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Progressive Rock Interviews

Jordan Rudess

Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview with Jordan Rudess From 1999
MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: The Early Years Volume 5 at lulu.com/strangesound.


What contributions did you make to the ELP tribute album?
I played the keyboards on two of the tracks. On the Karn Evil track, which is a very long piece. I also did Hoedown. Two very fun things. Both of them had violinists as guest appearances. Karn Evil #9 had a friend of mine (well, they`re both friends). Mark Wood was playing on Karn Evil #9. On Hoedown, it`s a Jerry Goodman appearance. The way Magna Carta does it, though, you never actually get to be with anybody that you`re actually recording with. For instance, I now have in my credits I can now say, "oh, I played with Simon Phillips", but he was on tape. I never even shook his hand. He had laid down the drums beforehand, and Robert Berry had laid down the bass. It basically provided a rhythmic chart for us and some ideas for what was going to happen, and he sent me the ADAT. I did all my keyboards. Then my ADAT went out to Mark Wood, and then Robert sang on it, at least for Karn Evil. Hoedown was similar, but with different personnel.
MSJ: You were recently featured on the Fountains of Gold album. How did that come about?
Rick emailed me and told me about his project. We kind of communicated a bit. He asked me if I wanted to be involved. I said, "I`ll stop by one day at your studio and play a few things." So, I went by there and had a lovely time improvising, and spent a couple hours there, and that was it.
MSJ: What can you tell me about the new Dream Theater project, and how are you integrating into the band?
It`s going very well. We`ve done a couple weeks of recording so far. I feel very comfortable with the guys. I basically did two records with John and Mike with Liquid Tension Experiment, the second Liquid Tension coming out in May. We were very in to working together. As a matter of fact, when we went into the studio to start this, we felt like we were just continuing our work on our previous project, cause that had just ended. So, the only difference really in the studio (at least for now) was that John Myung was sitting there instead of Tony. John is a wonderful guy and a pleasure to work with. Occasionally I go "oh wow, this is Dream Theater". Musically it`s a different approach. I have a lot of musical ideas that I have put forward. We use a bunch of the ideas. The difference being that in Dream Theater they are a very established band, they`ve been around for years. There is a Dream Theater sound. Which has been evolving. Which has changed. This last album is not the same as three albums ago, etc. But, there`s definitely a concept behind Dream Theater, and the guys feel strongly within them what Dream Theater is all about. So, a new member coming in, anybody coming in, shakes things up a little bit. I got hired into this band because of who I am musically and the ideas that I have, the keyboard playing that I do. So, from one point of view, the guys are totally accepting of any idea that I have. But, from the other point of view, there`s gotta be someone who says, "Hey, that`s not a Dream Theater type riff." I would say that the other guys are conscious of any material that I submit, or even the stuff that they write. Is this something that is appropriate for Dream Theater? I might come in with something that`s somewhere between Zappa, Chopin and The Dregs. They might say, "That`s really cool.....but can you save it for your solo record?" Then I say, "You know what? You`re right. That really isn`t appropriate here." So, I depend on them to sort of guide that part of it.
MSJ: What sort of direction does it seem like the album is going to go in?
Well, if you take what Dream Theater was, and add a little bit of what people know from Liquid Tension, as far as my elements, I think that some of what it is going to be. The mentality behind this one is not so much trying to come up with commercial hits, or not of even trying to lean in that direction at all. We`re trying to write music that we all love. In some cases, that might mean that it`s not so progressive, but in a lot of cases, knowing me and the players involved, it`s going to be very progressive. The new record is going to be very meaty as far as its progressive content.
MSJ: What is the latest on Liquid Tension Experiment?
We did some live shows. It was great fun. We did New York. We went out to LA. We played Philadelphia. I think we did four shows in all. They went very well. It was very exciting. People who managed to get to these four shows all felt like it was cool, because it may never happen again. The album is done. It should be coming out in May, I think. I`m really excited about that record. It`s such a cool album. It`s really great. It`s about the same balance of jamming and written tunes. It`s about half-and-half. The CD is going to be packed. In the middle of recording, John Petrucci`s wife went into labor. So, we stopped basically in the middle of a tune. What happened was he went home, directly to the hospital. We kept playing a bit, laid down the track, did some more jamming. When we got back together, a month later, we finished the tune. There`s a section on the new record, where it starts off with the sound of a baby crying, which is dedicated to John. The name of the tune is "When the Water Breaks". It`s the tune we started when he was there, and in the middle his wife called and said, "hey, come home?"
MSJ: What would you like to tell me about your time in The Dregs?
One of the best things that came out of that was the Rudess/Morgenstein Project. I`m very proud of that record. I think it is really great. That`s the best thing for me that came out of The Dregs. Playing in The Dregs was a wonderful experience, and Steve Morse has got to be one of my favorite guitarists of all time. To stand next to him every night on stage and play, and to trade riffs with him and Jerry Goodman, with Rod playing drums, Dave Larue. It was a great band. It was just a whole lot of fun. I did one tour with them, thirty concerts, forty concerts. It was just a great experience, playing with the masters. Whenever a musician plays with other musicians, especially ones who are as great as the caliber of those guys, there is always so much to learn. I learned something from each and every one of them. Steve as the composer, kind of the driving force behind The Dregs, it was all open ears, I just wanted to get as much as I could from the experience. He taught me a lot. I had never been in a band like that before. The Dregs are a very unique band with a lot of soloing going on, a lot of great players. One of the things that Steve made me very aware of, which I had, of course, heard before, as a musician, was that when somebody`s playing, not only do you play less, but you play quieter. Even if you`re like a chops guy, you lay back, you just groove. Then when it`s your turn, you can do whatever you want. Steve was very much into, "Ok, that guy is soloing, be cool, lay back, play less, do less, you`ll have a chance". That was a very important lesson for a bandleader to teach his group. Even though I had heard that before, I had never been in a situation where I had to so actively be conscious of that. You have all these great players and everybody has to shine. Rod is, in my opinion, the most amazing, greatest rock drummer on the planet. Just playing with him is always a total pleasure. As a matter of fact, the first time I saw him play with The Dregs, as a fan in the audience, I was like, oh my god, this drummer, I`ve got to have him play on my music. Then I wound up in the band, and then having a duo with him. So, dreams do come true.
MSJ: Who would you consider to be your musical influences?
The Partridge Family, that`s a big influence <laughing>. I studied a lot of classical music. That`s really the foundation of what I do, classical music and classical studies as far as technical and harmonic and everything. I went from listening to a lot of classical music, and playing a lot of classical music to listening to a lot of progressive rock. The groups that influenced me the most I would say, are groups like ELP, Gentle Giant, old Genesis, a lot of Yes, and King Crimson, and Pink Floyd, all those bands. I like a lot of the spacier, more synthesized stuff like Tangerine Dream. Turning a knob on a Moog synthesizer completely changed my life. Getting my Moog synthesizer was one of the greatest things that ever happened to me, because I learned every sound that machine made without knowing anything technical about the thing. You have all these knobs that are labeled things like "cut off filter", "emphasis", "attack", "decay" and "release", oscillator this, different wave forms. I had no idea what any of that was, but I knew, if I turned a dial in a certain direction, what every combination of those dials would do. So, I was playing space music, like Tangerine Dream. I would have one hand on the knobs and one hand on the keys. I was always turning something, one of the knobs gradually to change the sound, or change the pitch or add modulation or do this or that. And then, slowly but surely, as a few years went by, I gradually learned what a filter is, or what emphasis means, or resonance or ADSR and all these synthesizer terms. It was like "Oh! That`s what it is. OK, I understand now. Low frequency oscillator, cool." Now, people think that I`m like a technical person, because I always manage to get what I want out of these synthesizers, no matter what. If I want the thing to glide two octaves and then come to an immediate stop, I`ll figure out a way to do it, but I never considered myself to be a technical person. If it has to do with music and technology, I`ll figure out what it is I need to do. Nowadays, I use Kurzweil synthesizers. That`s all I use really. I have my minimoog. I sample that or do a bit. Everything I`m doing is on Kurzweil now. They`re great. The reason I like them is because they put the whole synthesizer world and sampling world together in the same technology. They`re able to mix. Let`s say I`ve sampled a minimoog. I`ll sample a filter sweep, or some kind of weird modulation. Put in the Kurzweil. Then all of the sudden, I wanna double it, I wanna pan it out, I wanna add a band pass filter, and also, want to add to add some shapers, some different algorithms. You can take the sound, you can sample it, and from there you can do anything to it. It`s really cool.
MSJ: What other musicians would you like to work with?
I really want to do a project with Trevor Rabin. I was trying to contact him a while ago. So far we haven`t been able to get it together, but perhaps in the future we can do that. I always wanted to work with Jon Anderson of Yes. To have him sing on something that I write. All the old heroes from the progressive days would be great.
MSJ: What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?
The first time I sat in the room with the manager, the business manager, the lawyer and the band (Dream Theater), I felt like I was in Spinal Tap. Not because it was so weird what was going on, but just cause here we are a bunch of rock musicians and you`ve got all the guys and they`re talking about the numbers and everything, and I don`t know what they`re talking about. It was a funny, funny scene. The other guys, I`m sure knew what they were talking about, they`d been in the band. I don`t know what to talk about. I`m just sitting there with my ears open, hoping to learn something. You`ve got all these numbers people, then you`ve got the rock band.
MSJ: What was the last CD you bought?
It was Prokofiev`s piano concertos. Before that, I bought the CD of the Tchaikovsky symphonies. As far as rock goes, I think I bought Spocks Beard`s Kindness of Strangers. A lot of the CD`s I buy right now are to try to fill in my collection.
MSJ: If you were stranded on a desert island, what five discs would you want with you?
I would want Close to the Edge. I would want Jimi Hendrix Electric Ladyland, two discs, but we`ll count that as one. I would want Trick of the Tail, by Genesis. I would want Dark Side of the Moon and Gentle Giant Free Hand.
MSJ: What was the last concert you attended?
The last concert I saw was the Deep Purple/ELP/Dream Theater show. I saw it twice. I really enjoyed it.
 
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