DREAM THEATER has officially commenced work on its sixteenth studio album. The upcoming effort will mark the progressive metal legends first LP since the return of co-founding drummer Mike Portnoy last October.
Portnoy co-founded DREAM THEATER in 1985 with guitarist John Petrucci and bassist John Myung. Mike played on 10 DREAM THEATER albums over a 20-year period, from 1989's "When Dream And Day Unite" through 2009's "Black Clouds & Silver Linings", before exiting the group in 2010.
Earlier today (Friday, February 9),DREAM THEATER shared a photo of Portnoy, Petrucci, Myung, singer James LaBrie and keyboardist Jordan Rudess in the studio, and captioned it: "DT16 is officially underway!"
Last month, Petrucci told GuitarWorld.com editor-in-chief Michael Astley-Brown that he and his DREAM THEATER bandmates were "looking forward to" working on new music.
"It's really exciting to have [Portnoy] back in the band," John said. "We started the band together. I talked [earlier in the interview] about being 18 at Berklee [College Of Music]; that's where we met. And we've been friends ever since. So, having him back in the band is really special to all of us. I know he's really excited as well.
"We haven't started [working on new music]. We haven't written a note yet, but I'm sure when we get together, it's just gonna be like old times. So, I'm really looking forward to doing that and diving in."
Asked where he wants to take his guitar playing on the next DREAM THEATER album, Petrucci said: "Uh, you know what? To me, making a new record is an opportunity to kind of say, like, 'All right, what haven't I done before? What can I do that's gonna be interesting to me, that's gonna sort of make me excited?' And usually, if you start out with that kind of goal, it'll happen. You'll come up with stuff. You'll explore. And I try not to be satisfied right away and try to like just change things up.
"So, I don't know the answer to that," he explained. "We'll find out. But I think what's gonna be fun is just all getting together in the studio and seeing where things go and kind of reuniting with that sort of classic magic that started the band. It's exciting. And I think that's gonna dictate where things go. But on the guitar, man, I don't know. I can't wait. I love it. I love being in the studio."
Earlier last month, Portnoy was asked by The Prog Report about the status of some of his other projects, including THE WINERY DOGS and SONS OF APOLLO, and how they will be affected by his recent return to DREAM THEATER. He responded: "I did first 25 years with DREAM THEATER and then I'd spent 13 years, which is almost half that time, with the post-DREAM THEATER chapter and I did so much. I mean, it's gotta be 50 albums or whatever with dozens of bands. I could not have been more fulfilled with how I spent those dozen years apart from DREAM THEATER. I could not have possibly written a more productive script than what I was able to do and achieve and create. So, some of those projects and relationships will continue into the future, but obviously DREAM THEATER is now my home again, and that's my priority. And surely for these first couple of years back, that's gonna be my focus, and I will be devoted to that primarily, probably without much distraction. Down the years, maybe I could revisit some stuff with some of those relationships and bands and projects and people. We'll see. But I'm just kind of looking where I'm at now, and where I'm at now is back in DREAM THEATER, and that's gonna be the focus."
He continued: "We start working on a new album after the New Year. And I cannot wait to tour and get on stage with those guys again. That's gonna be the most exciting thing about it, of it all. So where the future lies for any of my other bands and projects, time will tell. Some will probably slip away, some will survive. And we'll see; it might have future chapters. But right now my focus is just on DREAM THEATER. But I do have a tremendous sense of closure for all of that stuff I did do over the last 12, 13 years. And it was an amazing adventure and an amazing ride and I couldn't be happier with the fruits of my labor. Really, it was an incredible time. But I'm ready for this — I don't wanna say 'final act,' but the reality is if you look at our ages, it probably is the final act… And there's really no better place that I should be spending it than where it all began with my brothers in DREAM THEATER. We formed that band when I was in college. The three of us formed it in college as teenagers. It's poetic justice that we should ride off into the sunset together and end it together as well. It really seems like that's the way it should be."
Portnoy previously talked about his return to DREAM THEATER last December in an interview with Drumeo. Regarding how he ended up back in the band, Portnoy said: "It's been 13 years, and I think time heals all wounds, as the expression goes. It's been many, many years now of kind of rekindling my relationships with the guys, starting with John Petrucci… Maybe five, six, seven years ago or so, we just reconnected. Our families — his wife and my wife were in a band together even before we knew our wives. Our kids have grown up together. My daughter and John Petrucci's daughter shared an apartment together in New York for the last five years. So the families were still close. So John and I inevitably reconnected on a personal level. And I guess it really started to gain some traction during COVID lockdown because I couldn't tour and DREAM THEATER couldn't tour, so John decided he wanted to do a solo album and he asked me to play on it. So that was the first step, I guess, in this direction. So I played on John's solo album. And then a few months later, we did an LTE [LIQUID TENSION EXPERIMENT] album with, with JohnandJordan. So that brought three of us back together. And then the following year I ended up doing John's solo tour, and our wives' band were opening for us. So we had the wives out with us. So it just seemed like it was all starting to come together on a personal level and then the musical level as well. And then I think the final piece was me reconnecting with James LaBrie 'cause James and I hadn't spoken for over a decade."
He continued: "I went to see DREAM THEATER play in New York, I guess around 2022, and that was my first time seeing James in over a decade. And literally, I'm not exaggerating, within five seconds of seeing each other, it was hugs, kisses and it was like any of the drama and bullshit that happened during all of those years of the split, it just melted away immediately. And with James and I buddying up again, it kind of just… it began to seem like an inevitability. It wasn't ever, I don't think, in either of our plans to eventually reunite. In fact, if you would have asked me this five years ago, I probably wouldn't have put money on it. But with the developments of everything I just laid out for you, then it started to really feel like, well, maybe this is inevitable. It just seems like we're in the right place and the right time at this stages of our lives. All those years of DREAM THEATER, we were in our twenties and thirties and forties. And now here we are, most of us in our fifties and some of the members in their sixties, and it just seems like life is too short to not be with the people you love and play the music that is part of your life and your heart and soul. So, yeah, here we are."
Portnoy went on to say that he had no hard feelings for now-ex-DREAM THEATER drummer Mike Mangini, who has been publicly very supportive of Portnoy's return to the band.
"It was nice to see something like this happen with taking the high road and class and grace and dignity and not a war of words and drama and B.S.," Portnoy said. "This was really handled so well, and I have to give Mike Manginiall the credit in the world for that, 'cause it's not easy being replaced. I can't imagine. He handled it really well, and I guess the things he said were so classy. So, yeah, I was really glad to see how well he took it. 'Cause I was a little concerned about that. But it couldn't have come off any better."
Portnoy noted that he had been "friends with [Mangini] before he even knew any of the guys in DREAM THEATER. He and I were friends in the '90s when he was still playing in EXTREME and stuff like that and we would do clinics together and stuff," he said. "So, yeah, he's an old friend. And I could never get mad at the guy for taking the gig. I mean, how could you not? It was a great opportunity and a great gig. So, yeah, it was nice when all those resentments and all that stuff melted away, because it was a tough couple of years in the start of the split."
As for Portnoy's role during DREAM THEATER's new era, the drummer said: "I think that was the one discussion that John Petrucci and I had. We still to this point even haven't talked about business or money or finances or any of that. It was all about, okay, we know we love each other. We know we wanna play together again. But what is the new dynamic gonna be? Because for all those first 25 years, John and I produced the albums together. We kind of led the band together. I was handling the bulk of the responsibilities and decisions making and things like that. And so when I left the band, I was very much a control freak. And then now the last 13 years or so, obviously they've had to re-design their inner structure and how they function, how they work. I think John produces the albums himself now. So it remains to be seen how the 'new old' DREAM THEATER will function. But I think we're all older and wiser."
He continued: "When I left the band 13 years ago, I was a control freak — absolutely. I'll be the first to admit it. And I think as time has gone on, I've loosened up on all that. All the bands I've done over the last 13 years, I've had to learn how to compromise, how to collaborate, how to let go of things. I've even had these hired-gun gigs with TWISTED [SISTER] and AVENGED [SEVENFOLD] where I just play drums. So, we're just gonna have to find our feet in the new dynamic. I think there will be many areas that I hope I could regain some control, like writing the setlists, it was always a big one for me. But then there's other areas that I'm more than happy to step away and not even be involved with. I'd be happy to not write any lyrics again, which is what I used to always write a lot of lyrics back in the day. But I'd be fine with not doing that. It's a lot of things — designing the artwork or the merchandise. You've gotta pick your battles, and I guess we'll find our feet and see where everybody kind of fits into the structure of the new dynamic."
Portnoy attended DREAM THEATER's concert in March 2022 at Beacon Theatre in New York City. It was the first time he witnessed his then-former bandmates perform live since his exit from the iconic progressive metal outfit 13 years ago.
When Portnoy's return to DREAM THEATER was first announced on October 25, Mangini said in a statement: "I understand DREAM THEATER's decision to get Mike Portnoy back at this time. As was said from Day 1, my place was not to fill all the roles that Mike held in the band. I was to play the drums in order to help the band carry on. My main role of keeping our live show working tightly on a nightly basis was an intense and rewarding experience. Thankfully, I got to experience playing music with these iconic musicians, as well as some fun times laced with humor."
Mangini joined DREAM THEATER in late 2010 through a widely publicized audition following the departure of Portnoy, who co-founded DREAM THEATER 38 years ago. Mangini beat out six other of the world's top drummers — Marco Minnemann, Virgil Donati, Aquiles Priester, Thomas Lang, Peter Wildoer and Derek Roddy — for the gig, a three-day process that was filmed for a documentary-style reality show called "The Spirit Carries On".