HIT CHANNEL EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: February 2012. We talked to Mike Portnoy (Adrenaline Mob, ex-Dream Theater, Flying Colors). Mike Portnoy isn’t only the best drummer of his generation, but also a very sincere and down-to-earth person and a music fan. On 13th March he releases with his new band, Adrenaline Mob, their first full-length album called, “Omertá” . Read below the very interesting things Mike told us:
(ed: Mike starts asking) Are you from Greece?
You won’t believe it: Right now,m I’m eating souvlaki pita with tomatoes, sauce and all.
Eat one for me, too!
I’m eating one in honour of you.
Are you satisfied with the final result of “Omertá” album?
Yes, I’m very satisfied with what we accomplished. It’s an album with hard-riffing songs with a lot of melody in and big riffs and big funky grooves. I think it’s one of those albums that I’m absolutely proud to be a part of it and every song in the album is very strong in its own. Yeah, I absolutely like it.
How different was the writing process of “Omertá” compared with what you had done in the past?
First of all, stylistically it’s very different from past albums. If you look at what I’ve done with Dream Theater and what Russ (ed: Russell Allen, vocals) has done with Symphony X, Adrenaline Mob it’s a completely different style of band. So, the sound and direction was completely different from any of our previous albums with those bands. But as far as the process itself, I think for Ruff was the same as with Symphony X, but for me was completely very different because this was existing material that came to me. Russ and Mike Orlando (ed:guitar) were working on the material for years before presenting it to me and made me be involved. So, for me it was very different because in Dream Theater I was involved with every song from the very-very beginning to the very-very end and every step in the way. It wasn’t so much like that for me with “Omertá”. However, we are looking forward to when we start writing things for the next album, will blow out and we will do it together from the beginning, to be as exciting as this record that came about .
How you decided to cover Duran Duran’s “Come Undone” song?
Mike and Russ had the idea. To be honest, I have never heard the original Duran Duran song, so for me it was almost just like another original song, because I’ve never heard the original version. So, that’s how it came from and I think it was a great idea. I think this version is so much heavier and ofcourse we have Lzzy Hale (ed:Halestorm) singing guest vocals on this song, which also brings the song to a whole new level of intensity and I ‘m really happy with the way it came out. Since it’s in the middle of the album, it’s almost like it is one of our own songs. It isn’t a kind of bonus track or a cover, it’s like something we made in our own.
As a listener do you like today the “Adrenaline Mob” EP?
The EP kind of served its purpose by basically giving to people a little idea of what they could expect. Because we were doing some live shows, we didn’t want to get on the road without people having any idea of how we sounded like. Because I think when you look at my name and Russell’s name on a piece of paper together you kind of expect something progressive but Adrenaline Mob it’s a very different type of thing. It’s more in the vein of Pantera or Black Sabbath. So, the EP was important to get out just to people to get a taste of what the band is about. But, I think obviously “Omertá” is the real feel.
Do you think Adrenaline Mob band is the most risky thing you have done in your career? The sound isn’t progressive metal as many would imagine…
Well, I can’t say it’s the most risky thing I’ve done in my career. I have always tried different things and the matter of fact is as much as we are just sitting here and talking about Adrenaline Mob, I ‘ve done other things in my career which is round and out of my big picture of what I’m doing in my life and career after Dream Theater. I can’t think of myself playing only in Adrenaline Mob or only in Flying Colors, I think I need to play a range of styles and things and Adrenaline Mob is just one piece of the biz puzzle, for me.
Were you surprised by the departures of Rich Ward (rhythm guitar-Fozzy, Stuck Mojo) and Paul DiLeo (bass-Fozzy)?
No, no. There wasn’t a surprise at all. It was something we knew it might become an issue, because they were both in other bands. So, they were brought up on board to do the tour last year and we had a great time being with them on stage and off-stage, but we knew that the scheduling conflicts may become an issue and I think everybody decided we’d rather be safe and get another band member who wasn’t going to have scheduling conflicts because we plan to be very busy this year with Adrenaline Mob and we don’t want to be held back by other bands’ schedules and commitments. So, I think we worked it out this way. They were a great part for the first chapter, but now everybody needs to move on, with the best interest of Adrenaline Mob as a priority.
You have also announced some summer dates with Adrenaline Mob.. Are there any plans for a second Adrenaline Mob album or it’s too early now?
No, there are no plans for a second Adrenaline Mob album now. Right now, we are concentrating on this album coming out and touring. We have a kind of introduction tour for Europe in June and July. We will play in interesting places like some festivals and introduce people to the band and we want to come back to Europe later in the year for another round and maybe sometime next year we will start thinking about a follow-up record. Right now our first priority is the first album.
In late March the Flying Colors debut will be released. Do you feel that Flying Colors are closer to your influences?
No, I don’t. I think Flying Colors is just another side of my influences as Adrenaline Mob is just as much a part of me as the progressive side. Anybody who knows anything about Mike Portnoy, knows that I love Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, Metallica, Pantera and those bands are a huge-huge part of what I do. Not just the progressive side. A lot of the heaviness of Dream Theater though all the years comes from my love of metal. So, I wouldn’t say that Flying Colors are closer to Mike Portnoy than Adrenaline Mob, as both bands are parts of what I do. You know, I love metal, I love prog, I love pop, I love classic rock, I love everything. That’s part of why in my life I want to explore many different sides. I don’t think one is closer than the other, now.
How was working with the producer Peter Collins (‘80s Rush, Queensryche’s “Operation: Mindcrime”)?
Working with Peter was great. Peter is a producer that I always admired and even Dream Theater were working with outside producer back in the ‘90s, he was always at the top of the wish-list. So, it is fine and nice some years later to finally work with him. I think for Flying Colors it is important to have an outsider to kind of play referee, because myself, Neil Morse (ed:vocals, keyboards-Transatlantic, solo, ex- Spock’s Beard), Steve Morse (ed: guitar-Deep Purple, Dixie Dregs) and Casey McPherson (ed: singer), all four of us are very capable and used to producing ourselves. So, we kind of needed an outsider to be there to draw a border line and put our foot down, as the decision ofcourse was not to be me.
Did you ask him to tell you stories from his recordings with Rush?
I mean, I didn’t really ask him (laughs). I know the Rush guys for many years now and I have my own stories. Inevitably, when you sit down on a dinner and could always have stories to tell. Ofcourse, that wasn’t something new for me as I have worked with Paul Northfield (ed: Rush engineer) and Terry Brown (the classic Rush producer, he has talked to us) as well, so I have a pile of Rush stories through the years.
What impressed me the most after your departure from Dream Theater was your fear of becoming Roger Waters of Dream Theater and never coming back to the band you founded. Have you now come to terms with this fear?
I hope it isn’t just another Roger Waters situation. It was always very sad, as a Pink Floyd fan, that Roger never came back to the band, except that one Live 8 show. All I ever wanted in Dream Theater, was to take some years off, because everything else I thought was great. I wanted all the band members to take it and to be for some time on our own. I want it to take it, but the others wanted to go on. I surely hope that it will not have the same result as Pink Floyd and as far as Waters, but the ball is in their court. I think I could come back in the band in a few years when I think everybody will have a little of a probate. But the ball is in their court.
We have a very rare common: we both have done an interview with Nick Mason (Pink Floyd drummer). Can you describe us your experience of talking to Nick and your feelings being on stage during the soundcheck with Roger and Nick at Madison Square Garden?
Well, Nick is a total gentleman and so fine and nice and welcoming to me when we had our talk together. And like you said earlier, he brought me up on soundcheck with Roger. To me, that was one of the most exciting experiences of my career, in my life, just because I’m such a huge Pink Floyd fan. You know, they are one of my top-3 bands of all time. Yes, that was absolutely one of the coolest things I’ve ever experienced and Nick he’s such a gentleman. I thank him about it.
Have you ever met Ringo Starr (The Beatles drummer)?
I have!! I met Ringo back in the late ‘90s and I actually had the honour of sitting down and playing on his drum set. Yeah, it was pretty amazing.
You are currently working on a project with Billy Sheehan (bass, Mr. Big) with Richie Kotzen (guitarist). How will this project sound like?
The idea was to do it with John Sykes (ex-Whitesnake, Thin Lizzy) but it didn’t happened. I didn’t plan to do it with Richie. But the whole idea is to go for that classic power trio sound of late ‘60s and early ‘70s in the vein of Cream, Grand Funk Railroad with a little bit of classic rock touches. Also, bands like Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple mixed in there, and a more modern-age, Soundgarden, Alice In Chains type of sound, mixed in. You know, everything it’s a part of the big picture: Adrenaline Mob is kind of my new metal band, Flying Colors is more my alternative pop-rock band and the thing I’m doing with Richie is more my classic rock band. They are all pieces of the puzzle. They all make the world to understand where Mike Portnoy is in 2012.
Are you preparing any tribute show with Paul Gilbert?
No, nothing is planned at the moment. As Paul and I, love playing together and do tributes , sure there will be more in the future. At the moment, we both are busy doing other things.
Do you have any idea about the bands you will cover?
I do. I have a couple of the next ones in the back of my mind.
Which music dream you have, hasn’t fulfilled yet?
The three dream musicians that I still want to work with are: Paul McCartney, Roger Waters and the third one would be Elton John. I mean, those are the three biggest artists I want to work with. Those are my biggest three musical heroes that are still alive. Obviously, I don’t think playing with anyone of these three, is a very realistic. It’s very much a dream to be.
No, no. Why not?
We are definitely parts of different worlds: I’m a part of the metal and prog world and those guys are living legends. I’m really younger than them and I’m an American and they are all British, so for me it’s just a dream. Ofcourse, if any of those dreams come true, I will shit myself.
You are the busiest person in music business. Do you have any time left for your family, hobbies, etc?
I do. You know, I try to spend as much time with my wife and kids, as I can. My wife, is one of the most understanding people I know, and she is very-very supportive of whole of my work and of whole of my career. She’s very supportive of that and I thank God for that. She takes care of our kids and she’s very understanding. And honesty, as long as I have a couple of weeks here and there at home, she makes like a crazy when I’m not working. So, it’s much better when I ‘m busy with something.
How do you see the fact that many drummers especially in metal are focused more in getting endorsements than playing drums?
I can’t really relate to that. For me, I started playing drums because I love music and then the endorsements came in my way. That’s a smart way to go. I think you have to be devoted about your instrument and the music. Not about business. I always put music first and business second. That’s the way it supposes have to be. That’s all I know.
Which kind of music are you listening to this period?
Some of my favourite albums at the moment: I love the new Van Halen album, it’s as good as the past ones. I love the new Lamb of God album. Those are some of music I’m listening to at the moment.
Are you satisfied with the music that American mainstream music press and radio stations promote?
I think times are changing. Back in the ‘90s and early 2000s I used to get very upset with mainstream media and radio. Times are changing because here in America we have satellite radio and there are specialized stations. I’m looking at the radio in my car right now, as we speak and it’s playing Meshuggah. So, I mean that’s a good time. That would never be the case 15 years ago. But now, specialized radio in America it’s much better than it used to be. And as far as the media and the press, they are more Internet-based. You can find information on anything style on the Internet and much easier than we did in the old days. So, I think it’s much better now than it used to be.
Back in the early ‘90s, I think Dream Theater were the first band which made public that they liked bands like Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Pink Floyd and Yes. How difficult was that decision?
That wasn’t a conscious decision. I always have been and I always will be a music fan and person foremost and I will always speak about the bands I love. The other guys in Dream Theater they are not so much fans as I am, so I don’t think they have ever spoken as much as I do. For me, there was never a conscious plan to talk about my influences. I did naturally do it because I’m a fan. I love talking about the music I’m listening to and the bands I grew up with.
But you were the first who did that!! I think only Voivod had done it before Dream Theater, covering Syd Barrett’s songs.. You were pioneers, even in this one.
I never really cared about what is cool or what isn’t or if prog bands are out of fashion. I don’t give a shit, I just talk about what I like and I’m still expressing the same way.
How do you decide while you are writing a song, which band this will fit with?
I don’ t know. Writing comes on its own. During all these years in Dream Theater it was always collaborating and collective writing. So, it isn’t like I’m sitting at home and write a song to say “Ok, which band this will fit with?” I just write with the band I work with, whether it’s Transatlantic or Dream Theater. In general mode, I just stick with those I ‘m working with and that’s why I’m collaborating and that’s where I put my creating energy. To those I ‘m working with, I focus myself and put myself down on the floor for working together with the other guys.
How possible is to see you soon in Greece?
I can play. I miss playing for the great Greek fans. So, my fingers are crossed, I think I will make it down there with one of my bands. I ‘m waiting to see if that’s going to happen.
A huge “THANK YOU” to Mike Portnoy for his time and the great answers.
Also, I would like to thank Kevin Chiaramonte for his valuable help.