Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Talking to Dream Theater's Mike Mangini

I have been a fan of Dream Theater since Images and Words came out in 1992. I bought the CD and eventually the record. I have also seen them three times all in New York City and with former drummer Mike Portnoy (I used to live in NYC). When the band comes over to Manila next week, this will be my first time to catch them with Mike Mangini on drums.

We got a chance to chat with Dream Theater drummer Mike Mangini last Sunday several hours after their big concert in Seoul, Korea. The man was engaging and passionate. What follows are just a few questions and answers.

Rick: Hi, Mike! How’s the tour going?

Mike: It’s fabulous. We’re all having a great time!

Rick: I’ll jump right into the questions since we do not have a lot of time.

Mike: Shoot!

Rick: Mike, when you auditioned for Dream Theater, you had to play, “A Nightmare to Remember”, “Dance of Eternity”, and “The Spirit Carries On”. Now what is it like learning to play and perform the songs from Images and Words?

Mike: It’s simply fun. I don’t know if that’s the word. I am not just talking about playing the drums and being on stage. What I am talking about how tight the band sounds. How solid it sounds paying tribute to that music. For me, it is personally wonderful to have my bandmates be happy with how I am playing it (the album).

Rick: Let’s talk about that monstrous drum kit you are using for the Images, Words & Beyond Tour. How on Earth did that design come about?

Mike: The kind of design is definitely to orchestrate. I was an orchestrally trained percussionist so the different pitches of the drums have meaning to me. The different pitches with the symbols have meaning to me in an orchestral way. If the music demands big drums being hit, I do not want to be hitting a tiny little jazz drum. It’s not going to fit. I need to have a spectrum to orchestrate. The other aspect of it to me, I don’t know a better word to use right now but it is a fulfilment almost on a spiritual kind of level. I am talking about who we want to be; who we aspire to be. We try to be better. Just to be better. The drum kit is an extension of me not worrying what anyone says or thinks whether they like it or don’t like it. not. I know it is the right extension of my soul. So on two levels, to orchestrate and two, to makes me happy in a fulfillment kind of way.

Rick: Speaking of drums, let me backtrack a bit, do you still teach at Berklee?

Mike: I resigned as soon as I got the Dream Theater job though I finished my commitment. There is just no way to combine them. I love teaching and my colleagues. There was just too much of a clampdown. They do not have this substitute teacher kind of thing. This required me to be there too much. I would have loved to balance it.

Rick: When you found out that you won Dream Theater drummer’s job, that was a good 10 minutes where you rambled, waxed ecstatic, and well, lost it. Six plus years later, do you still feel that way; like pinch yourself and go, ‘damn, I have the best job in the world!’ How do you feel about it and everything that has happened?

Mike: You’re right. However, I have a job to do. It’s waking up each day. And I keep my thoughts simple. I need to feel well. I have to eat. I have to be well. I needs to learn songs. I need to do my job.

The way I see it there is trash to empty, there’s leaves to rake, there are people to take care of, there are things to do. I am not thinking too much about that moment but I never forget. Put it that way. I remember it and it makes me feel grateful. And I definitely hold on to it but I am of the frame of mind that I just have so much work to do. I am just trying to do my work. So it’s a little balance of both.

Rick: Thanks for your time, Mike. Never lose that passion. I’ll see you in Manila!

Mike: All right! I look forward to seeing you too. Thanks for your time as well.


Here's my piece on the band coming to Manila with conversations with James, JM, Mike, and Jordan.


Monday, September 18, 2017

Manila-bound Dream Theater is living the dream

From their show in Rome.

Manila-bound Dream Theater is living the dream
by rick olivares picture is from the band themselves and used with permission

Dream Theater bassist John Myung put it best when he said in a phone interview with us this past Sunday, September 17, a few hours after their concert in Seoul, Korea: “Those sort of things you don’t plan. They just happen.”

Myung was referring to the band’s longevity (they’ve been together for over three decades but have been recording albums since 1989) and the numerous accolades they have received in their stellar career.

The American progressive rock band is in the midst of an 11-month word tour called Images, Words & Beyond that celebrates the 25th anniversary of their second album, Images and Words, which is universally acclaimed as one of rock music’s best albums of all time. The tour has taken them to Europe, Asia, and by year’s end back in their playing field of North America. And this coming September 25, they will be performing for the first time in the Philippines at the KIA Theater in Cubao.

We caught up with vocalist James LaBrie and Myung a few hours before they were to depart for Sydney, Australia. LaBrie and Myung were a part of the band during Images and Words’ recording along with guitarist John Petrucci who was unfortunately unavailable at the time of the interviews. However, keyboardist Jordan Rudess and drummer Mike Mangini who weren’t a part of Dream Theater at that point in time (the keyboardist then was Kevin Moore with Mike Portnoy on drums) but we were able to pick their thoughts about the band’s staying power as well as the classic that is Images and Words.

“The tour is going great and the shows have been selling out,” said Myung. “Our second album was our biggest album to date (over 600,000 copies sold) and to see people come out to re-live that period of the band’s career feels good. It feels right to go back and celebrate that moment. When I look back at that record, I see it as a point in our career where everything fell into place. It was something special and unique about that record. it had a certain sound to it. the ideas we had on that record to the way it was produced to the way it came out it was a perfect time.”

For LaBrie, Images and Words was his first album with Dream Theater. For the band’s debut, When Dream and Day Unite, their lead singer was Charlie Dominici while their record label was Mechanic/MCA.

When the album failed to sell, the label dropped them. The band also parted ways with Dominici.

After being without a vocalist for two years, Dream Theater auditioned some 200 vocalists before setting on LaBrie.

Recalled LaBrie of the day he joined the band, “When I came down to New York (where the band is based), I did most of the first album, When Dream and Day Unite, then we jammed on some songs from (what would eventually be) Images and Words. I think we did “Pull Me Under” and jammed on songs like “Lovin, Touchin, Squeezing” by Journey and some others.

It all went down great. We went through two songs and they looked at one another and said, ‘You’re our man’. We jammed on more songs then we went out to grab a bite then went to record a demo the next day.

New record company Atco signed them and the rest is history. Images and Words went on to become their best-selling album and has been consistently named as one of the 100 Best Metal or Prog Rock albums of all time (they also have three other records that have made some industry or trade magazine ‘best of’ lists).

“When this album came out in 1992, it stuck out like a sore thumb,” pointed out LaBrie. “Everything else that was going on at that time was Guns N Roses, Alice in Chains Nirvana, Pearl Jam -- these were the bands hitting it bigtime and were on radio. Images and Words found its path and it is quite amazing. Here we are 25 years later after several albums and we’re still doing it. It’s cool and there is a feeling of accomplishment that you did something in an industry that is unforgiving so to speak.”

Rolling Stone magazine, considered to be the bible when it comes to rock music trumpeted the album, “Images laid out the various sides of the band's musical personality, from anthemic prog rock ("Take the Time") to racing, metal-tinged workouts ("Under a Glass Moon") and New Age–y power balladry ("Another Day"). But it was with gonzo epics like "Metropolis – Part I: 'The Miracle and the Sleeper'" and the 10-minute-plus closer "Learning to Live" that Dream Theater fully flexed their musical muscle, demonstrating an awesome instrumental facility and power.”

For drummer Mike Mangini who came on board with their 2011 opus, A Dramatic Turn of Events, playing the Images and Words album in its entirety during the tour is “fun”.

“It’s simply fun,” gushed the passionate Massachusetts native. “I don’t know if that is the word to use but I am not just talking about playing the drums but I am talking about how tight the band sounds. It’s paying tribute to that music.”

LaBrie bared that their show – including the one in Manila – will be three hours long. “The first set will feature some of songs from various albums while the second set will be all from Images and Words. The encore will be A Change of Seasons (their 1995 EP release that feature the 23-minute title track plus some cover songs from Pink Floyd, Queen and Genesis to name a few).  

For the multi-talented Rudess who is regarded as one of rock music’s premier keyboardists, he said that it took a long time before Manila was included in their tour stops. “There are so many elements (when planning a tour),” offered Rudeness. “It’s complicated but I am happy that in this particular tour we’ve opened up new places that we’re coming to see you guys. We’re also going to India for the first time.”

“We look forward to the Manila show,” concluded LaBrie.

Hoping to get this signed! 

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Pinoy Rock legend Mike Hanopol hopes to release album about his life’s journey

Mike Hanopol hopes to release album about his life’s journey
by rick olivares

Like his Juan Dela Cruz Band cohort, Joey “Pepe” Smith, Mike Hanopol feels he has one more album in him. Yet unlike Smith who has yet to enter a studio, Hanopol is done recording. All 12 songs.

The problem is how to release them.

Back in the day, it was easy – the record company releases the album and he goes on a promotional tour on radio, on television, through the print media, and performing on stage. Nothing has changed except one vital bit – the local record companies are not the powerhouses they once were and a release now has an adjective attached to it… physical release.

Hanopol, who had traded his long hair, sunglasses, and hippie look for a more refined one (also befitting one of Pinoy Rock’s elder statesmen), is puzzled. Digital releases. Downloads. Streaming. Hanopol gets it. Yet he wonders in the vernacular if the times have passed him by in more ways than one.

“Iba,” he stressed about his new songs. “Iba. Parang spiritual.”

Hanopol converted to Judaism. Despite his newfound faith, Hanopol says that he didn’t follow the path that George Harrison took when he converted into Hinduism. “Harrison’s music even late in his career with the Beatles reflected the changes,” said Hanopol. “He used the sitar and later had songs that spoke of his faith.” Hindi ako. Iba.”

Hanopol thrice used the word “iba” in the past few minutes. While he doesn’t hide his being a rabbi, his music reflects his philosophies in life. May pagka-rock with ibang influences,” he is quick to point out.

The songs reflect his journey as a person and his life experiences. And speaking of his life experiences, Hanopol set the record straight on his “infamous” days driving a taxi in New York. “Hindi siya yung yellow cab,” dispelled the 71-year old musician. “Car service. Mga Mercedes Benz, limousine. Parang yung Uber ngayon. I would drive sa umaga tapos sa gabi, tugtugan na (with some Americans and US-based Filipinos).

He wrote songs about his life then but they were recorded by a little known band called, Maskulado. However, his new journey is documented in songs that he himself performed and recorded. “Special sa akin,” he said.  

Lest you think he has abandoned his rock nature, he has in mind two titles for his yet unreleased album. “Yung isang idea ko, ang title niya ay, ‘Tigasin’ at yung isa, “Okay lang”.

The possible title of ‘Tigasin’ sounds even more rock and roll than his three solo albums that all came out in the 1970s – his debut, “Awiting Pilipino”, “Buhay Musikero”, and “Buksan”.

The album though might not see the light of day. Some record executives listened to the album. “Pero hindi nila masakyan,” admitted Hanopol. “Hanap nila siguro pang-bata na tunog. So tignan natin. Kung hindi mangyari yan baka naman meron kaming pagkakataon na huling recording na Juan Dela Cruz Band?”

With Smith’s medical condition and should that happen, the seminal Pinoy supergroup might have to look to Hanopol or guitarist Wally Gonzalez to take the lead. Already in recent reunion shows, it is Hanopol who handles the mike duties.

The challenges, however, do not deter the Pinoy Rock icon. After all, if you think of the possible album titles he has for his fourth and unreleased solo album, they infer that Hanopol is very much around and in good health and spirits.