Mike Portnoy talks Adrenaline Mob's Coverta EP track-by-track
Anybody who has followed Mike Portnoy's career knows that he loves to tip his baseball cap to his musical heroes. With Dream Theater, the much-honored drummer covered entire albums by the likes of Metallica, Deep Purple, Iron Maiden and Pink Floyd, and in partnership with guitar virtuoso Paul Gilbert, he formed tribute bands that performed the music of The Beatles (Yellow Matter Custard), The Who (Amazing Journey), Rush (Cygnus & The Sea Monsters) and Led Zeppelin (Hammer Of The Gods).
On 12 March, Portnoy shifts back into tribute-mode with his new band, Adrenaline Mob. The raging quartet (which also includes guitarist Mike Orlando, singer Russell Allen and bassist John Moyer) pay their respects to Ronnie James Dio, The Doors, Rainbow, Black Sabbath, Van Halen, Heart, Led Zeppelin and the short-lived band Badlands on the highly entertaining eight-song EP, Coverta.
“We do this kind of thing for fun, really," says Portnoy. "Adrenaline Mob have lot of touring that we want to do this year, and even though we feel we have yet to scratch the surface with Omerta [the band's 2012 debut album], we wanted to get something else out there. It wasn’t the right time for a full-length album of originals, so this is a good way of giving fans something to chew on until then."
According to Portnoy, coming up with a proposed tracklisting for Coverta was fairly easy, especially given the fact that Adrenaline Mob had been performing two of the songs, Dio's Stand Up And Shout and Black Sabbath's The Mob Rules, live throughout 2012. "I have a huge music library in the back of my head," he says, chuckling, "so the other ones we recorded were kind of floating around already."
Portnoy says that the band found themselves in agreement over which tracks and bands to cover, except in the case of Steppenwolf's 1968 biker classic, Born To Be Wild. "One guy wanted to do it, but somebody else was adamantly opposed to it," he says. "That was a heated argument for a couple of minutes, and then we moved on." Portnoy says that the band did try their hands at a version of Soundgarden's Rusty Cage, but that it "just didn't feel right, for whatever reason. We pulled it and put it on the shelf."
Of the eight cuts that make up Coverta, Portnoy is stoked, calling the disc "1000 percent fun." Adrenaline Mob will perform the EP live (the band's tour kicks off 12 March), but the songs will be shuffled night to night. "I just made up the setlist," he says. "Basically, there's Coverta 1 and Coverta 2, so rather than stick to one set batch of tunes, we'll rotate them. It'll be a blast."
On the following pages, Portnoy walks us through Coverta track-by-track. And be sure to check out the exclusive video in which the drum superstar discusses the tracking of Romeo Delight, originally recorded by Van Halen.
High Wire - Badlands
“This is maybe the most obscure song on the EP. Bandlands were a kickass hard rock band that came out in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s after Jake E Lee left Ozzy’s band. The first album had Eric Singer on drums and the amazing, late, great Ray Gillen on vocals. He’s one of Russell Allen’s favorite singers – a huge influence.
“This was one of the tracks that was already in the repertoire; we were covering it live last year. I don’t think we put much of a twist to it. The idea was to pay tribute to the original but give it some more balls and life for 2013. Hopefully, we can introduce people to a hidden gem; it’s something of a long-lost classic at this point.”
Stand Up And Shout - Ronnie James Dio
“This is one of the other tracks that was a staple of our live show last year. We cover three different stages of Ronnie James Dio on Coverta – there’s a Dio track, a Rainbow track and a Black Sabbath/Dio track. Stand Up And Shout is the first song from Ronnie's debut album, and because it’s such a full-blast, high-energy tune, it really felt right for us to do.
“The original version is probably Ronnie at his absolute best. I see Russell Allen as kind of a modern-day Ronnie James Dio – a powerful vocalist for this generation. It was a natural for us to do to do three Dio tracks, just because they fit Russell’s voice so beautifully.”
Break On Through - The Doors
“This was Mike Orlando’s suggestion. He had the idea to do a more modern, rocked-up version of Break On Through, and I think it turned out great. This is a good example of a complete reworking, very much in the same vein of [Duran Duran’s] Come Undone, which we did for the studio album last year.
“Interestingly, even though Mike brought up doing the song, we didn’t really talk about it or rehearse it; what you’re hearing is the two of us jamming it for the first and only time. We just hit ‘record,’ and said, ‘Let’s see how it turns out.’ Nothing was pre-arranged; the drum part is what came out of me spontaneously.
“From there, we developed it. John Moyer added a bass part that put an almost a Tool-like twist on the verses. Russell sang the shit out of it. He stayed true to Jim Morrison during the verses, but on the choruses he just exploded. And I have to mention Mike Orlando’s interpretation of the keyboard solo in the middle. Some classic Ray Manzarek motifs had to be in there, and Mike pulled them off beautifully on the guitar.”
Romeo Delight - Van Halen
“A bunch of us are massive Van Halen fans. Those first five or six albums are such classics. It's strange that you don’t hear everybody covering those records, because so many people from my generation were influenced by them.
“Romeo Delight was one that I suggested; somebody else thought of Hang ‘Em High. We tried them both, but Romeo Delight was the one that stuck. We ended up incorporating some bits and pieces of other songs in the middle, as well. I always loved the drum break in Light Up The Sky, so we have that, and we quote a little Led Zeppelin with Whole Lotta Love. There’s a vocal reference to Top Jimmy, too. We just had fun with it.
“Mike Orlando killed the Eddie Van Halen solo and breathed new life into it – and that’s saying something. Those first few albums are so brilliant, it's like, how do you improve on them? The answer is, you don’t. All you can do is just get in there and pay tribute. That’s what we did – we added to the original.”
Barracuda - Heart
“Magic Man is a great one, as is Crazy On You, but Barracuda, with that big, chugging riff, was certainly the most Mob-like. Actually, my wife’s band, Meanstreak, did a full-on, female thrash version of it some years ago, back in the early ‘90s. I produced a demo of theirs that had Barracuda on it.
“Since then, I’ve never heard anybody do it, which is surprising because it’s such a classic, heavy song, so I suggested it to the Mob. There’s very few male singers who could do justice to Ann Wilson’s incredible vocals, but I knew that Russell would kill it, and sure enough, he did.”
Kill The King - Rainbow
“This is another Dio track, one from his Rainbow era. It’s from the Long Live Rock ‘N’ Roll album. Russell and Mike Orlando had covered it for a benefit show they did, so I suggested bringing it back for this release.
“Cozy Powell did double-bass drumming on the original, and then you had Ronnie James Dio singing and Ritchie Blackmore on guitar – what a combination! I knew that it would be a great one for the Mob.
“Actually, the whole Long Live Rock ‘N’ Roll album is incredible. The Gates Of Babylon is an all-time favorite of mine. I didn’t suggest that one, though, because it’s a very keyboard-oriented song – Kill The King just seemed to fit us better. That said, The Gates Of Babylon is absolutely stunning.
“I should also mention that last year Adrenaline Mob covered Stargazer – another fantastic Rainbow track. I didn’t bring up that one because I had already recorded it in the studio several years ago with Dream Theater. Having done that, I turned my attention to Kill The King.”
The Lemon Song - Led Zeppelin
“I think The Lemon Song is kind of a sleeper track on this EP. Everybody has covered Zeppelin – I mean everybody! – and it’s so hard to better what they did. Like it is with Van Halen, you really can't. But I do think that The Lemon Song shows off Adrenaline Mob’s ability to stretch.
“John Moyer is the MVP of this particular track with the walking bassline he does. He really nails what John Paul Jones originally did. I also have to give it up to Russell Allen, whose vocals are through the roof. Everybody knows he can sing with grit and balls and power, but here he tackles the blues with authentic feel. And what about Mike Orlando paying tribute to Jimmy Page’s classic riffs and genius? At the same time, he adds his own little twists. Our version of The Lemon Song might be one of my favorite Zeppelin covers.
“As for myself, when I cover John Bonham, whether it’s on this EP or with the tribute band I did with Paul Gilbert, I don’t stray from what he did. You put on your Bonzo shoes and you pay tribute. You’re not going to hear any Mike Portnoy here. True, I did throw in a little double bass at the end, just to kick it up a notch and add some power, but the other 95 percent is me in full-on Bonzo mode, and I’m just doing him.”
The Mob Rules - Black Sabbath
“The Mob Rules has become a real Adrenaline Mob staple, and it’s the only track that wasn’t recorded for this specific session; it was left over from the Omerta sessions, and it actually appeared on the self-titled EP we put out in 2011.
“It was a natural for us to cover this song, just because of the name and the style; it seemed very right to include it on Coverta. It’s a classic Sabbath tune – once again, it’s Ronnie James Dio. I don’t believe that Adrenaline Mob has ever played a live show without including it in the set.
“Even though it’s a Black Sabbath song, it’s become something of an unofficial anthem for this band. We’ve really taken it under our wings, and the fans love it.”