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Music Waves went to meet the giant of progressive metal on the occasion of his second solo album that we've been waiting for 15 years!
DARIALYS - 01.09.2020 - 4 picture(s) - (0) comment(s)
Needless to say, when we were asked to interview Lord John Petrucci, we jumped at the chance! And that's good timing because the god of progressive metal is back with his second solo album, "Terminal Velocity", 15 years after his last album. Entirely instrumental, the album puts the guitar at the heart of the debates, through very diverse representations and styles that are sometimes antagonistic but nevertheless well crossed. If you're used to interviews with the house, you may find this one a little shorter than the others. It must be said that our friend was in the middle of an interview marathon that day and couldn't give us more than 20 minutes of interview time. On a very personal note, I would like to emphasize the kindness and simplicity that came out of the character, who one might have thought somewhat haughty or distant by his stature, but John Petrucci is quite the opposite of these qualifiers. A very beautiful exchange with an outstanding musician and a very friendly man.

Hello John! Thank you very much for accepting this interview!

John Petrucci : With pleasure ! How are you doing ?

Very well and you ?

John: Fine, we had a storm in New York. The power cut off, but today the weather is nice! Everything is back to normal!

How's your roof holding up? (Laughs)

John: The roof is fine, we're good too!


15 years have passed since the release of your first solo album, "Suspended Animation". Have you not released any more since then for lack of time? Or did you feel like re-releasing a solo album recently with more personal songs ?

John : Well... As a musician, I've never wanted to have a solo career. Playing in a band has always been my goal. Dream Theater has always been my main concern. Even when I released ""Suspended Animation"", it was to have songs to play on tour with G3 (a live rock band led by Joe Satriani where some great guitarists played, editor's note). So I said to myself : " why not put these songs on an album ? ». But I didn't have any real desire to release a second solo album. People really liked "Suspended Animation", and they kept asking me for 15 years when would there be a sequel to this album ! Well here it is ! Actually, I didn't really have the time to get into it. I'm very busy with Dream Theater between recording, producing, touring... But I told myself that I had a lot of songs, a lot of ideas, and it was the right time to release this album. Now, people stopped telling me to release the sequel!

You're one of the main composers of Dream Theater. What's the difference between writing a personal song exclusively instrumental and writing a "standard" song with vocals for Dream Theater?

John : When I write for myself, there's no one else in the room to bounce off my ideas. I don't spend my time seeing and reviewing ideas with Jordan (Rudess, keyboardist) and John (Myung, bassist). Let's say I take the song where I think it needs to go. When I was composing, the only person who was there with me was my sound engineer. He would give me his opinion, but I was the one making the decisions. The big difference is that the guitars take up all the space on my solo songs. There are no vocals, no keyboard. I play all the rhythms, all the melodies, all the solos. The songs are written with that in mind. With Dream Theater, the approach is more collective. Everyone has their own role. There's vocals and lyrics, so it's more conceptual too. My music is just me with a guitar, having a great time! (Laughs).on propre rôle. Il y a du chant et des paroles, donc c’est plus conceptuel aussi. Ma musique, c’est moi avec une guitare, en train de m’éclater en gros ! (Rires).


On this album, there's really a technical aspect and a melodic aspect, like on Dream Theater's last album, "Distance Over Time". Do you think you found the right balance between these two ingredients?

John : I think so, yes! I've always tried to do that. On "Suspended Animation" it was already the case, finding the right balance between technique and melody, like on 'Glasgow Kiss' or 'Jaws Of Life' where the melody is super important. But it's still instrumental pieces that give room for improvisation, solos, shred. The most important thing is indeed to find the right mix. You don't want it to be boring. You want people to maintain their interest, you want the songs to progress. For me, music is for sharing. It's like wine, you want to drink it with people. I want people to want to listen to my music. I want people to look forward to discovering our music when a new album is about to come out.

And if you have some memories from your math class, you have to remember that speed equals distance over time. Is the title of your album ""Terminal Velocity"" a nod to Dream Theater's album "Distance Over Time" ("Distance Over Time" meaning "distance over time", and speed being "velocity", editor's note)?

John : So it's interesting because when I was recording the guitars for "Distance Over Time", we found a formula to determine the sound of my guitar. It was really dumb. And in trying to figure out that formula, we came up with d/t (distance over time), and the original title of "Distance Over Time" became "Velocity". But it didn't sound like Dream Theater enough for me! I thought "Distance Over Time" was better. "Terminal Velocity" on the other hand is a term that really stuck in my mind. So when I was looking for a name for my solo album, it came to me spontaneously. If you want to call it a "wink", you can say it indeed. For me, it was more a name for an album that I thought was really good.

On this album, there's a blues song called 'Out Of The Blue', which is quite unusual for your style. Usually, in progressive metal, all the solos are written, but in blues or jazz, there's a lot of improvisation. Did you write this whole album note by note, or did you leave room for improvisation ?

John: There's a lot of improvisation on the album! And it's interesting that you talk about this song, 'Out Of The Blue', because most of it was recorded improvised. I think it's important in that context. When you listen to my solos, if you hear something very technical, it's something I wrote and practiced. When you hear a solo that's more raw, more rock, you can spot it, that's improvised. So it's a mix of both!


And there are other unexpected tracks like 'Snake In My Boot', which looks like a mix between Queen and Extreme, or also 'Happy Song', which as its name indicates is very joyful! Maybe you or your label wouldn't have allowed you to release songs like that on a Dream Theater album and that's why you wanted to release a solo album, to be completely free to play what you wanted?

John : Even though you try to make every album unique, I think most bands have a certain identity of their own that they try to put forward. Dream Theater's music in a way is more serious than these titles, more cinematic. A song like 'Happy Song' wouldn't work in Dream Theater's repertoire. I'm not sure Dream Theater fans would welcome this song with open arms! It's not a style that we practice.

But it could be your 'Permanating'. Some people hated this Steven Wilson song because it was very pop and colorful, others loved it because it was new and daring!

John : Yes, sometimes it works. Dream Theater has done it before, in another style. Viper King' on "Distance Over Time" is a little bit in that vein. But in this solo album, I like to play all styles ! Gypsy jazz, rhythmic pop, metal... I think that with an instrumental album based on guitar, there is more freedom. People don't pay attention to it, you can do what you want ! (Laughs).

And Jordan Rudess released an album in this genre last year, "Wired For Madness", and it was a great album with a very wide range of styles.

John: Yeah, I think it's fun. Solo albums like that, they're great opportunities to show people the breadth of styles that you touch. But there are songs on this album that could also be Dream Theater songs, like 'Temple Of Circadia'. But a pop/punk song like 'Happy Song' is not. Even 'Snake In My Boot' wouldn't work in Dream Theater's repertoire. The important thing is to find the right balance, I like to have variety on an album.

And of course, I guess everybody asks you that, but this album also marks the return of Mike Portnoy (former Dream Theater's emblematic drummer, editor's note). How did it feel to play alongside him? Did you rediscover your alchemy, your automatisms?

John : It was great ! First of all, I'm very happy that Mike played on this album. He did a great job, especially since there are a lot of very different styles on this album. Blues, shuffle, rock, metal with double pedal, he can do it all! Everybody knows it, he's an incredible drummer. We spent 6 days in studio together. We recorded his parts. I had written the whole album and made demos, so we didn't really rehearse the songs together. He played drums over my recorded guitar tracks. It was a great reunion. His playing is very lively. If you listen to songs like 'Happy Song' or even 'Terminal Velocity', you feel that positive energy that comes out of the song. I think he brings that liveliness through the way he plays.

You've recorded about twenty studio albums. Throughout your career, have you changed your approach to the guitar over time?

John : Well... Not really in terms of recording. I've always tried to get the best sound at the source. I have a Majesty signature guitar, and I'm lucky enough to have a Mesa Boogie signature amp. I've always been a fan of that guitar sound. The difference comes from the signature hardware I've developed over the years. I've played on a Mesa Boogie all my life and I've always liked to play a sound that is both as pure and raw as possible. I've been doing this since the beginning.

You are an absolute reference for many guitarists and musicians in general. Finally, if you had to give an advice to a band that would start in the music industry, what would it be ?

John : There are a lot of good musicians I think with social networks, YouTube, Instagram and all that, we're all flooded with information. So the challenge is to stand out from the crowd. So my advice would be to try to be unique. I know that it's very tempting for a young musician to imitate this or that famous musician. I think it's a good way to learn, but you have to find your own path and rise from it all to be successful. If you look at the greatest guitarists like Joe Satriani or Steve Vai, they are musicians who have a unique signature. You have to try to bring things you never heard before, I think that's what's important.

Thank you very much John, thank you for your time and thank you for accepting the interview again!

John: It was great to talk to you, thanks for your support, it's great to hear from you! See you soon!

A big thank you to Nuno and Newf for their pertinent questions and their help during the preparation of this interview!

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Terminal Velocity (2020)
John Petrucci offers us here an eclectic and coherent solo album, melodic and full of optimism. An album worthy of his exceptional talent. Read all reviews regarding JOHN PETRUCCI
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