JORDAN RUDESS (DREAM THEATER): “We Weren’t Afraid Of Doing An Epic Track”

Photo: Patrick Larsen Holseth

Jordan Rudess has certainly been busy this year with a first album in 21 years with Liquid Tension Experiment and now a new album, A View From The Top Of The World, by Dream Theater. Mick Burgess called him up to talk about the new Dream Theater release and upcoming tour.

The last year and a half have been unusual times for us all. How has Covid affected you?

Aside from the feelings that we all share about it being scary and upsetting, in some ways I’ve been very constructive and have benefited from being at home so much. As a musician I enjoy being in the studio, being creative and doing live streams so that side of things has been pretty good. I’ve been doing a lot of writing and have also been able to do the first new Liquid Tension Experiment in 22 years. I also put out a solo album called A Chapter In Time and have been working on the new Dream Theater album too so it’s been productive. I’m pretty much a musician for all the hours I’m awake and probably when I’m sleeping too.

You have a new album out, A View From The Top Of The World in a few weeks. How do you feel ahead of its release?

One of the crazy parts of this business is that you create the music and spend time in the studio recording and then you have to sit on it for a while and wait for the release date. It’s hard especially when you are excited about it. I’m always excited about a new record but I think this one has extra bursts of energy and the reaction to the first track we put out, “The Alien” has been fantastic. It’s definitely got some intensity to it that I’m very excited to share. I feel a lot of anticipation and I’m just really looking forward to getting it out there.

This is your 15th album. What plan did you have when you first started discussing a new album?

We always talk about it and come up with a game plan and sometimes it’s a little more specific than other times. What we knew we weren’t going to do this time was to create another concept album. What we wanted to do was get down to the core of what Dream Theater really is and what this combination of guys means and can create and go for some real energy. We didn’t want to limit ourselves to short form things and we weren’t afraid of doing an epic track. The title track is 20 minutes long. We were just going all out to do whatever we wanted to. We not only wanted an album that was very progressive and had a lot of energy to it but we also wanted to have real good hooks and melodies that people could latch on to. That’s been the key to our success to the years. We don’t just care about the technical and academic side to making music we also like to play slow and have beautiful melodies. We love it when our audience sings our melodies so we take that into consideration when we are writing music.

Did you have to adapt your way of writing bearing in mind the impact of Covid?

After being locked up in our homes for so long, we were really excited to get together. We did have a difficult time making it happen as we wanted to be in the same room as each other but we obviously had concerns so we had to go with whoever wanted to be the most careful. It was definitely tricky but we managed to get over that hump and we agreed that we’d all be tested before we went into the studio and stayed a certain distance apart. Once we established our bubble it was easier.

Where do usually start when writing a Dream Theater song? Do you build it up from the rhythm section first or does it change depending on the song?

It’s always different depending on the song. Sometimes Mangini will come up with a cool rhythm and we’ll take that and build on top of it. That is one way that we composed some of the stuff but some things emanate from my piano and a lot of the melodic sections come from me playing some nice chords or maybe a theme. Petrucci sometimes comes up with some cool riffs and we work from those. We are very flexible in the way that we write. The reality is that John Petrucci and I come up with most of the notes that you hear and that doesn’t take anything away from John Myung who also comes up with cool riffs. One of us will come up with a seed of an idea that we’ll jam and it can go in any direction depending on the ideas that everyone contributes. We lay things into Pro Tools as we create sections and it gives us an opportunity to look at it and see if it flows together, if it needs a bridge, an instrumental section or a chorus. So there’s a degree of architecture involved in building up a song from an original idea.

The title track is a 20-minute epic. How did that one develop?

With this one, as he often does, John Petrucci asked me to come up with a powerful orchestral theme. So I got the theme going and Mangini had this rhythm pattern in 23/8 time that he wanted to interject so he and John worked on this chunky guitar thing that went under it. We put it all together and thought it sounded cool. Then we thought of how to build it out. We had to decide how to use the theme in different ways and develop it. So it developed naturally that way.

John Petrucci produced the album. How does he switch between being a band member and a producer?

He produced the last few albums and he’s really good at it. He’s good at getting the best out of everybody. Although he has very strong opinions, he still allows people to take time to try things. Sometimes he’s very hands off and lets things flow and sometimes he’s very hands on with a clear idea about the direction he wants to go with an idea. Sometimes he’ll just leave me and Jimmy T, the engineer, to get on with what we’re doing while he’s writing words and will pop his head in every now and then to see how it’s going and make suggestions.

First single “The Alien” has just been released. Are you pleased with the reaction it’s received?

I can’t actually remember receiving more and better reactions to anything that we have released before. We’ve had an enormous amount of reaction and an enormous amount of really positive reaction. Dream Theater fans can be brutal but people have been so responsive and engaged and seem to love it. If the whole album is like that, maybe Dream Theater will have a career.

The artwork for the album is by Hugh Syme is exceptional. What brief did you give Hugh when you first discussed the artwork?

This is very much in John’s court. He’s the one that talks to Hugh. He’s very aware of the kind of things we like so it’s just a matter of cueing him into the concept of what we are doing and he needs to see the words and hear music so he can start to generate images from this. At some point when things have developed, he’ll present it to the band to make sure that we all like it and are supportive.

He’s a keyboard player too and has played with Rush from time to time. Did he contribute any musical ideas?

I don’t think he’s dared to. I’ve never heard from him in that regard so he just stuck to the artwork.

It’s been quite some time since you’ve been on tour so the recent announcement of a European tour in April and May of next year must be exciting for you?

The whole idea of getting on the road and touring again is so exciting. I’ve actually got the whole show programmed into keyboards already for the US dates that we will be doing first as I’m actually out playing solo shows at the moment so I wanted to be ready in good time and no doubt many of the songs we will be playing on the US run we will be playing on the European dates too. Every time we do an album, for me as a keyboard player, the technology gets better and I have access to more cool software that creates more cool sounds. For me the game gets to a higher level and when I go back to the old tunes, I can refine the patches to make the songs sound so much better. That makes me so excited to be able to get back out there and share that with the world.

You’ve only played in Newcastle once before, 15 years ago when you played Images and Words in full at the legendary Newcastle City Hall. Do you remember much of your visit to the North?

I loved playing in Newcastle. I walk around all the cities that we play in. I remember walking around the city centre and experiencing the vibe. The concert not so much, but walking around the area was something I enjoyed very much and I can’t wait to visit again next year.

The tour will be a great opportunity to play songs from the new album. Have you any thoughts of which songs that you will be doing on this tour?

We’ll certainly do a few from the new album although I don’t think I can tell you just yet as that would spoil the surprise. I’m sure people are going to be very responsive to the new album so we’ll play a decent amount from it. I think we’re lucky in Dream Theater as the fans of a lot of bands don’t really like to hear new songs at a show but our fans really seem to love it when we play new material. I love playing new music although I’m not one of those guys who minds playing the older songs too. I really don’t mind playing “Pull Me Under” regularly as I see it is another opportunity to play it better. Playing new music is exciting, fun and fresh. We’ll also be digging into our back catalogue. John and I have had a discussion about what we wanted to play and I had a couple of cool suggestions of what I thought should be in the setlist.

You’ve always taken great bands out on tour with you. Have you had any thoughts about who will support you in Europe?

We haven’t had any discussions with anybody about this yet but I don’t know if management or John have thought about this yet. We’ve got Arch Echo when we tour The States but I don’t know if they’ll be coming over to Europe with us. There’s a lot of factors to consider. Choosing Arch Echo was a big decision and a great opportunity for a young band and a lot of bands wanted that slot as it would expose them to our audience. We have a lot of friends in bands too who would be good to tour with us. Arch Echo are a great instrumental band, they’re really nice people and really talented so we thought we’d ask them to come out with us and show their stuff.

Do you have any other projects or guest appearances over the coming months or is Dream Theater your main focus now?

I’ve been doing some solo concerts recently on the West Coast of The States so that’s been a pretty strong focus for me. I’ve also developed a Patreon platform where I can live stream and share music with fans. I’d been told about it a few years ago but never really thought much about it but after the lockdown happened, I wanted to play and share music without giving it away. Patreon has been a big part of what I’ve been doing and I expect when I hit the road, I’ll still be taking part and sharing to keep that inner circle very lively. My Patreon subscribers actually helped me name many of the songs on my solo album Chapter and Time. It’s hard to name instrumental music but the inner circle had such great ideas. That’s been really important to me. Other than this though, my main focus is on Dream Theater once we start the tour to support A View From The Top Of The World.

A View From The Top Of The World is out on 22nd October.

For more on Dream Theater visit

Interview By Mick Burgess


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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