“It sounds like it’s fucking total madness, but to us it’s very methodically crafted,” described Mike Portnoy, the rhythmic mastermind behind the progressive metal progenitors better known as Dream Theater.
Propelled by a Number 19 debut on the Billboard Top 200, the group’s best start to date, these sleeping giants concoct their own brand of metal insurrection with Systematic Chaos, released in June, through Roadrunner Records. The band’s first album since signing with the label, the special edition CD/DVD features a 90-minute Portnoy directed documentary and 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound.
Marking a pivotal time in the band’s extensive career, Dream Theater are in the midst of a reawakening with their first music video since the mid-’90s, a new label and a year-long global tour.
Continuing to bang out the beats with technical accuracy, Mike Portnoy took a break from perfecting their live sound while on tour in Houston, TX, as he spoke about inspiration, endurance and everything that’s new.
So what’s your weapon of choice for this tour? Are you playing a new drum kit?
Yeah, I have a new kit that was built just for this tour and it’s a TAMA Star Classic Mirage Drum Kit which is basically a clear acrylic kit. I call it the Mirage Monster ’cause it’s enormous. It’s basically two kits in one. One side is this giant double bass kit and another side is a more experimental single bass kit, and I jump back and forth between the two from song to song.
What made you decide to choose Redemption and Into Eternity to support you on the US leg of the tour?
I basically pick bands that I like, that are up-and- coming, and bands that I think our audience will like. The progressive scene doesn’t get a lot of mainstream attention so, opening for a band like Dream Theater is a great opportunity for a lot of young, up-and-coming progressive bands to really play for a receptive audience. I’ve always picked bands that deserved the recognition but weren’t necessarily getting it from the mainstream media.
Why do you think that is, that progressive metal bands generally don’t get a lot of attention?
Well this music in general is not flavor of the month. We can’t rely on tv or radio for a band like this. Fifteen years ago we had a bit of a hit with Pull Me Under, but other than that it has been a completely self-built career. We’re lucky because we’ve been able to really break through and have a lot of success through our endurance, but a lot of younger up-and-coming progressive bands have a harder time. It takes a lot of time and perseverance with this kind of music, so I try to help out these younger bands whenever possible. That’s how I picked Redemption and Into Eternity. I think they’re two up-and-coming bands that are talented and deserve the attention.
You’ve spent so much time touring Europe over the course of your career and with such a long tour schedule coming up, how do you keep up your endurance?
A lot of Starbucks (ha ha). I don’t know, we’re getting older, now we’re all in our 40s and even Jordan is into his 50s, so I mean, this kind of touring starts to catch up with you, and that’s one of the reasons we stopped doing the ‘Evening With’ tours ’cause we were doing three, three-and-a-half hour shows and it was just absolutely fucking exhausting. I write a different set list for every show, so that means we have to be on our toes and be rehearsed and utilize sound check to work on shit. I think one of the things that will help this time is doing a show with a two hour set. That will surely help pace ourselves a little bit better, but touring is what we have to do. Planet earth is a big place to cover, and it takes a lot of time to get to every city and country in the world. It means a lot of road work. We’re just going to take care of ourselves the best we can.
And the reason behind all this touring, your new record, Systematic Chaos, is their a concept to the record?
Well every song is a total different entity and we just wanted to have a bunch of individual songs ‘cause we’ve been doing the concept thing for the past several years. One of the conscious things is we wanted to make the record pretty aggressive and dark, its got some diversity, it’s not all heavy songs. There are mellow songs, but even the mellow songs are still kind of dark and sinister.