re from Italy, I sang four songs with them. And this one song that I did with them, “President Evil”, is out there now. It just was released worldwide. So I tend to do things on the side and work with other bands, other musicians, but at the same time, I'm really hoping that somehow some way a window of opportunity will avail itself so that we can rightfully and justifiably take out the solo band and do a tour in Europe through North America and wherever else we might deem possible, you know?
LOM: I have a question about your singing technique. I'm not a singer and I don't play any instruments, so I'm just an educated music listener, if I can call myself that. Sometimes when you go for high notes, you stick your tongue out a lot. What's your objective when you do that?
JLB: I think that just happens to me naturally. And I know some singers and even vocal coaches will say “that's not what I would do”. You're supposed to make it flat and behind your bottom teeth and stuff like that. I've always felt that when I stick my tongue out it helps open up my throat so it helps to make everything a little more open for me and helps to resonate in the mask area of my face. So to me, I could feel the notes a little more that go up into my, my chest tones or you know, my upper register and I can feel that into my passaggio or whatever. And so to me that's what works for me now. Technically speaking, yeah, you probably have a lot of vocal coaches that would say “you should maybe have his tongue flat and all that”, and that's fine, but what works for one or many doesn't necessarily work for everyone. So you have to find whatever you feel enables you to be comfortable when you're singing things from beginning to end and whatever that is or whatever enables you to do so, that's usually what a singer will adopt as something that works for them.
LOM: Speaking of your other endeavors, like you just mentioned, you sang with Rik Emmett in a track that also had Alex Lifeson of Rush. In a way that kind of summarized the whole contribution from Canada, to rock and prog: you have Rush, Triumph and you on the same track!
JLB: [laughs] I know, right? That was so crazy! We were in the studio on the same day, the three of us, and it was so cool. We kind of just sat around, talked and it was like we were at a bar having beers because we were hanging out and it was just about talking about life and families and boom boom boom. And it was surreal to me. Here I am looking at Rik Emmett, who's a phenomenal musician. I'm looking at Alex Lifeson who I think is one of the most incredible guitar players in the world all the music he wrote with Rush speaks for itself. He’s an incredible writer as well and it was just cool to see these two guys and then respect them myself, you know. And yeah, three Canadians going “hey, look what we did!”
LOM: I saw Geddy and Alex a month ago at an event, and to be honest, only now I stopped shaking…meeting them was a dream come true!
JLB: Where did you see them?
LOM: It was an event called Grapes Under Pressure. We went on a train to Niagara-on-the-Lake, did a wine tasting and they were there. It was more like a reception and we were able to catch up with them, take photos and whatnot. They're both really nice guys, very approachable, very cool with the fans.
JLB: Absolutely. Absolutely. That's the coolest thing about those guys, man, is that they're real.
LOM: Yeah, for sure. And speaking of encounters like this, one thing I was always curious about is the meet and greets. From memory, I think you guys started doing these in 2008, 2009. Is everyone in the band equally comfortable with them? Because it's the kind of situation where you have to be ready for intense adulation or some annoying criticism from never met before.
JLB: You know what, I think everyone's okay with it, but I think our biggest concern is that the fans spend money to get there and be with you and to hang out with you and that, but if we shook hands with everyone and we hugged and embraced everyone we'd be sick because you're meeting so many thousands of people or you're around so many people all the time when you're on tour and then to be doing the meet and greets where there's anywhere from 50 to a hundred, 100 plus people, that's a lot of people to be coming in contact with and it's something that I'm always very paranoid of because if I get a wicked cold, you know, then I'm fighting a beast, you know, out there on stage. At the same with the other guys, they don't want to get sick either, you know. So I think we're comfortable in meeting our fans and having conversations with them and doing pictures with them. And obviously you're talking about the music and we all love to talk about our music. So that's not a problem. I think the biggest concern is we just don't want this ending up making us ill are making us sick in some way. That's our biggest concern.
LOM: Understood. And I saw an interview where you said the most difficult song in the whole Dream Theater catalogue for you to sing is “Illumination Theory”. It’s hard to argue against that because it's a very difficult song. But do you think that long songs like that one or, “Octavarium”, “Count of Tuscany”, “In the Presence of Enemies” etc., could get back to the set list eventually?
JLB: Yeah, I think so, eventually! When I say something like that, it's just stating the fact that those are big numbers to sing. For any singer, they would be a very challenging thing. So you really have to make sure that you're in the best shape and you're in the best head space possible when you have songs like those that you just mentioned in the set list and each and every night. I hope that we always get around to songs in our catalog and not so far apart because they are a part of who and what we are and they are, songs that the fans want to hear. The problem is that when you have 14 albums though, it gets a little more difficult to try and say “okay, so how do you put that in a two-hour evening or how do you get enough in there to really satisfy each and every one of you?”. It's impossible. So you really have to pick up like where are we at, what is it that we're doing on this current tour, what is it that we're, we're trying to attain musically and is it going to be something that we feel good about. And at the same time be absolutely satisfying for our fans. So it's a lot to juggle. But yeah, I hope that we do definitely get back to those songs becoming a part of the set list for sure.
LOM: Well, Dream Theater is the kind of band that if you play all your albums back to back every night, there would still be complaints about the set list and how one of you guys played certain songs in a way certain fans didn’t enjoy, right?
JLB: [laughs] Oh yeah, yeah, exactly. I mean it doesn't matter. You're always gonna have someone that's going to say “I can't believe it, man, this is their set list?” [laughs] So it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter. Even if we did, let's just say that every 14 nights we were playing each and every album from beginning to end. Then the complaint would be “Yeah, but they're not playing MY album when they were in MY city”. So you just got to really think what is best for Dream Theater as far as who and what we are and what it is that we think is supposed to be us at this particular point in time.
LOM: At some point in 2010 when Mike Portnoy left, there was talk of you taking over the YtseJam special releases, but that's still dormant at the moment.
JLB: How have I done so far? [laughs] You know what? I don't know how the hell that started. I really don't. I remember having those conversations about there being a lot to do, and you know, Mike handled those duties admirably, there's no doubt about it. I think really what happened was that we were just creating a whole new chapter in our career, and focusing on the album that we were releasing at any given time - “A Dramatic Turn of Events”, the self-titled album etc. In between that, and then each guy was doing his thing in between that. We've recorded every single flipping show since the beginning of “A Dramatic Turn of Events” tour, so it's not like we're lacking in material to put something together and maybe there will be one day that we can sit down as a band and we can say “okay, why don't we take from this album these nights and from this album these nights” and just put it out there for the fans. That would still be a huge, huge release because for us to do any of what we’ve done since 2011 up to the present and moving on forward, you're talking about a lot, even to find those nights that were so magical and special for the band where we go “oh my God, did you listen back to that recording? I mean, everyone was on fire, everyone sounded fricking amazing”. So even to get all of those and then decide amongst them on each world tour which ones we want to use, that's a mammoth undertaking.
LOM: Yeah, for sure! And let's talk about your preparations for a minute. Do you have a period where you go through the songs by yourself before meeting the band for rehearsals or do you wait until everyone's together to go through the material?
JLB: I think everyone starts to go through the songs individually at home. You start to rehearse them and I start to sing through them when I'm at home. So everyone does their homework - we can't just show up and then “boom, okay, let's go for it”. The band usually gets together two or three, even maybe four days before I show up, so by the time I get there they already feel really tight. They feel very sure with all the sections, all the segways, and what we've created as the set list. Then I'll come in and I'll do two or three days with them depending on what it is that we're doing. If I was to guess right now - because nothing's set in stone - let's just say, since we're starting the tour March 20th, more than likely those guys would be together, from around the 12th or 13th of March rehearsing. I would come in around maybe let's just say the 16th or 17th and rehearse a couple of days and then there's a day before the show where everything's kind of like down and we're not doing anything, and then you kick off the tour. For other tours, it depends on what it is that we're doing. Sometimes we will rehearse for 10 days somewhere in New York and then we all fly to Europe and we start the tour a week later in Europe. But we had that initial block of rehearsals. By the time we get to Europe and we're ready to do the first show, we have one long soundcheck that day and then boom, the tour starts.
LOM: I’ve seen shows you did with Jordan only and you had an acoustic number on the “A Dramatic Turn of Events” tour where it would be just you and John Petrucci on stage. Would you consider doing something low-key, like a mini tour doing only acoustic stuff?
JLB: Yeah, we keep talking about that. That has definitely come up. Actually we were talking about that as far back as the self-titled tour started. It'd be really cool to do maybe one little leg within a world tour where that leg is just strictly an acoustic leg and we just go out and we do a bunch of songs that we feel are best suited for an acoustic environment and just bring it to the fans that way and just make it a very intimate and very emotional night musically. I think that definitely is something that we discussed and it will hopefully come to fruition one day. Because I think 1998 was the last time we did anything like that, right?
LOM: Yeah, you did a few acoustic shows in Europe on that tour. But taking a sidetrack here, tell us about your son’s musical endeavors. It seems that his band Falset is taking off, right?
JLB: Yeah! Falset are doing amazing! They were playing me some of their new music just the other day. My son was here and we went for a drive. We like to go out in the vehicle and then crank it up. He played me a new song that they had just worked on, and it sounded freaking amazing - I'm blown away. I think these guys are contenders, and are right up there with anything that is new coming out, anything in their demographic. I mean, they're all like, what, 19 to 24 years old. So, you know, they're young, they're extremely talented. And the one thing that really gets me about them is they have great songs. It comes right down to the songs. Great melodies, very, very melodically influenced and I really think they have a shot at making something happen. They just came back from doing something like 10 dates, and were doing a mini tour in clubs, and right now they're focusing on getting into a studio and recording their new batch of songs, getting them released and then seeing where that goes - making the right people hear it. I think that they really do have a shot at making some huge waves
LOM: Well, maybe I'll be interviewing Chance LaBrie one day, who knows?
JLB: Right on, let me know man! He can sit down and talk to you! I'm proud of them, they're doing well.
LOM: Two half-joking questions from the fans: what kind of drink is in your bottle on stage and what do you do backstage when the long instrumental sections kick in?
JLB: You guys are obviously talking about my thermoses, right? That's just a little “warmer than warm”, a little hotter than warm water, and then it's a little splash of honey in it and that's what I keep sipping on. And as far as backstage when those guys were doing the long instrumental thing, I'm usually smoking cigars [laughs]. No, if I'm not sitting in my tent stretching I can go right backstage and jump around just to keep the blood flowing, and humming here and there. But I'm just waiting to get back out there and get back on with the show.
LOM: Coming back to the tour plans, you have already the dates scheduled for North America, but that's a bit unusual for you guys because you usually start in Europe, right? Is there any particular reason for that?
JLB: I think part of that is that we plan on doing the big festivals in Europe, so it wouldn't have made sense for us to start in Europe and then go back again to do the festivals. It only made sense that we started in North America this time. Then we’ll go do the big festivals throughout the summer and then I'm not sure where we go from there, either down into the Pacific Rim, Australia and all that, or going into South America. I'm not sure after the summer leg at this point, after the summer festival tour, what will be happening, but I'll probably know within a month or two.
LOM: Let's finish off with a message to the fans who can’t wait to see you guys on tour.
JLB: We’re looking forward to seeing everyone out there, it’s gonna be a phenomenal tour! We're really excited about the new album “Distance Over Time”, and we can't wait for you to hear it. It's going to smack each and every one of you upside the head - in a good way, not in an aggressive way [laughs]! Honestly, we're looking forward to doing “Scenes From A Memory” each and every night, along with the songs from various other albums. It's just going to be an amazing evening of music and a lot of fun, a lot of fun. Great production. Everything is going to be there!
LOM: James, thank you so much for your time! I'll definitely catch up with you guys on April 04th when you play here in Toronto, so I'm looking forward to that!
JLB: Thanks Rodrigo, take care!
Distance Over Time will be released under InsideOut Music February 22, 2019
More detail of the album, traclist, preorder links and more soon!
Dream Theater's upcoming release, "Distance Over Time", comes out in February, 2019. To announce the details of the band's most recent offering, Dream Theater has enlisted the help of fans to spread the word about the release and even to break the news of the record release date, cover artwork, and to share the first taste of never before heard music. With this album, a return to the band's roots, Dream Theater hoped to create a fan engagement experience unlike any previously undertaken.
To lead into the initial release of material, an Alternate Reality Game was launched. This game encompassed a "treasure hunt" whereby fans were able to search for clues hidden in various photos, video, social media posts, and more. Cooperation to host the Alternate Reality Game focused on various fan communities. The band's fan club, forum members and Reddit each brought in technical expertise to create puzzles for the participants. Each and every week, a new puzzle would be released, often in the form of a candid photo or video from the studio where Dream Theater recorded their latest album. This would contain a piece of the puzzle - a clue to be used in the process of solving that week's mystery. The puzzles were usually based on some encryption scheme or hiding information in the files, such as hiding a zipped file with text in an image file, or hiding text within the spectrogram of an audio file. One puzzle had the fans decoding Morse Code on a light diode of recording equipment, while another had the fans decoding a touch tone number from a phone call. Fans had to solve a sonogram, sudoku puzzle, reverse engineer an encryption scheme to find a key that would decrypt a specific text. They had to solve crosswords and trivia games. Fans were eager to participate, and often worked together to collectively solve the puzzles within hours of their release.
Ultimately, there would be one person - one fan who would be the first to solve the final clue. As their prize, this fan would be the first person to possess previously unreleased Dream Theater content. The very first person outside the band to have possession of any new music, new artwork, new album title. It would be the fans who would solve the puzzle, complete the game and break the news of the release, disseminating this brand new Dream Theater news to the world from their personal online presence.
It is the hope of Dream Theater to have created a fun and engaging fan experience. A unique manner to amp up the excitement for the new release, and to involve the band's fanbase in a new and interesting way. On behalf of Dream Theater - congratulations to the winner, and thank you to everyone who participated.
Freddy Jacobi was: James LaBrie, Jordan Rudess, John Petrucci, John Myung, Mike Mangini, Maddi Schieferstein, James T. Meslin, Jake Solomon, Kim Arthur Sakariassen, Victoria Montenegro Martinez, Jessica Lausen, Sean Arnold, Freddy Palmer, Roie Avin, mods of r/dreamtheater, dreamtheaterforums.org and Dream Theater World
“I’m happy with the music I made in the past, and looking forward to the next 25 years of my career” – Anneke van Giersbergen releases “Symphonized”, an orchestral summary of her musical output
In May 2018, Anneke van Giersbergen (VUUR, Devin Townsend Project, The Gathering) performed two career-spanning concerts with orchestral arrangements together with Residentie Orkest The Hague. Fans came from all over the world to see and hear this crossover collaboration, but soon everyone will be able to experience these concerts, as Anneke and the orchestra are set to release a live album. ‘Symphonized’ features 11 tracks and will be released on InsideOut Music on November 16, 2018.
Dutch vocalist Anneke van Giersbergen is easily one of the hardest working people in music, and an artist that defies being pigeonholed by genre. She will forever be known as the vocalist for melancholic metallers The Gathering, but since striking out on her own in 2007, she has solidified a solo career, recorded and performed multiple times with Canadian metal genius Devin Townsend, and lent her honey-sweet, yet powerful voice to the likes of Anathema, Icelandic folk group Árstíðir, Within Temptation, Ayreon mastermind Arjen Lucassen, Moonspell, John Wetton and Napalm Death.
Lotsofmuzik collaborator Rodrigo Altaf spoke with Anneke about her new album, how she reflects on 25 years of career, her future plans and much more.
Lotsofmuzik: Hi Anneke, thank you for taking the time to talk to us today, and congratulations on the new release, “Symphonized”!
Anneke van Giersbergen: Thank you!
LOM: The new album was recorded in two different nights earlier this year, and has 11 tracks. I’m assuming you played more than 11 tracks, right? Will there be an expanded version of this album as well?
AvG: We did play more than that, it was 13 tracks in total, but there won’t be a special release of this album. One of the songs that didn’t make it to the album is a number I recently recorded with the Icelandic folk group Árstíðir, and another one doesn’t have vocals – it’s a classical instrumental piece. I think that sometimes making a good setlist for a live show is a little bit different than making a good tracklist for an album, so we decided to skip two songs for the release.
LOM: I see. And one of the songs that caught my attention Is “Two Souls”, which was originally recorded with a band called Lorrainville. What can you tell us about that band, and what did they think of the version on “Symphonized”?
AvG: I made two albums with Lorrainville, and it’s a really cool project. Initially the idea was to get some of the most prominent musicians from Holland and release one album, but it became really successful, so we ended up making another one. It was a really nice collaboration, and I wanted to include a song from one of those albums. The guy who wrote this song came to see one of the shows, and he was really happy about it, he loved to hear his song done in a completely different way!
LOM: One song in particular that turned out completely changed in this release, compared to the original version, is ironically entitled “You Will Never Change”. I thought the original had a Foo Fighters vibe, and the one on “Symphonized” was a complete departure from that. Who did the arrangement for the songs, and how much were you involved in the process?
AvG: You’re right about “You Will Never Change”, it does have a Foo Fighters vibe! And when the Residentie Orkest asked me to participate in this special evening we talked extensively about what to do. Obviously I wanted to work with them, they’re a wonderful orchestra, and they like to make connections with artists from the pop scene, hip hop and jazz. In this case, they wanted to work with me because I’m part of the rock and heavy metal scene. When we discussed what to do, I thought “well, next year I’ll be completing 25 years as a professional musician, so let’s celebrate that and pick songs from this whole period!”
I had many different kinds of songs to draw from – heavier stuff, the grungier tracks like you said, the Lorrainville songs – so arranging for such a wide variety of styles is a tough job. Sometimes they would let me hear bits and pieces of what they were doing with the songs, and would show me these crappy MIDI files, and even with those I could already see where the songs were going, and it got me really enthusiastic about the project. It was mind blowing how beautiful the songs became with these new arrangements. It’s a big job for a symphonic orchestra to play these songs!
LOM: The other thing I noticed from following your career is that many songs in your repertoire almost beg to be played with an orchestra. One of them in particular is “Shores of India”. So it must have been difficult to pick a setlist and leave so many good songs behind, right?
AvG: That’s true, we had almost a thousand songs to pick from! [laughs]. With The Gathering alone, I made eight or nine studio albums! What I did was a long list on Spotify with all my favourite songs from the last 25 years, and I let the main artistic director of the orchestra choose the tracks from that list. I had a couple of songs that I really wanted to play, like ‘Travel” of The Gathering, and “Shores of India” from Gentle Storm. So I told him “you have a fresh pair of ears, so pick the ones that you think will be a good fit for an orchestra”, and luckily he picked those. So we kinda did that together.
LOM: And there’s also a new song on the album called “Zo Lief”, which means “so sweet” in Dutch. Did you write it specifically for this project?
AvG: No, that was a song I wrote eight or nine years ago, and never used it, because it’s a very soft song, I was always making an album where it wouldn’t fit. I was always doing a rock album, or heavier albums, and singing in English. This song is in Dutch, and it’s very dear to my heart because it’s about being a mother, about my son, and about letting go. Every time I showed the crappy demo I made of this song to someone they would always be touched, because ultimately it talks about life, and everybody can relate to the subject. Every time I came back to that song I thought “it’s such a pity that I can’t use it!”. So this project came along, and I thought of including an original song to make this release a bit more special, and what better way to record this track than with an orchestra.
LOM: That was one of my favourites in this release. And I also must ask you about the song “Freedom-Rio”, from VUUR, which also has a new arrangement on “Symphonized”. I am from Rio, so I’m curious as to why you chose that city in particular.
AvG: Rio is one of my favourite places in the world. The nature is beautiful, people are beautiful, your culture, your music, your art…everything is so wonderful! When we visited the city we were there for short periods of time and we enjoyed it a lot. But when you live there, of course you’re faced with a different reality. It’s difficult to make a living because you have economical problems, political problems, and I know from people who live there how harsh the environment is.
LOM: Of course, and that’s why I left! I’ve been living in Toronto, Canada, for almost two years now.
AvG: Wow, that’s a massive change!
LOM: Of course! Temperature-wise, culture-wise…but here we are! [laughs]
AvG: I totally understand because we can make a romantic idea about Rio, but for you who lived there, and for a lot of people we spoke with at our shows there, what we noticed is that people try to make the best of it, they’re always very positive. People there are very vibrant. I live in Holland, where there are always issues to be addressed, but people here complain a lot, considering how much we have. We are blessed to be in a country like Holland – if we go to Belgium and France, we can definitely see the change and how more difficult things are. So, I tried to write about the vibrant nature of the city, and how you embrace your difficulties, and I thought that spirit should be celebrated in a song.
LOM: Thank you for that! [laughs]. Coming back to ‘Symphonized”, how long did it take you to prepare for these shows and how much did you rehearse with the orchestra?
AvG: Surprisingly enough, we did only two rehearsals! [laughs]. Most of the work goes into arranging the songs. The orchestra has sheet music, and they rehearse on their own. I also rehearsed on my own at home with the MIDI files. When we were both ready, we came together and rehearsed for two days, did an extended soundcheck before the shows and went for it! But still, it was a lengthy process, because it took a whole year from meeting for the first time until the actual shows. And yet, there was a lot of room for spontaneity, I think we had a good balance and did not over-rehearse to make every detail right. I think the audience also captured that, because many times during the shows I looked at the orchestra and at the conductor, and I felt like we had this great connection, and instead of driving perfection, there was always an uncertainty about what we would do next, and we shared a few smiles on stage. And it’s intimidating sometimes to work with such a big orchestra, but on the other hand, if you relax and get used to it, it’s good fun!
LOM: And you’re involved with so many bands at the same time – Gentle Storm, VUUR, your solo work, the albums with Devin Townsend – how do you decide where to focus your time and energy?
AvG: I try to plan ahead, because when you make an album, you need time to write, record and release it properly. Usually I go with my gut feeling. In the case of VUUR, we took two years to form a band, to write and record the album and to tour to promote it. I also write many solo acoustic things like “Zo Lief” which we just discussed. Sometimes my mind really goes into this mode. In the last couple of months I’ve been writing a huge amount of lyrics. Sometimes I want to focus on VUUR but my mind goes into a different direction and all that comes to me are soft acoustic songs. In general, what I try to do is alternate between making an album with a band on the heavier side, and then switch to a solo acoustic record and tour with that for a while. And then I have the urge to write the heavier stuff again. But what usually ends up happening is that both sides interweave with each other. Next year, for example, I will be touring more with VUUR, but I’ll probably make a solo acoustic album at the same time.
LOM: You must receive a ton of requests to record songs in different albums. The last one I recall was “Amongst Stars”, which you did with Amorphis on their album “Queen of Time” – I love that track, by the way. Is there any collaboration you wish to do which hasn’t happened yet?
AvG: First of all, I also love the Amorphis track, and I love the band, so I’m really happy to have done it! I feel really blessed to have worked with Devin [Townsend] and Arjen [Lucassen], and one collaboration I wish to do, if the stars align, is with Michael Akerfeldt. It would be either with Opeth or with Michael himself – I talked to him a couple of times, and threw it out there that I would literally KILL to collaborate with him [laughs]. But I know he doesn’t collaborate too much with other artists, so I guess I should just keep praying [laughs].
LOM: I better start praying NOW! [laughs]
AvG: Thank you, I hope it happens one day!
LOM: One thing I noticed is that you seem to cherish your time on the road a lot. I just saw pictures of you at ProgPower USA for example, and you seem to enjoy this lifestyle. How do you balance that with your family life?
AvG: I absolutely love travelling, playing life and being in front of an audience – to me that’s one of the best things in the world. But I also enjoy family time too, you know? I try to combine the two as much as I can. So when I’m touring in Holland and play a show in the weekend, a lot of times I take my son Finn with me and my husband Robert as well. When Finn was a bit younger it was easier for him to come with us, we had these big sleeper buses in Europe for example. We could go for two or three weeks at a time and my family could come with us. In that case I wasn’t even homesick, I could tour for the rest of my life if I could combine these two sides of my life. But it’s also nice sometimes when I go out on tour with VUUR without my family and come back with all kinds of different stories, and when I get home they have other stories to tell as well. So it’s a constant search for balance.
LOM: I actually have a question about Finn. Has he realized what you do, your importance to the fans, and what your career represents?
AvG: [laughs] He has, and he thinks it’s quite cool. He’s thirteen years old now, and has been going to shows with us since forever! So he’s seen the fans, the production, the backstage, the bands. He’s good friends with the guys from VUUR, so he enjoys it. Sometimes when I’m on TV and the next day he goes to school, he hears kids saying they saw me and it’s a bit awkward. Also because from his perspective, what I do is a bit old-fashioned. If his mother was someone like Katy Perry or Taylor Swift it would have been just a little bit cooler for him [laughs]. But he realizes what I do for a living is my passion, and he understands it and sees that it makes me happy, so that’s cool.
LOM: And what were your main influences when you started, and when and how did you discover metal?
AvG: I’ve been into music since forever. Since I was little, I was always singing and dancing. I picked up ghitar when I was 13. Then when I was 14 or 15 I discovered through my friends I discovered Metallica, Slayer, Faith No More…and I was also into Queen a lot. I would look at Iron Maiden and Faith No More and see these fantastic singers with heavy music which I loved. From that moment on, I found my way in music!
LOM: Going back to Symphonized, the album seems like a good retrospective of your career. Do you often stop and reflect on how much you have accomplished so far?
AvG: Not enough, I think [laughs]. I almost never look back, because I’m always in the here and now, I’m always with my head in today and in the future. However, when something like this comes along – a 25 year celebration - you look back at the music and you also look at the pictures of that time too, because you have to draw from that repertoire. So you’re always forced to go back in time. I’m always happy with the music I made in the past, so in that sense, that makes me happy. Sometimes you look back and reflect on a decision or two that were wrong at the time, either in business or with the fans. So much has happened in those years! But in general, I can say I’m happy, and I’m looking forward to the next 25 years!
LOM: Are you tired of questions about what it’s like to be a woman and play metal? I asked the same question to Doro a while back, and it seems to be a subject that we interviewers refer to a lot, right?
AvG: Well, Doro must get that all the time! [laughs]. I don’t mind, really, it’s something we cannot deny. It used to be a very special thing to be a female and being in metal, and nowadays it’s a bit more normal, but we’re still in a male dominant scene. Which I like, by the way. I like the balance being as it is. I think that metal should be male dominant, it’s an energy that fits the male energy. If there’s too many females, I think that balance is lost. I’m happy to be where I am and to be one of the first in this area. We also have some awesome newer female-fronted bands like Within Temptation and Epica for example, and I’m happy to be one of them.
LOM: I think I see where you’re coming from, if you see it like you provide a break from such a male predominant scene, but if it gets “too much of a break”, it loses character a little bit, right?
AvG: I think so, yeah! And it has nothing to do with being feminist or sexist, or anything like that. I like females bringing a little bit of color to the dark world, or a bit of light to the darkness, but it needs to be melancholic, it needs to be heavy and aggressive for the most part, you know?
LOM: Definitely. So what’s next for you in your career? I noticed you have a few solo dates early next year, but what’s the next step after that?
AvG: I’m doing a theater tour also to celebrate the 25 years – this will be a solo acoustic show. And I think I’ll write and record a solo acoustic album, because I have so many songs already written! I will tour with VUUR some more and do a few more shows with another orchestra. The cool thing is that when you work with an orchestra, other orchestras say “hey, that’s cool, come play with us!” [laughs]. So I have a few jobs here and there and some other creative endeavours, so I’ll fill my year up with that.
LOM: Thank you so much for your time Anneke, it was a pleasure talking to you!
AvG: Same here. Take care!
ANNEKE VAN GIERSBERGEN – “Symphonized” Will be released under InsideOut Music November 16th, 2018
1. Feel Alive (03:34)
2. Amity (originally released by Lorrainville) (06:48)
3. Your Glorious Light Will Shine – Helsinki (originally released by VUUR) (05:22)
4. Two Souls (originally released by The Gathering) (03:01)
5. When I Am laid In Earth (aria by Henry Purcell) (03:47)
6. Travel (originally released by The Gathering) (10:46)
7. Zo Lief (unreleased song in Dutch) (04:05)
8. You Will Never Change (04:18)
9. Freedom – Rio (originally released by VUUR) (06:13)
10. Forgotten (originally released by The Gathering)
11. Shores Of India (originally released by The Gentle Storm) (07:20)
Anneke Van Giesbergen online:
Dream Theater’s Jordan Rudess: “In our new album, we’ll go back to the roots and the core sound of the band”
Just as we wrote when we first interviewed him about a year ago (find the article here), Jordan Rudess never seems to stop. Fresh out of a tour with Al Di Meola, he is about to embark on a solo tour entitled “From Bach to Rock”, with dates scheduled for Asia, Australia and South America. In addition to that, he has just finished recording the new Dream Theater album, which promises a return to the sound that made them one of the most influential bands in the prog metal genre.
Lotsofmuzik collaborator Rodrigo Altaf had a chance to sit down with Jordan and in a very lighthearted discussion, they discussed his plans for the “From Bach to Rock” tour, his musical influences, some aspects of the new album, and many other cool subjects. Check it out below:
Lotsofmuzik – Hi Jordan, it’s great to talk to you. So you have a few dates scheduled for November and December, and the tour is entitled “From Bach to Rock”, right? What can the fans expect?
Jordan Rudess - The "Bach to Rock" tour has been a wonderful musical outlet for me because it's a chance for me to return to my roots and play the piano. My musical path started as a young pianist at 7 years old and at 9 starting my classical studies at Julliard in New York City. So the "Bach to Rock" is about a journey, following the "Jordan Rudess" kinda musical journey. Literally, I take people through my path as a musician and I do it all from the piano. And I throw a little bit of technology in the middle of that, showing my work with music applications - I show my GeoShred app, but mostly it's on the piano. The fans can expect not only a little bit of classical music thrown in and some improvisation, but also some Dream Theater songs rearranged for piano as well and some original music. So it's a real, almost chronological journey through my musical life. It involves music and also I'm talking and telling its story.
Lotsofmuzik - Very cool! I saw the setlist of the other tour you did under the same name and it seems like a great show. Do you think there will be changes on the setlist or will you be playing primarily the same thing?
JR - There will be similarities, but because it's just me and I can do whatever I want, I always make up some stuff spontaneously right there and then. If something comes into my head, I can do it. So it's not so rigid like in other kinds of shows.
Lotsofmuzik - You also did a few dates on August and September with Al Di Meola. How did that tour come together? I imagine you guys have known each other for years, right?
JR - I hadn't known Al exactly. I had met him but many years ago, about 30 years ago. I didn't really bring it up to him, but he didn't remember me [laughs]. He knew my name because he is very well aware of Dream Theater, you know, John Petrucci and all these things. But I really met him for the first time let's say, in his mind [laughs] and the tour happened because we have the same agency - our agency is called APA. He is booked out of the California branch of APA and I’m booked out of the New York branch of APA. They were trying to organize the Al tour and someone in California thought “it would be great to have Jordan join the tour because then it would help the whole package and it would be more interesting”, so I was asked to join it. I thought that was cool, I was very excited because I felt that although there are similarities in our approach to playing musical instruments, it's a different audience. The Al Di Meola audience is very different from the Dream Theater/Jordan Rudess audience. It's more like a fusion, Latin jazz and we all thought the people in the audience would enjoy what I do. So it was a great opportunity to go out and reach different people which is what you want to do especially when you are doing an opening act. It's the whole purpose. It really did function. Actually the only thing that was bad, I did eight shows on the West coast and the only thing that was really bad about it, is that after the first show I woke up the next morning in severe pain. I had a back issue and when I got home I ended up having a back operation. It was horrible because I was in such pain but I made it through. As they say, “the show must go on!” [laughs]. So on all the shows, I basically crawled to the piano, did my shows and when I got back to New York, I said ok, I gotta deal with this. If you were to tell the story, yes, when the shows happened it was quite difficult. But musically speaking, thank God it was good. Now I'm actually getting ready to do a whole other batch of shows. It should be amazing for me, because although I’m known all around the world as the keyboardist for Dream Theater, I haven’t played solo in all these places ever before. So it’s really exciting to be able to go out for solo shows, especially because it’s so personal and intimate. It’s a chance for me to share that kind of personal musicality with people but it’s also a chance for me, because of the nature of the shows, to be able to have a more personal connection because I’ll be doing meet and greets that are a little bit more relaxed than in a band environment, where we have to be more on schedule and more careful. In this case, I can spend more time meeting people and chatting. This is a nice opportunity to connect with other people musically and personally.
Lotsofmuzik - I noticed that in your solo tours and with Al Di Meola and Dream Theater, it’s either short runs or longer runs with breaks in between. Have you found a good work/life balance at this point with your touring career and the home life?
JR - It’s always challenging to do. I feel like this time around, I’m putting more energy into my solo stuff because I’m trying to establish it, so I’m using this time off with Dream Theater to kinda do that - It’s pushing a little bit harder than usual. Sometimes in a career path, one needs to push a little bit more in one direction than the other. Some guys maybe are lucky enough to chill out and to get ready for the next chapter of Dream Theater, but in my case I’m saying “well I have a little time, I’m gonna develop this, I’m gonna go out”. Everybody has a different way of managing their lives, their career. It’s a very busy time doing all this, and there’s a lot of rewards to it as well. When you put the energy out there, very often it comes back but sometimes it’s just hard to find the energy to move forward more than you absolutely need to.
Lotsofmuzik - At your age, many musicians are playing the same songs over and over, lots of them are doing that and are relying on their hits, but you are always moving forward. Why do you think you have such a driving power?
JR – I was saying to somebody the other day, I don’t have many hobbies. Music is my life, my hobby, my passion. I’m always creating, I’m always improvising. I just like to sit at the piano and just play and make up stuff. I just turn on Facebook live and play whatever comes into my head. I love to do that so, I’m always creating new stuff on that level. Even from a compositional point, I like to write music. I like to do it with my band, I like to do it on my own. At the same time, as I like to create new things, I’m not a musician that really minds playing the old stuff like some people say “Oh I played that song a hundred times or a thousand times and I don’t want to play it again”. I kinda feel like all the songs are a part of me and every time I’m playing, it’s a little bit different and maybe I’m getting better at it...so I enjoy all aspects of it.
Have you taken time to reflect on the path you would have taken, hadn’t you joined Dream Theater?
JR - It’s a lot of steps along the way that you wonder what would have happened. Dream Theater was a very important step for me because it really put me in the public eye. I was doing stuff before that and I kinda stepped into the arena of professional life ever since I joined Vinnie Moore’s band, I played with Paul Winter, I had gigs with the Dixie Dregs and I did a solo album. But nothing was really taking off to a point where I could say “ok, this is my livelihood, I can do this”. So it’s hard to say what would have happen: Dream Theater functions so beautifully for me to have a very strong career. We don’t know what would have happened. Musically speaking, I would have absolutely continued down the path that I was on. I was happy to navigate in the direction I was going. It would have been interesting to see what would have happened musically if Dream Theater didn’t happen, because Dream Theater takes a lot of my time. I say that not in a negative way, but only in the sense that there’s a kind of music that I’m interested in which I do with Dream Theater, that is very consuming, but I do other things as well. We don’t know what would have happened. It’s interesting because now I am taking the time to develop my solo career more which is an interesting move for me because I feel like there’s a part of me that wants to expand the possibilities in addition to Dream Theater that weren’t as open as before.
Lotsofmuzik – From what I’ve seen in your solo work you’re a prog fan. Which of these keyboard players would you say was your biggest influence: Rick Wakeman, Tony Banks, or Keith Emerson?
JR – My biggest influence was Keith Emerson. And the reason for that is because his harmonic sense was interesting to me. I love all the guys and they were also inspirations to me. But the chords and the power of the sound that he had…for a keyboard player to have that kind of power and energy was really impressive, along with the harmonies that he used, the suspended chords, that was really powerful in my mind. The other guys had other kinds of influences, even though I wouldn’t say they’re as large as the one Keith Emerson had on me. When it comes to Rick Wakeman, I enjoyed how he could take the classical elements and bring them into rock. Rick’s album “The Six Wives of Henry VIII” was an example of how you can use classic motifs and really rock out, so I thought it was very cool. And Tony Banks was a different kind of inspiration – I always thought that Tony’s harmonic language was very cool, and very different from Keith Emerson’s, and he had beautiful chords, a lot of ostinato based ideas where he would change chords over a single bass note. You could always tell a Tony Banks harmonic movement, and I tried to bring that into my own language as well, and mix it in with the other things that I was influenced by. I ended up having a mishmash of harmonic ideas in my head between all these guys and all the classical music I studied, and all the jazz influence , so now it’s all floating up here in my head, and it comes out in whatever way.
Lotsofmuzik – Are there any younger bands that you admire? I’ve seen you attend Haken concerts for example – any others?
JR – Yeah, I think the Haken guys are really great. A lot of the newer prog metal guys play so well, like Animals As Leaders, for example. I respect their virtuosity and their dedication and how they’re pushing their style. Musically my favourite stuff goes back to either classical music like Chopin, or classic prog like Genesis, Gentle Giant, Pink Floyd etc. When it comes to the newer stuff, I really like how Haken pay tribute to the classic prog sound and add a bit of metal to it too. And there’s groups like Periphery and Animals As Leaders who are shaking things up a little bit and raising up the level of technicque – I hear some stuff in their music and think “oh my God, I didn’t even know you could play guitar like that!” [laughs]. That whole revolution in the guitar playing with guys like Jason Richardson impresses me a lot. When you think about how far the guitar as an instrument has come from the introduction of the electric guitar up to what people are doing now is phenomenal. You can’t say the same thing about keyboards, because it’s not the same kind of path. You had people like Franz Liszt or Rachmaninoff playing incredible things in the piano, and what people are playing on keyboards now is not necessary harder than that, whereas with guitar, it kinda is thatw ay because the idea of picking like that on an electric guitar started with Les Paul. So the evolution of the instrument is very interesting to see, but it happens in different ways with the keyboards. Certainly there was nobody doing pitch bending on a keyboard in Bach’s time, although on the clavichord, which was the instrument before the harpsichord, you could press down on it and it would change the pitch. That’s interesting to think about, because not many people realized what was going on, but every keyboard after that didn’t do that – harpsichords, pianos or organs etc. We’d have to fast forward to the age of the synthesizer in order to have a lever to change the pitch.
Lotsofmuzik – Very interesting! And one of your many endeavours outside of show business is being an Artist in Residence at Stanford University’s CCRMA (Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics). What exactly does that entail, and how is the work going – how much commitment does it require?
JR – I had a wonderful time as an Artist in Residence at Stanford. My connection with the Stanford guys was in the musical technology world, and my company making music apps. I had partnered with some of the guys coming out of there, and in my various visits to Stanford as an artist showing new technology I established a relationship with the school and with these guys to the point where they invited me to spend the semester there as an artist. Being an artist in residence is a very flexible and wonderful position to be in, because it basically means that you’re doing your art out of the university, and you’re expected to open up your artistic world to the students and the community around you. So I very much did that. They have these things called symposiums, but I changed them to “synth-posiums” [laughs] and showed various technologies, whether it would be on a seaboard or on an IPad etc. I invited people in and talked about what I use in my musical life, I’d meet people doing cool things and ventures, young students changing the audio world as we know it, and I played a few concerts there as well. So, being an Artist in Residence was a combination of doing some performances but also opening the doors of my musical life to people there, meeting everybody, trying to educate and being educated as well. And I’m going back to Stanford this winter, not as an Artist in Residence, but maybe more as an adjunct teacher for one semester.
Lotsofmuzik – In addition to all that, you have your “day job” with Dream Theater and just finished recording a new album. I saw a picture of you with a Hammond organ in the studio – will you bring it with you on tour, or will you stick with the Korg?
JR – Yeah, I was playing around with the idea of getting some very cool organ sounds, and I was thinking of all the possibilities, because today in the digital technology world there’s all sorts of ways to achieve an organ sound. But I ended up with the Hammond X5, and I found it to be amazing, really great. I ran it into a device called “motion device” which is kinda like a Leslie [amplifier] – it moves the sound, spins it around. So eventually I thought I should take this with me because it has a good place in the new album, it has a really powerful sound, and changing things up a little bit would be cool as well.
Lotsofmuzik – Great to hear that! And to use a phrase that many fans have been saying one way or another, this seems like your most collaborative effort to date, at least on the lyric writing side. Was that the same musically, or did you and John Petrucci write the bulk of it as before?
JR – It was definitely very collaborative, we had a wonderful time all together, we basically hid away in a secret location, we found an old barn turned into studio and set aside a couple of months to do everything. We were very constructive, very energized, had a great time together, a lot of laughs, we cooked together, joked around, but in general we had an uninterrupted musical experience together, which was very productive. We feel very good about the new stuff, we think it’s very strong and that the fans will really enjoy this album.
Lotsofmuzik – Some of the most prominent criticisms of the fanbase are about Mike Mangini’s drum sound in the studio and about how difficult The Astonishing was to absorb – were you guys aware of that, and did you discuss it when it came the time to write and record the new album?
JR – Yeah, I know there were a lot of people who had trouble with the drum sound. Personally I never had a problem with it, I liked it, but I guess everybody’s a critic nowadays, and everybody’s voice is somehow of great importance in the internet world in the safe zone behind a computer [laughs]. I think I understand why some people maybe didn’t like the drum sound, and I’d also say that Mike Mangini wasn’t 100% happy with it either. But I think what’s gonna happen on this album is an amazing drum sound – it’s killer! Again, everybody’s a critic and I’m sure in the end somebody will always find something to say, but for me it’s one of the best drum sounds I’ve ever hear.
As for the second part of your question, Dream Theater has had a very long career, and when it came the time to do the album that turned out to be The Astonishing we wanted to do something that was created a little bit different than usual. We wanted to do a concept album, and John Petrucci and I decided that the best way to do this kind of album was to sit in a room and really write this thing, like a musical or a rock opera, and that’s what we did. We took some very focused time writing all this music, an it’s an album that I’m extremely proud of - It’s one of my proudest achievements with Dream Theater. But I know it was a very polarizing album for the fans, and I think the reason is that Dream Theater fans are varied anyways. You have the guys that like the heavy stuff, while other like the progressive and more melodic stuff – and there’s a lot of different kinds of music within what we do, so it creates this situation. You can’t really please everybody, and in The Astonishing we couldn’t please everybody. A lot of our metal fans kinda dropped off and said “what the hell are you guys doing with these sweet soft parts?” [laughs]. And I get that, that’s fine – you can’t please everybody all the time. But I’m excited because I feel like this new album is going to be a home run. I get it – Dream Theater fans don’t like to go for too long of a gentle ride. Maybe a ballad here and there, but I think the bulk of them are not so into the Disney-esque influence [laughs]. We did that and we loved it, we had a great time, it was the biggest production ever. But now the next stage is back to the roots, back to the core of the sound – screaming Hammond organ, killing leads, chunky riffs, slamming drums, and everybody will be there moshing! [laughs].
Lotsofmuzik – Some artists say that the tension between band members create the best albums - that seems to have been the case with Jagger and Richards, David Lee Roth and Eddie Van Halen etc. Dream Theater, on the other hand, seems to be a VERY friendly environment. Do you think that having tension in the studio would generate a different, or better DT album?
JR – I think that what happened in this album was that because John Petrucci and I wrote the last album together without any input from the other guys, there was a bit of tension in that [when we started to write the new one]. I think that led us taking the move of convening in this hideaway. So in a sense, tension led to this great album, because everybody was so anxious to be involved and said “I wanna do this”, “I wanna do that”, and we got together as a group. And John and I were very opened to it, since we enjoy hiding away and do the bulk of the writing. But at the same time we were like “yeah, bring it on, guys!” [laughs]. Let’s feel your energy and create something that’s more a “group-approved” kind of album. It was great to have Mike Mangini there because he is very high-spirited and has a powerful reaction to things, and creates excitement in the room. I’d play something and he’d go “Wow! Wizard, that’s amazing!” [laughs] and this kinda influenced his drumming as well. In The Astonishing we didn’t have that, and this time it really helped push the energy on this album. And having all the guys being involved ended up being a lot of fun. I guess I’ll relate it to the question in the sense that it did result out of some kind of pressure, or tension, that everybody wanted to return to the core of who we are and get together in a room to do this.
Lotsofmuzik – I’ve seen you shred on guitar on YouTube - have you ever considered performing guitar live, or recording a song on guitar?
JR - I have been playing more guitar. Not so much in the last month because I hurt my back, but I played some on my new album. What started it was that at the last NAMM show I met a wonderful luthier whose name is Przemek Drużkowski - you can probably see him online, he built me an 8-string custom guitar which is called The Wizard Model, and it’s available for purchase if you go to his website. It’s an awesome, slick guitar. Then I discovered the Strandberg guitars, which are these wonderful light carbon fiber guitars, so I’ve been playing them. But the sad part of it is that now all my calluses are gone! [laughs], I had to really work to get those back, but now they’re gone because I haven’t played it for so long. I guess the bad part of playing guitar is that you have to endure a little bit of pain before you can really go!
Lotsofmuzik – You have a reputation for walking around town when you’re playing a show – I myself have met you in the streets of Pamplona in 2014, when you were there on the self-titled album tour. How often do people recognize you, and what was the craziest fan encounter you’ve ever had?
JR – They recognize me more if I’m walking around in the area of the venue on the day of the show. If I’m walking in a random area in a big city like Barcelona, there’s usually one or two people that recognize me, but my career is nowhere near the level of, say, Madonna, for example [laughs]. Usually one or two people at the airport will recognize me as well, and that’s ok.
The craziest encounter I had was in Italy, where I was walking around on the day of the show, and I didn’t realize we were very close to where we’d be playing a few hours later. People discovered I was nearby and I literally had to hide, because when situations like that happen everyone wants a picture or an autograph and things like that, and that’s ok, but with a large crowd, things tend to be a bit chaotic.
Lotsofmuzik – I found it funny when I ran into you that you didn’t have any entourage or security or anything like that
JR – On certain countries I’ll have security, but it depends on where we are as well.
Lotsofmuzik – Ok, so a silly question to wrap things up: have you considered shaving your beard?
JR – I have considered it, but I haven’t done it yet. I think it’s a statement. As an artist it’s kinda fun to have a signature look. If I shaved it up, I’d look like this, what do you think? [hides beard with the hand on camera].
Lotsofmuzik – Not too bad, you’d look just like a regular guy! [laughs]
JR – I could go into hiding, then I wouldn’t be recognized by any fans and I could walk around everywhere, right?
Lotsofmuzik – Right! Well thank you so much for your time, and I wish you a great tour!
JR – Lovely to talk to you! Take care, man! Bye!
For an updated list of Jordan Rudess tour dates, please click on the following link: https://www.jordanrudess.com/tours/
THE NEAL MORSE BAND INVITES FANS TO EXPERIENCE ‘THE GREAT ADVENTURE’ WITH NEW ALBUM SET FOR RELEASE JANUARY 25th, 2019 ON RADIANT RECORDS/METAL BLADE WORLDWIDE
THE NEAL MORSE BAND
INVITES FANS TO EXPERIENCE
‘THE GREAT ADVENTURE’
WITH NEW ALBUM SET FOR RELEASE JANUARY 25 2019
ON RADIANT RECORDS/METAL BLADE WORLDWIDE;
WORLDWIDE TOUR STARTS
FEBRUARY 3, 2019 IN NASHVILLE AT CITY WINERY
October 15, 2018 -- THE NEAL MORSE BAND—Neal Morse (lead vocals, guitars, keyboards), Mike Portnoy (drums, vocals), Randy George (bass), Bill Hubauer (keyboards, vocals), Eric Gillette (guitars, vocals)—will take fans on THE GREAT ADVENTURE with their latest double concept album due out January 25, 2019 on Radiant Records via Metal Blade Worldwide. It will be available in three formats: a two CD package, two CD/DVD Special Edition featuring behind-the-scenes video clips of the making of the album, and three vinyl LPs. Pre-orders begin December 4 on Radiant Records’ website.
The follow-up to 2016’s critically acclaimed THE SIMILITUDE OF A DREAM, which critics hailed as “a masterpiece,” will be the ninth studio album with Morse, Portnoy and George, and the third as a true collaboration with this current lineup. Together, Morse and Portnoy have launched four bands, but the one that has endured the longest and thus with the most musical output has been THE NEAL MORSE BAND.
“Let the great adventure now begin…” The closing line of THE SIMILITUDE OF A DREAM, has proved to be strangely prophetic. The new album is exactly that: a perfect companion piece to TSOAD’s partial retelling of John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. It has everything that fans would expect from an album by THE NEAL MORSE BAND, and more: rock, metal, classical and jazz elements appear throughout, as well as some killer melodies, all played faultlessly by some of the greatest rock musicians on the planet.
As Neal Morse explains, “This band continues to amaze me! I have to say it was a little daunting to follow up THE SIMILITUDE OF A DREAM as it was such a special album and it delivered every night at our concerts, but I believe that THE GREAT ADVENTURE will have a tremendous impact as well. This new double album is everything that I hoped it would be! I listened through last night and I was in tears at the end!“
Mike Portnoy emphatically agrees. He says, “How do you follow an epic double concept album??? Well, create another epic double concept album!! Hahaha. I always knew topping THE SIMILITUDE OF A DREAM was going to be difficult, if not impossible, as I held it in such high regard, but alas, I am absolutely blown away with what we achieved here! We’ve created what is the ultimate companion to TSOAD.”
“Sometimes there are things that you just can’t mess with,” Randy George continues. “On THE SIMILITUDE OF A DREAM we tapped into something special. I was sure that the follow up should be something quite different, but you have to follow your heart and follow the music where it wants to go. THE GREAT ADVENTURE is nothing short of a miracle. It’s similar to SIMILITUDE in concept and form, but yet it’s tougher and deeper in its tone! This is a powerful work and I look forward to playing it live!
True to the album’s title, the creative process was indeed a “great adventure.” Unlike many previous Morse albums, which have often been written and arranged within weeks, this time around these prolific and world-class musicians spent almost a year working on the end result, producing an abundance of top quality material. This meant some ruthless decision-making: some already completed songs and characters had to go, and-–with studio time running out–new links and ideas were being composed and recorded up to the eleventh hour. “A lot of work and re-work has gone into this,” says Morse, “but I know that some of the most successful and far-reaching albums I’ve been involved with have been just like that. SOLA SCRIPTURA and Spock’s Beard’s SNOW album come to mind.”
Another key question that had to be addressed in the studio was how to pull all the ideas together into a coherent whole. In the end, what unlocked this “adventure” for Morse was the realization that THE GREAT ADVENTURE needed a new voice and perspective. This time, it is that of the Pilgrim’s abandoned son, a younger, perhaps angrier, voice than was heard on THE SIMILITUDE OF A DREAM.
THE NEAL MORSE BAND will bring THE GREAT ADVENTURE to fans worldwide with a new round of headlining tour dates, which begin February 3, 2019 in Nashville at City Winery. For ticket information and VIP ticket sales go to www.radiantrecords.com. Check them out at any of the following stops, with more shows to be added in the coming months:
DATE CITY VENUE
Sat 2/2 Nashville, TN City Winery
Sun 2/3 Tampa, FL The Ritz (Cruise To The Edge Pre-Cruise Party)
Mon 2/4 Tampa, FL Cruise To The Edge 2019 (through February 9)
Sun 2/10 Atlanta, GA City Winery
Mon 2/11 Charlotte, NC Neighborhood Theatre
Tue 2/12 Baltimore, MD Soundstage
Wed 2/13 Jersey City, NJ White Eagle Hall
Fri 2/15 Boston, MA The Sinclair
Sat 2/16 Philadelphia, PA Keswick Theatre
Sun 2/17 Westbury NY The Space at Westbury
Mon 2/18 Montréal, QUE. Club Soda
Tue 2/19 Quebec City, QUE. Salle Sylvain Lelievre
Thu 2/21 Toronto, ONT. Opera House
Fri 2/22 Pittsburgh, PA Mr. Smalls Theatre
Sat 2/23 Cleveland, OH Beachland Ballroom
Sun 2/24 Detroit, MI The Crofoot Ballroom
Tue 2/26 St. Charles, IL Arcada Theatre
Wed 2/27 St. Louis, MO Delmar Hall
Thu 2/28 Dallas, TX Gas Monkey Live
Fri 3/1 Lawrence, KS Granada Theatre
Sat 3/2 Denver, CO Summit Music Hall
Tue 3/5 Seattle, WA The Triple Door
Wed 3/6 Portland, OR Hawthorne Theatre
Thu 3/7 San Francisco, CA Slim's
Fri 3/8 Whittier, CA The Whittier Center Theatre
Sat 3/9 Chandler, AZ Bogle Theatre (Chandler Center For The Arts)
Sun 3/24 London, United Kingdom Islington Assembly Hall
Mon 3/25 Paris, France The Alhambra
Tue 3/26 Tilburg, Netherlands O13
Wed 3/27 Esch /Alzette, Luxembourg Rockhal Esch Sur Alzette
Fri 3/29 Koln, Germany Kantine
Sat 3/30 Copenhagen, Denmark Viften
Sun 3/31 Goteborg, Sweden Stora Teatern
Mon 4/1 Stockholm, Sweden Skandiascenen
Wed 4/3 Berlin, Germany Heimathafen
Thu 4/4 Hamburg, Germany Markthalle
Fri 4/5 Leipzig, Germany Halle d / Werk 2
Sat 4/6 Warsaw, Poland Progresja
Sun 4/7 Brno, Czech Republic SONO Music Club
Tue 4/9 Munich, Germany Technikum
Wed 4/10 Pratteln, Switzerland Z7 Konzertfabrik
Thu 4/11 Lyon, France C.C.O.
Fri 4/12 Trezzo sull'Adda MI, Italy Live Club
Sat 4/13 Barcelona, Spain Salamandra 1
Sun 4/14 Madrid, Spain Sala Mon
The release of a new Haken album has become a big event in the progressive genre. While their
debut album Aquarius and its follow-up Visions have already saved the band a spot among their
colleagues, their last two masterpieces The Mountain and Affinity have proved that fans can count
on the band to release something that will cover new ground, yet is still unmistakably identifiable
as Haken. The band’s 2015 release Affinity offered a 1980s inspired theme and was the first
Haken album to feature major compositional contributions by every member, while the previous
albums were mainly efforts by guitarist Richard Henshall. This resulted not only in a massive
expansion of Haken’s sound palette, but also in a whole new rhythmical level. Haken are moving
forward in a very subtle way and effortlessly skip every Prog-cliché. But after a run of four and a
half fantastic albums one might wonder: Where are they going next? And how the hell are they
gonna top this?
While Haken have always incorporated Metal into their music, they decided to release something
heavier and more riff-oriented. Still, Vector seems like a logical step after Affinity.
The band starts off their new album with an intro named „Clear“, which sets the mood for the next
45 minutes. During the first few seconds one might think that Nomacs are descending, but some
of the following keyboard sounds manage to build a bridge to the 80s oriented Affinity, while still
sounding new and fresh. The harmonies remind of those by Russian masters of Romantic Music
by the likes of Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev. Suspense is built up and keyboardist Diego Tejeida
gets to show that he’s one of today’s masters of his craft. His apocalyptic sounding organs and
sound effects already give away the atmosphere of Vector: something dark, demonic and big is
coming our way.
The problem with intros (as opposed to overtures) for me is always the „waste“ of ideas that
would have had the potential to become so much more. „Clear’s“ motives will not appear again
during the rest of the album. Then again, Haken has been renouncing the Prog-typical style of
revisiting and reprising melodies present on Aquarius and Visions, and instead narrowed it down
to one or two motives reappearing throughout The Mountain and Affinity. Consequently, this was
completely erased on Vector. The album’s music is completely linear, doesn’t „end where it
began“ and doesn’t make the impression of a concept album. The last point is proven wrong by
Haken-guitarist Charlie Griffiths himself: „[…] lyrically it’s a bit more theatrical and about as „rock
opera“ as Haken has ever got“. Vector seems to be about a doctor and his sinister intentions for a
certain patient, combined with several psychologic and psychoanalytic themes and influences
from Stanley Kubrick movies. The Rohrschach inspired cover is presented with a classic Hakenunderstatement
vibe and fits well into the psychological themes of the album. Not having read the
lyrics completely, I can’t wait to check out the story Haken have come up with.
Opposed to the „theatrical“ concept, „Clear“ is followed by a series of songs that work perfectly
as standalone tracks. The first time the whole band kicks in, a soothing feeling is spreading. Two
and a half long years fans waited for this prescription of new Haken music. „The Good Doctor“
will see you now.
The first „real“ song and lead single bursts in with one of Haken’s signature riffs, guitar arpeggios
and a lot of crash cymbals. The riff-oriented focus of the music is already audible, but it feels like
a logical step from the more compact songs on Affinity. A bass imitating 8-string guitar and some
80s drum-sounds lead into the first verse. The band plays an unusually funky groove carried by a
slapped bass guitar. Conner Green is more present on Vector than he was on Affinity and it
benefits the album very much. „The Good Doctor“ continues with a big chorus based on the
opening motif and a completely different second verse with somewhat banjo-like strumming
guitars, before leading into the obligatory rollercoaster-middle section. Guitars and bass play an
unpredictable riff consisting of only three repeated notes, while drummer Ray Hearne makes the
whole thing even more difficult to understand by adding several polyrhythmic layers. A short cut
with hospital noises and a deep laugh, as well as a jazzy, calm vocal interlude strangely don’t
break the song’s flow and the whole section seems to build up for a reprise of the chorus.
However, the band knows how to surprise their listeners and slide in a reprise of the second
verse, before the chorus closes the circle and finishes the song at 100% energy.
Or so I thought. The following song has the ungrateful second and a half position that was
previously occupied by „1985“ and „Cockroach King“, which both have become fan favourites
and the equivalent of a „hit“ in the modern progressive genre. „Puzzle Box“ keeps the up energy of the album with a riff featuring Ray Hearne’s snare and portraying the fantastic drum mix that
Adam „Nolly“ Getgood has come up with. The intro riff is varied and reprised very cleverly
throughout the song and is consequently kept in 4/4, although at many points it doesn’t sound
like it. Reportedly, Ray Hearne is a big Meshuggah fan, so these polyrhythms over a 4/4 time
signature might be an influence coming from them. The verses once again benefit from Conner’s
deep, awesome bass sound and kicks played in perfect unison with the drums.
„Puzzle Box“ has a pretty interesting structure. The section that initially serves as a chorus is later
revealed to be more of a bridge, as the whole track leads up to one final chorus that has never
been heard before. I have noticed a similar approach in „The Architect“, except in that example, a
theme from a previous song was reprised in the final chorus. Of course, there is also a whacky
instrumental section which leaves you both laughing and impressed. A following spheric passage
with electronic beats, as well as the combination of hymnic melodies and deep guitar riffs in the
final chorus once again makes „Puzzle Box“ seem like a little brother to „The Architect“.
So, can „Puzzle Box“ live up to its predecessors „1985“ and „Cockroach King“? No need to.
Haken don’t need to prove they can continue running gags or traditions because they are creative
enough to create new ones every time they break new ground.
„Veil“ is the centerpiece of the album and a great follow up to songs of similar extend like „The
Architect“, „Pareidolia“ and „Falling Back To Earth“. It starts off with a fragile piano and vocals
presenting a chorus that would later reappear packed into a bombastic arrangement. Several
rhythmic motifs are introduced that are being reprised and varied during the next 12 minutes. In
fact, the whole song is masterfully built around very few rhythmic ideas that makes it come across
very concise. Despite all instrumental freak outs, most of „Veil“ once again stands in 4/4 or
alternating 4/4 and 5/4 time signatures.
The guys from Haken know how a song of these proportions is supposed to be composed. They
don’t introduce new motifs every 14 seconds, but rather let already heard ones reappear in a
different harmonic, dynamic or rhythmic context. The two parts that hold the whole tune together
are the catchy chorus and a post-chorus section underlined by the relentlessly pushing forward
16th-notes coming from Ray’s bass drum. I guess only time will tell if this monster of a song will
be able to take „The Architect’s“ place as my favourite Haken song.
One might wonder why the band didn’t include a 23 monster track on Vector. „Veil“ is the ultimate
answer. This composition is so round and finished that there can’t possibly be anything else to
So, what else is there to say? I guess, nothing for a while. That’s why „Nil By Mouth“ is seven
minutes of absolute brutal instrumental insanity. Some electronic sounds introduce the first riff.
And what a riff that is. No melody, no harmonies, just one and the same chord played by both
Richard’s and Charlie’s guitars. The second rhythmical idea lays the foundation for most of the
song’s following parts, before it’s interrupted by one of only two sections with an actual melody.
„Nil By Mouth“ once again reprises and varies motifs in a very clever way. There’s not too many
ideas worked into this song, but those ideas are very well worked out. „Nil By Mouth“ is one of
those instrumental tracks that have no need for a mindless shredding section over an extended
Blues vamp - nor does it have the need for any solos at all. Haken has become a unit, a well-oiled
machine. These guys know just how to compose arrangements for their lineup. I want to say that
every member is on the same level here - but I just have to give a special mention to their beast of
a drummer. Not only is Ray Hearne’s drumming incredibly well thought through, it’s also always
tasty, on spot, impeccable. The whole album is pervaded by his complex polyrhythms, pushing
grooves and at times brutal fills („Nil By Mouth“ at 5:09 - wow). I was already deeply impressed by
the complete new rhythmical dimension he added to Affinity, but in my opinion, he has improved
once again on Vector. The same, however, can be said about Conner Green. His thick bass lines
are more present on this album and his playing is in perfect sync with Ray’s drums.
A quick return to previous Haken songs with a similarly heavy approach („Endless Knot“,
„Drowning In The Flood“, „Darkest Light“) reveals the actual heaviness of the new songs. Vector’s
mix and production are huge and loud in every way and the two guitars have never been more
present. It seems like it’s time to take it down a notch.
„Host“ is not a ballad per se, but a mellow song with a very morbid atmosphere. Personally, I
wouldn’t have minded if Vector had turned out to be heavy and riff-oriented from start to finish,
without any exceptions. But then again, „Host“ is still a welcome change and an opportunity for
Ross Jennings to shine. As much as I love the battling guitar riffs in the other songs, they don’t
leave too much room for the vocals. This might be the only real point of criticism about this
album. Ross’ fantastic performance on „Host“ (especially towards the end) compensates for that
and confirms that at least one mellow song was needed on Vector. Still, while it gives you a short
break from heavy guitar riffs, it doesn’t give you a break from the sinister atmosphere of the
album. This benefits the flow. A more uplifting song in the vein of Earthrise or Bound By Gravity
would have completely fallen out of place here. Just when one might think the song is over, Ray’s
deep toms lead into the dark finale of the song, which Ross finishes with a dramatic, high note.
Vector’s seventh and final song „A Cell Divides“ takes over where „Nil By Mouth“ left off. Another
shattering riff is thrown towards the listener, before a clean guitar leads into the verse. Ray uses
unconventional sounds for his drums and the whole section plays cleverly with its 7/8 time
signature. In contrast with the flowing verse, there is a chorus based on a slow staccato rhythm.
„It’s the beauty in the flaw, the grace of imperfection“ - there’s something of this reflecting in the
music. Not that there’s anything wrong with this last song, but it doesn’t follow the bombastic,
vast finales of previous Haken albums. There’s no big reprise of the album’s opener, no huge
forgiving choral at the end. The chorus is melancholic, almost a little sad, and doesn’t give off the
satisfying „Visions“ overkill vibe. Instead, some sustained vocal lines reminiscent of Affinity
appear, while the opening riff evolves in the background (brilliant). The chorus returns and swells
up, before Ross leads us back into the song’s intro. The album ends without any closing chord
and leaves the listener on the edge of his chair. „The grace of imperfection“.
No matter if they develop into a more dark or complex direction; the melodies, hooks and
atmosphere are all unmistakable Haken. The band seems to be on a quest to become more
perfect with each effort. Their music has reached a stage of complexity which is almost
unreachable for a normal human being, yet it’s still mysteriously melodic and not at all hard to
listen to. Similar to Affinity, some parts on Vector bring up the question how in the world the band
will be able to perform this stuff on stage. But once again I’m sure that a visit to one of Haken’s
upcoming concerts will prove this thought redundant.
Haken managed to once again develop their trademark sound into a new direction. Album
number V and no sings of wear and tear on one of today’s greatest bands.
Haken’s “Vector” is set for release on October 26th 2018 via InsideOut, cover art and the tracklist can be seen below.
2.The Good Doctor (03:58)
3.Puzzle Box (07:45)
5.Nil By Mouth (07:11)
7.A Cell Divides (05:00)
Ross Jennings – Vocals
Charlie Griffiths – Guitar
Rich Henshall – guitar & keys
Diego Tejeida – keys
Conner Green – bass
Raymond Hearne – drums
Enter the 5th Dimension (2007 Demo)
The Mountain (2013)
Restoration (EP) (2014)
We are a bunch of Independent writers and reviewers.