Mike Portnoy talks Winery Dogs, Dream Theater ahead of the Patchogue show
Drummer Mike Portnoy was born with two arms, but he plays like he has six. His versatility has made him one of the most sought-after artists in hard rock and heavy metal. Though internationally recognized, Portnoy’s roots are firmly rooted in Long Island.
Raised in Long Beach, Portnoy, 55, first got his start in the band Majesty, which debuted at the Sundance in Bay Shore in 1986. That band became Dream Theater, who rose to prominence as the kings of progressive metal in the ’90s. Since leaving DT in 2010, Portnoy has played with a variety of bands including Avenged Sevenfold, Twisted Sister, Sons of Apollo, the Neal Morse Band and Adrenaline Mob.
Today, Portnoy is behind the kit of supergroup trio The Winery Dogs, along with bassist Billy Sheehan (Mr. Big) and vocalist/guitarist Richie Kotzen (Poison), as they come to the Patchogue Theater for the Performing Arts on February 18 in support his third album “III”.
Newsday’s David J. Criblez spoke to the stickman about mingling with Sheehan and Kotzen, why he left Dream Theater and reunited with old bandmate and guitarist John Petrucci.
How would you describe the chemistry at Winery Dogs? You are all three leaders and main songwriters. How does that work?
The reason it works so well is because there is a lot of mutual respect. All three of us respect and admire one another and with that comes trust. When we got together to record the first record, you never know what the chemistry will be like when you walk into a room together. We found that all three of us are well matched. When Richie has a riff or a melody line and Billy or I make suggestions, he’s not very possessive or defensive. We will work together to make things our own. That goes for all three of us. No matter who brings an idea to the table, we respect each other’s opinion and are open to it.
It’s been over seven years since the last Winery Dogs album. If you’ve returned to The Fold after several interim projects, how does that affect the current project going forward?
I think the hiatus has made us hungry to work together again and appreciate how special what we have is. We did the first two albums and tours back to back. After that we wanted to catch our breath and get back to the other things in our personal careers. We got together for fun in the summer of 2019 to do some shows. That sparked the excitement of playing together again. When we did those shows we knew we had to do a third record because we were ready.
You play in so many different bands. How is the diversity of your activities reflected?
It really is a reflection of my taste in music. I love everything from The Beatles to Slayer. I want to be able to tap into a little bit of everything with what I do. After leaving Dream Theater in 2010, my mission was to explore all the different music I love.
When you left Dream Theater to do several projects you received some criticism. Now everyone seems to be doing it. Does that surprise you?
Yes, it has become the norm. My varied tastes were my motivation. I wanted to have a range of musicians to work with. It wasn’t a necessity but rather a hunger to do as much as possible. I got a lot of criticism after leaving Dream Theater because people couldn’t quite understand it. Today it’s hard to find a musician who isn’t in several projects. It’s almost uncommon for someone not to be.
You’ve recently been recording and touring with your old Dream Theater bandmate, John Petrucci. How did you return to making music together?
It started years ago on a personal level. He and I met as teenagers at Berklee College of Music in Boston and started Dream Theater. That was a whole life together. Our wives play in a band together and our daughters share an apartment in Brooklyn. There are so many personal things that are intertwined between the two of us, even though I left Dream Theater and had a dramatic few years to go through, the personal story was too strong not to keep us in our lives. When 2020 came around and we were in lockdown John wanted to work on a solo album and he called me to do that. That was our first reconnection on a musical level. A few months later we made LTE3, Liquid Tension Experiment’s third album, and last year we performed together for the first time in years. Every night you could feel the emotions in the room. If you looked at the crowd, you could see grown men crying. It meant a lot to a lot of people, including John and myself. The minute we played the first few notes, it was like we were 18-year-old kids in Berklee again.
What advice do you have for young drummers following in your footsteps?
It’s important to keep an open mind and listen to a lot of different things. Don’t try to be just some kind of drummer. Instead of playing your instrument to a camera and putting it on TikTok, try playing and making music with other musicians.