|LIQUID TENSION EXPERIMENT:
Liquid Tension Experiment 2
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Released June 15, 1999
It's no secret in the industry that the first Liquid Tension Experiment album was both a creative and commercial success for Magna Carta Records, the label gambling on the fact that their fan base could take a trip that prog-rock-dangerous and emerge unscathed and, in fact, renewed.
It seems that the band felt the same joy in the making that the label felt in the promoting. For, indeed, Mike Portnoy and John Petrucci (both from Dream Theater), bass monster Tony Levin (no resume required), and keyboardist Jordan Rudess (the same line-up as on the first album), had such a great time together that Jordan was tapped for the keyboardist post within Dream Theater. So all of a sudden, Liquid Tension Experiment becomes 3/4 of Dream Theater with the fourth wheel being possibly the most respected bassist in the business, Tony Levin.
But this animal is a thornier beast than the lush prog rock of Dream Theater. Liquid Tension Experiment has always been about fierce creative interaction, a mixture of the spontaneous and the composed, almost violent but good-natured collision (think bumper-cars) countered with periods of solitary introspection.
Oh, yeah, and childbirth. Super-elastic drummer Mike Portnoy explains. "'When The Water Breaks' is the big epic centerpiece of this album. It's a seventeen minute song, an actual composition and not a jam. It's just the ultimate Liquid Tension piece, if I had to pick just one to represent everything this band is about. It accomplishes everything. The sessions for the album were actually split into two chunks: one in October, one in November. Originally, the entire album was supposed to be completed in October but five days into the sessions , John's wife went into labor and he had to split. The remaining three of us were left in the studio so we just jammed on tape for a couple of days. But because he had to leave, we scheduled some sessions for November, after John had settled in with his baby daughter. But anyway, that's where the title "When The Water Breaks' came from, because we were pretty much finishing up the writing of this big epic piece when the water broke and John had to split (laughs)."
This, ahem, break, also caused a curious situation with a track called "Chewbacca'. ""Chewbacca' is another one of the trio jams", Mike explains, "except this one has guitar, unlike '914' which was an improv left as a trio. But John actually went off and learned all of Jordan's keyboard parts, so John is doubling all of the keyboard parts to give it the illusion of an actual composition, where actually it's just a jam."
Like that first ground-breaking Liquid Tension Experiment album, LTE 2 was a sort of trial by fire, a shocked immersion into a creative bath that could only bear stormy results. Mike figures this was a product of the recording environment. "We all have our individual influences which stick with us through everything we write but I think when it comes to Liquid Tension, more of the stuff we might look to is instrumental like Frank Zappa or the Dregs. There are even moments that remind me of Phish. But, basically, when it came time to do the sessions, everything was so quick, it's like a whirlwind of writing and composing and there's no time to gather outside influences. It's basically 'lock the four of us in a room and bounce ideas off each other.' Musically, the result is very similar, but I think the biggest difference is that with the first one we had five days, and with this one we had about two and a half weeks, which is still quick. It was done in Millbrook Studios, which is near where I live. You live right there on the premises, so it's an amazing working environment for a project like this, where you are writing spontaneously. Basically you are in the studio all day. You work until the wee hours of the night, and then you just walk into another room and go to sleep in your bed, and you wake up the next day and throw on your sweats and socks and you go right back into the studio and continue working. So, basically, you are locked in a studio for literally a week on end without even seeing sunlight or daylight. It's a great creative atmosphere. It keeps you focused."
If anything, LTE 2 just might be more daring than the debut experience, perhaps the product of all that goodwill and external support by fans of the first project. The band most definitely created greater dins, balanced by seas of extraordinary calm. 'Acid Rain' is one of the wake-up calls, buttressed by post-metal riffing that would be the cornerstone of a hit single, if the band didn't take so much pride in exploding it. "'Acid Rain' is probably the fastest and most shredding of all the songs on the album," confirms Mike. "John's playing a seven-string guitar on that. Basically it's just speed and endurance, with really killer guitar and keyboard solos within an extended jam."
"'Another Dimension' also showcases the diversity this project has to offer", continues Mike, "because there are moments in it which are incredibly heavy and easily could be a Dream Theater piece of music. And then there are moments in the middle where it goes into a really crazy, complex time signature, and then off into left field and you find yourself in the middle of some Italian restaurant in Milan or something serenaded by an accordion and a guitar (laughs)." Check it out. It's truly the most jocular moment on either of the two records to date.
As contrast to the mayhem, however, Mike and John defer to the wisdoms of Jordan and Tony. "'Liquid Dreams' is another improv. It's a super mellow one where Tony was really able to showcase some of his famous bass lines, some of his super-cool grooves. There are moments on it that are definitely very Peter Gabriel-esque. And that's definitely the result of Tony. 'Hourglass' is a duet between Jordan and John, just piano and acoustic guitar, and it was the very last thing recorded during the sessions. It was like 2:30 in the morning, the very last night, and the two of them got together and made this interesting thing close to the album."
Curiosity about Tony Levin has been sustained and constant for years, although little is known about the man himself. Mike would agree to a characterization of Tony as a balance between the eccentric and practical. "Yes, I would say somewhere in between. He's the ultimate professional. He's played with everybody from Pink Floyd to King Crimson to Yes to John Lennon. When it comes to the music, he's there to get the job done. He's very efficient and incredibly talented. And, then, when you put the instrument down and you hang out with him, he is definitely a bit eccentric at times. He loves his coffee. He carries an espresso machine with him everywhere he goes, and he's got a million and one stories."
All told, in the world of instrumental prog, it would be hard to find another record that finds so many emotional hues, while seeming strangely grounded, cohesive, focused. It is the distinct, self-assured vocabularies of these four instrumentalists that accomplished that feat.
Mike underscores the effect this project has had on the make-ups and dispositions of its creators, offering some thoughts on the next Dream Theater album. "Everything is going amazingly well with Jordan. This is the first Dream Theater album that we've ever written and recorded simultaneously, and that was inspired by the working environment we had with Liquid Tension. John, Jordan and myself just had such great chemistry writing that way that we decided to carry that into Dream Theater. We're just really excited for people to hear it. It's really progressive, and it's sort of like a cross between Liquid Tension and Dream Theater, with vocals; very theatrical. But I think we owe it all to the experience of making this second Liquid Tension record."
Click here to order Liquid Tension Experiment and/or Liquid Tension Experiment 2! Also check out Magna Carta releases from Jordan Rudess & Bozzio Levin Stevens!
LIQUID TENSION EXPERIMENT
Liquid Tension Experiment 2
Catalog # : MA-9035-2