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For a drummer, Mike Portnoy doesn't believe in sitting still for very long. He spent much of last year touring the world with his brand-new power trio, The Winery Dogs, played dates across the globe with the Neal Morse Band, and after a few weeks at home for the holidays, he's itching to get back on the road again.
He'll get his chance soon enough: On January 31st, Portnoy and Morse join their Transatlantic bandmates Roine Stolt and Peter Trewavas for a six-week trek that will see the progressive-rock powerhouse performing cuts from their staggering new album, Kaleidoscope (due out January 27th).
Only this time the road isn't enough for Portnoy, and in the middle of the tour he's setting sail – literally – with over two dozen prog-rock bands that he personally handpicked for Progressive Nation At Sea, a five-day Caribbean excursion that the celebrated sticksman calls "the ultimate prog event." The lineup of groups is a veritable who's who of the genre, and if fans want all-Mike-Portnoy-all-the-time, they'll get it: He's performing with Transatlantic (including a special set with Jon Anderson), Bigelf, Portnoy Sheehan MacAlpine Sherinian, and we're guessing that if an impromptu barbershop quartet breaks out on deck, he'll be leading the chorus.
Portnoy sat down with MusicRadar the other day to talk about Kaleidoscope, his love of playing cover tunes (there's a bonus disc of surprises on the album) and what people can expect on the big cruise.
Is there a plan to how Transatlantic band operates, or do you guys get together when the stars and schedules align?
“It’s been different each time around. This is now our fourth album – we started in ’99, and so we’re into our 15th year. I think we’ve been promoted from side project to part-time band. In the beginning, it was this concept of mine to put together a quote-unquote supergroup of modern prog players. That was the initial thing from the get-go – it was a project.
“The second album was kind of an immediate response to how successful the first one was; we wanted to do it again. Then we had a big eight or nine-year hiatus. When we got back together for The Whirlwind, it was like a big secret reunion. People didn’t know about it, so when we finally announced it, it was kind of a big deal.
“Now, here we are with the fourth album, and after the reunion and the success of The Whirlwind, we feel like this can be a real part-time band, because our circumstances have changed. When we started this in the late ‘90s, I was obviously still in Dream Theater, and Neal was in Spock’s Beard. Those were our main things, and Transatlantic was definitely a side band.
“But here we are in 2014: I’m no longer in Dream Theater – I’m a free agent, doing lots of different things; Neal’s a free agent and is doing lots of different things. So it gives Transatlantic as an entity a little bit more flexibility. I think that’s what’s promoted us from side project to more part-time band.
The Whirlwind was one song that ran for 78 minutes. This one has two that clock in at over 25 minutes apiece. How do you remember all the parts to songs that long?
[Laughs] “It’s easy. It’s very natural for us, especially for Neal, Roine and me. We’ve made a career out of long songs, even in our bands outside of Transatlantic. With this band, you have three of the four members who are very comfortable with epic pieces. Because of that, when we write, it just comes out that way.
“At this point, the Transatlantic catalogue has maybe five or six or seven songs that are at the half-hour mark. It’s funny: If you look at our setlist from The Whirlwind tour back in 2010, it was literally six songs, but the show lasted three hours! [Laughs] Four of the songs were past the 30-minute mark, and one of them was over 75 minutes. We’ve made this career out of the longest, most epic, bombastic and over-the-top songs that any prog band could hope to write. It’s our signature style.”