James LaBrie Discusses Solo Songwriting

Dream Theater frontman James LaBrie (center)
is halfway through writing his next solo album.

Dream Theater are certainly stoked to be up for a Grammy Award with their first ever nomination this year in the Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance category (why these two categories are now fused together is anyone’s guess), which frontman James LaBrie told me about when we chatted for a Grammy.com story going online next week. During that particular interview I also asked him about his fifth solo album (counting his two MullMuzzler releases). The album will come out through Inside Out/Century Media and is gradually coming together even in the midst of the usual Dream Theater craziness.

“Right now, Matt [Guillory], I and the other guys are writing,” LaBrie told A.D.D. “We’re about halfway through. I would say our main focus is that we want to raise the bar as far as the actual song compositions, so with the arrangements we want to see if we can better ourselves first and foremost. As far as the elements that we want to include or implement into the music, a lot of those elements will be familiar because we want to keep it consistent. It has to make sense and have a sense of continuity from where we left off, but there are some things that we’re talking about we want to bring in that will bring in some intriguing kind of sonics to give it its own identity.”

The cover of LaBrie's last solo album.

In the way that his main group Dream Theater has expanded upon their sound while staying true to fan expectations, the singer has been taking the same approach with his solo work. “In as much as I want to make it so that it is known that it is me, at the same time I want to be able to experiment,” states LaBrie. “I don’t want to feel that I’m constrained or have to sound in this vein of music or I’m going to lose my listeners. I think if anything they want to hear new things, and that’s what we did coming from Elements Of Persuasion to Static Impulse. It was all about that. Hitting them over the head with Static Impulse, I don’t think a lot of them were expecting there to be the thrash metal or screamo vocals on a James LaBrie album. It also has to be sincere and genuine. Matt and I over the years have appreciated that approach, and what I said when we were actually implementing the screamo vocals into the Static Impulse album was, ‘I don’t want to look at it like it’s a vocal, I’d rather view it as an instrument. This instrument has a distinctive sound. Where can we bring it in and have it really embellish the direction of the song or that certain section?’ So that’s what we did.”

Even though Dream Theater have become known for writing epic, complex tunes displaying fierce musical chops, one of the strongest DT tracks in recent years is the U2-ish “I Walk Beside You” from 2005’s Octavarium. It’s not epic or complicated like a lot of the group’s other compositions, but it is highly emotive and powerful. LaBrie concurs. “When we were writing that song and John Petrucci was coming up to me with melody ideas, I was saying that this is the way that I want to express myself and this is where I need to take it vocally to get the most out of it for that particular style of music,” recalls the singer. “It’s funny because when you do a song like that, the first thing somebody is going to say is that we’re going down the U2 vein. Sure, why not? The Beatles were classic for writing amazing compositions but keeping it simple. If you do it justice in that style, it doesn’t matter if you’re sounding like someone as long as you’re not trying to be that person and as long as you’re maintaining your own identity.”

8 Responses

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.