PORTNOY: I Would Have Waited For PETRUCCI If He Wanted To Take A Break From DREAM THEATER

Sakis Fragos, publisher and chief editor of the Greek edition of Rock Hard magazine, last month conducted an interview with drummer Mike Portnoy (ADRENALINE MOB, DREAM THEATER, AVENGED SEVENFOLD). A few excerpts from the chat follow below (transcribed from the original audio by BLABBERMOUTH.NET).

On whether he already made the decision to leave DREAM THEATER before he began touring with AVENGED SEVENFOLD:

Portnoy: “I didn’t make the decision to leave DREAM THEATER before [hooking up with] AVENGED SEVENFOLD, but I knew that something had to change in the DREAM THEATER camp. It’s unfortunate that it was me that had to change, because I never wanted to leave the band — it was never my intention; I never wanted the split. I just merely thought that the band really could use a break, because I think the romance was really dying — backstage and between [the members] personally. 25 years without a break is a very, very, very long time and sometimes these relationships need a break from each other to rekindle the flame. So that’s all I suggested. And even before I [went on the road] with AVENEGED SEVENFOLD, I remember touring with [the progressive rock project] TRANSATLANTIC at the beginning of 2010 and already knowing that something was wrong in the DREAM THEATER world and that I really needed a break from the guys and the whole DREAM THEATER machine. I knew something was brewing and I knew that I was unhappy, and as has been well documented elsewhere, I merely just wanted a break. But unfortunately, those guys [the rest of DREAM THEATER] didn’t see it that way and didn’t respect my request for time off. It’s unfortunate [that it turned out that way].”

On some of the recent interviews with DREAM THEATER members in which they described their roles in the band as being “much more balanced” following Portnoy‘s departure and keyboardist Jordan Rudess‘ comment that Portnoy was “the DREAM THEATER police” who controlled the songwriting process while the drummer was in the band:

Portnoy: “It hurts me when I read stuff like that, but I also know that a lot of Internet web sites love to start controversy and stir up the pot, so I know a lot of times quotes are taken out of context; I’ve seen it happen to myself so much over the past year. So I understand that I have to take that stuff very lightly and not get too upset about it. But yeah, maybe they are more balanced, because the reality is, in all the time I was in DREAM THEATER, I was running the show; I don’t think that’s a secret and I think those guys would admit it. I was always the most proactive, the most passionate and most focused workaholic member of the band. I worked for that band every single day and never took a day off. So I was very, very obsessive and passionate and controlling over the baby; I didn’t anybody to ever come in and hurt it or change it or affect it, and I had my finger very much on the pulse of what I thought the band should be and what I wanted to give to the fans. So I don’t take offense to somebody pointing it out, because the reality is that’s the way it was. And if now, without me, they’re a little bit more balanced and they’re splitting up the jobs… whatever works for them. But I always knew that they were each gonna have to step up in terms of their involvement and commitment once I left, because before I left, every single decision went through me, and those guys didn’t necessarily have their hands in a lot of decisions through all those years. So I knew that they were all gonna have to step up their game and split up the work so they could work. So I guess that that’s what they’re doing, and if they’re happy, then I’m happy for them.”

On how the last few DREAM THEATER albums contained some very heavy, PANTERA/METALLICA-influenced riffs along with brutal backing vocals from Portnoy, all elements which are missing from the new DREAM THEATER CD, “A Dramatic Turn Of Events”:

Portnoy: “I can’t speak for those guys. I can only speak for myself. But I always wanted DREAM THEATER to change with the times. A lot of people only wanted to hear ‘Images And Words’ for the rest of DREAM THEATER‘s career, and as far as I’m concerned, I think DREAM THEATER needs to be a band that moves with the times and changes with the times. I didn’t wanna be playing stuff that sounded like ‘Learning To Live’ for the rest of my life. So I think it was important to have modern elements and incorporate it. And if those guys disagreed and didn’t want [the music] to go in that direction, then they could have easily spoken up. As much as I was a control freak with everything in DREAM THEATER outside of the music itself, when it came to the music itself, me and John Petrucci and Jordan Rudess basically wrote all the music together. So if they objected to a direction that I was presenting, then they were always welcome to speak up and have a say. So it’s not fair to blame me for the musical direction; we shared that vision together.”

On the possibility of a reunion with his former DREAM THEATER bandmates at some point in the future:

Portnoy: “Well, you can’t take a 25-year relationship and just throw it out the window and disregard it. So I never say never. If those guys ever asked me to work with them again, I would surely consider it, depending on my availability and what’s going on in my life. But the reality is right now they’ve moved on and I’ve moved on. And I don’t think they have any intention in looking backwards right now; it doesn’t seem that way. I suppose if things work out with their new drummer, then they would probably have no reason to ever look back. But if, for some reason, things didn’t work out, then I suppose that maybe it would be something that they would consider. But I guess we would cross that bridge when we get there. But right now a lot of those bridges are burned at the moment, so there’s gonna be a lot of rebuilding that’s gonna need to happen first.”

On his current relationship with his former bandmates:

Portnoy: “Jordan, to his credit, has been the only member of the band that has reached out and sent me some very nice, supportive e-mails, and I appreciate that. Jordan has always been a real sweet person. As far as [bassist] John Myung and [singer] James [LaBrie] go, I haven’t seen or heard from them since September 9, 2010 when we had our last conversation. [John Myung] happens to live down the block from me, but I still have yet to see or speak with him since September [of 2010], so it’s been almost a year now. And John Petrucci I reached out to in October of 2010 in hopes to try to reconcile and work out our differences and make things work. And I reached and talked to him. But that was the last time I spoke to him. And he never even responded [after that], actually — he just had his lawyer respond to me. So, unfortunately, I would love to have a personal relationship with the guys, but for whatever reason it’s been shut off between us and it’s very sad. It’s sad for me because those guys were my brothers for so many years. But they’ve moved on and I’m moving on as well.

On whether the “fun” element was missing from DREAM THEATER towards the end of his tenure with the band:

Portnoy: “I think so. I think with ADRENALINE MOB it’s just about having fun. I know when I left DREAM THEATER I was leaving a lot of security. I could have stayed in DREAM THEATER the rest of my life and been secure financially and secure in terms of a career, but to me, I can’t be making music with a band because I have to — I need to be making music with people because I want to. And with ADRENALINE MOB, we just absolutely love playing with each other, and there’s a real sense of excitement every time we hit the stage. And we’re definitely building this band from the ground up. I can’t count on playing to five thousand DREAM THEATER fans every night. We’re playing in a lot of these clubs to just a few hundred people every night. And it doesn’t matter — we feel like a new, young band that’s going city to city and making fans every single night; we have to win over every single person in the audience each and every night. And there’s a sense of excitement and rejuvenation that comes with that.”

On how it feels for him to see DREAM THEATER releasing a new studio album that he had nothing to do with:

Portnoy: “It’s something that I never in a million years thought I would have to see. It’s very strange for me and it hurts in a lot of ways; it’s very sad for me. I would have preferred it if we just took a little break rather than split up, but this is the way that the cards unfolded and there’s nothing I can do about it. If this is what they wanna do, then they’ll move on and I’ll move on. So what can I say? It’s not anything I can control.”

On whether he feels that some fans have misinterpreted his decision to leave DREAM THEATER and forgotten all his contributions to the band:

Portnoy: “It hurts, because all of my heart and soul and blood and sweat and tears for all those years of DREAM THEATER was based on doing things for the fans. I always made sure DREAM THEATER was a very fan-oriented band, and everything from the fan clubs to the web sites to the official bootlegs to the setlists to the artwork to the merchandise, that was all stuff that I oversaw and controlled for the fans. And then, when this split happened, to see so many DREAM THEATER fans turn their backs on me, it really hurts. I’m a human being — I’m made out of flesh and bone — and when I read that stuff on the Internet, it breaks my heart and it bothers me. But I’ve had to turn off my computer and try to turn my back to that stuff, because when I read it, it breaks my heart. When I don’t read it, I’m very happy with where I’m at — I’m very comfortable with what I’m now doing in my life and career and I just need to, for the first time ever, make decisions to make myself happy. For 25 years, I made decisions to make the fans happy, but for once in my life, I need to follow my own heart. It breaks my heart when I see fans turning their backs on me, but on the other hand, I don’t want to forget to mention the fact that there’s a tremendous amount of fans that do have my back and that are supportive of me and understand what happened and are behind my next musical steps. So for those people that are [still behind me], I’ll never let them down — I will continue to work as hard and as passionately as I did for DREAM THEATER. I will put all of that into everything I do in my career, so the fans that stick with me will have a fan-friendly artist for life. It’s just the way I am, and that applies to every band that I work with.”

On the fact that the recent DREAM THEATER European tour was the first time the band played the same exact set every night:

Portnoy: “Well, I’m sure there’s gonna be many things in the DREAM THEATER camp that are gonna be different, because the fact is that I made all of the decisions for the band beyond the music itself. So, of course, there’s gonna be some things that are different and then, of course, there’s gonna be other things that are gonna follow the framework and the ideas that I laid down and they’ll just continue to utilize what was established in the past with me. So how they run the band and pick up all of my slack, all duties that I left for them [to take care of following my departure], how they do that is up to them. I don’t know. I guess we’ll all be waiting to find out.”

On some DREAM THEATER fans’ opinion that the “magic is gone” from the band’s sound and songwriting chemistry now that he is no longer part of the group:

Portnoy: “I always thought that the strongest elements and personalities in DREAM THEATER were me and John Petrucci. And in the early days Kevin Moore [former DREAM THEATER keyboardist] was a big, big part of that chemistry, and then in the later days Jordan Rudess was a big part of that chemistry. But at the end of the day, it was always me and John [Petrucci]. And John Myung, of course, but he’s a quieter person, so he’s not as strong of an element because he’s quiet by nature. But yeah, John Petrucci and myself were, and I think will always be, the sound and the style and the heart and the soul of DREAM THEATER. And I think if you take either one of us out, I think it’s like when Roger Waters and David Gilmour split. David Gilmour carried on PINK FLOYD without Roger Waters, but as far as I was concerned, it was never the same. Roger Waters was a big part of the [sound on] all the classic PINK FLOYD albums, and once he left, I think PINK FLOYD sounded like a David Gilmour solo band. I honestly think if John Petrucci came to me last year and said he needed a break, I wouldn’t have continued DREAM THEATER without him; I would have absolutely respected his desire for a break and I would have put the band on hold and waited for him. So it saddens me that he wouldn’t do that for me, because I think DREAM THEATER, at the end of the day, was always about the chemistry between me and him.”

From Mike Portnoy‘s Facebook page (posted after this article was first published here):

Photo credit: Joe LaRusso