Feb. 07 2007
Mike Portnoy

Mike Portnoy

Dream Theater

TAMA :What is Dream Theater up to these days?

Mike : We've been in the recording studio since September '06. And we are, at this moment, completing work on the new album. We're actually mixing it right now, and we should be finished in about two weeks. So come mid-February, the album will be done, and it's gonna be out in June.

TAMA : How would you describe the direction of this album?

Mike : Heavy and technical。ヲpowerful and dynamic。ヲall of the elements that people kind of expect out of a Dream Theater album. All of the styles and sounds are intact, but we wanted to make it a real sonic explosion. It's very dramatic and aggressive. I don't know。ヲall of the above adjectives fit [laughs].

TAMA : Were you using the Albino Monster during this recording?

Mike : Yes, which is the first album I've recorded with it. It made its debut on the Octavarium tour, so this is actually the first time I've used it to record with.

TAMA : Did you modify it at all from the Octavarium tour?

Mike : Nope, same thing. I can tell you, if you were to split the Albino Monster in half, I ended up using the left side of it 。ヲthe double-bass side 。ヲfor six out of the seven songs. So I only ended up using the "Bonham" side for one song on the album。ヲwhich led me to the decision to change up that side of the kit for the upcoming tour.

TAMA : What specifically are you going to change?

Mike : Well, I'm going to do two things. One is, I'm going to change the sizes, because the Bonham sizes are very, very huge。ヲyou know, 26" kick drum and big toms. And that was fun for awhile, but now I'm ready to change it up a little bit. So I'm going to change to more conventional sizes。ヲa 22" kick, and 3 rack toms, 8", 10", and 12"。ヲso it's going to be a little more of a conventional, small kit. And then the other change is in the shells. That side of the kit is going to be made up of Starclassic Mirage [acrylic] drums. I'm going to debut that kit, with those shells, when I do the upcoming G3 tour in America this March and April.

TAMA : I was just going to ask about that. As you mentioned, you will be drumming for John Petrucci on the upcoming G3 tour with Joe Satriani and Paul Gilbert. What sort of material will you guys be playing?

Mike : We just do stuff from John's solo album, which he put out a couple of years ago. That was stuff he wrote specifically for G3, so that's the stuff we always play on the G3 tours.

TAMA : You recently recorded a new instructional DVD. Can you tell us some more about that and what topics it will cover?

Mike : It comes out in a few weeks, I think March 1st is the street date. It's called "In Constant Motion," and it's a mammoth DVD. It's the titanic of all instructional DVD's. It's a 3-disc set, about 7 hours long, and it basically just covers everything I've been doing ever since my last instructional DVD, "Liquid Drum Theater." So it covers a lot of ground. The first disc concentrates on Dream Theater and music from the last three albums that we've made.

The second disc is everything I've done outside of Dream Theater, so it ranges from Transatlantic, to Neal Morse's solo music, to OSI, to all 4 of my tribute bands。ヲthe tributes I did to the Beatles, the Who, Led Zeppelin, and Rush, as well as guest appearances with John Arch and Fates Warning and Overkill. So it really covers a tremendous amount of ground.

And then the third disc has additional bonus live tracks with Dream Theater, as well as three different drum solos from throughout the years, one of which includes the duets I did with Jason Bittner, Charlie Benante, and Richard Christy. So there's just a tremendous amount of stuff on this whole set.

TAMA : You played drums on Neal Morse's latest solo recording, "Sola Scriptura." What was it like working on that album?

Mike : Well, he and I have done five albums together with him as a solo artist. Actually, to date it back, he and I did two albums with Transatlantic, and he also participated on my Beatles tribute. But this is the fifth one of his solo albums I've played on, and as always, I love working with Neal. He's not only a great friend of mine, but he is somebody that I truly admire as a musician and songwriter. He's one of my favorite songwriters on the planet. And for me, it's an honor to work with him, and it gives me the chance to do a lot of different things.

A side of his music is kind of the side of me that people are familiar with, with a lot of time signature changes and a lot of riffs and progressive elements. But then there's another side of Neal's music where I get to do a completely different type of style, which people that only know me from Dream Theater probably haven't heard. And that's more the pop, ballad, straight-ahead, Jeff Porcaro/Steve Smith kind of pop/rock drumming. I love doing that as well. To me, that restraint is a challenge, and that kind of tasteful simplicity is just as exciting as the technical stuff I do.

TAMA : Has your playing and/or approach to drumming changed at all from the early Dream Theater days to now?

Mike : Within Dream Theater, not that much. If you listen to our early demos from Berkeley back in 1985 up till what I do now in Dream Theater, it's a definite style that has been maintained and continued through the years。ヲexcept I think I've just grown better and more mature in executing it. But it's always been about progressive, odd time signatures, chops, and exciting, over-the-top playing, and that's been the style that I've always incorporated with Dream Theater, for 22 years now.

However, outside of Dream Theater, especially over the past 6 or 7 years, I've been able to do so many different things, and I think those are the areas that have really defined me as a drummer. The fact that I've been able to play, like I already mentioned, the simplicity of some of Neal Morse's music, all the way to the kind of postmodern drumming that I've done with OSI。ヲplaying with drum loops and samples and things like that. And then the tributes I've done have all been a different style, from Keith Moon to John Bonham to Ringo Starr to Neil Peart. Those are four completely different styles that I've been able to become completely obsessed with and kind of morph myself into.

So to answer your question how have I changed from the beginning till now, I think I've been able to try so many different things, because of the side projects, and that's really helped me be a better musician.

TAMA : What sort of things did you work on to develop your impressive speed and facility around the kit?

Mike : I just played along to records when I was a kid. I never really focused on proper technique and the right way to do things versus the wrong way 。ヲnot that there is a right or wrong way. But I never really focused on that stuff. So that's probably one of my weaknesses, that I never had that proper training with rudiments and technique and things like that. I kind of just honed my style from playing along with records and listening to all of my favorite drummers and learning what they do, and concentrating on the composition side of it too。ヲnot only what they were playing, but why they were playing what they were playing. And then I kind of tried to cop all of these different styles and help it go into a big giant mixing pot. But I really can't say there are any specific exercises or anything like that, because I'm actually very undisciplined in that department.

TAMA : What are some of your favorite Dream Theater songs to perform live?

Mike : They all become equally boring after a hundred times [laughs], but I tend to like the more challenging ones just because they keep me on my toes. So, songs like "The Dance of Eternity" and "Octavarium"。ヲall kind of the instrumental or the long pieces. Those songs are the ones that are the most challenging, therefore, I enjoy those.

TAMA : You currently have 2 Tama signature snares. Can you take us through each one and describe the sound characteristics and primary function that each snare serves for you?

Mike : My main snare is the 5.5"x14" maple shell. And to me, that's just a great all-around snare that works in every situation. And then the other one is the 12" steel shell, which is a little bit more of a secondary snare, almost like a piccolo-sounding snare. But in both cases, I think the most important ingredient is the throw-off, which is a custom throw-off that Tama created to my specifications, and it's only available on the Melody Master snares. Basically, it's a three-way snare throw-off as opposed to a two. So instead of just an "on" and an "off," you have an "off," a "loose" snare, and a "tight" snare. I think that's a really unique thing, and I really enjoy being able to switch back and forth between the different sounds, especially in the studio. Between those two snares, with three settings on each, I can actually get six different snare sounds at any given moment, so it gives me a lot of options.

TAMA : Aside from the snares, what are some of your other favorite components of your Tama kit?

Mike : I love the Octobans. I've always had those on my kit. Even when I was younger, before I had them, I always dreamed of playing them, because guys like Simon Phillips and Stewart Copeland were using them. So that attracted me to them, and I just love the sound of them. They're very unique, and they've always been a signature part of my Tama kits.