A little over a year ago, just as the members of prog- metal giant Dream Theater were contemplating the logistics of their next album, the unexpected—no,
the unthinkable—happened. Drummer Mike Portnoy, a
founding member and the band’s spokesperson and leader
since its inception at Berklee College of Music in 1985,
quit. Portnoy had toured with Avenged Sevenfold in the
spring of 2010 after the band’s drummer, Jimmy “the Rev”
Sullivan—who idolized the Dream Theater drummer—
passed away unexpectedly. Miscommunication and dissatisfaction must’ve abounded in both bands, because Portnoy
apparently thought he had a chance of becoming a full-time
member of the younger, more commercially successful AX7,
but guitarists Zacky Vengeance and Synyster Gates claim
they hired Portnoy primarily to honor their deceased band-mate. By the time Portnoy realized the direness of the situation, Dream Theater had moved on.
Shortly after Portnoy gave his notice, seven of
the world’s top drummers—Mike Mangini, Marco
Minnemann, Virgil Donati, Aquiles Priester, Thomas Lang,
Peter Wildoer, and Derek Roddy—were invited to New
York City to audition for the vacant slot. To make the
already nerve-racking auditions even more terrifying, the
band filmed the three-day process for a documentary-style
reality show called The Spirit Carries On. The grueling
audition consisted of three parts: Phase one covered songs,
phase two entailed jamming (presumably in odd meters
that aren’t even in the same universe as the 12-bar blues!),
and phase three dealt with riffs. In the end, Berklee College
of Music professor Mike Mangini got the gig.
On September 13, 2011, Dream Theater released A
Dramatic Turn of Events, which was produced by guitarist John Petrucci. We caught up with Petrucci and bassist
John Myung to broach the touchy subject of Mike Portnoy,
get more details about the audition process and the new
album, and talk gear.
First, let’s discuss the question on everyone’s minds: Were
there signs Mike Portnoy had been thinking of leaving
prior to his announcement?
John Petrucci: No. It came out of the blue. We said everything we could to try to convince him that it was a mistake,
but ultimately it was something he had to do.
John Myung: In hindsight though, you could kind of connect the dots. When you look back, you can pick up on
vibes and stuff. But it wasn’t like you thought it was actually
going to happen.
Dream Theater bassist John Myung
(left) and guitarist John Petrucci.
Photo by Michael Lavine
I’ve read that Portnoy says when he later reached out to
you guys to try to reconcile, he only heard back from
Petrucci: By that point, we had reconstructed our infrastructure and moved on in a major way. We filmed the movie, had
the studio time booked, and chose Mike Mangini who then
left his tenured professorship at Berklee. And then Mike came
to us and said, “Hey, I want to come back.” We were like
“Really? Are you kidding me—after all that?”