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John Petrucci - Interviewing Your Heroes

Issue #50

They say that you should never meet your heroes – well, in this case I (and my equally star-struck cameraman) found that, in some cases, you absolutely should.
Tom Quayle

Journalists are warned 'beware of interviewing your heroes'. So what happens when you put two great guitarists together? We sent Tom Quayle to meet his hero, the amazing John Petrucci.

Working for a magazine such as Guitar Interactive gives you opportunities that would never come up in the normal life of a musician. Having incredible pieces of gear (and some not so incredible!) arrive at your house every week for review is a fantastic privilege. But, it pales in comparison when you receive the much-anticipated phone call from the editor, offering you the chance to interview one of your lifetime heroes. 

Adding music journalism to your bow gives you quite a lot of stabs at trying to be the next Johnny Carson, David Letterman or perhaps Oprah Winfrey, trying to deliver that killer interview, revealing the inner workings of the guitar superstar. They’re usually a lot of stress beforehand, but great fun and very enlightening, no matter who you’re speaking to. Yet, the feeling you get from interviewing a true hero of yours is totally unique, producing a level of combined excitement and nervousness that would make a neurotic chihuahua proud.

So, I find myself on a typically murky morning in the UK, driving down the M62 on my way to Manchester, running mental checks to ensure I have all the mics, cameras and other gear I need for my latest attempt at besting Jimmy Fallon in the interview game. Only this time it’s different – this time I’m interviewing one of my biggest heroes, John Petrucci. John’s playing literally changed the direction of my life when I first heard him on ‘Images and Words’ in 1995. I was 15 years old and all I wanted to be when I grew up was the great man himself, even going to the lengths of dressing in black silk shirts and Reebok Pumps to get the look down, let alone the playing. Needless to say, they weren’t my finest years from a fashion perspective…such was my level of hero worship.

Sat next to me in the passenger seat is an equally over-excited friend of mine, tasked with being cameraman for the day, and we’re singing the lyrics to Pull Me Under at the top of our lungs, while it blares out of my car speakers so loud that we might as well be at a Dream Theater gig. To onlookers it must look like a scene from Wayne’s World but, in reality, I’m trying to disguise my nervousness since interviews always come with their own set of challenges and I really want this one to go well.

We arrive in Manchester with tons of time to spare. Our first mission…locate the hotel. The interview is taking place at The Principal Hotel, a rather strange but luxurious Art Deco style establishment, so posh that my first concern was whether my cameraman and I would even be allowed to enter in the first place. John is running late, so we find the stunning looking 1920s style hotel bar and wait. The stress levels are high, since we have no direct contact for John we have to keep darting back to the foyer to check for his imminent arrival.


The first thing you learn with interviews is that nothing ever goes the way you hope. This bar would make an incredible backdrop for my interview, so we ask the hotel if we can film in here and would they mind turning the music down a little for 30 minutes. While we’re looking around, marvelling at how fantastic this interview is going to look, a short, suited man arrives and informs us that we can’t film in the hotel without written permission and said permission will take at least two weeks to arrange. We are of course welcome to film in John’s personal room – yeah…I’m sure he won’t mind at all…err... will he?

At this point I do my best Hugh Grant impression, immediately transforming into the finest English Gentleman I can summon from my Yorkshire roots, explain the situation and ask if they can accommodate us in any way. The suited man disappears to make some phone calls and probably fill in copious amounts of paper work, before returning with a man who looks like he has just won first place in ‘The World’s Angriest Man’ competition. This man, I swiftly learn, is part of the Dream Theater management team and he would like to know ‘where the hell we’ve been?’ and ‘why the interview hasn’t started yet?’ We are ushered into a corridor and given the option of filming in the ‘IT Suite’ or a small room that looked a bit like someone had decided to build a bar in their bathroom and seems to operate as a meeting place for a lot of hotel staff. We chose the bathroom-bar since we figured that corporate beige computers didn’t suit the Dream Theater vibe.

I am pretty sure I have never set up cameras, lights and audio gear as quickly as we managed that day, very aware that the longer we took, the more chance there was of ‘the management’ literally exploding in a fit of rage, and we definitely didn’t want to make a mess on the lovely tiled walls. This is so often the experience when you do interviews and, sadly, you just have to get used to it and deal as best you can. As we’re setting up the last camera, John walks into the room and the whole atmosphere changes in an instant.

Considering how much press work John must do on the average tour (and this wasn’t an average tour, being the 25th Anniversary of Images and Words) it’s amazing how polite and gregarious he is on every occasion I’ve had the privilege to meet him. He immediately greets us and shakes both our hands, asking how we’re doing and making funny comments on the bathroom bar. I’ve interviewed John before for GI magazine and he has been gracious enough to write about me in other interviews, so he makes a point of asking me how my career is going and we talk about our kids whilst he puts on the lapel mic.

John proceeds to give a wonderful interview, listening to and answering all of my questions with interest and thoughtfulness. Despite a strict time limit, barked at us by ‘the management,’ I am quite sure John would have talked for hours had he the time. He is very well spoken, with intelligent and insightful answers that made all of the prior stress fall to the wayside. All the way through there are hotel staff walking past, having loud conversations, tapping clipboards and moving glasses around, but none of that mattered because I was having such a great conversation with one of my biggest heroes. At the close of the interview John takes the time to talk to us some more and thanks us for our time before departing off to the sound check for the show that night.

We pack the gear away and locate the car, all of the prior stresses dissipated. On the drive home, we sing the whole of Images and Words, including the guitar solos of course, with even more vigour than on the journey out, and wax lyrical about what a pleasure it is to have met John and how incredible his playing is.

They say that you should never meet your heroes – well, in this case I (and my equally star-struck cameraman) found that, in some cases, you absolutely should.

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Issue #51

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