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the AU interview: Jordan Rudess of Dream Theater (USA)

With their upcoming self-titled release, progressive rock giants Dream Theater are set to once again take the world by storm with their signature sound. Dave Roberts had a chance to catch up with the wizard himself, Jordan Rudess, to speak about the album and the upcoming tour.

G’day Jordan, How you doing?

I’m doing good, how are you?

I’m doing well, thanks for asking. Now we’ve only got a short amount of time here, so thank you for talking to us here this morning.

You’re welcome.

Let’s jump straight into it. Firstly, on the new album. Was there a central theme that you guys were portraying or using on the new album? I know you guys often go into the studio with an idea – so was there anything in that regard, this time around?

Well you know, we always go into it with a strong conceptual idea of what we want to create. Basically, we wanted to create an album that was maybe a little bit to the point with a lot of the songs – a bit more concise. You’ll notice that there are some shorter songs than on the usual Dream Theater album. We wanted to see if we could take our style without really limiting it – having the same kind of integrity and virtuosity and bring songs that had definition to them. That being said, we also have a 22-minute epic on the album as well, so that was kind of a release and you know, a trip toward the total prog land.

Now there is a new – well I can’t say he’s a new member any more he’s been there for a little while but Mr Mike Mangini, how has his writing style helped this time around – with him being in the band in the writing process from pretty much the moment – was there anything you guys had to adjust to do to adjust to his style?

Well, it was really interesting having Mangini there for the whole process. One part of the situation was that he’s a very upbeat, energised guy so just having that personality in the room with us was a good experience for all of us. On a musical level, you know Mike has one of the most incredible rhythmic minds, I think of anybody. So he was kind of able to conceptualise these kind of concepts that we would just take and try to compose around. We got some really interesting results form doing that – it was fascinating for us because everyone in Dream Theater has a good sense of rhythm, but we never before in our history have had this kind of input where someone would say ‘Petrucci if you play a bar of seven ten times, and Jordan if you repeat something in five and I play this it’ll all come together’ – you know we would all just smile, because it was some pretty cool wacky stuff that was just purely conceptualised by Mike.

And you know, I guess what helped the most with the writing process was just his drumming – you know, having him be there for the writing so we could try something and have him do his thing on the drums which would lead us to compose differently.

Were there any particular sounds or gear or anything you wanted to use on the album that didn’t make it, or anything that you were particularly excited to use on the album that did?

You know it’s funny – I’m working with a company called Roli, and they make a new keyboard – it’s kinda like the evolution of the piano keyboard and I had it there, and I really wanted to get it on the album. We were so busy that it just wasn’t happening. And finally toward the end of the process of recording and everything, it looked like even though I really wanted it to be on the album it just wasn’t going to happen. But Rich, the guy who engineered the album, Richard Chycki, said ‘Jordan, you’ve got this amazing instrument and you’ve gotta use it!’. So I said, ‘You’re right, but in order to do so I have to do some serious programming’. Because it’s not even out yet – so I had to do some technical programming to the instrument. So I did end up using it and in the long run you know, I got to do what I wanted to do. It’s called the seaboard, this instrument and I play it in a couple of spots on the album.

But the other thing that I wanted to do was I wanted to use my iPad, because I have an app company called Wisdom Music and I make these apps, so I really wanted to get myself playing one of the apps and I did toward the end – it’s an app called Geo-Synthesiser and I play the lead on "Enigma Machine", the instrumental track. So I dunno, we kinda jammed it all in there, if you will.

So Jordan, take us through a typical day in the studio of Dream Theater recording a new album – is it a 9-5 process or is a many, many hour process per day?

Yeah sure; we would get to the studio around lunch time, we usually make a Starbucks stop on the way. You know Maddi, the guy who is like our head tech of the group who also takes care of us when we are in the studio he would pick us up in the hotel – for those of us who were staying there, we’d make our coffee stop and go to the studio, have some lunch turn on our instruments and get started you know around one, one-thirty or so and then we’d work up until dinner and then after dinner for a while too. And when we got tired – maybe around ten or eleven we’d call it a day. You we worked pretty hard – we’re pretty focused when we do our thing and when it’s everybody’s turn to do their own tracks then everybody decides on their own schedule. Like when I did my tracks, I got there a little earlier, and you know I’d just work all day and night until somebody says stop. And everybody is different in that way but we all kinda had our choice – it wasn’t as much of a routine. But, when we’re working together and we are writing we generally sleep a little bit late or start a little late so people have their mornings to do whatever they need to do, and then go from there.

You mentioned before that you are a bit of a gear nerd, and I was watching and interview with Musician’s Friend, in which you went through some of the gear in your house – for us gear nerds here in Australia – what are you going to be using live this time? Is it still going to be the KRONOS or is it going to be a whole bunch of other things as well?

Well I haven’t totally decided, but one thing that will definitely happen is the KRONOS will be the main sound engine if not the keyboard itself for the tour. And that is because it’s a great instrument, but also because I’ve invested so much time programming my KORG stuff for live. Before the KRONOS, I used an instrument called the OASYS, and I was able to share – there was a big thing when the OASYS was not being made any more – it was a big period of time where I was kinda deciding what to do. But when I found out they were coming out with the KRONOS – the technology is shared a little bit so the work on patches I did on the OASYS could be transferred to the KRONOS. So here I am, you know, with all these sounds that I’ve made throughout the years that kind of exist in that platform so I’m not too anxious to really change that. Although, there is still a lot of work to do, to take everything that I did in the studio and to move it to the KRONOS.

Because when I’m in the studio I’m using all kinds of gear – you know computer plug ins, all kinds of cools stuff like orchestral plug ins, piano plug ins, and then when I go out live, I kinda leave all that behind and I make it all work on this pretty amazing piece of KORG gear.

On the note of touring, the obvious question that is on the forefront of any Dream Theater Australian fan’s mind is – when are you coming back? We are pretty much hanging out here and I know the Dream Theater Australian Fan Club has been asking it for a long time. So are there any plans, can you shed some light on that?

Yeah, it’s a really good question. Well, the only thing I know for certain, right this instant, is that we have six weeks in Europe at the start of the tour. I’ve been told we are coming to America after that to perform. I’d say, and I cant tell you for sure because I don’t have the dates in front of me, but I would say we would pretty much definitely get to Australia this time because I think we skipped you last time. But, we gotta go back, definitely.

I was watching an interview with John [Petrucci] and James from the band with an English rock outfit or magazine – publication and they suggested that it was going to be ‘An Evening With’ at least in England – is that something we are going it see across the board, or is it only relegated to certain areas?

I’m pretty certain it is going to be across the entire tour.

So across the entire tour, are there any songs you’re particularly looking forward to playing live? Maybe the "Enigma Machine"; anything else?

Well, I would say the "Epic the Illumination Theory" is going to be a lot of fun to play live. I look forward to playing that maybe the most of all the tunes.

Okay, why particularly the 22-minute epic, if you don’t mind my asking?

Well, being the kind of prog-head that I am, and being into all of the progressive things and all the different sounds, I feel like that one will just really stretch out and there is all this kinda cool counter-point stuff and sounds and you know, it’s a big, big crazy tune. So… Especially with that middle section – the ambient kind of electronic three-dimensional soundscape moving into the whole string orchestra part – I just think that will be a wonderful experience to play live.

Now you’re obviously a very busy man not just a member of Dream Theater but you’ve got a lot of other side projects – one in particular I was looking at on your website is the “Explore Project”. I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit about that?

Well yeah, and I’ll also tell you something before that, which is that tomorrow is the release of the Levin Minneman Rudess album, which is an album that I did with Tony Levin and Marco Minneman. So tomorrow is the release date for that.

Something you’re obviously very excited about?

Very excited, yeah! It was a lot of work in my studio to make that happen but it was really fun – I was going a bit like a mad scientist in there. A little bit like a "Liquid Tension Experiment" kinda vibe, where stylistically it’s kinda wide-open and I could do whatever I wanted to. So I’m very excited about that. And then yeah – I did a very successful pledge campaign – ongoing still so if there are any readers who want to contribute to fund that project it’s a big project. It involves getting a proper orchestral recording of a concerto that I wrote a while ago called “Explorations for Keyboard and Orchestra”. We’re going to be doing it in Poland with the orchestra there and, well actually, their rehearsals have already started. But the pledge campaign is all about raising money because it’s very expensive to have a whole orchestra rehearsing and recording for a month. But, it’s totally underway.

Now we are almost out of time here, unfortunately. But there is a question I always like to end on and it’s a question that hasn’t failed to stump anyone yet including Mike Mangini when I interviewed him some Two years ago. And that is this: Jordan, tell us something we don’t know.

Oh… Wow. Well… hmm. Let me see what you might not know – I dunno most people know a whole lot about me. So… You might not know that I spend a lot of time on my artwork. People think I’m sitting here just playing keyboards, but I’m very involved with like graphic design and some of the newer tools that you can create artwork with. So that might be something that you didn’t know about me.

I would say so – it’s certainly something that I had no idea of. Now, new album, Dream Theater coming out September 24th – there’s a few different versions including a super secret special deluxe version...

[Laughs]

With a USB and a whole bunch of different things. September 24th, that’s right?

I’d say it’s probably right for your area, yes.

And us just wanted to say of course a big thank you for making the time to speak to us this morning here at the AU, and good luck with the tour and the afore mentioned side-projects and the explore project as well – thank you very much for speaking to us this morning Jordan. I’ll see you at the concert, right in the front row – probably staring right up at you!

Alright, sounds really good, I’ll see you, on the road.

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Dream Theater’s self-titled 12th studio album, DREAM THEATER will be available the 24th of September from all good music retailers and online.

Link for the Pledge Campaign can be found at: http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/jordanrudess

You can join the Dream Theater Australian Fan Club on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Dream-Theater-Fan-Club-Australia/109124315773107