Mike Portnoy – InterviewBy William Simpson • Oct 25th, 2015 • Category: Artist Interviews
Interview by Jennifer Reid
While touring the country in support of The Winery Dogs newest album “Hot Streak,” the exuberant Mike Portnoy sat down with StageShottz Magazine at Heritage Hall to discuss history and heroes. The monster you see behind the drums, is nothing compared to the gracious man you see before you.
StageShottz Magazine: Let’s discuss your first real connection with music and what connects you today.
Mike Portnoy: My first real connection with music had to have been when I was 2 weeks old. I have been surrounded by music from the day I was born. My dad was a rock and roll DJ and he was literally surrounding me with The Beatles, and The Stones, The Who, Zeppelin all of that from literally day one. I have pictures of me eating out of a cereal bowl next to a Mickey Mouse record player with little 45’s with apples on it, which of course is The Beatles. I guess that’s my earliest memory.
SSM: What connects you still?
MP: Well nothing has changed. I’m still that zero year old kid eating cereal and listening to The Beatles! I’m just going to be 48 now. (chuckles) My beard has grown.
SSM: It’s actually alot shorter than the last time we saw you!
MP: Yeah, it comes and goes. I cut it, it comes back. Nothing’s changed, I’m still first and foremost a music fan. I’m still a kid listening to Kiss records in my bedroom. Nothing has changed.
SSM: You have said “Hot Streak” is more of a collaborative effort. Tell me how the bands relationships have grown and what are the contributing factors to the collaboration?
MP: The relationships have grown immensely since the first record. The first record was just 3 guys coming together as an experiment. We didn’t know what was going to happen. We didn’t know if anyone was going to listen to it or like it. This time we’re a real band. We are coming off 100 shows worldwide, spending a couple of years together. There was obviously a very personal chemistry this time. The process was really the same. We collaborated on the first album as well, but one difference is that Richie had a couple of demos that we used as a safety net to fall back on because we didn’t know how the experiment was going to go. This time we knew we could write together real easily so we came in with a blank canvas. We 100% collaborated from the onset this time around.
SSM: What is your favorite track on this album?
MP: It’s the clique answer. You can’t pick a favorite because they are like your children, they are all your favorites. So the clique answer but the God’s honest truth! I think the sign of a good album is when someone’s favorite track changes day by day. That’s the case in this album for me. I tend to like the less obvious tracks. The ones that come to mind are “How Long,” “Empire” and “Devil You Know.” I like the deeper tracks and those are the ones doing it for me today.
SSM: You wrote the lyrics to “You Saved Me” on the first album. It’s very powerful and about someone who does not waiver in their love for you. Did you pull from personal experience?
MP: That was my thank you note to my wife. When I left Dream Theatre five years ago it was a very dramatic time in my life with alot of controversy. You realize who your friends are when you go through something like that. It made me realize that family is forever. Supposed friends come and go, band members come and go. People will leave you when the chips are down, but family is forever.
SSM: It’s been a long time for you guys.
MP: We have been together 25 years.
SSM: That’s so awesome! You are in 6 bands right now. Let’s talk about some of the biggest differences and similarities between each.
MP: I have different categories. There are the prog bands which are the Neal Morse band and Transatlantic and Flying Colors to a certain extent. Those are my 3 bands with Neal Morse. I have a whole career with Neal that alot of the mainstream and metal community don’t even know about. It’s more of my prog side. Neal and I have a very deep relationship. Flying Colors is cool because I get to play with Steve Morse who is one of my favorite guitarist of all time. Unfortunately, that project is more part time because he is so busy with Deep Purple. But, we do have a live DVD and Blu Ray coming out next month. Then I have Metal Allegiance which is my full on metal project with the guys from Megadeth, Pantera, Testament and Slayer. The ultimate metal project. That’s also part time because it’s made up of guys in other bands so we can’t get together very often. But, it’s surely an album that I am incredibly proud of and excited about. Then there is Twisted Sister which is just a hired gun thing for me. I’m just helping them out. I did all of their 2015 shows and I’m hoping to help them finish out their farewell tour next year and see it through to the end. I have a tremendous amount of respect for those guys. I grew up on Long Island and those guys are local heroes. And finally, there is The Winery Dogs which is my main band. For me, Billy and Richie it’s our home base and the priority in all of our lives.
SSM: Speaking of Twisted Sister, you have said you want to respect AJ but also be yourself. How do you do that?
MP: It’s a similar situation to when I came into Avenged Sevenfold. Replacing a drummer who passed away. You have to be very respectful of that. Not just for the fans but for the band members. It’s a very emotional thing for them to look back and see somebody else. Normally with The Winery Dogs I’m very animated, but with Twisted Sister I have to take a step back and remember I am just a hired gun. I have to respect AJ’s legacy. I have to respect his drum parts. I’m there to do a job. Every once in a while, Mike Portnoy will seep through! Inevitably there are going to be traces of me in everything I do.
SSM: You are the second youngest drummer ever to be inducted into the Modern Drummers Hall of Fame, behind your hero Neil Peart. How did you come to learn about that and how do you feel about it?
MP: It’s kind of surreal. For me to be amongst John Bonham, Keith Moon, Ringo Starr, Neil Peart, Bill Bruford, Buddy Rich, all guys that are my elders and my heroes, it’s the ultimate compliment. I’m the only hard rock/metal drummer in there. It’s the highest honor I could possibly have as a drummer. I was in Japan when I found it. It was 2004. I never thought I would ever even be on the cover of Modern Drummer and now I’ve been on 4 times. I never thought I would win an award and I’ve won 30 from them. It’s just surreal. One award would have been enough for me! Being put into the Hall of Fame is a real honor and I can die happy.
SSM: You have always said that you did not want to just be “the guy behind the drums.” Tell me why that is so important for you.
MP: It’s just my personality. I’m very outgoing, an extrovert, a control freak. I’m OCD so it’s just my personality. I can’t sit quietly in the back. The first time I saw Keith Moon play, I pointed at the screen and said “that’s what I want to do.” I had been a Who fan my whole life but I had not seen him on screen until The Kids Are Alright in movie theatres in 1979. There was this drummer who you couldn’t take your eyes off of. He was captivating. I wanted to be that type of drummer. I don’t care about technique. I have kind of been pigeon held as a technical drummer since I was in Dream Theatre for all those years but it’s actually very far from the truth. I am not a technical drummer at all. I’m more from the Keith Moon/Lars Ulrich school of “hey, look at me!” I just get up there and bash. I have no interest in playing “perfect.” To me, it’s more about being an entertainer. Having a connection with the audience.
SSM: Your son’s band just got signed. How are they doing?
MP: They’re doing great! They are Next to None and they just put out their debut album which I produced. It’s been really great watching them grow and watching my son develop. He’s some drummer. He’s incredible! It’s really cool to see everything come full circle with my son.
SSM: The last question I have is one I ask anyone because the answers are always so interesting. Tell me about the coolest musical experience you have ever had.
MP: I have been blessed with so many, but 4 come to mind. One was being invited to Frank Zappa’s house by Joe Travers who runs the vault, and Gail Zappa, God rest her soul, to spend the afternoon going through the vault. Joe let me listen to anything I wanted. He let me go into Frank’s office. That was like being invited to go to The Dakota by Yoko Ono! Another was back in ’95 drinking a bottle of Jagermeister with Jimmy Page in Germany. Just me and him, in my dressing room drinking a bottle of jager. It was amazing. Next is any of my experiences with Neil Peart. We have become friends over the years and he has always been my hero. It even says in my high school year book “will become the next Neil Peart!” The fact that he sends me gifts, pictures of he and his daughter, anytime he’s in town he invites me out. One of the most gracious host ever, and I have so much respect for that man. I cherish, honor and value that friendship with him. Finally I got a chance to interview Nick Mason in 2006 and he invited me to Madison Square Garden where he was playing with Roger Waters. They were playing “Dark Side Of The Moon.” I was literally sitting there at sound check while they went through “Shine On You Crazy Diamond.” It was pretty intense.