If you thought an extended break from touring cycles would afford Dream Theater’s John Petrucci a hard-earned rest from crafting prog genius, you’d be wrong. Conjuring up a new solo album, the first Liquid Tension Experiment record in 22 years plus a new DT venture in the space of the pandemic, metal’s riffmeister general is proving that there’s no rest for the wicked.
To celebrate this month’s release of the prog maestros’ lofty 15th effort, A View From The Top Of The World, we challenged you to interview the guitar master for us. Uncovering his secrets on epic beard maintenance, the challenges of eight-string guitars and the many feats of DT’s career so far, here are the answers to your burning questions.
What made you want to write progressive metal?
“It was something that came naturally to me because of the bands I was into when I was playing guitar. I was into metal and Iron Maiden and Metallica and stuff like that, but at the same time I was a huge Rush and Yes fan, plus Pink Floyd. When I would get together with my friends and we would write music, it would sort of come out that way, so it was a natural occurrence based on my influences.”
Which album is rotating in your home now?
“None! In my home, as with probably most homes around the world, there’s a lot of Netflix and Hulu and Disney+ going around so there’s not a lot of albums rotating. It sounds obvious but since producing this new Dream Theater record, it was the only thing I was listening to over the past several months, I must have heard it 5,000 times! It’s bizarre but a lot of people listen to music when they exercise, drive or hanging at home, you’d think I would but I don’t.”
What beard oil do you use? Your beard is magnificent.
David Pacholok (Facebook)
“Well, thank you! I’ll use this as a plug because there’s a UK company called Captain Fawcett that makes men’s grooming supplies, beard oils and balms, moustache wax and scissors and all that. I was a customer of theirs and we ended up making a connection through one of the people there that was a DT fan. They do signature products with a lot of different people, barbers, famous models, so I approached them like, ‘Have you ever done that with a musician?’ So we did, now I have a line of signature products called Nebula with a beard oil, balm and moustache wax. I’m wearing it right now and it looks and smells awesome!”
You have been a firm favourite with many guitarists over the years, but can you pinpoint the time where you reflected on your own playing and realised you were a good guitarist?
Chris Beattie (Facebook)
“I remember being a teenager and practising six hours a day, really getting into it and realising, ‘Yeah, I want to do this as a career and go to Berklee College of Music in Boston like some of my heroes did.’ It was somewhere in the teen years, maybe 15 years old, that I realised it was something I could do well and I loved to do and I was willing to sit there for hours like it was nothing. There’s nothing else I had ever experienced in that way.”
With the new album, did you find yourself writing using familiar techniques, or did you try and experiment with risks a bit more?
“A little bit of both. There’s definitely something new for me on this record that I was completely unfamiliar with: I got my first eight-string guitar. Ernie Ball Music Man have an eight-string version of my guitar, the first eight-string that they’ve ever made and the first one I’ve ever played and used, so we wrote a song on the record with it and that was different.
It didn’t take long to get used to because it’s a guitar based on one of my models called the Majesty, it comes in six- and seven- strings so that’s adding one more string… what’s one more string? Certain things are different about eight-strings – they have fan frets and slanted pick-ups and things but since it was a Majesty that I’m so used to, it felt like a natural extension of that. The guitar is absolutely beautiful!”
Given the low ratio of women to men (est. 4:96) at your shows, have you considered using the lack of any line for the ladies’ restroom as a selling point in promoting your concerts?
Jo Fleischer (Facebook)
“That’s funny! I’m not sure why it’s like that. I just did my third guitar camp called John Petrucci’s Guitar Universe and I have lots of guest instructors that come in. This was the first time my wife Rena came as a guest instructor – she’s a guitar player from Meanstreak, which was an all-female thrash band, and she plays in [all-female Judas Priest tribute band] Judas Priestess now.
All the campers there except for two were male. We had discussions on why more women don’t come to camps and concerts in this genre. There are tons of female players and drummers out there, why don’t they come to shows? We’ve seen an increase in DT audiences lately but the ratio is still well off and I always wonder why. I’d love to see more women come to our shows!”
If you could have any beard in history, fictional or not, whose would it be?
Alasdair Belling (Facebook)
“I’ll take Gandalf’s beard, how’s that? I’m getting there!”
What comes first when you write a new song? A riff, melody, rhythm, or all at once? How do you construct the rest of the track?
“It depends on the song. As a guitar player, riffs usually come to me first but as a lyricist and just general songwriter, melodies are always swimming around in my head. In Dream Theater’s case, it depends on the section of the song because some of these songs go on for a while and they’re driven by a melodic idea, but for the most part, it’s more the riffs or the motif on the guitar.”
On the new DT song The Alien, the drums and bass sound more outstanding than the three previous albums. Any reason?
“This is the first album we recorded in our own studio called DTHQ in Long Island, New York. I recorded my solo album Terminal Velocity in 2020 there, then recorded LTE3 with Liquid Tension Experiment and DT went in there last October. It’s thanks to the talents of our engineer Jimmy T Meslin and our mix engineer Andy Sneap, who’s also in Judas Priest. It’s a team effort of everybody’s talents coming together. It sounds awesome! We’re always pushing ourselves and each other to do better and find out how we can improve upon our sound and writing, so it’s great to get that feedback from people, especially this far into our career.”
There aren’t many collaborations on Dream Theater songs. What’s the best or strangest idea for a collaboration the band have had?
Kevin Tobin (Facebook)
“I’m not sure if you would call it a collaboration rather than a concerted effort, but one of the best things we did was having David Campbell arrange all the orchestration for The Astonishing. That’s a two-hour-plus piece of music and we had full orchestras and choirs, marching bands, you name it, and David arranged and recorded all that. In the studio, we had something like 700 tracks to mix and it was an unbelievable partnership in having him do that. It was mind-blowing and so musically satisfying to work with someone on his level.”
A View From The Top Of The World is out now via InsideOut