Features

Mike Portnoy: In His Own Words

By Andrew Lentz Originally Published in DRUM! Magazine's August 2010 Issue

The drum universe was turned on its head this summer when Avenged Sevenfold announced that Dream Theater’s Mike Portnoy – sensei of all things complex and drummistic – would be recording the band’s new record and subsequently touring with them after the sudden death of original drummer Jimmy “The Rev” Sullivan earlier this year. We bum-rushed Portnoy, chillaxin’ poolside at home, to pick his brain on the five most challenging things about his latest gig.

MEETING TRAGEDY HEAD ON
“I think it was only a few days after Jimmy’s funeral that I was asked to come in and those guys were in an extremely fragile state. It was a very sensitive situation and I had to tip toe into it. The first thing I did when I found out about Jimmy was I texted Matt — M. Shadows — to say how sorry I was and how shocked and that I was there to be supportive in any way I could. Jimmy was with A7X since the beginning and these guys are all friends from high school so this was a close family I was entering into. But I was there to honor the Rev and the band so from a drumming perspective I knew what I needed to do. But I had to tread very lightly in some ways and be very careful and respectful.”

FROM PROG GOD TO THRASH DISCIPLE
“To be perfectly honest when I first heard Avenged Sevenfold I had written then off as Guns & Roses wannabe but after, I think it was City Of Evil, I was thinking, ‘Whoa, these guys can really shred.’ Dream Theater is my baby — it’s what I’ve done for the last 25 years but my taste is so broad that I could see having ended up in a lot of different places than where I did, anywhere from Jellyfish to Pantera. Even though I have this reputation as a progressive metal player, I like a lot different styles and think that’s obvious whether it’s my Zeppelin tribute band — Hammer Of The Gods — or Transatlantic, the G3 tour with John Petrucci. Also, I hear a lot of my stuff in Jimmy’s playing, so it’s not as much of a stretch as people might think. He had mentioned Dream Theater in interviews in magazines over the years so I was very flattered.”

LETTING GO OF CONTROL
“Dream Theater has been my baby for the last 25 years but to be perfectly honest it’s nice to get to be ‘just a drummer’ instead thinking about arranging and lyrics and a hundred other things and still having to play drums on top of that like I do in Dream Theater. In Avenged Sevenfold I don’t have to think about a thing except give the song what it needs, and so in that sense it’s been like a vacation. I mean, I don’t know if I could totally live that way. Dream Theater is still my baby as it has been for the last 25 years, and being a quote/unquote bandleader. Luckily, when they called we were wrapping up the Dream Theater tour cycle, and so I had some time and as I said it was great to be in a different role from what I usually do.”

GLASS PRISON REDUX
“The Avenged Sevenfold guys are younger and still want to party and I understand that — I’ve been there and done that, so it remains to be seen how my lifestyle will mesh with theirs, but I can only say that I hope more of me rubs off on them than the other way around. I have ten years of sobriety now. I made the decision a long time ago that I did not want to be a rock and roll casualty. ‘The Glass Prison’ is just one of at least five tracks throughout our discography in which I reference the 12 Steps, so it’s something that informs my writing. I don’t know the exact circumstances of what happened with Jimmy, but whether it’s John Bonham or Keith Moon or any number of great players, a fast lifestyle catches up with you.”

STARING INTO THE CRYSTAL BALL
“I can’t wait for people to hear the new record — it’s completely exhilarating to get to play fast, fun, aggressive music. Having said that, I know that A7X fans are extremely loyal, but I think they’ll see continuity in the drum parts. In a few days I’ll be going out with Dream Theater and Iron Maiden till the end of June and then I fly immediately out for the Avenged tour. With everything that’s going on it’s going to totally swallow me for the next year, but I’m willing and more than happy to be here. As for my future involvement with A7X — that remains to be seen. I am still 100 percent committed to Dream Theater, so I don’t know how far I will go with this. In an ideal world I would do both.”

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  • And the commitment ends…

  • indeed