Dream Theater - Mike Portnoy

by Max Ink
July 2009

Dream Theater 2009

Dream Theater 2009

MI: Congrats on the massive global success that has greeted BLACK CLOUDS & SILVER LININGS: a #1 debut on the Billboard European chart and 12 Top Ten album chart debuts around the world including the U.S.  Can you talk about what this accomplishment means to DREAM THEATER?

MP: It’s incredibly gratifying at this stage of our career. After 10 studio albums and almost 25 years in the business, it’s amazing to see Dream Theater is still growing. The fact that we can achieve such a “commercial” accomplishment on our own artistic terms (without any real “mainstream” exposure) is also a true feat.

An album with four songs over the length of 12 minutes each entering the U.S. Top 10?  Surely this is completely unheard of in these times and speaks volumes of our incredibly dedicated fan base.

MI: Various mainstream media outlets have been slow to applaud DREAM THEATER’s achievements through the years which include sales of 10,000,000 records and DVDs, despite the fact that the band has always released adventurous music with a high caliber of musicianship.  Why do you think that is?

MP: Well…daring, challenging and “against the grain” music is usually harder to swallow and takes a little more nurturing and attention. Our style of progressive music is obviously not going to be everybody’s cup of tea….but like a good book or film, if you’re willing to put in the time to take the journey, it’s going to be that much more satisfying.

But it’s OK—it’s better to take the slow road and eventually arrive, then to take the fast lane and quickly crash & burn!

MI: What do you feel are some of the misconceptions about DREAM THEATER?

MP: The absolute biggest misconception is that we put technical acrobatics ahead of songwriting. This honestly could not be further from the truth.

Sure, we do put a strong emphasis on the musicianship and the instrumental passages—but we also always make sure they are balanced throughout each album with equally melodic and dynamic “songs.”

For every 12-minute epic we write, there are also songs like “Wither,” “Forsaken” and “I Walk Beside You”—songs that could easily sit on commercial radio if they didn’t have the preconceived stereotype that is usually attached to Dream Theater.

MI: You’ve said that “The Best of Times’ from the new album is “about losing my dad, who was battling cancer throughout the making of this record,” and that “The Shattered Fortress” represents “the closing chapter to a 12-part series of songs dealing with the 12 steps of recovery, which started five albums ago.”  These are both intense, personal subjects for you, and these songs at the same time offer comfort to, and inspire, listeners.  Can you talk a bit about your decision to communicate these feelings in songs?

MP: I’ve always written very personal lyrics throughout our career—really, most of them have always been from incidents and experiences in my life.

I’ve always responded better to human emotion rather than fantasy, politics or poetic metaphors.

I’ve never had a problem sharing my personal feelings and my experiences with the listener and I’m aware I am opening myself up when doing so….but if anything, it’s always been therapeutic for me. And I’ve been told hundreds of times by fans all around the world that they’ve often been helped, inspired and even healed by some of the topics I’ve shared.

MI: You have said: “We’re probably the only band that can fill Radio City Music Hall in New York or Wembley Arena in London or the Budokan in Tokyo and still not be a household name.” How would you like DREAM THEATER to be remembered in the rock history books?

MP: “The band with the world’s greatest drummer of all time!”  : )

MI: As the band celebrates a 25th anniversary, its career is on the ascent—AND you are attracting younger fans at the same time.  To what do you attribute this?

MP: Perhaps it’s because we never really followed a “trend”...so when all of the “flavors of the year” change to the next popular sound, any band following that particular trend will usually be left behind in the dust.

We’ve always stuck to our guns and were never exactly “fashionable,” so perhaps because of that, our sound and style has endured the test of time.

As far as attracting younger fans, I think perhaps it’s because although we have remained faithful to our sound and style through the years, we still keep our ear to the ground and try to at least shift with the times to stay “modern” within our genre.

MI: This summer marks the second incarnation of the band’s ‘Progressive Nation’ tour of like-minded bands that are known for top-notch musicianship.  And yet there are some naysayers out there who write off progressive rock as a genre that sacrifices the art of songwriting in favor of musical fireworks.  What do you feel about that viewpoint?

MP: Progressive music is currently at an all-time high in terms of creativity and mainstream acceptance. When Dream Theater formed in 1985, the word “progressive” was used by critics as an insult…and now in 2009, it is almost a “badge of honor” that critics throw around to champion bands that are willing to experiment, challenge and be daring…and the term can fit bands as diverse as The Mars Volta, Radiohead, Muse and Mastodon. And musically, the bands I have chosen for the Progressive Nation tours span the spectrum of the term progressive.

I conceived Progressive Nation as a platform to help showcase the countless incredibly creative bands and musicians out there today who deserve to play in front of a few thousand people every night and have their music be heard by an audience who will appreciate them. Ultimately, I wanted to share Dream Theater’s audience with these bands…and share these bands with Dream Theater’s audience. It’s a win-win situation for everybody involved.

MI: Which books and/or films have inspired you?

MP: I’m not really a book guy, but you won’t find a bigger film fanatic than me…its one of my biggest passions.

Directors such as Stanley Kubrick, David Lynch, Woody Allen and Paul Thomas Anderson are as big of an influence on me as any of my musical heroes.

To see a list of some of my favorites of all time, check out:


Or you can keep a tab on my current faves on my “Hero Of The Day” blog:


MI: If you could arrange a dinner party with four pop culture figures (living or dead), who would they be?

MP: Jesus Christ, Adolf Hitler, Quentin Tarantino and Howard Stern.

MI: If you were to put the names of three musicians who’ve passed away on the DREAM THEATER guest list in the hope that their spirits would turn up to gigs, who would they be?

MP: Frank Zappa (my biggest musical hero) and Keith Moon and John Bonham (my two biggest drum influences in the sky).

I would hope they would then bring a bootleg back up with them to share with John Lennon, George Harrison, Freddie Mercury, Randy Rhoads, Cliff Burton, Dimebag Darrell, Jimi Hendrix and Syd Barrett!

*** Dream Theater plays the Riverside Theater in Milwaukee on Saturday, August 22nd along with Zappa Plays Zappa, Pain Of Salvation and Beardfish

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