Interview – Mike Portnoy of Sons Of Apollo

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Sons Of Apollo

Sons of Apollo is an American progressive metal supergroup formed in 2017 and composed of drummer Mike Portnoy, bassist Billy Sheehan, keyboardist Derek Sherinian, vocalist Jeff Scott Soto, and guitarist Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal. They recently performed at Montreal’s Corona Theatre and Mike Portnoy took some time to chat to Montreal Rocks.

Portnoy has been the key to many musical projects throughout his lengthy career…of course, we know him as drummer, songwriter and co-founder of the progressive metal/rock band Dream Theater for whom he was with for 25 years. His talent has helped shape a variety of bands including The Winery Dogs, Transatlantic, Metal Allegiance, Flying Colors and of course Sons of Apollo.

Portnoy exudes a certain respect for the music industry that allows him to embrace what each band member brings to the table. That says a lot about a veteran rocker that goes out and leaves it all on stage night after night.

MR: MMXX album just dropped on Jan 17th; named after the new decade, debuted at #1 Current Hard Rock album on the Billboard Charts. 

What was the momentum going into recording the sequel to Psychotic Symphony?

We spent the better part of 2018 on tour. We went all over the world; America, Europe a few times, Japan and South America. We had a lot of touring under our belt. We also put out a live album prior to MMXX. It was important for us to keep the momentum going and follow up with the sophomore studio album. So, we got right to work at the beginning of last year and spent most of last year making the new album.

MR:  Did you feel the pressure to deliver beyond what PS (first album) had to offer fans?

No; at this point in our careers, we’ve all been doing this long enough to do this because we love it and we want to make the best music we can. We don’t really care about the critics, reviews…it’s really about making the best music we can and enjoying working with each other.

MR: What was the creative process; do you draw from everyone’s ideas?

The music process started with myself, Derek and (Ron) Bumblefoot. Those two came to my house to work on music; Ron had a lot of pent up ideas, riffs and starting points for us to work with. The three of us assembled and arranged everything into cohesive music and then went out to L.A.  Derek and I started the recording process. We then handed it over to Jeff Scott Soto to write the lyrics and melodies. Derek and I produce and oversee it all to record within the normal process.

MR:  What was the time frame?

Well, from start to finish, give or take the course of 2019 from Jan to about summer.

MR: Is there anything from the last recording you revisited or put onto this album?

There are a lot of ideas from the last time around as well as this time too that didn’t get used. When it came down to looking at things for this album, I did pull out a few things that were kind of lingering from last time around, but we ended up not needing it because there was such an overflow of new ideas to work with. So, we stayed with the new stuff.

MR: What track do you feel most defines you?

I think I tend to gravitate towards the longer songs just because of what I do with the progressive side of the music. I tend to think those longer songs have the most content and most diversity and range. I tend to prefer “New World Today” which is about 16 minutes long; “King of Delusion” which is 10 minutes long.  Those two to me have the most meat & potatoes….so much stuff to listen to, so much ear candy.

MR: Do you ever switch up the setlists depending on venue/audience?

No, I always write the setlists for all the bands I am a part of. I spend a lot of time and thought on that. Sequencing an album and the setlist are two things I obsess over. I’m pretty confident what I put together for a tour that it is going to flow and work and sure enough this tour has been great. It’s a great set; it has peaks & valleys-it’s like watching a good movie or reading a good book-it really takes you on a journey from start to finish. Everyone’s got their spots and moments in the show. The difference this time around from the last time is that we are able to do a whole show of SOA material whereas last time, we only had one album to choose from. We had to pad it out with Dream Theater songs, covers and things like that…this time is 100% Sons of Apollo.

MR: What can the fans expect at the show?  Anything different “live” as opposed to listening to the album?

Not for me. I’ve made a career out of long songs – pretty short by my standards (Transatlantic, Dream Theater); dozens and dozens of songs past the 25-minute mark. For me, it comes natural, but for someone like Jeff who comes from an AOR background, the longer songs might be something to adapt to, but for me it’s easy.  In terms of a live show, this band is a LIVE band. We are not a traditional progressive band where everyone is standing on their spot looking down at their instrument. Everybody in this band is a performer, so you are going to get a five-ring circus. Always something to watch and listen to. There is no shortage at any given moment of notes played or entertainment on stage.  

MR: Any upcoming projects after the tour for yourself and SOA?

We head to Europe late Feb / March and South America in April.  We’ll see where the band goes from there. Personally, I have so many projects coming out; new Transatlantic album I am working on and out sometime in September; covers album with Bobby Blitz and Phil Demmel coming out later and a live album with Flying Colors and one with Neal Morse…so many things…never a dull moment.

Interview – Giosi Tortorici
Photo – Hristo Shindov

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