|Mike Portnoy of Flying Colors Shows His True Colors.|
This guy is like the drummer’s drummer. He is currently in like, 12 bands, or 5. He’s been in Dream Theater and Avenged Sevenfold, he regularly performs with the who’s who in music. Mike sat down with me to tell me of one of his newest projects Flying Colors as well as just about every other band or project he has ever been a part of. I had a chance to see the man behind the kit, a real man, with feelings, not just a Rock star or a robot.
Shockwave-Tell me a little bit about how this project came together?
Mike-It began with an idea from Bill Evans, the Executive Producer, and basically Bill has been working with Neal Morse and Steve Morse separately through the years. He had this idea of putting the two of them together and then adding me on drums, it was an idea he has had for many, many years now, even until back when I was still with Dream Theater…I was like, yeah, I’m up for it, and just waited for it to kinda come to fruition. In January of last year the three of us came together and then brought Dave Larue in on bass, I suggested Casey McPherson on vocals and that’s how the line-up was born.
Yeah, I really enjoy Casey’s vocals, Steve Morse’s guitar playing…it reminds of his days with the Dixie Dregs and even with Kansas. It feels like some of those elements carry over to this album. Was there any one person who developed the sound?
I think if I had to pinpoint to any one person that is integral to the sound it would be Casey because Neal and I have done like and dozen albums together between Transatlantic and all his solo albums I’ve played on, so he and I already had an existing chemistry and sound. Steve and Dave had already done a dozen albums together between the Steve Morse band and the Dregs, so they already had and existing chemistry and sound , so I think Casey was really the kind of X factor that was thrown into the melting pot that would take us all to a whole new direction. I think that prevented it from sounding like Transatlantic or Dixie Dregs, but at the same time, you can definitely hear bits and sounds of all of us in there. You can hear Steve’s guitar and writing style because we did write everything together and even Casey’s voice, because we did come from a very different world, something like a Coldplay, Muse or Radiohead kinda world. It helped us go to new directions that none of us would have gone.
Cool, I can definitely hear all those elements, like “Everything Changes” reminds me a little bit of Coldplay, “Reminds Me” is a little reminiscent of Kansas. It’s all over the place, I really enjoyed it. What’s your favorite part about playing in this project, because you’re all over the place?
This project allows me to tap into all the things I mentioned about the bands I mentioned, specifically, Muse, Coldplay, U2, Radiohead…Those bands I can use to kinda compare to Casey’s style. I’ve always been a fan of those bands but have never been able to tap into them with any Metal or Prog projects I’ve done, so Flying Colors gives me a chance to tap into that, plus The Beatles and the more poppy Jellyfish style. The other reason Flying Colors gives me the ability to play with Steve Morse which has been a dream of mine, not to down play working with Dave and Neal but I’ve worked with them in the past but this is my first time working with Steve. Steve has always been one of my favorite guitar players and we’ve known each other for many, many years now but this is the first time for us to make music together, and for me to witness first hand, not only behind the guitar but, the whole genius behind composing and stuff like that. Elements like that, for me is what makes Flying Colors totally exciting and new for something in my career.
It’s gotta be hard to come up with something new, you’ve done so much. Have you ever found yourself performing and thought to yourself…What band am I in today?
No, no, no, I do a million things and I’m very OCD, so I’m very well aware, completely immersed in everything that I do, I don’t do anything half-assed. It doesn’t matter…there was a weekend in 2010 where, over the course of 5 days I performed with Transatlantic, Dream Theater and Avenged Sevenfold in three different countries over the course of those 5 days. Never once did I lose track of what was going on, I was fully committed to all three different bands and all three different set lists, but that’s just me, I’m OCD. I’m very good at multi-tasking.
That’s obvious. You just made me curious. What is you astrological sign? I don’t know if that has any bearing but…
I’m a Taurus on the cusp of an Aries, was born on April 20th.
You mentioned Avenged Sevenfold, I really enjoyed watching you play with them. I was watching you play catch with the drum sticks with your drum tech, I guess. What would you say was the absolute reason for the departure (I gotta tell ya, I thought this question was going to get me the dial tone)? There’s been speculation, and it’s been touched upon, but…As someone who is not quite in the mix, I wonder…Umm, yeah, just that. (spit it out, jeeze. He ends up answering the way I originally had the question worded, but was afraid to ask).
I wouldn’t say it was…a departure, because it was never a permanent situation anyway. All we basically did was fulfill the intention, which was for me to go out and get them going. At the end of 2010, they decided that they were ready to start working with somebody else and not to continue on with me, which was understandable because it was never supposed to. As far as the reasons, I get it, I understand it, I think my role was to kinda serve as a branch to get them from where they were to where they needed to be, you know, the next step of their career. I don’t think the next step in their career involved me because with me comes too much history and baggage…I’ve got a deep rooted connection with my fans and with that I don’t think it could have ever fully mixed with Avenged Sevenfold because they were looking for someone high-profile. After my time with them, they wanted a no-name, young drummer who was just gonna, kinda stay in the back and not over shadow the tour or The Rev’s legacy, and I totally get and understand, and respect that. My time with them was fun, it was a blast, I think I served a bridge to get them where they needed to go, and conversely they definitely served as a bridge to get me where I needed and now each of us have moved on. I think that was as far as it could really go because with me came too much high-profile history, I think they needed a fresh start with somebody that was a clean slate.
(Publishers note: I knew it, just knew it) It’s funny you say that because that’s pretty much how my original question was worded, but…What was it like when you got the call, and did you know that The Rev was such a huge fan of yours?
Yeah, I knew Jim was a big fan because he would always mention me in interview, he cited me as an influence. When he was alive I reached out to him just to thank him for that, I really appreciated that. Whenever I see young drummers cite me as an influence, I’m flattered and appreciative of that. So I reached out to The Rev, and he and I bounced back some nice emails, the sad thing is that when he passed is that, he was so young and full of life, that is was so sad for me. I talked to M Shadows when The Rev passed, I just wanted to extend my condolences, it was a couple days later I got the call asking if I would do the album, and I was honored at the thought of finishing the album for him…The guys had never played with another drummer, I knew it was a brave and bold step for them to take and I was happy to be there to help them. Once we did the album, I offered my services, I said if there’s anything I can do, I’m available and that’s ultimately what happened. That was really the extent of the relationship and what it was ever supposed to be.
Well, it has been totally awesome for us fans, that in spite of the tragedy, to see you perform with them, it seemed like a natural thing. Again, it was awesome to watch you play and to have such fun with it.
What about some other drummers? You have the Neil Peart, the Vinnie Paul’s…I noticed on some of your “lists” that you never mentioned someone like Dave Grohl, whom I’m a fan of, and his buddy Taylor Hawkins…
I love both of them guys. I think they are both amazing and I love their styles. They’re true kinda, John Bonham-esque, I love both of them.
(Now for the Baltimore connection) Are you familiar with a drummer named Dennis Chambers?
Of course, I was just with him two weeks ago. I know he’s from your area.
(chuckling) He is, that’s why I brought him up.
Well, obviously, I’ve known who he is forever, I know all the drummer’s out there but we’ve known each other for like a decade now, we’ve done drum shows together, he’s obviously one of the all time greats.
Which project or genre allows you to shine the most? Or, gives you the most freedom to be the drummer you most imagine yourself to be, in all of it’s glory?
My work with Dream Theater is the most defining of who I am, because it’s a broad palette to work with, everything from Prog to Metal, and everything in between. I think Dream Theater shows the most of who I am because I was so deeply involved in every aspect beyond just the drums. I was involved in the music writing, the melody writing, the lyric writing, the producing, the directing, and every aspect of that band. So I guess if there’s any band or project that is going to most closely define me, it would be Dream Theater because so much of me was in it. With that being said, post Dream Theater it would probably be Flying Colors, offers me the more, top side of what I love. Adrenaline Mob allows me the more Metal side of what I love. I’m working with Billy Sheehan, in that we’re tapping into the more classic rock roots of what I love. I’m really just a big music fan, first and foremost, my taste ranges from Opeth to Jellyfish and everything in between. I like being able to do all of those things, I’m getting to express myself with many different projects, this allows me to spread my career to new places.
I had read on the internet that the Billy Sheehan project wasn’t going to happen.
Actually, Billy and I are doing two different things (because one is never enough). We just did a bunch of shows with Tony MacAlpine and Derek Shernian, we did some gigs, and also filmed a DVD which will be out later this year, that is one project. This one is more fusion based and the other one is with a guitar player, singer, and we’re laying down the groundwork for an album for maybe next year, more classic rock based.
In light of your departure from Dream Theater…Is it possible you are still working on the Liquid Tension Experiment?
Not currently but I’m surely open to doing it in the future. I think there was a great chemistry at work there, I still have great memories of all of my time with John and Jordan, we’re brothers for life, I just hope that someday we will do another album, I’d love to. I guess time will tell.
Well, as busy as you are, and they’re jumping off with their thing, some things are just meant to be and when the stars are aligned, we’ll see what happens. Let me get your views, briefly on…Politics?
I am completely clueless, I don’t know anything about politics.
That’s probably a good thing. (chuckling on both ends) It’s probably better that way.
For better or worse, I don’t know.
What about cars?
Same there. That’s one department that I don’t know anything about. I just got a new car this last summer and my wife had to pick it out for me because I don’t know anything about cars. We got a Mustang GT convertible, and I was like…As long as it’s black, it’s a convertible and it’s got a good stereo, that’s really all I care about.
What about Frank Zappa? He’s another Baltimore boy.
He is probably my biggest musical hero of all time. I’ve got his moustache tattooed on me, I’ve followed his career since I was a kid. I go deep into his career, I’ve got every album he’s ever made, and a million bootlegs, all the set-lists, and different incarnations. I was privileged to take Zappa plays Zappa out on The Progressive Nation Tour 2009, I had Dweezil out with us the whole time, and being able to watch the band every night. I was able to sit in with them, Dweezil had me out at least 5 different times playing 5 different songs, being able to be part of the Zappa world for that summer was like a dream come true for me.
Yeah, I saw Dweezil do that show, and I like how they had the video screen with Frank playing lead on some of the songs.
Yeah, I got to hang out with the family, Gail, his widow and see Frank’s world and stuff, and it was one of the most amazing days of my life.
We have a statue dedicated to Frank here in Baltimore and an official, Frank Zappa Day. Dweezil and the whole family were here for the dedication…Alright…What’s your favorite food?
It would be Italian or Mexican. It’s probably going to be Mexican, Italian is sooo, freakin fattening. You know, when you get older and you have all the changes…I can’t eat Italian food. I also like Thai but I think I’d have to pick Mexican ad number one.
If we were likely t see you out in your spare time, with or without the family…Where would we be likely to see you at? A Record store?
It would definitely be a record store if they existed anymore. That’s where I used to spend all my time was in a record, DVD or CD shop. One of my favorite things in the world is to go to places like Amoeba (Records) for the day and just browse. I’m not the type that can just walk out without buying, I do the same browsing today on Amazon. That’s fun too because I like reading the reviews and stuff.
I see you’re on Twitter. Are you a fan of that, or is that just a necessary evil?
I’m a fan. I’ve always been very, very fan oriented and closely connected to my fan base. Over all the years at Dream Theater, I oversaw the fan club, web-site. That was all from me giving and connecting with the fans, so yeah, I’m very much into the social media thing.
What about one on one?
There’s a time and place for everything, it is very important to meet the fans and to have direct contact with them, it’s something that I’ve always put a high priority on. At the same time, there’s always a need for the artists privacy. In the early 90’s I was a social butterfly, drinking Jager shots with the fans…but the bigger you get the less privacy you have. Sometimes that privacy is something that you really need. I’ll never be that artist…I’ll always be willing to meet with the fans.
In closing. While Google-ing your name I came up with something called Portnoy’s Complaint. Are you familiar with it?
Of course, it’s a famous book from the 70’s. My entire childhood, the first day of school, every year, the kids would say…”Hey, do you have any complaints?”
With that being said…What is (Mike) Portnoy’s complaint?
I dunno…How much time you have?
(laughing) You could probably say it, those damn annoying journalists asking that freakin question.
You know, I have lots of complaints but, really, my only complaint is, what bugs me the most is, how nasty some people can be on the internet. When you see some of the quotes and comments written on-line by people who don’t really know anything about you…it hurts. People don’t realize, that there is a person behind the comments their writing about. Over this past year some people have shown their true colors to me, and I’ve learned who my real friends and fans are.