JAMES LABRIE (DREAM THEATER): “‘The Alien’ Is Our Opening Song So That’s Poetic Justice. We’re Just Going To Hit You Right Over The Head With It”

James LaBrie
Photo: Thomas Ewerhard

As lead singer with Dream Theater, James LaBrie has just become a Grammy award winning artist for the song, “The Alien” from their latest album, A View From The Top Of The World. While Covid scuppered the touring schedule of Dream Theater for almost 2 years, they are now back and poised to tour Europe again for the first time since lock down ended. Mick Burgess called him up to talk about his Grammy win and about forthcoming Dream Theater European shows.

First of all, a big congratulations on receiving a Grammy for your song “The Alien”. How did you feel when you heard the news?

It was a little overwhelming. It probably took a day to sink in, it was so surreal. I think it was third time lucky for us as we’ve been nominees twice before once in 2012 for “On The Backs Of Angels” and in 2014 for “The Enemy Inside”. You don’t want to psyche yourself and get too excited as its such a disappointed if you don’t win. I was just playing it cool, hanging out with my family and all of a sudden, the phone was ringing and everyone was excitedly telling me that we’d won. It’s great to say that we are now Grammy winners. It’s another feather in our cap. It’s been a long time coming and to be finally recognised especially for our type of music. For a band like ours or any Progressive Metal band or indeed any band that pushes the envelope to conceptualise how in depth a song can be and not just going down those normal paths that we are inundated with on the radio, it’s cool to have that recognition.

Did you have any idea when you were writing that, that it’d make such an impact?

No, no way. It’s like when we did “Pull Me Under”, nobody knew it would be a national hit and actually get played on the radio. We just thought it was a really cool song. I may not have been here today if that song hadn’t put us on a pedestal, as it really allowed us to grow as a band and give us longevity. It put us on the map.

They were your lyrics too, so you can claim a Grammy for your lyric writing as well?

I write lyrics in Dream Theater but not to the capacity that John Petrucci does. He actually said to me that they were great lyrics and it’s wonderful that they are now part of the Grammy Academy. It’s cool to be recognised at that level. It could quite easily have been one of our other songs with John’s lyrics. That’s just the way it works. We’re all 100% supportive of each other and that’s all that really matters.

How do you think did John Petrucci did at the award ceremony?

John was very poised and very professional and said all that had to be said. He actually texted me later to say that he was freaking out inside but he did great. He just looked like he was so laid back and had been there before. I loved it when he said, tap your foot to this in 17/18 time. He threw in humour there too.

Do you all get an award for your mantlepiece at home?

My family was asking me this just that the other day. I guess I’ll get it when it arrives in the mail. It’ll probably be a few weeks’ time so I’ll probably get it when I get back from the European tour.

Now that you have a Grammy award in your trophy cabinet, will you be playing it on your upcoming European tour?

Funnily enough, it’s our opening song so that’s poetic justice. We’re just going to hit you right over the head with it.

Talking of your European Tour you must be excited to come over here again?

Our last show was on 23rd February 2020 in Glasgow just before the Lockdown. I can’t wait to come back over and play for everyone in the UK and Europe again.

You kick off the whole tour in the UK in Belfast and then on the mainland in Newcastle the following night on 21st April. It’s good to see that you are playing a couple of places that you don’t play very often. Do you have any say in where you play or is that in the hands of managers, agents and promoters?

It comes from our booking agent. It’s very logistical and they book look at the venues that are available to fit our show and if there’s no venue available at that time in a certain city, they’ll move onto the next city. We’ve been to most places in the UK over the years but it’s just a matter of coordinating what’s available.

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 and will you be digging deep too and play a few you haven’t done for a while?

We’re sticking to the tried and tested approach this time. We don’t want to mix it up too much yet but when we come back it’ll be a different set list. The current set list is nailed in each and everyone of us and it just works for us but we’ll flip things up when we come back. We’ll be playing a few songs from our new album and also playing some we haven’t done for a while too.

Dream Theater are one of those fortunate bands whose fans embrace new music. Does this keep things fresh for you knowing that you can always play new music at your shows and don’t have to rely on the same setlist from tour to tour?

We are very lucky. Most bands that have been around for as long us as, their fans aren’t really that interested in hearing new songs. They want to hear the classics and go back to the earlier albums that introduced to the band to them. With us, we’ve been very fortunate as our fans really want us to play new songs. Our latest album has been extremely well received and our fanbase has really embraced it, especially the epic track “A View From The Top Of The World”. People were flipping out about that. It’s very gratifying for us to know that if we do decide to play songs from our new record that our fans are there along with it. There’s no more ultimate acknowledgement of being recognised for your latest efforts. We do also listen to what they are asking for from other albums too and try to play songs we haven’t played for some time. If we tried to satisfy everybody though, we’d be playing six-hour shows.

It must get increasingly difficult picking a setlist when you have a new album and so much material to draw from. Is this a democratic process or does one of you take the lead?

It is a democratic process. What we do, is put our list in of what we think should be played on the tour. We’ll see if there’s some common ground and that will guide us what to choose. We’ll also have discussions about songs we haven’t played for a long time and those songs that make sense next to other songs that we are including. There’s several conversations that go on when we choose a setlist.

You’ve always taken great bands out on tour with you including Porcupine Tree who opened for you on the Metropolis tour. Do you sit down and discuss the bands that you’d like to tour with?

Absolutely. That’s a priority for us, no doubt about it. If we are doing a two hour show we talk about who else we should have opening up for us that the fans will embrace or appreciate. We want to challenge our fans. In Canada I brought out my son’s band, Falset. It was great. The fans really embraced them. Beforehand my son said that Dream Theater fans were so critical and were even critical of us and that they’d murder them. I said to my son, just to be who you are. That’s what they did and the shows were great for them. We’re always talking about who we think makes sense to play with us. In Europe we’re bringing out Devin Townsend and in the UK it’s TesseracT.

It’s now 30 years since Images and Words, your first album with Dream Theater was released, time certainly flies. Does it feel that long since you released that record?

It’s hard to believe that so much time has gone by. It’s absolutely crazy.

Do you have any plans to celebrate that 30th anniversary?

We’re not talking about it at this point. We are concentrating on A View From The Top Of The World at the moment and want to concentrate on playing songs from that as well as a selection of others from our other albums.

With Dream Theater touring to support A View From The Top Of The World and now you have a new solo album out, is that your hands pretty much full for this year or do you have time for any other projects or guest appearances this year?

Not at this point. I have been asked by some artists to do some work with them but to be honest, I have so much going on at the moment with Dream Theater and my solo work that my plate is full but that’s not to mean I won’t do something in terms of recording some vocals, in a couple of months’ time but as for writing another album with somebody now, then no.

Dream Theater’s European tour starts on 20th April in Belfast, then on 21st April in Newcastle and 23rd April in London before hitting mainland Europe on 25th April in Paris and ending on 1st June in Istanbul.

See dreamtheater.net for full details.

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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