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Interviews   

Mike Portnoy, the polygamist


The Adrenaline Mob and Flying Colors albums are the two first albums Mike Portnoy has worked on since his departure from Dream Theater. Having two completely different styles the albums, however, do share the same spontaneity, both being presented by their creators as the result of an instant chemistry. It’s easy to picture these musicians in a state of effervescence and creativity that led the writing process of these two albums to be brief and without hesitation. Simplicity is the word to be stressed here, simplicity in the music and in the way it was written, which leads us to this easy conclusion: these projects could be a fleeting way for Mike Portnoy to take his mind of his departure from Dream Theater. But it’s not that simple.

First of all, there’s no doubt about Mike Portnoy’s musical eclecticism. When it comes to the way he works, this whole style revolving around a spontaneous writing isn’t new to him either, Dream Theater having been writing their albums really fast these past few years – which is the main point on which they are criticized by their fans. Last year, he had described himself as being a divorcee enjoying his new-found freedom, a metaphor which he toned down a bit in this interview as bimbos can be nice for a while but a divorcee eventually misses being in a couple. For those who thought of Adrenaline Mob and Flying Colors – two very attractive musical projects – as the artistic equivalent of one night stands to help heal one’s wounds, Mike Portnoy answers: “I’m more of a polygamist”. For him, these bands have the potential to be around for years, as suggested by “Omerta” the title of Adrenaline Mob’s new album, which he describes as an oath people take when they enter a brotherhood. Adrenaline Mob is his new gang.

After any break-up, no matter the amount of cheerfulness you display or how convincing you are, it’s always difficult to rid your friends of their skepticism, as they’re convinced it is just a mask. No matter the truth or Mike Portnoys efforts to convince the public otherwise, they will always have doubts when it comes to how he feels about his departure from Dream Theater. We don’t claim to know the truth, however, we do understand why that may annoy him.

As for the truth, apart from shrinks, no one can really claim to know it. Too many fans convince themselves that they know their idols personally, which can be even more the case given the drummer’s honesty and interactivity with his fan-base. Such a choice has its advantages and its by-products, but Portnoy seems to want to stick to it.

Interview.

« [On the last vacations] I went down to the Dominican Republic with my family and my wife would tell you that I was going fucking crazy the whole time. I couldn’t put my phone down and I couldn’t put my computer away. I think she just accepts the fact that no matter what, this is the way I am. »

Radio Metal :You’ve always been a very prolific musician. From the outside it seems like you don’t want to have any regrets, so every single time you have an idea you do everything to make it happen. Am I right?

Mike Portnoy (Drums) : Yeah, absolutely right. I’ve had carpe diem tattooed on my arm for almost 20 years now, and it means “seize the day” and that’s exactly how I live my life. I don’t spend too much time looking backwards, because you can’t change it, I just live for today and keep moving forward. At this point in my life I’m enjoying freedom in doing lots of different things with lots of different people, making lots of music.

Don’t you feel the need to slow down sometimes?

I don’t know how to slow down, I get bored very easily. I do enjoy being at home with my wife and my kids, but at the same time, I start to go crazy if I’m not being productive and active. That’s not something you can manufacture or make up, it’s just the way my personality is. It’s always been that way from the beginning. You know, in Dream Theater, I carried a million responsibilities everyday, it’s just the way I work, it’s the way my body is wired.

“Mike Portnoy on holiday”, what does that look like? What do you do when you take a vacation for a week or two. Do you go crazy after two days and start writing riffs on your computer or something like that?

Yeah. Well, I actually haven’t had many vacations in the past ten years or so. But the one that I did take recently, last summer, I went down to the Dominican Republic with my family and my wife would tell you that I was going fucking crazy the whole time. I couldn’t put my phone down and I couldn’t put my computer away. I think she just accepts the fact that no matter what, this is the way I am. I’m just a workaholic and completely obsessive-compulsive about every aspect of my life and career.

« I don’t think I could ever be content being in one band for the rest of my life, playing one kind of music with the same musicians. That’s just not the type of musician that I am. »

Even when you were in Dream Theater, you’ve always been a very active musician but considering the number of different projects you’ve been working on since you left Dream Theater – Adrenaline Mob, Flying Colors, the Neil Morse albums etc… – do you think that, had you stayed in Dream Theater, you would have the time to do all those different things you’re doing right now?

Well, I always did outside projects in Dream Theater, you know. All that time in Dream Theater, I still managed to do Transatlantic, play on Neil’s solo albums, Liquid Tension [Experiment], OSI and my tribute bands with Paul Gilbert, so I was always very active with Dream Theater. So now, as you can imagine, without Dream Theater, my life is exploding. You know, I used to do a million things, now I’m doing two million things. But it’s okay, I’m happy with that. I need to be productive and active and also, I’m getting to do many different things. Things that aren’t necessarily rooted in progressive music. You know, I will always have progressive elements in everything I do, and I still have Transatlantic and the Neil Morse albums which are very progressive. But at the same time, I’m enjoying branching out and Adrenaline Mob and Flying Colors are two bands that are giving me very different musical outlets from what I had in the past and that’s something very important to me. I don’t think I could ever be content being in one band for the rest of my life, playing one kind of music with the same musicians. That’s just not the type of musician that I am.

Adrenaline Mob does a very catchy and very metal music with a very charismatic frontman, Russel Allen. Do you find maybe in Russel Allen something that you might have been missing in the most metal parts with Dream Theater, considering that James Labrie wasn’t convincing the fans in the most metal parts of the band?

I will say that I’ve always loved Russel Allen as a singer and as a frontman and when Symphony X was on tour with Dream Theater, I used to watch them every night and completely love watching Russel Allen every night. He and I always talked about doing something together, just because I’ve always loved his voice and his presentation and his personality. So I’ll just say that I’m very, very happy to finally be in a band with him. I think it was inevitable, and he’s got one of those voices that just has incredible power and range, you know. I’ve always thought that he was like a modern day Ronnie James Dio. What he does in Symphony X is great but I’ve always known that he should be much more well known than he is, beyond just the kind of cult progressive metal following that Symphony X has. So I’ve always known that Russel has the ability to branch out and be a real star. So I’m just glad to be working with him in a band, it’s an honor for me.

Why did you choose to put on this new album Omertà, the songs that were on the first EP you released last year? Don’t you think the production was good enough?

All along those songs were supposed to have been on Omertà. We put out the EP as kind of a last minute decision to get something out there because we were doing a tour in America last summer, and we didn’t want to go on tour without people hearing any music. So the EP kind of served as a coming attraction for the real movie which was Omertà. The EP served as kind of a sneak preview.

So this album is called “Omertà”, which is some kind of code of silence, so what is the meaning behind that? About what aren’t you allowed to talk?

Well I think it stands for like a code of silence or a code of honor that you enter when you enter a brotherhood or a club. I think it just felt fitting for the first album of a new band: you’re joining a club or a brotherhood with Adrenaline Mob. That’s kind of what the “mob” idea is behind the band, that we’re very much like a gang of brothers. When you join the club, you’re in it for life. That’s kind of what Omertà is eluding to.

« That was the whole idea of Flying Colors, to make Poppy music but with a real musical edge to it, and I think some of the best Pop music from the 60s and the 70s had that. »

You recorded recently the Flying Colors album, we’ve listened to it and, even if this album has some technical and elaborate parts, it remains a very catchy old-school Pop album, like it was in the 60s and in the 70s. Do you think nowadays Pop music is way to simple so that you wanted to remind people that Pop music can be catchy but also, well played and very solid and elaborate?

Well that’s the thing with the Flying Colors album, you know, the songs are simple and catchy, they definitely have that Pop sensibility to the song writing, but at the same time you have Steve Morse, Dave LaRue, myself and Neil Morse playing it. So inevitably, there’s going to be a musical or progressive angle to the application of the instruments. That was the whole idea of Flying Colors, to make Poppy music but with a real musical edge to it, and I think some of the best Pop music from the 60s and the 70s had that. If you listen to the biggest hits for bands like Queen, you know, which was “Bohemian Rhapsody” or for Kansas, “Carry On Wayward Son”, in the 70s in America you had these kind of Pop-oriented songs but they were all executed with real maturity and intricacy, and I think that’s what we were trying to capture with Flying Colors, kind of the best of both worlds.

By the way, this album starts with, just before the first song we hear you guys talking about the song like you don’t really know what is going to happen. Was it a way to talk about the spontaneity of the recording of this album ?

Well I think the real idea of putting the studio band there, at the start of the album, was to let people know that this is a real band, the five of us made this album and made this music sitting in a room together as opposed to so many “projects” that happen these days where it’s just people sending tapes through the mail or through e-mail, ProTools sessions, and they never even meet. That’s not what Flying Colors is about. It was important to establish right from the very first second of the CD that it was the five of us in the room together working together, making music together. The whole beauty of this collaboration was that it was indeed a collaboration: all five of us putting our heads together. That was the most important thing to get across right from the very beginning of the CD.

On this record, you played with Steve Morse, he’s one of the guitarists that has influenced John Petrucci the most. I guess it must have been easy to work with him, considering the similarities they share in their playing style.

Yeah, it’s funny, I kept saying to Steve as we were writing “my God, that sounds exactly like John!” and I know the reason to that is because Steve is John’s number one guitar hero. So it’s interesting to be making music with one of John’s biggest guitar heroes, because I could hear so much of Steve’s style and influence in all the years that John and I worked together. That being said, Steve is also one of my favorite guitar players of all time. I grew up listening to him with the Dixie Dregs and the Steve Morse Band, when he played with Kansas in the mid 80s. So he was also a very, very big influence for me, he’s one of my favorite guitar players. So to play in a band with him now is a real honor and I’ve known Steve for many years because we’ve toured together with the Dixie Dregs with Dream Theater, and Dream Theater with Deep Purple, but this is the first time that Steve and I actually make music together. To see first hand not only his playing ability, which I had already seen and already known, but to see his creative abilities, in the way he writes and thinks, to see that first hand was truly amazing because he’s just really a musical genius in that sense.

Did you sometimes have the feeling that you were playing with John Petrucci again? Like some flashbacks?

Well like I said, there were times when I could close my eyes and it sounded like John, just because Steve Morse is such a big influence on John. Flying Colors was the first project I did in 2011, so it was kind of fitting for my first real band after Dream Theater to be playing with Steve Morse. It just kind of made sense. Not to mention the fact that also having Neil Morse and Dave LaRue was a great comfort for me because I have very extended histories with both of those guys. So it really seemed like the perfect line-up for me to be working with, coming off of all of my years with Dream Theater.

« I wouldn’t say that I’m so much looking forward to being a single man the rest of my life, musically. I think I want to be more like a polygamist. »

In a interview, you compared yourself to a divorced man that now has the time to get chicks. But that only lasts for a few months or a few years, after that the divorced man starts to miss being in a couple. So do you think that you will experience the same feeling and in a few months or in a few years you will start missing having a real relationship with a main band?

Well these are real relationships. The relationships that I have started with Flying Colors and with Adrenaline Mob both have the ability to be around for years to come, just like when we started Transatlantic back in 1999. We now have made three albums and done three tours. I see something similar with Flying Colors and Adrenaline Mob. So I wouldn’t say that I’m so much looking forward to being a single man the rest of my life, musically. I think I want to be more like a polygamist. Someone who’s married to multiple wives. I think that’s more what I’m looking for. I’ve never been the type of guy that wants to keep playing one type of music for the rest of my life with one set of guys for the rest of my life. For some people that works, but for me, my musical taste is just too broad and with all due respect to the Dream Theater guys, several of which I truly love and miss, I need to branch out and play with different people. I can’t always have the same singer in my bands for the rest of my life, I want to try working with different people and different types of singers and different types of musicians, doing different types of music. And my musical taste is very broad, I don’t want to only have to be playing one style of music forever. I’m sorry, you only live once, and even though I love the Dream Theater guys and we have established something back in the mid 80s, I don’t necessarily want to feel like that is the only thing I can do for the rest of my life. I want to explore and branch out, work with different people.

But do you think you will have a project where you will be as much involved as you were with Dream Theater?

I don’t know, that remains to be seen. With Dream Theater I was very, very much in full control of every single decision. That went from the music to the lyrics to the melodies to the production to the direction to the websites and the fan-clubs. I oversaw every single one of those elements only because Dream Theater was my baby and I had spent so long building up that band that I think I was very, very protective over it. So as the years went on I became very protective over it and made sure that everything was always a certain way to maintain the integrity of the band, and I think that was important. So I was very comfortable being the leader in that band because I think that was just the way my personality is. You know, some of the other guys in Dream Theater were not really that type of personality. They’re a little bit more mellow and kind of staying-in-the-background kind of personalities. So I think in Dream Theater I was very naturally the leader just because that’s my nature and my personality. The point is, I don’t know if I would ever have that amount of control over any future bands. I don’t know. I have to adapt to different situations, different people, different players and different chemistry. With Transatlantic and with Flying Colors, it’s about working together and collaborating. In the situation of both those bands you have many players that are used to being the leaders in their own respective bands. So in those cases, it’s about working together and sharing the workload. With Adrenaline Mob, it was something I came into a little bit latter because Mike Orlando and Russel Allen had started it and at first I was gonna come in and just play drums. But as time went on, they asked me to be more and more involved and more and more in control, because they’re kind of looking towards my leadership and guidance. So if they’re asking for that, then I’m willing to take it on. And then, there are other situations, like when I do Neil Morse’s solo albums where basically I just come in and play drums, and that’s the way it was for Avenged Sevenfold as well. I’m very comfortable with that role as well. So in different bands, different chemistry, I need to have a different role. In answer to your original question which was if I would ever be in another band if I had full control: I don’t know, but right now that’s not what I’m interested in. Maybe it’s possible in the future but right now I’m more interested in collaborating.

(About Dream Theater) « I don’t think this is saying that they like it better that way, or that they wished it was that way when I was in the band, I think this is just rolling with the punches and adapting to the circumstances. »

You just said that you were the natural leader in Dream Theater and that it was part of the chemistry that the others were more in the background. But actually when we look at interviews of Dream Theater right now, they say that things have changed, that this is more a collaborative band. So what do you think of that. Do you think that maybe some of the guys thought that maybe you were too present, so that they’re happy now that things have changed?

Well, all those years, the Dream Theater guys have always said that they were very happy with me leading the band and controlling the band and over seeing the band. Nobody ever complained about it and everybody thought that I was very strong in my ability to do those things. So I think everybody was very content to let me do it. So now that they’re sharing the workload and the decision making, I don’t think that’s necessarily saying that that’s how they wished it was or that’s how they would’ve preferred. I think they’re mainly doing it because of the circumstances, because they have to now. The chemistry in the band in different than what it was, so they need to adapt to the new chemistry, and that means that everybody is going to have to assume different roles that they didn’t have to do in the past. I don’t think this is saying that they like it better that way, or that they wished it was that way when I was in the band, I think this is just rolling with the punches and adapting to the circumstances.

« People that post stuff on Blabbermouth are fucking idiots but I’m sure half of them are twelve-year-old kids sitting in their parent’s basement loving winding people up and pissing people off. »

You use Facebook, Twitter and you forum a lot to communicate and interact with your fans, and you did that a lot when you left Dream Theater and after trying to rejoin them. Now every single time we hear about you on Blabbermouth and when we look at the comments of the people on Blabbermouth, we see things like “the whiny Mike Portnoy” etc… What do you think of that? Do you think you might have opened yourself publicly too much to a bunch of strangers on the internet?

Well that’s just the danger of having an open relationship with the fans, you’re suddenly out there for criticism and the people that post stuff on Blabbermouth are fucking idiots but I’m sure half of them are twelve-year-old kids sitting in their parent’s basement loving winding people up and pissing people off. So yeah, people like myself that are very open in terms of their relationship online, we become targets because I like to speak my mind, I don’t bullshit anybody, I don’t sugarcoat shit and give the politically correct answer. I answer a question the way I honestly feel so you can become an easy target when you have that sort of personality. I see that happen to so many other musicians that get equally criticized. But that’s the pros and cons of the internet and honestly, as much as it really pisses me off and bothers me when I see people saying negative things like that, on the other hand I just ignore them and I’m not gonna change. I’m not going to close off the relationship I have with my fanbase. I have a lot of people on my Facebook page, a lot of people on my Twitter account, and I value that relationship. I’ve always been a very open and sharing person and that’s one of the things that I think was a big strength for Dream Theater, and I’m not gonna change that now that I’m not with Dream Theater. I like to have that open relationship, I like to be in touch with the fanbase and keep an eye on the things that they’re saying and the things that they’re wanting. That’s how I built Dream Theater’s relationship with Dream Theater’s fanbase for all those years and I’m not gonna change now. You can’t teach an old dog a new trick.

You keep saying in the press that you really would like to play with your ex-mates again but at the opposite, Dream Theater keeps saying that Mike Mangini is the drummer and that this is permanent. So how do you picture the possibility for Mike Portnoy to play with Dream Theater again?

I have no idea, it’s not in my control and I don’t really think about it. I think about where I’m at today and the music I’m making today with all of the different bands and projects that I have going on in my career. I never say never, if the opportunity ever arose in the future to play with those guys again, I would absolutely welcome it and I would do it, because my intention was never to leave the band, my intention was just to have a break from the band. Which is what I now have. So whatever happens in the future, I’ll deal with it when it arrives, but until then it’s all speculation.

Okay, last question, and actually this is the stupid question of the interview. A few months ago, I wrote an article about you and I miss-spelled your name and I realized that just by switching two letters in your name, you got “Porn Toy”. At the time I thought “How is it possible that I hadn’t found out about this earlier?” So do you often hear this joke?

[Laughs] Yeah, I’ve seen that online. I think there’s even an asshole on Youtube that’s posting shit under that name. It that you?!

No, I promise that’s not me! [laughs]

Well there’s somebody using that name on Youtube and pretending to be me. I guess it’s funny when people make jokes but when people start impersonating you and doing things in your name to blacken your reputation, that angers me and pisses me off. I try to be a very positive person and I try to look at the good side in everything and when people twist my words, when they speak on my behalf, when they post things online that somehow will show a negative side, it really bothers me.

Interview conducted on february, 29th, 2012 by phone.

Transcription : Stan

Mike Portnoy’s website : www.mikeportnoy.com
Adrenaline Mob’s website : adrenalinemob.com
Flying Colors website : flyingcolorsmusic.com

Adrenaline Mob album : Omerta, out on march, 12th, 2012 via Century Media Records.
Flying Colors album : Flying Colors, out on march, 26th, 2012



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