The Long Island Sound. To nautical buffs, it’s a
vast Atlantic Ocean estuary traversing the northern coast of Long
Island and the southern coast of Connecticut. But to enthusiasts of
virtuosic, full-shred rock guitar, the “sound” of Long Island is best
defined by the remarkable number of big fish who hail from this
New York City suburban outpost, including Steve Vai, Joe Satriani,
Al Pitrelli, and John Petrucci. Of this esteemed crew, credit Petrucci
with having forged his individual status as a 6-string icon while still
being closely associated with one band—prog-metal pioneers Dream
Theater—which he founded while studying at Berklee College of
Music and has captained for nearly three decades since.
The current lineup (which also features
vocalist James LaBrie, bassist John Myung,
and keyboardist Jordan Rudess) is featured
on the band’s latest album, Dream Theater
[Roadrunner], and upcoming Live at Luna
Park concert DVD. Meanwhile, Petrucci’s
six appearances with Joe Satriani’s G3 tour,
multiple instructional DVDs and books, and
various clinic appearances—not to mention
his spellbinding chops, creative compositional
approach, and all-around stellar
musicianship—maintain his high profile in
the guitar community.
Dream Theater’s album titles, concepts,
and lyrical themes have always relied heavily
on images and words. What’s the significance
of an eponymous release?
We felt so strongly that the music was
speaking for itself this time around that we
didn’t want a title to give listeners any preconceived
notions about what’s inside. This
is our 12th album and as such we wanted it
to be a landmark album. Going in, we had a
list of things we wanted to accomplish, most
importantly putting more focus on the vocal
melodies. Melodically, I feel this is one of our
strongest albums. We took extra care with
the arrangements so that they would highlight
James’ vocals, and the melodies really
lay in the sweet spot of his range. Also, with
the album cover graphic we wanted to make
it simple and iconic, like the Superman logo
you’d see on a movie poster.
The beginning of “False Awakening Suite”
sounds like it might have been inspired by
“Mars, the Bringer of War” from Gustav
Holst’s The Planets.
It wasn’t a direct influence, but we were
thinking cinematically for sure. I definitely
had composers like John Williams and Hans
Zimmer in mind. When we wrote that, I was
thinking about the opening of our concerts
and not just the opening of an album.
“The Looking Glass” is about the closest
Dream Theater has ever come to sounding
like late ’80s-era Van Halen.
I’ll totally take that as a compliment
because as far as I’m concerned, Eddie,
Alex Lifeson, and Pete Townshend are the
undisputed masters of the gigantic E major
arena rock riff. It’s really hard to write one
without sounding too clichéd. It’s funny you
should mention it too, because that was the
one song where I played an Ernie Ball EVH
guitar, which was the guitar Eddie was playing
during that era. I also used an Aphex Aural
Exciter on that track to get a bright, sparkly
sound. That song came out of me just
playing in the studio with the amp cranked
up trying to work out the parts. After you
play long enough, you kind of push past all
the clichés and home in on something that
How specifically did the arrival of Mike
Mangini change the way you write and play?
I’m not sure if it affected anything tangibly.
Last time around, Mike came in and
did a fantastic job but was essentially playing
parts that I had already programmed. He
was an integral part of this album from the
beginning. By the time we went in to write
and record, we’d already done a world tour
with him and there was just a level of comfort
and relaxation that I think translated
into the overall vibe of the album.
You have a new Ernie Ball signature guitar
with an onboard preamp. Tell me about that.
It’s called the JP13 and it’s similar to
my other signature models, but with a few
changes. It has a basswood body with a maple
top, and a mahogany neck and tone block.
It has new DiMarzio Illuminator humbuckers,
which have more range and clarity. Also,
just by pulling on the Volume knob, there is
a transparent 20db boost, which is fantastic
for when I need to make a quick change
from rhythm to lead. I find this more convenient
than stepping on a Tube Screamer
or a footswitch. For the new album I played
both a 6-string and a 7-string. The guitars
also have a custom-designed floating tremolo
bridge equipped with a piezo pickup, but
for the acoustic guitar sounds on the record
I used a Taylor 12-string.
Despite the density of some of the
arrangements and the low tuning, the overall
mix—and your guitar sounds in particular—
are amazingly well defined. It’s like Led
Zeppelin’s records: heavy but not muddy.
Credit [engineer] Richard Chycki for
that. This is the first time we’ve worked
with him, and another goal we had for
this album was to not “fix anything in the
mix.” To that end, we wanted the sounds
we dialed in during the first week of recording
to be as close to the final, fully mastered
sounds as possible. I even agreed to
let my guitar be EQ’d at the board, which
is something I normally don’t like to do.
Also, I get squeamish about bleed from
my amp when the band is close-miked in
a small space, but Richard had bags of this
stuff from Home Depot brought in called
Roxul to make a little fortress around my
Boogie cabinets. We also used a Radial JD7
Injector re-amper, which is an amazingly
useful device that allows you to record a
track once, but play it back through multiple
amps to see what sounds best. I can
tweak guitar tones all day, so it was great
to have that option. On this record I used
a Mesa/Boogie Mark V, a Mark IIC+, a Triaxis,
and a Royal Atlantic.
Since we last spoke, Rush and Genesis
have been inducted into the Rock and Roll
Hall of Fame, and a whole new generation
has been exposed to classic guitar rock playing
through video games like Guitar Hero and
Rock Band. Have you seen a change in your
audience or an increased interest in guitar?
Absolutely. We’ve had lots of young people
get turned on to the band over the last few
years. For a while, there was this whole negativity
towards technical proficiency and skill
in music, but that’s totally changing. Kids
today are being exposed to more knowledge
and learning more, faster than ever before.
There’s also so much information available
online. I definitely see a push among young
players to constantly be better. There also
seems to be a general resurgence in the popularity
of progressive rock now—we even
recently received our first Grammy nomination
for “On the Backs of Angels,” which
is an eight-minute song! You’re also more
likely to hear progressive-sounding musical
passages from bands in other genres. That’s
certainly the case in metal, and I like to think
we represent the progressive branch on the
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