Former Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy discussed his departure from the band for the first time during an appearance on last Friday's (September 10) edition of Eddie Trunk's "Friday Night Rocks" radio show on New York's Q104.3 FM. A Blabbermouth.net transcript of the chat follows below (only slightly edited for clarity).
Q: Clearly you weren't just some drummer you were very much a focal point and driving force [behind Dream Theater]. So what went down and how did we arrive at this point that you are no longer a member of Dream Theater?
Mike Portnoy: Well, I don't know how to sum it up, but I guess I could sum it up by just saying I was put in a position where I kind of had to quit in order to move forward. I love Dream Theater, I love the guys, it's been my baby for 25 years, but I just needed a break from Dream Theater. And a lot of people have already misinterpreted my press release, saying, "Well, if he needs a break, why is he playing with all these other bands?" I didn't need a break from playing and from touring and doing projects I really just felt like Dream Theater needed a break. We have been on a write-record-tour cycle for a solid 12, 15 years almost 20 years at this point without any real breaks, and I was just feeling like it was... I don't know... It was just a pattern that needed to be broken. And this isn't something that I just started feeling and decided overnight; I mean, this dates back to last year. I was already feeling it [back then]. We were in Europe on the Progressive Nation tour last fall and I even suggested to the guys, "Why don't we not tour as much in 2010?" We were gonna do an American tour in the spring and we ended up blowing that out just 'cause I really felt the need to shake up the cycle and break the pattern that we'd been doing for so long because it was starting to become a little stale to me. I would go off and do these other projects and they were very refreshing to me and yet I'd come back to Dream Theater, and as much as I love the music and as much me and the bandmembers are brothers, I just felt like we needed a break from each other in order to reignite the flame. Dating back to last fall I was feeling it, and then when I was out with Transatlantic this last spring, I was talking about it with some people on that tour. And then when we were out with [Iron] Maiden this summer, I knew it was coming to a head. And finally I brought it up to the guys and suggested, "Why don't we just take a little bit of a break? We've been going non-stop for so many years, I think maybe a couple of years' hiatus would do us good. It would give us each a chance to recharge our batteries and be reinspired." And those guys didn't agree with me. They wanted to keep going, and they wanted to start a new album in January , and I just really felt strongly that a break could do us some good. And we just disagreed on that point. And, basically, it came to... After this initial discussion, we went off for about a week or so to think about it, and we came back together a couple of nights ago to talk about it, and they didn't wanna budge; they really wanted to start the album in January with or without me. And I really felt if I was forced to go into the studio in January feeling the way I'm feeling that my heart wouldn't be in it and I would be going through the motions and not really doing what I really, really felt in my heart I should be doing, which is getting a breather... And that's what happened. Basically, I was put in the position where I either had to do the album in January against my will or I had to say goodbye, and I chose to say goodbye. It was the hardest decision I've ever made in my life and I feel really sad about it, and those guys are really sad about it. It's kind of weird that it came to this because none of us really wanted it, but inevitably this is the way it went down.
Q: You didn't wanna quit and obviously they didn't want you out. It really just seems like it was a disagreement as to where you were in your life with the band and what they wanted to do, and I guess the odds came out to four against one, and they decide they're going without you.
Portnoy: That's exactly it. I mean, I didn't wanna quit and they didn't want me to leave, but yet here we are; it was the only way that they could happily move on and I could happily move on. It's a weird kind of break-up, because it was a break-up where we still loved each other. I got, like, the nicest e-mail today from John Petrucci [Dream Theater guitarist] and I got a great e-mail today from Jordan [Rudess, Dream Theater keyboardist]. They miss me and they're sad about this, and I'm sad about it and I'm heartbroken, but we just strongly disagree. I really think that the band could have used a few years to recharge our batteries and so many bands have done it whether it be Soundgarden, Alice In Chains, Jane's Addiction, Phish, Rage Against The Machine... A lot of bands, when you're going this long and this strong, they take a break and then come back bigger and better than ever, and that's kind of what I hoped would happen with Dream Theater, and I was hoping that would be the path we could take together, but it was not to be.
Q: How much do you think that playing with Avenged Sevenfold and the other projects that you do you're always busy working creatively, doing other things, whether it's Dream Theater or not played a role in this coming down, if any?
Portnoy: Well, it absolutely had nothing to do with my initial thoughts, because, like I mentioned earlier, I was already discussing this with the guys last fall. And last fall, The Rev [late Avenged Sevenfold drummer] was still alive and well and I had nothing to do with Avenged Sevenfold and I was already feeling these feelings last September/October. If you watch the "Wither" video that we shot on that tour, almost all the footage is me hanging out with Mikael kerfeldt [of Opeth] or Damon Fox [of Bigelf]; I was already feeling some separation from the guys in Dream Theater. The groundwork in those feelings was already laid down back then. So, really, the feelings had nothing to do with Avenged Sevenfold, and once 2010 rolled around, I went and did some shows with Hail!, and then I went and did a couple of months of touring with Transatlantic, and then I started the tour with Avenged Sevenfold, and all three of those projects not just Avenged, but all three of those projects equally showed me how I was feeling very comfortable and happy and refreshed with some of these other bands. And I go back to Dream Theater, like on the Maiden tour, and the relationships between the five of us in Dream Theater were a bit strained; everybody was kind of just burnt out on each other sitting in different dressing rooms and not hanging out, and like I mentioned, if you watch the "Wither" video... There was a bit of that strain, and 25 years together sometimes will do that. We love each other, we're brothers, and we're family, but sometimes you kind of grow apart and need some space, and that's what I was feeling. Honestly, this all was brewing way before Avenged Sevenfold, but Avenged Sevenfold, the experience with them kind of just opened my eyes a bit, as did the Translatlantic tour, and as did the HAIL! shows. It just opened my eyes up to what a fresh relationship can be... I don't know... It's real tough for me to put in words and I really don't wanna be misnterpreted. I really don't want people to think that I left Dream Theater for Avenged Sevenfold I am not a member of Avenged Sevenfold; I'm just touring them and helping them out, and we're having a great time. I just felt like I wouldn't have my heart into going back to Dream Theater in January without having some sort of a break. I mean, the way it is now with Avenged, I guess we'll just ride this out together, because they're a band without a drummer, and now I'm a drummer without a band. We haven't made any decisions or have even discussed where we go from here. It's just for now I will continue playing with them and we'll see where we go from there.
Q: The first thing I thought about when I heard about this, and I'm sure a lot of fans did as well, was that the other guys in Dream Theater probably said , "Well, he's playing with all these other bands, but when need to work, he doesn't have time for us, so that's that." But you're saying that really wasn't it.
Portnoy: I don't know... Yeah, maybe they do feel that way.
Q: Kind of like your girlfriend is off doing other stuff and then when you need her, she's not available.
Portnoy: You know, I cannot ever be accused of not having my heart into Dream Theater. I mean, I've literally spent 25 years... It's my baby . . . I mean, I almost felt like I had to sacrifice myself from the situation so I wouldn't be holding them back and I wouldn't be doing something against my will. It's incredible for me to think that they're carrying on without me, but I guess that they're... I used to joke with them all the time. I used to say, "If I ever die, don't say 'He would have wanted us to carry on.' Because I wouldn't want you to carry on without me.'" The last thing I ever wanted to see was a Dream Theater without Mike Portnoy in it, so I used to always joke with them about that. But now, here when faced with this reality... I mean, sure, the selfish side of me doesn't wanna think of that band without me, and I kind of wish we would have just taken a break, but then there's the side of me that... I can't hold them back. They're my friends and they're my brothers and if they really wanna continue, then I can't say no; I don't wanna be an a-hole and do that to them. It's a strange situation, and luckily it ended on good terms and those guys have made it blatantly clear that the door is always open for me. So, I mean, it's a weird thing because I would go back to them in a heartbeat, just not now. I just need a break.
Q: How much time did you feel that you needed that you told them that you wanted away [from Dream Theater]?
Portnoy: When I proposed it, I proposed an indefinite hiatus, as so many bands go on, and all of whom have come back bigger and better than ever. But that didn't go over [well with the other guys], so then, after talking about it, I said, "Well, then how about, let's say, a year [or] a year and a half? Why don't we take off 2011 and reconvene in 2012?" John Petrucci could do a solo album he's been talking about that for the longest time and James [LaBrie] just did a solo album, and John Myung just did a Jelly Jam album, and Jordan's got plans... It made sense. It's like, "Let's just take off 2011 everybody could do their own thing and reconvene in 2012." And that didn't go over [well] either; they didn't wanna do that either. I even offered to do various work with them in 2011 even though it wasn't what I wanted, I was willing to do it just to keep the band afloat. It just didn't fly. It's just unfortunate that that's the way that the chips fell.
On how his role in Dream Theater and whether he thinks he can be easily replaced:
Portnoy: The two situations I could think of that are similar [to this] Tommy Lee with Mtley Cre and maybe Phil Collins with Genesis and in both of those cases they both left, and in both of those cases they came back, so you know what?! Maybe that will be the case here... I don't know. But to be honest with you, to me the thing that is so weird about this is that my role in Dream Theater just went so beyond the drumming. Honestly, I think there's thousands of drummers that could walk into Dream Theater right now and could do a great job drumming-wise, but what about the other thousand things that I had to do in Dream Theater?! . . . I think they'll have no problem getting a great drummer there's lots of great drummers out there but I think they're gonna have to really step up to the plate to cover all of the other responsibilities; they're gonna each have to put in 500 percent more to cover that ground. And I guess they're up to it. I've already seen John Petrucci doing Q&As [question-and-answer sessions] on his web site, which in all these years I've never seen him do, so I guess they're each gonna step up to the plate and cover that ground that I used to cover. You know, I never in a million years thought I would ever see a Dream Theater concert, and I'm looking forward to one day doing it. [Laughs]
Q: If I'm a betting man, I have to say that it won't be more than a year or two before you return to that gig under some circumstance.
Portnoy: Well, you know what?! If that was to happen, then I got what I wanted [laughs] I got my break from them and they got what they wanted; they got to continue on. Maybe a couple of years from now we'll get back together and we'll live happily ever after. I don't know. But there's been so many cases you've seen it; history has shown and I've already cited Mtley Cre and Genesis, but you could talk about... Aerosmith went on without Joe Perry and Maiden went on without Bruce [Dickinson] and [Judas] Priest without [Rob] Halford... Ultimately, they all came back together and I would love it if some day that happens with us . . . The whole thing is as tough for me to swallow as it is for the fans. I feel really bad for the fans, 'cause I spent my entire career making decisions for them and trying to feed the fanbase, and I knew this was one decision that wouldn't be a popular one with the fans, but for once in my life for once I had to do what Mike Portnoy felt was right and not what was best for Dream Theater. I mean, what would have been best for Dream Theater, in my opinion, would have been to just take a few years off everybody do their own thing, recharge the batteries and come together. But we're five different people with five different personalities, and I guess we differed on that subject . . . We've mentioned these other scenarios [where the members parted ways and then] all [came] back together. The thing that scares the crap out of me, though, is I see a similarity to maybe Roger Waters with Pink Floyd and that never came back together, and that scares the crap out of me. It would be a tragedy if I never got to be on stage with Dream Theater again . . . I'm at peace with [my decision to leave the band] I really am. I'm depressed and sad and shocked over it, but I am indeed at peace with it, and I think it was the right thing [to do], because I had to follow my heart. I've never been a fake or a B.S. person, and if I would be forced to go into the studio in January, I would feel resentments, and I can't do that. I need to love what I'm doing, and I've never done a project or an album or anything with any other musician that I didn't believe in.
Q: You're out with Avenged Sevenfold, which is gonna continue into the New Year, so at this point, you're just gonna hold with that gig and continue playing with those guys and I imagine you're having fun doing it, right?
Portnoy: Well, yeah. I am indeed having a great time with these guys, so there's no denying that. They're a great bunch of guys, the show is awesome, their fans are awesome, and they've been great to me. The thing with them is they need to take small baby steps because of the situation they just went through with their drummer dying, so they're really in no rush to get a permanent drummer, and they're taking baby steps one day at a time. And I'm in the same boat now, because I don't wanna make any major decisions right now either and now I'm gonna take baby steps and just take this one day at a time. And I guess right now there's no pressure for me, and there's no pressure for them, to make any decisions for awhile now; we can just carry on with their tour, and we have the luxury of time now without any pressure hanging over either of our heads. So I'll carry on with them and then when the time comes that I have to make a decision to do something else, I'll climb that hill when I get there. But right now, it's nice to not have the pressure and I could just play.
Thanks for the report to Blabbermouth.net.