MIKE PORTNOY: 'I Feel The Ghost Of KEITH MOON And JOHN BONHAM In Everything I Do'

Steven Rosen of Ultimate-Guitar.comt recently conducted an inteview with drummer Mike Portnoy of progressive metal giants DREAM THEATER. A couple of excerpts from the chat follow below.

Ultimate-Guitar.com: Have you had a chance to meet any of your drummer heroes? A lot of them are gone now — Keith Moon, John Bonham, Mitch Mitchell and some others — but what about the guys who are still around? Ringo?

Portnoy: Those are the heroes that really intimidate me. Through our career I've gotten to meet almost anybody I've ever wanted to meet and the people that are in the MAIDENs and the PRIESTs and the SABBATHs and the METALLICAs of the world, they're kind of like more my generations. But once you get to that '60s era — the STONES, ZEPPELIN, THE BEATLES, THE WHO, PINK FLOYD — those are the upper echelon of heroes that are on a whole other level. The only ones that I've met from that group, I have met Ringo. We did several shows with Jimmy Page and Robert Plant back in the '90s and I've met Jimmy Page many times since then. And then also Roger Waters and Nick Mason; I'm also a huge PINK FLOYD fan. They were a big one for me as well.

Ultimate-Guitar.com: When you're playing with DREAM THEATER or the new music with AVENGED SEVENFOLD, are there ever moments when you might remember a John Bonham fill or something the Who did and it will trigger something specific in your playing? Do you do that at all?

Portnoy: It never doesn't do that; I mean, every moment of my life. [laughs] Anytime I'm behind the kit, I'm feeling the sum of all the parts of who make me who I am. And no matter who I'm playing with, it triggers memories of music and other drummers to me. I am the biggest music fan you'll ever meet and everything I do resonates with the music I grew up with. Yesterday I flew out on our day off to fly to Kansas City to see RUSH and I spent the day hanging out with Neil Peart. It doesn't matter how old I am or how much I've done with my career, I'm still that 15-year old kid that loves music. That's never gonna change. And yesterday I was sitting in the fourth row playing air drums to Neil Peart just like everybody in the audience. I happened to be signing autographs and taking pictures during the intermission but other than that I'm a fan like anybody else. And that doesn't change and anytime I'm playing drums, I always feel the ghost of Keith Moon and John Bonham in everything I do.

Ultimate-Guitar.com: You talk about channeling the ghosts of Moon and Bonham. When you started working on the new AVENGED SEVENFOLD album, "Nightmare", were you thinking about The Rev and what he might have played on these tracks? Did you approach these songs as, "What would The Rev have played?" Or was it, "This is what The Rev would want me to play."

Portnoy: Luckily The Rev left behind demos of every song. They were demos of him playing on an electronic kit. So they weren't proper drum tracks but they were blueprints of every song with electronic drums. Luckily I had the ultimate roadmap left by The Rev himself. My purpose for doing this record with those guys was to bring his drum parts to life and finish what he had started with this record. When I've done other sessions and other projects, I'm usually hired to do my thing but that was not at all my mission with this record. My mission with this record was to do exactly what The Rev wanted to do and just wasn't able to do for himself at this point.

Ultimate-Guitar.com: What that a difficult undertaking for you in taking his ideas and giving them life while still staying true to his original design and intent?

Portnoy: Well, I had to show a lot of respect and restrain but that's OK; I was OK with that. To me this was a very fragile situation and a sensitive situation for the bandmembers who had never played with another drummer and were just fresh in the mourning period. So I had to be very, very respectful of the sensitive nature of this session and I wanted to respect The Rev and pay tribute to him. So, yeah, I wouldn't say it was hard; I had to kind of shift gears from what I normally do. Normally I go in there and do things myself in my own way and I self-produce my drums but in this case I had to kind of just wear a different hat. And because of the circumstances it made it kind of easy to swallow.

Ultimate-Guitar.com: What were those initial breaking-in sessions like for the "Nightmare" album? Did they come together seamlessly or was it trying to understand how AVENGED SEVENFOLD worked in the studio?

Portnoy: For me it was easy. Through the last 20 years, I've probably worked with 40 or 50 different musicians in different projects both on tour and on stage and in the studio. So for me to work with other musicians is an easy adjustment at this stage of my career. I think it was a huge adjustment for those guys because they had never played with another drummer. They had literally grown up with The Rev since grade school and this was the first time they'd picked up their instruments with another drummer sitting behind them. So the big adjustment was really moreso for them than with me. My biggest adjustment was taking direction. Like I said earlier, I'm used to self-producing almost anything I play on so it was a bit of an adjustment to just take direction and work with an outside producer and having other bandmembers tell me what to play. But I was OK with that because of the circumstances.

Read the entire interview from Ultimate-Guitar.comt.


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