MIKE PORTNOY: Prog Ambassador

Mike Portnoy

2014 marks the 30th anniversary of a musician who is one of the most hardworking people in contemporary rock music. Mike Portnoy is the founding member of one of the world’s most beloved progressive bands to date, Dream Theater, with whom he recorded ten studio albums. Winner of many prestigious drum awards and international prog music ambassador, Portnoy answered the challenge he faced back in September 2010 when deciding to leave Dream Theater. He changed his environment and planted new creative seeds in his new habitat.

He co-founded Adrenaline Mob, Flying Colors and The Winery Dogs, and also put together another supergroup featuring himself, Derek Sherinian, Billy Sheehan and Tony MacAlpine. His departure from Dream Theater surely opened the door for many different adventures. The public also expected a new release from Portnoy’s other big progressive rock supergroup, Transatlantic, to arrive sooner, but it took them almost five years after releasing their ultimate opus The Whirlwind to release another studio offering – Kaleidoscope.

But before that, Portnoy released Omerta with Adrenaline Mob in 2012, a self-titled album with Flying Colors also in 2012, and in 2013, he released The Winery Dogs‘ self-titled album as well. He also played on two studio albums by Neal Morse: 2011′s Testimony 2 and 2012′s Momentum.

In 2008, after the release of a two-disc compilation Greatest Hit album, Dream Theater embarked on a tour billed Progressive Nation, a name originally coined by Portnoy. A year later, following the release of the band’s tenth studio album Black Clouds & Silver Linings, another Progressive Nation tour was organized. Opeth, Unexpect and Bigelf supported the band in Europe, while Zappa Plays Zappa, Scale the Summit and Bigelf participated in the North American dates. Three years after his departure from Dream Theater, Portnoy decided to bring back the whole Progressive Nation experience by organizing an event described as the prog event of the millennium. The festival called Progressive Nation at Sea is a cruise festival on Norwegian Pearl ship comprised of 41 acts that will perform on a five-day journey from Miami to Great Stirrup Cay and Freeport between February 18 and February 22.

Besides Transatlantic‘s new album and tour, Mike Portnoy has new albums coming out with Bigelf in April (a band he recently joined) and Flying Colors later this year. Prog Sphere spoke with Mike about the upcoming cruise, the new album by Transatlantic and the coming tour, his other bands and projects, his musical and personal up and downs, among many other things.

Mike Portnoy

Nick: We are something less than a month far from the ship sailing away and kicking off the “prog event of the millennium.” Do you think that this is something that could easily become a traditional event happening every year or you want to keep it kind of exclusive?

Mike: I think we are going to take one step at a time and see how the first one does. You know, obviously our focus right now is on Progressive Nation at Sea 2014 and making this very first experience an amazing one and as great as it could possibly be. And I think we surely have the ultimate line-up, so you know we’ll see out those. I’ve never been on a music cruise before, much less putting one together. So you know, this is very new to me. But of course, if all those allow as we hope it will and as we think it will, surely you know doing more in the future, making it an annual event would be an amazing thing, so we’ll have to see how the first one goes.

The cruise’s organization is totally different than doing a standard open air or arena festivals. We know that you started the whole Progressive Nation thing back in 2009, so how did you come to idea of organizing this event?

Well, it was Derek Sherinian that came to me with the idea of doing a cruise. He was talking with Eric Singer from Kiss about it. And Kiss have done several Kiss cruises with a Sixthman, who was a company that put on the cruise. And Eric Singer and Derek Sherinian were talking about the idea of prog cruise, so Derek immediately came to me with the idea because he knew, you know, how passionate and involved I am with the entire prog scene. And I already had the Progressive Nation trademark and idea, and you know the whole brand name, so we kind of put our heads together. So you know, Derek is kind of overseeing the business side of this and I’ve been the one that’s overseeing the creative side and picking the bands and making the schedule, and you know kind of overseeing the music. So it’s really a combination of me and Derek together.

So, what exactly does it entail? You mentioned that Derek is handling the business side of the cruise, while you are covering the creative side.

On the business side a lot of the heavy lifting is done by Sixthman, because this is their business – they do cruises and they do many of them every year. So they are the ones that bring to the table the ship, and the production and the crew on board, and just to know how to do something like this. You know that’s basically it – they are doing all of the heavy lifting. And basically, you know, Derek has been very, very good at working with them on a numbers and making numbers work in the business side, and maybe some of the marketing and the promotion. And then I am the one that’s basically – you know they are coming to me and giving me a budget to reach out and book bands and get that different musicians on board and do the scheduling, utilize my social media to help promote the cruise. That’s really a combination of all of our efforts coming together. I also have to mention InsideOut‘s involvement, as well. Because Thomas Waber and Edgel Grooves at InsideOut, they’ve also been very involved with the promotion side. A lot of the bands on board happen to be InsideOut artists, just because when I made my wishlist it turned out most of my favorite prog bands today are on InsideOut Music. So, they also got on board as well. It’s a combination of all of our efforts put together.

Progressive Nation at Sea 2014 lineup

Whose idea was it to present the bands through the series of short films in quite original way?

The invite videos?

Yes.

I believe that was Edge at InsideOut that came up with that idea and called all the bands to do that. And I think JOLLY had the best one, they are just brilliant.

Speaking of the festival’s line-up, you created great mixture of some of the greatest contemporary progressive bands with the genre’s definers, to put it simply like that. Did you already have the list of the bands that you would love to host on this very event?

I had a master-list of maybe 30 bands that were my dream line-up, and I started with that and you know out of my list of 30 bands I ended up getting about 20 of them that ended on board. Then there were some bands that couldn’t do it because of scheduling conflicts. You know, maybe they had other tours, other commitments and then there were some bands that couldn’t do it just because they were off-tour, being in the studio or something like that.

So, what I will say for the most part, you know, the majority of my dream line-up was able to confirm and come on board.

Besides inviting the genre’s top names, you are doing a great favor to many young artists and bands by inviting them playing the festival. Was it in the program since the beginning?

Well, usually it was just going to be the original 23 bands that were announced. And then, Sixthman had this idea to open up three slots on one of the main stages to three up-and-coming bands. And they decided to do this contest called the Soundcheck contest. And basically bands from all around the world submitted themselves to the opportunity to grab one of these three slots. We had over 180 entries from all over the world. At first Sixthman said they would narrow it down to ten for me to look at, but I said “No, I want to hear each and every band, and give each and every one of them a chance to be heard by me”, you know cause I picked all of 23 original bands and I wanted to pick the three additional ones. So, I went to all 180 entries and it was really hard to narrow it down to three, and at that point I asked Sixthman if there was any way that we could, you know, maybe open up another stage and make some more slots available because there were so many great young unsigned talent out there. Eventually we announced this three that would be on the main stage, but then we decided to open up a fifth, side stage and make slots available to some more of the bands that really struck my ear in the contest.

So as we already mentioned that there is a possibility of organizing such event in the future, do you think that there is a chance for putting something like that starting from a European port next time?

Like I said already, the cruise side is handled by Sixthman and I don’t know if they do music cruises from European ports, I’m not sure. But it’s surely something worth asking. But really, the ship itself and where are cruises too is more their department. The reality is, it’s just an airline ticket away, you know. I know people fly from all over the world to go to Download festival in England, they fly from all over the world to go to Rock in Rio, down in Brasil. You know, this is that type of the event. It’s hard enough to put 23 bands in the same place at the same time. You kind of have to pick up place and when you do a festival, you pick a place and you gather everybody to the best of your ability and hope that people from around the world will do their part to come over and be a part of it.

You will be playing the cruise with three different acts: Portnoy Sheehan MacAlpine Sherinian (PSMS), Transatlantic and Bigelf. Will there be any other kind of surprises in terms of jams?

If you look at the bands on board there’s a lot of cross-polarization between all of the members. You know you have somebody like Daniel Gildenlöw – playing with Pain of Salvation, but he also plays with Transatlantic and he also plays with The Flower Kings. And then you have somebody like Anneke who has sung in the past with Devin Townsend and Anathema. And then you have Spock’s Beard and you have Neal Morse on board with Transatlantic, so you look it on paper and the possibility of combinations is pretty exciting and I know that there is going to be a lot of surprises involved. Some of them have already been announced, obviously Transatlantic closing the cruise doing a set of Yes songs with Jon Anderson singing. I mean, that’s going to be surely one of the highlights for me. And then also, PSMS‘s last performance on the cruise which will be on the final day of the cruise is being billed as PSMS & Friends. Usually PSMS is an instrumental band, but now with all of these great singers and other musicians on board, I wanted to take advantage of being able to do some vocal songs, as well. So, we are going to do a very special set there.

Transatlantic

Speaking of Transatlantic, you guys are set to release a new album called Kaleidoscope tomorrow. Describe how did the creative process of the album go this time around.

The creative process with Transatlantic has kind of been the same for all four albums. The process is basically, you know, mainly Neal and Roine bring in demos and we use that as kind of a starting point. Because, usually we have very limited window of time to work on the music together. So at least we have a starting point. And you know, we all look at what they brought in and what they’ve thrown out to the table, and then usually tear it apart like a bunch of vultures. [laughs] And you know, take this section and that section and mix it together, and then maybe start jamming on it and write a new section. Obviously I’m very much the kind of musical director, the kind of, you know, trying everything out and taking inventory of the different parts and what we have to work with. And the four of us put our heads together and come up with music that’s an equal collaboration.

And that’s how it’s been on all four albums. The circumstances for all four albums have been different – you know the first album was like a blind date, then the second album was you know the first time we made a record having known each other a little bit, and then the third album was kind of a bit of a reunion after such a long time off and now here we are with the fourth album, and finally we are treating it almost like a band more than a project, being sixteen years in it at this point. So you know, the circumstances have been different this time but the formula and the way we make music together has always been kind of the same.

Transatlantic - KaleidoscopeComparing with The Whirlwind, Kaleidoscope is definitely a song-oriented record, comprised of two epics and centerpieces – Into the Blue and the title track Kaleidoscope. What was the biggest challenge while working on these two tunes in particular?

Honestly there’s not much of a challenge, it’s a very natural way for us to write. I mean, if you look at the Transatlantic catalog most of the songs are 30 minute epics. You know you have All of the Above, Stranger in Your Soul, Duel with the Devil, and the Whirlwind was a 75 minute epic. So, we are very, very comfortable writing in that way. And especially myself, with what I used to do with Dream Theater and Neal with what he used to do with Spock’s Beard, and Roine with what he does with The Flower Kings – we are very used to long songs. So, that’s very natural, it’s not something we have to put a lot of effort into doing, it’s not something we have even make a conscious decision to do. That kind of just naturally comes out that way.

Transatlantic is not known for doing a real videos yet you recorded a video for Shine, a ballad taken from Kaleidoscope, where all of you guys have parts with lead vocals. I have to say that it looks quite refreshing seeing you doing what you do best in an unusual environment, don’t you think so?

There’s actually a lot of fun to finally do a real music video with Transatlantic, but obviously the biggest difficulty is picking a song because, you know like we were just talking about, most of the Transatlantic songs are half hour long, so with this particular album we really only had three choices. The three short songs on the album, one of which is just basically kind of a Neal Morse solo piece, so that only left Shine and Black as the Sky to choose from. And originally we were going to do the video for Black as the Sky, and up until about a week before that was the idea, and then we ended up changing our mind at the last minute with Shine only because we just thought that was a better song, something that is a little bit more catchy. Black as the Sky is a little bit more of a kind of a weirder song with weirder sections. And Shine is something that’s just a little bit more universal. You know, one of the most beloved songs in the Transatlantic catalog is We All Need Some Light, it’s one of those songs that sits as a classic anthem and Shine is that type of song. So, at the last minute we switched the song choice and decided to go with something that is a little bit more of that kind of power ballad-anthem-singalong kind of song. I think it came up beautiful. I mean, the place where we shot the video was absolutely just a beautiful place to film in and you know I think it’s been a lot of fun to finally do a music video.

“My strength is once we get together and it’s the same thing with Flying Colors, the same thing with The Winery Dogs, and that was even the same thing with Dream Theater.” – Mike Portnoy on writing with Transatlantic

When the video appeared, there were quite different reactions on your forum about the song, causing worries about the album’s direction. Did you see it happening when choosing this song to be the album’s single?

Like I just said, we really only had two choices and you know, I think no matter what you can’t judge a Transatlantic album by one song. So we knew that it was a little bit of a danger. But we figured our fans have enough faith in the four of us to know that the album was going to be a prog album. Like I said before, if you just heard only We All Need Some Light from the debut album, you know that doesn’t sum up what Transatlantic is about. It’s just one side of the band. But if you look at, you know, Yes – they put out I’ve Seen All Good People as a single, and yet the album still had Yours is not Disgrace and Starship Trooper, and Perpetual Change. [laughs] Or if you look at like ELP, you know they put out song like Lucky Man as a single, but yet the rest of the album was very progressive.

I think it’s become kind of a tradition in prog music to have that kind of singalong songs as one side of the band. But yeah, when we put it out as the first taste of Kaleidoscope, we trusted that our fans will realize that there is also two giant epics on the album as well to bounce it out.

I am really wondering what’s the meaning of MP’s Arrangement Fantasy. [laughs]

[laughs] Is that on the chart?

Yes. [laughs]

That’s in the booklet. Basically, I made a chart of some of the demo bits and pieces that Neal, Pete and Roine contributed. I made that list of the sections of their demos that I wanted to use, and then the final call was my arrangement idea of how we should take those sections. Like I said before, those guys kind of very much trust me as kind of like the musical director, as the one that actually takes everything and kind of arranges it. That’s very much my strength, my kind of strong suit. So yeah, I would write down what I pictured the arrangement being and how do we put these parts together. And then, you know, I called it “fantasy” because until we actually do it and see if it works, it only becomes reality then.

Your list seems to be quite long comparing with the other guys. [laughs]

Because I am not contributing any demos, I’m not that type of a writer. My strength in terms of writing with the band is out of a collaborator or producer or musical director or arranger. You know, those guys – Neal and Roine especially are very prolific writers, constantly writing on their own and demoing their songs, but that’s not something I normally do. So, my strength is once we get together and it’s the same thing with Flying Colors, the same thing with The Winery Dogs, and that was even the same thing with Dream Theater. You know, that’s very much my strength.

MP's Arrangement Fantasy

The new Transatlantic album is way more close to what you did on the debut album and 2001′s Bridge Across Forever. In your opinion, where does Kaleidoscope stand comparing with previous offerings?

I can’t be the judge. First of all, I’m too close to it to be objective, but second of all it’s too new to be objective. Usually, only time can tell. You know, usually you need a few years to see where an album sits in the big picture. But I will say I am so proud of each and every Transatlantic album. I think we really have such magic with the music the four of us made together, and Kaleidoscope absolutely continues with that magic. You know, I think Into the Blue is one of the greatest pieces we’ve written, I think it’s absolutely amazing epic and Kaleidoscope is also an amazing epic. We just continued with the magic. Following up The Whirlwind was already gonna be difficult because it was such an epic album and you know, big, giant 75-minute concept piece. When you do something as bold and huge as that, the next step is always going to be a challenge. But I think we really stepped up to the challenge and did what we do best and made a great Transatlantic album with the combination of great epics and great shorter songs. A little bit best of the both worlds.

The new album continues tradition of releasing the accompanying bonus cover tracks, and reading the names you covered this time one can agree that you probably did the proggiest bonus CD so far. What can you tell me about the songs selection for the Kaleidoscope‘s run of covers?

Well, we found ourselves with an extra day or two at the end of the sessions and Neal and I in particular always love doing covers, so whenever there’s the opportunity to do it, we love to do it. And I always have a songlist that I carry around in my iPhone of songs that I’d like to cover. I always have a list at all times, so no matter what band I’m playing with I can pull one of them out of hat. Basically, we all picked a couple of them. Let me see: it was Neal that suggested And You and I and that was obviously the bravest song to tackle because that’s such a classic piece of prog history, so you have to be very careful when you cover a song like that, but I think we did good. So Neal suggested And You and I and he also suggested Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. I suggested Consquistador, which I also sang. And it continues the Transatlantic tradition of doing a Procol Harum song – it’s a third Procol Harum song we’ve done now. We did In Held (‘Twas) In I on the debut album, and then we did A Salty Dog on the bonus disc of The Whirlwind, which I also sang. So we continue that tradition. I also picked Nights in White Satin, which is something I always wanted to cover. Roine was the one that picked ELO‘s song Can’t Get It Out of My Head which he sang and he also picked Tin Soldier which he sang, and I think it was Pete that suggested Sylvia by Focus. I can’t remember who chose Indiscipline – it might’ve been Neal maybe, and that was obviously a real bizarre song to cover with a lot of fun.

Knowing that Transatlantic is mostly known for 20+ minutes epics, with the new album out – does it mean that your shows will drastically increase in terms of time? What will the setlist look like for the upcoming tour?

When we did The Whirlwind tour we were playing a three hour show and it was only six songs. [laughs] Obviously, now with the new album we can’t physically go out and play four or five hour show. So, inevitably you have to start to pick and choose what stays and what goes. Basically, the setlist on this tour will be pretty much everything off the Kaleidoscope, because we want to play the new stuff and let people hear the new stuff, but at the same time obviously we have to play some of the epics, we have to pick and choose. We can only use sections of The Whirlwind, we can’t go out there and do the full 75 minutes, we did that at our last tour. So, you know as you go further into your career you have to start to pick and choose. It was something I learned with Dream Theater. With Transatlantic we only get to do a limited amount of touring with each album, because all four of us have some of the other things going on in our lives. You kind of have to make each show very special for the people that are coming because, you know, who knows when you’re gonna get to see Transatlantic again. So that’s it, we wrote a setlist this time around that will be great for the people that have already seen us, but will also be great for people that have never seen us and you know, make it a special night of intense progressive music.

Maybe you could do some kind of medley comprised of the pieces taken from the first three albums and wrap it around the new songs? Something similar to what you did with Dream Theater.

It’s going to be the way you have to do it, you know. When you have these mini songs, especially when you have these mini to long songs, when you have songs that are half hour long you can’t inevitably throw them all in the set or also it’s going to be a six hour show. So inevitably you have to start to pick and choose and maybe put together medley. You know, Genesis was always really clever and was doing medleys, and same as Rush. So there is an art and a creativity to putting together medleys when you’re progressive band, which I enjoy as well.

Daniel Gildenlow with Transatlantic on The Whirlwind TourThe Transatlantic tour is set to kick off in a few days from now. Daniel Gildenlöw has contracted some kind of nasty flesh eating infection and he will be sitting out the first part of the tour. Have you heard from him?

Yeah, we speak to Daniel every couple of days and we’ve been checking in on him and obviously we’re so concerned about his recovery first and foremost. He is our brother and we love him, and we’re really sad that he is not going to be with us. But you know, a tour is a tour, and you know a life is a life and that’s way more important. He’s got a family, he’s got children, so he’s got to take care of himself first and foremost. His health is priority. We are just praying for him to have a recovery and we hope that he is going to be on Progressive Nation at Sea, and we hope that he can join us for the European leg of Transatlantic tour, but if he can’t, you know, it’s more important for him to recover and get healthy. That’s the priority right now.

It was announced that Spock’s Beard’s Ted Leonard will replace Daniel. Though all of you are professional musicians, were there any issues in getting used to this unexpected change?

You know, we are very sad that it’s not going to be Daniel, he was always the fifth member of Transatlantic, but faced with this situation we had to find somebody else that’s capable of playing all the instruments and somebody that’s, you know, capable of handling the magnitude of this music. I actually suggested Ted, he was one of the first people I thought of and I suggested him to the guys and everybody immediately agreed that he was a great choice, so luckily he was available. He is a great guy, a sweet, super nice person and he is obviously an amazing musician and a multi-instrumentalist. So, luckily he was able to do it. We are looking forward having him on board.

Back to the new album – who came up with the title? I think it’s really a great name for an album that employs members with different music backgrounds and distinctive music elements as well.

I actually came up with the title. We were sitting at dinner, and I think it’s on the making of DVD, I think the moment was captured where I even thought of it and suggested it. To me, I always thought that was like a perfect prog title. I’m surprised there’s not even a band called like that. But once I thought of it I googled it, I was shocked to see that there wasn’t a progressive album already called Kaleidoscope. It’s such a natural title for this kind of music, so as soon as I saw it was available, I immediately thought that it would be a perfect title for this album.

Many people claim that Transatlantic are directly guilty for re-introducing the term “supergroup” in the progressive rock genre in the 21st century. Do you agree with it?

The idea of a supergroup is, you know, it dates back to the 1960′s. You know, bands like Blind Faith, and Derek and the Dominos, and Cream, and even ELP – they were the original supergroups. And then in the 1980′s you had bands like Asia. So it’s not a new concept, basically it’s just when you get diced from different bands together to make a new bands. You know, that’s what the term is used for.

But yeah, when I put together Transatlantic in the late 1990′s that was my idea to get a bunch of guys from other modern prog bands and see what happens when we put our heads together. You know, the first person I wanted to work with was Neal, so the first person I invited on board was Neal because I was such a big admirer of him and what he was doing with Spock’s Beard. And then Pete and Roine were also perfect choices. That was the idea, I wanted to put together a modern prog supergroup, but make music that was part of the scene that all of us were famous for. You know, when Asia came together they were guys from real prog bands but they were trying to make more commerical music and you could say the same thing for maybe like Flying Colors, which is another one of my bands. With Flying Colors we all come from different backgrounds, and prog and more instrumental backgrounds, but we wanted to do something new. With Transatlantic, I wanted to put four guys together, but not necessarily going in different direction. I wanted to carry on in the vein that all of us were kind of already working in, but see where we could take it together.

Although Flying Colors leans towards progressive rock, can I say that Kaleidoscope is the first real prog album after your departure from Dream Theater?

Yeah, I think so. Unless you count PSMS‘s Live in Tokyo, ’cause that’s also progressive in a different way. That’s more an instrumental, and shred, and technical way. And actually, I will have to say that albums I made with Neal Morse since leaving Dream Theater are also very progressive. Since then I’ve done Testimony 2 and Momentum with Neal. So you know, I happen doing a lot of progressive music since leaving Dream Theater, but I’ve also branched out to many different things. Adrenaline Mob was very, very different and The Winery Dogs is very, very different, and Flying Colors is very, very different.

I want to branch out and try different things, but I’ll always be a prog ambassador. That’s never gonna change, even after Dream Theater. I still have PSMS, I still have Transatlantic, I have the new album coming out with Bigelf, and I’m playing with all three of these bands on the ultimate prog event what’s Progressive Nation at Sea. So, I will always carry the flag from prog as I’ve always have been to the last 20 years, and it’s going to be the most important thing for me to do whatever I can for this genre as I’ve always had. But at the same time, I’m still a metalhead, and I’m still a classic rock fan, and I’m still an alternative fan, so I wanna branch out into different things as well.

One thing that has not changed since your Dream Theater days is your being occupied with a number of ongoing bands or projects. Currently you have Transatlantic, The Winery Dogs, Portnoy Sheehan MacAlpine Sherinian project, Bigelf, Flying Colors and Neal Morse’s band. Have I missed something? [laughs]

[laughs] I think that’s everything for now.

Maybe there is still something that you can reveal? [laughs]

Believe me I have my hands full as it is. I mean, I had to leave Adrenaline Mob go because I couldn’t fit it into the schedule, so it’s hard enough to juggle all of this in the schedule as it is. The amount of work that most people do in a lifetime was in the course of couple of years, so it’s really, really very difficult. But I still do different things, like, for instance this past Wednesday I did the Metal Masters show, and that was something I had a tremendous amount of fun with and that was with the guys from Antrax, Megadeth, Slayer and Pantera. You know, so I got to do like a real fun evening of metal and thrash music with all my friends from the metal world. So I still love to be able to do things like that, you know. But as of now, I really don’t have any time to start anything new, any more projects I have my hands full as it is right now.

Bigelf’s new album Into the Maelstrom is one of your most recent studio collaborations. I suppose, this album is definitely something new for you, knowing the twisted vibe Damon tends to produce on every new Bigelf album. What can you tell about your contributions in particular and what can we expect from this record?

Well, as most people know Bigelf is one of my favorite bands to come around over the past ten years or so. Although they’ve been around a lot longer than that, but I only discovered them a few years ago. But anyway, since I heard Bigelf and discovered them around 2008 I immediately became obsessed with them and did whatever I could to take them under my wing and help them out. And I took them out with Dream Theater to tour America and to tour Europe and just done everything I can to help them.

Mike Portnoy & Damon Fox

After I left Dream Theater and Bigelf had some downtime, Damon asked me if I would be willing to help out and play on the next record, because they parted ways with their drummer. So of course, as I had been, I wanted to do whatever I could to help them. Not only as a fan, but as a friend. So I went to help and I played on the album with Damon, and I’m very excited for it to finally come out. It’s everything that you would expect from Bigelf, as you heard them before. It’s got all those classic vintage sounds and classic influences, you know, Black Sabbath meets Pink Floyd meets the Beatles, with a touch of Queen and a touch of Jellyfish sprinkled on top. They’ve always been that combination of, like all of my favorite bands wrapped in one.

With this time around, I think Into the Maelstrom kind of takes those old vintage influences, but gives it like a new space-edge 21st century twist. It almost has that kind of Radiohead or Mars Volta type of production. So, it’s a weird combination of sounds from the past and sounds from the future all coming together.

In april, The Winery Dogs will release a special and deluxe editions of the debut album including liveTWD-special-ed-covers_0 songs, original demos, videos, interviews and exlusive merchandise. Tell me what exactly is in the boxes?

We are talking about a two-disc special edition which is basically, you know the first disc is the debut album, and the second disc is ten songs recorded live in Tokyo at our second show ever, which is pretty crazy but we did it. And then there’s a deluxe edition box-set called Dog Treats. And it has the whole special edition, but it also has a bonus CD of most of the demos that we did before we recorded the album, and also it has a bonus DVD of the music videos, as well as interviews and whole bunch of other performances. And then there’s a few other things, like the Winery Dogs dog collar and the Winery Dogs wine bottle. It’s basically great package for the people that want more from The Winery Dogs in the meantime, because right now we are still concentrated on touring and we plan on touring a lot throughout the spring and summer of 2014. So there’s no immediate plans for a new album because we want to tour as much as we can. So these special edition and deluxe edition are an opportunity to just keep the fans, something new, to keep feeding them in the meantime.

You also finished recording for the new Flying Colors album. How do the new songs sound comparing with the material from the self-titled debut?

I think it’s a little bit more of a progressive album, because we didn’t have Peter Collins producing. We decided to go in and self-produce, and just the five of us working together without any outside input. So I think because of that the songs ended up slightly longer and slightly less stripped down, because usually a producer wants to kinda strip things down. [laughs] So, I think it’s a little bit more progressive and I actually think it’s even better than the first album. And I’m a big fan of the first album, I love the first album. And I think this record is even, even better. It’s really everything I love about Flying Colors. Taking to the next level, you know. The influence that Casey brings to the songs, that whole magic that he has is really a big part of the sound and the style of Flying Colors. But in the same time, I think we got to expand a little bit more with the prog side of me and Neal and with the instrumental side of Steve and Dave.

Can we expect a studio release from PSMS finally in 2014?

Definitely not in 2014. This is no time at this point, and my schedule is just too busy. But, it’s always a possibility for the future, maybe down the road. It’s something that the four of us have talked about and I know that fans keep asking about it. It’s an amazing line-up of talent, but right now there’s just not enough time in all of our schedules, and Billy and I right now are so wrapped up with The Winery Dogs, and that’s really our main focus at the moment.

I’ve been wondering for a while now, how do you go about handling all these switches between the different bands or projects? [laughs]

[laughs] Well, I’m just a big music fan of every style, so it’s very natural for me to play different styles with different bands and different musicians, and switch it from day to day, just because I’m a fan. For instance this week here at NAMM, I’m just finishing up with the NAMM show in California, I played three times this week and each one of them I was in a very, very different style. On Wednesday I did a Metal Masters show with all the thrash guys, you know it was a thrash metal thing where I’m playing Slayer and Pantera songs. Then the next night I hosted the Bonzo Bash which was all Led Zeppelin and classic rock, so I had to kind of switch mode into classic rock mode. And then last night I played with PSMS at the time of 40th anniversary show and that was, you know, shredding instrumental music playing like Liquid Tension music and stuff like that. So, I have to change from day to day and wear different hats, play different size drum kits and different styles of music. But it’s very comfortable for me. I’m just such a fan of so many kinds of music that I could change hats from day to day, even from hour to hour. [laughs] You’ll see on a Progressive Nation cruise, I’m gonna be playing twice in a day wit two different bands in some cases. So you know, I have to be able to adapt, in the way.

Do you think it’s harder for the new bands these days comparing it with when you were starting your musical journey back in the 1980′s?

I think for the hundred bands today it’s actually easier, because you have the Internet. You know when I was starting out I didn’t have that. When I was starting out with Dream Theater you had to have a record deal in order to do anything. And you had to spend a lot of money to go in the recording studio to make a record. These days, kids can make records on their laptops with their own bought tools in their own houses and they can put it up on Facebook or Twitter or YouTube, and then expose it to the people all around the world. In one moment. So actually kids today really have a lot of control of what they do and have a great outlet to be able to share their music.

And do you think that the development of technology decreased the quality of music in some way?

Well, yeah, I mean now there are millions of bands out there, but like anything you gotta listen to and decide what you like and what you don’t like. And you know, there’s going to be some great music out there, and there’s going to be some crap music out there. But it’s been like that since the 1950′s. [laughs] Nothing’s changed, there’s just more of it.

“I never considered giving up music. There were just times in my career where I was faced with incredibly difficult obstacles and didn’t give up.” – Mike Portnoy on giving up music

How do you see progressive metal today?

I don’t wanna say progressive metal specifically, I’ll say progressive music is incredibly broad and that’s what I’m doing with Progressive Nation at Sea. I’m showing all of the different sides of progressive music. You know, it that ranges from the musicians that were big part of it in the 1960′s and 1970′s, and 1980′s. People like Jon Anderson and Adrian Belew that are on board. And you have the bands from the 1990′s, like The Flower Kings, Spock’s Beard, Pain of Salvation and King’s X. And then you have it ranging all the way to today’s newly progressive bands like Haken, Jolly and Beardfish. And then the whole extreme side of progressive music, bands like Periphery, Animals as Leaders, The Safety Fire and Devin Townsend. You know, you have this wide, wide range of bands that all fall into the category of progressive. But yet, you know, you put Jon Anderson and Periphery next to each other, it’s two completely sounds and styles, but yet it all falls into the category of progressive. Because if any artist that is trying to stretch the music to its fullest capabilities is a progressive artist. And it doesn’t matter if it’s Opeth or Porcupine Tree or Mark Mikel with The Pillbugs. You know, it has that kind of range.

Mike Portnoy

Photo credits: Mike Ainscoe Photography

Have you ever had moments in your life when you were close enough to give up music? How did you go about overcoming it?

I never considered giving up music. There were just times in my career where I was faced with incredibly difficult obstacles and didn’t give up. It’s been well documented. The period before Images and Words with Dream Theater about 1989-1990 was very difficult. We didn’t have a singer, we have lost our record deal. We spent a year to trying to get back on our feet and we stepped through it and we did it. And then also the period in the late 1990′s with Dream Theater after Falling Into Infinity. It was a very, very difficult period for the band, but we persevered.

And you know the period I went during 2010 when I left Dream Theater was a very, very difficult period. But I never ever considered giving up music. You know, sometimes you have to stop to make a change. If something is not working, then you can make a change. I mean, that’s what I have done. I just had to change my surrounding, but it didn’t mean stopping music. I remember after I left Dream Theater a lot of people thought that I was going to take time off and were very confused at the fact that I was making all these other records with other people. And I would always have to come out and clarify “Look I didn’t want to break from music.” I just needed a break from, you know, the Dream Theater machine. I don’t think I would ever consider giving up music. If something is becoming stale, then I’ll just make a change and try something new. But I would never stop being creative. I can’t, it’s impossible for me. I don’t know where the “OFF” switch is.

If I am not wrong 2014 marks 30 years of your career as a professional (recording) musician. How does it feel? Who is Mike Portnoy in 2014?

I am the same person I was 30 years ago. I am just the ultimate music fan and I am just blessed to be able to do this for a living and have people that like what I do. And that’s it, nothing’s changed. I’ve just gotten older and my hair has gotten greyer. [laughs] And I have a lot more people listening to me. And for that I am incredibly blessed and grateful.

Nikola Savić is a prog enthusiast, blogger and author, in addition to being the founder of Prog Sphere, Progify, ProgLyrics and the ongoing Progstravaganza compilation series.

1 Comment

  1. Anthony Stargaryen

    January 30, 2014 at 5:04 pm

    Actually, there WAS a psychedelic band in the ’60s called Kaleidoscope. Their singer, Peter Daltrey, appeared as “Forever” on Ayreon’s ‘Into the Electric Castle’.

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