Interview with James LaBrie of Dream Theater
Posted on 08/04/2019
State Theatre presents Dream Theater live in concert as they kick off their American tour on October 11! Vocalist James LaBrie joins us to discuss what it's like putting together an album and how awesome it is to be touring Scenes From a Memory 20 years later!
Read the Transcribed Interview Below
with Kelly and Hanna from All Access and special guest James LaBrie.
Kelly: And we’re back on All Access with State Theatre New Jersey; the show that takes you behind the scenes of the historic State Theatre, located in downtown New Brunswick and beyond! All the arts and culture thriving here in central New Jersey. With me today is Hanna Wasserman, I’m Kelly Blithe!
Kelly and Hanna: Hahaha!
Kelly: Let me introduce myself! And with us today is Hanna Wasserman! Hey, Hanna!
Hanna: Hey, Kelly!
Kelly: Hey! So, we have a very special guest kicking off the show today, with us today we’d love to welcome James LaBrie from Dream Theater! Welcome James!
James: Thank you, great to be here!
Kelly: Yes, yes, thank you so much! We’re so excited! Dream Theater coming to the State Theatre October 11; The Distance Over Time Tour, so exciting! Tell us about this tour, James.
James: First of all, it's New Brunswick, New Jersey...so, I’m not going to New Brunswick, Canada, correct?
Kelly: Hahaha, correct!
Hanna: Hahaha, this is correct! Hahaha.
James: Hahaha, yeah! You know what, it was interesting because I was told about this interview and I’m like, “New Brunswick, New Jersey? Wow, okay!”
Kelly and Hanna: Hahaha!
James: But the tour is obviously it’s a part of the, our latest release, Distance Over Time, and at the same time we are also celebrating the 20th anniversary of Scenes from a Memory. So, we did do a North American leg later in the year, during March, April, and part of May. And then over the summer—actually, we just got back—we just did a huge rest of the tour over in Europe. And, so, this, we’re primarily focusing on some songs from the new album, and then songs, various songs from our catalog. And then, it’s an evening wit. So, it’s just us. You get us for three hours of the show. So, the first set is basically, you know, songs from our catalog, and then the second set is devoted to playing Scenes from a Memory from beginning to end. And, there you go!
Kelly: Wow! So tell me the breath of this tour. Where does it take you from, obviously it stops in New Brunswick, New Jersey!
Kelly: But from where to where and how many stops?
James: Oh boy! They point me every day in the direction I’m going!
Kelly and Hanna: Hahaha!
James: I believe, ha! I’m serious because there’s been moments that I’ve been on stage and I go, “Uh oh, I’m gonna do a couple songs and then I’m gonna address the audience.” And I go “Oh, my God. I forgot—
Kelly: Where I am! Hahaha!
James: You know? And I’m sure you’ve had other artists tell you that. But I believe we start in Louisville, Kentucky on the 26th, and then we end on November 11th in Kitchener, Canada. In Canada, which I’m Canadian, so that’ll be nice. So yeah, we’re going, you know, all throughout the states. Yeah, we eventually end up in Canada, in Kitchener, and then we take a breather and we’re going to South America in December and then we go to Asia, and you know, Australia, and so on in the spring. And then we leave for, hopefully, I believe, because at that point it’ll be a whole, over a year. We’re gonna take a little bit of a breather and then we might go back in the fall of 2020. And then we wrap up the tour.
Hanna: Wow! That is...just a short breather so you can make it around the entire world with this tour.
James: Yeah! Yeah! It’s pretty crazy, yeah.
Hanna: So, yeah! So, let’s...let’s go back a little bit. Let’s go back to when you started performing. So, I believe, if I’m not mistaken, you started singing as a child in a barber shop quartet with some of your family members?
Hanna: How did that eventually progress into, you know, progressive rock and what you’re doing today with Dream Theater?
James: Yeah, I mean, before the barber shop quartet when I was with my father and my one brother, my parents kind of noticed that, because they were out on the radio playing all the time, and my father was, he had an album collection of listening to Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, and Miles Davis, so he was just putting it on and we were listening to music together. He used to, you know, someone like Miles Davis who you could listen to his instrument, which was the trumpet. And he said, you know, “That’s his voice. Listen to the melody structuring.” And, you know, I was only, I remember, you know, doing stuff like that at eight years old and sitting down with my dad and he was so into music and so into singing. So, they noticed that I was walking around singing and the music at the particular school I was going to said, “You know, you should look into doing something with him because he is very serious and he’s musical, you know, so, let’s see what we can do with him.” So, at that point, she started focusing—this one particular music teacher—started focusing on my voice. But I also, at the age of five, my parents got me a drum set. So, I started playing drums at the age of five, as well. And I played drums from the age of five until I was becoming a teen. And the first rock band I got into, I was the, I was only 12, and I was the lead vocalist and the drummer. And I continued doing that until I was 17. But I, you know, as good as I thought I was at drumming, I always knew that I just wanted to be a singer in the band. And, so what was great that I took from the drumming was the rhythmic sense and the knowledge, you know, the fundamentals of that. And, which really enabled me to be able to really sit in on any kind of music and feel comfortable. And especially when I was singing. And so, it was kind of natural progression—no pun intended—but going to a band like Dream Theater. And you know, I’ve always been into bands like Rush and Pink Floyd and, you know, I very much gravitated toward that kind of music. But at the same time, from a tender age, my all-time favorite was Freddie Mercury, some Queen.
James: So, I was always listening to two bands, I was listening to the singers and see how, in what ways they were expressing themselves, and emotional contact. So, I was in a band, I was in several bands, but I eventually ended up in a band called Winter Rose, we were being looked at, being signed back in 1989. Also, so around the time, you know, I just kept driving around with this band going on tours, and around 1990-91, we were touring with a band, going, you know, and her name was, I don’t know if you guys remember this but, she was referred to as the Meadow Queen, Lady Heron?
Kelly: Okay! Yeah.
James: So she actually went on to do jazz!
Kelly: Oh! Hahaha!
Hanna: Hahaha, there you go!
James: She did a total 180, a 180 from what she was. But, I’m, she, she asked, she was watching up open up for her the other night, and she knew some people down in New York at MCA Records. And they played it, and they went, “Oh, wait a minute. We have some artists that are on our roster and they’ve been looking for someone for two years, and that happened to be Dream Theater. So that’s how that all, you know, I winged it, believe it or not, even though it was not winged.
James: Yeah, and that’s how I eventually ended up in Dream Theater.
Kelly: Nice! I mean, when you say you got your first drum set at age five, I think of all the parents out there going, “Noooo! Noooo!” Hahaha!
James: Yeah, well they stuck me down in the cellar, or the basement, and you know, so, but they did have their times, they’d come down and say “Play something else!”
Kelly: Hahaha! Do you still—
James: But, in the same time they were, they were extremely supportive. You know, my mom loved singing as well. She came from a family where, you know, the piano in the guitar is going they’re around sitting in the living room, and sing. You know, I was kind of in an environment where we all loved. And, so they were completely open to it. And, you know, they wanted to complete it for sure.
Kelly: Nice. And, you know, you're talking about celebrating 20 years of Scenes from a Memory, take us back to the beginning of Scenes from a Memory, I mean, 20 years is a, that’s a big, is a big feat, you know? That’s a long time! And obviously the fanbase for that album has really grown through the years.
Kelly: Take us back to the inspiration for that album.
James: What was the inspiration for the album?
James: Well, I mean, it was, first of all, we had been talking about it off and on. The album would really put us on the mark was Images and Words, and that came out in ’92. And, you know, from the moment that that album come out, we started touring, and then you know, sing stuff from the album, from that. We kind of just kept having conversations saying, “You know, at some point, we really have to do our first conceptual album.” And, fortunately, for us, a couple of things happened. When we did, the album that followed Images and Words, was Awake, and that came out in ‘94. And our original keyboard player, Kevin Moore, left. And so the term from ‘94 to ‘98, we had another keyboard player. And we had come to a point in ‘98 after supporting him, that we wanted to change keyboards. And what happened was, the guys Mike Portnoy and I, John Petrucci, they were doing this project called “Liquid Tension Experiment,” and the keyboard player came who into that, was Jordan Rudess. And their whole experience with Jordan was, he was kind of, you know, dreary-eyed, at the age of eight. And we, actually, originally asked him initially asked him into the band in ‘94 to support us with the Awake tour. And he did one show with us in September of ‘94 and he said, “No, you know what...my wife and I just had a baby, I want to be home a little more. Because the tours, as I’ve just told you, the beginning of this tour, they’re quite extensive. And you’re gonna be far away from home from time to time. So he passed on that. But fortunately, he came back to work with a couple of guys from the band on a side project. And we asked him if he wanted to be in the band again and he said, “Yes!” So, I think when he came into the band is when it became more progressive music. It’s just natural, for him to want to even write or be involved in that kind of music. And the others were very progressive, as well. So, we were coming up on our first conceptual album, we had Jordan in the band now. And everything just kind of lined up. And the label was completely behind doing this type of album. Because, you know, you are treating people with this music.
James: It’s almost totally normal, you just kind of, push the music, and it was kind of natural for Dream Theater, with every album we came out with is very unpredictable where we were going to go musically. And, fortunately for us, we had that creative freedom to be wherever we wanted for the songs. And so, with this album being the first conceptual album, is you know? We’re taking a big step here. And we’re always, you know, walking a fine line between something brilliant and something else. And fortunately for us, we were able to really help us be provided that template, and at that point to make the kind of album that Scenes from a Memory eventually becomes.
Kelly: Well, I mean, here’s the push in the envelope, man! And I mean, many many, from the basements, from the basement at age five rockin the drums!
Kelly: To, you know, leading Dream Theater, come to The State Theatre Friday, October 11 is the “Distance Over Time” tour! We so look forward to having you, James LaBrie, thank you so much for being on All Access, and we, we’ll see you in October!
James: Absolutely! For sure, it’ll be a great show, absolutely.
Kelly: Alright! Thank you!