Drummer Mike Portnoy talks about his place in Dream Theater from the early days 17 years ago to the present tour with guitar legend Joe Santriani.
JH: How did Dream Theater first get together?
MP: “Back in 1985, I met the rest of the guys at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. That’s how the band was put together. It was a great environment for young musicians. Very inspirational. There were so many great musicians, everyone from around the world.
“I knew that I always loved music; whether or not I was going to be in it, I wasn’t sure. You love it when you’re young, you’re drawn to it and it becomes your life. I never thought I’d make a living, earn money and be famous. Everything else was a bonus. Many albums and a few lineup changes later, here we are.”
JH: Describe your musical journey.
MP: “The first album was put out on an independent label in 1989, 13 years ago. That album defined the learning experience of what not to do in the industry. Promotion was bad, the budget was bad. The next album was like a second chance, a second lease on life. We changed singers and had to buy ourselves out of our contract, something we still pay for to this day. We were back in ’92 with Elektra and ‘Images and Words.’ It opened all the doors for us. We had a hit single all around America with ‘Pull Me Under.’ It was the start we were looking for — touring the world. We went from being this band from Long Island, working on our own, to seeing ourselves on MTV every hour. Touring from Japan to Kansas City was a surreal experience.”
JH: How has your success changed?
MP: “It’s different today. In the beginning, we were self-propelled with an undevoted fan base. Radio and MTV backed us all day. We weren’t supposed to be like that. Now, 10 years later, it has completely changed. We have 10-minute songs that aren’t played on the radio. Our fans are fanatical and devoted. We know the people in the audience are serious fans. Back in ’92, the audiences were filled with chicks and lots of people be-cause it was the cool thing to do — listen to a happening band.”
JH: Tell me about your current tour with Joe Satriani and Kings X.
MP “We’ve been on the road since January, on our own, with no opening acts. They’ve been three- to three-and-a-half-hour marathon shows. Now, on this tour with Joe Satriani headlining and King X, we play a different set for 90 minutes every night.
“John and I have known Joe for many years now. The singer, Doug Pinnix, sang a song on our album in ’97. It’ll be fun, jamming with each other. We don’t like to play the same set every night. It’s important to swap songs and make it fresh.
JH: Do you write all your own material?
MP: “Three basic elements of Dream Theater, heavy, progressive and melodic side. Heavy and contemporary influences: We write collectively as a band. Each of us puts our ideas into a big pile. We’d sound the same if we just listened to one type of music. Our influences range from U2 and Elton John to Peter Gabriel and Metalica. We’ve been open to direction. Our style is doing it all. The music can go from Pink Floyd to Pantera.
“Our lyrics are about things we’re going through as people. Half our lives were spent living in suitcases and hotels. Lyric-ally, this time around, I wrote ‘The Glass Prison’ and three Sections of our title track, ‘Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence’ that’s three movements and 42 minutes long. It opens up with an overture, thematic, almost out of film or a Broadway show, heavy sections; the other movements are incredibly melodic and mellow. Others are completely over the top and progressive.
“A big part of what’s important is having balance. Listening to one song, one is really heavy, another is long and complicated, or shorter and more melodic. We’re an album band. We’re known for the long songs, big instrumental breaks.”
JH: What are you looking forward to most about coming to New Mexico?
MP: “We love being outdoors in the summer time, playing under the stars.”
JH: What do you want to say to your fans, both old and new?
MP: “To those who have listened to us, they’re probably very excited to see us play live. It’s Dream Theater’s first time in New Mexico. It will be great to finally be there. There are very few places that we haven’t played before, so it’s exciting for us. We’ll do a set list that will cover our whole career, to make up for lost time.
“To those who don’t know us, it will be an eye-opening experience — different than anything out there. Love us or hate us, you can’t ignore us.”