Here’s an interview with Mike Portnoy of Dream Theater before the Milwaukee show on August 7, 2007. He’s pretty much the leader of the band, the driving force, if you will, so I was happy to interview him. I also set out to ask questions that haven’t been out there and sought some help from Portnoy’s message board regulars. Thanks to Roadrunner, MP, Mike and especially my wife for transcribing this thing from cassette!
MM: Hopefully we’re gonna try and get stuff that’s not already out there. Cuz I mean how many times you need to hear..“How was it on Roadrunner and all that stuff?”
MM: So, some of them are going to be cheesy, so…
MP: The cheesier the better!
MM: Yeah. What’s your favorite song to play on this tour so far?
MP: Do you want the witty answer or the truth?
MP: The witty answer would be the keyboard solo. The truth would be…
MM: So you got a little break there.
MP: The truth would be “In The Presence Of Enemies.” It’s a powerful piece of music when played as it was written. You know, we’re playing, 1 and 2 together as it was written and it’s still new and fresh to me, so it’s still exciting and powerful I think.
MM: Along the favorites theme here, what’s the, you’ve got a pretty big vault of Dream Theater stuff in your house from what people say…
MP: Mm hmm
MM: What’s your favorite most prized possession?
MP: My most prized possession, I am about to share with the public…
MM: Oh okay…
MP: The holy grail of all the dream theater archives was the unreleased 1996 version of Metropolis Part 2 and up until this month, I’ve never shared it with anybody but I’ve now actually put it on the upcoming YtseJams’ Falling Into Infinity demo CDs. I guess that just shows that no stone is left unturned in my archives, you know, I want the fans to eventually get to hear anything that’s worth hearing.
MM: Cool. Yeah that was actually somebody else’s question – why did you decide to do that? (Release Met. Pt. 2?)
MP: The answer to why is because when I was putting together the Falling into Infinity demo package it just really felt incomplete without Metropolis because it was part of that whole writing session. The reason it hasn’t been released thus far and its been under such lock and keys is because we never did a proper demo for it, it was just mainly a rehearsal reference recording which is just really loose and sloppy and initially I didn’t ever want to release it because it wasn’t a proper demo, but, when putting together this jam release it just seemed like it belonged on it.
MM: Cool. Alright, along with the favorites here. What’s the favorite thing you like about being at the level you are today compared to the early days in regards to like the live production of the shows like lighting or just things that are different now then like playing in clubs.
MP: Right. Well it’s nice to up the production each time we go out. I think our light show on this tour is the biggest and the best one we’ve had yet, uh, the only down side of all that is I become so completely obsessive. I’m such an obsessive control freak that I spend my entire show concentrating on what’s wrong with the lights and the video and what needs to be improved what needs to be changed… so rather than enjoying the show, I find myself constantly obsessing over, ya know, what could be improved. But, um, you know I feel like the show continues to get bigger and better each time out.
MM: Yeah, I was just in there; it looks more impressive than the last time.
MM: Utah had Dream Theater day on July 30, do you have anything to say about that?
MP: That was cool man, the fact that there’s a… I guess there are only 50 governors in America and the fact that one of them is a Dream Theater fan, that’s pretty fuckin cool!
MP: That says a lot for, for you know the fact that a governor can have such broad musical taste like that, I wonder if Arnold Schwarzenegger is listening to Dream Theater? I think Utah has a much cooler governor than California
MM: That’s true. On tour how do you unwind, you know with all the stuff, you know you’re going here and there…what can you do to kind of just unwind a little bit?
MP: It takes me many, many hours to unwind. Like afterwards on the bus I’m always the last one to sleep. I’m usually up until about 4 or 5. It takes a lot for my wheels to stop spinning. I just watch a movie or watch TV, uh, the last week or so I’ve turned the rest of the guys on to the show “Rescue Me” so we’ve been watching that on the bus. Basically, ya know, a few hours of winding down, you know reading on my forum, just trying to relax for a few hours and then I eventually fall asleep.
MM: Cool. And then the last one from this section…what’s the weirdest thing on your tour rider?
MP: Uh, the 2 gallons of monkey sperm would probably throw people for a loop.
MP: I think the coolest thing on the rider is that I get a basketball jersey from each city that we/re in and I wear it in the encore. So I’ve got quite a collection of sports gear.
MM: That’s cool… How did you come to decide about editing the bonus DVD… Instead of having somebody else do it?
MP: Oh, um, …
MP: It was so much footage, it’s not like a concert where you’ve got two hours of footage and you can trust that in the hands of the editor to kind of shape up. You know this was like literally 5 months of footage, and it would have been nice to just hand it over to somebody but I don’t think I would have ever trusted that they would have gotten the moments that needed to be incorporated.
So you know, I really enjoyed that process. It was really time consuming and I had to do it while on the G3 tour, um, you know I’ve always been very, very hands on with all our DVDs but it’s always been with an editor and this was the first time I actually literally physically edited myself and it was a big undertaking but it was very enjoyable.
MM: Cool. Was it harder or easier that you thought it would be? I suppose you’ve been with editors before, so you’re already familiar with the process…
MP: The process, the technical side was easy, you know, it was just time consuming to go through every single moment of footage and reduce it to 90 minutes, you know.
MM: Cool. Let’s go back, we’ll talk about some side projects, since you seem to never stop working on stuff.
MP: Mm hmm
MM: Which non Dream Theater project are you most proud of and do you ever plan on doing anything totally different than hard or Prog rock/metal?
MP: Which am I most proud of, I’m proud of most of them, but if I had to pick one of them, I would say Transatlantic “Bridge Across Forever”. I think that’s one album that like if I had to pick, you know, all the favorite albums I’ve done in my career including Dream Theater, that Transatlantic album would surely be up there. What was the second part?
MM: Do you ever plan on doing something different than that genre?
MP: Well, I mean everything I’ve done is slightly different, but they all kind of have that kind of progressive twist just because I guess that’s my specialty.
MP: But you know OSI was different from Transatlantic which was different from LTE and all of my tribute bands, you know like especially the Beatles, Zeppelin and Who tributes those were all very different from Dream Theater or any kind of progressive side. I was able to play completely different in all three of those tribute bands.
MM: Cool. Do you have anything new planned that you can reveal info on?
MP: No I’m at this point completely totally focused on Dream Theater for the next year.
MP: The only other thing that’s waiting in the wings is that everybody seems to always bring up is that thing with Michael Akerfeldt and Steven Wilson, but at this point its merely just talk.
MM: Yeah its hard to get…you 3 guys are all…
MP: Yeah, yeah. They keep just as busy as I do, so hopefully by 2020 we’ll be able to align our schedules.
MM: (Laughs) This was from somebody in the forum, he wonders what your dream super group would be of metal musicians?
MP: For me to be in or to..
MM: For you to be in, if you would assemble a group of a metal band, not just a Prog band.
MP: Uh, I think a cool lineup would be, me, Dave Mustaine, Jason Newsted, and Phil Anselmo. There you go that was just off the top of my head, I could probably come up with at least another 4 or 5.
MM: Yeah that’s an on the spot kind of question to make you think I guess.
MP: Actually to be really metal you’d need 2 guitar players, so, who would be a good second guitar player…Rob Flynn from Machine Head.
MM: Yeah, that would be a fun group. Another Forum question…Do you have an opinion on symphonic classical music and if so do you have a favorite composer or piece?
MP: Symphonic or classical, nope that definitely a Jordan question.
MP: I know Beethoven’s 9th but that’s about it only because I’m such a Clockwork Orange fan.
MM: Let’s see we got, here’s another nerd question for you, what’s your favorite new gadget?
MP: Um, I mean, the obvious answer is the iPhone, I don’t have one yet, but I’m definitely like blown away anytime I see somebody showing it to me. The latest gadget that I have is my Blackberry. I mean I don’t know how I lived without one the last few years. I also uh, favorite thing I own is an Archos AV700. Its kind of like an iPod for videos.
MM: I’ve got a 404 Archos, yeah those are nice.
MP: This is the 100 gig one, and it’s awesome.
MM: Cool, alright here’s somebody from the forum again, um, with the recent Score dvd to mark Dream Theater’s 20th Anniversary, and now the upcoming release of the biography of Rich Wilson, what would you say have been the milestones and high points of your career with Dream Theater?
MP: Um, well the release of Images and Words was probably the first big one. That was the first real milestone and us actually kick starting our career, um, I dunno, the Metropolis 2000 show at Roseland, you know that DVD, obviously the Score DVD and the show at Radio City is the latest one, you know there’s been a lot of them.
MP: Most of them have been released or commemorated you know through live official releases or YtseJam releases. There’s so many though.
MM: Here’s one about the family, and another question from the Forum. Now that Melody and Max are getting older are they expressing interest in also being part of the music business?
MP: Well they LOVE touring, I mean they’ve been touring since they were born and they absolutely love being on the road. They’re totally at home, at, you know, on tour and hello.
Passerby: I bought my husband tickets and I’m bringing him up here to see you!
MP: (to unknown person: “Ok cool, thank you.”) They’re totally at home, you know, walking around the venue, you know looking for catering and going to the dressing rooms and going to sound check. Um, as far as their interest in music, Melody’s been singing, she won second place in the national singing competitions, she sang, “I Walk Beside You” and Max has a custom kit that Tama made for him.
MM: Oh wow!
MP: He likes playing, but he doesn’t like practicing so we’ll see where that leads him, I dunno.
MM: (Laughs) Here’s a bunch from Szabiakanich (of the forum), they’re pretty quick questions so, Liquid Tension 3 jams leftover to be released in the near future…what are the odds?
MP: 100%, believe it or not it’s gonna be coming out in the coming months through Magna Carta.
MM: Oh boy…fun…
MP: But yeah, so everybody knows my feelings on them, but the fact of the matter is, I thought there was some really cool stuff on those jams and if the only way that they’re ever gonna ever be heard is for Magna Carta to release it then, be my guest, ya know.
MM: Get it out there and get it over with.
MP: Exactly, so, as much as I’ve expressed feelings on the label, I am excited that at least these jams will finally make it out there.
MM: Cool. Um, is there gonna be a second North American leg?
MP: There’s supposed to be in the spring, that’s the plan.
MM: Is there going to be a good quality, high res version available of the Constant Motion video in the near future?
MP: High res?
MP: No I mean I guess isn’t what’s shown on MTV high res?
MM: I guess so, I think making he’s looking for it on DVD or something.
MP: Well it will inevitably be released on a future DVD, ya know, down the road whenever that happens.
MM: Do you plan on shooting a DVD at the end of this tour?
MP: No, only because we’ve done it the last 2 tours and I feel, ya know, I don’t want it to be something that happens every single time. I’m not opposed to possibly a compilation DVD like we did with 5 years so that’s a possibility, but as of now I have no plans for an actual concert DVD.
MM: Cool. Um, this is a question from me actually, I just stuck it in with the Constant Motion, what was wrong the original video that you shot and threw out?
MP: It was, in a nutshell and long story short, the lighting was just way too dark and it wasn’t something that could be fixed in post production.
MM: Was it a similar concept as the one you did, or?
MP: Yeah, similar, there’s not much to it, basically just us playing and a lot of motion with the cameras. The first version was just too dark and couldn’t be fixed so we scraped it, and did it over. Pictures from the outtakes of that are in the new tour program actually.
MM: Oh okay
MM: Did Scott Hansen do the program again for you?
MP: Yeah. I’m glad I’m doing this instead of John because I bet you John wouldn’t have had answers for half of these.
MM: I didn’t have all the same questions for John because I knew he wouldn’t know all the answers.
NOTE: During the day, before the interview, I was told that my originally scheduled interview with Mike Portnoy would be switched with John Petrucci, so I had questions prepared for both. (We talked about it a bit before rolling tape)
MM: I’m a regular on the forum for a long time, you know so I’m trying to ask all the stuff that people haven’t seen.
MP: You’re gonna actually post this on the forum?
MM: Yeah, I’ll transcribe it, over however long it takes and get it up there. Are you planning on doing some clinics after the tour is over?
MP: No, I haven’t done a clinic in I think 4, over 4 years now. I’m basically retired from them. But I’m doing these in store appearances, but they’re just autograph sessions.
MM: Would you consider releasing drums only CDs of the other DT albums like your DVDs?.
MP: I don’t know if they, they may not exist. I mean I’d have to go back to the master tapes. I don’t think I have drums only mixes from anything preceding 6 Degrees and everything from 6 Degrees forward the drums only tracks are available on my drum cam DVDs.
MP: I did minus drums mixes of all those albums, because I was doing a lot of clinics, but I would never release that, because that’s basically the other guys playing and ya know, they would probably find that objectionable.
MP: For other people to release their tracks.
MM: I suppose.
MM: Um, speaking of 6 degrees, here’s someone from Madman Shepherd (of the forum). One thing that has intrigued me is when you responded to bands including Dream Theater saying their latest album was the best yet, you said that with Train of Thought, Octavarium and the last one, he doesn’t always say it like for instance; he didn’t say that with 6 Degrees. He (Madman) was wondering if what his (MP’s) thoughts are on that album 5 years later and why you don’t include that as one of your best?
MP: You know what I think they are all our best, I mean the obvious answer is you love them all like children and you can’t pick a favorite child. That’s the clichéd answer but it’s the truth! Every time I make a record, we’re very proud of it, its, you know, we pour our heart and soul into it. You know I spend every waking moment overseeing every detail of every album so I mean I’m very proud of all of them. As far as 6 Degrees, I actually listened to it recently for the first time in awhile, because you know we started playing “Blind Faith” again good and “Misunderstood,” I think it’s definitely an underrated album. I mean everybody thinks of “Glass Prison” or the title track, that I think there are some forgotten gems on there. I think “Disappear” is a really awesome track and seriously underrated track. I mean everybody always talks about “Space Dye Vest” but I think “Disappear” blows “Space Dye Vest” out of the water.
MM: Uh, lets see, same guy asked about your King Diamond influences. We’ve never heard you expand upon that.
MP: That’s funny I was just talking to the singer of Into Eternity about King Diamond yesterday cuz he’s wearing that King Diamond shirt. Yeah, the Abigail and Them albums are 2 HUGE influences of mine in the late eighties. Mickey D. was one of my favorite drummers during that period. Yeah, I mean those albums are awesome, I mean I even had a cat named Abigail.
MM: (Laughs) I have a cat named Victoria.
MP: Oh yeah? That’s cool.
MM: Cuz I got her when the album was out. There you go, we’re both naming pets after characters in albums. Another forum question… How about summer update of your hero of the day?
MP: A summer update, I haven’t updated that in awhile. Cuz a part of me that’s almost afraid to talk about what I’m listening to cuz there is so much backlash.
MM: I know
MP: Dream Theater is ripping that off and this off and they sound like this and they sound like that. There’s a part of me that almost feels like I shouldn’t talk about what I’m listening to anymore, but um, I haven’t updated that in awhile, I’ve been mainly catching up on TV shows, the music I’m listening to right now, it’s the obvious stuff, my favorite albums of the year, the new Porcupine Tree album, and the new Machine Head album and um, what else, I don’t know, I can’t think off the top of my head.
MM: When you post them, you have time to think about it and here I’m putting you on the spot, so,
MP: I like the new Symphony X album too , you can add that, but anyway,
MM: Are your wives are ever gonna have a Meanstreak reunion?
MP: Uh, I don’t know, that’s up to them.
MP: I know Marlene hasn’t played guitar bass in almost 10 years at this point so if they were to have a reunion, they probably wouldn’t be as tight as they were 20 years ago. 20 years ago thought they fucking rocked though. I used to go see them all the time, even before me and John were with Marlene and Rena.
MP: I used to see, I saw them open for Anthrax, and Overkill and Motorohead.
MM: Wow. Um, well if you’ve still got a little bit of time here, salmasis (from the forum) wants to know what your thoughts are on Van Der Graaf Generator that he doesn’t think he’s ever heard you discuss.
MP: Hmm, no you know what…that’s a, Jordan’s into them. Yeah that’s one of those old school Prog bands that I never gave much time to. Um, so I have the Spartacus album, reminds me a lot of ELP, but really I think Jordan is a bigger fan that I ever have been.
MM: And what are the chances of you ever covering Genesis?
MP: Oh I take that back, the Spartacus album is Triumvirat, I take that back so scratch that, Van Der Graaf Generator , I don’t have any of their CDs. Ok next questions sorry, what was it?
MM: If you were ever gonna cover Genesis again?
MP: Um it’s possible, I mean, I did um, “Watcher the Skies” and “Firth of Fifth” with Transatlantic which was a lot of fun. Jordan just did a cool cover of “Dance in a Volcano” on his solo album. But really me and Jordan are the only big Genesis fans in the band really. Um, but, you never know. I could possibly do another one with Neal, cuz you know Neal is a big Genesis fan.
MM: Yeah. Ok here’s, I got one last question from a forum member, and well its one of those that you already touched a little bit about, about people picking on you for every little thing. Do you wanna hear it?
MP: Sure I can take anything.
MP: Sticks and stones.
MM: What makes the band still feel like their progressing from doing new things and they want me to ask specific examples for song ideas and excerpts. It really does seem to be a strong effort to make music more mainstream. So what is so new and progressive about “Constant Motion” or “Forsaken?”
MP: Uh, ok, well, that’s a lot a questions in there.
MM: I know.
MP: I don’t think you can possibly say that this new album is any more an attempt to be mainstream that anything that we’ve ever done. I mean maybe a song like “Forsaken” sounds a little bit like mainstream, but, I think Octavarium had “These Walls” and “I Walk Beside You” and “The Answer Lies Within.” I, ya know, from day one we’ve always had kind of mainstream songs, I mean look at “Another Day,” or “Silent Man,” or “Lifting Shadows.” So as far as the mainstream answer goes I think we’ve always had a song or two on every album that kinda falls into that category. But if I, ya know, this album is filled with a 25 minute epic and another 15 minute epic and a few 10 minute plus songs, so that doesn’t sound very mainstream to me. What makes “Constant Motion” so original? Well probably nothing, I mean its just a metal song, its, ya know, I don’t think “Constant Motion” represents everything that Dream Theater is about but neither does “Forsaken.” Ya know, we write certain songs for certain moods. There’s certain songs we want to write something more concise and that’s when something like forsaken or walk beside you comes out, there’s certain songs you want to write something’s that’s more metal and that’s when something like constant motion or as I am will come out. We’re not always trying to write a million time signatures. And you know there’s a time and a place for everything. We try balance out a little bit of everything when we write.
MM: Um, to continue on, um, even to the extent of borrowing musical styles of other more popular bands for whole songs, Muse – “Ministry Of Lost Souls,” “Never Enough”
MP: Ministry lots souls, I’ve heard…
MM: I’ve never really heard much Muse… so I can’t compare…
MP: I mean, you know what, when you’re as big of a music fan as somebody like I am, you can’t help to let your influences come out. I mean I have my favorite bands music swimming through my head 24 hours a day, so I mean if I’m walking to the studio. If I’m listening to Muse or Lamb of God or Opeth or whatever, it’s inevitably gonna somehow come out into what the band is doing. And I’ve never been one to try to hide that, you know, I wear my influences on my sleeve because I’m a fan, I’m a music fan. But I don’t think this is any more, I mean you could look at any one of our songs dating back to the first album, you know, I hear things on Dream and Day Unite that sound like Queensryche or Rush to me, I hear things on Images and Words that sound a bit like Marillion or Metallica. Um, it’s always been like that, you know.
MM: You gotta start somewhere…
MP: We’ve always had influences but I think the big thing with us is that we meld them together. You might hear bands that say they love Pantera and they love Pink Floyd but they don’t sound anything like the two worlds colliding, but with us I think you hear all worlds colliding constantly.
MM: Cool. And um, who would you like to tour with that you haven’t yet?
MP: There’s only two left. Metallica and Rush, other than that, we’ve toured with everybody on our hit list from you know Maiden to Yes, to Megadeth, to who else, Queensryche…
MM: Deep Purple
MP: Deep Purple, ELP, exactly so its just Yes and Rush is all that’s left at this point, Metallica and Rush is what I meant to say.
MM: Where does DT go from here?
MP: To Minneapolis.
MM: That’s right!
Mike H.: This isn’t something we’re gonna air or post out of respect for the traditions.
MP: I don’t mind talking about it that’s why I write about it.
(NOTE, since MP doesn’t mind talking about it, I decided to include this)
MH: I’ve been following your songs about the steps for awhile and I was wondering at what point did you become completely willing to go to any length to stay sober and at what point through working the steps, what was your spiritual awakening or what’s your experience with that?
MP: Well my sobriety date by complete coincidence which happens to be my birthday April 20th 2000, it was my 33rd birthday, that was the last drink I ever took, by total coincidence it happened to be my birthday, the next day on the plane right home, we ended a European leg. We were on tour with Spocks Beard, next show was in Lisbon Portugal, that was my last drink and the plane ride home is when I knew I could no longer do it by myself. You know I tried stopping drinking and drugging for months and years up to that point and could never do it. And I knew I needed help and that’s when I found the rooms of AA and I haven’t looked back since.
MH: Do you work through the steps with a sponsor?
MP: Oh absolutely you can only work through them with a sponsor. My first year of sobriety I didn’t even get past the first 3 steps, you know I mainly concentrated on that, and keeping sober and then as I had more time and more experience that’s when I started to work the steps with the sponsor.
MH: What area of the steps would you say had the most profound affect on you?
MP: The 8th and 9th step which I just wrote about in “Repentance,” I mean that’s a huge, huge step in, you know, changing your life and your relationships with the people around you.
MH: Well I really like the songs because they’re not preachy or contrived. Plus being a fan myself for many years it made you much more human to me. After hearing those songs I realized you’re just another drunk at the tables.
MP: That’s true.
MP: You deal with the same struggles I do.
MP: Well when I go to meetings, I’m not Mike Portnoy from Dream Theater, I’m just Mike an alcoholic. That’s what it’s all about.
MH: Do you go to meetings on the road?
MP: I can’t say I do as much as I used to. I used to almost every day that I could. These days it’s less and less. I hate to admit it, but I still try to go as much as I can.
MH: What’s your kinda like comfort zone for meetings?
MP: When I’m home I tried to go 2-3 a week.
MH: I’ve been sober about 5 years, but I struggled for about 20 years so I always like to ask people what that point was when you really became willing.
MP: It was knowing that I couldn’t do it myself anymore, you know I tried and tried and tried and it never works and writing about the steps has been therapeutic for me. It’s been great step work for me and like you said, I never tried to be preachy about it. Theirs is nothing in any of those songs that say don’t drink don’t drug its all about me and my experiences and not only drinking and drugging but also the step work which goes beyond that and if anyone can relate to those struggles and they’re interested in possibly pursuing it themselves, then great, they’re really there just for me to do step work for myself really.
MH: I think its pretty cool, I mean, your shows, your music was a soundtrack to a lot of drinking using form for many years and to hear you being in recover and being in recovery myself being able to relate to that… is pretty cool. It doesn’t sound like a public service announcement.
MP: No its not.
MH: I didn’t notice it until Train of Thought. But when I heard that first song on there, I thought wow, someone is in recovery.
MP: Well the opening line to the entire saga as its called or whatever is called is “Cunning, Baffling, Powerful” that’s straight out of the big book and there’s so much in my words that’s out of the big book.
MH: And when I hear the song, it doesn’t sound preachy it sounds like I’d hear someone talking at the tables.
MH: I just think it’s pretty cool to have someone get that out there.
MH: I’m sure someone is gonna hear it and ask more about it…
MP: Actually I, I mean I’m not trying to pat myself on the back. But I hear it all the time, I have people coming up to to me all the time saying that they’ve read those lyrics, they relate to those troubles and they got sober as a result.
MH: And if that’s not an example of 12 step working…
MP: Totally, totally
MM: I think that’s all we got.
MH: We really appreciate your time.
MP: Alright, no problem.