Q&A: Mike Portnoy

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Portnoy’s latest musical project is the aptly-named supergroup Metal Allegiance, which features an all-star cast of shred-fest musicians from the likes of Megadeth, Pantera and Mastodon. As ever, the Mike Portnoy production line continues to roll on. Once Prog is done discussing the current state his multitude of musical projects, believe it or not there is still time to discuss other matters. Such as social media woes, and how his teenage son is putting him to shame…

You’re currently in six bands, and Metal Allegiance is the latest addition. So what can prog fans take from the band’s debut album?

It almost has a little bit of each style of metal. There’s a lot of old school thrash songs, as well as classic metal, like Black Sabbath, then there’s some that have the 90s Alice In Chains vibe. The song Triangulum is the prog metal side. It goes into Dream Theater, Rush territory and shows some of the odd time signatures and the more progressive elements of metal. We got some guest guitarists for that one that were more from the prog scene, like Misha from Periphery and Ben Weinman from The Dillinger Escape Plan.

You drum on every track, so are you the main driving force behind the project?

I’m one of the main driving forces – I don’t want to give the impression that it’s my project solely. It’s something that I work on equally with Alex Skolnick, David Ellefson and also Mark Menghi, who is kind of the project co-ordinator. It was the four of us that wrote all the songs together. And then from there, we coloured it with guest singers and guitar players.

Speaking about your other projects, the new Winery Dogs album is out in October – but are Flying Colors technically dormant at the moment?

Both Flying Colors and Transatlantic are in-between cycles. Who knows when both of those will pick back up. However, Flying Colors does have a live release coming out in the fall.

Some people look at it like it’s crazy, but to me, _it’s feels natural. _ >

Were you particularly pleased with the reaction to the second Flying Colors album?

Definitely. I think it’s an amazing band with an amazing mixture of styles. Neal and I have a working relationship already, but Flying Colors still provides the two of us with a completely different outlet. Everything that I’m doing now is very different from each other, and they all create a bigger picture of what I’m about. I am the biggest prog fan in the world, but I’m also the biggest metal fan in the world and the biggest classic rock fan in the world.

So you’re not really looking to start any new projects then…

I’m not, no. I don’t know anybody in this business that has that many projects simultaneously. Some people look at it like it’s crazy, but to me, it’s feels natural, for a music lover and workaholic like I am. I don’t know if it’s natural to spend your whole life in one band. It’s one thing to do that with a marriage, but another thing to do it with your creative outlet. I don’t think I could have ever have been truly defined by only being in Dream Theater for the rest of my life. I think it’s all of these other things that really paint the picture of who I am.

You recently performed Dream Theater’s The Mirror live with Haken. How did it feel it play it again?

I love still playing those songs – they’re are a big, big part of my life, and The Mirror was a song that I wrote. Lyrically it’s a very personal song for me, and those songs will always be a part of me.

I have no problem playing those songs with the right outlets. Playing The Mirror with Haken felt great. Playing Repentance with Flying Colors felt natural, so we did it. Playing some of the stuff from Falling Into Infinity and A Change Of Seasons with PSMS a few years ago felt great too.

Were you invited in any way to celebrate their 30th anniversary this year?

No – let’s leave it at that. But it’s kind of strange, because the anniversary they’re celebrating is of me joining and forming the band. The two Johns are the only remaining original members, and they were already playing together in high school, so it’s kind of strange to see them celebrate that without me. But whatever – it’s their business and their choice to do as they wish.

Your 16-year-old son Max is the drummer of band Next To None. How did your playing compare to him at that age?

He’s lightyears beyond what I was like at that age. When I was 16, I was still writing Kiss and Ramones songs – I had just begun to explore progressive music and that was around the age when I discovered Neil Peart and Bill Bruford. But I wasn’t nearly as developed as Max is. The other day I walked in the house and he was playing Dream Theater’s The Dance Of Eternity. It’s scary to think of where he will be in a few more years.

Your comments after waiting to be seen at hospital in London in March drew controversy. Were you surprised?

It actually almost forced me to quit social media for a few days, because it’s so frustrating and it’s a no-win situation. Somehow with that comment, people blew it so out of proportion thinking that it was a commentary on the UK health system, which it was not; I had no idea of anything about the health system. I wasn’t looking for a free ride or cheap healthcare, I was just very sick – sicker than I’ve ever been in my life – and was looking for help somewhere, from anybody. I regret saying anything, but my God, it was never meant to stir up anything. I feel truly sorry about it.

_Metal Allegiance’s debut album is due for release this Autumn on Nuclear Blast. See http://www.metalallegiance.com for more info. _