|JAMES LaBRIE'S MULLMUZZLER:
Keep It To Yourself
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Released Aug 24, 1999
James LaBrie has seen stunning commercial and critical success throughout the '90s with his band, Dream Theater, that pantheon of progressive rock this past decade. But gathering the steam before the millennium, each and every member of the band has also been busy with side projects.
But unlike his DT bandmates, LaBrie's record is a true solo offering (despite the playful band moniker), perhaps reflecting that special place we hold for both vocalists and lyricists, perhaps reflecting the highly personal place words hold within our heart.
Before LaBrie's words took hold however, James had to see his musical vision take place. As Dream Theater came down from a hard year of touring James formulated a plan. "When I sat down with these guys and talked to them individually, I told them all I was really looking for was a common thread throughout, a really cool groove, a push that you felt you had to move with, one that felt really comfortable. So that's basically what I tried to nail on every song. Every song had to have a groove with a lot of emotion."
"I wanted the album to be something that was easily digestible," continues James, "but one that also had some substance to it, a bit of a creative quality, I guess you could say. There are progressive elements, but there are also songs that are between the lines, that have a solid hard rock groove going. So I would say that it's a hard rock album with some progressive influences thrown in . I'm really happy with it, I'm really proud of it. It's nothing like Dream Theater, but I never meant it to be. It shouldn't be, and I don't think it could be. I had a great experience working with all these guys. They're tremendous people, and Terry Brown, I can't say enough about the guy. He's one of the nicest guys I ever met in my life."
So, yes, with the help of the venerable Terry Brown, producer of Rush's output throughout the '70s, James built, shaped, then fine-tuned nine distinct, heartfelt and often bombastic tracks, all of them co-writes with an army of the field's hottest creators. Four tracks, 'Shores Of Avalon', 'Sacrifice', 'Slow Burn', and 'Guardian Angel' found James writing with members of Shadow Gallery (hot off their blistering "Tyranny" epic, on which James guest stars). Matt Guillory of Dali's Dilemma, who also plays on the album, co-wrote 'His Voice', 'Statued' and 'Lace', while Trent Gardner from Magellan and Explorers Club chimes in with 'Beelzebubba' and 'As A Man Thinks'.
So the writers planted the seed, and the players made it grow, James getting together with a further layer of spark and fly for the execution of these monumental songs. Towards that end, James tapped co-writer and keyboardist Matt Guillory, scary Zappa-orbiting guitarist Mike Keneally and his gravity-defying bassist Brian Beller, plus Mike Mangini (best known for his work with Extreme and Steve Vai) for a little musical witchery down in LA.
The result is a banquet of purifying rock, some of it slamming in a Zeppelin frame of mind, some of it reminiscent of Queen and possibly Styx, some of it simply the most elegant classic rock you will ever hear. 'Sacrifice', perhaps the record's emotional cornerstone, is such a composition. Sung to an ebb and flow-like musical track that is remarkably textured, the lyric is a touching monument to the eternal. James explains. "The character of the song has a wife who has come tragically into an accident, where she is now paralyzed, and he is saying that I remember this and that and how supportive you were of me, and how strong you were to really let me pursue my dreams, to let me do what I did. And you made it so much more meaningful, and worth it because I knew you were behind me. And now that things have changed, and you're in a very desperate situation, in the sense that you now need somebody to help you through this very difficult time, I'm not about to let you down. I will be there as much as you were there for me, and even though you are now not physically the same person, you still are to me. I'm there, I remember the good times, and we will still be together; we'll wake up together all the time, and forever. Again, as with most of the other lyrics, it's basically spiritual."
'His Voice' also looks at subjects eternal, this time, rocking to a busy heavy metal throb, James lamenting the curse of 20-20 hindsight. "It's about a friend of mine that committed suicide 15 years ago. What I'm saying there is that with how I've grown as a person up until now, and what I've read, and how I've progressed, or how I've evolved, I wish I had known then how to approach people the way I do now, because then maybe I could have easily picked up the signs and been able to approach or confront him on things that in retrospect I can see clearly now as warning signs. So it's me saying I wish I could go back and do this now, and maybe I could have changed the whole situation. And the future would be different, and we'd still be friends, hanging out, and having good times like we were then."
'Beelzebubba' conversely swings like a traffic jam, all honking horns, chatter, and busy call-and-response, much like the culture it claims to lampoon. Trent Gardner brought that song to me and we worked it out to where it is now. I was really impressed by it and I said let's do this song, let's say this. It touches on the fact that in the world of the very people that we trust to steer our world properly, to make our world a better place to live, there's so many favors and payolas that are going on. It's very corrupt, and it's almost like they have no way of climbing out of it. And unfortunately we're thrown into this ring of evil. It's kind of like saying, 'look, we're completely aware of it, don't insult our intelligence. As far as you might take things and as much as you get away with it, it's not because of our ignorance.' It's just that enough people haven't risen to the challenge and want to change things. But I think slowly but surely, we're moving towards a situation where things are going to have to be laid out in a more trustworthy or sincere fashion. So that song touches on how comical it gets a times. It's a political circus, and it's hard to believe this stuff goes on."
So finally, why the name Mullmuzzler? "It's a neat hybrid word, isn't it?" James offers mischievously. "I was sitting down and thinking about how absurd this whole process was with this album, the long distances, the variety of human interaction, so I thought 'what can best describe what the songs are saying to me, what is really affecting my social stance right now, my whole environment?' So I was thinking about how so many people in the world today are suppressed or oppressed when they want to say something. So many people hold back what they are truly thinking. So I thought what could best describe that process? And there was no word out there. So I put two words together, 'mull', which means to ponder thought , 'muzzler', or 'muzzle', which means to gag. So 'mullmuzzler' means to gag or silence an individual's thought before it can be expressed in any manner. It's as simple as that."
Simple but so emotionally inventive, Keep It To Yourself is an elemental, refreshing look into the mind of one of rock's most approachable, easy-going, sincere and insightful performers. It's not often that a record buttressed by so many phenomenal players can swing with such heart, allowing the listener to forget the finesse of the sonics surrounding each track. All the while, LaBrie's vocals - for this is the real reason we come to the show - deliver these vignettes of life that take us beyond the pettiness of our tense, competing world. Ultimately, it is an exercise in self-reflection that we might all visit and revisit when priorities become clouded, and life leaves the rails.
Click here to order Keep It To Yourself, and the 2001 release, Mullmuzzler 2.
JAMES LaBRIE'S MULLMUZZLER
Keep It To Yourself
Catalog # : MA-9039-2