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Jordan Rudess - keyboardist, Dream Theater
2001 - On the phone with David Lee Wilson

Weaving a musical maze for the listener is a craft that, both collectively and individually, the members of Dream Theater have taken to a high art. No other group in the last twenty years has offered such a colorful pallet from which the ear could paint a sonic picture. With their latest disc, "Scenes From A Memory," exploding all progressive rock boundaries, Dream Theater has established themselves as an equal to any in the history of their field.

"Scenes" is most often and quite justifiably, compared to Pink Floyd's conceptual masterpiece, "The Wall." The underlying story is one of personal drama told in both word and sound, each facet able to project a vision in the mind's eye so vivid that it would be redundant for a movie to be made as was done with "The Wall." This disc goes far beyond being a singular band's high water mark, this is The album that will define the genre from this point onward.

Creating the ultimate rock epic is what Dream Theater has endeavored to do since their late eighties inception, that original vision finally being realized here and now and due in no small part to the contributions of newest member Jordan Rudess. Rudess is a classically trained pianist whose love of the synthesizer and rock music drew him away from the formal musical training of Juilliard and onto the world's stages as keyboardist for The Dixie Dregs among others. Having declined a previous invitation to join Dream Theater Rudess was, thankfully, afforded a second chance and the results are sublime.

Letting the keys cool for a few minutes Rudess picked up the phone to call the offices and foreshadow a bit of the drama that should be expected when Dream Theater brings its "Scenes From A Memory" tour to North America.

DAVID LEE: So, have you completely settled into your new role as a member of Dream Theater?
JORDAN RUDESS: Yeah, very much! I am totally involved and I have got the rhythm of it now.

K2K: You actually did a whole tour with the band before the record came out, didn't you?
JR: We did about a month in Europe about the time that the record was coming out and we included about four songs from the new album but now we are going out and playing the whole thing.

K2K: Are you going to do a "hits" set after you perform all of the material from this album?
JR: Yeah, we will play some other songs as well but the main focus of the event will be to perform the record from beginning to end but we will definitely play some other things as well.

K2K: It took some time for you to actually get into the band after having been offered the gig once before.
JR: That is true.

K2K: This time when the offer came you jumped right in, what changed?
JR: Five years ago I got the original offer to join Dream Theater and I ended up doing one concert with them and then ended up going with The Dixie Dregs. The Dregs and Dream Theater came up in my life at exactly the same point and there were so many parameters to think about in that decision. Balancing it all out in my mind and having late night conferencing with Steve Morse (guitarist for The Dregs) on my initial Dregs dates on what I should do led me to that initial decision to not do the Dream Theater thing at that point. It was a combination of the fact that I had just had a child about a year prior and I didn't like the thought of going on the road full time at that time in my life. Also, I had just gotten the job with Kurzweil and doing The Dregs meant that I could have my job at Kurzweil and be home more and do all of these things. After about four years I looked at the situation again and realized that things were a lot different. The kids were older and the situation was a lot more flexible.

K2K: They were all potty trained and wouldn't mess up the bus? (laughs)
JR: (Laughing) Yeah, they are potty trained, you know the story.

K2K: From all of the press that I have read on the band and this record the general consensus seems to be that this is the album that the band always should have made but didn't, you have to be happy with the reaction it is getting?
JR: Totally! I mean, it was such an interesting process, like I said, to settle into the groove especially since we started recording after the Liquid Tension Experiment project was done. Basically, we finished "LTE 2" and a couple of weeks later we were literally sitting in another studio recording again. Just to get out of that frame of mind and into the other, with almost the same lineup, (laughs) I mean, looking at John Petrucci and Mike Portnoy again and the only difference in the studio was the bass player, so the initial difference was one guy because James came later. The real difference was conceptually which was very much the two John's and Mike's world, which wasn't mine. All I knew was that I was sitting with the same guys and knowing the Dream Theater music of course but it wasn't ingrained in my soul, to be in that space. I wanted to contribute a lot of things so what ended up happening was that I ended up writing a lot of stuff and a lot of the stuff that I wrote ended up on the record. Then again, a lot of stuff that I wrote did not get on the record too because I would bring in ideas and they would look at me like "Well, I don't think so." (laughs) And then they were like "If this was Liquid Tension then definitely it would be fine but it is not." There was a lot to learn about the parameters and the stylistic limitations of what Dream Theater is and what the guys perceive it all to be. At the same time I am always interested in my musical life and pushing everything to the next level so even though I was understanding of what Dream Theater was I was like, "OK try to make this fit!" (laughs) From my point of view, one has to value a concept of a group that has been around for so many years. It was an amazing education and I came into it with a lot of respect for the situation I was entering and it really worked out. I get along with everybody great, musically it was cool and, I think, the group is better than it has ever been.

K2K: As an outside observer I have noticed a definite and positive change in the visible camaraderie of the band members, do you feel that truly is the case?
JR: Totally. I feel like the energy balance, if you want to get really spacey, (laughs) is really working. Because I come in with a really mellow spirit it helps them all remain on a smooth level whereas before personalities, like Derek is a cool guy but he was really spirited and had a lot of strong thoughts and was the kind of guy who liked to get everybody excited and that could either be good or it could be negative. I am coming in musically strong but a softer personality and just trying to get things done in a more gentle way.

K2K: Was any of this record written before you came into the band or was it all done with your involvement?
JR: John Petrucci and Mike had some conceptual ideas and they had a few riffs that were floating around in their minds that they brought in so there were some things that were proposed prior to my involvement but nothing that was at all complete. Here and there, there was a riff that we drew upon in the studio.

K2K: Is the fact that your old band, The Dixie Dregs, are now opening for your current band a little weird for you?
JR: It is cool, very trippy. (laughs) I was always a fan of The Dregs, I wouldn't say a huge fan, but I would say that I certainly had a respect for their music and Steve Morse compositions, to the point where I would buy the records but what really awed me the most was when I went out to see The Dregs and I saw Rod Morganstein's drumming. When I saw Rod play one evening with The Dregs my feeling was that this guy would be the perfect drummer to play my music! (laughs) It would be an unbelievable dream come true if he could ever do that but of course that was just a complete fantasy. At that point I was just a guy in the audience with big eyes looking up on the stage and then somehow, I guess some dreams do come true, and about a year later my telephone rang and that lead to my joining The Dregs and getting friendly with Rod. It all happened very naturally. Rod and I had a very wonderful personal tuning together. We ended up traveling around a lot and of course The Dregs travel by car and Rod and I would be traveling partners and talking and the next thing you know we were doing an album together. That was pretty cool.

K2K: Will there be another Rudess / Morgenstein Project record?
JR: I'd like there to be. Rod and I keep saying that we would like that to happen and so our plan is to make it happen as soon as there is a chance. We already have some music for it but the thing that is holding it back, a good thing, (laughs) is this Dream Theater album and tour.

K2K: There is a rabid following for Dream Theater and the fans are very opinionated, how has the interaction with the Dream Theater faithful been?
JR: I think that it is really cool. I am very involved with communications via e-mail and the Internet and I usually take the time to do a little bit of a response if I can. What is cool about it to me is that being in Dream Theater is the first time in my life where you get this kind of feedback. You know, you write music and it goes out to the world and then energy comes back to you and the e-mail is another way at glimpsing that energy. One way is to go out and perform and have the audience there and into it, applauding, shouting and screaming but the other way is to have some more direct communication with them and the best way to do that is from fan mail and e-mail. People say that they really enjoy it or some people have some interesting ideas of what they want to hear and I think that is so cool.

K2K: Have you had any negative reaction to your joining Dream Theater?
JR: Because Dream Theater has had three keyboard players one of the fun things for people to do is to bounce it around and say "I like this one over that one," everyone has an opinion. In general, I would say that the reaction has really been great. People are very supportive of me and my joining Dream Theater and in general feel that it is a great match.

K2K: So, it hasn't been a heavy thing to carry around, that you will be constantly compared to Derek Sherinian or Kevin Moore?
JR: No, I think that people think that this is the best blend at least since Kevin Moore if not maybe even the next level.

K2K: You have been incredibly active as a guest on tribute albums and on other artist's work, will all of that end now that you are in Dream Theater?
JR: Dream Theater is a great outlet for me because I feel like I am playing with players that are the best in their field. It is a great band and I am enjoying it so much and it is definitely getting a lot of my musicality but there are certainly other things that I like to do and always will because I am interested in so many kinds of music, for instance, I just wrote a score that was performed for "Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol" and that was completely different from anything that I do in Dream Theater. There are a lot of things that I like to do, even just playing piano on some of my records that are just strictly improvised piano things which are also pretty far from what Dream Theater is about. I am that kind of musician and I plan on staying in Dream Theater as long as everybody is having a good time and still making great music but I also need to do other things.

K2K: How do your parents feel about all that Juilliard training that you had now that you are a rock musician?
JR: Well, they are a little bit happier now that things really seem to be exciting. It took them years to recover, it was a bit of a shock, leaving Juilliard and going into the world of rock! (laughs) They were all panicking and thinking that it was the wrong move and then all of a sudden it ends up being all right. I am a lesson in following your heart. Who knows, I might have stayed in Juilliard and become a famous classical pianist but I don't think that would have been quite as fun! (laughs)

Written by and all photos by David Lee Wilson

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