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We picked up Dream Theater guitar god John Petrucci from his hotel downtown and drove him up to Cosmo Music. We geeked out on The Astonishing, Disney, Game of Thrones, guitars, and much more.
John Petrucci compares playing guitar to fitness training.
[Neil] I think you gotta like, feel it out, and like what you said, get to the point where you have riffs in your brain and you can just execute them like, kinda without thinking.
[John] Right and even if you can't, you know the steps to take to be able to eventually get there. And also, and you know all the guys in my band will attest to this as well, when you have, when you work on your technique and the craft of an instrument, it helps also the slow playing. It helps because your finger strength, your arm strength, whatever it is, you get more control and your vibrato gets better, and your placement and your balance on the instrument gets better. Again, I mean I always like using analogies, but it's like if you weight train and you’re power lifting and you could lift a certain amount, a huge weight because you've worked on it, you developed and you have the right technique and your muscles are big enough, that means you're gonna lift a lighter weight with a lot more ease and control. And it's the same thing with playing. You know that working on the harder things, the more technical aspects, makes your slower and more sensitive playing better.
[Neil] That's actually a really interesting comparison, because I know you're into weight training and fitness, right?
[John] There's a total parallel, yeah there really is between like, consistency, seeing gains, you know, being disciplined, control of motion, and proper technique, it’s all such a parallel.
[Neil] You could totally do a John Petrucci like, fitness guitar, like weight…
[John] Oh we've thought it all out! Barbells and biceps,
[Neil] Talk about gains on like the guitar…
[John] Hammer curls and hammer-ons, yeah we have it all worked out already, just it’s not out yet!
John Petrucci remembers when Steve Howe once told him to "turn it down".
[Neil] You guys kind of found that gel in Berkeley, right? I saw this documentary where you're talking about how you're walking through a room and like, you guys just started at Berkeley jamming in this room.
[John] Yeah yeah, we did. John and I went there. We grew up on Long Island, we graduated high school, got accepted into Berklee, went up there as 17/18 year olds and met Mike within the first couple of weeks, and just you know we all kind of found that we had similar interests, musical interests, and started jamming. We would secure the rehearsal rooms every night and play.
[Neil] You guys, I guess had some like jazz or piano people in the next room, right?
[John] Yeah totally
[Paul] “Turn it down!”
[Neil] It’s just like “What are these guys playing?”
[John] Yup, yup, they were always like “Turn it down!” Oh my god, I’ll never forget that.
[Neil] I'm just imagining them now like, you know it's like “We told John Petrucci to turn it down back then, we told Dream Theater to turn it down”
[Paul] “Now turn it back up!”
[John] I remember when we played a show in London at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club, the band did, and it was just like a little special gig, and we recorded all covers and had guests come, and it ended up being on the EP “A Change of Seasons”, and so you know we invited certain guests and one of them was Steve Howe, we were doing like a Yes thing. And so we were rehearsing in London and he came down and I'm such a huge fan of Steve Howe, like you know, totally worship him, and had my Boogie set up and he comes in and one of the first things he says is “You mind turning down a bit?” Damn it! Steve Howe told me to turn it down!
[Neil] That's pretty rock ‘n’ roll.
John Petrucci once needed to bring a bucket on stage while feeling sick.
[Mark] So what happens if you are still violently ill when concert time starts? What happens then?
[John] It's happened to me once before, it happened to me in Puerto Rico. I got some kind of stomach thing and before the show I got an anti-nausea shot in the butt. I had a bucket on the side of the stage.
[Mark] Oh, god no!
[Paul] “Give me a bucket!”
[John] And I wasn't like rock and roll like I was drunk, you know. It was like Pantera playing a festival.
[Neil] It’s like shred it out and then puke in a bucket and then just, go back flawlessly
[Paul] “Is that part of the show!”
[John] Puke while you're like playing the solo, everybody cheers.
[Neil] Well you know it can kind of like “The Astonishing” where like you have a whole crowd, like sing to you and then you’re like “I'm healed!”
[John] Yeah, you know what, that would be amazing.
John Petrucci talks about the classical music approach to technique and composing.
[Neil] I think a lot of people, especially a lot of like prog metal fans, I feel like there's a lot of like debate around the technicality, and I think there's so much discussion around, kind of I think like, demystifying these amazing songs that you know, Dream Theater and other prog metal bands do. What would you say is like, the approach to it? Is it about getting into the technical details or do you just like, feel it out? Like is that your process?
[John] You know what? I walked in to drop-off my dry cleaning the other day, and the guy in there was listening to some classical music and it just kind of caught my ear because there was this like, wailing kind of string section. It was all 16th notes and really intense, and then it came down and it went into some really, you know, beautiful movement, and this was all in the course of a couple of minutes I was at the dry cleaners, and you know I just started to think about, and I thought about this before, you know there's not a differentiation between something being technical and it being non-musical, or something being slow and it's more musical. It's kind of like, if you can use all the different dynamic elements of music to help convey an artistic thought, that that's the point. So the technical thing comes into play where you should be able to play anything you hear pretty much. You know, if you're doing an intense piece of music and you want to play something fast to make it sound hectic or whatever it is or intense, you should be able to do that on your instrument, and that's always been my approach and the band's approach. It's not just you know, technique for technique’s sake, but it's technique so that you have a better grasp of the instrument you play so that you can kind of do anything you want, you know. It's like, you know, how fast does this Tesla go?
[Paul] Not again, John! [Laughs]
[John] Well my point is, you're not going to drive it that fast all the time, but if you had to get out of a hairy situation, you want that power to do it, you know. And so I always thought it was like such a weird topic or weird argument to have, you know, because all you gotta do is listen to classical music. Listen to symphonies, it ranges. You know, all those musicians have the technical ability to play the most complex parts depending on what the composer wrote, and to also play things that are really beautiful and sensitive and there's a mastery to both. And so I always thought it was kind of a silly topic altogether.
Geeking out on the Majesty electric guitar with John Petrucci.
[Paul] When you were shooting that video for the Majesty guitar, you were in the studio there, weren’t you?
[John] I was, I was in the control room.
[Paul] And you know what, congrats on that guitar.
[John] Oh thank you.
[Paul] Phenomenal, we were putting the the amp through its paces and with the Majesty last night and let me tell ya, it's a winner.
[John] Oh cool. I think it's the greatest guitar ever made, I really do. And you know I mean those guys, I've been with Music Man for over 16 years now, the JP-16 kind of commemorates that. But the Majesty and the thought that went into that, the kind of pushing the design elements, creating something that's unique, it's hard to do that with the guitar, electric guitar. And they just have just this great spirit, Sterling and everyone there, Drew the engineer who designed it. You know this really positive kind of motivation to do things in such a way that's creative, pushes the boundaries, innovative and Sterling’s son Brian as president now continues that in that spirit and Scotty's other son, they’re all just really so great to work with. It's inspiring!
[Paul] So passionate.
[John] Yeah so passionate, and the Majesty is the result of that and I love it. It just sounds amazing, looks amazing, plays like, plays like a Tesla drive! Practically plays itself. In fact there's a button you can press and it plays itself!
[Paul] Whose idea was it with the carbon fiber? Was that your thing?
[John] Yeah actually the look of the initial run of guitars, with sort of the frozen paint and carbon fiber was all inspired by a BMW M6 and this particular model that I fell in love with, had that sort of frozen paint, white frozen paint. The top of the car was carbon fiber, the wheels were black chrome, and so we took those visual elements and you know, made it part of the guitar design.
[Paul] And it's like a perfect match because it's not over-the-top, it's like it's there but it's like you know, really laid back so to speak, but it just looks so great.
[John] Yeah and that was one of those things you know, speaking of innovation, that was so impressive you know, because I had this idea of a carbon fiber type top but you know, I wasn't sure how they would do it. Would they use real carbon fiber, would they do, you know this process is where they can dip it in like this kind of visual thing that, like these films or whatever, it could have been painted, you know whatever, and they came up with the idea of using maple so you retain the tone of the wood but laser etching the pattern of carbon fiber, the kind of basket weave thing and then sanding it and staining it. So it looks like it, so when you look at it like right up close, it looks like carbon fiber, it’s piece of maple.
John Petrucci talks about producing 'The Astonishing'.
[Neil] Have you been wanting to like, write that fantasy element for a while?
[Neil] Yeah you know, I infuse it into our music. I have a couple of different angles I like to use when I write lyrics, and some of them are my reflections of personal experiences, but some of them are just total storytelling fiction and I've done it a bunch of times, but some of the longer songs, the more epic songs, but this is the first time you're really doing it to this extent. Writing the story in advance, basing everything off of that. I've always been into it, you know, creative writing, storytelling, writing poems, lyrics of course. It's another cool artistic way of being expressive. It kinda gets tricky you know, you have to get into the headspace of a vocalist and picture somebody's singing how those vowels sound, what the range is.
[Neil] And that's like, producer stuff.
[John] Yeah, I mean it's kind of like lyric writing 101, but it also yeah, crosses over into the producer headspace as well. You know, there's just certain words that are awkward to saying certain rhymes that sound goofy, certain vowels that are hard to sing in higher ranges, things like that. Not to say you can't break the rules but you gotta be conscious of that.
[Neil] A lot of people focus on how many notes you do play so fast and so blisteringly, but it's also about, you know, how you lay back, how you create the space in those tracks and how they flow.
[John] Yeah I think this album is kind of all about that more than ever before, because again the music was written as a score so there's only a few songs that are kind of self-standing Dream Theater style songs. You know maybe “Moment of Betrayal”, “Our New World”, but a lot of them are kind of just like, they’re pieces, they're like score pieces where the guitar is coming in and out and it's playing a role as if I were in an orchestra and waiting for my part, playing my part, stepping out, creating a soundscape to contribute to the mood. Things like that, you know. So it's kind of it's been a lot of fun actually to play live.
John Petrucci was inspired by Pink Floyd's 'The Wall' tour for 'The Astonishing'.
[Mark] Rick was saying it was exhausting.
[John] It is you know, we got on stage last night and I was telling Jordan “Man I’m like, shot every time we walk offstage and it's not because it's such an overwhelmingly physical show, but he was like “You know what it is? It's a really emotionally draining show”. And there's a lot that has to go right. There's a lot of cues, it's all synced up to this crazy video that we did and so you're kind of like in, you're like in battle mode you know for two and a half hours, whatever it is, and when you walk off you know, because you're at that heightened emotional state, you walk off you kind of feel this drain almost. You know but it's different than let's say, you know playing a set of music that's all crazy songs are hard to play and fast and everything. That's a different kind of…
[Paul] Different mindset.
[John] When you walk off stage, you might be physically a little bit more drained, but this is like an emotional drain.
[Neil] You’re kind of playing this concept album from beginning to completion, yeah I guess it's not like anything else that, you know I can't think of a band that's doing that kind of thing as a concept from start to finish without any songs in between.
[John] Yeah well you know I kind of thought back to “The Wall” when Pink Floyd toured for that and that's how they approached that tour. You know, they presented “The Wall” live and you went to see that show. There weren't encores or anything either. That was really cool and and when you see it you'll, you'll see that it makes sense because you know the show has a very sort of powerful ending that's very conclusive to the story and it would be just really weird to all of a sudden play “Pull Me Under” or something. It wouldn't feel right, you know.
John Petrucci reflects on modern day music listening and vinyl.
[Neil] I guess there’s that song that got you into that radio play, mainstream…
[John] Yeah that was actually the one exception to the rule, where we had a song that by pure, really fluke. There was no campaign behind it that caught on to rock radio and kind of got people asking, “You know, who are these guys?” and requesting us all during a time when they had Nirvana and Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains, and all that stuff. Oh, guitar solos were dead and everything else, but people had requested the song so much that it kind of built into this rock radio hit.
[Neil] It's interesting because it's like what? An eight minute song? That's pretty unusual for radio.
[John] Yes, yep exactly that's why I guess it wasn't we didn't write it to be a single. It was just a song on the album and it just it kind of grew legs based on its own merit which I thought was cool.
[Neil] I think that's been like kinda thing I love about Dream Theater. You guys are really no compromise. I mean there's not one album where you did the mainstream, or you did the thing. There's an evolution, and it's constantly growing and there's no settling.
[John] You know, I appreciate you saying that. That's kind of our mentality. You know, it's in the spirit of playing progressive music. You know, I mean, we again grew up being fans of Rush and Yes, Floyd, and like every album would come out, it would be a whole new adventure. You know, new music, different styles, maybe use a different producer, a different sound, whatever. The artwork would pull you in, it never got repetitive.
[Neil] I guess it's also that concept of you know, sitting down and listening to the album in completion.
[John] Yeah, true. Which is a disappearing, you know, practice, and again kind of interwoven into the theme of “The Astonishing” is that you know people just don't have time, don't have the time for music anymore. That's a line in one of the songs and it's kind of saying that, I mean in my story it's obviously fictional, that was taken over by machines, but the kind of parallel to now is how everything is just instantly streamed and people buy singles and not albums, you know. The way we listen to music is very on the go. It reminds me of one of the first times I went to Italy and my wife came with me or kids were little and we went in to buy at a coffee, get some espresso, and they didn't have any to-go cups you know because you had to go into the cafe, sit down, enjoy the moment, have your espresso, and it was such a cool Italian experience. You know, it wasn't about like grabbing it and going here and there, and obviously we all have to do that at times, but the idea of of sitting down, you know making the parallel to music, and listening to an entire album the way you would watch a movie or an episode of Game of Thrones you know-
[Paul] And kudos to you guys you know for releasing it on vinyl as well, you're actually giving people that experience as well, or offering it up anyways.
[John] Yeah totally and you know the cool thing about it too is it creates the opportunity as far as the vinyl is concerned for another way of visually presenting the package because you have a much bigger surface to work with.
[Neil] People can enjoy the artwork.
[John] Yeah and so the way that you know, that's laid out. It's not just on a little CD, booklet, or online or whatever. You can really see the detail of all the art and get into it. I believe the vinyl is a four album box set and it comes with a map as well. It's all about you know, not to use like, buzzwords, but it's this cross-media thing and it's something that we were doing you know unbeknownst to that being a technique. Yeah but saying, it's not only about the music, it's about the experience. You know it's about what what happens, what's the feeling when you walk into the venue? What's the feeling when you pick up the album and you look at the artwork? Or are you going online to read the story. What was the feeling when you watch the show and you see the visuals, and so we just kind of naturally went that route. I think it makes for a more complete experience.
John Petrucci tells us how high he can go on a metronome.
[Neil] I gotta ask, on a metronome, how high up can you go? How high up can John Petrucci go?
[John] I pushed it up to, I've gone up to like 250/260 doing sixteenth notes but that's like, child's play from what I hear because if you go online you can see guys playing like ¾ 600. I don't know how it’s physically possible, you know my arm starts to break at that…
[Neil] But you do it in like a musical setting!
[John] I don’t know if it’s musical when I’m doing it!
[Paul] But you gotta get past that certain threshold.
[John] Well I start, you know, I start to wonder what is the point, you know as far as playing guitar, if you're gonna pick every note, is there like a point where the pick just, it can’t go back and forth in enough time you know, striking the string down up down up, like is there a certain point where that just-
[Neil] Where it just goes into one note!
[John] Yeah, right!
[Neil] The human ear only hears one note.
[John] There’s a point of diminishing returns, and so when I see those guys you know you can go on there and look up and watch guys play, you know like “Now you can do 300, now 500, now 600”. And you know, to me that’s mind-boggling because it's twice as fast and more than what I consider to be like, you know, pushing the total limit. So, you know, maybe they know something I don't know.
John Petrucci remembers being blown away by Yngwie Malmsteen when he was first learning guitar.
[Neil] Just personally when I was like 17 years old, I listened to “Train of Thought”
[John] Oh cool.
[I play guitar and I just remember trying to learn “Stream of Consciousness” like…
[John] That's a hard one!
[Neil] I know like I took the hard one! I'm like, trying to stretch my hand, I’m like, “I just can't do this!” I didn't even touch the solo I'm not even going to!
[John] Yeah, yeah.
[Neil] It's funny because like you guys have been around, you guys have been around longer than I've been alive!
[John] Wow! That’s wild.
[Neil] That's why, you have fans of totally different ages, and have been relevant for so long, so for me like, when I was like 17, “Train of Thought” because like it was heavy!
[John] Right! That was the one that got ya!
[Neil] Yeah because it really scratched my heavy metal itch.
[Neil] But I guess like other people, “Images and Words”, other Dream Theater fans are like, “that's my album”.
[John] Well you'll find that, a lot of times it is what you're saying, it's like whatever album you discovered first, you know. For whatever reason at that point in your life that has a lot of meaning to it and it's you know I can relate to that as well. The ones I like from certain bands aren't necessarily the most popular ones, it was just like the one that got me, so yeah that's cool.
[Neil] So is there a kind of a riff or like I guess an album or something that when you were first learning about playing, what was your challenge I guess?
[John] Oh, there’s just like, so many of them. I remember I tried to, when Yngwie came on the scene and he had that solo with, was it with Steeler? When he was with Steeler and he did this like guitar solo, just unaccompanied and I heard that for the first time and I was like “What the f***?” I was like “Please, no”
[Paul] [Laughs] Stop!
[John] Yeah exactly! And so, and the funny thing was that I had been listening to Al Di Meola and stuff like that and he's working on like you know “Friday Night in San Francisco” getting my chops up and I kind of had like a mental picture of these guys as, and I'm and they were young I'm sure at the time, but that's being like little older guys or whatever, and when I heard Yngwie, I pictured him as being another one of these kind of, you know, guys that would look like Paco or Al or something, and then when I saw him it was like this, you know, 18/19 year old kid from Sweden with long hair with chains and a shirt open, I was like “What the hell is going on?
[Paul] What have you done?
[John] What have you done? And so anyway, I remember learning, just trying to learn all of those licks. Slowing it down, you know, putting the record on, you know, putting it on the slower speed so it was like an octave lower.
[Paul] No tab back then!
[John] No tab back then.
[Neil] You couldn’t just look up the tab!
[Paul] No YouTube.
[John] My friend had a cassette player that had a variable speed thing.
[John] And literally I sat there and learned every one of those licks and just went practicing over and over and over and over. I did that with DiMeola and Allan Holdsworth and trying to learn, I'm like, you know because you can't see the person playing, it wasn’t like YouTube was around, and when you're young and you're listening to this, you don't even know what you're listening to. You know, let's say they have delay on it or something, and you know when you hear these notes, kind of...
[Paul] Ghost notes and stuff!
[John] And you're like “What the f***”, like, how do you play that or…
[Paul] How many hands on are on the fretboard!
[John] Yeah I remember listening to Boston, like trying to learn like, the harmonized solos and literally not knowing what, like how to do that. having no... like I'm like, “My guitar just does not sound like that no matter what it is” you know, not knowing about the recording technique of multi-tracking guitar harmonies. Hearing “Eruption” for the first time and he does the hammer-on part and there’s phaser on it and the delay, it didn't sound like a guitar to me! Like I couldn't comprehend how that was a guitar. Because when I picked up a guitar, it sounded like “Plink, plink, plink” you know, and now you know, kids are getting really really good at a very young age because they can see how all this is done, you know just look it up “Oh that’s what he's doing” and copy it, it's amazing. But back then you just literally did not know what the technique was and you had to discover it and maybe you saw a friend do it, and you’re like “Oh yeah, that's how you do it!”
[Neil]I guess I take YouTube for granted because when I was learning how to play guitar when I was like 15/16, I could look up you know, some videos, yeah it wasn't necessarily YouTube, but you could still download videos and stuff.
[John] Yeah, you can see the hand position, you can see what they're doing, their technique, you can slow it down, you know then, you can see them live or maybe there was like a live concert video but it wouldn't be good enough quality to actually
[Paul] VHS or something
[John] There was a lot of like, discovery, a lot of listening over and over and over and you’d hear like, Satriani do some crazy whammy bar thing and you'd be like “How is that guitar?” like the note is way too high, it sounds like a spaceship, my guitar doesn't do that. You can't see that he had, what he did to get that.
[Neil] He's like holding the whammy bar out right and then like shaking the guitar sometimes!
[John] Yeah, yeah so again a lot of discovery, a lot of experimentation and you know, and a lot of those light bulb moments when it does kick in and you're like “That's how you do it, that's so cool!” and then you practice that thing you get better at it.
John Petrucci gives you some solid advice about getting out of a writing funk, and tells us what he thinks about John Myung's fingers.
[Paul] What about getting out of a funk? Like what do you, what's your approach, you know, to get that writer's block out of the way sort of thing?
[John] There's a bunch of different techniques, I mean, one of them is to stick with it, you know, because sometimes when you stick with something, even though, you might feel like nothing's happening, it's like a little bit, little by little, you're chipping away at the barriers, and if you sit there long enough, and maybe do some other other exercises that have nothing to do with writing, some things might come out of it. The total opposite of that is you know when you're in a tense writing period and you just get up for a minute and walk out and grab a coffee and come back, sometimes it's like “Eureka!”, something comes to you that you didn't even think of. Playing with other guys that are really talented, it's always helpful. It's never a shortage of ideas.
[Neil] You guys gel so well, there's so much. Like you know, John Myung, that guy is like, just looking at his right hand is just mesmerizing.
[John] Yeah right, I know, it's crazy!
[Neil] People call it kind of like a tarantula or a snake-like hand.
[John] Oh yeah I always said his fingers look like little astronauts with helmets on them!
John Petrucci's talks about his favourite chord, the 'Alex Lifeson' chord, and more.
[Neil] What has been, I guess what's your favourite solo to rip?
[John] Like, to play live? It's fun playing the one from “The Spirit Carries On”, that one has a cool full vibe to it. It’s very soaring and it has some cool licks.
[Neil] Do you generally like the “ballad” solo.
[John] They are fun because you have a little bit more time to think about, what's going on yeah they don't just you know go by like a gymnastics routine yeah so yeah and this show the song called “A New Beginning” from Act 1 has an extended guitar solo, a very simple kind of jam, very Pink Floyd and I'm able to just kind of sit back and let it build and play with it so that's a lot of fun.
[Neil] Yeah I notice that definitely you guys are going kind of cinematic feel
[John] Oh yeah, absolutely.
[Paul] That's where the dynamics are.
[John] Yeah well that's all that, all the real Orchestra choir will do that you know. Just make it feel more dramatic and more legit you know.
[Neil] I think that's like one thing that you guys do for me, it's the mix between the like, cerebral style music and the emotional side. So like, you guys have, there’s some tracks where there’s a change of time signatures you're going to the one solo, and then just to switch into a different groove and switching time signatures again in like a 15 minute song, but then of course you'll go into another one where it's just like, kind of like a simple kind of like feel in terms of like the emotion, like a soaring ballad or something that you can kind of just sit with [John] All that is kind of like tension release too because you can kind of like, there's all these techniques to help the listener go on the journey with you and sometimes some of the stuff we're doing is very complicated but it doesn't sound like it and that's a tricky thing to pull off too where the there's a very like, complex interaction musically but it has a flow to it. That's hard to do, that's one of the harder things to do.
[Neil] That's very interesting to me because you know the stuff that sounds really, like there's a lot of stuff that you play that sounds really, really hard to do.
[John] Yeah and sometimes it's not the hardest things to play, it just sounds hard because of whatever the speed of it or the percussive nature but it's actually easy to play and then there are some parts that are more collective, more ensemble-ish that could really sound like a mess if you don't do it right as a band, if you're not all on the same page. But when you gel together, it creates this kind of synergy, that very interactive rhythmical thing, harmonic thing, really hard to do, takes a lot of focus but as a listener, you just kind of like going with the flow of it.
[Paul] Desert island chord, you got one chord that you can play forever. What is it? Which one is it?
[Neil] It's the opening chord from “Hemispheres” by Rush. The F-sharp major, with the added fourth and the uh, added flat seventh. That should really be named the Alex Lifeson chord because he invented that.
John Petrucci answers fan questions from our Facebook page (Part 2).
[Neil] Jared asks “Congratulations on the success of The Astonishing being the band's first number one rock album on the Billboard chart. What do you think that says about the band's legacy with its fans and the growing new generation of fans. Thanks and see you at the show. [John] Well thank you! I think then it says it speaks volumes about our fans and about how engaged and supportive they are. I mean the fact that we can do something that's kind of you know, experimental. It's off the beaten track, it's certainly not the norm for rock and roll. It's demanding. You know, we're asking people to listen to over two hours of new music that's about this sci-fi futuristic concept and you know it's very heady and everything, and still people came out and supported us and bought the album and there are the reasons why we had that chart position. I mean it's inspiring to us, you know. It's inspiring that we can have these kind of creative ideas and as crazy as they may seem, do them and then have people be on board with us.
[Paul] Be along for the journey.
[John] Yeah, it's really cool. It's very inspiring as a musician as a writer.
[Neil] I mean you guys have been around for I guess it's 30 years now. And still relevant and growing. I mean, not a lot of bands can say that they have reached that.
[John] You know, it's um it's a unique position because you know you have some bands who had a lot of success in their careers because of the the singles that they put out and you know they gained a lot of fame and a lot of popularity based on those singles, and sometimes and during a certain specific period, and as they go on and tour and put new music, you know you find the fans kind of only want to listen to those older songs. With us, you know we never had that kind of single success, so we you know, we were kind of forced and I say that in a good way, to to build a career where we put out music, put our best foot forward, tour, present to as many different countries around the world, and do that consistently. And so we sort of built this kind of, this following like a snowball. So now you know, people are still interested in new music, and sometimes I feel like even more so than the old music and the fact that we can come out and say “You know, we're gonna present The Astonishing live and there's no other songs, there's no encores, this is it”, and have people come and sell out the shows. I mean again, it really says it all, it does
[Paul] I've got a fan question, Rob V asks “Have you experimented with any alternate tunings like 432nd and stuff?”. Oh no you know, I don't really do that you know, I never got into that. The funny thing is my son is totally into that. He just picks up the guitar, tunes at all these wacky ways and writes. You know, to me, it just messes with my head you know, the things I go to play that I know aren't there and maybe that's the beauty of it, because it opens up a whole different creative door, but no I don't do that. I mean the most I've done is you know, tune the whole guitar down to C or D or you know use the 7th string. Done maybe a drop D or whatever but no alternate. I think, I might, only time I did, I had to do an acoustic adaptation of one of our songs that I had to tune the guitar strangely in order to do it, but that’s about it.
[Neil] I guess we have a straight up kind of question from Les “Who were your influences?” Well you know, when I first started I grew up in New York on Long Island. There were rock radio stations and they would play you know, AC/DC and Zeppelin and Boston and bands like that. Kind of you know early on, got into all those bands and as I started to to get better on the instrument, I had friends kind of say “Oh you really should listen to The Dregs or you know Al Di Meola or whatever, and so I started to kind of expand, and getting into more progressive music and fusion and stuff, so you know that's when I got turned on to Rush, it's a big influence. Yes, you know, so you got Alex Lifeson. Steve Howe, Steve Morse is like my favorite player of all time. Allan Holdsworth, Al Di Meola, Stevie Ray Vaughan, those are the guys that kind of like focused on as my core, you know...
[John] Yeah nucleus players I worship. And of course Steve Vai and Joe. Which was a trip kind of getting to meet them and do G3 and become friends with all those guys.
[Paul] That must have been a lot of fun.
[John] Yeah it was really fun. One of the G3 tour Paul Gilbert was on and he I have a song called “Glasgow Kiss”, which has kind of like a Celtic kind of vibe to it. Last show, him and his band went out, put a lot of work into it. They went and they got material and made kilts and they surprised me by dancing a choreographed like, you know
[Paul] Like a jig!
[John] Like an Irish, you know, whatever it’s called.
John Petrucci answers fan questions from our Facebook page (Part 1).
[Neil] Brian Woo asks, “Do you listen to Dream Theater at the gym”?
[John] No I don't, generally. Although when we were when we were creating the album especially during the mix period, when you know rough mixes were done, I would take them to the gym and listen to them and try to, you know, kind of gather my thoughts. It was sort of good private time to do that, but it was still kind of in work mode. So not in a casual way.
[Paul] You doing any yoga and stuff as well?
[John] You know what? I did yoga once recently with my wife and I loved it. I thought it was awesome, I feel like I need more of that because I'm very sort of stiff, you know, and I found it really really good for balance and stretching and it was very enjoyable.
[Neil] Alexander asks “What was the first effects pedal you got, what do you think of it, and do you still have it?”
[John] You know what, it's hard to remember. I think it might have been an MXR Distortion+. It's possible that was the first one. I don't still have it. I loved it at the time and you know I just used it constantly. I think that was the first one.
[Neil] Jiang asks “Based on the lyrics I've seen in general with Dream Theater, you seem to be a pretty spiritual guy. Do you do things like meditate and what other activities do you indulge in to clear your mind when things get overwhelming?” I asked because you always seem to be calm, level-headed, and giving 100% at all times.
[John] Well you don't know me very well! [Laughs] You know I don't really do meditation, although I probably should because that's probably a great stress reliever. I find that working out certainly has that effect of relieving stress. Everybody knows that exercise is one of the essential things. You know I mean it sounds cliche, but playing guitar. You know writing, kind of zoning out, just playing is very, what's the word, like therapeutic. A while back Sterling Ball turned beyond to the world of smoking... smoking meat that is, barbeque!
[Neil] [Laughs] That was a little misleading! You’re gonna influence a lot of young fans!
[John] [Laughs] Should have clarified that!
[Neil] Smoke if you want to be like John Petrucci.
[John] Yeah, yeah, right right. You know and when you're doing something outside like that, you know on the barbecue with the smoker, that's cool.
John Petrucci talks about adapting 'The Astonishing' into a show and video game.
[John] You know the show and the album are just kind of phase one and phase two of the whole master plan. Yeah actually, really the show was the first idea. We wanted to write a show. That's why the album actually exists the way it does. We have a mobile video game.
[Neil] Oh nice!
[John] Yeah that's coming out in the summer, and also a novelization and the novel will actually go a lot deeper into the background of the characters and their history.
[Neil] It's very ambitious, but you, like, Dream Theater's no stranger to ambition. “Metropolis Part II: Scenes From a Memory”, one of the greatest concept albums.
[John] Yeah we like implementing big ideas. It's a challenge you know, to do it. Keeps us alive and keeps everybody interested and engaged. Although this one was definitely, certainly the biggest and the most difficult, just because of the sheer volume of music, and we wrote two albums worth of stuff. Everything took longer and cost more!
John Petrucci loved the tone of the MESA/Boogie Mark IIC+ on Metallica's 'Master of Puppets'.
[Paul] Congrats on the amp as well.
[John] Thank you.
[Neil] It's like a tone monster.
[John] Yes, it is. You know, it's a result of me literally begging those guys for years, to do a signature amp.
[Paul] Whose idea was with the dual five band? Because that tone kills.
[John] That's me, that's yeah, because what I would normally do is run two or three heads and switch between them, and then I'd be able to choose which graphic for which channel, you know, like on a Mark V or IV or whatever, so I thought you know if we're going to have to lead channels, we need to have two different EQs. Otherwise, what's the point, you’re just going to share the EQ?
[Paul] Totally. The IIC+, I mean, that's like, one of the most iconic amps, and you're part and parcel responsible for this as well. I mean, when was your first love affair with the IIC+? What was the main, first moment that you're like “Wow, this is it”?
[John] Well you know, the first moment, I actually didn't realize what I was hearing, was listening to Master of Puppets, and yeah being blown away by the guitar sound, the whole thing, and I didn't realize that was a IIC+ at the time. But my friend, Mark Snyder, he used to build all my rigs and tech for me and stuff, and now he's moved on and he's been really successful in the wine business in New York, but anyway he was the first person who turned me on to a C+ and I had been playing other Boogies and he was like “You gotta check this thing out”. And he had a collection, he had started to collect, and that was it, I was like “Wow, wow!”
[Paul] Sign me up! Send me in, coach!
[John] “This thing is ridiculous!” Yeah I went to his place in Brooklyn, he fired it up, and I was like “I gotta have one”. You know, but I always thought the amp, as great as it sounds, you know it definitely has some limitations as far as like, just using one, wanting to use one amp in a performance setting. You know, because the clean gain and lead gain are shared.
[Neil] Especially since like Dream Theater's style is so versatile, right?
[John] Yeah, yeah!
[Neil] Acoustic to the hardest metal, you know, balls-to-the-wall sound. You need that whole range!
[John] Yeah so I would find myself using different Boogie pieces to get, you know, different sounds. You know, maybe I’d use a Formula preamp for the clean and then a Mark IV for the lead and a C+ for the rhythm, you know whatever it was. Eventually the Mark V came out, which was very close, because it had the different channels and everything, but you know even with that I had ideas. In fact I think that's how it stemmed was, we're talking about possibly doing something with that, and then the whole thing was “You know what? Let’s do a C+ reissue, yeah let's do it. Everybody's talking about it, let's do it for real with the same type of transformer and circuit. Let's just, you know, boost the feature set into the modern world”. Two graphics, two lead channels, I mean it just does everything. It's literally one amp that does everything you need.
John Petrucci thinks being called "God" is hysterical.
[John] Oh, you guys wash your hands and stuff!
[Mark] Don't worry about us.
[John] You’re like, don't worry about you and then you cut hard to like, you guys Lysoling like, orange suits.
[Neil] But if John Petrucci gives me a virus doesn't that mean I'm a better guitar player? I want you to pass it on.
[John] I don't think it works out that way.
[Paul] I don’t know about that, yeah.
[Neil] How do you react to fans calling you “god”?
[John] Well, first of all it’s hysterical. It's so funny, like those videos that they do where my voice has changed. There was a recent one a guy did with my wah pedal a couple days ago. I shared though my Facebook, I was just dying laughing. It’s hysterical, I mean it's all in fun.
[Neil] There's also a few videos out there where this guy like, overdubs your actual real playing with his own shitty playing.
[Paul] There’s a whole bunch of those actually.
[John] Yeah I've seen the ones with the shitty playing, the shreds ones.
[Neil] Yeah those are hilarious!
John Petrucci compares 'The Astonishing' to Game of Thrones, Star Wars, and The Godfather.
[Neil] It's almost like Game of Thrones meets Star Wars.
[John] Totally, you're just naming my favorite things. Basically those two things. If it had a little Godfather in there, it would be all set.
[Neil] There you go! I actually thought of Gabriel as like, kind of like a mix of like, Jon Snow and like Luke Skywalker.
[John] Yeah totally! That's so funny, I mean it you know, it's that kind of character where they have the gift, they have the power, but they're not really ready to embrace it. I mean it's also a Jesus kind of arc as well.
[Neil] Ah true, yeah the classic parable.
[John] Yeah exactly.
[Neil] You wrote and produced the whole album!
[John] Well I wrote the story and I produced it, and I wrote the lyrics, and the music was written by me and Jordan. We wrote it as a score to the story, really. We sat down with the story, broke it out, kind of storyboarded it, and wrote each song.
[Neil] I was actually, like I had my phone open, reading the story while listening to the album, like a companion piece.
[John] Great! Yeah that's why we did that. Actually you know, stealing a page from Game of Thrones, my wife and I thought that was really cool. In fact it was her suggestion you know when I was coming up with a story, and the whole thing, she's like you know it's really cool, the way HBO does it where you can go back, you can read about an episode if you're confused or want to know more or read about a character. She was like “You know, you should do that with a website for this”. Great idea.
[Neil] You know people, the cool thing is that you can kind of get into this mythology, like there's a map, look up the map! You know like it's Westeros or something.
[Neil] And like you know, I saw some people like, cosplaying, you know, for the show!
[Neil] That’s totally cool!
[John] It’s totally cool! It's really, you know, it's kind of like we created this whole world and you know, it's something that we really tried to do. Again I'm a big fan of Disney and I just, I'm blown away by the way if you go on a ride or something, it's not just about the ride, it's about the story that's associated with that ride and everything that goes behind it. All of the art and innovation. You know, how the whole experience is just this great quality experience. It takes you out of reality for a little bit.
John Petrucci compares the Tesla Model S to the NOMACs from 'The Astonishing'.
[John] I’m excited to ride this Tesla. Wow that's a cool friggin display.
[Mark] We purposely put on our website so that when the recording starts…
[John] Oh my god, it's online.
[Mark] Yeah it’s fully online!
[John] That’s awesome.
[Mark] So traffic in Toronto is not pleasant.
[John] That's all right, I live in New York.
[Mark] Actually, it's very pleasant.
[John] Yeah exactly. Does it like shut off when you're driving so you don’t get distracted?
[Mark] No it keeps going so all this stuff keeps flashing!
[Paul] A full on iPad!
[John] Watching YouTube while you're driving.
[Mark] No you can't do that!
[John] It's bad enough that you have no texting while driving for kids.
[Mark] Yeah that's right.
[John] No Youtubing while driving.
[Mark] Actually in this car, you actually could do it because it has a self-driving feature.
[John] Oh does it?
[Mark] Autonomous mode, yeah. You just double-click on the gear shift here and you take your hands off the wheel, feet off the pedals, and yeah, drives itself!
[John] And where does it like, go? Does it turn?
[Mark] The only thing it won't do is it won’t stop at a stop sign, it won’t stop at traffic lights but it'll follow the vehicle that's in front of you and based on the lines of the road, so the lane lines, yeah. It's pretty, it's pretty impressive.
[John] Okay when do I get mine? I think you should put it in self-drive mode.
[Paul] Are you up for that?
[John] Let’s do it!
[Neil] This car is kind of like the NOMACs.
[John] Yeah exactly! It's all-seeing, all-knowing. Well you know what? It actually really is because that was one of the thoughts I had was, you know we have all of these tasks and jobs and things that we used to do as people that are now being automated and done by machines, and I thought about the self-driving car.
[Mark enables self-driving and funny sound from dash]
[John] Oh my god, that's funny.
[Mark] So it's driving now!
[John] Oh cool. So yeah so the NOMACs were my idea of what would happen if you know, if music was created, only created by machines, not made by humans anymore. What would happen to people if they didn't have expression in their lives. So you're right this car is like a NOMAC, or a NOMAC is like this car. Does thing go any faster?
John Petrucci feels the groove of Disney's 'Let It Go'.
[Paul] I gotta ask, “Guilty pleasure on your iPod or iPhone? What do you got here, you gotta fess up what you got in there that people wouldn't expect?
[John] You know by now they might expect it because I've said it enough but I'm a huge Disney fan. So yeah, I'm in awe by that whole operation.
[“Be Our Guest” plays in the background]
[Mark] How do you get on that “Be Our Guest” ride at Disney, the new one with a mirror that comes out. It was recently installed about two years ago.
[John] A new one with a mirror?
[Mark] It starts out after you're in the lineup. You’re in this room, it's a big mirror and the mirror literally disappears.
[John] They have the “Be Our Guest” restaurant that they just built.
[Mark] That’s right, yeah.
[“Let It Go” plays in the background]
[Mark] Is “Let It Go” Demi Lovato, is that who it is?
[John] Well she did a pop version, but it's like, Idina Menzel.
[Paul] Or if you’re John Travolta, it’s
[Neil] Adele Dazeem!
[John] [Laughs] Yeah Adele Dazeen!
[John] ...So stupid… [Laughs]