Dream Theater’s John Petrucci: “ We hear some bands and go, ‘We created a Frankenstein’s monster!’”

Dream Theater’s John Petrucci
(Image credit: Press)

As guitarist with Dream Theater since their inception in 1985, John Petrucci is one of prog metal’s founding fathers. Not content wth influencing successive generation of fretboard-botherers, he has also diversified into the uncharted realms of facial hair care. His latest solo album, Terminal Veolcity, is out now.

Metal Hammer line break

What’s the worst thing about being in a band?

“Kinda stupid to say during a pandemic, but for a professional music it’s the amount of time spent away. All of the band have families. Being gone for nine months of the year I’ve missed a lot of funerals, weddings and birthdays.”

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

“A high school music teacher suggested that I use a metronome. Back then I associated metronomes with stuffy old dudes on the piano, but it really helped me to gradually build up speed in my playing. I live by that now. It’s the best way to improve your speed on any instrument.”

When was the first time you felt like a rock star?

“Just answering that question sounds pretentious. I don’t think of myself as a rock star. But our second record, Images And Words [1992], had a song called Pull Me Under that started getting played on rock radio. Suddenly our shows were selling out. When we stopped doing the driving ourselves and got our first tour bus, that felt like a rock star moment.”

What’s been your worst experience on drugs?

“I don’t do drugs, but as a teenager I gave in to peer pressure and some older kids persuaded me to drink something that was super-concentrated caffeine. It made me feel horrible. My heart was racing and I felt jittery. The experience scarred me. I remember thinking: ‘Why would anybody ever do this for pleasure?’” 

When was the last time you cried?

“I find myself weeping over Disney movies. But a long, hard cry is for when something emotional happens. Losing an important uncle last March made me sad.”

Although clean shaven at the start of Dream Theater, you now have your own beard care range, including signature moustache wax. Is facial fur a sign of heavy metal kudos?

“Definitely. A beard makes the metal heavier. And nothing smells better than a luxuriantly groomed beard. Growing a beard and learning to care for it is like getting a garden for the first time – you really throw yourself into it.”

Your old buddy Mike Portnoy, Dream Theater’s co-founding former drummer, plays on the new solo album, Technical Velocity. People are putting two and two together…

“And coming up with five. I really want to avoid mixed messages. It’s wonderful that Mike is on my record, but please don’t speculate beyond that. Dream Theater are in the studio now making incredible new music with Mike Mangini [current drummer]. I feel spoiled because I get to play with both Mikes.”

Dream Theater’s diligence towards practise is legendary. Isn’t there a point where a band can become too regimented and squeaky-clean?

“Yeah, there is. Everybody in this band is extremely disciplined towards their instruments and their craft. But the musicians I like best have an instinctive feeling towards their playing. Everyone in Dream Theater has that, but there’s a rock’n’roll spirit in everything we do – it’s not perfect, the rough edges supply the emotion and the Rolling Stones element [of imperfection]. Without that, for sure things become too clinical.” 

Dream Theater are the biggest prog metal band in the world. Do you sometimes hear records by another groups and regret creating a bit of a Frankenstein’s monster?

“[Cracks up with laughter] All the time! That’s so funny. But I love that things have expanded so much. When we started prog metal wasn’t even a thing: there was early Queensrÿche, Fates Warning and us. Now Haken and Tesseract are the next generation. But yeah, we do hear some bands influenced by us and go, ‘Oh my God – it’s a Frankenstein’s monster!’”

What’s the most rock’n’roll thing you’ve done in your life?

“I flipped over a backstage table full of drinks, on purpose. It was my Godfather moment. I was feeling rambunctious. The clean-up wasn’t a lot of fun.”  

Dave Ling

Dave Ling was a co-founder of Classic Rock magazine. His words have appeared in a variety of music publications, including RAW, Kerrang!, Metal Hammer, Prog, Rock Candy, Fireworks and Sounds. Dave’s life was shaped in 1974 through the purchase of a copy of Sweet’s album ‘Sweet Fanny Adams’, along with early gig experiences from Status Quo, Rush, Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Yes and Queen. As a lifelong season ticket holder of Crystal Palace FC, he is completely incapable of uttering the word ‘Br***ton’.