John Petrucci: “The melody of the guitar replaces the vocals. If it was just solo and noodles, it would get really boring.

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In early 2020, when Dream Theater was touring Europe to celebrate both their latest album, Distance over time, and the 20th anniversary of the 2000s Scenes from a memoryJohn Petrucci had no immediate plans to complete writing for his second solo album, which he has worked on sporadically between Dream Theater activities in recent years.

At the time, there was little time to think, let alone set up a schedule for anything that didn’t involve his main gig. The group was to stay on the road at least until the end of April, and then start discussing the follow-up to Distance over time. But then, like every other group on tour, Dream Theater was forced to shut down operations at the end of February due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Not only were the musicians unable to perform shows, but they couldn’t train together or work on new tracks since Petrucci is in Long Island, New York, which as of March was near zero for Coronavirus and all. group members adhere to CDC guidelines, wearing masks and social distancing.

It didn’t help that singer James LaBrie was at home in Toronto. And the group didn’t want to work together digitally. Effectively isolated and practically in quarantine, Petrucci took advantage of the break to return to his home studio and finish Terminal speed, his first solo album since 2005 Suspended animation.

Like the old one, the new version is a melodic and skillfully performed showcase of writing virtuoso instrumental songs and technical guitar excursions.

The album could easily have reflected Petrucci’s frustration with the contagiousness and danger of the coronavirus, but Petrucci treated his time in the studio as an escape from the outside world, a panacea for the disorientation he felt when he was upped and turned on the news, and an opportunity to write bouncy and exciting songs that provide listeners with a diversion from the daily chaos.

I think the hustle and bustle that was going on was buried in the energy of the music, but when I was in the free space of creation, I just flipped a switch and walked into that area where everything was focused. on the music

“I think the hustle and bustle that was going on was buried in the energy of the music, but when I was in the free space of creation, I just flipped a switch and walked into that area where everything was. focused on music, ”said Petrucci. “So I think the songs are exciting instead of aggressive and that’s really positive for the most part. The last thing I wanted to do was have my first solo album in 15 years be this negative, dark disappointment of a record.

Installed in his studio with all his equipment, Petrucci nevertheless kept his configuration simple. He played the entire album using his signature Ernie Ball Music Man guitars, including the 2019 Emerald Green Enchanted Forest and the Majesty Purple Nebula fitted with his DiMarzio Rainmaker Neck and Dreamcatcher Bridge pickups.

Even though Petrucci loves the seven strings, he only wrote and performed one song, “Temple of Circadia”, on a seven-string signature. Whatever guitar he used, he plugged it into a JP Mesa / Boogie and Boogie 4×12 cabinet and Neve preamps.

When it comes to songwriting, Petrucci wanted the guitar parts to feature memorable melodic patterns and atmospheric experimentation between the abundant leads. While he intended to write songs that would wow crowds at clinics and G3 tours, the melody was always at the forefront of his mind.

“I love songs, and songs usually have vocals,” says Petrucci. “So when I write an instrumental, the melody of the guitar takes the place of the vocals. They become the cohesive structures that separate the verses, choruses and bridges and the solo. If the songs didn’t have this melodic focus and structure, and it was all about solos and noodles, it would get really boring.

I like songs, and songs usually have vocals. So when I write an instrumental, the melody of the guitar takes the place of the vocals

While Petrucci is proud of Terminal Velocity, which ranges from swagger blues to Out of the blue In the title song’s frenzied guitar sprint, he’s aware that Dream Theater fans – even those who love the music – will likely see it as a placeholder until Dream Theater’s next album.

And that suits him. Without hesitation, he explains that he would have preferred to stay on the road with Dream Theater and keep Terminal Velocity on hold until he has little windows between the band’s tours and the writing sessions to get down to business. about the project.

“People ask me why it took me 15 years to make another solo album,” he says. “The answer is because I never had the time to devote to doing it fully. To be honest, it wasn’t necessarily a rush thing for me, so I worked on it gradually over time. But I’m really happy with it and glad I did. Petrucci’s solo album in 2005 is also more pragmatism than divine inspiration.

In 2001, the guitarist was invited to join Joe Satriani’s G3 tour. Petrucci was thrilled with the offer, but lacked original instrumental material to perform on stage. So he quickly wrote a bunch of songs and debuted them on the tour.

“I played the songs that I wrote and did a Dream Theater instrumental, and that gave me enough for a 45-minute set,” he says. “It wasn’t until I did that that I decided to end the value of a solo album and release it – but it was really an afterthought.”

Mike played all of his parts in six days which is amazing because there are a lot of weird tempo changes and crazy arpeggios there as well as a lot of different musical styles.

He took a similar approach to Terminal speed. Four of the nine songs – Gemini, Happy song, Glassy eyed zombies and The way things fall – were originally written for 2007 G3 with Satriani and Paul Gilbert.

Petrucci has also performed the material in guitar clinics over the years and at the John Petrucci Guitar Universe Camp, which he launched in 2018. The oldest track from the new solo album, Gemini, is taken from an almost forgotten demo of a song he first performed in clinics in the early ’90s.

“I also used a little Gemini on my [2002] instructional video Rock discipline, “he says.” And I played it live for a while so people could recognize it from a homemade YouTube video. ” Zombie with glassy eyes and Happy song can also be located on social networks in an approximate form. The way things fall, however, was composed for G3 but was not selected and was never played live.

John Petrucci and Mike Portnoy

(Image credit: John Petrucci)

“I forgot that song for a while,” says Petrucci. “Then when I put my ideas together for this album, I found a fully demo version of it and thought it was really cool. I don’t know why I haven’t played it before now.

To record the older songs, Petrucci played them back with a newly programmed drum track. Then he added some bass. Instead of tracing the guitars for the final tracks, Petrucci stuck his guide parts straight into the songs without any overdubbing.

For the five remaining songs on Terminal speed, Petrucci dived deep into his precious riff bank, which contains rhythms, arpeggios and lead fragments that he has recorded over decades on home audio and digital recorders, answering machines and cell phone voicemail boxes. .

In the past, he raided the bank for Dream Theater, but found it particularly useful for Terminal speed. Using what he calls “song seeds” to start the songs off, Petrucci worked with his sound engineer, James “Jimmy T” Meslin, who programmed beats that further inspired the guitarist’s creativity.

“We did one pass at a time, then we went on to the next,” says Petrucci. “Doing it that way is a lot of fun because you work with all of those parts, but you don’t really know where the song is going. So everything develops along the way.

The icing on the cake came when former Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy – who hadn’t recorded with Petrucci since 2010 – walked in and recorded directly over Petrucci’s last intricate guitar parts. This reversed the script to the band’s standard operating procedure, in which the drummer records either with one click or to scratch tracks before the guitarist sets his final beats. Portnoy was certainly more than up to the task.

“It was an interesting way to work,” says Petrucci. “I had never done anything like this before, but with the pandemic going on, we had to be resourceful. Mike slammed all of his parts in six days which is amazing because there are a lot of weird tempo changes and crazy arpeggios out there as well as a lot of different musical styles. And his playing is so lively and fiery and he has played with so much energy. The whole experience has been great.

Dream Theater fans who are hoping that Petrucci and Portnoy’s collaboration could lay the groundwork for the drummer’s return to the group will likely be disappointed. As much Petrucci enjoyed working with Portnoy on Terminal Velocity, the drummer will not be returning to Dream Theater; Mike Mangini remains the man behind the kit.

Petrucci jeans

(Image credit: Matthew Schieferstein)

“I know people tend to speculate, but it’s something we’ve never even discussed,” says Petrucci. “I wanted Mike [Portnoy] just to have a good drummer on my solo album, so why not? he said, pointing out that he and Portnoy have enjoyed a good relationship over the years.

“Even though Mike left the band, we have always stayed in touch and our families have always been friends. Our wives played in a band together and our kids grew up together, so we’ll always be a family, not band mates. “

Ironically, while the COVID-19 pandemic allowed Petrucci to create the long-awaited follow-up to Suspended Animation, the virus has all but ensured that he will not be able to promote the album on the road even after the musicians have started playing again. turn.

“I’m really glad those songs are out there,” he says. “For now, that should be enough because as it stands, Dream Theater is pushing our plans to go into the studio. We’ll be starting on a new record later in the fall. And then, the first opportunity we have. , we’ll be back on tour. ”

  • The terminal velocity is out now via Sound Mind Music.


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