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Interviews : “I don’t like using the word ‘band’…” – An Interview with Mike Portnoy (Shattered Fortress)

By on May 6, 2017

Mike Portnoy is a man and a musician that needs no introduction. Since leaving the mainstay of his musical life and arguably the greatest and most important progressive metal band of all time Dream Theater, he has been the ‘man of many projects’, lending his prodigious percussive skills to the likes of Avenged Sevenfold, The Winery Dogs, metal supergroup Metal Allegiance, The Neal Morse Band and many more.

He has put something together now that should make the hearts of progressive heavy music fans everywhere sing with the joy of anticipation, a gathering of elite-level musicians from UK progressive maestros Haken and The Neal Morse Band, who will play the Portnoy-penned ’Twelve-Step Suite’, an epic series of conceptual tracks that spanned five separate Dream Theater albums and dealt with Portnoy’s battles with alcoholism. With Portnoy’s departure from the Dream Theater fold, the suite has never been played in its entirety.

Until 2017.

“I don’t like using the word ‘band’ or even ‘project’ in this case,” he states definitively, “this really is neither, it really is just a one-off live event. Yeah, I did assemble a group of guys to play it, but I don’t want to give the impression that this is an ongoing thing, because it’s not. This is a once in a lifetime live even that is only going to happen now and I have no intentions of doing anything further with it.”

And even better news, for Portnoy and progressive music fans Down Under anyway, is that he is actually bringing it to Australia and New Zealand later this year after a long hiatus from visiting our shores.

“It’s amazing,” he enthuses, “I’ve been dying to come back to Australia, it’s been almost eight years for me now. I’ve put together so many bands through the years, I keep waiting and waiting to come back to Australia. It’s pretty funny, now I’ve put something together that’s not even a legitimate ongoing band, I finally get the offer! But hey, I’ll take it whenever I can get it.

“I’m just excited to see that there’s enough of a demand for people to experience this special show, for me to finally get my ass back Down Under, so I’m glad that it’s happening.”

So what we’ll be looking at is the Twelve-Step Suite played out in order, which is just on one hour’s worth of music, and then a bunch of Dream Theater tracks that Portnoy had a strong hand in writing.

“Yeah, that’s it,” he confirms, “the Twelve-Step Suite is sixty minutes, within itself, and then there’s a huge huge catalogue of Dream Theater music that I wrote the lyrics to, to choose from. So there’ll be plenty of other stuff to fill out the set. It’ll be an awesome experience, finally getting to play this Twelve-Step Suite, which I’ve been waiting almost 15 years to do. And it will also be a treat re-visiting that Dream Theater music which I haven’t done elsewhere.”

The suite itself obviously has very significant meaning to the man himself, as it documents a very challenging period in his life. “I stopped drinking back in 2000, and got sober,” he recalls, “and incorporating the twelve steps into my life. The next record I was making with Dream Theater at the time was the Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence album back in 2001. So inevitably I wanted to start writing about the twelve steps because it was a huge part of my life. It’s such a massive concept that I knew I couldn’t possibly tackle the whole thing in one song. So I had the idea of tackling a few steps at a time over the course of each album, and constructing a series of songs that can ultimately end up tying together and be performed live in its entirety.

“Sadly that never happened. I did complete the writing process, it took five albums over the course of eight years to finally finish the writing. But shortly after I left Dream Theater and never actually had a chance to perform the entire thing from start to finish, like was always my intention. So here we are 15 years later and I’ve decided to finally do it. It’s some unfinished business for me and the fans.”

Something else that has conjured some philosophical and nostalgic thoughts and feelings for the man has been the fact that he has just turned the big 5-0, and he has a typically quirky way of looking at that fact. “Well, here I am, I’m 50, I think I look like I’m 30, and I feel like I’m 70!” He laughs, “so I guess I’m perfectly in the middle where I belong.”

Middle-aged or not, Portnoy still possesses the manic energy required to play the music he does and live the lifestyle he does, and he feels he still has plenty more to give to music and to the world. “I just had this conversation with my wife a few days ago,” he reveals, “we were discussing if and when I might ever retire. We pretty much came to the conclusion that I’ll be going until the day I die. I’m just a workaholic, I’m just a passionate music fan, and I just don’t have an ‘off’ switch. I’ll just always be doing what I do, it’s just my natural personality.”

So much so that he still has more bands and more projects than you poke the proverbial stick at, that will keep him ultra-busy for the next 12 months and beyond. “At the moment, I’m still doing a Neal Morse tour,” he says, “and I pretty much have three albums that I’m currently working on, which will set me up for 2018. I just started work on a new Metal Allegiance album, a new Flying Colours album, and there’s also a brand new band that I’ve assembled that will be unveiled this summer, and that will keep me busy next year.

“So yeah, there’s always at least three or four bands or projects keeping me busy at any given moment.”

All on top of the Shattered Fortress tour, which will be going all over the world throughout 2017. Phew!

Click here to secure your tickets to see Mike Portnoy’s exclusive Shattered Fortress Australian tour.

Thursday 16th November – Auckland – The Studio
Saturday 18th November – Brisbane – The Tivoli
Monday 20th November – Perth – Astor Theatre
Wednesday 22nd November – Adelaide – The Gov
Friday 24th November – Sydney – Metro Theatre
Saturday 25th November – Melbourne – The Croxton


Rod Whitfield is a Melbourne-based writer and retired musician who has been writing about music since 1995. He has worked for Team Rock, Beat Magazine,, Heavy Mag, Mixdown, The Metal Forge, Metal Obsession and many others. He has written and published his memoirs of his life and times in the music biz, and also writes books, screenplays, short stories, blogs and more.