Interview: Former Dream Theater Drummer Mike Portnoy Discusses His New Band, Adrenaline Mob
Russell Allen reminds me so much of Ronnie James Dio. I think he is just about the perfect guy to do a "Mob Rules" cover. Do you agree with that?
Yeah, absolutely. Russ is definitely this generation's Dio. He's obviously twice the size, but his voice is very much in a similar vein as Ronnie's, and Ronnie is one of his biggest heroes. But I think Russ has many different sides to his voice. Besides the sound of Dio, he's got the sexiness of a David Coverdale, he's got the melody of a Steve Walsh, and he can be gritty like Rob Zombie. So he is very much a chameleon in terms of his vocal abilties.
Since you guys have a five-song EP, what do you play in the live shows, specially the headline shows? Do you play more cover songs or new tracks?
In these headline shows we are playing obviously everything that's on the EP, and we're also playing almost all of the full-length album. So people can get a taste of what's to come in the full-length album, and then we round out the set with some covers as well.
So you're saying the full length is ready for a release in the near future.
Yeah, it is absolutely ready.
Drumming-wise, what kind of a challenge does this band present to you? Obviously there is a huge gap between this and Dream Theater.
The thing is about restraint, and playing what's best for the groove of the song, and I'm down with that. I'm totally cool with that. I played with Dream Theater, and so far that's been everything I'm about. This is far from what I'm about, and I'm about many, many different things. I could be just as happy playing a Beatles song as I am when I'm thrashing out the double bass stuff with Adrenaline Mob. The stuff I'm playing with Adrenaline Mob is all about the energy and the song. It's about groove and riff-oriented songs. So, if anything, I have to show some restraint and make sure I play what's best for the song.
As you mentioned at the beginning of the interview, you're playing smaller-sized venues for the headline shows. You must be enjoying that because you haven't played small-sized venues for Dream Theater, at least recently.
When Dream Theater first started, we were touring in a van and playing clubs. So now it's a similar situation for me. We're starting from scratch, from the beginning, from the ground up. So it's a very similar feeling. We are back to the clubs, playing for 200 people a night, just sweating it out to win these people over night by night. We don't take any audience for granted. Our goal is to take no prisoners and win every single audience over in every city. Every night is another challenge, and we're up to it.
Obviously you are always involved with so many other projects. Is there anything in the pipeline or is Adrenaline Mob your primary focus?
I have a few other things going. Actually, this year alone I did three different bands and projects in the studio. They're all slowly coming around, so throughout 2012 and beyond, you'll see me with three other bands. Adrenaline Mob right now is my main focus, but I've also got a thing going with John Sykes which is in more of a classic rock vein, and then I also have a thing with Steve Morse which is kind of an alternative, proggy thing.
So each of these bands is taking me down different musical roads and in the coming year or so, there will come a situation where they will all be releasing music, and at that point I'll be kind of juggling all of them on tour but they are all very different from each other and I'm very proud of each of them for different reasons. But Adrenaline Mob is what I'm doing now. This is the first one to actually come out and it's very exciting for me to move into the next phase of my career.
How do you approach these multiple projects from a writing point of view? When you write something, do you have a certain mindset of writing for one particular band at a time?
They are different situations. I've worked with many different bands, and I've had different goals for them all. With Dream Theater I was one of the main writers, with Transatlantic I was one of the main collaborators, and then with something like Avenged Sevenfold I was just a hired gun and I went in to play somebody else's music. So I'm able to shift from role to role in different environments and do what's called for.
The Adrenaline Mob stuff was pretty much written by Mike and Russ, so I went in and just served the songs. But then with Steve Morse I collaborated and wrote together, so I play different roles in different bands, and I'm comfortable with that. I have some bands that are full time bands, some are part time bands, some are side projects, some are hired guns, and you know, and some are tribute bands (laughs).
Your influences are very well documented, but one name that kind of caught my eye and interested me was Deen Castronovo, the current Journey drummer. Is it true that he has also been an influence on you?
Yeah sure, I can give you a list of hundreds of drummers that are an influence on me, but Deen is an amazing drummer and I had been following him on all of the Shrapnel guitar hero records back in the '80s and '90s. Obviously, what he gets to do with Journey now is a whole different thing, but I have a tremendous amount of respect for him.
Finally, I wanted to ask you about something which you did as a bit of a one-off, when you switched instruments on stage with Dream Theater, under the name Nightmare Cinema. Have you ever thought of doing something on an instrument other than the drums in a serious band?
That would be fun, but I don't think I'm good enough to play any other instruments beyond a joking switch instrument thing on stage (laughs). I mean, I can play bass a little bit, so I might be able to play bass in a tribute band or something, but I think that's about as far as that would go for me! (Check out Adrenaline Mob at adrenalinemob.com for all the news and tour dates.)
Andrew is a Los Angeles-based writer who has been running his own website, Metal Assault, since early 2010, and has been prolific in covering the hard rock and heavy metal scene by posting interviews, reviews and pictures on his website -- with the help of a small group of people. Besides being hugely passionate about heavy metal, he is an avid follower of jazz music and recently started a blog called Jazz Explorer to pursue that interest.