U.K.'s Classic Rock Prog magazine recently spoke to the four remaining members of progressive metal giants DREAM THEATER — guitarist John Petrucci, vocalist James LaBrie, bassist John Myung and keyboardist Jordan Rudess — about the surprising departure of the band's drummer and founding member, Mike Portnoy. A few excerpts from the chat follow below.
On the August 30 meeting between the DREAM THEATER bandmembers in a New York City hotel room when first learned that Portnoy wanted to take a break from the group:
Petrucci: "It's definitely a bit surreal and I'm okay, but it's just so weird how things change. Basically, we went into a meeting expecting to talk about details of the studio and when and where, and it took a whole different turn. We were supposed to go into the studio in January and we had actually extended our break a bit so that Mike could finish out the rest of the year [as the touring drummer for] AVENGED SEVENFOLD. Then he brought up that he wanted to take a hiatus. There wasn't anything that led up to it in our minds and it kind of shocked us, you know?! We weren't expecting that at all."
On Portnoy's only proposed solution — for DREAM THEATER to go on an indefinite hiatus, believing that a break would help to rekindle his enthusiasm for both the DREAM THEATER machine as well as his relationship with the other members:
Rudess: Yeah, he was saying a few years, three years, five years, or whatever. I really believe that's what might've been best for him and I'm sure he doesn't want to let go of DREAM THEATER. Why should he necessarily have to? Of course, there's the reality that there are four other guys who also happen to have DREAM THEATER as their lives. I think a lot of the problem was with us personally, but to me the vibe within DREAM THEATER was fine. I mean, so you've got John Myung who wasn't really socializing with us at all anymore, but as I said to Mike, 'Tell me how it's any different to when I first joined this band.' I don't see it. And I've really got no problem with him doing what he's doing with AVENGED SEVENFOLD. I think it's pretty cool going out and playing with a really successful rock group. I just have a little bit of a problem with him thinking that he could control DREAM THEATER. It's like a captain who is trying to command his ship when he's
not even standing on the ship. And all the other guys are just sitting there , cruising along with a guy saying, 'The captain has left the ship. Okay, boys, here's what we're going to do: You're going to take a break.' And they're, like, 'But wait a minute, we're standing on the ship.' But Mike remains our very good friend and I think there's a lot of love there between everyone, really, when it comes down to it. He may have been a little tired of us, but the bigger picture is that we're all brothers."
On DREAM THEATER's decision to carry on without Mike Portnoy:
Petrucci: "You know, we've known each other for a long time, 25 years-plus, and I love Mike. One of the first things I said was that I was trying to understand where he was coming from and that I don't judge him. Everyone is their own man and I get it. But from my perspective and from that of the other guys, you could take those same elements mentioned by Mike, the fact that we've been a band for 25 years, that this is something that we have built up and that we love, as a reason not to stop it or even take a break."
Myung: "We love what we do and we didn't want to wait around as things became unstable. What was initially a four-month break suddenly turned into a hiatus, then changed to a year and four months, which then could have turned into anyone's guess."
Petrucci: "It was an extremely emotional moment and the whole thing to me is very heartbreaking and very sad. You know, you walk around afterwards going, 'Is this really happening?' It's almost like that feeling when somebody dies. You feel like you're in some kind of weird, limbo dream state and it's hard for me to imagine this band without him. But I think the whole beauty of DREAM THEATER is the collective nature and everybody has their talents. I think we've always been about more than just one individual and that's part of our strength. Of course we are going to miss Mike a lot, but we move forward, as is our right."
On the fact that DREAM THEATER is replacing more than just a drummer — Portnoy was the band's mascot, chief interviewee, driver of concepts, selector of setlists and was always at the forefront when the band was deliberating over a musical direction:
LaBrie: "Yes, Mike was all about those things and not to simplify it or belittle it, but that will just have to be something that we allocate to each and every one of us to take over. So that will be a major difference in the band. Instead of one person handling all of those responsibilities, it's going to be spread out over four others."
Rudess: "I guess we're excited about being able to look at all the cool stuff Mike did and spread them around a bit. We've got an amazing team of managers and tour managers, we're all very capable guys and we're not scared. This is not rocket science. This is not curing cancer, this is a rock band, and I think we can handle it."
On whether in a few years time, when all this turbulence has subsided and Portnoy feels sufficiently recharged, he would be welcomed back in DREAM THEATER:
Petrucci: "You know, I've played with Mike for so long and we have done so many things together that at some point we will play together again, and we told each other that. It would be ridiculous to think that we won't play together again. That's kind of silly. Whether it's in DREAM THEATER or something else or we reunite down the line, who knows?! If that's the way the planets align and things work out in both of our lives, then I'm certainly open to that. But in the meantime, I think we owe it to ourselves to carry on with focus and intention. Right now, we have to find an ass-kicking drummer…"