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Canadian James LaBrie scores another Grammy nod with his band Dream Theater

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TORONTO - The script for Hollywood award nominees is well-established: conjure endless gratitude, praise the competition and always, always downplay the importance of winning. Well, James LaBrie — the Canadian frontman of U.S. metal institution Dream Theater — doesn't play by the rules.

Because on the occasion of the band's second Grammy nomination in three years for best metal performance, he's honest in his hope for a trophy.

"I think we feel that we have a very, very strong possibility of clinching the Grammy," he said recently down the line from Pamplona, Spain, where the band was preparing for a concert. "I'm thinking positive and I think we have a really, really strong chance of winning."

How about the competition, which includes Anthrax, Killswitch Engage and heavy-metal pioneers Black Sabbath?

"I think our only formidable force against us would be Black Sabbath," LaBrie responds. "They've been around for 40 years plus."

Part of LaBrie's confidence might be informed by the specific song nominated.

"The Enemy Inside," from the band's self-titled 12th album, is a barrage of blistering riffs and drum shellack. It's also an empathetic look at post-traumatic stress disorder in soldiers returning home from war.

The nightmarish music video depicts a disoriented former soldier, his face pixellated, sprinting around a bleak cityscape while glancing furtively all around him.

"The more people who are aware of people who are psychologically affected or ill from the conflicts of war, the better," LaBrie said. "We realize just what it is that we are putting these brave men and women through. And not only on the battlefield, but post-war, when they come home they're changed people. ... They can never be who they once were. It's impossible.

"You start reading about it and it's pretty horrible," he added. "War in itself is just absolutely ludicrous."

LaBrie joined the Massachussets metal institution back in 1991 (coincidentally, he notes, he flew down from his Toronto-area home to New York for an audition on the same day the U.S. launched Operation Desert Storm).

When the band offered him the role of lead singer — Charlie Dominici had been the band's original vocalist — he enthusiastically accepted, on one condition.

"I said, awesome. I'm totally into it. I think this band is amazing. But one thing I need to establish: I'm not moving down here. I'm staying in Toronto. That's where I want to be. That's where I'm from."

It's required LaBrie to commute via plane to the band's New York headquarters. When they're recording or rehearsing, he'll stay for the week and return home on the weekend.

But he said it's a necessary sacrifice for his family. And he just prefers living in Canada.

"I've been around the world about 13 times now, and there's so many incredible, beautiful, phenomenal places that exist on our planet," he said. "But still, I love to go back to the Toronto area."

LaBrie brought his wife and teenaged son and daughter to his first Grammys. His son arrived in L.A. with the goal of meeting dubstep producer Skrillex, a wish he surprisingly fulfilled during a chance encounter at the airport ("he was thrilled," LaBrie reports).

The Grammy experience, as he remembers it, was "surreal."

"There's tons of press, you're around a lot of celebrity figures, you're driven to the red carpet, and for about 45 minutes to an hour you're stopping at each booth along the way (talking) with the international press, journalists from all over the world," he recalled. "You just keep talking about what you do, what you're there for. It was a bit of a wind tunnel ... it feels really dream like.

"My kids were pretty freaked out and thrilled," he added.

The day after Dream Theater's last Grammys — they lost out to Foo Fighters, by the way — LaBrie and the band had to hop on a flight to Zurich, where the jet-lagged lads had to be "jacked up on several espressos" to get through a show that evening.

Again in the midst of a European tour, this year they'll skip the Grammys to preserve their sanity but watch from afar.

Gobsmacked by their first nomination, LaBrie now has a quiet confidence that — uncommon as it might be among studiously humble nominees — is informed by years of his band defying the odds.

"We've been doing this for 20 years plus," he said. "I think more people than not are aware of us. I think they realize that not unlike many other very fine artists and very fine bands, we're extremely committed to who and what we are and have been throughout our career. I think it'd only make sense (to win). I think for the most part, I think that we've worked hard and to receive something of this nature, a Grammy, to have that final nod from them.

"It's a song that shows what kind of band we are. Especially in that category, I think the song fits perfectly. I think we stand to be in a great position for winning."

———

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