DREAM THEATER Drummer: 'It's Impossible To Please Everybody'

Spiritech of Australia's PyroMusic.net recently conducted an interview with DREAM THEATER drummer Mike Portnoy. A couple of excerpts from the chat follow below.

PyroMusic.net: How has the touring for the new record been going?

Mike Portnoy: So far, so good. All the touring we did this summer was totally awesome. We started with a month in Europe and basically spent the rest of the summer in America and Canada. So far it's been great, so now we're looking forward to a more thorough run of Europe through November and then making it down to your neck of the woods, your neck of Planet Earth in December.

PyroMusic.net: Great stuff, but we'll get to that later. Now, with songs such as "The Best Of Times" (written about Portnoy's late father) and "The Shattered Fortress" (the final chapter in the drummer's "12-Step Suite") this record must have been a rather personal experience for you. Was this a therapeutic album for you to write and record?

Mike Portnoy: (Pauses) Well, yeah, I guess it was. I mean, those two songs in particular were definitely heavy for me and very personal for me. I've been writing about my recovery from addiction and alcoholism for the last five albums, because there's been a 12-part series of songs that interconnect and it's taken five albums to complete. So finally completing that process with "The Shattered Fortress" on this album has definitely been therapeutic, to finally be done with that project, which has been kind of hanging over my head for eight years now. So that's a relief and definitely therapeutic to have written about all 12 steps. And the other song, "The Best Of Times", was a real heavy situation for me be to be going through during the making of this record. Flying back and forth from New York to California all throughout the making of it, visiting my dad who was sick and dying. Writing this song and being able to play it for him before he died was truly one of the most incredible gifts I was ever given. I wanted to write a song that was about our 41 years together and the good stuff; that's why it's called "The Best Of Times" even though it's about such a sad, sad subject. But yeah, being able to play that for him at his bedside before he died was unbelievably meaningful and powerful for me and something that I'll never, ever forget.

PyroMusic.net: To my ears, the new album strikes a strong balance between the progressive elements, the metal elements and some of the catchiest hooks you've ever written. I think the last time you really nailed that balance was on "Train Of Thought". Was that the aim with this record?

Mike Portnoy: To be completely honest, no bullshit, that's our aim with every record. I think that sometimes people get it easier than others, you know? You mentioned "Train of Thought" — I loved "Train Of Thought" and thought that we definitely nailed that album. But there are people that don't like that album and it was too heavy or whatever. Then there's people that love "Octavarium" and other people who say it wasn't heavy enough. It's impossible to please everybody. I mean, if you take a poll of a hundred DREAM THEATER fans, you're gonna get different answers from each one of them. So really, it's just our goal each and every time we make a record to have that balance of the three things you said — the progressive, the metal and the melodic. Every time we try to have all of those as strong as possible.

PyroMusic.net: Because of that, when an album gets a few negative reviews or some fans criticize it does it not really bother you simply, because they're just as likely to love the next album?

Mike Portnoy: Well, it bothers us, but at the same time we've come to know that we just can't possibly please everybody; it's impossible. So at this point of our career we just do whatever it takes to please ourselves first and foremost and hopefully the fans will stay for the ride. I'm probably the most fan-oriented musician you'll ever meet and I pay a lot of attention to what the fans say. I try my best to direct this band in a fan-friendly way and try to give the fans what they want. But there's such a diversity within our fan base that I can't possibly please them all, you know? (laughs) 'Cause some people like one side, some people like the other side, some people like the heavy stuff, other people can't stand it. So at the end of the day, we just do what we do, keep ourselves happy and try to make the fans happy, but we know we possibly can't please everyone.

PyroMusic.net: You mentioned the heavier elements and that aspect of your sound is definitely emphasized on tracks like "A Nightmare To Remember" on the new record, which almost flirts with black metal in certain passages, as well as utilizing your harsher vocals. Is this something we can expect DREAM THEATER to explore further on future albums?

Mike Portnoy: Well, I'm a huge fan of that stuff and I've always been really into heavy stuff and the metal world is a big part of my world. So that's something that has always been a part of DREAM THEATER, but I guess maybe more and more as time goes on... Metal is becoming so diverse, so we can be listening to OPETH or SLIPKNOT or TRIVIUM and it takes the music to all different places. But really, people who have listened to this album and said, "Why are you getting so heavy?" (laughs) But we've always had this heavy side to us. I mean, if you take the very first song from our very first album, "A Fortune In Lies", that could have been a thrash song! It was all fast and double-bass and chunky guitars, it just didn't have a big production. So I think maybe since our production gets bigger and better each album maybe it becomes more apparent. And as you pointed out, I've been injecting my more growl-y vocals, only because I think it suits the music better than James' [LaBrie] clean vocals would at times. Not all the time, but sometimes. So I think maybe it's more apparent, but really, that heavy side has always been a part of DREAM THEATER.

PyroMusic.net: Now, you're renowned for being involved in a variety of projects and one such rumored collaboration is one with Mikael Åkerfeldt (OPETH) and Steven Wilson (PORCUPINE TREE). Can you shed any light on if this project may actually happen one day?

Mike Portnoy: No, that's just talk. I mean, the three of us each mentioned wanting to work with each other years ago, and since then it's kind of been this rumor that won't go away. I think all three of us regret ever mentioning it at this point, but I think the hype or anticipation around it has surpassed anything we possibly could realistically deliver. So I think now all three of us are kind of hesitant to do it, because there's been so much hype about it. (laughs) This is an example of where the Internet can somehow be a bad thing and I think... that's why I try to keep as tight of a lid on things as possible when we're making a record, because anything that is said or leaked or heard, it opens up this can of worms of discussion and once people start discussing and discussing and discussing and dissecting and anticipating, they build up such a level of hype and expectations in their head that it's impossible to ever satisfy it. So that's one of the bad things about the Internet. In answer to your question though, I think we'd love to work together, but at this point, we just don't know when.

Read the entire interview from PyroMusic.net.

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