Picture your favourite metal band. Now picture the lead singer listening to Coldplay, One Republic and Coasts.
That’s what you get with the ever-approachable James LaBrie, Canadian frontman to progressive metal group Dream Theater. He doesn’t hesitate to share his pop-tinged playlist with Gulf News tabloid! ahead of the band’s upcoming Dubai gig, divulging it amidst other nuggets of hard-won wisdom.
When Dream Theater emerged belligerently in the mid-80s — known as Majesty at first — they disrupted an otherwise drowsy music scene with a fusion of heavy metal and progressive rock, nowadays recognised as its own genre.
Nearly 40 years later, the band are still hurtling down the path they helped pave, with their latest tour bringing them to The Dome, Dubai Sports City, on October 6. LaBrie tells us what we can expect from the show, and dispels the biggest myths around the music scene he helped build.
You’ve been around the world and played in front of countless audiences. Is there somewhere in the world that’s been consistently over the top?
Our audiences for the most part, no matter where we are in the world, are over the top. If I had to choose one place in particular, I would say Italy.
What’s the most surprising thing a Dream Theater fan has done?
Tattoos on various parts of their body, as well as following us throughout the world seeing a copious amount of shows.
You went on a 30th anniversary tour in 2015. Was that a milestone you had envisioned when you first started the band?
No, I don’t think any musician when they first start out in this business thinks they will necessarily still be in the business 30 years down the road. We are very fortunate [and] thankful, and have been blessed with an incredible career.
Dream Theater has had several Grammy nominations for more recent work. How do you feel about that?
Very honoured. This is the part of the industry that we, Dream Theater, all thought would elude us for our entire career.
More generally, what are your thoughts on the music scene today? Is there any ‘guilty pleasure music’ you listen to that we’d be surprised about?
I feel very strongly that there are several amazing musicians and bands throughout the world that care about the music they write and perform and have nothing to do with any current trend. Not sure if you would be surprised, but nonetheless, to state a few: Nothing but Thieves, One Republic, Switchfoot, Big Wreck, Young the Giant, Mutemath, Nothing More, Bell X1, Coldplay, Andy McKee, Death Cab for Cutie, Deftones, Coasts, etc.
As a progressive metal band who’s been around for a significant amount of time, what would you say are the biggest misconceptions people have about metal music/the metal scene?
[That] it’s too self-indulgent, no soul, non-musical and limited musicianship. All of these statements couldn’t be further from the truth.
Musically, how would you say your sound has changed in the past seven or so years, since founding drummer Mike Portnoy left and Michael Mangini joined?
I would say that there is more balance between the metal side and progressive side, as well as the emotional elements. As evident with The Astonishing, there is more experimentation and pushing the compositional envelope more than ever.
You released your latest record, The Astonishing, in 2016. Is it too soon to be working on album number 14, or is there something in the pipelines?
It is too soon, as our focus throughout 2017 will be based on the Images, Words and Beyond Tour. At some point in 2018, we will convene at a studio and begin writing and working on a new album.
What kind of set list do you have planned for Dubai?
There are two sets each and every night. The first set consists of songs from our discography, and the second set is focused on Images and Words’ 25th anniversary. We also end the evening with A Change of Seasons as our encore number.
Images and Words is one of the most well-known Dream Theater albums to date. What is the significance of that album to you?
Well, I think it was the catalyst that started progressive/metal, and created a whole new genre of bands. Musically, I think, if I may be so bold, it is musically brilliant. For us personally, it put us on the map globally and set the tone and platform for a very successful year.