Sedan herr Portnoy lämnade Dream Theater, känns det som att han dykt upp i ett nytt band var och varannan vecka. Ett av dessa band är Flying Colors, som han själv beskriver som ett popband med proggvibbar och nya albumet menar han har lite drag av 80-talets Yes med Trevor Rabin. Rocksverige ringde upp den aktive trummisen för att snacka just Flying Colors, men även mycket annat, som exempelvis ett eventuellt samarbete med vännen Mikael Åkerfeldt:
I am patiently waiting just as much as everybody else. I love Mikael and he is not only one of my dear friends, but he´s also one of my favorite musicians and artists. I have so much artistic respect for him and I just love what he does. Believe me, I´m waiting to do it myself. I would do it in a heartbeat. The door is always open for him and he knows that and every time we speak, I always end the conversation with “Call me when you´re ready! Let´s do this!”
First off, I never thought Mike Portnoy would have something in common with Warrant?
Mike: Let me see if I can guess! I can do “six degrees” to almost anybody and I´ve played the “six degrees to Kevin Bacon game” and I´m connected to everybody, but you may have stomped me with this one. Ok, what is it?
Hugh Syme (cover artwork)
Mike: Oh! He did a Warrant album?
Yes, apparently he did the “Cherry pie” album cover.
Mike: Well, there you go! Warrant just gained some serious credibility in my book. (laughs) Some serious much needed credibility.
He´s done some really cool album covers, such as Unruly Child, World Trade, Rush and of course Dream Theater.
Mike: Yeah, Hugh´s done everything and as far as I´m concerned, he´s one of the three legends out there. Hugh Syme, Storm Thorgerson and Roger Dean. As far as I´m concerned, those are the three album cover gods. I´ve had the pleasure of working with Storm on two covers and with Hugh on at least six or seven. I used to work with him hand in hand on all the Dream Theater covers. It was pretty much he and I that always worked together on those and after I left Dream Theater, I really wanted to continue working with Hugh and we actually almost had him do the first Flying Colors album, but we had scheduling conflict with a personal issue he was going through, so ended up not being able to do it. Then when it came time to do the new Flying Colors, I reelected him to do it and it was nice to reunite with him and work with him again. Always a pleasure.
Listening to the album, I hear a lot of Yes on it, but perhaps that´s just me?
Mike: Yeah, but probably less so for Flying Colors than Transatlantic. I think Neal (Morse) and I are way more Yes influenced in Transatlantic. There, it´s about 30 minute epics and I think Flying Colors is a little bit more streamlined. If anything, I think Flying Colors is more like the Trevor Rabin version of Yes. A little bit more in common with the 80´s Trevor Rabin version of Yes. I think Flying Colors is more of a pop band with prog overtones, whereas Transatlantic is a prog band with pop overtones. This is the other way around. It´s more about concise songs and working around Casey McPherson as the forefront of the band´s sound. Then you have me and Neal with the prog flourishes and Steve (Morse) and Dave (LaRue) with the instrumental flourishes kind of working around Casey, being really front and center.
As I understand it, a lot of the album was done via Skype and just using the internet?
Mike: I wouldn´t say we used the internet to record! There´s a lot of bands these days that do that. One person records somewhere and somebody else somewhere else. That, I´m not a fan of and the most important thing with Flying Colors, or any band I´m involved in, is that there´s a true collaboration and we´re actually in the same room, writing together and putting our heads together. We do have that with Flying Colors, but because we insist on doing that and because we insist on being in the same room when we´re creating the music, it makes the scheduling difficult. You have five guys that are in other bands, so because it was hard to find one month where all the five of us could be in a room, we ended up just breaking it up in chunks and doing it in smaller blocks. We actually did do some writing via Skype, but it was all five of us and not sending stuff back and forth. The five of us, online at the same time with our instruments, writing and arranging and laying down some ground work for us to work on once we got together. Then the next stage, we got together in Nashville at Neal´s studio and recorded the first four songs and then, six months later, we got together at my studio in Pennsylvania and wrote and arranged and recorded the remaining five songs. We did have to do it in chunks and it was definitely strange for me. I´ve never done an album so scattered like that, but it enabled us to at least be together and do it together, even though it was over the course of a year and a half.
I recently saw the trailer for Foo Fighters “Sonic highways” series and Dave Grohl mentioned how he gets influenced by the environment he´s in when he´s writing songs. Do you believe that as well?
Mike: Yeah, absolutely! This was a different situation since we were just in our home studios, but I absolutely see that and I can relate to what Dave said about the Foo Fighters situation. You see that when you´re on tour. Every day you´re on tour, you´re in a different place. One day you´re in Italy, the next day it´s Germany and then you´re in England. Even touring America from day to day like from Florida to Texas to New York, you´re in completely different environments and experiences. That´s one of the great, great things about being a touring musician! You get that insight and inspiration. I think it´s cool that the Foo Fighters were able to create around it. I´ve seen that done before, Steve Vai put out an album about ten years ago or so, where every day at soundcheck, he would write a song and then he would play it. He would write a song based on the city they were in and perform it on stage that night and record it and the whole album is a collection of those songs. It´s a really cool idea!
With all the bands you´re playing with, like Flying Colors and The Winery Dogs, are you more musically satisfied now, compared to your time in Dream Theater?
Mike: Oh my god! Yeah, absolutely 1000%! This isn´t a knock towards them, this is merely a factual observation, but in the last four years those guys have made two albums and maybe written a total of 20 songs and that´s it! And then performed those 20 songs over and over. What I have done now has been so unbelievably musically rich and satisfying. I´ve done about a dozen albums in the past four years, with everybody from Flying Colors to Transatlantic to The Winery Dogs to Adrenaline Mob to Avenged Sevenfold to Big Elf and I´ve played on stage with Stone Sour, Fates Warning and with the guys from Megadeth, Slayer, Pantera, Anthrax. If you look at what I´ve been able to do over the last four years, my God, I´ve stuffed five careers into it over the course of the last four years! I cannot express enough of how unbelievably musically satisfying it´s been and each one of these bands and projects and albums and shows and tours are so different from each other. They have given me the chance to explore so many styles in different directions. I think I have been more musically rewarded in the last four years, than the prior 30.
With all these different bands, if it came to it, would you be able to choose one over the other? Let´s say that Flying Colors takes off and you wouldn´t have time for the other ones?
Mike: That´s a tough question. Luckily it´s hypothetical, because it would suck to have to make that choice and decision. I was in one band for 25 years and I can never be criticized or accused of being a musical whore or whatever! (laughs) I am a very faithful person when I am dedicated to one band and I proved that for 25 years, but I don´t think I´m there right now to make that commitment. I have indeed committed to The Winery Dogs and The Winery Dogs are indeed my quote on quote, real band now and they are my commitment. The Winery Dogs, of everything I´m doing, is the one band that I think can go on tour for a year in support of an album and I think me Billy (Sheehan) and Richie (Kotzen), have all made The Winery Dogs our home and the band that all the other things will revolve around. That being said, we still all have our other things and I need to have Flying Colors and I need to have Transatlantic and all these other things. The fact that I am, luckily, able to make them coexist, thank God for that! That diversity and that range is what I´m thriving on and it´s what´s making me so unbelievably musically fulfilled.
When are we gonna see you and Mikael Åkerfeldt do something together? You were supposed to be part of Storm Corrosion, but in the end you weren´t.
Mike: I am patiently waiting just as much as everybody else. I love Mikael and he is not only one of my dear friends, but he´s also one of my favorite musicians and artists. I have so much artistic respect for him and I just love what he does. Believe me, I´m waiting to do it myself. I would do it in a heartbeat. The door is always open for him and he knows that and every time we speak, I always end the conversation with “Call me when you´re ready! Let´s do this!” We´ll see! It´s probably one of the last remaining collaborations that I´d love to get off the Mike Portnoy check list.
Hypothetical, if Mikael calls you and says that their drummer is sick and they´re about to go on tour, would you do it?
Mike: Absolutely! Assuming I´m available. If I was available, I would do it in a heartbeat and he knows that as well. I´ve already told him that and that I´m always there for him if he ever needed me.
I believe you were 22 years old when the first Dream Theater album was released. After all these years in the music business, what advice would today´s Mike Portnoy give to your 22 year old self?
Mike: The advice I would give, wouldn´t be applicable to the 22 year old Mike Portnoy, because the 22 year old Mike Portnoy was making music in a very different world. When we were making music at the start of Dream Theater´s career, you needed a record company, you needed a record deal and you needed major recording studio in order to make an album. Now, the world that the 47 year old Mike Portnoy lives in, is very, very different. People can make records on their own and promote records on their own, so the advice I would give, as an answer to your question, would be “maintain as much independence as you can! Don´t give your music away! Hold the cards yourself and don´t give any of that creative or financial leverage to somebody else!”. But like I was just saying, I don´t think the 22 year old Mike Portnoy could´ve done that, because it was a very different world in the late 80´s, early 90´s. Now luckily, I can give that advice to my 15 year old next Portnoy, “Hey, you can make a record in your home, promote it through facebook, twitter and YouTube and you don´t need to sign a 7 record deal with a label in order to be heard.” Luckily, kids today can be heard on their own terms, which is a great thing. As much as it sucks that the industry is going through what it´s going through and I feel bad about that, but on the other hand there´s a part of as the artist, that going “Yeah, awesome!” Finally the artists are getting their music back, because throughout the 70´s, 80´s and 90´s, for all those years the record companies and corporations were owning the artists and the artists were starving and being fucked. Finally, all these years later, and it sucks it had to happen this way, but finally the artists are getting their music back and not of the mercy of corporate record companies. As much as the record companies don´t want to hear me saying that, but it´s great.
Do you have any regrets in your life? Any musical regrets?
Mike: I don´t think I do. I think there´s a difference between regret and… let me rephrase that. I actually have a tattoo on me that says “No regrets” and I actually try to live by that. I find that there´s lots of actions you take in your life and if it turns out to be something that brings a result that you didn´t want or you weren´t anticipating, it´s not something you should regret, it´s just simply something you should learn from. There´s a lot of things in my life that I´ve learned from and ultimately I don´t regret them, because they got me to where I am right now. I´m as happy as I´ve ever been and as musically fulfilled as I´ve ever been. There´s a quote that I love and I kind of used it in the song “Repentance” and it´s “It´s better to regret something you´ve done, than something you haven´t done” and I absolutely love that! I´m not gonna use the Dream Theater example because I can already see the headlines, so I won´t say it! (laughs) I´ll paraphrase like this, when I came to that crossroad four years ago, if I hadn´t made the decisions I had, I probably would´ve spent the rest of my life wondering what if? “What if I left the band?” I think it´s better to follow your heart and take the risk, than wonder what could´ve been.
Av: Niclas Müller-Hansen