Dream Theater – Mike Portnoy

August 23rd, 2005
by EvilG

Mike Portnoy of Dream Theater
and Liquid Tension Experiment

Intervied  Jan. 1999 by David Lee.

The term “Supergroup” is one that has its origin in the seventies when groups like EMERSON, LAKE and PALMER and BLIND FAITH ruled both the airwaves and concert stages. Since that time the concept and term have been used endlessly with less and less justification to do so. Finally, with the release of LIQUID TENSION EXPERIMENT, the progressive rock world has put together a group which is justifiably and demonstrably a “Supergroup.”

Mike Portnoy and John Petrucci of DREAM THEATER, Jordan Rudess of THE DREGS and Tony Levin who has played with everyone from PETER GABRIEL to YES came together for five days to hammer out an extemporaneous recording that only professionals of their ability and experience could have even attempted. The record has been called a “stroke-fest” by some but if what is contained in these 70 minutes is pure pomp the circumstance for it are perfect. Every number on the disc is pure adrenaline just this side of extreme. There are no singers and no ballads, just straight ahead virtuosity and passion. It is just what the music scene needs right now.

I spoke with LTE’s motivating force, Mike Portnoy about this project and about the state of progressive rock in general.


 

Metal Rules!!
How did four progressive rock virtuoso’s come together to form LIQUID TENSION EXPERIMENT?

MIKE PORTNOY:
Coincidentally we all live in New York. Jordan and I both live in Rockland County and John lives on Long Island, where I used to live and Tony lives upstate in Woodstock. That was just by coincidence. The project actually came together when Magna Carta approached me about the possibility of putting together a “Super Group” of my choice and I gave them a big wish list of all the people that I wanted to work with. Over the course of a year or so this was the lineup that ended up solidifying itself. We ended up do this album, writing and recording within five days or so. It was a really wild experience.

 

Metal Rules!!
One of the facts that I gleaned from my research was that you had worked for a very long time on the DREAM THEATER record but for only a few days on the LTE project. Does it get you a bit frustrated that you can manage such an incredible LTE recording in five days but it takes so much longer to put together a DREAM THEATER record?

MP:
Well, I think that DREAM THEATER is a very different thing than what we are doing with LTE. DREAM THEATER is A) our bread and butter. This is what we do for a living. LTE is sorta like our hobby. DREAM THEATER is our real job so we put a lot of time and care into it and I think that we have been known for making records that are very meticulous and polished so that is what DREAM THEATER is all about. Having done a whole album in one week I would have to say that I prefer doing it that way. I prefer working with spontaneous ideas and recordings and stuff like that. With DREAM THEATER’s music we spent a year and a half writing this latest album. During that process we would demo it and re-write it and re-record it and then try it out live so that by the time we got into the studio to record it, it was very well rehearsed. Which can be a good thing but the bad thing is that you lose a lot of that initial magic and spark when you are writing the music. That was the beauty of the LTE album. We would write something on the spot, spend a few hours putting it together and then hit record. What you are listening to on the album was written just hours before that so, it is as fresh as it could be. There is a lot to be said for doing it both ways.

 

Metal Rules!!
Was the title “Liquid Tension Experiment” something that came as an after thought or was that something that you had before the band was finalized?

MP:
Originally I was calling it “The Millennium Project” and halfway through the record we decided to go with something different and we had a list of stuff that we pulled from this book that had been sitting around the studio. That is where we got a lot of the phrases for the song titles like “Universal Mind” and “State of Grace” and “Freedom of Speech”. Another thing that we pulled was the phrase “Liquid Tension” and that just seemed to sum it all up because it was liquid in the sense that everything flowed so smoothly but it was tension because it was a very tense, stressful process to write and record this thing in such a short period of time. It really summed up the two extremes in this whole project. I wanted to get the word experiment in there because that is exactly what it was. We had no idea what was going to become of this project. It was like putting four mice in the studio and seeing what they would come up with.

 

Metal Rules!!
When you were writing this with these three other virtuoso musicians did ego ever become a problem? Was there ever a point where one of you would say “I want it to go this way.” and then someone else would say “No, I think it should go this way.”?

MP:
Oh, definitely. That is part of the process of collaborating but it all happened so quickly that there wasn’t much time for much of that. I mean, with DREAM THEATER, talk about ego’s and about going head to head!  We have been writing together for a very long time now so DREAM THEATER takes a very long time to get the ideas from point A to point Z. There is a lot of compromising that goes on. With this project there wasn’t so much of that. Even though all four of us have established or accomplished a lot in our individual worlds, I would have to say that everybody involved in this project, I won’t speak for myself, but John, Tony and Jordan are all easy going soft spoken guys. Jordan is a bit of a perfectionist but in a good way. Jordan is not used to collaborating where John and I are used to it and Tony is the ultimate professional. Jordan is used to doing things his own way because he has never been in a band so maybe for him it was a little awkward and he would have to compromise his ideas a little but the whole thing was so quick that there wasn’t enough time and we all went with the flow. Whatever happened, happened.

 

Metal Rules!!
Have you heard the RPM CD?

MP:
Yeah. They just toured with us in Europe.

 

Metal Rules!!
Jordan played with DREAM THEATER for a short time, didn’t he?

MP:
He did one show with us.

 

Metal Rules!!
Between RPM and DREAM THEATER did you all have occasion to jam on this
stuff at all?

MP:
No. When Jordan and Rod were opening for us we didn’t incorporate them into the DREAM THEATER show and we should have. John Myoung and Derrick just did a side project with Rod Morgenstein along with Ty Tabor from KINGS X. So, when you had RUDESS/MORGENSTEIN and DREAM THEATER on tour together you had six of the eight members of these two projects and it was tempting to do something. I think that in the future we might do a tour together. Their project and our project and we would be able to play in all of these different formations. DREAM THEATER could play RUDESS / MORGENSTEIN could play. LTE could play. We even had a show on this last tour in England when James became very sick and we had to cancel the show. We tried to talk the promoter into letting all of us play. Me, John, John, Jordan, Rod and Derrick but it ended up not happening.

 

Metal Rules!!
The promoter said “Not for this money!”

MP:
(Laughs)Yeah!

 

Metal Rules!!
I know that this is just seeing the light of day but can you see an LTE 2 or other projects where you work with other people?

MP:
I see both. Before I see a second LTE project I can see live dates. I think that is what is next on the horizon if we were to do anything else together. I think that would be the way to go. Like I say, I would love to put together a tour with Derrick and John Myoung’s side project. I would love to do another album with those guys. All four of us had a great experience with it and I think that we would work together in a heartbeat. It’s just a matter of the timing being right. As for the second part of your question, I think that I am also going to put together another project similar to this one later in the year. Another sort of “Super Group” lineup but we will see.

 

Metal Rules!!
You are not going to tell me who are you?

MP:
Nope!(laughs) I have spoken to all of them and once again it is just a matter of finding the window of opportunity.

 

Metal Rules!!
Will this be another Magna Carta project?

MP:
I don’t know. I will talk to them and see if they are interested in it.

 

Metal Rules!!
I was asked by someone to ask you about your relationship with Magna Carta.

MP:
I have nothing but support for those guys. I have had a great relationship with those guys for years. How can I say anything bad about a label that has given me an opportunity to do an album with Tony levin and an album with Billy Sheehan? Two people who I love and always wanted to work with. I have a lot of respect for what they are doing and even though it is a small label and it is at a smaller level than what we do with Dream theater, I fully respect the fact that they are really trying to give a lot of these younger progressive bands an opportunity that they wouldn’t have had normally. It’s a tough business and major labels are not giving the time of day to the progressive scene so, I am very supportive of a label that is willing to do that.

 

Metal Rules!!
I have read about your disdain for the state of the music business in general. That is something that most artist don’t do, at least publicly. Tonight, your concert is being “presented” by a radio station that hasn’t played your music in years…

MP:
Don’t get me started! I’ll be flipping these guys off from the stage tonight! I have said many bad things about the media and radio stations and magazines and it pisses them off. I don’t want to get all off on that. It’s a very frustrating business to be in. There is a lot of politics involved and, its just frustrating.

 

Metal Rules!!
DREAM THEATER has been a group that has maintained its integrity in that it doesn’t write songs specifically so that they would get on MTV or on the radio. Would you agree?

MP:
I think that we have been very lucky to have been able to survive this long and to do what we do. There are always obstacles. Making this record took longer than we would have liked because of all the political bullshit involved but ultimately, at the end of the day, we are proud of every one of our albums. We have done them on our own terms and I think we have built up quite a fan base through it. As much as I dislike major labels, the fact of the matter is they have gotten us the recognition that a lot of younger bands don’t get because smaller label just can’t do it. I feel very fortunate that we are still able to do this for a living. Everybody from YES to QUEENSRYCHE to MARILLION, those guys don’t even have major label deals anymore. I guess we are pretty fortunate in that respect or unfortunate. It depends on how you look at it!(laughs).

 

 

Metal Rules!!
I think the finest testament to what you just said was the line that we just passed to get onto the buss. We are still an hour ahead of show time and the line is huge. Do you remember the days when this wasn’t the case?

MP:
Yeah. We are very fortunate. We have had a fanbase that stands by us. This is like, a last minute tour that was only put together about a month or so ago but the people always come out. About a year or so ago before we went and did “Falling Into Infinity” we went and did some dates, just some one offs to just get out and play again. This is two or two and a half years after our last release with nothing else in the stores yet we sold out all the shows and that is completely do to our great fans. They always stand by us and that is the one thing that I absolutely love about this band is how great the fans are.

 

Metal Rules!!
This summer you will be out with DEEP PURPLE and ELP. Do you worry that this may place the image of a retro-act on yourselves?

MP:
That was our only concern with that bill. Being that they are both from the 70’s and we are from the 90’s. I really think that it should be looked at as the progressive rock heros of the past and, hopefully, of today and tomorrow, colliding somewhere in between. I don’t think that we will be lumped in with them. I think that we are, obviously, a young band and they have been around for a long time. We are glad that they are taking us out because we have been wanting a support slot for years. We have always been headlining and doing it on our own and we have always been looking for a band like DEEP PURPLE or YES to take us out so, I think it will be good. Even if we do sell more records then them of our current products, the fact of the matter is that both of those bands are legends and big influences for us and it is going to be amazing. Though we are all part of the progressive rock scene their audience is much older than us and there is a good chance that big portions of their audiences have no idea who we are which would be some good exposure for us. We would like to tap into some new listeners.

 

Metal Rules!!
Where do you see progressive rock music heading to as a whole? I ask because until you guys came along a few years ago the whole progressive rock scene had become very stagnate.

MP:
Musically and creatively the progressive rock scene is bigger than ever. All the bands that are on Magna Carta and there is a label in Europe called Inside Out that has a lot of progressive bands. SPOCK’S BEARD is a new band that I absolutely love. I think that they are the best out there for this genre. So, creatively it’s bigger and better than it ever has been or at least better than it has been in a very long time. However, as far as it having much impact on the mainstream of music, I don’t see it having much impact because the major labels, they don’t care. They would rather be signing THE PRODIGY or the SPICE GIRLS and the quick sell. We are the only young progressive band that I can think of that even has that level of exposure. As long as the major labels are going to be that closed minded, it’s going to be a rough ride.

 

Metal Rules!!
What does the immediate future hold for you?

MP:
I think that we will probably put out some new live material in the fall. Maybe a live home video but that is still in the works. That’s what is going on with DREAM THEATER. As far as LTE, like I said, I would love to be able to put together some type of tour. maybe in the fall or winter depending on every bodies schedule.

 

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