Interview with John Myung – Dream Theater USA

This past November, Dream Theater USA had the opportunity to catch up with John Myung before the show in Rochester, NY. Myung discusses a variety of topics including the fans reaction to the Images, Words and Beyond tour, its impact on the new Dream Theater album, how his practice regimen has changed over the years, what’s next for the Jelly Jam, and how to stay inspired musically. He also discusses one of his pastimes on the road, golf.
How has the Images, Words and Beyond tour been received?

It’s been received really well and we’re having a really good time. It just seems like the perfect thing to do at this point, to kind of re-establish ourselves with that period of our history that was a breakthrough moment for us. There’s something natural about revisiting that period, sort of like coming full circle. For a lot of fans it’s coming back and revisiting that period too. I’ve run into fans that are coming out because they were there 25 years ago, and they haven’t necessarily seen us recently, but it’s the fact that we are playing this record that is bringing out the fans.  It also gives our younger fan base that didn’t get a chance to hear that part of our history, to hear it.

What are the reactions now to Images and Words compared to the reaction back in 1992?

It’s interesting because with the older fans there tends to be a lot more singing going on. They know the record inside and out. It also seems to have struck a chord with our younger fan base, where they just think it’s really cool. It has this sort of timeless element to it. It doesn’t seem dated.

Are you approaching the songs any differently this time around?

We are playing the record a half step lower. This gives the album, the way it sits, a little bit more of a darker and heavier feel, which I think is very cool.

What is the inspiration and story behind Learning to Live, and was that the first song you’ve ever written?

Yes. (Learning to Live) was just this collection of thoughts, and what I was feeling growing up in that period of life (early 20s). I think when you are young, you are looking for something to speak to you. Something that is telling you that this is your calling… “this must be it”. There’s that sense of adventure where you are really trying to find something to kind of align your life with purpose.

You create, and form, and mold something into a song, lyrically, but you don’t really realize it. As I am reading, I’ll collect words and thoughts, and I’ll write them down. I don’t necessarily know why these words are gravitating towards me, but they jump off the page.  So I collect a bunch of words, phrases, and sentences and it turns into a song.  Looking back it’s exactly what the song is… what I see missing in the world and I just want to find my own place and not necessarily be constrained or influenced by a lot of the negativity in the world.

Did you always feel a calling in music? 

Around 1979 or 1980, probably around that period, it felt really strong that this is what I really wanted to do. I happened to play bass, and connecting with music thru that instrument was just very real for me.

With all the changes in the music industry what is the best way for the fans to support Dream Theater right now?

What makes a music fan is just looking forward to every new album, spending time with it. I don’t think anybody can tell someone how to appreciate something, but the fact that there are people that appreciate what we do, it’s a blessing and something we don’t take for granted.

Me being a fan of other bands and other music, I think it’s more of our job to evolve and stay interesting. To have our purpose be our purpose, and have other people relate to that, and find out how it relates to them. Hopefully we can continue to evolve and be pertinent musically, and continue to reach people. As it is now, 25 years later, it’s incredible to see the turnover in our audience where we have fans we have grown up with, they have gotten married and they have children, and now they are bringing their kids out. It’s really amazing to see that.

 Do you think revisiting Images and Words will make an impact on the direction for the next album?

I see it having a definite impact on the next album. It’s realigning ourselves and recalibrating with what is that we do well, and what is that we do well that reaches the most people. I see our next record aligning with that perspective.

How do you continue challenging yourself musically and creatively, and stay inspired?

Music is so vast and there’s so much to learn. At this point, I am looking forward to doing things and studying things that I may not necessarily use (in Dream Theater). Like learning upright bass, or learning cello.  I have an electric upright bass at home, a Ned Steinberger design. Even if I can spend a half hour per day, just touching the instrument, and thinking in that way. It’s more about doing things that keep you sharp, and not really worrying about whether or not I’ll be able to utilize it in the band. I think it’s more important to be doing something musical.

I am also recording ideas at soundcheck. I collaborate with Ty Tabor and Rod Morgenstein, in the Jelly Jam. We do fun things. Like right before this tour started, we had the summer off, and we shot a video for one of our songs. Just doing fun things outside the band, and just focusing on things that are personal that I feel help keep me in the right musical perspective.

Any plans for the Jelly Jam?

I was talking with Ty right before I came out, and John (Petrucci) is going to be doing G3 for awhile, so I am going to have some time off.  So I think probably in late January, I’ll get together with Ty and Rod and work on some ideas for another future Jelly Jam album.

Switching gears, what is a very interesting place you’ve gotten to visit while touring?

We got to visit a lot of new places this tour. Yogyakarta in Indonesia is a really amazing place. Dubai, is another one. It’s really interesting to see places in the World that you haven’t visited like Mubai, India. On days off, I try to get out and play golf. In Dubai we had to go golfing at night because it was 120 degrees during the day so you couldn’t do anything. So my first nightime golfing was in Dubai. We went golfing at 10pm and it was amazing how they had it lit up. Got to play golf in Yogyakarta too which was very interesting. Getting to see the golf course, for me, it speaks volumes in terms of (getting) a sense of the feel of the city you are in.

What is your practice regimen nowadays? Do you still practice 6 hours a day?

I try to get at least 2 1/2 hours of warming up before a show. In general, when I am at home, I’ll always find 3 hours-worth of something I have to do, whether it’s preparing for a tour, or new material we are working into a set, or something special that we are going to add in.

Like Portrait of Tracy, Jaco Pastorius’ harmonic piece, that was something that I had to put in my routine so that I could keep it close to me. There’s always a minimum of 3 hours of stuff you have to do. When you are a professional musician, and it becomes a job, it can easily go over that.

When I am at home there are other things to balance, other things to do, but a minimum of 3 hours, and I try to get it done in the morning. I am morning person, I like waking up early and then after the 3 hours are done, then the rest of the day can take over.

Following the interview, John Myung and Jordan Rudess joined us during our DT USA preshow meetup and spent time chatting with everyone and taking photos. It was an afternoon to remember.

Interview by Victoria Martinez for DT USA , a chapter of DT World

Very special thanks to John Myung, Rikk Feulner, and Kim Sakariassen

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