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Stage Buzz Q &A: John Petrucci at the Vic Theatre • Chicago

| November 11, 2022

John Petrucci

Grammy Award-winning Dream Theater guitarist John Petrucci has stepped out on his own with his first-ever headlining solo tour. Performing material from his recently released solo album, Terminal Velocity, as well as songs from his widely acclaimed debut release, *Suspended Animation*, Petrucci has embarked on a 36-date tour, including a show at the Vic Theatre on November 13. Terminal Velocity marked the first time that Petrucci and former Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy played together in 10 years. Joining them is bassist Dave Larue (Dixie Dregs, Flying Colors, Vinnie Moore). The recently reunited all-female metal band Meanstreak, consisting of Petrucci and Portnoy’s wives as well as fellow Dream Theater bassist John Myung’s wife, are the opening act for the entire tour. 

In 2020, Dream Theater released Distant Memories — Live in London on DVD/CD, while Petrucci also released his second full-length solo album Terminal Velocity the same year. Plus, Dream Theater’s new full-length album, A View from the Top of the World, was released the following year, as well as the third installment from Petrucci’s other band, Liquid Tension Experiment. Suffice it to say Petrucci has been rather busy the past few years. During a recent phone interview before a concert in Boston, Petrucci talked about the responsibility of his first solo tour, his new solo album, and the latest news on Dream Theater. 

IE: Obviously, Covid-19 was part of the delay of this solo tour. When did you start lining up these dates?

John Petrucci: We planned this about six months ago. As soon as everything opened back up, when bands started to test the waters and go out and start touring again, the focus was on Dream Theater. So, I had no time; I couldn’t plan a solo tour. Of course, we were kind of busy with Dream Theater, but I noticed a hole in our schedule at this time, in the fall, about six months ago. I immediately called my agent to say let’s book a solo tour, that it’s time. I told him I wanted to play as much as possible, and so we have a huge run of 36 days — about two months. It’s crazy.

IE: Of course, you’re used to being in a band as a unit with Dream Theater, but now you’re the main focal point with your name behind it. Is there any added pressure of organizing this type of endeavor?

JP: In this case, this is my endeavor, like you mentioned. So, it’s not G3, which is Joe’s organization; it’s not Dream Theater. Basically, the pressure is setting everything up. Fortunately, I have such great infrastructure with Dream Theater; I’m able to work with the same people; the same management agent, crew. And that just takes a lot of the pressure off because I know everything’s going to run smoothly. And then from there, the biggest pressure is the business of selling tickets, getting out there and people saying, “John, who? Who’s that?” So that’s what we’re doing right now. We’re just out here playing our butts off and having fun.

IE: Your solo band is awesome; which are the same guys who recorded the album with you; Mike and Dave. This was the first time working with Mike in a decade. How did this collaboration finally come about?

JP: When I decided to finally do my second solo album, which that was 15 years after my first one, I immediately thought of Mike, and I thought it would be great to have him play drums on it. And he, fortunately, said yes. But even with the tour, I always thought, and he said this to me too, “If you ever book a tour for this, I’m there.” As soon as I had the opportunity to book the tour, I called him and said we’re going to do this. I think it’s great to have the same guys that recorded *Terminal Velocity* with me. Of course, it’s amazing to be playing back live on stage with Mike, who I have not performed live together in 12 years. Me, Mike, and Dave played many a G3 tour back in the early 2000s. So, the band is back together. It’s been fantastic. It’s just such an amazing band to play with. I’m so fortunate. 

IE: You mentioned it’s been 12 years since you and Mike have performed live together. I guess it’s just like riding a bike; still familiar?

JP: We met at Berkeley when we were 18 years old. We were in Dream Theater for 25 years, and we’re friends, and our families are friends, and three of us married three of Meanstreak, who’s our opening band. It’s just like family. Playing with Mike… we started rehearsals, and we just had this chemistry that’s just so natural. It’s great to be playing with him again. It really, really feels good. 

IE: How would you compare Terminal Velocity to Suspended Animation, since there was a 15-year gap between materials?

JP: It’s funny because now that I’m playing songs from both albums live, there are a lot of similarities. Suspended… was a trio, just guitar, bass, and drums; no vocals, no keyboards, or anything like that. There’s a similar kind of writing style in that the guitar is really taking on everything, playing the themes and the melodies and the riffs and the solos. And think as I play the Terminal… stuff compared to the *Suspended…*, the *Terminal…* stuff is a little more technical, I think, and I’m finding it a little more challenging musically. Maybe that’s just an evolution of me as a player and where I’m at and the fact that our other albums were 15 years ago. Actually, Suspended… came out 17 years ago.

IE: You’ll be in Chicago on November 13 at Vic Theatre. What do you like most about playing in Chicago?

JP: The fans are fantastic. Those shows in Chicago, usually when Dream Theater plays, we’d play the Chicago Theatre. And it’s just something to look forward to. You know it’s going to be a great night; people are going to pack it out. The audience is going to be pumped and hyped, and smiling. Chicago is one of those cities that just always delivers. There’s wonderful music lovers in Chicago, and I’m looking forward to playing the Vic. I know it’s going to be a highlight on the tour. All the cities, of course, we treat them with as much enthusiasm and passion onstage. But Boston, New York, Chicago, those are the big ones. So, I’m looking forward to it.

IE: Meanstreak features your wife, Rena, and Mike’s wife Marlene. It must be nice to have the wives along.

JP: Oh, it’s great. It’s the first time ever to tour with my wife. When I met her, she was in Meanstreak, and so was Marlene. Also, John Myung’s wife, Lisa, is in Meanstreak as well. So, the three Dream Theater guys married three Meanstreak girls. They’re an all-female thrash metal band; really heavy. They disbanded shortly in the early ’90s, so this is a reunion for them. I told my wife if I ever do a solo tour, I’d love for you to open, and the opportunity came up. My music is instrumental guitar trio; they’re thrash/heavy metal with a vocalist and two guitarists. It’s a different thing, but it’s really fitting. It’s a family affair. There’s a lot of lore and history around Dream Theater and Meanstreak, and people finally get to see that. And it’s great to be able to tour with our wives for the first time; we’ve literally never done that. They’re enjoying it.

IE: When you’re writing your solo instrumental material, do you instinctively know what will work for Dream Theater songs or other songs versus your solo stuff?

JP: Sort of. Some things are really obvious with one or the other. It might be a stylistic thing. As a guitar player, I’m doing like a more rock and roll thing or like a blues thing or something; it just feels more solo. But some of this stuff is able to change very easily. take a ton of songs like “Temple of Circadia” on my solo album; that could’ve been a Dream Theater song. Sometimes things are interchangeable, and other things sort of scream, “this is solo.” A lot of the guitar motif type of stuff is really more for solo stuff because that’ll be the theme for the whole song, and I’ll carry it through. Whereas Dream Theater, it’s a whole different thing. There’s vocals, and the song structures are a bit different.

IE: Sonically, Terminal Velocity sounds a bit brighter, a little crisper, and more melodic compared to Suspended Animation. What were you going for sound-wise?

JP: I love the sound of Suspended Animation. Kevin Shirley mixed it, and I wanted to make sure that I at least had a second solo album that sounded as good. I used our engineer Jimmy T to record and track everything and he just did such a wonderful job. I was a big fan of Andy Sneap and his mix of Firepower, the Priest album. And, of course, all the metal everything he does. Andy’s a guitar player, and I thought he would just do an amazing job on this. Fortunately, I got him to mix it. I was just going for something that sounded powerful and featured the guitar with just a great overall impact. In fact, I was so happy with it that I asked him to mix the latest Dream Theater record, A View from the Top of the World, which he did. It’s the same combination; Jimmy T engineered and recorded, and he mixed and mastered it. Both of my solo records and the new Dream Theater I think sound phenomenal. So it’s a matter of kind of using the right people and knowing what you want. I’m really happy with it.

IE: When does Dream Theater get back together and go into writing mode again, or is there another A View from the Top of the World leg in 2023?

JP: Yeah, there’s more legs. Since everybody was off in those two years, we still have a lot of touring still ahead of us to support *A View from the Top of the World*. So we’ll pick that back up come 2023. I can’t imagine we’ll be in the studio before this time or so next year.

John Petrucci appears at the Vic Theatre, Chicago on November 13.

-Kelley Simms

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