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Dream Theater’s John Petrucci: ’25 Years Ago, Prog Metal Really Wasn’t a Thing’

The virtuoso guitarist talks about their legacy, coming to India and their big hits

Anurag Tagat Sep 30, 2017

Dream Theater will make their India debut on October 8th in Mumbai. Photo: Jimmy Fontaine

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After several years and several interviews with Indian publications (Rolling Stone India included), American progressive metal band Dream Theater (and their fans) have finally turned things into ground reality when it comes to setting foot in the country for a performance.

Last year, vocalist James LaBrie said he wanted to bring their 2016 album The Astonishing on tour to India, “I think it’s been far too long a wait for our fans in India to wait for us. It’s well overdue.” But as it turns out, the prog veterans are taking India on a trip back in time, celebrating the 25th anniversary of their second full-length album Images and Words when they perform at MMRDA Grounds in Mumbai on October 8th.

Ahead of their India debut–put together by event company Opium Events–guitarist John Petrucci spoke to Rolling Stone India via email about setting foot in new territories, Images and Words and tour life.

It’s been many years in the waiting, but Dream Theater is making it to India – have you been in that situation before with other countries, where you’ve had to wait quite a long while into your careers to play there?

Yes. There are a few countries that for some reason or another, we haven’t played in yet despite the large fanbase there. On the current tour we are playing in The Philippines, India, The U.A.E and Malaysia for the first time. It’s all really exciting for us!

Jordan has been to India before, to conduct a workshop in 2012. Have any of you been contacted to make similar individual visits to the country?

No. I realize that Jordan has been here a couple of times though.

Dream Theater’s influence on Indian musicians is very evident – there are bands who have taken your prog methods and applied it to Indian classical and Carnatic music, and it’s a sound that’s bringing listeners old and young to the gigs. Is that the sort of thing that really strengthens the band’s legacy?

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I was unaware of that. I think that’s really cool. Amazing to hear about our influence on musicians a world away!

Additionally, what have you come across in the past or even the present that you think as something that makes you go, ‘This is our legacy.’?

We are just fortunate to be playing the type of music that we enjoy and being able to share it with so many people all around the globe. That is incredibly gratifying.

John Petrucci. Photo: Jimmy Fontaine

Speaking of legacy, you’re honoring that right now with the Images and Words 25th Anniversary tour. But you were still fairly young when it released, and had just received major spotlight from the likes of MTV. How did you deal with the attention? Did you stay grounded or allow yourself a little smugness?

At the time, the success of that album took us all by surprise but we never took any of it for granted. We realized how unusual it was for our style of music to be receiving that level of commercial attention and we were very grateful for it.

Compare that to when The Astonishing released and it feels like there are some similarities – this new album was your first ever number one debut on the rock charts. Does it still kind of tell you that progressive rock and metal’s time in the mainstream has always been a fluke?

Times have changed a lot between the release of I&W and The Astonishing. 25 years ago, prog metal really wasn’t a thing. We just played the type of music that came naturally to us when we got together. A sort of dramatic mix of prog and metal. The Astonishing took that spirit to the next level by incorporating a storyline, characters, full orchestration etc.

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I like how the band made a little joke when you released your Greatest Hit compilation, referring to “Pull Me Under.” Which song pops up often for you, when you think of the band’s most popular song, especially when you talk to fans?

There are a few that definitely get the audience excited or that have made a deeper emotional connection with our fans. “The Spirit Carries On,” “The Dark Eternal Night” and “Breaking All Illusions” come to mind.

What is your itinerary like in India, then? Are you going to spend a day off here before your gig in Istanbul?

Unfortunately this type of tour moves very quickly so there really isn’t any off time to spend exploring the city.

This tour goes on until December with only a few breaks – and you’ve put behind more than two decades of touring now. What, if anything, is something you’ve never got used to when it comes to touring?

The time zone changes are always really hard to adjust to. Your body is telling you one thing but your environment is telling you another. It’s very surreal at times and a little difficult to stay grounded and get the right kind of sleep you need. It’s the name of the game though and goes with the territory.

Dream Theater performs at MMRDA Grounds, Mumbai on October 8th. Buy tickets here.

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