INTERVIEW AND LIVE PICTURES BY MARKO SYRJALA
Mike Portnoy is an American drummer, best known as the former drummer and co-founder of progressive metal/band Dream Theater. He resigned from the band in 2010 after 25 years. Nowadays, Portnoy is known for many other bands and projects. He is a founding member of Transatlantic, a progressive rock “super-group,” which includes former Spock’s Beard keyboardist/vocalist Neal Morse. He is also a founding member of the bands Flying Colours and Winery Dogs. Portnoy has also recorded and/or toured with, among others, Adrenaline Mob, Overkill, G3, and Avenged Sevenfold. When I did this interview in June at Sweden Rock, Portnoy was on tour with the Winery Dogs and the legendary Twisted Sister with whom he has played as the touring drummer from May 2015 onward. There is always a lot going on in Mike Portnoy’s world. Here’s what the man had to tell us about his ongoing activities and immediate future plans.
TWISTED SISTER TALK
First of all, I want to thank you for your two magnificent gigs at this festival.
Mike Portnoy: Thank you. Were you here last night too?
Of course. Twisted Sister show was amazing yesterday, and you did a great job behind the kit. I have been Twisted Sister fan since the mid-’80s, and I’ve seen the band several times after the reunion started in 2001. To be honest, I was a little bit worried when I first heard that you’re going to replace A.J. Pero. I wasn’t worried about your drumming skills “Laughs,” but I was worried that you’re going to “overplay” Twisted Sister songs. But it didn’t happen! “Laughs”
Mike Portnoy: Yeah, everybody says that. “Laughs” No. I am a professional. I know how to play, what’s right for each gig. I filled in with Avenged Sevenfold and knew what to play with them, and that was respectful to The Rev. Coming into Twisted Sister, I know how to play for them and be respectful to A.J. I have many different bands, I play a certain way for the Winery Dogs, I play a certain way for Flying Colors, I played a certain way for Dream Theater. But I’m a music fan, and I know how to adopt to different situations and be respectful to the music.
You have played shows with the band since May 2015, so the next obvious question is, how did you end up playing with Twisted Sister?
Mike Portnoy: A.J ended up taking my place when I left Adrenaline Mob. So it’s a strange twist of fate that I ended up taking his place when he passed away. But I had known A.J for 20 years or so, and I’ve known the Twisted guys for many years. The day after AJ passed away, I played a gig with Adrenaline Mob, helping them out because AJ had just died the day before. So I went down and helped them out, and Jay Jay French came to the show. We just started joking backstage, and he told me that they had all summer’s worth of shows booked. I told them I’m available. I happened to have time off last summer, so the timing worked out. Sure enough, he called me up and asked if I would be willing to come on board and finish the tour with them. So it was an honor, and I’m honored to be able to do it.
It must be different to play Twisted Sister songs compared to the stuff you play with your bands.
Mike Portnoy: As I said, I can adopt to any situation. Even though I made my name making crazy, technical, progressive music for 25 years, I’m a music fan of all different styles, everything from Slayer to The Beatles. Just because I had made my name in progressing music, it doesn’t mean that that’s my only interest. In fact, I barely listen to that kind of shit on my own. When I go home and listen to my own music for my own enjoyment, I’m generally not listening to technical music. So I know how to adopt, and I play in six different bands, and every one of them is a different style, and I have to be able to adopt.
It is no secret that you are a big fan of Twisted Sister, and you’ve been following the band for a long time, or am I wrong?
Mike Portnoy: Yeah. I grew up along Long Island, so I used to see them in the clubs back before they were a big band.
When did you see Twisted Sister concert for the first time?
Mike Portnoy: I saw them the first time. I think it was ’82. I think only UNDER THE BLADE was out. I don’t think YOU CAN’T STOP ROCK ‘N’ ROLL was out yet. I think it was right around when A.J first joined the band. They were still in the clubs, and they were still trying to get their deal. I was around 16 years old, sneaking into the clubs with a fake ID. They were the greatest club band in the world. They just tore the root off the place, each and every night. They were local legends. I remember seeing them once they started to blow up, once STAY HUNGRY came out. Many times during that period. Yeah, I grew up with them. There is a picture in my high school yearbook of me wearing a Twisted Sister T-Shirt. So it’s strange that I’m now here playing with them “Laughs.”
So in a way, playing with this band is “a fan dream come true” for you?
Mike Portnoy: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, I grew up with them. So it’s an honor.
On this “Forty and Fuck It”- tour, you have played shows mostly in Europe, and there are also some selected dates coming in Mexico, Canada, and the U.S. How long this tour will continue, and do you have plans to extend this tour after all announced dates are done?
Mike Portnoy: They’ve got about a dozen shows this summer, doing most of the festivals, and then that’s it. Then they’re pulling the plug, and that’s it, this is their farewell. They mean it. When Dee Snider says something, he means it. He’s not full of shit. If he says they’re pulling the plug, they’ll be pulling the plug. I think it’s sad because I just came on board. It’s like, fuck! I want to do this the next five, 10 years with that “Laughs.”
You just got started! “Laughs”
Mike Portnoy: Yeah, exactly. I’m like, no, don’t quit now. We’re just getting started! But yeah, they’ve been doing this for over 40 years now. I think they’re sincere when they say that they’re pulling the plug.
But Dee will probably continue his career as a solo artist?
Mike Portnoy: I don’t know? I don’t know what his plans are. He’s an amazing frontman. So no matter who he’s with, he’s one of the best.
Today you were on stage with The Winery Dogs. What kind of reception you received, and did it bother that you had to play in the middle of the day?
Mike Portnoy: It was great. I was shocked at the number of people being up so early in the day. So it was a great turnout, a beautiful day, absolutely fucking beautiful today. The band has been on the road since September. So we’re well-oiled and feeling good. So it was a great afternoon.
As you said, the band has been on tour since September. How long will the tour continue after this festival?
Mike Portnoy: We have about a month’s worth of shows still here in Europe and America, and then we’re winding down now. Having been on the road for almost a year at this point for this album, HOT STREAK. So we’ll finish up this cycle at the end of next month, and then just take a break for us all to do our different things. I’ve got stuff with Twisted, and I’ve got stuff with the Neal Morse band coming up. Ritchie has a solo band, and Billy has Mr. Big. So we will all go off and do our things and then come back together and do it all over again with a new record.
There’s a lot of talent and virtuosity in this band, but would you call Winery Dogs a supergroup?
Mike Portnoy: I guess any time you have guys coming together from different bands and guys that have had individual careers, I guess you’re going to call it a supergroup inevitably. But yeah, we’re definitely three guys with unique individual personalities, and we each have our own fan base. So when we come together, it’s very special. There’s never a dull moment on stage. It’s like a three-ring circus. No matter who you are, you’re going to be entertained.
I think that playing with Billy Sheehan was something you always wanted to do because he was also one of your childhood heroes?
Mike Portnoy: Yeah. Like I was just saying with Twisted, Billy was also somebody I was a big fan of. When I was a teenager, I used to see Talas. They were playing the clubs in New York around the same time as Twisted Sister, and I used to see him with Talas. I had been following his career since then. We first started playing together about 20 years ago and doing different projects, one-off things. But he and I always wanted to do a real band together. So it’s nice to now be in a real band with him, full-time.
Richie Kotzen is an amazing talent as well. He’s been playing with Poison and Mr. Big and released about 20 solo albums. Originally there had been plans to have somebody else in the band, so how did Richie end up in the band?
Mike Portnoy: Originally, I was working with John Sykes on another project, I brought Billy into that. Then it kind of never took off, John Sykes was just kind of… It was hard… it was hard to get him motivated. So Billy and I got tired of waiting, and eventually, somebody suggested Ritchie, and it was a great suggestion. We called him, and that’s how the Winery Dogs was born.
I had completely forgotten that you had a project together, Sykes, but I remember now that I have read some interviews that you did together. It is a shame that your cooperation never went anywhere.
Mike Portnoy: It is a shame. I was working with him right after I left Dream Theater. So it was at the beginning of 2011, five years ago at this point. We demoed like 12 songs, and here we are five years later, and they still have yet… He hasn’t done anything with them. Since then, I’ve done about 20 albums. John is an amazing talent, and I was excited to work with him. I wish that something happened, but it’s hard to motivate him. He and I have complete opposite energy. I’m a workaholic, and I’m in 14 bands at once, and he’s very much the opposite. So obviously, the work ethics just didn’t connect.
Maybe because he’s getting too much money from his Whitesnake album still?
Mike Portnoy: Who knows? I don’t know? “Laughs”
OTHER BANDS AND PROJECTS
Last year you played here with Transatlantic and earlier with Dream Theater and Adrenaline Mob. I was just wondering how many times have you performed at this festival in total?
Mike Portnoy: Yeah. In catering, they have the posters of all the Sweden Rock’s through the years, and I think I’ve played here seven times now. With five different bands, I think.
You mentioned earlier that you’re working on new music with Neal Morse, a Transatlantic member. Do you have plans to release some new material with that band anytime soon?
Mike Portnoy: That’s part of my prog world. In my prog world, I have three different bands with Neal Morse. We have Transatlantic, we have Flying Colors, and we have The Neal Morse Band. Transatlantic is kind of on a hiatus at the moment, but I have a new album coming up with a Neal Morse band in fall. To be honest, of my entire career, I’ve made a lot of albums during the last 30 years. I think this upcoming one will Neal Morse is the one I’m proudest of. I think it’s my masterpiece, mine and Neal’s. So I’m very excited about that. I would love it if we could play Sweden Rock next summer. But that’s pretty much going to be. A lot of my 2017 will be with Neal. Promoting the new album. Then I think we’re eventually going to get to work on a new Flying Colors album as well. Steve is about to wrap up work with Deep Purple. So he’ll have some free time available, and we will do that as well. I would love to play here with Flying Colors as well.
How about Metal Allegiance? Is that project still alive as well?
Mike Portnoy: Yeah. I have Metal Allegiance as well, which is my project with the guys from Megadeth and Testament, Anthrax and Slayer, and Pantera. So that’s kind of my metal outlet, and I will eventually work on a second album with that as well. So I’m going to be busy.
Back in the days, you were doing lots of drum clinics worldwide, but do you still have time for that stuff?
Mike Portnoy: Not anymore. I stopped doing drum clinics a long time ago, got bored playing by myself. I’d rather play music with other musicians. I’m not very into the technique and the drum soloing thing. I’m kind of bored with that. So I stopped doing clinics, and I think that’s why I’m in so many bands now, just because I’d rather do that. If I have time available, I’d rather work with other musicians and make music, rather than playing by myself.
Can I have something about your former band as well, if you don’t mind?
Mike Portnoy: I may not answer it.
Have you heard their latest album?
Mike Portnoy: I won’t talk about, because there is no winning. Every time I say anything about Dream Theater…Honestly, I’d rather not talk about it. Because no matter what I say, it will be twisted and… So I kind of have made myself promise that I won’t talk about Dream Theater anymore. If you want to ask me about my 25 years in the band, I could talk about that. But talking about them now, it’s a no-win situation.
I totally understand, so can you then briefly sum up your 25 years with the Dream Theater?
Mike Portnoy: Yeah. I’m proud of everything I did for those 25 years. That was my life for a quarter of a century, my half of life-time. Dream Theater was my baby. I formed it from the beginning, out of college, and I lived a lifetime with them. So I’m proud of every one of those albums and every one of the shows. I left behind a legacy, and there are a lot of people who would like to see me playing with them. I don’t count on that happening, and I wouldn’t count on it. I wouldn’t bet money on it. If it happens, then sure, I’m up for it. Because I’m a very sentimental person, and I still love the guys, and I love the fans. But I surely don’t count on it, and I don’t plan on it, and I’m happier than ever with everything I’m doing now.
I can see that you’re a really happy man now.
Mike Portnoy: Yeah, I’m free. I don’t think I was ever meant to be tied down to one band for the rest of my life, playing one style of music. I’m a music fan of so many styles that I need to have the freedom to do that kind of stuff.
That was a great answer!
Mike Portnoy: Thank you.
Our time is up but tell us quickly a brief recap of Mike Portnoy’s schedule for the rest of the year?
Mike Portnoy: There are about a dozen Twisted Sister shows all summer long. I got another dozen Winery Dogs shows throughout Europe and America. Then on to Neal Morse. That album will come out, and as I said, I’m very proud of it, very excited by it. So that’s pretty much the rest of my year into next year.
Mike Portnoy: Thank you!
LIVE PICTURES OF WINERY DOGS SHOW IN SWEDEN ROCK 2016