The conversation covered the influence of Allan Holdsworth on John, how his playing has evolved over the years, playing live and producing Dream Theater albums.
Influence of Allan Holdsworth (3:45)
Allan’s technique of playing complex chord shapes and fading them in was something John incorporated into his playing.
John also incorporated Allan’s whammy bar technique to glide into notes. For historical background, when Allan started doing that technique he was attempting to mimic saxophone vocal phrasing. This technique also had a major influence on Eddie Van Halen who in the 80s popularized the technique in a mainstream rock setting.
Dream Theater’s early studio days (26:20)
In the early recording days with Dream Theater (Images & Words) era would record on tape. Wouldn’t use click tracks or MIDI.
“Compared to digital Pro Tools, it was so much more tedious back then, I couldn’t imagine going back to that…”
How John’s playing has evolved over the years (28:00)
Much more experience as a live musician. Playing live has had even more influence on his playing versus the studio. A guitarist can learn a lot about their playing, especially weaknesses, in a live environment. When the lights are on and are in the moment of performance, certain things that you thought you had together may not be as prepared as you had thought.
“Being a live musician has helped strengthen my style and stamina as a guitar player, I’m also stronger at pacing myself…”
Playing style is a big melting pot of styles (29:15)
“In my early days of practicing I gravitated towards pickers. Al Di Meola, Steve Morse, I developed that technique in my playing. Then over the years as I saw more players playing incredible things using all kinds of techniques, I got more comfortable with the idea that playing style is a big melting pot of styles, that’s how you become a more expressive player…”
“You can still have your strengths and things you do that you feel most comfortable with, but I’ve become more willing to incorporate other types of techniques in order to get what I’m trying to play across.”
There is no substitute (31:40)
“To develop your conditioning for live playing, there is no substitute for actually doing it…”
On practicing challenging Dream Theater parts (34:45)
In regards to the “Take the Time” keyboard & guitar unisons:
“That stuff is still a challenge, it’s the kind of thing that’s not fun to practice. It’s fun to practice things that you can play fast, whizzing around the neck. It’s not fun to play these intricate lines that you can only get up to a certain speed, and you have to focus, that’s when the real hard work comes into play…”
John’s monitor mix on stage (37:00)
“My monitor mix sounds like the CD mix, but with a huge prominent guitar above it. I wish everyone could hear my mix…”
John’s mix (played to him in his in-ear monitors) is an instrumental mix without vocals. The vocals are removed because when the vocal mic is on, you get a lot of ambient noise from the stage as the vocal mic is moved around the stage.
Producing Dream Theater albums (39:20)
“I’m highly involved in the production and mixing of a Dream Theater album. For the guitar sound I’m highly involved from the very beginning stages of picking the amp and cabinet…”
“When evaluating a mix, I’ll listen to it in the studio, the car, different headphones, at home…”
“It’s also important to defer to the engineer who is mixing, they are the pro, they are mix engineer, they are the reason we hired them, this is what they are good at. I want to make sure they are able to do their job without me being overly involved…”