Finally, I get to follow up the post I wrote a few months ago in which I talked about Dream Theater’s lineup change. After auditioning seven of the top drummers in the industry, they finally chose Mike Mangini to take the place of Mike Portnoy who left the band in late 2010. The drummers who auditioned along with Mike Mangini were Derek Roddy, Thomas Lang, Virgil Donati, Marco Minnemann, Aquiles Priester, and Peter Wildoer.
In my previous post, I mentioned some rumors that had been circulating saying that Marco Minnemann was going to be the new drummer, so when I heard that Dream Theater was actually holding auditions, I wasn’t surprised that Marco had been invited to try out. The entire audition process was filmed and made into a sixty-minute special that was released in three parts on Roadrunner Records’ official YouTube channel.
Each audition consisted of three “phases”:
The Song Phase
Three songs were chosen from the DT repertoire that most accurately represented the wide range of the band’s music. Each drummer was given the list of songs beforehand to prepare for the audition. First was A Nightmare to Remember from the album “Black Clouds, Silver Linings”, followed by The Spirit Carries On from “Scenes from a Memory”, and finally The Dance of Eternity, also from “Scenes”. The Dance of Eternity is widely considered one of DT’s most complex and difficult songs because of all the wacky time changes.
Most of the drummers performed all the songs reasonably well, a few of them having some minor huccups during The Dance of Eternity. One thing that the band member’s noted multiple times was that several of the drummers had added some of their own flare to certain parts of the songs, something that ended up being viewed as a negative point, since when they play old songs live, their fans expect to hear what they’re familiar with. I agree, to a certain extent (it depends on how drastic the change), but the reality is that you’re working with a different person who has a different background and a different style. Things are going to change.
The Jam Phase
Basically, they just play together—nothing in particular—to get an idea of style, creativity, and musical comfort between band members. Pretty straightforward and often accompanied by a few laughs.
The Riff Phase
This phase was intended to show how quickly the drummers could grasp a technical riff. Jordan Rudess, DT’s keyboard player, had written a couple of short, tricky phrases prior to the auditions, which were then shown to each drummer on the spot to see if they could follow along and put a beat to them. Most of the candidates who had trouble seemed to have it in this phase. It was certainly a rare eye-opener, showing that many of these world-class musicians who are always seen playing with almost machine-like speed and accuracy are, in fact, human. Afterwards, the band said they were happy that they included the riff phase because a lot of their songwriting happens in a similar way—spontaneously and “in the moment”. If someone isn’t able to pick up a certain timing right away, it can hinder the writing process.
Before I watched the footage, I thought it was going to have a hokey reality TV angle to it with voting and eliminations and so forth, but it actually didn’t. It was kept quite lean and stripped of unnecessary material and felt more like a “behind the scenes” than anything else, but I thought they could have extednded each episode to thirty minutes and shown more of the actual playing. The auditions were all over by the half-way mark of the third episode, at which point they picked their three favourites—Mike, Marco, and Peter—and reviewed the tapes extensively, finally settling on Mike. They gave him the news over the phone.
It was fun to see guys like Derek Roddy and Marco Minnemann try out, but I think they might have been a little bored being bound to Dream Theater because it differs from their natural styles. I’ve seen Derek Roddy play some jazzy stuff before, but he’s mainly known for his speed and involvement in the death metal scene. And even though I was secretly rooting for Marco Minnemann, I think they made the right choice. The musician they chose had to have the skill, but also be able to, for lack of a better word, gel with the rest of the band, and Mike was definitely the best fit in that sense. He’s roughly the same age as the rest of DT, has a similar playing style, is American, and seems to be generally extroverted and friendly without being too “in your face”.
I’m excited to hear Dream Theater’s new material, which is supposed to be nearing completion. I bet Pearl and Zildjian are happy, since they’ve got endorsement deals with Mike Mangini, whereas Portnoy was predominantly with Tama and Sabian. And I’m sure the DT guys are glad that they don’t have to learn a new name.
Videos: Roadrunner Records via YouTube