How are the Iron Maiden fans accepting you?
Portnoy: Well, that’s why we’re here. It’s all about trying to make some new friends from the Maiden fan base. That’s ultimately why we are on this tour, and it seems to be going great so far. There are a lot of their fans who are kind of old-timers who have been with them through all the years and maybe don’t know a band like Dream Theater, so … I wrote a set list that is a kind of crash course in the metal side of Dream Theater. It’s the same set every night, which is unusual for us, as well. But I think it is something that their fans will be able to latch onto. It’s an easier-to-swallow set list. Not any of the big 20-minute epics. More of just the metal side and the “hits” — not that we have any hits — but the ones that are a little more accessible to grasp onto.
Luckily, Dream Theater was never a hit band, because I would hate nothing more than to always go out and play the same exact songs because that’s what people want to hear. I’m seeing this with Iron Maiden right now, because they chose to do a set list on this tour that is, basically, from the last 10 years. And there’s a big backlash amongst some of their fans. On one end, I can understand the fans’ point of view, the ones that do want to hear the hits, but, on the other hand, I understand Maiden’s point of view, that they don’t want to be stuck playing the same songs for the rest of their lives. They put out new albums; they want to play the new music. Usually, when I write set lists, it is a wide-open palette that I can choose from. I like to pick over 100 songs and not feel like we have to play anything.
What are Dream Theater’s plans after the Maiden tour?
After this, Dream Theater will take the rest of the year off. At this point, we’ve been on the road since last June, so this is the final stretch for us. In fact, we weren’t even supposed to be touring at this point. We were supposed to be done by now. And when the Maiden offer came, we took it. Once this run ends, I jump directly onto the Avenged Sevenfold tour to play drums with them for the rest of the year. So, I am literally going the day after the Maiden tour ends. I fly to L.A. to begin rehearsals with them.
Avenged Sevenfold’s drummer, Jimmy Sullivan, was a huge fan of yours. Your participation with the band is probably a big honor for them, and it’s really a nice gesture on your part.
It’s an honor for me, as well, to have been kind of hand-picked and asked to do this, because of the situation. You know, when I went in and did the album, it was something I was honored to do. I wanted to be really careful to bring The Rev’s drum parts to life for this album. They lost their brother at an unbelievably early age. You know, he was only 28, so it was a tragedy that they had to endure. I wanted to go in there and carry on his legacy with the drum parts he was supposed to be playing. So, I did my job, and we had such a good time with each other on a personal level … The guys are really cool guys, and I really enjoyed making the record with them. And I told them, if I was able to tour with them, I would love to do it, and, sure enough, their tour is beginning as soon as Dream Theater’s is ending.
Is it going to be easy for you to switch gears so fast?
I’m used to playing with many different artists through my last 15 to 20 years, if you look at my discography. I mean, I’ve played with at least a dozen different side projects and bands. Even this year alone, I’m playing shows with four different bands, all of whom are very different: Dream Theater, Avenged Sevenfold, Transatlantic, and Hail! It shows that my musical taste is broad. I love so many different styles of music, and that’s one of the reasons why I like playing with other artists.
And you remain a huge fan yourself.
Yeah, absolutely. That’s never changed. I’m still the same 13-year-old kid that was in my room listening to KISS records. I just happen to be 43, and have a family. Otherwise, the kid inside is exactly the same. (laughs)
Once a fan, always a fan. And not everybody has that kind of mentality. Surely, the other guys in my band aren’t really like that. And you see people in other bands that aren’t really like that. But there’s a certain type of personality. Maybe it’s obsessive-compulsive personality, or maybe someone who is just a genuine fan of music and art. And that’s me. I’ve always been extreme about it, even when I was a kid … I was the only kid on the block with 500 records in my collection. It’s just the type of personality I am.
Also, the fact that you are into the bootleg stuff, and the way you encourage fans to be fans …
I mean, I run Dream Theater very much for the sake of the fans. Everything I do for Dream Theater — whether it be our fan club CDs or our official bootleg CDs, Web sites, or the message boards or the forums — everything I do in Dream Theater is for the fans, with a fan mentality, because I know what I always wanted from my favorite bands. Changing the set list each night and being conscious of all of these sort of things stems from me being a big fan and wanting to deliver to our fans.