By Carl Begai
For some diehard Dream Theater fans, vocalist James LaBrie’s new solo album, Static Impulse, is the equivalent of a kick in the teeth. At the very least it trashes the belief that LaBrie is “just” the singer, his creativity limited to composing vocal melodies and delivering them on stage. The new record proves this is anything but the case, with LaBrie and longtime collaborator Matt Guillory (keyboards) taking what became LaBrie’s signature sound on Elements Of Persuasion from 2005 and twisting it into something much more volatile. The most provocative element in this metamorphosis – no pun intended – is the involvement of Darkane drummer Peter Wildoer. Not only does he serve up trademark Swedish thrash from behind the kit as required, LaBrie and Guillory had the audacity to invite Wildoer to lay down full-on death metal vocals. Also as required, and much to the chagrin of Dream Theater purists.
“Well, like so many times before this was pure luck,” Wildoer says of being asked to sing, aware that some people are cursing that luck. “Matt and James knew they wanted Jens Bogren to mix the album here in Sweden, and Jens told Matt that he knew a great studio called Studiomega where he wanted the band to record the songs. Matt called a mutual friend of ours – Teddy Möller from F.K.Ü. – and asked him if he knew any Swedish drummers that he could recommend, and he recommended me. Very nice of him; thanks Teddy! Matt called me one night, introduced himself, and asked me if I wanted to play drums on James LaBrie’s new album. Of course I wanted to!”
Wildoer was initially hired on for the sole purpose of laying down the drum tracks for the album. As he tells it, his double duty as second vocalist came about purely by chance.
“James and Matt had absolutely no clue I did screaming/growling vocals. They were looking for a drummer and I didn’t know they wanted those kind of vocals. So yeah, initially it was just because of my drumming. A few weeks later I talked to Matt again and he told me they wanted a guest screamer/growler to do some parts and he asked me if I knew someone since I come from a thrash/death metal background. We talked about a few guys and then I just said that I actually did vocals on Darkane guitarist Christofer Malmström’s solo album, Non-Human Level. Matt asked me to send a song, and a couple days later he said that both him and James liked my screaming and wanted me to do it. Cool, if you ask me…”
“We had a great vibe in the studio and the other guys are some of the nicest guys I know. The whole recording was very relaxed even though we had to record all drums, bass, rhythm guitars, keyboards, and the solos in just two weeks. The guys are among the finest musicians I know and they nailed it. Amazing! Because of this cool climate in the studio I was very relaxed doing the vocals. I recorded all my vocals in about four hours one afternoon.”
“It was totally clear to what I was to sing,” he adds. “All the songs had demo vocals by Matt on them, and Matt did the screaming on those as well. I tried some different things in the studio and Matt really liked the frantic screaming so we went for that. I had a clear vision of what we were doing. It was great fun.”
Fun that Wildoer has been trashed for in the press numerous times since Static Impulse’s release; a classic case of the messenger getting shot for doing his job.
“I had absolutely no clue that my screaming would cause such a huge commotion among the Dream Theater fans. I’ve been playing and listening to thrash and death metal for twenty years, so to me this kind of vocals are totally natural. I’ve gotten a lot of bashing on internet from many Dream Theater fans who really hate my vocals. Some seem to think I told the other guys, ‘Hey, I can scream so I want to do it on James’ solo record…’ as if I decided the album should have screaming vocals. I’m very sorry if they can’t stand it, but Matt and James wanted those kind of vocals and like I said, I had no clue so many people would disapprove of it. On the other hand, a lot of people love the variety James’ and my different vocals bring to the table and that’s great.”
“With that said, there are equally many people who love the album and think it’s very cool James did something different than Dream Theater. I honestly think it’s very cool if someone’s solo efforts differ from what you expect. Personally, I have a very open mind towards music and listen to almost all kinds of music. I actually play a lot of different styles as well.”
While Wildoer’s vocals have quite naturally taken center stage with regards to his influence on Static Impulse’s sound, there’s no escaping the fact that his drums also play a key role. Once again, the blame has to be put on LaBrie and Guillory for the unexpectedly high level of aggression on some of the songs. Wildoer was simply the instrument that brought it to life.
“When I got involved on this album all songs were already demo-ed so I actually had no impact on the tempos of the songs. I have to give Matt and Marco (Sfogli / guitars) a lot of credit for how the drums came out. They did phenomenal work on programming the demo drums; very realistic and it was easy to understand what they wanted. Because of the great sounding demos I was very inspired to do the drum parts and I’m very happy with them. I did add my style, personality and some trademark drum fills, and the guys liked it. Good for me (laughs). Actually, after we recorded the first drum track (‘One More Time’) Ray (Riendeau / bass) came up to me and said something like ‘I’m kind of surprised you got away with those drum parts, didn’t think they were okay with such furious drumming…’ (laughs).”
“So far I’ve only gotten great reactions from the Darkane fans,” Wildoer continues. “They like what I did and think the album is great. I get a lot of mails from fans telling me they’re so happy that I get to reach some new fans and that new people will discover Darkane. All in all I’m very honored and happy to be a part of this record. I love the CD and think everybody should check it out.”
Asked if he has a favourite track from Static Impulse, Wildoer is hard pressed to pick one or two from the lot.
“I think there are many great songs on the album. A lot of albums usually have two or three great songs but Static impulse has a whole bunch of really great songs. It’s hard to pick one since I like a lot of them, but ‘Misled’, ‘One More Time’, ‘I Need You’, ‘Jekyll Or Hyde’, ‘This Is War’, ‘Just Watch Me’… (laughs) that’s already half of the album! I guess I can’t choose. I like all the songs not only for being such great songs but because I had so much fun recording them, and that’s really important to how I feel about a CD that I recorded. If there were a lot of stress and so on when recording I tend to get that vibe when I listen back to the album later, but here I’m just feeling great.”
The next step is to bring the new material to the stage. Plans for a fall tour in North America were cancelled due to unexpected visa issues, but dates are in planning for 2011 once said problems are resolved. Wildoer will indeed be part of the band line-up and has every intention of at least trying to play both of his roles in a live setting. One can’t help but feel sorry for him to some degree given the amount of work he’ll have to do to keep things together.
“(Laughs) So true. I actually feel sorry for myself! Actually, when I ‘composed’ my drum parts I didn’t know where the screaming vocals would be and how much. When we did my vocals I kind of figured that a lot of the screaming was on the most demanding drum parts. I’ve just tried to do some parts and scream at the same time, not easy (laughs). Doing those kind of vocals demand a lot of physical strength as well as the drumming does, so one very hard part is to get the power you need doing screams when playing drums. We’ve actually prepared some of my vocals on backing tracks if I can’t pull it off. Some people will think that’s very lame, but honestly, I prefer that the songs sound great on stage. I just can’t quit drumming and do the vocals so if I can’t make both I prefer the vocals on backing tracks. But, I promise to do my homework and will try to nail doing both.”
In the meantime, he’s focused on Darkane’s next outing.
“We have eight songs finished and three or four more songs that we’re working on so we’ll soon have everything in place to start rehearsing the songs and start recording. Looking forward to that tremendously. So if everything rums smooth we’ll start recording this winter.”
Thanks to his involvement with LaBrie, it comes as no surprise that Wildoer has been tagged by the rumour mill as the successor to drummer Mike Portnoy’s Dream Theater throne behind the kit. Portnoy shocked the metal world – not only Dream Theater fans – in September 2010 when he announced he was leaving the band he co-founded to pursue other musical endeavours.
“I heard Dream Theater for the first time in the spring of 1993 when I saw the video for ‘Pull Me Under’ on MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball,” Wildoer recalls. “I was blown away by the song and taped the video on my VHS and watched it a lot of times. I bought the album and was hooked. I think Dream Theater is an awesome band and also very important one, there are thousands of kids that started practicing on their instruments because of those guys.”
“There are a lot of people mailing me and contacting me through Facebook who want me to audition for Dream Theater, and I can totally see them thinking that since I’m on James’ new CD. That’s not my decision to make. I’m also extremely flattered they think I could pull it off. I would of course consider it if I was asked – it’s the hottest drum stool in the metal business – but it’s not an easy position to fill. I personally think it would be impossible to replace Portnoy. He’s a founding member, great drummer, huge personality, and loved by the Dream Theater fans. Whoever gets the Dream Theater gig will have to bring his own style and personality to the band, cross his fingers and hope that he will be accepted by the fans… most likely after quite some time.”
“I’ve read some comments where people are saying that they don’t want me as the new drummer because I would bring more screaming vocals to Dream Theater. That wouldn’t be my decision. James is the vocalist of that band and I personally think they sound the best when it’s just his clear voice singing their songs.”
– Peter Wildoer photos by Peter Johansson (1) and Jeff Gerew (2)
– LaBrie / Guillory promo shot by Dave Lepori