Interview: Mike Portnoy
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Without any exaggeration, Mike Portnoy might be the busiest man in rock. After his startling exit from progressive metal titans Dream Theater in late 2010, the drummer created a plethora of new projects, exploring the realms of pop music, hard rock, thrash metal and more with his newfound artistic freedom. “My sole purpose of leaving Dream Theater and going onto do these other bands was to do different things musically,” Portnoy explains. “I had already been doing the progressive metal thing for 25 years and had done it to death. I needed different musical outlets and different musicians and people to surround myself with. “My goal was to do what I did: I did the heavy, groove metal stuff with Adrenaline Mob, I did more alternative pop stuff with Flying Colors, I went and played with Twisted Sister and Stone Sour, I formed Metal Allegiance and did thrash metal stuff with them and I did more straight-ahead rock with the Winery Dogs. “My goal all along was to spread my wings; just because I made progressive metal for 25 years doesn’t mean I go home and listen to Symphony X in my free time. I’d go home and listen to Jellyfish, Sepultura, Slayer or the Beatles. My musical taste is so broad and I wanted to have outlets for all those tastes I do have.” Yet out of the many groups he has attached himself to in the past five years, his “main band” in his mind is the hard-rocking trio the Winery Dogs, which he established in 2012 with vocalist/guitarist Richie Kotzen and bassist Billy Sheehan. “Winery Dogs is he most full-time of everything I do. We go out for a year straight, playing a hundred shows all across the world; it’s a full-time commitment and all three of us are committed to it. It is the priority for all three of us, while [supergroups] like Metal Allegiance can only be part-time because everybody’s in different bands.” Compared to other names in the modern hard rock world, the Winery Dogs is a relatively young band, having only existed for four years. This alongside Mike’s status as a metal veteran gives the band a great deal of artistic liberty, unlike what the drummer felt in the closing months of his time in Dream Theater. “The freedom is incredible,” he says. “That’s what being in a band should be, that’s why the first few years of any band – when you’re starting out in your basement without any record deals – are magical. “And as soon as you sign your first record deal, all the bullshit and the politics start getting in the way. It fucks everything up! The rest of your career is spent chasing your tail to make the labels and the managers and the lawyers and the booking agents happy. After 25 years in Dream Theater, it was just about the business at that point. The love of making music for the sake of music and that innocence go away so early in most bands’ careers. Sometimes you have to walk away from it and start from scratch to have that freedom again.” The last time we saw Mike Portnoy in the UK was as a part of his 2016 European tour with the Winery Dogs, but the next time he graces our shores will be at this year’s Bloodstock Festival, performing drums for metal legends Twisted Sister in place of the recently deceased A.J. Pero. Twisted Sister’s 2016 dates have been touted as the band’s farewell tour. Unlike many acts who hold a “retirement tour” only to return several years down the line, according to Mike, this is the real deal. “If I was a betting man, I would bet that this is it. When [Twisted Sister’s lead singer] Dee Snider says something, he means it. He’s one of the most straight-ahead, straight-shooting, no-bullshit guys I’ve ever met. He goes out of his way on-stage each night to mock all these bands that have had these ongoing farewell tours. So I would bet that they’re ending it as he’s saying they are. “That being said,” he proceeds, “I wish for them to continue. I’m sad to see it end, I’m having a total blast! There’s no-one on Earth that would love to see them reconsider more than me.” And according to Dee Snider, Mike was hand-picked by A.J. Pero before his death to be his touring replacement in Twisted Sister.
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