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John Petrucci: 'The uncool factor became our strength'

While at Sonisphere we were recording a load of interviews for the Metal Hammer Radio Show – which you no doubt heard because you tune in every night, right? Well here's the interview with Dream Theater's John Petrucci where we talk the band's battle with coolness and their upcoming THREE HOUR gigs.

It’s a really interesting time in the world of heavy metal, with a new generation of bands citing prog as an influence. Does that feel vindicating to you?

“It does, it feels great, I think it’s great for the progressive community. It’s been a style of music that we’ve been playing from the beginning that we just kind of naturally latched onto, just because of the influences we had when we were younger, but it’s always been this thing on the outskirts. It’s great to see younger bands, more splintering of the style, and the genre, it’s just exploding so it’s great.”

You guys were sandwiched between bands that looked like Hanoi Rocks, that wanted to be from the Sunset Strip, and heavier Seattle bands that maybe knew three or four chords. You couldn’t have been less cool if you tried at that time.

“Less cool is correct. In fact that point you were talking about, the Seattle scene is when Images And Words came out, and Nirvana – everything was all over the radio. For some strange reason, at that time about 1992, the song Pull Me Under broke through all of it and it was this radio hit, which didn’t make any sense. Why was this style in the midst of what was going on with grunge and everything? Why was it poking through? But it did, so it was interesting.”

Did you ever face any label or A&R pressure to appeal to a more commercial audience at the time?

“I think with all the label situations that we’ve been in, they knew what they were getting into when they signed us. They knew we weren’t the typical band that had that commercial side. Sure, it would be great to breakthrough in that aspect, and to some degree we’d have talks about that a little bit, but it didn’t really change anything. Again, they knew what they were getting into, they knew the kind of band that we were, and the cool thing is that over time those differences and the uncool factor actually ended up becoming our strengths, and what separated us out, and was able to make us successful in the long run.”

You’ve been doing some special gigs, An Evening With Dream Theater, what’s the concept behind it?

“As you said it’s an evening with, so it’s only us, there are no opening acts on this tour. It’s a three-hour show, we wanted to get as much music as possible in. We have a kind of theme of the evening, the tour is called Along For The Ride, so using elements from the latest album we have different movies to run through the show that take you on this journey and make you feel like you’re along for the ride. We even have a pre-show situation, which is called our Dreamatarium, that as you walk in to kind of sets the mood for the night, and at the same time we’re paying tribute to a couple of albums that have been out now for a while.

The Awake album came out 20 years ago, and so we’re playing a whole suite of songs from that album, and Scenes From A Memory came out 15 years ago, and we’re playing a bunch of songs from that album. So it’s a really fan-centric night of music.”

In the Evening With Dream Theater shows you play for three hours, how do you get ready for that

“It’s a long time to be playing and it’s a lot of music, and a lot of notes squeezed into that time, so for me it’s conditioning. Our music is pretty challenging, and you just have to make sure that your hands are in the right shape to play, so it’s kind of like mini-athletic training for your hands. The other big part is the production, this show is run as a show with a theme, so all the elements, the visuals on the screens, the lighting, the queues, and everything has to be perfect, so a lot of the preparation is with that as well.”

This interview originally aired on the Metal Hammer Radio Show. Find out more here.

Alexander Milas
Alexander Milas

Alexander Milas is an erstwhile archaeologist, broadcaster, music journalist and award-winning decade-long ex-editor-in-chief of Metal Hammer magazine. In 2017 he founded Twin V (opens in new tab), a creative solutions and production company.  In 2019 he launched the World Metal Congress (opens in new tab), a celebration of heavy metal’s global impact and an exploration of the issues affecting its community. His other projects include Space Rocks (opens in new tab), a festival space exploration in partnership with the European Space Agency and the Heavy Metal Truants, a charity cycle ride which has raised over a million pounds for four children's charities which he co-founded with Iron Maiden manager Rod Smallwood. He is Eddietor of the official Iron Maiden Fan Club, head of the Heavy Metal Cycling Club (opens in new tab), and works closely with Earth Percent, a climate action group. He has a cat named Angus.