Still best known – and certainly lauded – as drummer/founder of prog metal titans Dream Theater, in 2010 Mike shocked the drumming community when he announced he was leaving the band he had led since the ’80s.
Since then Mike has worked with Avenged Sevenfold and a huge number of his own musical projects, each stylistically hugely different from each other, including Transatlantic, Winery Dogs, Flying Colors and Adrenaline Mob.
Mike on… changing his drum style (or not!)
“I think it’s all still me. I think the most important thing for me when I do an album, no matter who it’s with, any kind of band, I want it to sound like Mike Portnoy.
"I think it’s important for drummers to have personality in their playing and that’s a very important thing for me. So whether I’m playing in a metal, prog or pop band, I still want to retain my identity. Of course, I always play what’s called for in the song. When I’m playing with Flying Colors, I’m trying to be more subtle, song-oriented and straight-ahead. In Adrenaline Mob, I’m trying to be more aggressive and have that balance to the grooves.”
Mike on… his heroes
“My three biggest heroes that are alive are Paul McCartney, Roger Waters and Pete Townshend. If I could give you a dream gig, to play drums with any one of those three would be absolutely incredible. Obviously, I don’t think that’s very realistic. Those are the three living musicians I think that I would do anything to be able to play drums for.
"Deceased, the list is huge. Frank Zappa is my all-time biggest hero, so obviously to have ever worked with him would have been a dream come true and absolutely terrifying as well! I’ve developed a great relationship with Dweezil and I took Zappa Plays Zappa out with Dream Theater a couple of years ago so I guess that was as close as I got to being able to be part of the Zappa world for a while.”
Mike on… his Dream Theater highlights
“I think the crowning moment for me was Scenes From A Memory. We really needed to prove ourselves with that record and it was the album where John and I took over production duties.
"We were coming out of a tough period. I’ve spoken about it a million times – we were on the verge of breaking up. We needed to regain our independence. And we came out firing on all cylinders. There was a lot at stake, so we had to pull it out of the bag. That was one defining moment for me. I was very proud of achieving that creative goal.”
Mike on… counting versus feel
“It’s not just feel. You can just feel it, sure, and I know that there are guys that play odd time and when they’re asked about it will say that it’s all just groove. In my case, though, I do pay a lot of attention to the numbers, simply because I was always interested in them. You can play by groove or feel, but I’m into the maths of it.”
Want more Heroes?
Rhythm Presents 100 Drum Heroes includes exclusive interviews and photos from Rhythm’s29 years as the UK’s biggest drum mag! Drum heroes discuss their music, playing techniques, gear and career highlights. At 200 pages-plus, it's an essential read for fans of drumming and drummers across all genres of music.