James LaBrie interview

"The irony in music is that, usually, things that sound very simple on the surface have so much more depth to it than that"

02/08/2013 @ 14:18
There are times when an interviewee’s voice alone is enough to convey his love and enthusiasm for his music, and how much he/she believes in it. When you receive the same excitement from accomplished musicians such as James LaBrie and Matt Guillory, who honestly have nothing left to prove, it seems to me that it means even more. With their brand new album "Impermanent Resonance" just hitting the shelves, we had a lot of things to talk about and they seemed to be more than welcome to answer anything.

James LaBrieHi James and Matt. Nice to speak with both of you again. James, last time we did the interview backstage before your show, here in Athens...
J.L.: It was an outdoor show, right? Oh, it was a very hot day...

And you gave a very 'hot' show as always...
J.L.: (laughs)

So, this must have been quite a hectic, too busy period as you have the new James LaBrie album coming out soon, but especially for you James as you had to finish the new Dream Theater album as well. How did the process go this time?
J.L.: I think Matt should answer how the process unfolded for "Impermanent Resonance"...
M.G.: The writing aspect probably kicked off a little over a year before I think. We were tweaking things up to the very last second. I think that’s a pattern for us James...
J.L.: Yeah, yeah, it is. For sure...
M.G.: It got a little stack for a little bit, because Dream Theater started their production and it was actually going simultaneous to "Impermanent Resonance" production and James was able to squeeze out a couple of weeks of time to do the vocals, but everything worked out. But, yeah, it got a little hectic there... (laughs). Anyway, we’re happy with how it turned out.
J.L.: I think, Chris, what’s important to realize is that Matt is the main composer of this band and he rightfully produced the last album, because he could oversee things from everywhere. Like he said, I was already in the Dream Theater land and meanwhile he’s been making sure that the music is ending up, that the players are playing, what they are playing, that the songs are concise and he’s taking care of the arrangements. I think it’s always been that way and -as Matt said- it was really a year of putting all the material together and we probably started a year and a half ago where we had an initial conversation about 'let’s get going' and, you know, songwriting led to what have today as "Impermanent Resonance". There were also other people, other artists that contributed musically along with us and then Matt was working with these guys...
M.G.: Yeah... Shortly before we started production for "Impermanent Resonance", a guitar player named Peter Wichers [editor: ex-Soilwork guitarist and main composer] actually approached Peter Wildoer and said 'Hey, I listened to "Static Impulse", I think it’s a great record and I would love to work with you guys if you are interested'. Peter said 'Well, let me contact Matt and look the idea and what will he think'. So, Peter Wldoer sent me an email saying 'Hey, you know, Peter Wichers is interested in working with you and James on this new record'. And me being a very big fan of Peter’s guitar playing immediately I thought that this is a no brainer, because he could bring a lot to the table. You know, writing, his style and all of that. His style is very similar and he fit like a glove on what we’ve already established. And then, at that point, I called James and told him 'You got to check this guy out, he’s amazing and he can bring a lot to the table'. And once James heard some of the new stuff that Peter worked on, he said ok and at that point we brought him on board.

James LaBrie - Impermanent ResonanceI was aware that Peter worked with you and knowing he’s playing from Soilwork he did fit like a velvet glove as he’s one of the best song writers to the music style you’ve been working from "Static Impulse"...
M.G.: Correct. Peter is amazing. It was a real pleasure working with him and I would certainly continue working with him in the future. He’s a great guy to work with.

Now, James how easy is it for you to switch from Dream Theater to this project, especially as you work more hands on concerning the vocal melodies now on Dream Theater. Let’s say you have a great vocal melody in your mind. How do you choose which one it fits better?
J.L.: I don’t think in these terms. You know, if I am driving down the road and a melody hits me or an idea hits me I record it on my iphone. At that point I can listen to it and if I think it’s right for what Matt and I are doing then I’ll send it to Matt. Whether it will be a melody idea that I have or a riff idea that I have, what should I do? I’ll just show it at Matt and if he can do something with it at that point he does something with it. But, I don’t think in terms of 'oh, this is perfect for Dream Theater' or 'this is perfect for Matt'. It has to do with wherever I happen to be at that particular moment. To me, really, it could go either way. You know, I could be presenting Dream Theater with the same idea that I could present to Matt. It would just depend on what place is in front of me at that particular moment. That’s where I come from and that’s basically been where I’ve been coming from with Matt all these years. If I have a melody idea or a riff idea I show it to Matt, but from that moment on it’s Matt composing the music for these albums and that’s been the case since the day that we started making albums together.

James LaBrie - Matt GuilloryIf I am not mistaken you two have been collaborating for the last 15 years, am I right?
J.L.: The first Mullmuzzler album was released on 1999, so that’s correct.

So, given the fact that you have the same musicians with the previous album could this be considered a proper band?
J.L.: The answer is really short. Absolutely! What we are trying to establish here is that this should be taken seriously. This isn’t a fly by night project. I don’t think Matt and I ever looked at it like that. We’re both extremely passionate and proud of everything that this represents. For me it was a great move to have the same players that we had on "Static Impulse", because it was such a powerful album for us. Bringing in the same musicians definitely reinforces the fact that it needs to be taken as a serious situation, as a band approach.
M.G.: I totally agree with what James was saying. I am a big fan of consistency within this context. We found the right players and it made perfect sense to continue that, with the new record. You know, every guy is just phenomenal. Peter Wildoer is an amazing drummer, Ray Riendeau is an amazing-amazing bass player; this guy just blows me away. Marco, I mean, what can I say? This guy is not from this planet. They are all powerful players. So, yeah, the team line up assembles an amazing group of players and moving on to the future I would love to keep the same lineup, because every guy brings something to the table that makes everything sound so much better.

James LaBrieThis album seems to be the natural following to the previous one and you seem to have found a style that fits you better. Then, this is not the usual case, because as musicians grow up they tend to lean towards more mellow music, while you play more metal and extreme music. Why is this happening? Do you plan to follow that path or maybe revisit the proggy sound of Mullmuzzler and "Elements Of Persuasion" in the future?
M.G.: Gosh! Well, I would say that "Impermanent Resonance" is a good continuum record from "Static Impulse". I wouldn’t necessarily say that it’s exactly like "Static Impulse". I think "Static Impulse" had maybe less dynamics and was more of one metal assault through the record with the exception of "Coming Home". With "Impermanent Resonance" I think there’s a lot more diversity among the tracks, but we still have that metal foundation that we established with "Elements Of Persuasion". So, if we were to do anything in the future I think yeah, definitely we would still keep that sound intact. Our foundation is totally metal, but we don’t want to put ourselves in a box. We love many different styles.
J.L.: You know, Chris, when you were saying that most artists or musicians or bands that they tend to mellow out, I think that’s the problem with people that can easily become -for lack of a better term- complacent and feel that 'well, as I’ve done that and I need to do something else and maybe the progression here is being a little mellower with my approach'. I am not going to speak on behalf of Matt, but by working with him for so many years, I do know that for Matt and I it’s a matter of -and I think this should stand true for any true artist that wants to continue to grow or evolve musically- what is currently inspiring you and in no way should you be intimidated or feel that you represent one particular approach or style or direction musically. I don’t think you should ever let that happen and, like Matt said, it’s not something we’re gonna put ourselves into a box or not think outside the box. With Matt, the beauty of it is that he will freely express his will 'Oh my God, lately I’ve been into this and that’s where I think we need to go' and vice versa.  I’ve been doing the same thing to him.
M.G.: Yes, it’s true.
J.L.: This is really what has kept our music fresh. To surprise and even to a certain extent shock some listeners of our music, because they didn’t expect our direction or our musical unfolding. But, that’s what keeps us unique and to me that’s what helps to really establish who and what we are musically and what separates us from a lot of others. It’s that we feel constantly re-inspired to do something that we feel truly represents us. And as long as we keep that integrity with ourselves and with our audience then I think these albums are going to continue to represent who we are and want we want to do musically.

James LaBrie - Matt GuilloryOk. Now, it seems to me that you try to balance between extreme approaches, by means of simple song structures and at the same time challenging playing, aggressiveness and pop melodies. Is this balance the case for you?
M.G.: Well, yeah. We have these extreme elements and they are definitely an important part, especially with the newer stuff, but I don’t think that they necessarily work on their own. You’ve mentioned the pop melodies. Melody is first and former. As far as I am concerned they’re the most important thing to a song. If you don’t have a good melody, something that’s strong, something that’s memorable, then you don’t really have anything at all. So, establishing a really strong melody is the most important thing. Basically, I like to establish a very strong melody that is accessible and memorable and build the song around that. It’s a matter of balancing these extreme elements and rhythms and sounds with the pop melodies. I think you can’t have one without the other. It’s not going to be interesting, at least in my opinion, without a strong melody.
J.L.: One of the things that make Matt’s compositions very identifiable is what he said right there. The melodies within a song, the vocal melodies are really a priority, because the first thing that we as human beings connect with is human voice. And that being in music is the communicator. Basically, it’s the first element that we strike a chord with and we can relate to. But, beyond that, one of the beautiful things with how Matt constructs his music is that in the context of the music there are melodies going and something that is memorable within the music, something that is hook driven, something that is immediate. And I think if you listen to "Impermanent Resonance" all over the place you have things throughout this album, the elements that make it memorable, that make it stick with you, that you could be walking round your house or driving down the highway and you could be humming these songs, whether it’s a riff that you rip off with your vocals or whether it’s a vocal melody that you‘ll be singing. And I think that’s really what makes an album like "Impermanent Resonance" something that resonates with everyone. I think that’s important, because if you don’t do that then you’ve missed the mark. It’s something that’s forgettable and let’s face it, especially nowadays with the various obstructions that we have beside music it’s easy for someone to move on.  But, music has always been about that. Making it something memorable, making it something that you want to feel close to it and that’s definitely what we’re establishing here.

James LaBrieNow, each time on every record you make I have a favorite song, which this time is "Back On The Ground" and I think it’s kind of the blueprint of the album. Do you have any favorite tracks and why?
M.G.: I don’t know. I like them all. "Back On The Ground" is certainly a very strong track. I’m very happy with how it came out and actually that particular song is the one that James and I really worked hard on. It was a challenge, it definitely was a challenge, but in the end I would agree on it as a standout track, although I love them all. Another track that stands out for me is "Lost In The Fire", I love that track. I don’t know about you James...
J.L.: Oh yeah, these songs are amazing. Chris, I remember when Matt came to me with "Back On The Ground", because he had this song that he has written and lyrics that he had written and the melody and I was like 'Oh God, this is a freakin’ hit'. It was a radio hit. And it’s funny, because when I got into the studio and started singing it on the surface it was kind of easy and I thought I would get in and knock it in one part... That’s the irony in music. Usually, things that sound very simple on the surface, like there is so much more depth to it than that. And this song was one of those in particular, where I really had to dig my teeth into to make it sound the way it is vocally. Because, the music and the melody and the lyrics it was phenomenal and when Matt dropped me the song I was like 'this is sick'. But, beyond that, and I said it to Matt way back, is a song called "I Got You". That and "Amnesia", these songs are powerful. Melodically powerful. Great lyrics. Musically there’s so much cook going on that every time I want to go back and listen to the songs of this album these are the songs that I listen to and they bring a huge smile on my face. For me to say it’s hard to be objective, because I’m so proud of this album and I feel that it really represents who and what Matt and I are today, but also where we are coming from and how we are proving with each album that we’re evolving as a music entity and I think it’s getting better. I think the music is very cohesive and very relevant to what’s going on today. So, if I had to pick two songs these are on the top of my head, but as far as I am concerned I am in love with every one of the songs.

James LaBrieI also have to mention the closing track ("I Will Not Break") which must be the most heavy and aggressive song you’ve ever written. Did you intend to write such an aggressive song?
M.G.: Absolutely! No question about it. We love extreme metal, we love really aggressive stuff and actually when we were trying to figure out the sequence of the album I was even thinking that this should be the opening track. It was so aggressive it would set a tone. But that was definitely intentional, because not only we can write mellow kind of tracks, but we like the aggressive style as well, equally.
J.L.: You know, once again that song has the energy that we really like to infuse within our music. For that to be the closing track it kind cements the idea that we’re just taking you on a major ride and we want to leave you with 100 miles/hour down the road.
M.G.: (laughs) See you round the next corner...
J.L.: It’s just a great track and it has so much power in it and everyone’s playing on it is great. To me it’s fine, because it may be a very aggressive song, but then the melody structure within the song is very musical, it’s very beautiful. It fits perfectly with the aggression of the music, with the tone of the song. So, it’s a really nice dynamic and I think it really helps to bring the song to a very memorable level.

I can’t help noticing the lyrics and especially the fact that most of them are quite direct and personal that makes me want to know the story behind them. How are the lyrics written from both of you?
M.G.: Well, I think James and I have very different approaches to lyrics writing. It’s more comfortable for me to write lyrics about personal experiences and things that I go through or experiences that I had in the past or things that I am currently going through. So, it’s just natural for me to write that way and so tend to be a little more direct with my approach, but James’ approach is different and I think those different approaches make it more interesting and create a more balanced perspective throughout the album.
J.L.: I completely agree and I think that’s what makes the lyrical content on any given of our albums more interesting and it’s much more deep and it’s much more global. Because, Matt writes from a very personal view point, personal relationship and whatever it may be. That’s a great perspective of human relationships that Matt usually sees. I come from another point of view. I observe what’s going on around me and I like to talk about social consciousness around the world or even literature that I might have read lately. That really affects me. I want to talk about things that I am seeing going on around me. Not that I don’t come from a personal view or perspective, but to me I am more an observationist, I like to see what’s going on around me and write from that angle. But, I think because of this, that I am coming from a social aspect -not that Matt doesn’t include that in some of his lyrics as well- it adds a lot more depth to our lyrical content. Like for example "Destined To Burned", that lyrically comes from a book I read entitle "The Book Of Negroes" and basically that’s a song about slavery and the unjust that was done to a group of people, juts because of the color of their skin. I still can’t wrap my head around that, you know that whole concept. But, anyway, I think that this is what makes our album much more interesting as where we are coming from as lyricist.

James LaBrieWell, James let me change the subject a little bit. In a few days you have the listening session for the new Dream Theater album and I was invited, but unfortunately I am not able to fly over there, so tell me what am I missing.
J.L.: Roadrunner is inviting journalist from all over the world. This is going to be in a studio in New York, basically we’re going to listen to the album with the journalists and some contest winners and then we’ll hang out, have some ordoeuvres and some drinks of choice and just converse with everyone that’s there. I think it’s cool that Roadrunner wanted to do this. They are absolutely ecstatic about the new album, they are over the top about it and they want to get in behind it and create a really big buzz before the album comes out.

So, what’s really special about this album?
J.L.: You know I can’t get say much about Dream Theater in this interview. To keep it brief I would say that it is the most cohesive work we’ve ever done. This album is really what we represent and who we are today. The progressive, the metal, the pop and the cinematic elements that really play a big part of Dream Theater, it’s all there. Without going into any further detail I think it is absolutely right at this point of our career, with the material of this album that this is the self-titled album. It makes perfect sense.

James LaBrieOk. No more questions about that. Then is there any chance to see this time the band James LaBrie playing live shows?
J.L.: Matt, you should take this... (laughing)
M.G.: Yeah... Sure... We all would love to tour for this record, especially since the things didn’t work out for the "Static Impulse" tour. So, yeah, we just wait the right opportunity to do it. Every one of us is dying to go out and play this music that we’ve worked so hard to create it. So, it’s just a matter of timing and the right opportunity that makes sense for everyone involved.  People are asking us every day and there’s a fire in all of us to go out and play all this music for the fans.
J.L.: I think as Matt says, Chris, it’s inevitable that eventually once we can sort out every one’s schedule and once it makes sense we will give it a proper tour in a proper amount of time. Because, to do a tour that’s going to make sense for this band... We will definitely be doing a tour of supporting all this music at some point. It’s just a matter of making sure that it works for everyone schedule wise.

Thank both of you for your time, congratulations again for your new album and hopefully I’ll be seeing both of you soon...
M.G.: Thank you very much.
J.L.: Thanks Chris. Thanks for the support. Every time I’ve been over to Greece it’s been phenomenal and for Matt and I to bring over this band to Greece and play some of this music, it would be an incredible experience and I am sure that the fans over Greece will have an exciting evening.

Chris Karadimitris