[Interview] SHATTERED FORTRESS (Mike Portnoy)

When drummer extraordinaire – MIKE PORTNOY left Long Island based prog metal giants, Dream Theater in September, 2010 it was a shot heard around the world. Portnoy is a workaholic and since then has been and part of seven different bands. These include Adrenalin Mob, The Winery Dogs, Transatlantic, the Neal Morse Band and Metal Allegiance to name a few. Earlier this year the drummer did a special set on the “Cruise To The Edge” boat for his 50th birthday that recalled his ‘Twelve Set Suite’ of Dream Theater songs. After receiving interest from everywhere, he undertook a world tour with the same ensemble now called SHATTERED FORTRESS. Reverb’s JON VAN DAAL interviewed Portnoy and asked him what we could expect for his imminent upcoming tour.

It has been nearly eight years since you were last down under – are you looking forward to the upcoming Australian tour?
Yeah, I don’t know why it has taken me so long, you’d think that being in 87 different bands I would be down there a little more frequently. Yes, I am happy to be finally coming back.

Actually you nearly came back in 2014 with Metal Allegiance for the Soundwave Festival but it ended up being cancelled.
Yeah, I was disappointed.

Obviously you did a lot of writing in your years with Dream Theater including the ‘Twelve Step Suite’ – can you explain how that series of songs came about?
Back in 2001 I started writing a series of lyrics based on the twelve steps of recovery [for Alcoholics Anonymous] which was something that I was going through at the time. I was intensely involved with it and it felt very therapeutic for me to write about it. That said, writing about all twelve steps in one song would have been impossible.

I had this idea to break it up to a few steps per album and then eventually connecting all these songs when the project was finished and then playing it live in its entirety. So over the course of five albums, that took about eight years or so, I wrote these five songs that interconnect musically and lyrically. Just after I finished them, I left Dream Theater and never had the chance to perform them live from start to finish.

So this year was my 50th birthday and I guess as a 50th birthday gift to my fans I decided to have some closure and wrap up this unfinished business for me and for the fans – I finally performed it live.

So that happened on “Cruise To The Edge “( a Progressive Rock Series of Concerts in the Caribbean).
Yes, on “Cruise to the Edge” we had a massive 50th Birthday concert that covered my whole career. I played with Flying Colors and Transatlantic and I did a Liquid Tension set with Tony Levin and that was the first time that I played “The Twelve Set Suite” at this 50th birthday concert. So from there, offers came in from all around the world to do it for the fans. We are doing it this time only, once this year is done and once this Australian tour is done, I have no intentions over ever doing this again.

I believe that you played with the band Haken when they toured with your son’s band, Next To None. You were invited up to play ‘The Mirror’ with them, weren’t you.
Oh yeah. My son’s band were on a North American tour with Haken and at the last show they asked if I would come up and play the Dream Theater song ‘The Mirror’. When I played that song with them I knew at that point that I had found my band if I ever was to play ‘The Twelve Step Suite’ live, they just nailed it. So at that point I knew that they would be my backing band for this.

Yes we have just seen Haken live down here six weeks ago – they obviously are something very special as far as progressive metal goes.
Yeah they are one of my favourite prog bands on the scene, so that is why I knew that they would be great for this.

Yes, I noticed that Haken’s keyboard player, Diego Tejeida plays in a very similar way to Derek Sherinian [ex-Dream Theater & PSMS and currently in Portnoy’s latest project, Sons of Apollo] who is my favourite keyboard player ever.
Diego plays the keyboards with balls. He plays a really heavy sound and I know that Derek is one of his favourites as well. Yeah Diego is awesome, as is Derek – my two next tours are with those two guys.

I read somewhere that you have a notebook with over 100 band names in it for when you have a new idea to create a new band.
Oh yeah I guess when you have a new band every year that you have to go through this problem of having to find a new name [laughter]. That is usually one of the biggest struggles for a band and I now have a giant list of band names in my phone. It kinda helped for Sons of Apollo to find their name pretty quickly.

How have you found this process of forming new bands when you come up with a new idea?
I do like forming bands and playing with them – right now I have seven different bands that I am playing in. That said it is hard to always juggle it but I love playing all these different kinds of music and I am blessed to play with some of the greatest musicians in the world. I just love jumping back and forth between The Winery Dogs ,Neal Morse and Sons of Apollo, Twisted Sister and Metal Allegiance, you know. Every one of them is totally exciting and satisfying for me.

You know it is a lot of work, a lot of juggling as I have to keep a constant eye on my schedule and try to plan things but it is what I do.

I saw it mentioned that Twisted Sister may be coming back for some more shows at Xmas?
Not right now, there are no plans to come back. One of the things that Dee [Snider, Twisted Sister lead singer] said every night when we were on tour was that this was it and there was no going back on his word and I tend to believe him. Then the other side of me would love to do more – there is a side of me that hopes he would do more. Either way I am there for them if and when they want to do more.

Getting back to Shattered Fortress, I believe that all of the songs in the encore are those that you wrote for Dream Theater.
Yeah – ‘The Twelve Step Suite’ takes up about sixty minutes of the show so there is about another forty five minutes worth of music in the set, so the show is about almost two hours long. So any song that I wrote the lyrics to was a pre-requisite. I don’t want to give away spoilers to people that don’t want to know. I pretty much knew a great way to open the show and a great way to close the show and it kinda wrote itself from there.

I just wanted to talk a bit about your son. My son is also a drummer and has had his band’s music played on the radio so I know the sense of pride that you must feel as he came along as a new generation of player – can you explain how that feels for yourself?
Yeah well, he grew up on the road – he (Max) and my daughter Melody grew up touring with me – yeah they would be behind my drum set every night and inevitably my son, Max took to it. He has opened for a number of my bands – Metal Allegiance, Adrenaline Mob, The Winery Dogs, he opened for the Shattered Fortress so he has toured with me a lot through the years.

He has become an incredible drummer in his own right and it is amazing to see him gaining his own recognition. He just got nominated for best Metal Drummer in Rhythm Magazine so it is an amazing thing to watch and something I am so proud of.

And I see he is forging his own path with new metal techniques like blast beats and the like.
Yeah, he is not only an amazing drummer technically but he is also very creative. On the latest Next To None album, not only are the parts rhythmically and physically impressive but they are also very creative – he reminds me so much of myself when I was his age. He loves the drums.

Just before we go, could you tell us a little bit about the Sons of Apollo.
Well it is a great new band that I have and the album [Psychotic Symphony] has just been released – it is a powerhouse line-up and I can’t wait to hit the road with it. The tours are being booked now with all the dates starting to come together for 2018. This is going to be a monster band on stage with every person in this band being a great performer and a great player – it is going to be like a five ring circus and I can’t wait to hit the road with it.

Well thanks Mike for your time and we wish you well with your latest tour.
Thanks very much.

Mike Portnoy’s “Shattered Fortress” will be performing Thursday November 16, The Studio, Auckland; Saturday November 18, The Tivoli, Brisbane; Monday November 20, Astor Theatre, Perth; Wednesday November 22, The Gov, Adelaide; Friday November 24, Metro Theatre, Sydney; Saturday November 25, The Croxton, Melbourne. Tickets can be purchased here – https://metropolistouring.com/mikeportnoy

Photo credit : Jon Van Daal

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