Dream Theater Planting Seeds for Album No. 13

Roadrunner Records

Dream Theater

Dream Theater is getting ready to hit the road to support its self-titled 12th studio album, but the group's John Petrucci says lucky No. 13 is already in the prog-metal quintet's ambitious crosshairs.

"Some initial conversations have already started," the guitarist-producer-lyricist tells Billboard. "There are some song ideas and little things like that -- nothing really official, but the seeds just start to get planted. One of the great things about this career is that you have the opportunity every time to go in and start again with a blank slate and think, 'What can we do differently? How can we make this better?' Where can we go from here?' Every album has a story, and to constantly have a fresh opportunity to do it is really satisfying."

But Dream Theater -- which also released a new concert DVD, "Live at Luna Park," during the fall -- has plenty on its plate getting ready for its tour, which kicks off Jan. 15 in Portugal and winds through Europe until March 2, with a North American leg kicking off March 20 in Toronto. Singer James LaBrie says the group is busy "re-learning the material," both old and new, but he's happy that there's been a few months since "Dream Theater's" Sept. 24 release -- and No. 7 debut on the Billboard 200 -- to let the new music sink in with fans. 

"In the past we've been out touring before the actual album comes out," LaBrie notes, "so maybe we'll sneak one or two songs from it into the set. Over the last three to five years we've talked about how it would be great if we could start to make our cycle unfold so the albums are out at least a few months before we go hit the stage. That lets people digest the music so that when we want to play the new songs, they're actually familiar with it."

Petrucci notes that it also gives Dream Theater more time to familiarize itself with live arrangements of the intricate material -- this time out including "Illumination Theory," a five-part, 22-plus minute piece that closes the set. 

"When you're writing a piece like that, you're kinda doing it a section at a time," Petrucci explains. "We'll record a bit of it and more from that point, maybe build or edit, but we never actually have played the entire song together from beginning to end. So when we're in rehearsals it's always fun and challenging to go back and actually learn what we did and try to memorize the whole piece in its entirety. You really have to get your chops up and play it as if it's not an effort at all. Eventually it does get to that point -- after a lot of work. But it's a lot of fun, too."

Petrucci and LaBrie say the "Dream Theater" album also represents, to them, a new beginning for the group. Though drummer Mike Mangini was part of 2011's "A Dramatic Turn of Events" after founding skinsman Mike Portnoy quit, this time he was more involved in the writing and creative process. 

"We wanted to establish right away that he was going to be in the studio from day one and involved in everything and we were going to get his influence and his signature on the music," Petrucci explains. "That worked out really great, and I think it's evident on the album. It took a unified effort to get us to this point; it's always tough when a band member leaves, especially in (Portnoy's) case, who was with us from the beginning. That was a major change in our band, but it happens, right? Band members leave. Band personnel changes. But to us it was about how we move forward from that point. Because we approached it in a forward-moving and positive way and had that unified attitude, all the decisions were the right ones, and it's definite a testament to how tight we are as a band, and as friends. We're very happy with the situation now."

Dream Theater expects to be on the road throughout 2014, and Petrucci says the group is planning "a cool event in Boston" that it plans to announce soon. The band also plans to document the tour with another live DVD; "It's just a matter of determining where the best place is to do that," the guitarist says.