HERE’S SOMETHING NEW: A TWO PART SEPARATE INTERVIEW WITH TWO MEMBERS OF THE MOST IMPORTANT PROGRESSIVE METAL ACT NOWADAYS: DREAM THEATER. FIRST IT’S MIKE PORTNOY AND THEN JAMES LABRIE WHO FACED THE QUESTIONS OF OUR TRUTH-YELLING CORRESPONDENT STEFFI MAHSMANN
YOU’RE ABOUT TO RELEASE THE ALBUM “SYSTEMATIC CHAOS” ON JUNE 1ST. WHEN I READ THE ALBUM TITLE FOR THE FIRST TIME IT REALLY CLICKED IN MY HEAD, BECAUSE IT SEEMS TO FT YOUR STYLE OF MUSIC PERFECTLY. DO YOU REMEMBER THE SITUATION WHEN YOU FIRST CAME UP WITH THE TITLE? Mike: Myself and John Petrucci sat down with all the lyrics. It was while we were mixing the album and we still didn’t have an album title yet. And we sat down with all the lyrics and read through them together and wrote down any words or phrases that jumped out at us. And the word “chaos” was in one of the songs and it jumped out. And it was like: “Oh, man, that’s a fucking cool word!”. And then we started thinking about, you know like, how everything about this band musically, it’s about like controlled chaos. It’s all about, you know, the music at times, our instrumental stuff could be like totally out there and crazy and chaotic, but at the same time it’s completely controlled and meticulous, it’s like meticulous mayhem. And we just thought, you know, we looked for a word that was the opposite of chaos, came up with the word “systematic”. And it was like (snaps his fingers): Ok, that’s… you know, that sums up our music in a lot of ways. It felt like, it felt like it was the right title, and it sounded good, too, it had a good ring to it. “SYSTEMATIC CHAOS” IS A LOT HEAVIER AS A WHOLE THAN THE LAST ALBUM “OCTAVARIUM”. WOULD YOU AGREE WITH ME IF I SAID THAT THE NEW ALBUM IS MORE TO THE POINT THAN THE LAST ONE? Mike: I don’t know about more to the point cause we still like to meander as much as we ever have, but every album is a reaction to the last. We don’t want to do the same thing. You know, “Train of thought”, which was two albums ago was very dark, heavy and bombastic. So when it came time to make the “Octavarium” we were kind of wanting to change it up a little bit, do shorter songs and maybe stuff that was maybe a little bit more poppy or whatever. Just for a change of pace and now having done that it was time to rock again. And when we started this album I remember wanting to really make it dark, aggressive, powerful, and always coo. Even though this album has softer moments and mellow moments and progressive epic moments, it’s still always very powerful and dark. “Octavarium” lightened up at times, but this one, you know, we wanted to keep powerful the whole way through. OK, WITH THE SONG “REPENTANCE” YOU STILL HAVE A SONG ON THERE WHICH IS SOMETHING LIKE A TEN MINUTE BALLAD, BUT IN GENERAL THE ALBUM OBVIOUSLY IS HEAVER THAN THE PREVIOUS ONE. DO YOU CONSCIOUSLY WORK ON KEEPING THAT BALANCE BETWEEN SOFT, HEAVY AND PROGRESSIVE SONGS? Mike: We always want to have that balance cause, I think that’s what this band has always been about, you know, walking the line between the heavy side, and the progressive side, and also a bit of the poppy side. And that’s what this band has always been about. So it’s always important to have that balance. Like, this album does have… I mean, the most striking thing about this album first and foremost is the heavy moments. That’s what strikes you. But when you really look at songs like “Repentance” or “The ministry of lost souls”, those are quiet and mellow, but like I said before, you know, even when they’re quiet and mellow, they are still kind of dark and sinister. It never gets very, you know, majory. And even the progressive stuff, it doesn’t ever get like, really like, old-school progressive. It’s more progressive in the sense where it’s very technical and on the edge and abstract. The last album had like “I walk beside you” or “The answer lies within”. Those were more kind of U2 flavoured songs. And this time around we didn’t want to have that. We didn’t want to have anything that ever got too sappy or too poppy, but we weren’t afraid to get quiet, you know. “Repentance” is quiet and mellow and it’s a moody song, but it’s not at all sappy or poppy. YOU JUST MENTIONED THE U2 REFERENCE. HOW IMPORTANT ARE HOMAGES AND REFERENCES FOR THE BAND DREAM THEATER? THROUGHOUT THE YEARS YOU’VE ALWAYS PLAYED WITH THEM AND YOUR LOVE FOR CERTAIN BANDS SHINES THROUGH ON EVERY ALBUM… Mike: We’ve never been afraid to talk about our influences. I mean, we’re, you know, we do cover songs, we do cover albums. We’ve covered albums in their entirety, so our love for certain bands is well-known and we have no problem openly showing that. But, you know, when these influences come in and it’s time to make our own music and make a new album, I think it’s good to have inspiration, you know, to kind of take you in different directions, or else you’ll always be doing the same thing, but at the same time, you know, you want to make it your own. So it’s like, you know, if you could look at any of these songs and say: “Ok, well, that sounds like Opeth, or that sounds like Pink Floyd, or that sounds like Muse!” – and we get that! We got our fans constantly pointing that stuff out. And yes, you know, we’ll be the first to admit that maybe we were going for a certain sound or direction. But I think at all times it always still sounds like Dream Theater. It just sounds like Dream Theater doing different things. SPEAKING OF THE FANS: IF YOU CRUISE THOUGH YOUR FAN FORUMS YOU WILL SEE THAT A LOT OF FANS ARE ASKING FOR DIFFERENT THINGS: MORE PROG, LESS PROG, HEAVIER, NOT AS HEAVY, MORE SOLI, LESS SOLI AND SO ON. DOES THAT MAKE YOU FEEL MAD SOMETIMES? Mike: It makes me absolutely fucking crazy reading some of these forums. And I love our fans dearly. And they have made our career because a band like ours is completely built on this great fanatical fan-base. But when you have these great fanatical fans, with it comes a thousand different opinions, and they all like different things, you know. Some people thought “Train of thought” was too heavy, they wanted more prog. Then we do “Octavarium” and it was too proggy, they want more metal. Some people say they hate “Train of thought”, other people say it’s their favourite album. So there is no way of possibly pleasing all of them. So we just gotta do what we do and do what pleases ourselves, and hopefully, you know, the fans will stick around for the ride. LIKE YOU JUST SAID, PEOPLE SOMETIMES TRY TO PULL YOU INTO DIFFERENT DIRECTIONS, MEANING THAT MAYBE THEY DON’T UNDERSTAND THE VISION OF DREAM THEATER. WHAT IS YOUR VISION OF DREAM THEATER, HOW IT SHOULD SOUND? Mike: My vision of Dream Theater is what it is, because I’m, you know, usually driving it in that direction. It’s about trying to give everything we can to the fans, but trying to be ourselves at the same time. And, you know, we are five distinctly different personalities in this band. And each of us is what makes up – not only the sound, but the whole face of Dream Theater – but, you know, we are who we are, we try to be the best musicians we can, we try to make music that’s challenging but also entertaining and atmospheric and emotional an, you know, but we do what we do. And I think the fact that what we do is so different from everything else out there that’s popular, all the trends and the feds. I mean, we are so distinctly different than all that. I mean, we are so blatantly un-cool. You know, when you open up a magazine you’ll see, you know, Mastodon or whoever. You know, all these bands, they kind of all look the same, they’re all tattooed and wearing the same outfits and everything like that. And we totally don’t fit in. If you look at the Roadrunner roster – believe me, I love a lot of these bands – but we don’t look like any of them, we don’t really sound like any of them. So in one sense it kind of sets us apart from everybody, maybe in a bad way in terms of media, the media embracing us. But on the other hand it’s totally set us apart and made us who we are, made us a completely individual sounding and looking entity. And that’s why we’ve succeeded all this time. You know, here we are 22 years later, and out fans are still standing behind us and still helping this band grow and blossom and progress. And that’s because we just do it our way, you know, we don’t pay attention to the feds and the trends, and how we’re supposed to look, and how we’re supposed to sound. We do it our way, and the fans seem to support it. IS THERE A SONG OR A MOMENT ON “SYSTEMATIC CHAOS” YOU’RE PARTICULARLY PROUD OF? Mike: Not to keep coming back to it, but the song “Repentance” really tackled some new things for us. It’s such a moody, dark song, hypnotic, psychedelic. So any time we do something that we’ve never done before, I’m particularly proud of that. “Prophets of war” also is something different for us, it’s got some real kind of Queen vocal parts. You know, they all kind of bring something else to the party. “The dark eternal night” is super-balls-out heavy, and we’ve always had very, very heavy parts, but maybe the vocal approach in this song is very, very different from anything we’ve done. The big 25 minute epic “In the presence of enemies”, I mean, that’s, we’re always proud of the big long epics, because we get to do many different things in it. So basically (laughs), basically what I’m trying to say is, I think I’m proud of every song, you know. They’re like children, you know, each one means something different. They all kind of represent a different time and experience. So, you know, I’m proud of ‘em all. “SIMPLE” AND THE NAME DREAM THEATER DON’T REALLY GO TOGETHER – BUT IS IT EASIER FOR YOU TO COME UP WITH A RELATIVELY SIMPLE SONG LIKE FOR EXAMPLE “FORSAKEN” THAN “IN THE PRESENCE OF ENEMIES”, WHICH IS A 25 MINUTE EPIC? Mike: It’s absolutely harder for us to write shorter, simpler songs. The challenge for most bands is to play. The challenge for us is to not play. And yeah, you know, a song like “Forsaken” for us is an exercise in restraint. Same with “Repentance” or on the last album like “I walk beside you” or “The answer lies within”. Those are all exercises or experiments for us to try to hold back, and try to write something a little more concise. It’s easy for us to write 25 minute epics with a million notes. That’s no problem for us, that’s easy. It’s the shorter, simpler songs that are the real challenge for us. YOU’RE THE GUY IN THE BAND WHO CHANGES THE SET LIST FOR EVERY SINGLE GIG ON EVERY SINGLE TOUR. HOW DO YOU MEMORIZE ALL THOSE SONGS AND HOW TO PLAY THEM? THEY’RE NOT EXACTLY EASY TO PLAY – WELL, FOR YOU MAYBE… Mike: For me it’s easy. The other guys have to really do their homework and sit down and, you know, when I submit a master song list for the tour where every couple days when I’ll email them the upcoming set list for the upcoming shows, they have to sit down and learn them and practise them and rehearse them. And I think they hate me because I don’t. On this last tour, the 20th anniversary tour, we played a song called “Another one”, which was the very first song we wrote back in ’85. And we-, when we brought it back out on the last tour we hadn’t played it in 18 years. And those guys – I hate to admit it – but when I sat down in rehearsal I just played it without even listening. I never pulled the track back up to learn it or listen to it. It was just embedded in the back of my brain. I kind of have an elephant’s memory in that respect. So I think those guys hate me for that, but that’s just the way I’m built. They actually do spend a lot of time though keeping the songs under their fingertips. ARE YOU ABLE TO GO TO A REHEARSAL STUDIO AND JAM ON A THREE CHORD SONG AND JUST ROCK OUT? DO YOU DO IT FOR THE SAKE, FOR THE FUN OF IT? Mike: I do it! I’ve been involved with many, many different side projects through the years, and it’s given me the opportunity to do lots of different things, you know. Everything from a Beatles tribute to, you know, some of the side session work I’ve done. It calls for me to play simple, or to try different things, and I like that! I don’t ever want to do the same thing over and over and over and over, and I’m kind of known for having these big giant, massive drum kits and playing a million different things, but that’s only one side of me. I get just as much satisfaction sitting behind a small kit and playing just John Bonham grooves, you know. I guess, you know, I just always want to try different things. I don’t ever want to always do the same thing. ONE QUESTION ABOUT YOUR PAST: “IMAGES AND WORDS” IS PROBABLY ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT ALBUMS IN METAL HISTORY. WERE YOU AWARE THAT YOU CREATED SOMETHING VERY, VERY SPECIAL – A CLASSIC ALBUM – WHEN YOU WROTE THAT ALBUM? Mike: No, we were just kids. We, you know, when we were writing the songs for “Images and words” we were coming off a bad experience with our first album, you know, where our label didn’t give us any support, we never went on tour, we never did a video, it wasn’t the right singer for the band. So, when we were writing “Images and words” we were just kids desperate to get back on our feet. You know, we were still working day jobs and looking for a singer and trying to get out of our bad record deal and get into a new one. So we knew there was magical music being written when we were writing those songs, because it’s what kept us going. Otherwise we would have given up. But we kept writing these songs that we really felt were important and special. When we made the record, you know, when we finally got James in the band and signed a new record deal and made that record, it felt good. It felt like we were doing what we were meant to be doing, and were making the record we were meant to make. And when it came out and was embraced the way it was, and suddenly opened up so many doors for us, and kind of began our career. It was very satisfying having been though all the struggles we had been through, it was nice to finally get some recognition, and hit the road and start making fans and making a career out of what we were doing. And it kind of never stopped ever since then, you know. It’s been snowballing since then. And those songs are still held in very high regard by our fans, you know. I know that, we still play those songs and, you know, so we realized its importance not only for the band, but for our fans as well. YOU GUYS MET IN BERKLEE, ONE OF THE MOST PRESTIGIOUS MUSIC COLLEGES WORLDWIDE. THERE SEEMS TO BE A JOKE UNDER MUSICIANS, THAT EVERY SUCCESSFUL MUSICIAN STUDIES THERE, BUT NONE OF THEM GRADUATES. DID YOU? Mike: No, no, no. If we graduated from there we wouldn’t be sitting here together. I would be teaching someplace in North Carolina. No, the big joke is: if you go to Berklee and you graduate you become a music school teacher. But if you go to Berklee and you drop out that’s when you become a famous rock star. So we were there for one year. I met John and John there, we put the band together and after a year we left and pursued the band. And that’s how I’m here with you today. YOU SAID THAT “REPENTANCE” IS SUPPOSED TO BE THE MUSICAL EQUIVALENT OF THE 12 STEPS PROGRAM OF THE ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS. CAN YOU PLEASE EXPLAIN THE CONCEPT BEHIND IT? Mike: I’ve been writing a series of songs – this will be the fourth one now – it started on “Six degrees” with a song called “The glass prison”, then continued on “Train of thought” with “This dying soul”, then continued on “Octavarium” with “The root of all evil” and now it continues on this album with “Repentance”. These are a string of songs that all connect, they have ongoing musical themes that run from song to song, and lyrics that inter-connect, and where one song ends, the next begins. And it’s been this big ongoing puzzle that we’ve been laying out, and I’ve been writing these lyrics, too. But it’s based on the 12 steps of recovery, which for me is something out of my personal life. I’ve been clean and sober for seven years now, and these lyrics are based on that. And each song is another couple of steps, parts of the twelve steps. So, yeah, “Repentance” is steps eight and nine, and with the next record we should have the final track which will be steps ten, eleven and twelve. And then we can piece them together and play them live as one giant piece. SO, IT’S MORE LIKE A PERSONAL METAPHOR FOR YOU THEN? Mike: Well, the lyrics are. I mean, I always write lyrics from my personal life, whether it deals with, you know, estranged family members, or struggles with my addiction, or, you know, it’s always stuff out of my life. That’s the way I write lyrics, is personal stuff. But I realize when I write about it, I’m opening up for public discussion. And, you know, I’m gonna be asked about it in interviews. So I have to choose carefully what I decide to write about, because I know it’s gonna be open for public interpretation and discussion from that point on. ARE THERE ANY PLANS FOR A EUROPEAN TOUR AFTER “SYSTEMATIC CHAOS” COMES OUT? Mike: The world tour starts in June with, basically a warm up, like, for us, which is throughout Europe doing festivals and a couple of one off shows just to warm up. And basically we go back to America and then begin the full show, with the full headlining shows with full production in America in July and August, and then we will be back through Europe in September, October and November. So basically, the full Dream Theater headlining tour of Europe will be in the fall. And that’s when we will come through with the full show and the full production and… We look forward to it.
THE RELEASE FOR “SYSTEMATIC CHAOS” IS SCHEDULED FOR EARLY JUNE. AS USUAL, YOU VARIED THE VOCAL STYLES A LOT, BUT THIS TIME YOU ALSO USED A LOT OF VOCAL EFFECTS, FOR EXAMPLE IN THE SONG “DARK ETERNAL NIGHT”. James: Well, I think with each and every album we’re always including effects, vocal effects. I mean, it’s just to help to embellish whatever that mood or whatever that expression might be, that section of the song. It’s almost trying to support the feeling musically with the voice having a certain effect that just embellishes that mood, you know, or that message. Yeah. But we’re always screwing around with effects. You know, it’s kind of cool, it gives the voice a bit more dimension and a bit more character, you know a statement in that sense. Yeah. BUT ESPECIALLY IN THE SONG “DARK ETERNAL LIGHT” – THAT’S SOME ANGRY SINGING THERE. AT FIRST, I COULDN’T BELIEVE THAT WAS YOU. I THOUGHT IT WAS SOMEONE ELSE SINGING THERE… James: Well, no there is. It’s me singing along with Mike. And Mike is there, too. So it’s almost like, it’s the cookie-monster vocals going on there for a bit (laughs). But, no, you know, it’s good to try and-, like especially with a song like that, where it’s dark and menacing, you know. I mean, you really-, I couldn’t be singing (sings a high note), you know, like all nice and clean and all that stuff. I think it would just come off sounding completely inappropriate. So with this you’re able to, you know, really, like I said, it just kind of reinforces what is trying to be said and what is the emotion that’s trying to be conveyed. But that is-, that’s both myself, and then Mike is doing the more lower, guttural singing with being very effected, the voice is really effected there. Yeah. SOMETHING DREAM THEATER IS KNOWN FOR, IS THE FACT THAT YOU SPLIT UP THE LYRICS. IT’S YOU, MIKE AND JOHN PETRUCCI WHO ARE WRITING THE LYRICS IN THIS BAND. HOW DO YOU DECIDE WHO WRITES WHICH LYRICS FOR WHICH SONG? IS IT LIKE: “HEY, JOHN – YOU TAKE THOSE TWO SONGS!”, “JAMES, THOSE ARE YOUR SONGS YOU BETTER FIND SOME LYRICS FOR!”? James: That hasn’t happened in a long time. I mean, but generally speaking it’s, we each take a song or whatever song we feel connected to, and then that lyricist will write that song completely. But it’s usually, what, someone is saying: “Hey, can I have that song?”, or: “I wanna write the lyrics for that song. I wanna write the lyrics for that song!”. And it basically goes down like that. And so it’s, you know, I mean, that’s just the way that it’s always-, that’s just the way that it’s always worked, you know. In some bands it’s the singer that’s writing all the lyrics. In this band it’s not. In THE WHO it wasn’t, you know. And, you know, I think that it depends on who feels more comfortable voicing their opinion in a lyrical sense. So with us it’s always been, you know, like Mike or John taking these songs and I’ll take one or two. And that’s fine with me, because it’s just less for me to do, you know. But if it’s something I’m really passionate about, I’m gonna say it to them, you know: “I’d really like to do the lyric for that. So, let me take that one on and stuff!” But, you know, and then when I’m doing my solo stuff it’s usually, I’m doing 90% of all the lyrical writing. So that’s something, that’s a completely different situation, though. ONE OF THE SONGS YOU WROTE THE LYRICS FOR IS “PROPHETS OF WAR”, WHICH QUITE OBVIOUSLY DEALS WITH THE WAR IN IRAQ. DO YOU THINK IT’S NECESSARY TODAY FOR AN ARTIST OF YOUR CALIBRE TO EXPRESS YOUR VIEWS ON POLITICS? James: You know, like, to me I’m just trying to shed some light on what I was, you know, enlightened to, what I came into contact with: a book called “The politics of truth”. And it was written by Joseph Wilson, who was at one point an ambassador for the U.S. government. And it stems from his personal experience being deceived, being sold out by his government, because he originally did the work. He was sent to Nigeria where he was originally an ambassador there for many years. And he was sent there under the suspicion that Nigeria was selling a matter, a chemical called “Yellow Cake”, that’s used to enrich Uranium that can be used to eventually create nuclear bombs. And they were under suspicion of selling “Yellow Cake” to Iraq. So he went, and being in great relationships with the diplomats over there and the parties that were in the, in convents there. He found it all to be untrue, and that’s what he put in his report: “This is untrue!” And then you had certain characters like Dick Cheney and several other members of cabin-, of the cabinet within the White House that kind of wanted to disgrace his reputation. Destroyed his report and stayed on their own agenda, and their political agenda was to create the war, so that they could profit from it financially. So that’s the whole twist on the word: the prophets being the politicians, and the profits of war being the financial gain for the few, but so many pay for it. So, it’s just basically, you know, why are we trying to still resolve our differences? And if we really want to do something good for any particular society or any particular country, it can be sought after and resolved without having to go to war. You know, we have to start using communication. And if we are as intelligent as we all think we are then let’s start acting as such. So it’s really not any like stab at anyone particular thing, even though it sheds light on the truth of how this all came about. But it’s really saying to people, you know, it’s up to us to feel that we do have a say. And it’s only up to the people, the masses, the public to really make a difference and to eventually get things changed to the way that they’ve been for thousands of years, which is trying to resolve all problems through war and conflict, which is asinine. It’s absolutely ludicrous, it gets nothing. If anything it creates a bigger and a greater divide between the peoples, and the religions, and the cultures. And it just stems any sense of growth spiritually, or in any sense of the word, you know. Just, it stopped. So there is no benefit to anyone. So… There is a lot more to it than that but, you know, and that’s why I tried to keep is as neutral as I possibly could. And I didn’t name any people. I didn’t come right openly. But if you read enough about it, then you’ll know who I’m referring to, and it’s all gotta stop. WOULD YOU SAY YOU’RE BETTER AT WRITING NON-FICTIONAL LYRICS? James: That’s what inspires me. That’s basically how I feel that, you know, I feel connected and I feel that I’m saying something that’s meaningful, instead of just talking about fluff, you know, like whether it be comical or whether it would be about love. And I mean, love is exhausted as far as I’m concerned and how the way people describe it, or it’s been one-dimensional. You know, it’s just so typical when you hear those lyrics. And, you know, I think there is – I’m not against talking about fiction, or telling stories – it’s just that for the last little while I haven’t been, you know, intrigued to do so. WHAT KIND OF ENVIRONMENT DO YOU NEED TO BE IN TO WRITE LYRICS OR TO FIND A MELODY? DO WE HAVE TO IMAGINE YOURSELF SITTING IN AN ARM CHAIR WITH THE LIGHTS DIMMED WITH A GLASS OF RED WINE, OR CAN YOU ALSO BE CREATIVE ON A BAR STOOL ON A GIG BETWEEN SOUND CHECK AND DINNER? James: I found myself with, you know, like in a doctor’s office waiting to go in and to see a doctor. And all of a sudden I’m starting to write about something, you know. Or if I’m watching a movie that really hits me I’ll go: “You know what? That’s really cool!”, and then I’ll write down a few lines of how that’s hitting me. Or if there is something said, like in conversation, I’ll go: “Wow, that’s really cool what you just said there!” I won’t say that, I’ll just think that. And then, you know, I’ll go somewhere where I can grab a piece of paper and pen and just write down those words, you know. And then come back and reflect on it and go: “Oh, yeah, ok. Now what is it saying to me now, because I’ve internalized it?” But other ways is, you know, me being in my-, we got a big bedroom, so, it’s a nice comfy chair in the bedroom as well. And I like to go in there with the lights dim. And like, with this song “Prophets of war”, I sat there with the book, and I had highlighted certain passages that kind of struck me, you know, that I felt were powerful and were giving a synopsis of what I was trying to say. So I’d, you know, refer to my notes there and my highlights, and then I’d write down, jumble down a whole bunch of things and then slowly but surely piece it together into making it what it is. JAMES, SOMETHING APART FROM THE ALBUM: YOU SUFFERED FROM A VOCAL CHORD INFECTION FOR MANY YEARS… James: What happened was, my wife and I were vacationing in Cuba and I got food poisoning. And I was deathly ill. Oh God, I was just delirious and I passed out. But what happened was, I kept vomiting basically, I kept being sick. And then it got to the point where there was nothing in me. I was basically, no fluids whatsoever. And I threw my voice out, basically. I went: (makes a screeching sound) like, from pushing. And I broke blood vessels in my eyes when I did it, and in my throat. And when I went and I saw an ears nose and throat specialist, and when I saw them – I saw three eventually, because I kept getting another opinion – but basically they said it’s not irreparable. Like, you’re gonna be able to-, it will repair itself, but it will only heal over a long period of time. So from ’95, 1995 ‘til 2002 I had to deal with a vocal rupture, basically, is what they told me. I had ruptured my vocal chords. And it wasn’t any operation. It wasn’t like I had nodes, where they would remove the blister, and then you’re fine like three months, four months later. It wasn’t anything like that. They said that I basically just had to really let it just heal on itself. So I went through that, and I wasn’t til, you know, I was dealing with vocal problems all seven years. My voice was completely inconsistent. So, one night I would be able to sing, and the next night I wouldn’t. And my voice would be cracking when I was singing like: “Urrrgh!” (high note with a cracking voice), you know. And I would be: “Oh my God!”. I lost my range, like I lost a bit of my range. My voice wasn’t as powerful as it once had been prior to the accident. And then around 200s I could all feel it kind of starting to come back together. And even around that time, too, I’d start to go back and study voice with Victoria Thomson, this opera coach over in Canada. And it was invaluable to me, really great stuff that happened. And I was able to really bring the voice right back to what it once was, like previous to the accident. And now I’m singing as strong, and my range has come back, and I’m singing all the high (sings) “Yeeehhaa!” screams and all that stuff, so… It’s all back, but that was a very dark period for me, from about 1995 to 2002. And then it continually healed and got stronger right up to the point where it is today. RIGHT, I WOULD AGREE WITH YOU THAT YOUR VOICE IS AT ITS PEAK AT THE MOMENT ON THE NEW ALBUM. YOU HIT THE HIGH NOTES AS PERFECT AS THE VERY LOW, THROATY, ALMOST WHISPERING SOUNDS… James: That was the other thing that really, which was really unbelievable, was that when I had that vocal problem and that injury, even for me to sing low was really difficult, because my voice would: (wavy singing) “Hua-hua!”, trying to bring it down low. It just wouldn’t, and the way it was described to me is that your voice is in positions. And when I ruptured my vocal chords, my voice went into a position, that it sat there, and it was almost like paralyzed. So it was almost like my voice was paralyzed, so it wouldn’t cooperate. Like, cause, you know, your vocal chords are like elastic bands. They’re-, the elasticity is what enables you to (lowers his voice) sing low (raises his voice) and sing high, you know,. And, so my voice was just basically saying: “No, leave me alone! I can’t move! I don’t want to move! And when you do force me to move, I’m gonna be very erratical!” Like, it’s gonna be just (imitates sound of a collapsing voice), and whatever you get is what you get. So that’s what happened is like, you know, it would be in this position, and if I wanted to bring it lower, it would just: (makes a fluttering sound) “Belelebel!”, it would flutter. And then if I wanted to bring it higher, it would flutter and crack. So, it was a nightmare, a complete nightmare. And I mean, thank God, to the band because they were patient. And I mean, I was losing patience with myself. You know, I was losing my self-esteem, my self-confidence, it changed my whole character, my whole being, my whole presence, my whole stage presence, because I always felt I wasn’t there. And I couldn’t give it my all, because it wasn’t there. It just wasn’t. It was that simple, so…But luckily it came back, God-willing it came back, and I was able to transcend that dark period and come around, you know. SO YOU LOST YOUR VOICE AND YOUR SELF-ESTEEM AND WERE FORCED TO GO OUT ON STAGE EVERY NIGHT AND SING AVEN WHEN YOU KNEW THAT YOU WOULDN’T BE ABLE TO DELIVER?! WHAT A COMPLETE NIGHTMARE! James: I wasn’t forced. I mean, it was all part of the gig, you know. You gotta go and sing tonight. And I remember, you know, like just walking on stage and going: (pauses and looks up in the air) “Please, you know, give me whatever you can give me!” And just trying to get through it, yeah. And then, you know, to make matters worse, like I wasn’t the kind of person, I didn’t want to come out and say what I was going through, cause I didn’t want any self-, you know, any of that pity being bestowed upon me. So I never let anybody knew, or know. The guys in the band knew. But, you know, as far as the fans, they would all start, you know, writing online: “What the fuck is happening to LaBrie?”, and “Why is he singing the way he is? Like, he never sang like this? And what is happening? Because for years now he’ s been really inconsistent?” And I wouldn’t say anything, but I had to deal with it. So that, too, compounded the situation. So… TERRIBLE! I’M GLAD YOUR VOICE IS BACK WHERE IT WAS BEFORE AGAIN! ONE LAST QUESTION ABOUT THAT: WHAT WAS THE MOST HURTING THING SOMEBODY EVER CAME UP WITH DURING THAT PERIOD? James: Well, I remember just saying, just seeing online where some people would be bold enough to say, you know: “He sucks!” or whatever like that. And, you know: “What the fuck is he doing in the band? Why is he still there if he’s singing like this?” So, you know, I’d read stuff like that and I’ll go: “Well, easier said, you know, from your point of view, because you don’t really understand the full story, you don’t understand what I’m going through. And, you know, it’s your opinion, and your criticism is bullshit, because you don’t know the whole story!” I couldn’t really, you know, I couldn’t really be looking at that person like they were completely insensitive, because they weren’t aware of the full situation. They just thought that I became a shitty singer (laughs), you know? Which was understandable, because they, you know, like, I mean, they were going: “Oh, fuck, no one is telling us why this is happening? Why is this happening? – Ok, I guess, you just can’t sing anymore!” And that’s what they were doing, you know. It was just: “How could he sing like this at one point, and now he’s singing like this, it makes no sense!” Well, it did make sense, but I never told anyone! SOMETHING ON A LIGHTER NOTE: I’VE ALWAYS BEEN WONDERING WHAT YOU’RE DOING BEHIND THE STAGE WHEN THE REST OF THE GUYS GETS LOST IN THEIR INSTRUMENTAL FRENZIES, WHICH COULD EASILY LAST FIFTEEN MINUTES? James: Aaaahhh!(laughs) No, seriously, I mean, I’m enjoying it. I mean, I’m-, basically, I’m not sitting down, like I just don’t go like this (sits still with arms crossed) while they’re out there. I’m actually doing stretching, stretching exercises, so, you know, hand to toe and hands up in the air and then just, you know, taking the arms, and I’m staying really flexible. I’m doing like – believe it or not – like jumping jacks or jogging on the spot, because it keeps the energy level up. And I do that, and then I’m like drinking, and I towel off, and conversing with the tour manager (imitates small talk): “Oh, I gotta go!” (laughs), and then back out on stage. So it’s fine, because I mean, to be honest with you, when you’re doing three hour shows, those are God sends, when they go into an instrumental, because I still end up singing about two hours and 15 minutes every night, and that’s a lot of singing. And if I had to do three hours, you know, I mean, it would just do me in. So, it’s a welcome thing, and it’s the nature of our music. That’s the way that we’ve always written, so it’s to be expected, and it’s great. Like, being the vocalist with this kind of music, you know, it allows me to use every single facet of my voice, you know. All the tonalities, create the characters, use the full range, be expressive, be emotional, be aggressive, you know. I mean, it’s everything. So it allows me to be, to just utilize every fiber of my voice. Yeah. WHICH WAS THE MOST CHALLENGING PART FOR YOU TO SING ON “SYSTEMATIC CHAOS”? James: Actually, believe it or not, it was to find the right character in “Repentance”, you know, that whole low singing. Because, you know, I didn’t want it to come off sounding: (sings in a “loungy” way), you know, like a-, and vary like a lounge act. And I wanted it to-, so I wanted it to come off sounding very somber, very serious, very… not cold, but a somber approach, you know. So that it was very serious, and very steel-like feeling, you know. And saying something that was very profound like, you know, obviously talking about the alcoholism, you know. Like, that’s a lyric from Mike. So being able to really convey that message, but with the proper character. So, you know, I played with it, and played with it, and played with it, and played with it. And then finally I came on to something, and then, you know, Mike would say: “Yeah, that sounds really cool! Where you are, right now, man! You know, that whole character you gave it!” And then I would feed off of that and listen back to what I did, and then I’d feed off that, and then I’d better it, and better it, and better it. But that was probably… yeah! The other ones, like, you know, “Dark eternal night” and “In the presence of enemies” and “Ministry of lost souls”, that came pretty quick, you know. All those characters came really quick, and I was able to sing it pretty fast. BOTH INTERVIEWS RECORDED AT COLOGNE, HOTEL SAVOY – APRIL 26TH 2007