DREAM THEATER's MIKE MANGINI Explains How He Chose Musicians For His Debut Solo Album, 'Invisible Signs'

October 18, 2023

DREAM THEATER drummer Mike Mangini spoke to "The Everyman Podcast" about upcoming debut solo album, "Invisible Signs", which is set to arrive in November. Accompanying Mangini on the LP are Tony Dickinson on bass, Ivan Keller on guitar, Gus G. (FIREWIND, OZZY OSBOURNE) on lead guitar and former EVANESCENCE guitarist Jen Majura on vocals.

Asked if he wrote all the music and lyrics for "Invisible Signs", including the recently released first single "Freak Of Nature", Mangini said (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET): "Initially. And the reason why there's confusion is journalists will grab old information that is true at the time, but then it changes. For example, initially, yeah, I wrote every note — of course I did, because I was working on it by myself. I mean, every note — the solos, all the words, horribly sung [laughs] vocal melodies. And it evolved over time. So, as it grew from totally all me and MIDI instruments to what you hear now, there was a stage where I had nurtured it and then turned it over to everyone else on the album. So that's the essence of it."

Regarding how Jen became involved with the project as the singer, Mike said: "I met Jen quite a while ago, and eventually she asked me to do one of her one-minute [YouTube] spots, and we did a Stevie Wonder tune with her and Alex Skolnick, and it was super, 'cause she nailed — she played saxophone and guitar and all this stuff, but she's singing Stevie Wonder, like with that thing. Not everybody has that thing, and I noted it in my head. I'm, like, 'Gosh, she's got that thing.' And it's interesting, because later on, when I wrote a couple of songs no one has heard yet, except whoever's supposed to hear this before it comes out, 'Black Box' and 'Let Me Shine' are more of what… I mean, you can tell that's what the kids were gravitating towards. And so I tried to make those songs me. I tried to make it with the riff and that thing to it that is not common on the radio stations. But anyway, so she had that thing that allowed those particular two songs to now kind of connect to the rest of it. And the songs that are on the much — they're still heavy, but they don't have that 54 percent swing thing in them."

As for the rest of the musicians who appear on "Invisible Signs", Mangini said: "Gus took care of the solos. He didn't wanna do the rhythm stuff. He's not a seven-string player; he's a six-string player. That's the reason. So, Ivan was recommended to me by vocalist Dino Jelusick [WHITESNAKE, TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA], who's just the sweetest guy in the world — great friend, someone I was bouncing ideas off of and stuff and helping me out. And he recommended Ivan. He actually recommended Tony Dickinson as well on bass. But Ivan came in and just took all my virtual parts, put them on the guitar. And actually, Dino captured Ivan's parts on Dino's laptop. So, they sent those to me. But Ivan had to interpret some things. He was, like, 'Hey, man, this is done on a keyboard. What are you doing?' I was, like, 'Yes, I know. Make it so it works for you. Make it so it works on that instrument. Go ahead.' And then Tony, of course, did the same thing on bass. And he was in touch with me saying, 'You know…' I'm, like, 'No, just tell me.' He says, 'Well, this particular run, this particular note, I wouldn't do that.' I'm, like, 'It's just a note. Just move the note. Change it. Sure.' Then I said, 'I made the basic parts that work for the song. If you want to embellish, go for it. Make it you, but stay within the thing. Otherwise, I'm gonna lose this.' So these guys were so amazing that they took what I did, they embellished, they fixed it, as it were, because it's a keyboard; they changed some things. But if you heard, if I release all the demos with just me, it's gonna sound…. you'll hear some notes here and there that are different, and that's what happened, or structures. But everything is basically the way it was in essence. And so Ivan took care of all the guitars and he did some fills here and there. Jen Majura did the lead-in solo, the introductory solo for a song called 'Deep Inside'."

In a recently released video message, Mangini spoke about the lyrical inspiration for "Freak Of Nature". He said: "The lyric to 'Freak Of Nature' came about pretty interestingly. As I was researching things I'm interested in, like forces and laws of nature, and I came across a hurricane and 'force of nature' hit me, but it didn't sound very good to me. Then, all of a sudden, 'freak of nature' beamed in from somewhere. And the interesting thing is that that's inherent throughout the record; it just permeates the whole thing where there's meaning, but the sound was more important to me, because if it didn't sound right, I didn't think anyone would want to sing it, if that makes any sense. So, I was thinking about other freaks of nature, like musicians and athletes and things like that, and [American football player] Rob Gronkowski, who played for the [New England] Patriots, came to mind, as he was like an unstoppable force. And so those are just a couple of the things that weave their way into the song. But mainly, I was concerned about the sound, and luckily that phrase came into my mind, freak of nature, and I liked it. So I based all the lyrics off of that."

A week earlier, Mangini released a separate video message in which he spoke about the "source of the music" for "Freak Of Nature". He said: "One thing it isn't is a recreation of any band I've ever been in. I mean, why would I do that? I'm already working with, and have worked with, the best that do that. So it's not something I wanna do. Plus in DREAM THEATER, everyone's solo album sounds different than the final DREAM THEATER album."

He continued: "Anyway, one of the sources for me came from when I spent a dime ordering records from a company called Columbia House and, like, 912 LPs showed up. One of them was LED ZEPPELIN 'IV'. And when I put 'Black Dog' on, it did something to me. There was something about that riff. So over the years, I wrote some songs. And when it came time for this album, 'Freak Of Nature' was the first [song] written. And it's a riff. The thing is I had to learn how to write lyrics and melodies over the riff. But that's one of the sources, if you're interested."

Other tracks set to appear on Mangini's solo LP include "Invisible Signs", "Habit To Change", "Not Drowning", "Saying Sorry", "So Alive", "Glamorous Shades", "It's Noise" and "Seek And Find".

Regarding how she landed the gig as the singer in Mangini's solo band, Majura wrote on her social media: "When I was a young teenager, my awesome dad took me to a concert of a guitar player called [Steve Vai], who became one of the most meaningful musicians in my life and literally influenced who I became in life. He was on tour with this thing called 'G3'. I was little, but I was in the front row. Not only was I fascinated by Steve's performance, but also I realized for the first time what a drummer does: I understood when he hits the 'golden plates' it's a very treble-ish shhh-sound, when he does some thing with his feet, the big drum is producing a low-end sound of dummdumm and the 'white thing' (=snare) in the middle is being a very punchy loud sound. Little did I know that the drummer's name was [Mike Mangini] and when he gave me his drumstick at the end of the show… for a few days, I thought I'd become a drummer instead of a guitar player. All of this happened decades ago. So I can easily say that Mike Mangini was the first drummer that made me understand what a drummer does.

"2 decades later, I've already become an active professional touring musician, I met up with Mike again during a summer when DREAM THEATER played a lot of festival shows and I happened to play the same festivals with the band I was with back then. Mike and I started talking, met up at festival caterings, spent a bit of time in festival backstages together, I handed him my first solo album and told him the story of my childhood with the 'G3' concert…

"In 2020 I approached Mike to participate in my '1min jammms' YouTube Series and we had major fun performing Stevie Wonder's 'Sir Duke' together with my dear friend [Alex Skolnick]. Little did I expect that Mike would choose me to be the vocalist for his first solo album ever.

"If there are any meaningful things in life for me personally - this is it!!! I am beyond proud of this collaboration and I'm even more grateful to have gotten to known this amazing human being and finding a new friend for life through countless hours of Zoom and Facetime recording sessions."

Mangini joined DREAM THEATER in late 2010 through a widely publicized audition following the departure of Mike Portnoy, who co-founded DREAM THEATER more than 30 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".

Mangini made his name in the hard rock world in the mid-1990s when he played with EXTREME, before landing the gig with guitar legend Steve Vai in 1996. Nearly a decade later, Mangini took up a full-time teaching position at the world-renowned Berklee College Of Music.

DREAM THEATER won its first-ever Grammy in the "Best Metal Performance" category in the pre-telecast ceremony at the 64th annual Grammy Awards, which was held in April 2022 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. DREAM THEATER was nominated for "The Alien", a track from its 2021 album "A View From The Top Of The World". DREAM THEATER's previous Grammy nominations were for the song "On The Backs Of Angels", from 2011's "A Dramatic Turn Of Events" album, and the single "The Enemy Inside" from 2013's "Dream Theater".

This is gonna be a bit of a read🤓 - go down memory lane with me…
When I was a young teenager, my awesome dad took me to...

Posted by Jen Majura on Friday, September 29, 2023

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