James LaBrie: my top 5 not-so-guilty pleasures of all time
“Growing up, I was introduced to the music of Miles Davis, Nat King Cole and the Glenn Miller Band by my father," says Dream Theater frontman James LaBrie. "My siblings turned me on to Yes, Pink Floyd, Zeppelin, Deep Purple, and then, of course, I discovered Rush and Queen. I always bounced around musically."
Although it might be widely assumed that LaBrie, one of progressive rock's most compelling singers, might spend his days and nights listening to Gentle Giant bootlegs, he says that his music collection is a broad mix of styles. "Right now, I’m listening to Two Door Cinema Club, Young The Giant and Need To Breathe," he says. "None of those acts sound anything like what I do. I really think that staying open-minded is important in so many ways, but especially when it comes to making your own music."
As legions of prog-metal fans across the globe no doubt know, Dream Theater is set to release a self-titled new album on 24 September, but last month LaBrie issued his third solo album, Impermanent Resonance, which he describes as "metal-backboned but also very pop. The solo stuff is concise and straightforward – the songs aren’t normally any more than four or five minutes. It’s very different from what I do in Dream Theater in that the songs are shaped around the vocals."
On the following pages, LaBrie runs down his not-so-guilty-pleasures, five artists who would never figure into progressive rock playlists, but in one way or another, even subconsciously, they're part of the singer's music-making process. "Even if it's just a spirit or a mood, what you listen to comes out in what you do," he says. "It all seeps into your musical identify, and I think that's pretty cool."
As for a really good time, LaBrie just might fire up some Duran Duran and Michael Bublé (just two of his choices) with a particular snack-food favorite: chips and dip. "That's my big weakness," he says with a laugh. "Popcorn and Smarties is good, too, but chips and dip gets me every time."
“Anything I’ve heard from them over the years has been terrific. One song of theirs in particular that I love is Ordinary World. The melodies are amazing, the production is striking, and Simon Le Bon really sings his heart out.
“I think there’s a real tendency for people to still view Duran Duran a certain kind of way because of how they were marketed in the beginning. People thought that Simon was more of a model than a singer. But you can't be that successful for so long on an image. He’s proved that he’s got real talent, as they all have. They're very smart songwriters and really great at what they do.”
“Once again, here’s somebody who really proved that he had immense talent over time. If I had to pick a favorite album, it would be Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1. Praying For Time, They Won’t Go When I Go – listen to the singing on those songs! He’s a phenomenal vocalist, with an incredible range of expression.
“I first heard George Michael when he was in Wham! I wasn’t really into that stuff, but when he went solo, I realized what a huge talent he was. Faith was a big step ahead for him, but I would say that it was with his post-Faith material where he really came into his own and matured quickly.
“He has an album called Older that’s really quite good. There’s a song on that one called Jesus To A Child, and every time I hear it, I’m like, ‘Gimme a break!’ It’s just fantastic.”
“I’m in awe of Luther Vandross. I even have a copy of his Christmas CD, which is an incredible album. What I really like about it is, it has a lot of originals. He wasn’t just doing the usual holiday friggin’ numbers that everybody else does all the time; he came out with new Christmas songs that were unreal.
“Luther was a unique, innately gifted vocalist. I really appreciated where he came from as a singer and the commitment he brought to his music. It’s so sad what happened with his health and how he died. He so wanted to be a thin man, and between the diets and everything, it really affected his heart. He had so much talent and everything in the world to live for.”
“Not only does he have a tremendous voice, but he’s also a star. He’s got the charisma, he’s got the smarts, he’s got the looks – it’s all right there.
“I really admire the way he puts himself out there. His music is not typical, but he really figured out how to draw and audience in. I think that’s because he understands who he is as an artist. He appeals is so broad: I was hanging out with Myles Kennedy from Alter Bridge – we were sort talking about other artists we love, like Jeff Buckley and a few others – and Michael Bublé came up. We both agreed on him.
“Michael has a terrific voice – very rich, emotional and endearing. He knows how to tell a story in song. Sure, it's true that he kind of touches on Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Tony Bennett – he draws from them – but he’s really his own man all the way. He takes from his influences and makes what he does very contemporary.”
“I think he’s phenomenal, and I would say that his album Brother To Brother is probably his masterpiece. Being a singer, I’ve always been drawn to vocalists who have something to say to me, which is why I’m the biggest Queen fan in the world – Freddie Mercury really connects with me. Gino Vannelli hits me in some of the same ways.
“His melodies, his arrangements, his singing and even his writing – he’s an across-the-board great artist. I was fortunate enough to see him back in ’88, during the Wild Horses tour, and I thought he was really incredible. A very impressive artist.”