Dream Theater Knew They Wanted an ‘Epic’ Title Track for New Album, Says James LaBrie
Dream Theater's James LaBrie was the latest guest on Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio show to discuss the prog metal legends' latest album, A View From the Top of the World. Peeling the curtain back behind the process, the singer revealed that the epic 20-minute title track was what helped set everything in motion as they recorded in their own headquarters amid the pandemic.
He also detailed his approach to writing lyrics and revealed that the music always dictates what comes to him, especially in terms of melodies. Being in a band where the lyric writing is a shared responsibility, LaBrie also never feels pressure to come up with a melody or lyrical theme if those ideas don't come to him in regards to any particular track.
Read the full interview below.
Dream Theater is a band that can go in any number of musical directions. What sets the musical template for an album, particularly this new one?
Any given album, you can kind of see where we were at that particular moment in time as far as what inspired us or what we felt was necessary for us to explore musically. One of the beautiful things about being in a band as such as Dream Theater is that there are no limitations. We're not confined to a particular style —we have this tapestry that we can just go to and it's limitless.
With this album in particular, we knew that we wanted to write an epic title track. That kind of set the tone — we knew we were going to do an epic on this, so we also know that we're going to do a lot of experimenting and exploring and be somewhat eclectic.
We wanted to give this album high energy from beginning to end — a celebration of being spirited, especially.
We were recording this during the height of the pandemic. If anything, it was therapeutic to us to immerse ourselves in something else besides being inundated with what the pandemic was doing to each and every one of us. That propelled us to go in the direction and to want write the kind of album that we ultimately wrote.
Dream Theater, "A View From the Top of the World"
You're a singer who likes the melody of a song to be in place before you write lyrics. How much of a cinematic approach is writing lyrics in the sense that the melody tells you a story?
I always feed off of the energy of the song first and it has to resonate with me if I'm going write the lyrics to that song. When I'm doing my solo albums, I'm writing basically the bulk of it, if not all of it lyrically, but when it comes to Dream Theater, we're sharing the lyrical duties between myself and John Petrucci. John Myung usually does one lyric, at least, per album.
With me, I always want to write the lyrics to songs that I immediately have an idea where I would want to go melodically. Melodies come to me very fast and I write melodies along with John Petrucci and Jordan gets involved as well.
The melody, because of its feel, energy, how expressive and evocative it is, is always the key. You want to really be able to be expressive within anything that you're singing, so that sets the tone as to what the subject matter should be about. The melody is also what is the key to the amount of syllables.
I know there are singers or lyricists out there that have all the words pretty much written down and then tweak them to fit the melody. I want to be inspired by the music and the melody and then that gives me the inspiration for the words.
Dream Theater, "The Alien" Music Video
A View From the Top of the World was recorded at Dream Theater's own facility, which was a first for the band. How did having that resource prove to be conducive to artistry?
We have a place that's called Dream Theater Headquarters. We moved into this warehouse a a few years ago. The back is for all of our equipment and the front was renovated into a full-on, state of the art studio with a living room, board room, kitchen, maintenance room and an engineer/control room for the actual recording.
We have a big rehearsal room as well, so it was extremely instrumental — no pun intended — in the way that we were able to go about this album. We started writing it during the height of of the pandemic. Even though we were all fully vaccinated, we didn't have to worry about going into any other more corporate kind of studio where we were passing other people and there's several people coming in out of the building.
It was just us, the engineer and our production assistant. As long as we were all good to go, it gave us that opportunity to focus on the music and not have to worry about anything else that's going on the beyond the walls of the studio. It was extremely conducive to being able to just focus in on the creativity end of things and write the kind of album that we did.
Your new solo album is going to be released next year. What resonates with you about out '70s music that in turn colors Beautiful Shade of Grey?
I'm a huge Zeppelin fan — Pink Floyd, Aerosmith, Deep Purple and all that. These bands were so iconic in the '70s. When I sat down with Paul [Logue], who is the other musician that I wrote the album, I said I just want us to think more about he acoustic end of Zeppelin and their organic approach to their songs. It was still beautiful, powerful and extremely melodic. It reached deep within and resonated within each and every one of us that listen to any Zeppelin.
That was the catalyst to set things in motion. It became a full ensemble. I have keyboards, drums, bass, rhythm guitar, lead guitar, and then myself doing all the vocals.
It's somewhat acoustic, but it's also a full ensemble as well. It still has the full band kind of sound and orchestration and Beautiful Shade Of Grey has a lot to do with the lyrics that I wrote. A lot of them are dealing with the human condition and all the dynamics of life itself.
To a certain degree, it's common for most of us to go through the same experiences, so I wanted to write a lot about that. That inspired this whole venture and it come out in May. I'm excited for everyone to hear this. It came out fantastic.
When you're a touring musician, performing for an audience is a significant part of your identity. How did it affect you temporarily redefining yourself over the course of the past a year and a half?
Like anyone out there on this planet, you really had to take a step back and ask yourself what really matters. You start getting a different perspective — don't complicate life because life is difficult enough on its own. Appreciate everything that you have and appreciate the simplicities that you can integrate within each and every day of your life.
For me it was redefining just being a human being like the other seven-and-a-half billion people on this planet. And at the same, appreciate what I have and don't forget what I eventually want to come back to doing, which is music.
It was a step back for every one of us to put things into perspective and see what is important and what is superfluous and get rid of it if it's not good.
Thanks to James LaBrie for the interview. Get your copy of Dream Theater's 'A View From the Top of the World' here and follow the band on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Spotify. Find out where you can hear Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio show here.