I’m not going to mince words with you – for me, Mike Portnoy is the greatest drummer playing right now. If Rush’s Neil Peart hadn’t retired, Mike would have to settle for second place, but as it stands Neil’s put the sticks down and Mike’s got my vote.
Formerly of Dream Theater and now a member of countless bands that include The Neal Morse Band, The Winery Dogs, and Metal Allegiance, Mike is currently on tour with his latest group, Sons of Apollo, featuring his Billy Sheehan (bass), Derek Sherinian (keyboards), Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal (guitar) and Jeff Scott Soto (vocals). This group of virtuosos’ debut album, Psychotic Symphony, is a mix of progressive rock, AOR, and metal, and it completely works. For me, standout tracks are the opening “God of the Sun,” the closing instrumental “Opus Maximus,” and the anthemic “Coming Home.”
I had a chance to talk to Mike Portnoy prior to Sons of Apollo’s first-ever Toronto show, on what happened to be his 51st birthday. I brought along a copy of the Twin Peaks cover story I wrote a few years ago for Rue Morgue Magazine, which is why our conversation begins with a look Season 3 of Twin Peaks, which aired last year.
Mike on Sons of Apollo singer Jeff Scott Soto: “He brings a real smooth listenability to the songs, cuz he comes from a more AOR background, kinda Lou Gramm, or Steve Walsh. That kinda Foreigner, Journey, Kansas kind of vocal. That’s what Derek and I wanted.”
On playing drums on Coming Home: “I don’t think about it at all. If I thought about it, I probably wouldn’t be able to do it. I just play. When I’m writing with any of the bands that I’m in, I’m almost never thinking about the drums. I’m thinking about the songwriting, and the arrangements, the melodies and production, all that stuff. The drums kinda just happens naturally. Especially my feet. I don’t think about my feet at all.
On rumours of playing drums with members of Rush: “I of course would work them in any capacity should they ever want to. It would be an amazing thing.”
Enjoy the interview below, and if you can, check out Sons of Apollo live. The songs are solid and the musicianship impeccable – the band is a reminder of why I love hard rock so much.