Thrash Hits

October 21st, 2009

Progressive Nation Interview: Jordan Rudess of Dream Theater on Prog, Portnoy and iPhones

When progressive metal godfathers Dream Theater landed in Glasgow to wow the wits out of far-from-innocent people with 113/19 time signatures, Chris Cope sat down for a quick chinwag with keyboard wizard Jordan Rudess

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In a few hours he’ll be onstage, headlining the Glasgow SECC, but just now Dream Theater keyboardist Jordan Rudess is pretending to be a normal human being and lounging in a hotel bar. There’s a red carpet outside, but that’s for the Indian wedding guests congregating behind us, not for Jordan, or indeed Thrash Hits. The cheek.

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  • On the Progressive Nation tour you’ve been playing 90-minute sets. How is it for you guys playing these short shows?
  • I like it, it feels good. Dream Theater’s music is very intense – it’s challenging to listen to, challenging to play sometimes and it has a lot of energy. I think 90 minutes of exuding this energy is good for the band. I know that there’s a lot of people that want more and at some point we’ll do that. Maybe next time we come out we’ll do something more just about us.

  • What would you say to people who think your music is pretentious and over-indulgent?
  • If I had to say something, I’d probably say you haven’t heard the full scope of Dream Theater. A lot of people get challenged by our music because we’re a band made up of a lot of virtuosos who take their instruments very seriously. But that’s not to say Dream Theater is all about playing fast. I think I speak for everyone when I say we regard technique as something where you also have the ability to play slow, beautifully and controlled. Although we’re not really about coming up with some simple little pop song – we’re not a Muse or a Porcupine Tree. These are excellent groups and I love them, but I went to Juilliard and the others went to Berkeley, so we have a different kind of an offering and thankfully we have an audience growing around the world.

    Thrash Hits TV: Jordan backstage at Download Festival 2009 with Raz

  • Your musical background and upbringing is pretty classical. Do you feel a little uneasy playing Dream Theater’s heavier music?
  • I’m alright with it. I like metal music to a point, and I like the idea of fusing it together with other styles. Our song ‘The Count Of Tuscany’ has a lot of melodic sides to it, but it can also hit really hard and get very proggy too. I love that – it’s a cool mix, fusing together styles. Some people also have a hard time with Mike and his growling in ‘A Nightmare To Remember’. For me, it’s all part of the mix – come on, you gotta take these things lightly. It’s really fun that he did that. I can’t really relate to anybody taking it so seriously, who say that it’s not appropriate. Come on, it’s Dream Theater – it’s all over the map, it’s gonna be crazy. We’re gonna do this, go there, take a left turn, we do this, go do it slower, faster, da da da, he growls, he spits, he talks. It’s the nature of the beast.

  • So what do you think of heavier bands who’ve shared bills with, like Opeth?
  • I haven’t spent a lot of time listening to Opeth’s music – and I certainly don’t hear it well from backstage, everything sounds bad backstage – but from what I have heard, I have a lot of respect for them. Mikael growls but then again he also sings really well, so they have a nice mix going on themselves but it’s a slightly different mix to Dream Theater.

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  • Can you say who is the most talented in Dream Theater or are you all equally talented?
  • Well… [he proceeds to look around smugly]. Nah, everyone has different talents in this band. Everyone brings something different to the table and I think what’s interesting is that everyone has a skill that is a little bit extraordinary. Like with Mike [Portnoy], if you said, “Let me hear your top John Bonham fills,” or ask for four Ringo fills, he can call up these things and play them. He has a great ability to take in all this information and reproduce it on the drums. That’s just one part of what he does, he’s got other incredible… things… that he can… do. John Petrucci can absorb and memorise and play back so much music too. And if I can dare speak of myself, I could sit down at the keyboard and just play things you’ve never heard before without stopping all day. I was working with a cellist in the Paul Winter Consort a long time ago and he said once, “Jordan, you throw away more music than some people write in their whole lives,” so that’s my kinda thing.

  • Are you happy with your status in the band? Mike Portnoy is out there in the forefront and the rest of the guys seem to hang back.
  • I’m happy with it. However, what I need to do to feel really satisfied musically with my career – and everyone knows this, it’s nothing unusual for us – is my side projects and solo projects. I was a musician before I came into the band doing a lot of different things and I met Dream Theater along the way and filled in a role to which I have to this day, thankfully. But at the same time I do a lot of other things. Like Notes On A Dream, an album I did recently on solo piano. I took nine Dream Theater songs – and three originals – which are the favourite Dream Theater ballads, like ‘The Spirit Carries On’, ‘Another Day’, ‘Lifting Shadows Off a Dream’ and played nice arrangements with these beautiful melodies. Something like that was very satisfying. This type of thing is really vital for me. However, I feel lucky to be in a group which is a metal group that has keyboards playing such a vital role. Rock ‘n’ roll keyboardists are usually behind the scenes or not as crucial as the guitarists, but for Dream Theater it has an important role, especially in the writing.

    Watch an awesome trailer for the American leg of Progressive Nation

  • Is it fair to say then that in Dream Theater you can’t get out all your creative juices?
  • I can get a lot of it out, but there are definitely some styles which aren’t okay within the Dream Theater stylistic window. I look at it like a frame, with a lot of parameters within it, but if you step outside of it then all of a suddenly it becomes something else. Like once I got a new a plug-in for my computer with all these really cool electronic drum sounds. I started to play them when we were all together and we had this really amazing jam with really wild sounds, and at the end of it we all kinda laughed and Mike said, “You know, that is really cool. We could never do that,” because people would be like, “What the hell is that? That’s not Dream Theater.”

  • You like your gadgets, what with an iPod Touch in your live rig and your iPhone making music too.
  • I find that the touch screen on iPhone a vehicle for a lot of creative minds these days. There’s some amazing software coming out and some incredible musical ideas out there.

  • Because of this, do you think it might diminish the role of the traditional keyboardist?
  • Not really – I think that there’s enough keyboardists out there playing traditional keyboards but I think from my own point of view, this adds interest and fun and a bit of entertainment and creativity to my existing world. In that way, it’s adding to the progressive nature of what I do, which is all I’m about. I’m involved with this stuff because I can see the window towards the future.

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    Naturally, with Jordan’s iPhone laying meekly on the table, Thrash Hits asks kindly for a demo of his touch-screen synth app. It’s like a miniature concert, for one. The Indian wedding guests congregating behind us don’t know what’s hit them. He passes it over for yours truly to have a shot. It’s like touching a little piece of musical heaven – his customised synth sounds cascades out of the iPhone like a rainbow. If Dream Theater ever needs a sixth member, they know where to look.


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