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The God Of Music: An Exclusive Interview With MIKE PORTNOY Of SONS OF APOLLO

By Ruben Mosqueda, Contributor
Friday, January 3, 2020 @ 1:02 PM


"Currently, Iím in six different bands and in 2019 I have been active in one way or another with all six!"

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Live Photos By Alex Yarborough
Band Photo Credit - Hristo Shindov

SONS OF APOLLO, the supergroup featuring DREAM THEATER members MIKE PORTNOY and DEREK SHERINIAN, RON "BUMBLEFOOT" THAL [ex-GUNS Ní ROSES, ART OF ANARCHY], BILLY SHEEHAN [THE WINERY DOGS, MR. BIG, DAVID LEE ROTH] and JEFF SCOTT SOTO [ex-JOURNEY, ex-YNGWIE MALMSTEEN] will kick off the new year with their follow up to 2017's Psychotic Symphony, sophomore studio album, is appropriately titled, MMXX [2020]. KNAC.COM caught up with drummer MIKE PORTNOY on December 20th for a quick chat about the new album.

KNAC.COM: In 2017 I spoke with DEREK SHERINIAN for KNAC.COM and he had one of the best quotes ever, he said ďMike and I have have mastered the art of strategic wankeryĒ. I thought that was just wonderful.

PORTNOY: [laughs] That totally sounds like Derek! [laughs]

KNAC.COM: The new SONS OF APOLLO album MMXX is coming this January. Was the production on that one also handled by you and Derek?

PORTNOY: It is, itís teamwork between Derek and I handling the production, but I will give extra credit to Derek because he was extra involved this time around. He was very, very thorough with overseeing everybodyís tracks.

KNAC.COM: Psychotic Symphony was issued in 2017 and itís still fresh to me, you also managed to release a live album/concert in 2019. Great package, was that presented to you by the label? How did that come together?

PORTNOY: It didnít come from the label, I wanted to do something, I always do a live release for all the bands that Iíve been involved with. I love doing stuff like for the fans and for prosperity. As far as doing that specific show, I have to credit our manager ANDY FARROW, he also manages DEVIN TOWNSEND and OPETH. He had a relationship with that particular venue and promoter, every summer theyíve had a special concert at that venue, in years past he has done that with OPETH and DEVIN TOWNSEND and some of his other bands. It worked out that weíd be able to do it around our touring cycle in 2018, in the case with the other bands that have done it, theyíve revisited one of the albums and performed it with the orchestra in its entirety. In the case of SONS OF APOLLO we only had one album, so I had the idea of doing a set of covers too. Iíve always been a fan of doing covers in DREAM THEATER, TRANSATLANTIC or any of my other bands, it was a great opportunity to do something special. It was such a fun show, itís like all the stars aligned that night. It was a beautiful venue, it was a beautiful night, we had this excellent setlist of covers, we had the orchestra and the choir, we filmed it for a DVD and itís one of the best live releases that Iíve been a part of.

KNAC.COM: On ďComfortably NumbĒ you handle lead on that, then JEFF [SCOTT SOTO] handles a couple verses and then Bumblefoot handles the background vocals. Was the vision for you to open that with you in lead vocals?

PORTNOY: That's the beauty of SONS OF APOLLO is that we all share vocals. All of my favorite bands have members that shared vocals; THE BEATLES, QUEEN, KISS or like with this particular example PINK FLOYD. If you listen to the PINK FLOYD version ROGER WATERS does the verses and DAVID GILMOUR handles the choruses. I think because of that it was just the logical thing to do was to split it up here as well. And you see that throughout the show, as we shared lead vocals and harmony vocals that night.

KNAC.COM: Going into the new album, you got a jumpstart with two music videos, the first which was ďGoodbye DivinityĒ, which every time I watch that I become a bigger fan of SONS OF APOLLO.

PORTNOY: Iím shocked at how hot ďDivine DivinityĒ came out right out of the gates. Itís been out about two months right now and itís got over 2 million views. Thatís pretty massive for a band like ours which hasnít been established for very long. Weíre a prog-metal band playing an 8 minute songó- itís shocking! Weíre so grateful to you and all the other fans that get it. We also just released a video for ďFall To AscendĒ and the reaction incredible for that too! Itís been a hit right out of the gate.

KNAC.COM: Were there any challenges in making MMXX outside of coordination of schedules?

PORTNOY: Actually, there werenít any, like you said, coordinating schedules was probably the only challenge, when it comes to the music we work together really smooth, thereís no lack of ideas, the process and the chemistry works really well. We had a similar experience the first time around, it was myself, Derek and Bumblefoot putting the music together, then handing it over to Jeff to handle the vocals and then Derek and I oversee the process. We knew we wanted an album out in 2020, so we started in January of 2019 writing the record and tracking drum tracks before I went out with THE NEAL MORSE BAND, then THE WINERY DOGS and then with FLY COLORS. Once I completed the drum tracks it allowed the rest of the band enough time to get their parts done.

KNAC.COM: Where do you find the energy to tackle all these different bands?

PORTNOY: Everyone is wired different, for me personally, luckily Iím a very organized, OCD person so Iím able to keep track of everything that Iím doing and stay professional. I think thereís people who donít always answer emails or arenít organized enough to know whatís going on from day to day. Iím definitely not that type, Iím hands on and stay on top of everything. Currently, Iím in six different bands and in 2019 I have been active in one way or another with all six! Itís always crazy, but Iíve been doing this for many, many years so itís what I do. In terms of remembering the music, I always look at where my feet are, I take it day by day, so today Iím with FLYING COLORS so I have to know these songs, tomorrow I will be out with SONS OF APOLLO so I need to know those songs. I look at where I am day to day, in terms of the music, the other side of the coin is scheduling and with that, I always have to be looking ahead. If Iím doing a 9 month tour, I need to know when the album will be out, when the album needs to be delivered to the label, thereís always a deadline, so I always have to be mindful of what Iím currently doing so that I can do other things later in the year. So, thereís the music side of things and the scheduling side of things and I seem to be able to balance both very well so far! My head hasnít exploded yet! [laughs]

KNAC.COM: How do you keep the egos in check in the band, as in everyone in this band is a virtuoso on their respective instrument, everyone writes and Iím sure thereís some level of compromise that makes this all runs smoothly.

PORTNOY: Every band is different, but with SONS OF APOLLO, when Derek and I put the band together it was with the understanding that Derek and I were going to be the Ďdifactoí leaders. Itís not like that with the other bands that Iím currently a part of, in those bands weíre in an equal partnership, in those bands everyone has a say and everyone has equal input. When Derek and I put together this band, I said, ďListen, I canít be part of another band and have to answer 100 emails on every single matter and subject. I just can't handle it! It has to be different.Ē So with SONS OF APOLLO the only way that it was going to work was if Derek and I took the reigns and oversaw things as producers and made final decisions. Thatís not to say that everyone in the band isnít an equal member, we do everything equally, but there has to be a chain of command, the buck has to stop somewhere so to speak.

There have been a couple of times in SONS OF APOLLO where this has created a bit of an Ďabrasioní. Bumblefoot and Jeff for instance are very creative, very capable people, they can do stuff as strongly on their own as they can with this band, but there have been a couple of times when those two guys wished there wasnít this hierarchy within the band. At this stage in our lives we just want to keep moving forward. When you have five very strong personalities, you could get stuck going around in circles, itís hard to get people to agree and itís hard to get people to compromise. Sometimes you just need a couple of leaders to put their foot down, so that we can move forward. I think everyone knows their role in the band and theyíve accepted it.

KNAC.COM: As we wrap up, I want to name your band members and you tell me a song or piece on MMXX where they shine.

PORTNOY: Letís do it!

KNAC.COM: BILLY SHEEHAN.

PORTNOY: I now have the honor of working with Billy in multiple bands. He gets to shine in everything heís been a part of. In THE WINERY DOGS he gets to play a little Ďloosy goosyí compared to SONS OF APOLLO where itís more about precision. Thereís a bass solo in the middle of ďResurrection DayĒ where he gets to do his thing, I think Billy is at his best when heís soloing, thatís his trademark.

KNAC.COM: What about your partner in crime DEREK SHERINIAN?

PORTNOY: I would say ďKing of DelusionĒ because that started with this classical piano piece that he brought in. Heís never done a classical piano piece on any of the records that he has ever recorded. In the middle of that thereís also a great piano and drum piece thatís really cool.

KNAC.COM: BUMBLEFOOT.

PORTNOY: We have a 16 minute album closer ďNew World TodayĒ, and thereís two moments on that where Bumblefoot really shines. Thereís a part in the middle of the song that we call Ďadventures in Bumblelandí because he does all these crazy, crazy riffs that he brought in that we incorporated into the song. Heís the Ďmad scientistí of the band for sure.

KNAC.COM: JEFF SCOTT SOTO.

PORTNOY: I love the soul that he brings to the band, which isnít something that you hear a lot of in prog bands. You just donít hear guys with that funky, AOR vibe in this genre. He brings a Ďsmoothnessí to everything this band does. I think my favorite JEFF SCOTT SOTO performance on MMXX has to be ďDesolate JulyĒ. He wrote those lyrics about our friend DAVID Z who passed away a few years ago in an automobile accident while on tour with our friends in ADRENALINE MOB. Thereís a lot of heartfelt emotions in the lyrics and on the performance in that song.

KNAC.COM: If someone were cast as MIKE PORTNOY to play you in a biopic, who would that be?

PORTNOY: Oh, man! No one has ever asked me that before. Thatís crazy! [pause] I got it! It has to be JOHNNY DEPP! Heís the ultimate in cool, right?! Who doesnít want the ultimate in cool to play you in a movie? [laughs]

KNAC.COM: He could do it.

PORTNOY: Heíd have to get a blue beard! [laughs]

KNAC.COM: 2020 will be the year of reunions, is there a particular one that youíd love to catch?

PORTNOY: I want to see RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE. Iím a huge fan and look forward to that but for me, Iím seeing MR. BUNGLE in February when they come through New York. Theyíre doing a handful of shows in New York, L.A. and San Francisco. They havenít done any shows in like 20 years and DAVE LOMBARDO will be sitting in on drums.

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