For Dream Theater, making ‘A View’ was a healthy ‘distraction from all the horrible stuff’

It’s been almost two years since a global pandemic forced Dream Theater to come in off the road in the midst of a tour celebrating the 20th anniversary of “Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory” by playing the album in full.

That’s the longest they’ve gone without touring since hitting the road in support of “Images and Words,” their first release with James LaBrie on vocals.

That was 30 years ago.

And LaBrie, for one, can’t wait to put an end to that unplanned hiatus and launch a new tour Wednesday, Feb. 2, in Mesa.

“It’s gonna feel really strange, I’m sure,” he says.

“But we were together all last week, rehearsing, and it felt great to just be in the same room, doing what we love. It all sounded amazing. So that in itself was just very refreshing and kind of really spiked our spirit to get back out there.”

LaBrie and his bandmates have been talking about how they expect their first show back to feel a little like a high school band’s first show.

“I think it’s gonna be a little intimidating, the very first show,” LaBrie says. “But I’m sure that once we have a song under our belt, everything else will just kick into gear and we’ll be right back to where we were before the pandemic.”

“I think it’s gonna be a little intimidating, the very first show,” LaBrie says. “But I’m sure that once we have a song under our belt, everything else will just kick into gear and we’ll be right back to where we were before the pandemic.”

But it felt important to get back together and work on new music.

“I think being focused on the new album really was a blessing in disguise,” LaBrie says. “It was a distraction from all the horrible stuff going on all around us.”

The difficulties of recording during a pandemic

When LaBrie, who lives in Canada, refers to getting back together, it’s important to note that, in his case, that meant collaborating with his U.S. bandmates on the writing of the album via Zoom while they were in the band’s Long Island studio.

“For me to get down there at the time we wanted to start writing it was a nightmare for me to even think about getting into an airport or having to isolate or quarantine, whatever,” LaBrie says.

“It was just forget it. So we came up with a plan where those four guys could at least drive into the studio, and I’d be pumped in via Zoom. It was just like me being in the room. So thank God for technology is all I can say.”

The singer did make the trip to Long Island to record his vocals — which is kind of odd, because he hasn’t done that since 2009.

He usually records his parts in Canada. But guitarist John Petrucci, who produced the album, thought it would be nice to have him in studio since this is the first album they’ve recorded in the studio they built.

“And I said, ‘Yeah, good timing, John. Let’s do that during a pandemic,'” LaBrie recalls.

LaBrie laughs, then adds, “It was no problem, though. I had to isolate for a week. But it actually worked out well, because we were refining some of the melodies and I wanted to refine some of the lyrics. So it was time well spent.”

LaBrie won’t share setlist before tour launch
LaBrie won’t say which songs from the new album he’s most looking forward to performing live before the tour launch.

“Eventually, I’d like to hit them all at some point on the world tour,” he says.

“But we’re trying to make that a little bit of a surprise for the first show because then it’ll be everywhere, right? On the internet.”

He will, however, say that they’re all very much looking forward to playing the epic title track.

“I think it just epitomizes who and what we are as a band,” he says.

“All the diversity that goes into that song and the fact that it’s a 21-minute epic. It is the creme de la creme on that album, as far as we’re concerned. And I think it presents us as this progressive band that doesn’t shy away from pushing the envelope.”

One of the goals going into the writing of the album was to come up with an epic. They hadn’t crossed the 20-minute threshold since “Illumination Theory,” the multi-part triumph that closes the self-titled album they released in 2013.

“And I think that just set everything in motion as far as what the other songs were gonna be,” LaBrie says. “Even though each song is its own entity.”

‘A View from the Top of the World’ is not a pandemic album
Another point they all agreed on as they started writing was that they would not be making a “pandemic” album.

“People are inundated with that enough as it is,” LaBrie says.

Not that it didn’t seep into the making of the album in more subtle ways.

“I think that it brought a new sense of let’s not take any of this for granted,” LaBrie says.

“Life is fragile. And let’s be very, very thankful for the fact that not only the five of us but our families and friends are still healthy and able to do what we want.”

It’s been 30 years since “Images and Words” announced their arrival at the forefront of the burgeoning progressive-metal scene.

In 2015, the Prog Report placed “Images and Words” at No. 1 on a list of Top Prog Albums 1990-2015 for combining the technicality of Yes with the heaviness of Metallica.

“I think that it rightfully deserves to be noted for what it meant to music, especially at that time, when we came out,” LaBrie says.

“We kind of stuck out like a sore thumb. So it was a beautiful situation, because those kinds of elements were not coming out at that point. And if they were, not many people were aware of it.”

It didn’t hurt that it included “Pull Me Under,” which remains their biggest hit.

“Because of ‘Pull Me Under,’ it went through the roof, and it really gave that album an opportunity to bust open most doors that would have remained closed,” LaBrie says.

“Without ‘Pull Me Under’ as a catalyst to kind of get it out there and be known not only in America but worldwide, I’m not sure you and I would be having this conversation today.”

And the album has held up remarkably well.

As LaBrie says, “I think it’s still something that somebody could come across today and go, ‘Oh, my God,’ you know? ‘I get it, what’s been said about this album in the press and what the fans have said about it.’ I think it still resonates.”

Thirty years and several lineup changes later, LaBrie says they’re all happy to be doing this together.

“We’ve gone through the growing pains,” he says.

“We’ve gone through the personality conflicts. And I think that we’re all in a very good place right now. We’re all doing something because we absolutely love to do it. And when we’re out there, it’s because we can’t wait to get on stage and perform.”

Setlist for Dream Theater tour launch in Mesa
“The Alien” (live debut)

“6:00” (first time since 2012)

“Awaken the Master” (live debut)

“Endless Sacrifice” (first time since 2011)

“Bridges in the Sky” (first time since 2015)

“Invisible Monster” (live debut)

“About to Crash” (first time since 2015)

“The Ministry of Lost Souls” (first time since 2008)

“A View From the Top of the World” (live debut)

Encore:

“The Count of Tuscany” (first time since 2011)

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