Mike Portnoy spoke about his decision to leave DREAM THEATER during a career-spanning interview with "Everyone Loves Guitar", the podcast hosted by Craig Garber.
Portnoy, who co-founded DREAM THEATER 35 years ago, abruptly quit the band in September 2010 while on tour with AVENGED SEVENFOLD. He has since been replaced by Mike Mangini (ANNIHILATOR, EXTREME, JAMES LABRIE, STEVE VAI).
Asked what the experience of leaving a band like DREAM THEATER was like for him, Portnoy said (see video below): "It was one of the hardest decisions I've ever had to make. Twenty-five years. It was my baby — from formation to all the way, the level that the band was at at that point, twenty-five years later. And there was a lot of perseverance to get there, so to walk away from it was one of the hardest things I'll ever have to do, really. It's something I had to do, 'cause after twenty-five years… And during that time, I was always the most hands-on guy in the band. I think since then, they've gone on to delegate things and share things, but it's easy to forget at this point that at that stage, I was the one that was overseeing the merchandise and the fan clubs and the web sites and the music and the lyrics and the melodies and the production — all that stuff. And it was exhausting… I just needed a break. I was burnt. I was burnt out on all of that… It was something I had to do, or else I would have been regretful."
He continued: "People ask, 'Do you have any regrets about that?' I love the quote, '[I'd] rather regret something [I] have done than something [I] haven't done.' And I think that's where I was at — I was at a point where if I had stayed, I probably would have been resentful for all the things that I was not able to do. Because I was starting to feel trapped, and they wanted me to commit to a certain date to start the next record, and I just wasn't ready. And it became a Mexican standoff, really. And I went with my heart and said, 'Look, I'd rather regret something I have done than something I haven't.' And I'm not saying I do regret it, 'cause I don't. Because look at what I've done since then. I mean, I look at the last decade since I left — I've made 40 albums with dozens of different bands… Those are opportunities I've been able to pursue and wouldn't have if I had not followed my heart."
Asked what he learned from the whole episode, Portnoy said: "I learned that the Internet is a very scary thing, because that first year after the split, I just couldn't say anything without it becoming these giant clickbait headlines on these web sites. No matter what I said, no matter how tastefully or gracefully I tried to say it, it always got twisted and misinterpreted and turned into some sort of catchphrase clickbait headline. So I learned, especially in that first year after I left, that I had to just really be careful what I said, or don't say anything at all. I had to start to tread carefully. Because we live in this age now where everything is in real time, and people, the Internet trolls, just love to bury you — they love to run with whatever they can.
"When I was growing up, if somebody left a band, when Peter Criss left KISS, you had to wait a month to read about it in Circus magazine," he said. "Or you'd join the fan clubs to get the newsletters to get the information on these bands. When I was a kid, you had to really wait to find out the news and find out the dirt. Nowadays, we live in a time where everything is in real time. When I left DREAM THEATER, I made a post on my web site, just explaining what was happening, and then five minutes later, it just exploded. And people were acting as if I put out some sort of press release. It wasn't a press release — it was my feelings and my explanation of what happened.
"So I learned, through that whole process, you've gotta be very, very careful what you say, how you say it, or if you should even say something at all or not say anything at all. These days, I try not to even talk about DREAM THEATER at all. I can already see what we're talking about here is going to become a headline, and people are gonna be, like, 'Why is he lingering on DREAM THEATER?'
"The point is that people don't realize, when they see this quote on Blabbermouth, that it's coming from a thing called an interview. And what these things do is a journalist will ask the artist a question, and I like to answer the question as honestly as I can, or don't answer it at all if I choose not to. But I'm not lingering on these things — I'm answering a question that you're asking about my career and my life and the split. And that's what we do — we do interviews. If you can't be honest, or can't handle it, then you shouldn't do interviews. But in my case, I like to be open and honest with the listeners and the fans."