Influenced by the progressive rock music of the 1970s, New York’s Dream Theater managed to combine the technically difficult, heavily orchestrated style of their mentors with the heavy metal power of the 1980’s. From the mid-1980s and all the way through the alternative grunge rock scene of the 1990s, Dream Theater stayed true to their heavy-metal-meets-progressive-rock direction without swaying with the trends. “It’s like an unwritten rule that we don’t chase trends,” guitarist John Petrucci told Michael Mehle in Denver’s Rocky Mountain News. “The music scene changes so often—what’s popular, what’s on top of the charts—that it’s best just to stay focused.”
The spark of what eventually ignited the formation of Dream Theater happened in September of 1985. Longtime friends John Petrucci and bassist John Myung were attending the prestigious Berklee School of Music in Boston, where they met drummer Mike Portnoy and discovered they had many things in common. Not only did they have the same musical interests, but all three hailed from Long Island in New York. “It was obvious that all our heads were in the same place.” Portnoy said in the band’s record company biography, “and to find that they were from home was amazing because [there’re] people from all over the world at Berklee.”
When the trio returned to Long Island for their winter break, they began rehearsing with keyboardist Kevin Moore, who was attending the Fredonia School of Music and had played with Myung and Petrucci in their high school band Centurion. “There weren’t many real keyboard players performing in rock when I broke in,” Moore told Robert L. Doerschuk in Keyboard, “and that left it wide open for me.”
Early the next year, the group found singer Chris Collins and the five musicians formed a band called Majesty. After the summer of their first year in music school, the members decided to leave their education behind and focus on their band. They took regular jobs and spent much of their free time writing, rehearsing, and performing. Later that year, they recorded a six-song demo tape, which they sold to local fans and sent out to record labels. In November of 1986, the group decided that Collins didn’t have enough of a vocal range to fit the music they were writing, and they began to search for a new singer.
After auditioning nearly 100 singers, they settled Charlie Dominici in 1987. Dominici was quite a bit older than any of the other members, but seemed to fit their requirements at the time. In 1988, a fledgling record label, Mechanic Records, signed Majesty as their first artist, but after the ink was dry, they discovered that another band owned the trademark to the name Majesty. While the band brainstormed to find a new name, Portnoy’s father called them from California to suggest Dream Theater, the name of a movie theater in Monterey, California. Petrucci recalled their surprise at the perfect suggestion to Valerie Potter in Metal Hammer, “It’s not too often that your father thinks of the name of your band!”
With their new moniker in place, Dream Theater released their debut When Dream and Day Unite in 1988. Since Mechanic Records had just started, the company didn’t have the budget for a video or tour for the band, so the group continued to play shows throughout the New York tri-state area and work their regular jobs. Despite the lack of exposure, Dream Theater received critical praise and word-of-mouth fans. “To say the least, this is a bit different from the norm, and it certainly explores the musical spectrum,” wrote Brian Pithers in Metal Hammer. Tom Mulhern wrote in his Guitar Player review,” When Dream and Day Unite features speedy licks and complex interplay by the guitarist and bassist as keyboards swirl and the drums tear through the songs like a Ferrari down a narrow alley.”
In 1990, Dream Theater fired Dominici from the group, and began another search for a singer. “He had the experience that Chr’rs [Collins] didn’t, but after awhile, it became evident that he wasn’t the singer we were looking for,” Portnoy said in the band’s record company
Members include Chris Collins (left band, 1987), vocals; Charlie Dominici (joined band, 1987; left band, 1991), vocals; James LaBrie (born Kevin James LaBrie), vocals; Kevin Moore (joined band, 1986; left band 1994), keyboards; John Myung, bass; John Petrucci, guitar; Mike Portnoy, drums; Derek Sherinian, keyboards.
Band formed as Majesty in New York, 1985; vocalist Chris Collins was replaced by Charlie Dominici, 1987; signed to Mechanic Records and released When Dream and Day Unite, 1988; Kevin LaBrie replaced Charlie Dominici, 1991; signed to EastWest Records, 1991; released major label debut, Images and Words, 1992; Derek Sherinian replaced Kevin Moore, 1994.
Addresses: Record company —EastWest Records, 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10019.
biography. The remaining members thought they would be able to find a replacement relatively quickly, however, the search ended up taking almost two years. “We were very picky,” continued Portnoy, “because the four of us set such high standards for each other, we didn’t want to sell ourselves short on the fifth member.”
Dream Theater continued to write new songs and perform in the New York area as an instrumental four-piece band. After auditioning around 200 singers, they found Kevin LaBrie, who was playing in a Toronto band called Winter Rose. When LaBrie joined Dream Theater, he decided to use his middle name, James, since the band already had two members named John and having two Kevins would be even more confusing.
With their lineup solidified, Dream Theater signed a record contract with EastWest Records. In 1992, their first major label release Images and Words arrived in stores. The album was produced by David Prater, and this time, the band was able to increase their fan base. Their videos appeared on MTV, and Dream Theater embarked on their first world tour called “Music in Progress.” Images and Words went gold in Japan, and the group played a sold-out tour there, as well as dates throughout Europe and in Korea. “The Japanese are so devoted to music; it’s really inspiring,” Petrucci told Andy Widders-Ellis in Guitar Player. During their European tour, Dream Theater recorded a live album at London’s famed Marquee nightclub called Live at the Marquee.
In March of 1994, the group returned to the studio. Two months later, they temporarily relocated to Los Angeles to work with producers John Purdell and Duane Baron on their next album. Halfway through the recording, keyboardist Kevin Moore decided to leave the band citing musical differences. “I came to the decision that I needed to concentrate on my own musical identity and that a split with the band would be the best thing for both the band and myself,” Moore stated in a press release. After his departure, Moore moved to New Mexico and began working on a solo project.
On October 4, 1994, Dream Theater released A wake and the single “Lie.” The album debuted at number 34 on Billboard’s album charts, sold 50, 000 copies in Germany within the first week of its release, and reached platinum sales in Japan. Before they took off on their next world tour, Dream Theater found keyboardist Derek Sherinian to fill in for Moore. Sherinian had played with Alice Cooper, Kiss, and would eventually join Dream Theater on a full time basis.
The group released an EP later that year called A Change of Seasons. Produced by Prater, the title track clocked in at about 22 minutes in length and became legendary among Dream Theater’s fans. “The way that we write is maybe somewhat different,” said singer LaBrie. “We start a song, and we don’t end that song until we feel the message has been completed.” The other songs on the record were live recordings from Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London, England.
In 1996, Dream Theater played five shows on what they called “Fix for ’96,” where they played some of the new material they were working on at the time. They did the same sort of mini tour in Europe the following year called “Fix for ’97”. On September 23, 1997, they released the Kevin Shirley produced Falling Into Infinity. Writing for Bass Player, Karl Coryat wrote, “Falling Into Infinityls an intense listen—at times fatiguing to the ear, but still highly enjoyable. If you can move someone with something simple or beautiful, or play something so complex that it makes someone nervous—that’s the allure to me,” Petrucci told Mehle in the Rocky Mountain News. Throughout their career, Dream Theater ignored the passing trends and continually stayed in touch with their own musical direction. “The minute you try to fit a trend, it’s going to change, and you’re going to be left in the dust,” Portnoy told Sparky in Loudmouth Magazine. “If you just do what you do, that’s where you create your own sound, and that’s the kind of stuff that’s timeless.”
When Dream and Day Unite, Mechanic Records, 1988.
Images and Words, EastWest Records, 1992.
Awake, EastWest Records, 1994.
A Change of Seasons, EastWest Records, 1995.
Falling Into Infinity, EastWest Records, 1997.
Bass Frontiers, November/December 1997.
Bass Player, January 1998, April 1998.
Guitar Player, June 1989; January 1990; December 1993; January 1998.
Kerrang!, March 11, 1989.
Keyboard, April 1993.
Loudmouth Magazine, November 1997.
Metal Hammer, No. 5/1989; October 1994.
Music Street Journal, March 1998.
Rocky Mountain News (Denver, Colorado), November 5, 1997.
Shockwaves, Number 2, 1997.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from Mechanic Records press materials, 1988; and EastWest Records press materials, 1997.
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