DREAM THEATER Drummer: We've Never Been Uncomfortable With Term 'Progressive'

Pat Prince of Goldmine magazine recently conducted an interview with DREAM THEATER drummer Mike Portnoy. A couple of excerpts from the chat follow below.

Goldmine: How is everything on the IRON MAIDEN tour so far?

Mike Portnoy: Good. But, to be honest, it's a weird adjustment for us to be the opening band. We've only done it a couple of times in our career. So, on one hand, it's awesome to be onstage with the mighty IRON MAIDEN that we grew up with. They were a big, big part of our history and an influence. On the other hand, we are adjusting to the smaller stage space, shorter set length, and the things that happen when you are the opening band. So, it's a strange adjustment for us, but it's worth it for us in the end.

Goldmine: How are the IRON MAIDEN fans accepting you?

Mike Portnoy: Well, that's why we're here. It's all about trying to make some new friends from the MAIDEN fan base. That's ultimately why we are on this tour, and it seems to be going great so far. There are a lot of their fans who are kind of old-timers who have been with them through all the years and maybe don't know a band like DREAM THEATER, so … I wrote a set list that is a kind of crash course in the metal side of DREAM THEATER. It's the same set every night, which is unusual for us, as well. But I think it is something that their fans will be able to latch onto. It's an easier-to-swallow set list. Not any of the big 20-minute epics. More of just the metal side and the "hits" — not that we have any hits — but the ones that are a little more accessible to grasp onto. Luckily, DREAM THEATER was never a hit band, because I would hate nothing more than to always go out and play the same exact songs because that's what people want to hear. I'm seeing this with IRON MAIDEN right now, because they chose to do a set list on this tour that is, basically, from the last 10 years. And there's a big backlash amongst some of their fans. On one end, I can understand the fans' point of view, the ones that do want to hear the hits, but, on the other hand, I understand MAIDEN's point of view, that they don't want to be stuck playing the same songs for the rest of their lives. They put out new albums; they want to play the new music. Usually, when I write set lists, it is a wide-open palette that I can choose from. I like to pick over 100 songs and not feel like we have to play anything.

Goldmine: What are DREAM THEATER's plans after the MAIDEN tour?

Mike Portnoy: After this, DREAM THEATERwill take the rest of the year off. At this point, we've been on the road since last June, so this is the final stretch for us. In fact, we weren't even supposed to be touring at this point. We were supposed to be done by now. And when the MAIDEN offer came, we took it. Once this run ends, I jump directly onto the AVENGED SEVENFOLD tour to play drums with them for the rest of the year. So, I am literally going the day after the MAIDEN tour ends. I fly to L.A. to begin rehearsals with them.

Goldmine: AVENGED SEVENFOLD's drummer, Jimmy Sullivan, was a huge fan of yours. Your participation with the band is probably a big honor for them, and it's really a nice gesture on your part.

Mike Portnoy: It's an honor for me, as well, to have been kind of hand-picked and asked to do this, because of the situation. You know, when I went in and did the album, it was something I was honored to do. I wanted to be really careful to bring The Rev's drum parts to life for this album. They lost their brother at an unbelievably early age. You know, he was only 28, so it was a tragedy that they had to endure. I wanted to go in there and carry on his legacy with the drum parts he was supposed to be playing. So, I did my job, and we had such a good time with each other on a personal level … The guys are really cool guys, and I really enjoyed making the record with them. And I told them, if I was able to tour with them, I would love to do it, and, sure enough, their tour is beginning as soon as DREAM THEATER's is ending.

Goldmine: After all these years, are you still comfortable with the term "progressive?"

Mike Portnoy: We've never been uncomfortable with it, even 20 years ago, when bands were trying to avoid that word like the plague, whether it's a band like TOOL or a band like RADIOHEAD. For so many years, bands were uncomfortable with that term. DREAM THEATER's never been uncomfortable with it. We've always embraced it and have been proud of it. There's no denying that that's the type of band we are. We are a progressive-metal band. We have the elements of progressive rock and heavy metal, and that's what DREAM THEATER is. And we've always written 15-minute songs, and we've always had long instrumental passages. This band was formed out of the blueprints of progressive bands like RUSH and YES and GENESIS, and metal bands like MAIDEN, PRIEST and SABBATH. We've always been proud to be a progressive band, and it's just now that the rest of the world seems to be OK with that term. Now, all of a sudden, bands like MASTODON and THE MARS VOLTA and MUSE, suddenly now it's cool to be progressive. For so many years it wasn't, but we were never afraid of it ourselves. That's why we started Progressive Nation, and that's why I named it that. It just goes to show that the word progressive these days doesn't mean GENESIS and KING CRIMSON. The word progressive can go into so many different avenues that range from OPETH to PORCUPINE TREE.

Goldmine: So you think that "progressive" — that genre, that word — is much healthier as a contemporary movement?

Mike Portnoy: Yeah, I've already name-dropped them, but look at a band like MASTODON or THE MARS VOLTA. These bands have put out these big, long songs now, and they aren't afraid of it. The fact of the matter is, a band like DREAM THEATER has never been a radio-friendly band. Or a MTV-friendly band. Or a mainstream act. We're never going to be in the pages of Rolling Stone. That's the way it was 25 years ago, and that's the way it still is today. And we're totally cool with that. We built an amazing career without that. If we wanted to be writing five-minute songs, then we can do that in a heartbeat. But that's not what this band is about.

Read the entire interview from Goldmine magazine.

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