An Interview With Dream Theater’s James Labrie: “For us to ignore the 25th anniversary of this album, I think it would have felt wrong to both the band and the fans”

Dream Theater 2017 Promo Photo

Dream Theater need little introduction, after all, they are the world’s biggest progressive metal band. They are currently on the road celebrating the 25th anniversary of their breakthrough album, Images and Words, something we focused on recently in a Rock Sins special feature. Taking the spotlight on Images and Words even further, we were granted the opportunity to catch up with none other than Dream Theater’s frontman, James Labrie, ahead of the UK leg of the Images and Words tour to reminiscence about the album. Discussions about their most recent album The Astonishing and various other topics were also covered, so without any more from us, let’s see what Mr Labrie had to say…

You’ve been on the road across Europe on the Images and Words anniversary tour for a few weeks now. Has the reaction to playing the album live been what you would have hoped for, or better than you had hoped for?
James Labrie: Yeah absolutely. What’s very interesting is that when we’re out there you can see the fans that were with us the first time, when we were out touring Images and Words as a new album. So you can identify with those fans immediately because of the age group. But what’s also interesting is when you look at the demographics, you see a lot of young people out there. So it reminds me of when I’ve ever been to Rush, which is a ton of times. You see the same kind of audience, anyone from 15 to 65 years old at the show. It’s very exciting and inspiring to see fans that have come onboard across the generations, and the ones that have remained true to the band. It’s somewhat surreal because when we’re up there you can’t help but think “wow, 25 years, what the hell happened?!”. It’s a bit of a cliche because everyone says that with feeling like time has a way of slipping away, but if you were to say to me back in 1992,93, before you know it James you’re going to be doing the 25th anniversary tour I would have looked at you like you were nuts. Here we are today you and I and we’re discussing the 25th anniversary and it’s somewhat bewildering *laughs* to put it lightly.

Is there any particular reason that you chose to do the 25th anniversary as opposed to say the 20th anniversary or 30th or another time? Was it just a suitable gap in the schedule?
James: There were a couple of reasons. Schedule, yes, it just seemed to work out for us, we’d been out in support of The Astonishing and that was almost a year of touring that. But I think it’s because it’s Images and Words, that’s THE album that’s iconic for us, it’s the one that really put us on the map. It’s the one that really made us an international success. For us to ignore the 25th anniversary of this album, I think it would have felt wrong to both the band and the fans.

Luckily it worked that we were already out touring so we were somewhat a well oiled machine so it was just a matter of working out ways to present the 25th anniversary and making it something memorable for the fans.

Fantastic. You’re bringing the tour to the UK in a couple of weeks time and when you were doing this the first time around on the actual Images and Words tour, your first show here in the UK on that album is what led to the first live Dream Theater album, so that must bring back some memories as well.
James: You’re referring to Live At The Marquee.
Rock Sins: That’s right.
James: It’s pretty crazy because the UK has been a very interesting relationship with Dream Theater. Initially when we started going there we were well received and we had a bit of a cult following and things really took off for us. But around 1997, 98, maybe a bit earlier, 95, 96 we went into a bit of a dip with the UK which lasted until around 1999. We were still touring there but we weren’t feeling the enthusiasm and connection as much and we were playing smaller venues and we were like “what the hell is going on?!”, we thought it was really going to grow for us. But then Scenes From A Memory came out and it all went “BOOM”. Everything went uphill and it’s only continued to grow for us from there.

I have a lot of fond memories with the UK, time with radio stations and time with the record rep, driving around and playing a lot of memorable venues along the way. Live At The Marquee, I still have very vivid memories of walking around on stage, playing at this unbelievable venue as far as the artists who had played there and what it meant to the bands and musicians. It was a very thrilling evening and I still remember walking around during the day at the venue, looking around checking it out, looking at some of the posters for the bands who had played at that venue, thinking this is very cool, this is something big. It’s funny, I tell you what because we have played a lot of incredible venues throughout the UK, but when we did Live At The Marquee it wasn’t until many, many years later and we were playing in New York when we were filming the Score DVD and it was the same vibe. Here we are at Radio City and anybody from Judy Garland to Frank Sinatra to Rush, Coldplay, The Fray, who have you has played there. But you keep getting reminded of just how cool it is to be in such a position to be able to experience all the things you do and to be in a band that has been fortunate enough to make it successful.

Because Jordan (Rudess) and Mike (Mangini) weren’t in the band when Images and Words was released originally, do you think it’s been a different experience for them on this tour? Almost “the wonder” of doing it for the first time as opposed to you and the two John’s who have obviously been there for the last 25 years. I would imagine they’ve both played most if not all of the songs live at different shows in their time with Dream Theater but to play the album through must be a bit different.
James: Definitely Jordan has played through the album and played songs here and there from Images and Words. He is experienced in terms of what it’s like everytime we pull out songs from Images and Words. I think it was back in 2011 or 2012…we played the album from beginning to end at one of the venues in Germany and that was the last time we did that. So Jordan has that connection with the album, much more so than Mike Mangini. But I think while we’re out here and while we’re doing this, they feel the strength of how it resonates with so many people, just from being on stage and looking out there seeing the reaction and seeing the vibe and the energy levels from the fans. You also can’t help but talk about it, John Myung, John Petrucci and myself will be saying things throughout this tour and we’ve been talking about loads of stories from when we were first out and we keep getting reminded of things. Stories like when we were driving down the road in Wyoming and we were sleeping in the back of the van and Kevin Moore (ex Dream Theater keyboard player before Jordan Rudess) was driving the van, and he was doing 110 miles per hour and we got pulled over by a trooper and Kevin lost his license right there and then. It’s little stories like that that we’ll be reminded of, because we’re here touring Images and Words. It’s great for Jordan and Mike because they haven’t heard all those stories before and they’ll be like “oh my god man you guys used to do that stuff”. So yeah it’s pretty crazy.

You’ve had 25 years to think about it, do you have any one song on that album that is a particular favourite that resonates with you most? Because it is Dream Theater’s breakthrough album it must be pretty hard to pick.
James: It very much depends on my mood and how I’m feeling from one day to the next. I would say I have two favourites, I can’t really narrow it down anymore than that. But I would say Surrounded and Learning To Live are my favourites and my favourites to perform live. Something I’m doing on this tour, I talk quite a bit because I’m telling the anecdotes about the songs which is something the fans really seem to be enjoying, and another song is Wait For Sleep, it’s a very, very powerful song and it’s a breather for everyone to sit back and really take in everything that has happened up until then. It’s a beautiful segueway and also the set up for the epic which is obviously Learning To Live.

Because of the very nature of Dream Theater there are quite a lot of songs where they will be quite large gaps where you don’t have to sing and I’ve always found that quite an interesting thing for a singer to deal with, but maybe something that’s just evolved with the band, I’ve just always wondered how that’s something you’ve dealt with.
James: It’s just an accepted truth as to what kind of band Dream Theater is. It’s no different from when I used to go and see Yes, growing up listening to Yes or Pink Floyd or Rush for that matter who are one of my favourite bands in the world. When I experience their music, when I’m listening to them at home or if I go to see them live, it just seems a very natural fit or a natural integration of what goes with that kind of music. Does it help my voice? Sure, it means I don’t have to be out there screaming my guts out from beginning to end.

But you know with The Astonishing that was a completely different scenario because I was pretty much there from beginning to end representing the seven characters and having to sing pretty much throughout the evening. But it’s just become an accepted way of the expression of this kind of music, the way that Dream Theater has existed and will always exist. So in someways it is a blessing, but mostly it’s just what represents the music.

Referring to The Astonishing, it’s been out a little bit over a year now so you’ve had plenty of time to consider the reaction to it and how it was accepted and it is very much while other bands have done concept albums, I don’t know that anyone has done anything exactly like The Astonishing before, so are you pleased you decided to take the plunge and do something like that?

James: Yeah it was a very bold move *laughs* and a courageous move, especially in today’s musical environment where it’s soundbites and singles and moving from one artist to another in the blink of an eye. I think it made perfect sense for us, truth be known I think it polarised our fans. But that’s where we were at that particular moment in time and the kind of album that we wanted to produce and make. Each and every one of us are exceptionally proud of how the album turned out and what it means to us as a band. The tour was a great tour but we’re moving on, obviously now we’re focusing a bit on the 25th anniversary of Images and Words and then it’s onto talking about and discussing the next album. But that won’t be until 2018 that we’re in a position to consider getting together and writing and getting into the next album, though that being said we are already discussing the situation in terms of what kind of album we would like to consider doing.

That’s very interesting, I was at the first Astonishing show at the Palladium (in London) and I don’t think I fully got the album until I saw it in the flesh and then I was able to enjoy it a lot more and I’ve seen other people say the same thing as well.
James: That’s interesting because quite a few people have had that kind of reaction. They’ve heard the album in the comforts of their home or wherever, but it’s not until they are there seeing it in the flesh, we’ve had a lot of fans telling us that it’s a lot more obvious and easier to ingest seeing it live, that’s how they got it and it provides a much more powerful experience. I think as well the live environment tends to create those segueways that are essential to really properly expressing what is trying to be said throughout the entire piece and the story behind it and the music and how one begats the other and supports the other. I think it’s a crucial point to the conceptualising of it in a much more profound sense when you see it live.

Unfortunately I think our time is up and we know you have lots of other people to talk to so we’ll call it a day there, thank you very much for spending your time with us today.
James: You’re welcome, thanks very much.

Dream Theater continue the UK leg of their Images and Words 25th anniversary tour today in Manchester, having begun last night in Birmingham. Information of all the remaining dates can be found below:

Wed 19th Apr – MANCHESTER O2 Apollo
Thu 20th Apr – GLASGOW Royal Concert Hall (Contact venue for tickets, may be sold out)
Sat 22nd Apr – CARDIFF Motorpoint Arena
Sun 23rd Apr – LONDON Eventim Apollo

For any last minute tickets for the shows please check with the venues directly, or alternatively visit the likes of Seetickets or Ticketmaster.


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