“Every time I walk into a studio, I have the same thought in my head," says Dream Theater keyboard ace Jordan Rudess. "‘Can you do it? Can you really write something that good again?’ It’s almost like I can’t remember how I did things before, as if it were somebody else. A little bit of self-doubt creeps in – it’s normal. So it’s always a good feeling when, somewhere in the middle of recording, I go, ‘Oh, my God! Look at all this crazy stuff I wrote. How did that happen?’ The creative process is so mysterious and magical."
For Rudess and the other members of Dream Theater – guitarist and producer John Petrucci, vocalist James LaBrie, bassist John Myung and drummer Mike Mangini – the magic that would attend the recording of their masterful self-titled new album came first not from jamming or listening to demos but by thoughtful discussions about what kind of record they planned to make as a follow up to 2011's A Dramatic Turn Of Events.
“A lot of things build up to us making a Dream Theater record," Rudess says, "but the act of simply sitting down and talking things through is so important. Some records evolve in a sort of open-ended process in the studio, but we like to have an idea and a plan. We kind of like to see it before we start."
Mike Mangini had just joined the band before the recording of A Dramatic Turn Of Events, and the music had already been written, but for the new set he was an integral part of the song structuring process from the outset. “There was no question that we were a real unit now," says Rudess. "With Mike really locked in, the pieces fit together so well. We’d spent a whole year out there with people telling us with their applause and their emotions that this was good, that this was working. The affirmation from our fans that the new Dream Theater was something that could move into the future really energized us as we went into the studio again."
For Rudess, whose company Wizdom Music has introduced a whole host of groundbreaking music-making apps, the recording of the new album gave him a chance to explore a broad range of sonic tools. "I really get to go crazy with sounds in the studio," he says. "The software that I used the most is Omnisphere by Spectrasonics. It has a well of beautiful, amazing sounds – you can never get bored with it. The other piece of software that I used a lot was Camel Audio’s Alchemy, which is probably the most amazing software synthesizer I’ve ever heard. It has such a great library of sounds. For piano sounds, I used Ivory Synthogy. That’s my go-to software – the Omnisphere, the Alchemy and Ivory.
“For some strings parts, I’ll use Vienna Strings. I also use Kontakt by Native Instruments for certain sounds. Basically, I have a big party in the studio with my toys. It’s very different from when I’m on the road and I have to consolidate everything."
As for the decision to apply a self-title to the album, Rudess says that it's a reflection of the unity the band is feeling. “It’s kind of a big deal, really," he asserts. "The band has been together for so long and has done so many records, but it makes sense to go with the self-title now because we’re in such a good place. The energy is evenly distributed and is coming at you from all sides, so it’s a wonderful time to do this and to call it Dream Theater. It's a simple title, but it's big – it says a lot."
Dream Theater will be released on September 24th. You can order a Limited Edition Collector's Box Set at this link. On the following pages, Jordan Rudess walks us through the writing and recording of the album track-by-track.