Former DREAM THEATER drummer Mike Portnoy recently spoke to Classic Rock Prog magazine about his decision to quit the band he formed and led for 25 years. A few excerpts from the chat follow below.
Classic Rock Prog: Were you expecting the guys in the band to agree with you that DREAM THEATER needed an extended break?
Portnoy: "Well, I knew my proposal would be met with some shock and hesitation, but I honestly hoped the guys would see my need for a break or a hiatus and respect it. It's not the most insane request in the history of rock... MANY bands have done it, only to return bigger and stronger than before. SOUNDGARDEN, RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE, JANE'S ADDICTION, FAITH NO MORE, ALICE IN CHAINS, MEGADETH, PHISH, etc. etc. Even RUSH, GENESIS, PINK FLOYD have all taken extended breaks in order to keep the band together."
Classic Rock Prog: Were you shocked and upset that they ultimately decided to go on without you?
Portnoy: "I'd be lying if I didn't say I am devastated they chose to continue without me rather than take a break. After me giving my heart and soul, blood, sweat and tears to them and the band for 25 years, I hoped they'd value me and our relationship enough to respect my need for us to take a little break. I am truly heartbroken over their decision. I suppose it also kills me that in the past the guys NEVER would question or ever debate my direction within the band. They always let me call the shots and always trusted my vision and guidance. And NOW, with such a huge and personal conflict.. they disagreed with me for the first time... on the biggest decision of them all.
"DREAM THEATER is my baby and I NEVER wanted to abandon my child. I only felt the parents needed a little breather to help save the marriage.
"The big irony here is that I wanted a break to help mend and strengthen our relations and ultimately bring us closer together.... and now by them chosing to move on without me it is ultimately going to seriously damage our relationship.... as well as the DREAM THEATER legacy I spent so long building and protecting."
Classic Rock Prog: Apart from wanting a break from the DREAM THEATER routine and the guys in the band, was there any part of the music that you needed to escape from? (e.g. Were you happy with the musical direction of the last two albums or had it become stale for you? Had this become a "day job" and you were worried you might just be going through the motions?)
Portnoy: "Honestly, it had nothing to do with the music itself or the musical chemistry within the band. I was always very inspired when writing and recording together and am as proud of our last few albums as anything else in the catalog. It really was more of the behind-the-scenes, personal relationships within the band. Yes, on the surface it may seem that life was great and full steam ahead for DREAM THEATER... things like playing Download and Wembley, the recent [IRON] MAIDEN tour in the U.S., Top 10 entry on Billboard were all nice feathers in the cap... but beneath the surface, there was a lot of friction and burn-out. I mean, we have one bandmember that would literally not even sit in the same room with the rest of us for years now and we'd only see him on stage or at meet-and-greets...and then other members just doing a lot of complaining about the day-to-day stuff... To me, these are obvious signs of wear and tear and a need for a break from each other in order to recharge the batteries and reignite the flame. On the opposite hand, I would go out on tour with TRANSATLANTIC or AVENGED SEVENFOLD and all of the band members are hanging out, eating meals together and enjoying each other's company.
"I think DREAM THEATER really needed a bit of a break to rejuvenate our relationships. Of course, now in the wake of this split, the four guys HAVE to pull together to keep the band together, so I'm sure they will surely look at these issues and change them. I'm just saddened that they wouldn't wait for me to do it."
Classic Rock Prog: Do you regret your decision?
Portnoy: "Well, I absolutely HATE the outcome and the situation I was put into to have to make it. But I could not honestly return to the band to make an album in January without feeling resentment and being uncomfortable that I was forced into doing something I wasn't ready to do. I have chosen the harder, more challenging road rather than the safer, easier road. But my heart has never steered me wrong. I've always followed it and only done things that I knew would make me happy.
"At the moment, I am very happy playing with AVENGED SEVENFOLD...and I do not want to stop doing something I am happy doing to go do something I'm not very happy doing. I cannot do something with my life and career because I 'have' to, I need to 'want' to do it.
"For 25 years now, I have made decisions for DREAM THEATER and our fans...for once in my life, I needed to make a decision for Mike Portnoy."
Portnoy, who is currently out with AVENGED SEVENFOLD as their touring drummer, previously said of his decision to quit DREAM THEATER, "Please believe me that it is not a hasty decision . . . it is something I have struggled with for the last year or so . . . After having had such amazing experiences playing with HAIL!, TRANSATLANTIC and AVENGED SEVENFOLD this past year, I have sadly come to the conclusion that I have recently had more fun and better personal relations with these other projects than I have for a while now in DREAM THEATER."
Portnoy added, "I love the DREAM THEATER guys dearly and have a long history, friendship and bond that runs incredibly deep with them — it's just that I think we are in serious need of a little break."
The drummer said that DREAM THEATER's "endless write/record/tour cycle for almost 20 years" was the main factor in his decision. He said he wanted a "break," not a "split," but that the band decided to move forward without him.
Portnoy added in a separate post on Facebook that his current gig with AVENGED SEVENFOLD had nothing to do with his departure from DREAM THEATER, writing, "They are just as shocked as you guys."
AVENGED recruited Portnoy to play on its new album, "Nightmare", following the death last December of the band's drummer, James "The Rev" Sullivan. Portnoy was Sullivan's favorite drummer.
DREAM THEATER said in its own statement, "All of us in DREAM THEATER wholeheartedly wish Mike the best on his musical journey. We have had a long and meaningful career together. It is our true hope that he finds all he is looking for, and that he achieves the happiness he deserves. He will be missed."