Appealing to metalheads, prog-rock fans, and technical music geeks alike, Dream Theater has been cutting a unique path through heavy music for over 20 years. Their 10th album, Black Clouds and Silver Linings, will be out on June 23.
When Metal Insider found out that the band was rehearsing for their world tour underneath our offices, we had to venture down and catch up with someone. Drummer and unofficial group spokesperson Mike Portnoy spoke to us about the band’s legacy, the Progressive Nation tour, and his side projects.
One lucky winner will be chosen at random to receive a limited radio-only EP featuring three versions of the album’s first single, “A Rite of Passage,” autographed by Portnoy. To enter, sign in and leave a comment stating your favorite Dream Theater album before June 20. One entry per person – multiple entries will be disqualified.
Black Clouds and Silver Linings is your 10th album. Did you have any idea that Dream Theater would last as long as it has?
We dreamed that it would and hoped that it would, but even after a few years together, our future was uncertain. The early days were filled with a million obstacles; false starts, bad contracts, and lineup changes. In the early years of the band, the future was always uncertain, but somehow we endured it, and persevered, and here we are, almost 25 years later. Like Metallica said, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
It seems like you might have gotten a little more acceptance within the metal community upon signing with Roadrunner. Have you noticed that at all?
Roadrunner has surely helped, but we’ve always dabbled in the Metal community. We’ve done tours with Maiden and done festivals with Slayer and Pantera, so that’s always been a side of us. Even before Roadrunner, Dave Mustaine hand picked us to co-headline Gigantour. So maybe they’ve helped us get more acceptance with that side of the band, which is good, because we’ve always been a metal band. But our problem is that we’ve always been too progressive for the real metalheads, and we’re always too metal for the real prog purists. So as much as we’ve been able to float between the two worlds, I don’t know if we’ve ever been fully embraced by either world.
Systematic Chaos debuted in the Billboard Top 20. Are you feeling any pressure to top it?
It’s not our goal, but it would definitely be nice. Every time you do a record, you want to keep getting better and bigger, and make new fans.
The album is coming in three different versions. Do you feel like that’s a necessity to do to sell more records and combat downloading?
I think the label feels that’s a necessity. We don’t necessarily feel that as artists. Personally, I would have loved to have done special editions for all of our albums, but in the past, it was hard to try to convince the labels to do it. Now it’s the opposite and the labels are trying to convince the artists to do it to combat downloading. The labels are kind of scrambling to get these extra products out there to keep people buying. It’s kind of a win-win situation for everybody, because it works out right for the fans, and they get that much more bonus stuff to get their hands on. As a fan, and a collector, I love it, and I think it’s awesome. The fact that the label is enabling us to do it, I’ll have no shortage of suggestions about what we can do for bigger and better releases, and I’m glad that they’re supporting it now.
This is the second year for your Progressive Nation tour. How has the experience of curating your own tour been?
The first one was awesome. It was definitely time. There are so many other packages out there every Summer, but none of which really give the platform for progressive or musician-oriented music. And also, the work “progressive” doesn’t just mean Dream Theater or Symphony X; it spans this entire range of music that goes from DEP all the way to Porcupine Tree and everything in the middle. There are so many types of progressive music now. So something like Progressive Nation can really offer everybody from Opeth to 3 an audience to play for.
It seems like the lineup this year is a little less commercial than last year’s. Was that intentional?
It was never commercial-minded to begin with, much to the chagrin of my manager and agent. They would love to have a Progressive Nation filled with Avenged Sevenfold and The Mars Volta, but to me, it’s not about marquee names. Yes, Opeth has their audience, and Zappa Plays Zappa has theirs, but the opening two positions are wild cards that I can just pick whoever I want, so a band like Bigelf or Unexpect, who are doing the European tour, or Pain of Salvation and Beardfish, I didn’t pick them for marquee value, I picked them for their musical value. And really, I want to give them the opportunity to play for our audience. To me, it’s not about these bands bringing in their audience. I want to give the exposure to a band like Beardfish or the Unexpect or Bigelf. They wouldn’t be able to play to a few thousand people every night. And I also want to expose our fans to these bands.
You’ve played entire albums while on tour in the past, including Metallica’s Master of Puppets and Iron Maiden’s Number of the Beast. What do you have in mind this time?
The only rule of that was that we had to be playing two nights in a row in a city, and as of now, there’s no two-night stands on the upcoming tour. But I still have that list in the back of my head for if the opportunities arise. As soon as we get handed a few more two-night stands, I know exactly what the next few will be.
Have you practiced them yet?
I haven’t even told the other band members yet. When we need to learn and practice them, I will.
Two side projects of yours have reformed recently. Did you feel a need to do something apart from Dream Theater?
Both projects were on the shelf for a while. Liquid Tension hadn’t done anything for almost ten years, and last summer we got together and played some shows. There’s a live DVD and CD box set coming out from those shows. And Transatlantic had broken up and been on a hiatus for about eight years, and only just recently got back together a few months ago to do a live album, so in both cases, those were reunions that happened, and now they’re both active again.