DREAM THEATER singer James LaBrie was interviewed on the April 15-17 edition of Full Metal Jackie’s nationally syndicated radio show. You can now listen to the chat using the Podbean widget below. A few excerpts follow.
Full Metal Jackie: You’re going to be on the road for, like, a couple of months now, with the double concept album “The Astonishing”. DREAM THEATER albums are often thematic, if not outright concept albums like “The Astonishing”. How conscious are you about being the literal voice of characters when you sing those songs?
LaBrie: “I’m very, very conscious of it. I mean, obviously, we haven’t done a conceptual album for 16 years; ‘Scenes From A Memory’ was the last full-length conceptual album. Especially when I’m approaching an album like this, if you’re talking about the vocal part of it, I’m representing seven characters, and it was an unprecedented experience for me, even though I had done some opera-like or conceptual albums before, character driven, being ‘The Human Equation’ with Arjen Lucassen, or ‘Leonardo: The Absolute Man’, with Trent Gardner. So there was some experience there, and obviously the experience of doing ‘Scenes From A Memory’ and every other thing with DREAM THEATER enabled me to really wrap my head around this approach. But we always know that we’re kind of, like, pushing the envelope each and every album. And this one we wanted to bring to another place that we feel that we’ve really kind of transcended anything else we’ve done, conceptually wise, previously.”
Full Metal Jackie: James, how much did you approach your vocal performances with “The Astonishing” with a thespian perspective rather than a more traditional singer mindset?
LaBrie “With something like this, I think you’re always looking at the fundamentals of singing. What are you gonna be comfortable doing? What are you capable of doing? But at the same time, too, I wanted to really travel down a road that I hadn’t previously. There’s never been an album where I’ve had to really represent seven characters. So there was an unorthodox approach in the sense that I knew that I was gonna be representing two females and then five males. First and foremost, it was all about myself really wrapping myself around the lyrical content and immersing myself in that within each character to familiarize myself and become as close to that character, just shy of being myself. And, obviously, so that emotionally, it would seem and sound sincere and genuine and authentic. And then just trying to figure out what kind of a voice I wanted to use for each character so that the listener could identify. So it was more about the inflections and the nuances and the textures — the textural approach that I would give each character. So it was very, I’d say, technical at first, and then once I found the voice for each character, then it was a matter of really diving into it emotionally and really and kind of painting a picture for each character so that you could definitely relate or identify with each and every character when their moment would be upon you throughout the album.”
Full Metal Jackie: What was most challenging for making the album for a band that regularly makes complexity seem relatively easy?
LaBrie: “I think the biggest challenge was staying true to the story and then having the music accurately represent what the lyrics were saying at that particular time. So, in some sense, because the story was already written, it enabled John Petrucci [DREAM THEATER guitarist] and Jordan [Rudess, DREAM THEATER keyboardist] to easily kind of find the mood that was necessary to compose for that particular part of the album, or moment within the album. But at the same time, the other thing that we had to watch… Because, I mean… I think it’s easier for DREAM THEATER, the complexities and the technical aspects of the band, it’s easier for us to go off on a tangent and really dive into something, and before we know it we’ve constructed a 12-minute track piece. With this, it had to be more concise. It had to really not overstay its welcome, not go beyond what was absolutely necessary for that part or for that character for what needed to be said, and there was an amount of time that was being given, so that’s why it ended up being at least… well, 34 tracks, six of them being instrumental interludes and what have you and then 28 being vocally driven pieces. So if you think about it, the average song on this album is around four minutes. I think the longest track is just over seven minutes. For DREAM THEATER, that’s something that really hasn’t been ever done, especially with that many tracks to be included. We’ve never released an album with 34 tracks, or I should say a double album, where it consisted of 24 tracks. So it’s the most tracks we’ve ever released, and it’s the most tracks, I think, that we’ve released, being under five minutes on one release. So it was definitely a different approach. It was much more concise, much more focused that we knew in order for this to translate properly and to be seamless and to be the kind of experience that we wanted the listener to have and to hold their attention, it had to go and it had to be done and composed as such.”
Full Metal Jackie: You’re going to be performing the full album on tour. John Petrucci has described the stage production as elaborate, almost like a Broadway show rather than a concert. What’s most appealing about that to you?
LaBrie: “Well, once everyone has had the opportunity to be able to listen to the album from beginning to end, they’ll realize that it lends itself… I’s very cinematic; it’s almost movie soundtrack. So because of that, and because of the theatrical nature of it as well, we just knew that it had to be a very visually driven experience for our fans, for the audience. And because of that, once everyone sees this, they’re gonna see that the imagery and the visual aspects of the show, along with the incredible lighting design, are really going to just even push the story that much more. It’ll be that much more clearly read and understood, but will be a thrilling ride at the same time; it’ll be visually spectacular, we feel. And, yeah, I look at it as being an elaborate theatrical rock opera kind of experience for the audience — just very visual. And not to the point where it detracts from, obviously, us being on stage, because you can easily get lost in that type of production as well. So you have to balance it; you have to really watch both those environments that one doesn’t overtake the other.”
Full Metal Jackie: Looks like you’ve got tour dates through the beginning of May. What can we expect beyond that?
LaBrie: “There’s talk that we’ll be going back to Europe to do a festival tour sometime throughout June. And then I do believe at this point we might be breaking for a bit during July and August, and then back in September, I think, we will be going to Asia and throughout the Pacific Rim, hopefully even into places like India and so and that region of the world. And then, obviously, South America and then possibly coming back through North America and then we’ll take it from there. We’re pretty much bringing ourselves right back around to this time next year by that time. It’s always been very extensive, our world tours, but we wanna make sure that we get into every possible crevice. And we don’t always necessarily attain it, just because of schedule conflicts or whatever is going on at that particular moment. Or if there’s some unrest in certain parts of the world, unfortunately, we can’t get over there, or we just don’t think it’s a good idea to do so. So that’s very unfortunate too. But it does usually take about 14 months for us to complete a tour.”
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