James LaBrieknown internationally as the vocalist for progressive metal icons DREAM THEATERembarks on uncharted waters with his fourth solo album, titled “Beautiful Shade Of Gray”due out on May 20 via InsideOut Music. Today sees the launch of the album’s first single and opening track, “Devil In Drag”and you can watch the Wayne Joyner-produced video below.
The new endeavors sees him traverse personal maturation, loss, a myriad of complex relationships and, most importantly, LaBrie‘s burning passion for music. On paper, the latest studio offering from the Canadian singer first took shape shortly after the global pandemic began to emerge. But in reality, LaBrie formed a bond with his fellow collaborator, bassist Paul Log (EDEN’S CURSE), nearly a decade earlier.
The two first met in 2011, when James would his voice to a feature for lend Log‘s band, UK melodic metal outfit EDEN’S CURSEon the song “No Holy Man”. As years went by the two remained in touch, occasionally kicking the tires on the idea of working together on another project. But when DREAM THEATER performed in Glasgow during the late winter of 2020, LaBrie and Log would run into each other at the airport — once again asking the question. But this time, armed with the knowledge that a drastic change in the world was all but imminent, LaBrie made the decision to set things in motion.
On the album, Log plays acoustic rhythm guitar (both six- and twelve-string) and acoustic bass, while guitarist Marco Sfogliwho’s contributed on all of LaBrie‘s solo albums since 2005’s “Elements Of Persuasion”handled the leads and solos. Log recruited EDEN’S CURSE keyboardist Christian Pulkkinen to his playing on the record, while lending the suggestion to recruit James‘s son Chance to play drums would also come from Paul. “Beautiful Shade Of Gray”as LaBrie describes it, was a title that only came to him once he identified the record’s two core themes throughout its track list.
“A lot of these lyrics are dealing with the beauty of human beings, and a lot are dealing with the gray areas of the in between,” James says. “You’re not exactly happy, but you’re not exactly sad either.”
The record starts off (and ends) with the track “Devil In Drag”which emerges as a wall of synthesizers and acoustic strumming before exploding into a full-blown ensemble. LaBrie expresses that the song was written about “someone who started out as a decent human being, but along the way lost touch with their roots — over time becoming self-serving, narcissistic and devoid of principles or values.” Going on to say, “‘Devil In Drag’ is written from the perspective of someone who’s known them all their life and, seeing them now, asking ‘what happened?'”
“Beautiful Shade Of Gray” will be released as a limited CD digipak, 180-gram LP, CD and as a digital album, with artwork by Thomas Ewerhard.
“Beautiful Shade Of Gray” track listing:
01. Devil In Drag
02. SuperNova Girl
03. Give And Take
04. Sunset Ruin
05. Hit Me Like A Brick
07. Conscience Calling
08. What I Missed
09. Am I Right
10. Ramble On
11. Devil In Drag (Electric Version)
last december, LaBrie told Full Metal Jackie‘s nationally syndicated radio show about how 1970s rock music influenced and inspired “Beautiful Shade Of Gray”: “I’m a huge [LED] ZEPPELIN fan. I’m a huge [fan of] PINK FLOYD and AIROSMITH and DEEP PURPLE and all that. These bands were so iconic back in the ’70s. So a lot of the inspiration, when I sat down with Paul Logwho’s the other musician that I wrote the album with, and he’s from Scotland, I said, ‘PaulI just want us to think more about…’ If you think about the acoustic end of ZEPPELIN and their organic approach to their songs, it was still beautiful, it was still powerful, extremely melodic, and it just kind of reached deep within, it resonated deep within each and every one of us that listened to any ZEPPELIN. So that was the catalyst to set things in motion. It became a full ensemble. I mean, I have keyboards, drums, bass, rhythm guitar, lead guitar and then myself doing all the vocals. So it’s somewhat acoustic but it’s also a full ensemble as well. So it still has the full band kind of sound and orchestration.”
Regarding the lyrical themes covered on the LP, James said: “‘Beautiful Shade Of Gray’ has a lot to do with the lyrics that I wrote for this album. And a lot of my lyrics are dealing with the human condition and all the dynamics of life in itself that each and every one of us experience and, to a certain degree, it’s common for most of us to go through the same experiences. So I wanted to write a lot about that. So that’s kind of what inspired this whole venture.”
last october, James told “The Everyman Podcast” about how his collaboration with Log came about: “I sang on one of [EDEN’S CURSE‘s] songs back in 2010 called ‘No Holy Man’; so I guest on that. And I really liked Paul‘s writing. To me, Paul‘s writing was more from a classical era — like the ’70s; that classic rock approach. And I had a lot of ideas in that vein.
“Paul and I actually bumped into each other — you think fate isn’t there with you; holy shit… The day after we finished the show — DREAM THEATER in Glasgow [on] February 23rd . I’m waiting for my flight on the 24th to go to London and then Toronto, and Paul walks by me and he goes, ‘James!’ I’m, like, ‘Oh my God!’ He goes, ‘You know I was at the show last night.’ He kept trying to e-mail me on my old e-mail address. And he goes, ‘Listen, let me know. You wanna get together? You wanna do some writing?’ And I said, ‘I’d love to.’ At the time, I said, ‘I don’t know. Some freaky shit’s going on. You’re hearing about this virus?’ ‘Yeah. Yeah.’ [I said] ‘We’ve gotta go to Asia, then we’ve gotta go to freakin’ South America and North America and all that.’ I said, ‘So we’re probably not gonna be done till October, but why don’t we start writing then? Or why don’t we start throwing ideas back in the meantime, and I can even be on the road and working on it?’ And he goes, ‘Great.’ All of a sudden, the world closes down. So we got on it… It was probably… Everything closed down March 15th, I believe, and by March 20th, him and I were already passing ideas back and forth.”
Elaborating on the songwriting process for “Beautiful Shade Of Gray”, LaBrie said: “We started as, we said, ‘Let’s just keep it real raw and acoustic-based — that’ll be the fundamental of this album,’ and then it kind of morphed into more of an ensemble, so [with] keyboards… Marco Sfogli is playing lead guitar on all the tracks. Paul is playing all the rhythm acoustic guitars and bass. And then [my son] Chance [LaBrie] is doing drums. Christian Pulkkinen is the keyboard player, who’s a fantastic keyboard player, piano player. All the lyrics, except one, I penned.
“It was really interesting how it came together, whether I’d be throwing [Paul] a riff or I’d be throwing him a melody idea that became a chorus to one of the songs or verses,” he continued. “And then he’d throw me back his ideas musically. And we slowly but surely put it all together. We had everybody fully involved. And it came out fantastic. The label is really stocked about it. It has that kind of ZEPPELIN-esque feel to it, but still the modern-day aspects of it as well are there. So it’s great.”
Photo credit: Thomas Ewerhard