Rock Star John Petrucci talks music, beards and bourbon
Grammy-Award winning rock star John Petrucci has been on the move in 2022, travelling through Europe with Dream Theater’s Top of the World Tour.
John is a founding member, guitarist, lyricist and producer of Dream Theater, the progressive metal band renowned for mind-blowing technical virtuosity. And he created the acclaimed Liquid Tension Experiment plus he’s released two solo studio albums, Suspended Animation and Terminal Velocity.
Yet, aside from his fabulous family (John has 3 grown children with Rena Sands), the Captain dares to wager that perhaps his greatest work to date is…'Nebula', the phenomenal beard grooming Signature Series range created in collaboration with Captain Fawcett. Huzzah!
After a delightful afternoon tea with the Right Hand Man in London, John Petrucci hot footed it to Italy. From the safe distance of a hotel room in Rome, he shared a secret that might just break the Right Hand Man’s heart. Let’s have a chinwag…
I didn’t have a beard for the first two Dream Theater albums. I tend to measures the events of my adult life by album releases. So on the third, Await, I grew a goatee style and since then I’ve always had some form of beard. I’ve had a full beard for around 8 years now.
Bearding culture opened a door to universe I didn’t know existed. Men really care about the grooming of their facial hair and all the products to help with upkeep.
Labouring over the style of my moustache keeps me up at night! My top Beard Care tip is to think about the shaping of it. That’s what makes your facial hair an individual statement. You can tell the difference when people are really intentional with their look instead of being just all over the place.
My wife, Rena, got me a Captain Fawcett gift set. I was so impressed by how well the products worked and how they smelt, but also the great storytelling, the lore and voice of the mysterious Captain Fawcett. I thought this company is awesome. I love everything about it.
Captain Fawcett is so in my wheelhouse. I related immediately to the way Richie does things. The packaging, the beautiful artwork, the incredible writing, and the fact you’re being transported into this world just with Beard Oil. I mean, that’s crazy. It completely intrigued me. There are parallels with the way we develop an album, through music, lyrics and artwork, we try to create a new world. It’s a sensibility Captain Fawcett has in common, orchestrating elements to make a beautifully crafted whole.
We work with the great artist Hugh Syme. He’s amazing at creating these visual, whimsical worlds we carry into our live performances. We try to keep everything consistent and tied into that vision, the stage set, the video, so when you walk into the venue you’re walking into this world. Like Fawcett HQ. The place is unbelievable. Take the online tour!
It was hard for my Dad to wrap his head around what I wanted to do. Music didn’t seem like a profession. He’d say you need something to fall back on. Now I understand, but as a 17 year old I thought, I’m not falling back. This is what I’m doing. Fortunately it worked out or that would’ve stung!
With Rena and my kids we are a musical family. My kids all sing and dance and act and write. And of course Rena is in a band. (Rena Sands plays guitar in the Judas Priestess tribute band). My Dad’s not around now but my Mum is and she couldn’t be prouder of my career. She is glowing at every achievement.
So many incredible women play rock and metal. My wife is a perfect example. But metal audiences tend to be male. It’s a weird disconnect. We do a guitar camp with guest instructors from all over the world, including Rena, and we were amazed there were so few women. It doesn’t make sense because on You Tube and Instagram there’s so many girls and young women across the world playing rock and shred guitar. My wife is in the industry and we talk about this a lot. It’s like…where are they!?
When I was young, listening to music was like watching a movie. You immerse yourself in it, sometimes with friends, you’d hang out, put the lights off and listen to the full record. It’s how I got into bands and that’s the audience I have in mind when I write. It’s important to really, really follow your heart creatively.
We have the best fans in the world because they still appreciate a long piece of music. We don’t write 3 minute songs. They buy vinyl and take the time to listen to a full record from beginning to end. They stand and listen to a Dream Theater show for 2 or 3 hours. These aren’t people with short attention spans!
Music is a gift so you have to cherish it. A while back I wrote an album almost like a musical called The Astonishing. It’s about what would happen if technology took over and music was made by machines instead of people. Of course this led to a dystopian future. It was a challenge to quick commercialism because it’s two and half hours worth of music. So you’re in it for a long haul, you commit, and that was the whole point. It was my way of bucking the system. I felt, OK you wanna listen to your 30 second things, try two and half hours. Because if you don’t cherish music, it might go away and then life would be miserable.
The kind of Prog Rock we play needs classical musicianship. You can’t do it without that. I’m traditional, inspired by bands I like from the 70s like Yes. We use odd time signatures, unconventional song structures, long song times, instrumental things, it’s more classical because there’s different movements and themes tying the piece together with more story telling through it.
Recklessness is the rock and roll element. Even when you’re playing our kind of technical music, if it’s only mathematical you don’t get an emotional response. What all the Dream Theater musicians have in common is we’re not perfect and when we play together there is a bit of living on the edge. Yet at the same time we’re playing music that’s very challenging, so you’ve got to have balance because if it’s too far in the raw direction you lose the style and it becomes more punk.
We won a Grammy for our song The Alien. In my speech I made a joke about the song being in 17/8 time so I said try to tap your foot to that one. (If you know, you know - Ed.) It’s really satisfying to have that recognition for a song that’s purely Dream Theater, truly us, not compromised at all in any way.
Nebula started with The Captain’s Left Hand Man, Corey, what a great guy! We’ve had so much fun. I ordered from Captain Fawcett and someone reached out to say Corey was a fan. But it was all in Richie’s language so I had to get a decoder to understand him. I shared a social media post, then Corey came to a show we filmed in London for a live DVD called Distant Memories.
I said hey, if you guys ever want to do a collaboration with a bearded guitar player let me know. And that’s how it started. I just said it almost in passing, only kind of serious. You never know what can happen!
The name Nebula wasn’t even on our list for the Beard Oil, it came from my Signature Ernie Ball Music Man guitar. Purple Nebula is just what we called the colour, so I didn’t even think of that as a Beard Oil name but Iain picked up on it and said what about 'Nebula'? I thought, that’s perfect.
Captain Fawcett’s storytelling is just brilliant. Iain’s design is absolutely unbelievable. I love the way his visuals work with Cate’s words. That’s awesome team work right there. It’s like the way we write the music first. Then the lyrics come from the vibe and the mood of the song. It all ties together, one thing influences another. The funny thing is when things aren’t really connecting properly everyone sort of knows. So if song’s tone is really dark and heavy you’re not going to write words about sunflowers and bumble bees. You match the mood of the music.
I love working in collaboration with people. The community I’m part of is so cooperative and supportive. Ernie Ball Music Man was incredibly generous to come on board and actually give away a Purple Nebula Majesty guitar. It’s a $5,000 guitar. Insane! And all those other things like strings. Then Dunlop, my pick company, worked with Captain Fawcett to create the Limited Edition Signature picks. Everyone was just ‘Yeah I’m in’. I love how people from an unrelated industry are so happy to tie in their products and name. Total synchronicity. I love that spirit of collaboration and good vibes that follow.
Richie met me in London and said ‘shall we have a chinwag?’ And I was like, what the hell’s a chinwag? I didn’t know if it was a drink or something. Actually it’s a great name for a cocktail. The Captain Fawcett vocabulary is amazing. What ARE these British words? I feel like I have to take a foreign language course when I get correspondence.
I would be remiss if I didn’t say the greatest Rock beard of all time is Billy Gibbons. Everyone says that but he just pops into your head. He’s had that beard his whole career and he’s never looked back. It’s unbelievable.
I used to drink red wine but now it’s bourbon. I have my own limited edition called Rock the Barrel. It sold out in a day so we’re doing a Rock the Barrel 2. It’s only available in the US but somehow a few people across Europe got their hands on it too!
For the record, I would absolutely love to score a movie. The only thing Dream Theater has scored is our own story…so far.
I don’t want to break Richie’s heart but… I’m a coffee drinker. Still we had an amazing afternoon tea at Browns Hotel in London. It was total luxury.
I hope my 'Nebula' collaboration with Captain Fawcett keeps evolving. I love it. Richie is awesome and it’s been amazing from the very beginning so I’m very fortunate to be able to do this with all of you guys. Oh hey, and now we can all wear the T-shirt!
An extended version of the Fawcett Times interview by Cate McKay-Haynes
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