Two different men, two different opinions, two different vibes. The departure of Mike Portnoy from Dream Theater is a turning point. Whether it is one musically, we’ll find out in a few months. But given Mike’s prominence in the band – it’s no wonder Dream Theater was regarded as “Portnoy’s band” – there were many consequences and issues raised by this departure. We tried to take the pulse of the band. Firstly with one who was already in it and decided to go on, John Petrucci, guitarist and founding member. Then, with the one with whom the show will go on: the lucky Mike Mangini.
The documentary covering the auditions of various drummers made us sit up and take notice, showing Mike Mangini in a very positive light, as a capable drummer and an extremely pleasant and likeable person. Such a portrayal will not be contradicted by this sincere interview: Mike is warm, forthcoming, talkative and open-handed regarding personal anecdotes. We were talking to a light-hearted man, relieved after difficult times and eternally grateful towards Dream Theater.
Though entirely aware of his worth and level, the man remains extremely humble, still too much in awe to assert himself within the band beyond his position as a drummer. As if he hadn’t yet fully realized what was happening to him, Mike Mangini remains extremely cautious when talking about long term issues, though he is adamant about one thing: Mike Portnoy will not come back.
Radio Metal: Hey Mike. So, have you managed to get used to saying to radio stations and journalists, “Hey, I’m Mike Mangini from Dream Theater” ?
Mike Mangini (drums) : (He repeats) “Hey, I’m Mike Mangini from Dream Theater”. I can say it now and believe it. I’m used to taking one step at a time. It’s happened, and now I’m going to enjoy moving on. But at the same time, the fact that it occurred is wild and strange, and I just can’t believe that the opportunity came up.
It took a few months between the auditions and the moment your name was revealed to the public. It must have been frustrating not to be able to tell the news to the world!
It was difficult not being able to say it to my own family. My family didn’t know until April 18th, which means I had to be silent about it from November 2010 until April 18th, 2011! It was very difficult.
Are you kidding me ?! No one knew?
No! No, no, no. There were so few people who knew. The only reason a handful of people knew is because they were involve in some way. And that was it. It was just a question of business or something. I only told a few people. I told my wife, but I was not able to tell my friends and my family.
I just can’t believe it!
Did the fact that you had already played with James Labrie make you feel more at ease during the audition?
Actually, I don’t know. And the reason why is because the only time that I played was when Mike Portnoy brought me on stage with his double drum kit. I was the very, very first drummer to join Mike. What happened when I was on the stage was very odd. I don’t even know what song they were playing. All I know was Mike turned to me and said: “Just follow me”. So I just followed him and mimicked what he played and matched him! I don’t know if that had to do with me being at ease, but I know that what made me at ease was that I was prepared.
It is clear in the Spirit Carries On documentary that you were the one who wanted to be in the band the most. Do you think that this played in your favor when they had to choose a drummer?
Yes, it played in my favor – to a point. It played in my favor because my heart and my mind were aware. In other words, I was very alert. I showed up very prepared and skilled. Because I wanted to be in the band, I learned everybody’s parts. I was very respectful of everybody. Wanting to be in the band was like the seed of a tree. And everything that comes from a good seed is good. So it played in my favor because it made everything else easy for me. Where it did not play in my favor is that the band really could care less if twenty drummers wanted to be in the band, because they needed somebody that could actually play the best. I had a flawless audition, I had no mistakes. I’m the only person that played to that level, I think, and that’s why I was chosen.
When a new member of a band is introduced to the fans, the reaction can sometimes be negative and even aggressive when replacing a much loved member. However, according to the forums it seems that you have been welcomed with much enthusiasm. Why do you think this is?
I believe this is because I’m the thing of the fans. I believe they think I’m one of their family. I have demonstrated things to make them believe this my whole career. In other words, when the opportunity of being in Dream Theater came to me, I didn’t change the way I was. I’ve always liked Mike, I’ve always been respectful of him, I’ve always like Dream Theater, I’ve always been respectful of them. I’ve always been a lover of drums and drumming, I’ve shared myself with the world. I sign every autograph, I talk to people. And I’ve been doing this for twenty years. So I didn’t become somebody different, and because Dream Theater fans are very knowledgeable, and because they appear to be very intelligent to me, I believe they did their research. I don’t have to pretend, they know me already, because I’ve demonstrated this my whole life. I think that’s why they’re comfortable with me.
Every band that changes line-up is later harassed by hardcore fans with an obsession for an “original line-up reunion”. This is what has happened with Kiss and Guns N’ Roses, and it is quite disrespectful to the new members. How will you deal with this when it inevitably happens?
Well, I’m very easygoing! (laughs) I will go with the flow and be cooperative. That’s my nature.
In a recent interview you claimed that before you were offered this audition, you remembered lying on the ground asking yourself where your life was going. Where did this desperation come from?
I’m not sure. My wondering where things were going was happening because I was injured. The other thing is that I didn’t have a lot of time for practice because I was working so much, and I did not know how that would change. Also, I had constructed a new drum set that most bands – in fact, that nobody would let me use. So I was wondering: “Gee, how am I going to get healthy with my legs? How am I going to create practice time? And how am I going to use this brand new, unique, beautifully constructed drum set?” I had no idea what the answer was.
Did you find it difficult not being in a stable band?
Yes, I found it difficult not to be in a band for just a few years. I wanted to be in one. The difference is that between the years 2000 and 2005, it was not difficult, because I wanted to teach and stay at home in order to make a family. Once I wanted something else, it was tough.
Is not having a stable band a bit like not having a serious and lasting relationship with a woman?
Yes, it is! (laughs) Sometimes it’s fun to be with different musical outfits, but for me, I’m happier being with one band and a family.
How is it possible that with your level you had not found a band before? Were you waiting for THE perfect band?
Again, that’s because I wanted to make a family and I wanted to stay home. The thing about that is, I had to be concerned with income. So I can’t just be with any band. In other words, it wasn’t easy to just create a band that would be able to sustain me. I was a professor at Berklee College, I was one of the world’s most working drum clinician, and I was also able to create work. Whenever I wanted to work, I could just e-mail people to do studio work. For me to get one band that would be able to pay like all that was difficult. A drummer has to quit or pass away in order to find an opportunity to create! And it doesn’t happen that often, that’s why it’s difficult!
This is your first experience in a stable band. This is something new for you; how are you dealing with this?
Yes, it really is new. I’m extremely excited about that. The reason it’s stable is because John, James, John and Jordan are stable. They’re tremendous people, they’re very grounded and very, very hard-working. That’s the reason it’s stable, and it’s not often that I’ve been able to find a band full of stable people that want to keep going. And they’re also popular. It’s very rare!
You were not part of the writing of the album because it had already been written. What about for the next ones?
Oh, I don’t know. I want to approach things one step at a time. The first step for me was not to be involved in the writing for two reasons. The first reason is that John, John, James and Jordan wanted the experience of writing together with no drummer for the first time. As a fan of the band, I really wanted to see that, so I agreed with this. I wanted to have them be really happy experiencing being composers with no drummer at all. The other reason I was not part of the writing was because I had too much work to do! In other words, I still had a full time job at Berklee, and I had to prepare my equipment for the recording. It took me three months to get all my equipment ready, because I couldn’t tell anybody! I needed a lot of stuff and I had to do all the work myself.
You’ve already said twice in this interview that you wanted to do things step by step. It looks like you want to be very careful and keep yourself from being too enthusiastic. Are you afraid of something?
Uh, let’s see… I’m very grateful and I value what is happening with this band. I’m grateful just for the opportunity to play drums; it’s been such a long time for me that I find a lot of joy in this. In other words, I don’t have any aspirations right now to do more than that. I just want to immerse myself in the drumming. It’s more about being grateful for that and sticking to it that I’m concerned with.
Do you know if John Myung and James Labrie are more involved in this album than they were in the previous ones? Are they going to start writing lyrics again?
John, John and James contributed lyrics.
And who will sing Mike Portnoy’s vocal parts? You ?
Not me! (laughs) I’m not sure what they want to do. We’ll find out in rehearsals.
I know that Jordan Rudess knows how to sing. Will he start singing in Dream Theater?
I don’t know. Again, the band will make those decisions in the rehearsals. I’m very focused on my task, which will be not just learning the songs. My timing is very strong and very solid, so I’m working on playing album tempos. That will be my main concern when I go to rehearsals. It’s trying to play the tempos of the records, which they have not been doing and want to do now. Also, I’m working extra hard for this tour on song learning, because I know I will be under scrutiny and people will be watching everything I do. So it’s a bit more work for me this time, and that’s why I don’t have a concern about the vocals.
Mike Portnoy and John Petrucci have stated that it would be impossible for them not to play together again in the future considering the tight bond that links them. Do you feel as though there is an impending threat hanging over you?
No, not at all. And the reason why is that I like Mike very much. He’s a friend. I now have new brothers in Dream Theater, and when you love somebody, you let them do what they need to do. So I don’t feel like it’s hanging over my head at all. I feel very comfortable I’m in the band for good. Mike’s not coming back, and that’s the deal. I’m the drummer, and that’s the end of it. I feel confident of that. My confidence doesn’t come from being told that; it comes from the fact that I know I will continue to work hard for them to want me to be there.
And now the stupid question of the interview : did you see Metallica’s DVD “Some Kind Of Monster”?
Yes, I did.
In this DVD, when the band announce that Robert Trujillo was chosen, the members say they are giving him a one-million-dollar check as a welcome present. So how much did the band give you?!
(laughs) No, no, no. I’ll tell you what they gave me, because it’s important to me: they gave me their trust, and they gave me a new life. That’s worth much, much, much more. If money is an issue, it could create the potential for hundreds of millions of dollars, if we’re strong together and if we write well and become more popular. That can happen where there is trust. That can happen where there’s a strong family, especially when you feel welcome and important. So they didn’t do anything like that! (laughs)
Interview conducted on june 8th, 2011 by phone.
Transcription : Saff’
Dream Theater’s Website : www.dreamtheater.net
This post is also available in: French