Mike Portnoy needs no introduction. The legendary drummer who was the backbone of the equally legendary prog metal outfit Dream Theater is one of the most beloved and highly regarded gods of thunder in heavy metal history.
However, his new band, Adrenaline Mob, does need an introduction.
Ladies and gentlemen, we’d like to introduce you to your new favorite metal band.
Adrenaline Mob eschews from the land of complexity that Portnoy has made his name in. This is a straight-up, bad-ass, in-your-face heavy metal unit. A throwback to the days of when bands like Pantera and Life of Agony shattered your skeletal system with bone-crunching riffs and melt-your-face-off red-hot guitar work. These guys are the real deal, a band that those ’80s and ’90s metal fans have been looking to complement their mix CDs that are filled with just Black Label Society tracks. This band’s sound makes you want to dust off the old black T-shirt, the studded belt and throw the horns in the air.
And this just isn’t just hyperbole — look at who’ve they got in the band. Rich Ward, guitarist for Stuck Mojo and Fozzy, is the rhythm guitarist, while Russell Allen of Symphony X lends his pipes to the band. Those two combined with internationally acclaimed bassist Paul DiLeo and virtuoso guitarist Mike Orlando and, of course, Portnoy, make Adrenaline Mob a force of five that bring the thunder, the fury and most importantly, the metal.
Pop-Break’s resident metal guy and editor-in-chief Bill Bodkin spoke with Portnoy about Adrenaline Mob, touring with Godsmack and if Dream Theater fans will flock to see him in his new band.
Pop-Break: Let’s start from the beginning. How did Adrenaline Mob come together, and how did you become involved in the project?
Mike Portnoy: It started with Russell Allen (Symphony X) and Mike Orlando. The two of them got together and started working on some material. I think they were working on material for Russ’ solo album and they actually started writing stuff that would be better for something else. So they started writing tunes. Russell and I had been friends for a long time now. I had Symphony X out on a few Dream Theater tours over the years. I’ve always loved Russ’ vocals and stage presence and we became good friends, so we knew we’ve always wanted to do something.
Adrenaline Mob drummer Mike Portnoy
So once him and Mike got these tunes together and then my schedule kind of opened up, and we said, ‘Hey man, let’s do this.’ He played me the tunes and asked if I was into it, and I immediately was into it within the first minute of hearing the first song they played me. I was like, ‘I’m on board,’ and I was totally down with it.
PB: I’ve read that you said that Adrenaline Mob isn’t a side project, it’s full fledged band. What does this band mean for you musically — in what ways does it challenge you or what musical craving does it satiate?
MP: Well, for me, it brings something to my career that is not based in progressive elements at all. I think that’s going to be the biggest challenge for this band — that I can’t count on all the Dream Theater fans being on board. Not all Dream Theater fans are fans of straight ahead metal. Everything I’ve done through the years outside of Dream Theater still had progressive elements in it, whether it be Liquid Tension Experiment, OSI, Transatlantic. The only thing that didn’t was my time in Avenged Sevenfold. I have to admit, my time with Avenged Sevenfold and by the time I hit the road and toured with them, it was a bit of an eye-opener of how much fun it was to fucking rock and not have to play a million parts and a million time signatures. I’m not putting that down — I’ve done it for 25 years and I love it and it’s an enormous part of who I am. But the point is: I have been doing that for 25 years.
I need something new and different and something that was coming from a different angle in my life, in my career to inspire me. I think that’s what this all about — it’s slamming straight ahead metal and hard rock in the vein of Pantera and Black Label Society, Stone Sour, it’s from that world. I’m not all about the prog. I am a big part about the prog, but I am a man of broad musical tastes — from classic rock to metal to pop to prog and everything in between. Now that I’m a free agent, I want to explore all of them.
PB: Can you pick a song from your EP that defines the sound of Adrenaline Mob?
MP: I think probably “Hit The Wall” is my favorite on the EP. It’s got groove, it’s got riff, its got shred, and that’s the three biggest elements of what Adrenaline Mob is about.
PB: During one of your earliest live performance,s I saw online you covered the Black Sabbath classic “The Mob Rules.” Your guitarist, Rich Ward, covered this song on the first record he did with the band Fozzy. Did he suggest covering this track, or was this something you guys came up with on your own?
MP: We actually covered it before Rich became involved in the project. I didn’t realize they covered it. Obviously, I’m aware of Fozzy and their history because not only because of Rich, but (former pro wrestler) Chris Jericho (Fozzy’s lead singer) is one of my best friends. I forgot they had covered it.
No, the idea for the concept came up when we finalized the name of the band. The minute we coined ourselves Adrenaline Mob, I said to the guys, ‘You know we now have to cover “The Mob Rules,”‘ and it was like, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’
PB: So I take it Rich Ward wasn’t involved in the band originally? When did he come aboard and why?
MP: Basically, Rich came on board after we had already done the tracking for the EP and the album. The project started with Mike and Russ and then I got on board. We brought Paul on board for bass. We tracked the album with just Mike. But when we started thinking about getting out there live we thought this should be a two guitar band to really fill out the sound. The album had already been tracked, so he was added on after the process but will now obviously be part of all future writing and recording.
PB: Let’s talk about the players in your band. Obviously, your name goes above, and beyond but some people might not be familiar with the other guys in the band. Can you talk why you enjoy working with them?
MP: Like I said, my involvement came from my relationship with Russell Allen. He’s a tremendous voice in the metal world, but he’s never got his due because Symphony X is underground and under the radar and is really only known in the prog metal world. He’s got such a voice, I think he could be this generation’s Dio.
Mike Orlando I had never met or heard of before this project; he’s one of the best kept secrets around. He’s one of the best shredding guitar players. He’s done a couple of instrumental album on his own called Sonic Stomp. He’s a tremendous player and shredder, but he’s also a tremendous riff writer. He can write riffs for days. He can churn out these fucking Zakk Wylde and Dimebag riffs in his sleep. He’s a great asset to the writing as well.
Paul DiLeo, I was introduced to by a mutual friend and he’s another one that’s under the radar to Americans. He’s spent the last 10 years touring with Nina, who’s a German pop artists. She’s like the German Madonna. A mutual friend told me about him, and we checked him out when he was doing a gig with Joe Lynn Turner [Deep Purple]. Me, Russ and Mike Orlando saw him. His stage presence, his vibe, his swagger was perfect. So we immediately scooped him up.
And Rich was recommended to me by my good friend Chris Jericho. He knew we were looking for a rhythm guitar player — our Scott Ian [Anthrax] or Malcolm Young [AC/DC] — and he suggested Rich because they play together in Fozzy. I thought it was a brilliant suggestion. He’s the perfect element for this band. His stage presence is absolutely, completely off the charts. Like I said before, once we get to the future writing and recording, he’ll be a huge asset.
PB: You guys debuted live at Hiro Ballroom on June 24 in New York City. Since this is a newer project, were there any nerves going into the first show? Or since you’ve been doing this a for such long time, was it no sweat?
MP: I wouldn’t say its nerves due to the size of the audience — these are some of the smallest I’ve played to in 20 years. We’re essentially starting over — building a band from the ground up. So my nervousness didn’t stem from stage fright. It’s a … new beginning, so there’s a part of me that’s really curious how it’s going to be received. And it’s a very different vibe up there, not like anything I’ve been a part of. Whether I’ve done TransAtlantic or Liquid Tension or any of my tribute bands, I could count on a lot of Dream Theater fans being behind me.
Paul Dileo, Russell Allen, Mike Orlando, Mike Portnoy, Rich Ward
But this is a completely different animal,, so this is like starting over again. So I wouldn’t say there’s nerves as much as I really want this to be accepted and judged for what it is and not anything I’ve done in the past.
PB: But isn’t that exciting? Since you might not have the built-in Dream Theater crowd, doesn’t it seem like you have something to prove — that you’re the underdog, that you’re fighting the odds?
MP: Absolutely. I think the fact of the matter is this band absolutely slays live. The energy coming off the stage with each of these performers in this band is absolutely intense. [laughs] I’ve never been surrounded by such incredible performers, and that’s not to put down anyone I’ve worked with in the past. I’m just saying no one I’ve worked with in this past has had this much energy or adrenaline, for lack of a better word. When you see us live, it’s just absolutely electric in terms of the stage vibe and excitement.
PB: You’ve done a few solo shows and a small tour. Who’s coming out to see you guys? Fans of Dream Theater, Symphony X, Fozzy, or are these new faces in new places?
MP: It’s both. Like I said before, Russ and I can’t count on our Dream Theater or Symphony X fans to come out. Dream Theater and Symphony X fans that have wide musical tastes and are not into odd time signatures — the ones who like metal like Megadeth and Pantera as well as the prog stuff. Those fans are embracing us. But you know we’ve got to make new friends out here. I think my time with Avenged Sevenfold, I think their fans will get it and embrace it. Anybody we bring from our previous bands is a bonus, but we’re assuming we’re starting over.
PB: Adrenaline Mob toured with Godsmack over the summer. How did you get hooked up with those guys?
MP: I guess it’s simple as me putting out an e-mail to Sully [Godsmack lead singer Sully Erna]. We heard through someone in the industry that Godsmack was looking for support on a couple of upcoming shows, so I just reached out to Sully and said, ‘Hey dude, I got this new thing going. Would love to do some shows — I think it’ll be a cool vibe. What do you think?’
He pushed it through to his manager and agent and made it happen. And I think it’s the fucking coolest thing ever, man. Just taking us under their wings without even an album out just based on the strength of his trust in what I’m doing and involved with. I think it’s very fucking cool and brave of him and his camp — I’m forever grateful for.
PB: Finally, you’ve mentioned a full-length album is there something in the works?
MP: We’ve got the full-length album in the can. We came out with the EP because of the Godsmack tour. We wanted something out there, so we put the EP out on our own to coincide with the tour. We have the full-length album ready to go and we’re setting up getting that out in the new year and continue touring — maybe going to tour more globally.