In a recent interview with the San Antonio Metal Examiner, Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy discusses opening for Iron Maiden, drumming for Avenged Sevenfold, living up to his expectations and much more.
Q: When was the last time you guys were an opening act and for whom?
A: We've only been an opening act twice before. The first time was for Deep Purple in 1998 and Yes in 2004. We've done opening slots at one-off festivals with a bunch of other bands, but really, this is only the third time we've been a proper opening band for a long tour.
Q: How challenging is it to condense the set as an opening act, especially since many of your songs are more than 10 minutes?
A: Yeah, it is a challenge. We're used to playing much, much longer shows, so doing a 50-minute set is a nice breath of fresh air and a change of pace. But it is a challenge when I have to put together the setlist. When I put together a list for our audience, I go deep into our catalog. But when we're an opening act, I tailor it mainly to the main band's audience, so I'm putting this one together with Maiden's audience in mind. I write it mainly for the hits. Not that we've had hits, but you know, some of the main songs and videos that we've made.
Q: Dream Theater is the poster child of anti-radio and anti-video friendly bands considering the complexity and length of your songs. So how have you guys been able to go so strong for nearly 25 years?
A: Our fans. We have amazing fans that are diehard and dedicated. A Dream Theater fan is not a casual fan. They're devoted. They appreciate us because we've always been against the grain. We've never been a radio-friendly band. We're probably one of the biggest cult bands out there, and our fans feel they're part of this exclusive club that the other kids on the block are not a part of.
Q: With all the awards you've won, and being one of the most renowned drummers in the industry, what's the most challenging aspect of drumming for you?
A: To be honest with you, I think the most challenging is living up to my reputation. I've won awards and received acknowledgment in the industry. To me, it's a great honor, but it's a big thing I have to live up to every time. You know, I didn't ask for any of this. All I want to do is play drums, but I know I have expectations to live up to. Sometimes, that's intimidating.
Q: When you got the call from M. Shadows and Avenged Sevenfold asking you to record and eventually tour, what was that initial conversation like for you, then leading into the recording process?
A: Well, my contact with them began before Jimmy passed away. I had been in touch with Jimmy. He had been sending me e-mails because he'd been a big fan of mine. Then I became friends with M. Shadows. As soon as Jimmy passed, I called M. Shadows and expressed my thoughts and told him I'd do anything I could. I was supportive of what I could do on a personal level. After the funeral, I got a call from their manager, then M. Shadows, and they asked me if I would finish the album. I was completely honored, and luckily, my schedule was open. We met in L.A. and went to dinner and hung out, and those guys were deep in the grieving process. It was a very heavy, heavy process. It's a big family. But I went in and did the album, and we had an amazing time musically and personally, and they welcomed me into the family.
Q: How challenging is it to balance an attempt to do Jimmy justice on the album while still putting your own stamp on the project?
A: I didn't even want to put my own stamp on the project. That was not my objective. I was called in to bring Jimmy's parts to life, not bring Mike Portnoy into Avenged Sevenfold. That being said, that's what my job entailed. I spent a tremendous amount of time taking direction from the band. I'm not used to being produced. Normally, when I go into sessions, I go in and do my own thing, but in this case, I took direction. Every once in awhile, though, they would say, "Hey, do your own thing."
Q: And you didn't take long to get a tattoo of the Avenged logo, right?
A: After spending 10 days in the studio -- you know, they have a family spirit. It's their crew members, girlfriends and wives, and toward the end of the session, I knew I had to get a death bat to commemorate being a part of the family. It was not just a recording session. It was an emotional experience for me.
Read the whole Q&A right here, and don't miss Dream Theater on tour with Iron Maiden this summer, or Mike Portnoy on the Rockstar Energy UPROAR Festival with Avenged Sevenfold later this year.
Dream Theater released their 10th studio album Black Clouds and Silver Linings last year to critical acclaim. Pick up your copy now!