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Dream Theater’s Jordan Rudess on Continuing Without Mike Portnoy

Roadrunner Records

Legendary Dream Theater keyboard player Jordan Rudess recently spoke to Noisecreep from a recording studio in Long Island, New York, where the band is wrapping up work on their latest release. “We are very close to being finished, and it sounds amazing,” he said. “Mix in June, album out in September.”

But of course, this isn’t just any Dream Theater album. The record will be the band’s first without co-founder drummer Mike Portnoy, who announced last September that he was leaving the band.

Portnoy, who took time off to record and tour with Avenged Sevenfold, wanted the band to take an extended break. However, the four other members disagreed and chose to move on by hire a new drummer.

After an extended audition process, which was recorded and webcast as a mini-documentary series, the band selected skinsmith Mike Mangini (Annihilator, Extreme, Steve Vai).

So how does Rudess gauge the first effort of the band’s post-Portnoy era?

“I think people will be very pleased,” he said. “Everyone’s playing is inspired, we really took our time to craft something special, and I think the fans will be blown away.”

Rudess, who stays busy with solo records and a series of best-selling instrument apps under his Morphwiz brand, was extremely happy with the band’s choice of Mangini.

“We saw some great players obviously, but Mike came in totally ready, willing, and able to do this job. For him, the universe had aligned: this was his future as well as ours. We knew it and he knew it. His playing, his performance energy — from the very beginning it became clear to us that was committed to this to extremely serious concept known as Dream Theater.”

Mangini was not involved in writing the new album; that responsibility fell to Rudess, bassist John Myung, singer James LaBrie, and guitarist John Petrucci, who is also producing the sessions.

“It was interesting to write music without a drummer in the room,” Rudess mused. “Different for us and very unique. Still, we had the core compositional team in place. And this whole experience of dealing with Mike’s exit has been a huge challenge for the band. But we wanted to pull the positive from all the change and use this as an opportunity to challenge ourselves to produce some really powerful music.”

Did the dramatic shift in the band’s lives affect the new music?

“I’m sure some of the intensity was channeled into the music,” Rudess said. “As musicians, we feel what is happening around us, as all musicians do, and incorporate that energy into our creative process. Then we brought Mike Mangini in and he added brilliantly to the mix. The chemistry is incredible and it will be fun to watch everything evolve on stage.”

The band has European dates starting in July. By fall, Rudess said they hope to be touring back in America.

In the meantime, Rudess said he understands that there will be a lot of focus on Dream Theater as this new chapter in the band’s career begins in earnest.

“We’re excited,” he said. “It’s like a fresh beginning on the one hand, and on the other hand, the classic Dream Theater sound and approach are still intact. Mike is amazingly prepared for what we are about to embark on and I hope the fans are also prepared for the next chapter, because it’s going to something very special.”

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