Interview: Mike Portnoy
Levi: I'm pretty excited to be able to interview you today. I've been following your career for over 10 years now and you're also one of those people that I follow regularly on Facebook, so I kind of feel like I know you. But you probably have no idea who I am.
Mike Portnoy: Nice to meet you.
Levi: Nice to meet you man. I see you all the time on Blabbermouth and you're always doing stuff with different bands; Twisted Sister. You've got Metal Allegiance now. You've got the Winery Dogs. It feels like you've got a doppelganger or something. How can you be in three places at once? Do you ever get time for rest and sit on the couch?
Mike Portnoy: Not really. It's definitely a crazy life I lead. I'm currently in six different bands. It's a major juggling match for me. I guess I wouldn't have it any other way. I'm a workaholic and I get bored sitting around pretty quickly. I love to make the most of opportunities and there's money in music to be made and plenty of people to work with, so I take advantage of it.
Levi: When you play drums as much as you do, and I'm sure you love playing the drums, but does it ever just feel like a job to you?
Mike Portnoy: No. If it did, if it feels like a job to me then I won't do it. I think that's one of the main reasons I left Dream Theater after 25 years. It started to feel like it was just a job. There was not much personal interplay within the band members and it was just like an endless cycle that was just starting to be very redundant to me. That's why I left. At this point, now I do so many things and I'm keeping so busy but everything I do it's things I choose to do. I don't ever want to be back in a situation where I'm playing drums because I have to. I want to be able to play drums because I want to and that's the big difference.
Levi: For sure. Can you tell us what we can expect from Metal Allegiance at Soundwave 2016?
Mike Portnoy: When we play live in the past it's been pretty much all covers. That's how this thing started four years ago, as kind of a fun covers tribute band, just for the fun of it. Now it's evolved into a band with an album of our own material. Now we're slowly going to start having more and more of the original material in the set and less and less covers. But there'll always be some covers sprinkled in there. Then the line ups are different for every show. Every time I've done Metal Allegiance it's been a different group of guys and it's a rotating cast of characters. Every time you see us, it's something unique and special. The version we're going to be doing Soundwave's with is I think a seven man version. One drummer, one bass player, two guitar players, and two singers I think. Anyway, it's always different so it keeps it interesting.
Levi: Definitely looking forward to that. That's going to be awesome at Soundwave. What I think is really cool as well, your son Max, he's playing in a band now called Next to None and playing drums just like you. Did you always intend for Max to be a drummer or is that just the path that he chose for himself?
Mike Portnoy: He took to it on his own. I would have been supportive with whatever he wanted to do with his life and career. He grew up around watching me play drums since the day he was born. He was touring with me since he was a baby. Sitting behind the drums at my shows and going on the road and growing up on the tour bus. I think it was inevitable that he would take to it. I couldn't be prouder of him. He's just such an incredibly talented young man. At 16 years old, he's doing stuff that I can't even do, so he's really blossoming into an incredible drummer.
Levi: I know you play a lot of different stuff. You go from everything from playing very complex stuff in Winery Dogs and Dream Theater and then some more straight forward hard hitting stuff. You'll also do stuff like doing Beatles' covers. Ringo's an awesome drummer, but does it feel weird playing stuff that's quite simple when you're used to playing complex stuff or do you mind dropping your skills down to play The Beatles?
Mark Portnoy: I love everything. Just because I spent 25 years in a super technical complicated band, it doesn't mean that that's what I necessarily prefer. In fact, to be honest with you, I almost never listen to that type of music for my own enjoyment. If you were to look in my iPod, there's very little bands like Dream Theater in there. I'm listening to either very simple stuff like The Beatles or U2 or Jelly Fish or I'll be listening to Lamb of God and Slayer, everything in between. My taste is very very broad. I don't judge something on whether or not it's complicated or simple. I judge something on whether it's good or bad.
Levi Buckley: Do you think it's hard being in a simple band and being a complex drummer. Is it hard to keep simple and not overplay on tracks and stuff like that?
Mike Portnoy: Not for me, no. Like I just said, I'm a fan of so many kinds of music and so many styles that I enjoy doing all those different things. That was another reason I had to leave Dream Theater is that I needed other outlets and styles in my life. That's why I'm currently in six different bands and that's why I've played with a dozen different bands since leaving Dream Theater. I need that variety in order to feel not only fulfilled but also to continue to grow as a musician.
Growing as a musician doesn't necessarily mean playing faster or more technical. Growth sometimes means playing simpler, you know.
Levi: Yeah. If you ever go on those metal sites like Blabbermouth.net, there's one drummer that does cop a lot of shit. I think he's quite a good drummer, but he still gets it nonetheless and that's Lars Ulrich. Just because you know a lot about drums, would you say he is a good drummer?
Mike Portnoy: I have a tremendous amount of respect for Lars, even though he takes a beating in the drum community. To me, his value is not necessarily in drumming but it has to do with him being part of a musical revolution that he was a huge huge part of starting. He's been a tremendous asset to Metallica, not only as a writer but as a businessman, and his abilities to market things, and his ability to arrange music. His performance on stage, he's a very animated player on stage.
To me, I would rather watch somebody like Lars Ulrich on stage than one of these technical drummers that can do quadruple paradiddles at 240 bpm. To me that's boring. Who cares about that. I'd rather be entertained and go to a show and watch a drummer and have somebody that actually makes me smile. I don't judge drummers based on their technical ability. I judge them based on the overall package and what they bring to the music they're a part of. What Lars brings to the music of Metallica is absolutely invaluable. I could care less if his meter might be slightly up and down or if his fills are slightly sloppy, I don't care about that. To me there's way more to being a good drummer than precision and technique.
Levi: I'll just ask you one more question. If you were to have a drum off between Mike Portnoy from 10 years go, who do you think would win?
Mike Portnoy: I hate the idea of a "drum off" because drumming is not a competition. That's why I almost feel silly winning all these awards I've won. I've won like 30 modern drum awards at this point and to me it's almost comical because drumming is not a sport or a competition. It's all completely subjective. People ask me, who's the best drummer. I always say the same thing, there is no best. There's only favorites. I don't know, a drum off between me in 2015 and me in 2005, it depends on the day. To me I wouldn't judge that drum off based on what I was playing technically. It would be based upon if I played with passion. If I played with humor. If I played with character and personality. To me that would be what would be the variables. In those cases, it would all depend on what side of the bed I woke up on that morning. It has nothing to do with technique.
Levi: I'll ask the question a bit fairer, do you think ... Is there still stuff you haven't learnt on drums. Have you mastered the kit yet or do you still find ...
Mike Portnoy: Oh my God. Of course, of course. I'd be the first person in the world to say that there's millions of drummers out there that could play circles around me. There's no question about that.
Doesn't matter that I've won all these awards and been on all the magazine covers, doesn't mean I'm necessarily better than anybody. It just means I struck a chord with young listeners and for that I'm appreciative. I know there's billions of things that I still need to learn to become better. But I'm not necessarily interested in pursuing them because I have more in my life than just playing drums. I have many things in my life that interest me and many things in my life that are priorities beyond the drums. I could sit at home and practice 15 hours a day and get better and learn new things, but I also would be wasting my life away and I would have no relationship with my wife and children. I have other priorities in my life.