Posted on by Oran

With the release of their 15th studio album just a few weeks ago, Overdrive caught up with Dream Theater drummer, Mike Mangini to talk about how they put the album together as well as the abrupt ending to their spectacular ‘Distance Over Time’ / ‘Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From A Memory’ 20th-anniversary tour. 

Sitting behind a monstrous drum kit in his home studio, a very chipper Mike Mangini is preparing himself for an afternoon of online drum classes with some of his fans.

Despite the band being forced to abruptly stop their critically-acclaimed tour schedule for ‘Distance Over Time‘ / ‘Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From A Memory‘ 20th-anniversary celebration back in 2020, the smiling stickman is full of chat today, and is excited about the prospect of taking their excellent new album back out on the road again come, 2022. 

We begin our conversation on the new album before his thoughts on his own career, which include working with the likes of Extreme, Annihilator and Steve Vai [to name but a few].

OD – Talk us through the new album ‘A View from the Top of the World‘ which was released last month. More specifically, let’s start with the writing process for this album as we all know that touring plans had to be suddenly aborted because of the pandemic. Did this material come about as a result of this unexpected free time, or were some of the ideas already in place?

MANGINI – To my knowledge, we really had nothing prepared prior to approaching this album. We presented everything right in the moment, and all five of us took part in the writing process, including James [Labrie, vocals] who was singing melodies and making suggestions on guitars, drums, keys, bass… etc.

What’s cool about this for me personally is that getting ideas from the other guys really keeps things fresh and exciting. Thankfully, I work with a really great bunch of guys that are all in this for the same reason. We don’t want to leave any stone unturned and untimely, produce the best album that we can.

OD – In terms of the drum patters for this album, were there any particular tracks that you re-visited between the writing and recording?

MANGINI – It’s not out of the ordinary to have all of the equipment involved with the albums sound completed. Meaning we knew exactly what we wanted before we recorded for the final take on the album. This is especially relevant to the drums. I was exploring different sounds and patterns, and if there was something that I knew was a “keeper” then I would keep that locked in.

So, when I went from my recording day, a lot of the stuff was done during that writing process, but when I went back for that recording process, I got to sit back and really listen to what I was doing, and there was a few points where I was like: “Ahh… perhaps I should use a different pattern or sound here“, and I would revert back to another idea.

It’s really nice to be able to do that, plus the other thing is, whatever is done with the drums, ultimately changes the overall sound, so I had to sit down and record it then and there because the sound we harness when writing does not match the sound we achieve when recording, and we can’t have that. It’s a tough process, but to get it the same sound requires some extra work.

When you break it all down, Dream Theater is a product of the joy and love of five people that are all working to achieve the same thing. That’s how I know we all have each others backs, we all want to play something that works with everybody. Nobody is gonna play anything that’s not gonna work.

Our writing process really takes care of a lot of the decision-making prior to the recording process. We go through everything with a fine-tooth comb, and everybody contributes.

OD – Of course, this was the first album to be created in the bands’ very own studio, aka DTHQ. Did you find that having an undisturbed space to create made a huge difference to previous albums?

MANGINI – Well, I recorded my drums in DTHQ and had a very different kind of configuration with the kit in the studio. It was comforting to know that all of our gear was under one roof in case we wanted to switch things out, or we forgot something from the storage facility. For that alone, it was a great feeling to know that everything was at our fingertips, and ultimately, helped to shape that album that you hear today.

OD – Talk us through the artwork and title of the new album, as it has a very conceptual feel about it?

MANGINI – No I can’t because I wasn’t involved with it! [Laughing] It’s as simple as that.

OD – This being the bands’ 15th studio album, do you feel that you’re all collectively moving towards the overall ethos of the Dream Theater blueprint, ie; do you feel that you have more exploring to do with regards to the sound and vision of the band, or do you believe that there is a greater purpose/vision that you are all striving to meet?

MANGINI – That’s an interesting… hmm. I don’t really think that there are any more recordings “needed“, I think what we do, we do it for fun. Because we can do what we do, it’s reached a point that there are five elements to Dream Theater, and with each album we organically create in an atmosphere that is just so enjoyable…so liberating for all of us, and it just so happens that the end result is another feather in our collective caps.

OD – Was there any anticipation when putting out the singles and the album, knowing that you can’t actively tour [or promote in the traditional sense] due to the fallout of the pandemic?

MANGINI – Well I suppose I can only speak for me. Put it this way, when people say life is difficult what do they compare that to? When looking back in history, every chunk of generations have had these incredibly horrible things forced on them by others. It’s just awful. The bottom line is, we’re just in a situation where we are just trying to adapt.


When we get in our room together, we’re not thinking about anything else going on. We’re in that room, doing what we’re doing, and making the most of it. Sure, we enter that room with our own thoughts, opinions and views, etc. and that will influence what we’re creating to some degree, as we’re only human.

But, you know… there’s all kinds of different challenges that occur, and we just have to close these things out, and please understand, I’m not slighting the impact of the pandemic in anyway, which as been just devastating for so many people, it’s just that we have to close off our minds to that stuff, as it just gets in the way of our creativity.

OD – The recent announcement of the Dream Theater’s forthcoming EU/UK live shows was a pleasant surprise, in light of the grim news this past 18 months. Because of the abrupt ending to the anniversary shows back in 2020, will there be any consideration to include some of that setlist, or will it be a totally new setlist?

MANGINI – The idea is to focus on the new album and I’ve got to say, I’m really upset and downright sad that the opportunity to see the anniversary shows was removed so suddenly from the world.

The band never really goes backwards and I guess who knows what will happen with the idea of finishing off the dates that were cancelled for those very special shows, but right now, looking forward…the focus is very much on the new album. We will be reviewing the setlist in due time and will embed some classic Dream Theater stuff into the forthcoming tour dates. Songs that work well with the new stuff.

OD – Speaking of the “Distant Memories – Live In London” Blue Ray/DVD, are you happy with the way it turned out, as it’s an extraordinary live release? So much attention to detail and logistics obviously went into the making of it.

MANGINI – Your readers have to know, that is us really playing that accurate.We matched that album as closely as we humanly could, and we expect nothing more from our own selves. We’re really doing it and it’s not a re-recording or an overdub that was later applied in the studio. Just listen to the drums, that’s all live. With the way my kit is mic’d-up, there’s no way of escaping the reality of what is being played. Those mic’s pick everything up.

The emotion with that performance is very real and that’s really who we are as a band. We just throw ourselves into it completely and live in the experience. Each performance we do is part of us collectively. It’s who we are.

OD – This year marks the 10th anniversary for you being a member of Dream Theater. When you look back over the decade, is there any particular thing that stands out for you?

MANGINI – I would have to say the writing process of the last album. It was just so special.

OD – In your opinion, what one Dream Theater song represents the true essence of the band?

MANGINI – Dream Theater is, for me, a combination of progressive rock with a metal and classical sensibility. I would have to say, ‘Pale Blue Dot‘. I don’t know why, but that just popped into my head. [Laughing]

OD – Looking back on your career, which includes stints with Steve Vai and Annihilator,  of all the milestones you’ve already accomplished, is there one project that you are particularly proud of, besides your work with Dream Theater?

MANGINI – For me, it’s all of it! Each one of these moments are just as important as the other. I pick moments, do you know what I mean?.  Like working with Steve Vai. He trusted me with his music. He composed some drum patters, and included me in the creation of bringing those ideas to reality.

Then with Extreme which was really all about being on stage, and having moments when Gary [Cherone, vocals] would turn around and dive over an amp then look at me like we were playing football in his backyard. [Laughing]

My experience with Annihilator, also was very important. Working with Jeff [Waters, vocals, guitars] and seeing how he puts his ideas together. That guy cares so much about the accuracy of his music, not that anyone else doesn’t, it’s just that he has a wonderful approach to that process. I remember those things from my time in this industry, honestly, I could go down a rabbit hole with so many memories…

Also, yeah… I’ve got to say also a big moment for me was being the final drummer for the legend that is John Wetton and Eddie Jobson [of British Progressive rock band ‘U.K.’]. I had so much fun with. We just laughed every day together. It was a magical experience and one that I’ll never forget.

We had so much fun and got to play these songs with these guys who were postered all over my bedroom when I was a kid. The funny thing is, I would have personally loved to have seen original U.K. drummer, Bill Bruford, [formerly the rhythm section of King Crimson] performing with them instead. [Laughing] The fact that I was there, was just so much fun for me.

A View from the Top of the World‘ is out now via InsideOut Music. Grab your copy here.

Dream Theater will be kicking off their UK/EU tour in Belfast’s SSE Arena on Wednesday, 22nd April 2022. Check out the full run of dates below. Support comes from Devin Townsend on select dates [see below].

Oran O’Beirne

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