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Dream Theater’s Jordan Rudess

Dream Theater’s Jordan Rudess
March 15, 2008 | Author: Jason McNamara

Jordan_Rudess-1024x819Imagine my excitement when I got a call to do my first ever press interview with any member of my choice and it just happens to be on my favourite band in the world, Dream Theater. Straight away I said, “I want Jordan” and sure enough, I got him. We sat down to chat a few hours before their first ever show here in Melbourne.

Australian Musician: I’ve been a fan of Dream Theater for 16 years now and even though you’ve only been with the band now since what, ’99(?) everything changed for me when I first heard Metropolis in 1992.
You heard the band before I did then. I only heard them I guess right before Awake. It was around the period of time I was first asked to join.

AM: Yeah, I believe you were originally first asked to join around the time that Kevin left.
Yeah right. I did that one show that has kind of become a bit of a umm….

AM: A cult?
Yeah, a bit of a cult thing. I saw it on youtube. Somebody put it up there just last night. I didn’t know about Dream Theater before that. I had no idea who they were, but when I got the call, (for the gig) I called up a friend of mine who was involved in the scene at the time he said, “I know exactly who they are. I interviewed them and I’ll come over and play you some of their suff”. So the only album that was out at that time was Images & Words. I heard that and I was like, “This is pretty cool”.

AM: I imagine it would have almost been like a calling for a musician like you.
It was interesting to be because I was of course very familiar with Progressive Rock, fusion and all of the styles, but I hadn’t heard the particular blending that I found Dream Theater to be.

AM: None of us had.
JR: Yeah right, which was this kind of Metal sound, but with a lot of chops really, really meticulously played music with a bit of the Prog thing thrown in. I thought, “That’s cool. I like that. It’s a nice mix” and that’s what started this whole ride.

AM: How are you guys at large handling this kind of a whirlwind tour to Australia, especially being that this is obviously the first time for you to play here?
Everybody here has been really cool. It’s generally a fairly laid back place and even the fans at the airport.

AM: You’ve had like, one day off all tour?
We were actually pretty like in the sense that we had two days off in Perth when we first started. It was a rare thing. We flew in at night and the next two days after that we were off. So that was a nice chance to recover a bit.

AM: How is James with night, after night, after night?
He gets burnt out if we do too many in a row.

AM: Have you met and how do you get along with Kevin Moore and if so, how do you ge4t along with him?
JR: I’ve never met him. I’ve heard millions of stories about him.

AM: The ultimate hermit isn’t he? (I asked with a sadness).
JR: He’s never come out and said hello. I’d be happy to say hello to him. I think he did some nice things to develop the sound of Dream Theater and I’ve certainly played enough of his music (laughs) to feel like I know him.

AM: Rick Wakeman said on the Yes Years video that it’s the hardest thing in the world to replicate another Keyboard Player. As a fan, hat’s off the the way that you’ve taken on and honoured what both Kevin and Derek did in the past. In a band this involved, have you found it difficult to emulate what the past two guys did?
Well, it’s not hard to play their riffs and their sounds are not overly hard to replicate either. Well I should say, the only sound that was really complex as far as programming was the sound, the Erotomania & 6 O’Clock kinda Organ sound. It’s very crunchie and distorted. To me it was an unusual sound. I think that for Kevin, I think it was one of the Keyboards he had at the time. Maybe an old Roland Keyboard that when he kicked on the distortion it just sounded like that. I didn’t have that Keyboard so I had to create it. I remember creating that sound on one of my Kurzweil synthesizers. It was very complex to make it sound like that. So now I’ve had to recreate it on my Oasys because I’ve changed my technology a bit, but in general the sounds were pretty straight ahead. He didn’t have that many Keyboards back then and he wasn’t really all that into programming. The only complex things about it is that when you go to make those older sounds on newer gear unless they are specifically designed to do that like now you have instruments that will do the Melatron sounds, but his sounds were not that. They were whatever you had if you mixed them together. He had this almost a, “Dream Theater” like string sound like in Lifting Shadows or in Caught In A Web that was many octaves that was kind of Analogy, slightly digital. It had a certain sound to it.

AM: I love that sound. It’s like the pad used in Pull Me Under.
That’s right. I think be had a Korg…. DW….

AM: I think he had a Roland JD800.JR: Yeah, I think that’s what made that dirty sound. The Korg instrument I think was the Krog…. it was called I think the something 6000 Synthesizer.
I remember it had that multi/4 way jog wheel.JR: It was those days of Analog moving a bit towards digital.

AM: Throughout the years in rock, pop, jazz and just about any other type of music with a keyboard in it, you usually find Keyboardists who are either GREAT players or GREAT at programming and sounds. You are one of the rare exceptions to me who seems to have both skills down at the highest possible level. Everybody knows you’ve got great chops, but I don’t think that many people be it musicians or otherwise realize how much work goes into Keyboard sound layering, getting velocities like do and all that stuff.
Oh, it’s a lot of work. It’s major. My approach in the studio will be somewhat orchestrational in a song like Ministry Of Lost Souls off the new album. It has a lot of stings, cellos and all kind of what not. Choir sound, (he laughs at the abundance), piano sounds….

AM: How do you pull it all off live?
JR: It’s all umm….. In the studio I don’t think so much about how I’m going to do it live, I just do what I need to do sonically. Then when it comes to doing it like that’s a whole other process. What I do in the studio is keep track of which sound and which keyboard it was on as I can. Then when I go into my studio to make it happen live then I go, “OK. I did this. I had these 4 sounds, now I’m going to play it all on this keyboard so what do I have to do?” That way if it’s a matter of splitting the keyboard, playing this sound or layering or playing this sound with my pinky, I may have a vocal sound with my thumb and with my forefinger I’m playing a Brass part.

AM: That’s nuts.
JR: It is kind of nuts, but it’s the way that I work. Very often it involves playing something which is maybe in a little bit awkward positioning for what sonically you would hear. It might feel ok on the keyboard, it might even be a bit strange physically, but it’s what I do to make these things happen. Of course there are times where you can’t do exactly what’s on the album but I try really hard to get close and I probably get closer than most people could live. I kind of, (pauses in thought and then says slowly) pride myself in being able to do a lot of the older Dream Theater music and do more of what was on the albums than any of the other guys.

AM: Sure. I would agree with that.
JR: For sure more that what Derek did only because he wasn’t as concerned with following the particular sound. If it was a lead he just used any lead sound. If it was a pad he just played an Organ. That’s not my world. I come from a more sonic-y world.

AM: (Don’t forget when you read this next statement from me, I’m a huge fan). That’s what I was saying about putting it all together. You really do put it all together honestly, better than anyone I’ve ever heard.
JR: Oh, that’s cool. If something just sounds old and doesn’t really strike me as an important sound and if I think I could do better, I’ll do something else with it.

AM: I also believe that you either did or do trigger the video screens as well.
JR: No, no. That’s old news. I used to when the band started doing video myself and Mike were pushing the whole thing forward and a lot of what got that started is that I was very much plugged into the whole up and coming world of video and what was possible with spacing images, controlling video with MIDI signals and when we started out I was working with a fellow named Bert Baldwin who used to be my assistant and he used to be the lighting guy for Dream Theater after that and the video guy. He’s no longer with us, but we figured out some programs where I could move my modulation wheel or move a slider and it would put colours on the screen or spin the image. I remember that specifically what I used to do in the song “Home” where it goes, “Whamp! Whamp! D da, d da, d da, d da” I’d use my mod wheel and it would make a visual flash up forward. It was pretty cool. After a while Bert knew the music inside and out. He was doing the video and I was trying to concentrate on my sounds and he wwas like, “You don’t need to do that. I’m doing video”. Even though it was cool to do that.

AM: So all your video now is triggered live? Obviously there’s no sequencing in the band.
JR: We have a wonderful video guy right now whose name is Johnny Dekam. He’s really great and I discovered him one day when I went to a Thomas Dolby concert. I thought the video looked awesome and I contacted Thomas Dolby and I got in touch with Johnny and so now Johnny’s with us. He does all the video all together with his wife Bree. She runs all the cameras. It’s pretty cool.

AM: I read onyour website, ( that you also have a John Petrucci model guitar, a PRS and a ’52 Fender Lap Steel which we’ve seen you use on the Pink Floyd stuff, (for those who don’t know, there is a bootleg floating around of DT doing the who album of Darkside Of The Moon live). How proficient on Guitar are you?
JR: You know what, that’s a funny question and funny timing. I was just watching this YouTube thing that a friend of mine has who’s sitting on some video that he put up the other day from maybe, (he thinks for a while) maybe 8 years ago and I was watching it and I took my eyes off the screen and I thought, “Wow, that’s some good guitar playing”. I didn’t know what it had gone to. I looked over and it was ME playing, (laughter breaks out all round) and I was like, “Holy shit, I really could play the guitar”. Then I thought to myself, I haven’t picked it up in at least a year. I haven’t played the guitar in a really long time and I was feeling bad because I’m so out of touch with whoever that guy was playing, (he says while laughing) whatever he was playing. At different points in my life I’ve been fairly, never what John Petrucci’s can do, but I could play. I could do my thing. Then I learnt to use the Lapsteel, but we haven’t been using it on this last tour so I’m a little out of touch with that. I’ve learnt how to play this new instrument called the Axis 64. You’d be interested coming from a Guitar background, but it’s an instrument based on the Harmonic table. It’s kind of a hexagon shape and it’s got these little keys/buttons all in rows. Every row is in 5ths so it’s got C, G, D, A, E and the row next to it is going up in major 3rds, E, B, F#…. You can play all these cool riffs on it and any pattern or scale you play, it’ll be in the same shape from anywhere. I just did a video that’ll be on line soon with this product because I thought it was really cool. I’ll probably use it when we go to write the new album. Of course, these’s also The Continuum, (made by Haken Audio). I also play that.Note: To see it go online to;

AM: Speaking of other instruments, we all know that Mike plays a bit of Bass and JP pretends to play Drums from the “Monster Theater”. Is anyone else proficient at any other instruments to the point where they could do it someway or another and does James play anything?
JR: Well, let’s see. (He pauses……) I guess not really. John Petrucci got up and played the Drums last night, (in Adelaide). He put in a pretty strong beat. It was pretty funny. James doesn’t play anything. John Myung plays Piano a little bit, mostly at home, but he can play a bit. And Mike can play a bit of Guitar. He can play a great “Eruption” on guitar. He really does that very well.

AM: All be it from when you were growing up, (and also from now I guess) was there even a band who you listened to and thought, “I would love to play in that band…..?” For me it’s Queensryche. I would have, and still would to have loved to take over the job when Chris DeGarmo left.
JR: That’s interesting. When I was getting into Progressive Rock and I was really totally absorbed in totally being a fan of it, I would have loved to have been in Yes. It’s something that would have blown my mind. Back in the day I would have cared about that alot.

AM: They always changed Keyboardists. Did you ever try to contact anyone just on the off chance?
JR: No because when I was really in that headspace I wasn’t in a place in my life to have that even be a possibility. I didn’t know what I was doing. It took me time to land and then by the time I landed where I am the job waasn’t as interesting to me. If they called me today, well I already have a good job, (AM thinks, “That’s an understatement”). But I’m a tremendous Yes fan. I’m a tremendous Genisis fan, Pink Floyd and….

AM: But you’ve played with some of these guys over the years inadvertently or otherwise right?
JR: I did a thing with Rick Wakeman in New York City. I did a little bit of one of the songs from “Six Wives of Henry the Eighth”. Yer, (laughs) that was fun. And of course I’m friendly with Keith Emerson now. I went to his wife’s last birthday party. He a really nice guy and she was really nice. He her my version of Tarkus from my new (solo) album. If you see on my website he left a really nice quote up there about my version of Tarkus. I guess he really loved it. It was quite an honour.

AM: Man, that’s wild. Have you ever gotten to sit in with Yes?
JR: No, never.

AM: But you guys have toured and played with Queensryche…..
JR: And Yes of course. We went out together on tour. The reason that I play the lap steel is because of Steve Howe. He was very inspirational. He was kind enough to show me a little about it when we were on the road. I actually did a little bit of jamming with Jon Anderson at a NAMM show he came along and we improvised in back of him. I forgot about that. Me and another keyboard player friend. We just did a spontaneous thing.

AM: I hate to be doing an ad purely for Korg here, but what made you choose to go with the Oasys and lose the Kurzweil or even not use the Fantom X8 you have at home?
JR: Well first of all, Roland just released a new instrument called the Phantom G8 and I was very involved in the development of that and some of the ideas that went behind what it is and so I’m very supportive of that Keyboard. Given that though, I’m not replacing the Oasys in the Dream Theater gig for a few reasons. One of which is that the Oasys is the Mother Of All Keyboards. It’s just…. For some of its short comings it has so many amazingly positive and powerful things it can do for me. For one thing the basic thing that it does which helps me is that you can have 16 different sounds in a patch that you can basically layer and split them in any which way until you run out of polyphony.

AM: How much polyphony do you have?
JR: IT’s variable depending on how you’re using the processing. I don’t remember what it goes up to, but it’s a lot. If you use a lot of Reverb and things that use up a lot of power in the machine, then you can only have less voices. However, the Oasys is great and I use it to do that kind of layering, splitting and the effects which are very important. The biggest drawback for me when I play live is that when you switch from one patch to the next it makes a, (he claps his hands) it cuts off. It’s fast. It just cuts everything off and goes straight to the next sound so you get this gap. In Dream Theater there’s the band playing so if I play Piano, Piano, Piano, switch Organ, you don’t necessarily hear the Reverb cut off and occasionally if someone’s paying a lot of attention they might say, “Oh, that Keyboards just cut off in a funny way”. That’s the funny way of that, but it’s a great and powerful Keyboard. One day I might change, but the problem is to change, the Dream Theater gig it’s gonna take tons of hours.(Then in through the door comes the tour manager to tell Jordan it’s time for soundcheck).

AM: So any last words for Australia?
JR: I’m just so happy to be here. It’s so cool. This is a really mellow place and you can’t beat the weather. My god. If it wasn’t so far away I’d say, “I’ll be back”, (he laughs). I’m sure I’ll be back.


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