DREAM THEATER vocalist James LaBrie and guitarist John Petrucci recently spoke with Your Majesty, the group's official French fan club. The full conversation can be streamed below. A few excerpts follow (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET).
On the title of the group's new album, "Distance Over Time":
John: "The quickest answer is that it stemmed from a joke. It was just a formula [for] velocity. The album was called 'Velocity' for a little bit. We were all sold on that, and it didn't sound as poetic as some of our other titles. We liked 'Distance Over Time' [better]."
On the album's cover art:
James: "Our art director is Hugh Syme. We leave it to him to come up with the direction, with the imagery. He's given what the title of the album is going to be. Hugh's been doing this for so long — he's incredible. He's done several DREAM THEATER covers, so he has an understanding of what the band is all about, the fact that lyrics are important to us. He just came back to us with a few ideas. This one actually was his contingency plan. He didn't show this one immediately."
On whether the record was a reaction to the reception of their divisive 2016 conceptual double album, "The Astonishing":
John: "This whole album is about the feeling of the music, because we were in a setup in a room [and] in an environment where there were no distractions, and it was such a beautiful environment and so peaceful, but at the same time, the feeling in this room that we were in — this barn that was beautiful — was this loud, primal, organic, aggressive thing of five guys in a room playing... That feeling is really evident in the songs, and it was also a very collective process. Many things about this record, if you compare it to 'The Astonishing', are completely different. It's way shorter; it's the band as a collective being creative together as songwriters [and] as lyricists; it's heavier, it's edgier, it's groovier, more solos and playing and stuff like that; [and] it's not a concept album. It's actually under-orchestrated — there are less rhythm guitars and things, and there's no extra musicians, there's no electronic sounds and everything that was going on with 'The Astonishing' to tell that story. In so many ways, it's so different from that record, and it's important for us as creative people to constantly change up what we do. It makes it way more interesting for us, and I think for our listeners as well."
On fan expectations:
James: "I think first and foremost, you've got to be true to yourself. We have to be together on what we think is next for the band and where we want to go and what's inspiring. That in itself, we have to go where our hearts are leading us musically. That's not to say we're not aware of what some of the fans are saying — you hear that, but I think really, at the end of the day, it comes down to, 'What kind of an album should we make, guys? Where are we finding ourselves gravitating towards? What's the musical direction, and what's the overall consensus here as a band? What are we all in for?' We always have these discussions leading up... We were all kind of on the same page [for 'Distance Over Time']. We easily came to that conclusion as a band that this was the kind of album that we wanted to make."
On writing lyrics:
James: "The sound of the song, the mood that it conjures... it conjures up these imageries — to me, anyways. Then I think you can base that off something... For myself, I write down on my phone titles that I think would be cool or subject matter that would be cool to write about. That's where I get it from — I go, 'This would be appropriate for that, because this is how the song moves me.' Obviously, the lyrical aspect can some from socially what's going on on our planet, movies I've watched, relationships, literature, and just observation in general is very inspiring."
John: "It's really important that the subject matter mesh well with the feeling of the song. A good example on this record for me is 'Pale Blue Dot'. When we wrote that song, the whole intro, it almost sounds like a planetarium intro. Then it gets a little 'Star Wars'-ish, very 'Interstellar'. It just sounds like outer space, whatever that is. When I latched onto the idea of writing it about Carl Sagan's philosophies and the Voyager mission and all that, it was like, 'Wow, that's, like, the perfect topic, because it really will fit well with the mood to that song.' That's a big part of lyric writing — figuring out what the subject matter is going to be and making sure that it meshes with the mood of the song. Once you pass that step, then you can begin your process. The process can be research, collecting thoughts, sitting there for hours, whatever. That's the beginning."
On maturing as lyricists:
James: "You become a little more wise [with age]. You become a little more immediately receptive to what's going on around you, and you reflect on it. I think the older you get, the clearer understanding you have of the ways and the works of this planet, but at the same time, you have more questions, too. It's a little bit of a paradox. Definitely, I think you're able to pull from subject matter that you feel more people are going to be able to relate to. You've got to have the fun lyrics too, though. You can't always be serious. I think you also have to show a lighter side of yourself. I think that can become boring if you're very solemn and sobering in everything you have to say."
On new song "S2N", which stands for "signal-to-noise":
John: "It's a very spiritual John Myung observation. The signal represents yourself and your clarity and how you resonate in a way that is pure, and the noise represents all of the negativity in the world — all the constant bombarding of bad news and negative headlines and famine and drug epidemics and earthquakes and hurricanes and all the distractions [like] cameras and cell phones and news. Take it all away. That represents the noise. The whole idea in the audio world is you want the signal-to-noise ratio to be such that the noise is really low and that the sound is really clear. He used that as a spiritual metaphor to push the noise down, so you can find your [zen]."
"Distance Over Time" was released on February 22. The disc, which marks the band's first for their new label InsideOut Music, was produced by Petrucci, mixed by Ben Grosse and mastered by Tom Baker.