Dream Theater already had a cult following by the time they released their second album, Images & Words, in 1992 - but until that record, they didn’t quite have a sound. They knew they wanted to be progressive, melodic and heavy, but that record really solidified their future direction. It was distinctive, virtuosic and well-produced, while new vocalist James LaBrie brought a whole new flavour to the band. Unlike debut When Dream And Day Unite, Images & Words felt like a complete statement. Now, Dream Theater are bringing the album to Australia in celebration of its 25th anniversary.
Images & Words came out at a time when hard rock was on the way out and grunge was rising. Dream Theater managed to find their audience, however, and hold onto them throughout that notoriously shred-shy decade. Keyboard player Jordan Rudess was not a member of Dream Theater when the album was recorded – although he did nearly join in 1994, before finally coming on board in 1999 – but he’s spent nearly two decades with the material under his skin.
“A friend of mine, a guitar player and interviewer at the time, had met Dream Theater around 1992 to do an interview around that album, and he thought I would really like the music,” says Rudess. “When he found out that I was asked to audition for Dream Theater later, he gave me the Images & Words album and I was really impressed. Not only by their mix of prog and metal, but also with their virtuosity, which I hadn’t really heard in the rock world. They had the songs and they were especially great players. I could tell these guys were not hacks. They were really proficient on their instruments; I could really relate to it because I’m from a classical background where I’d done a lot of practicing.
“It had such a big effect on me when I heard it, but it also had a sound that was new to me, which was that real mixture of metal and prog. I feel so connected to the music, and I’ve played these songs so many times through the years, it’s a tremendous part of me. One of the things that is important to me is to be really respectful of the things the fans love about it. When it comes to the keyboard patches and the parts I play I try not to go too far from the original when I think that what they want to hear needs a certain thing. Then there are a few leads where I feel I can do my own thing and loosen it up a little bit. So that’s my approach - one of respect, and then making it my own as well.”
Since this is Mixdown’s studio issue, we thought we should ask Rudess what he’s currently using to record. “Logic is my DAW of choice and I use it to host my various plugins,” he says.
“I just discovered a really amazing virtual instrument that is called Heavier 7 Strings. It’s by a company out of China, Three-Body Technology, and they make a virtual guitar-based instrument. I was blown away the other day when I played it. It just came out two days ago and the sound can be so righteous and heavy that it almost blew me off my seat. I never had a truly guitar-like tone emanating from my keyboard that was that strong, so that was really fun. I’ve also been getting into 8DIO, who make wonderful stuff. They’re just coming out with a solo and ensemble brass library, Century Ensemble Brass, that is beautiful sounds. I’m a really big fan of Spectrasonics and I use their Omnisphere software a lot in the studio. For me, when I’m home and I’m working it’s all about using a master controller. I use my Korg KRONOS 88-note keyboard and my computer, and I have cool software that makes my world go round.”
Rudess also develops software with his company, Wizdom Music, who have developed a whole suite of apps such as SampleWiz, MorphWiz, HarmonyWiz, EarWizard and SketchWiz. “One of the instruments I use in the studio a lot is called GeoShred,” says Rudess. “It’s like a next-generation iPad-based instrument, although now it runs on the iPhone as well. It lets you do really incredible bending and sliding with pitch. It gives you a lot of control. And it also runs on a technology called physical modelling. I’ve invested a bunch of time in developing this instrument and getting it out to the world. One of the most interesting things about it is the Indian market is really into it because of the kind of bending, microtonal things you can do.”
Dream Theater will play the Hordern Pavilion in Sydney Tuesday September 19 and the Palais Theatre in Melbourne Wednesday September 20. The Astonishing is out now through Roadrunner Records/Warner Music.