Mike Mangini, October 31st – Indianapolis. Interview.
Mike Mangini gave us some of his time before the show in Indianapolis last October 31, and we were able to ask him some questions.
This interview originally comes from the Venezuelan chapter of the DT World – http://dreamtheater.com.ve/entrevista-con-mike-mangini-en-indianapolis-in-120316
You’ve been with the band for five years-
MM: I love Wikileaks . No, go ahead.
How does it feel? What are your overall experiences with the band so far?
MM: Well that could open up into a lot of words. So, if I break it down, it is a chapter in my life. You know, we make changes and grow and that’s what I’m continuing to do. Being in a band is part of that for all of us. There’s no graduation. Graduation is when you die I guess, right? So it always just keeps going. My experiences are part of growing and I’m learning many things, from making musical changes, to making a lot of sacrifices. It’s not a one person show. You gotta do that, and growing, evolving, plotting, learning. That’s what my experience encompasses, growth.
When you auditioned for the band, there was talk about how they wanted to have a drummer that could play the parts of the other Mike…
MM: Mike, yeah.
…but could also bring something to the table, which we believe that you do.
MM: Thank you.
Do you still play those old songs in the same manner or have you brought your own “Mike Mangini essence” into them?
MM: I have brought my essence into them in two forms but I don’t want to change the essence of what they are, If they weren’t as great as they were, I wouldn’t enjoy being in the band so much. So let’s give that credit to Mike [Portnoy} first. Secondly, I’ll change fills that I don’t think are the staple ones I HAVE to play. You know, the ones that people are all going to air drum, I don’t want to get people upset, so I’m gonna play what they want to hear. And my essence really is subtle, and it’s very difficult to detect it unless you come and see me do it. But I’m changing my body from lefty to righty with different tones when the band changes key signatures and with feel and tone differences, it’s very subtle. If you mix my drums in mono, you wouldn’t even know what I was doing. You’d have to see me do it. That’s personal, that keeps me entertained and it matters to me, because I hear different tone differences in the hi hats when the key signatures change. It’s subtle, again, but that’s what I really do, so that’s what it is.
Asides from playing drums, what do you think is your biggest contribution to the band?
MM: Humor. I mean, to this stage, I really have been… not included in 2 of the 3 records. Because John, in “A Dramatic Turn of Events”, I was not included, and with “The Astonishing” I was not included. My contribution is “Illumination Theory” both in saying “What do we want to die for?” as a premise to the song and in contributing parts. And other things in DT13 too. But I’m still like… I’m like 10%, you know? So it’s getting there over time. I mean, that the biggest contribution for me is as a team player, you know what I mean? I understand as an athlete, in sports, the whole team has to buy in or it crumbles. And I don’t necessarily care where the plan came from. I don’t care who drew up the plan. I don’t care who’s gotta put the puck in the net. I honestly don’t, but people have to be on the same page. So when I say what I said, which I’ve been blocked out of it- that’s not the right word- but I have not been included. Included for a little bit, but I’ve been on the team and I’ve been giving 110% and that’s a big contribution. Humor is important too. So that’s what I’ve been giving. And I’ve been going with the flow and be what I can be. It is what it is.
Do you miss teaching at Berklee?
MM: I miss teaching, period. As it helps me grow. As far as being out of institution teaching, at this point, no, because I’m performing more but I do yes, in that I enjoyed my colleagues. I liked that idea, you know, there’s going to be a day that traveling around as an older man is not really the thing, and of course I have kids at home. Yes, is the answer to the question but not lieu of needing to travel now and needing to be in a band and contribute what I’ve been contributing.
So that was obviously affected your family life? Being on the road so much?
MM: Yeah, big time.
What differences you feel are there between your role in different bands like Extreme, Steve Vai, compared to what you’re doing in Dream Theater now?
MM: I can only speak from prior to today. Today’s today. My role has been largely the same. I’ve just been inserted into something that existed already and I’m doing my best to be an engine part. That’s what’s happening. That’s who I’ve been, I’ve been a replacement drummer- but you don’t replace anybody really, nobody replaces anybody, I mean come on. But I’ve been inserted into existing bands my whole life and a lot more of that than maybe most people know about. So, that’s been my calling so far, so I’m doing my best job.
I would definitely not call you a “replacement” drummer. I think you are A drummer.
Before being a part of Dream Theater, did you have a favorite song or album from them?
MM: I can only just tell you… a quick flash of memory came of “As I Am” that stuck out. That’s all I can tell you, the first thing that came to mind, “As I Am”.
How was that feeling when you first joined Dream Theater and you guys put out your first album with Mike Mangini and you guys get your first Grammy nomination?
MM: A first what?
MM: Yeah, that was enjoyable. That a great piece of ammo to use, for my humor schtick! Good piece of ammo to have.
How’s the tour so far?
MM: This one?
The whole tour, not just this leg. You guys played the US, Latin America…
MM: It’s different, it’s just different. It’s a different experience. I can only hear Eddie Jobson from the UK in my mind, when I did a tour with him, last year was it? He asked me to wear more clothes. I don’t like to wear clothes, I just don’t like clothes on my body when I’m playing the drums. Ew, I’m a drummer, it gets all sticky. ugh, just get me in the shower. Anyway, Eddie said to me, “This is theater, it’s theater”, so I was like “OK…”, I gotta wear all black. And so this tour is theater, so I’m getting used to walking off the stage, you know, oozing off the drum set and easing back onto the the drum set, playing a little part, and then leaving and coming back and staying in the zone. It’s a different experience. I, of course, find ways to enjoy, give 120% and find certain things, you know, a little humor in the cracks. You know, disappearing off the kit doing a couple of Austin Powers moves. It keeps me happy, focused, and it keeps me again, giving 120%. When I’m called on to bat, it’s like it’s my turn to bat, if I’m sixth, or eighth or something, I gotta hit the ball. So that’s how I see it.
You probably should have been with the Chicago Cubs the last couple of nights.
MM: Oh, it’s 3-2, 3 games to 2. You wanna know what the Cubs should start doing? Maybe this is a sign that they’ll win the World Series, it came to me last night. Look guys, I do patterns, I know the streetlight timing, I count things, forgive me but that’s what I do. What is the Cubs anthem song? Take me out to the ball game. Last night I started thinking about the words. No wonder they haven’t won. I think that song is their curse, “I don’t care if I ever come back”? Huh? “One, two, three strikes you’re out”? I wouldn’t sing that! And guess what? The rest of the games are in Cleveland, so now that song won’t be sung anymore. Maybe that’s what will do it, but I’m partial to both teams, I mean Cleveland has Terry Francona, Red Sox, two World Series, love you Terry, you know? But then the Cubs have Theo Epstein, the mastermind of Boston. I’m down on sports in case some of you don’t care about baseball. But those of you that do, share this clip, you never know what happens, I don’t know.
Is it a challenge to play “The Astonishing” in its entirety every night, or almost every night?
MM: It is a challenge to play any Dream Theater show any night, every night. I mean, I’m dialed in, I’m tied into all that production, if I make a mistake the whole thing collapses. That is a lot of stress and a lot of pressure, you know? And we did it with the last tour, and songs that were much more complicated. The complicated part of “The Astonishing” is that the thing that’s not being noticed so much, which is all the space in the music. You realized that as a drummer, if I take a simple beat that’s spacious, and I put some of the beats too close together, it ruins the whole feel. I mean, as a musician, as a drummer, I have to sort the music. and as a drummer playing less in a lot of songs, it’s so much easier to see mistakes. I know people may not be like, “Yay, you played this..”, but’s so much difficult at times, given that I can play the time changes, given that I can play the other music which in the end is more difficult to a drummer. That’s more difficult no question, technically. But I’m just saying, the challenge of this record is being spacious with feel and giving 120% to it. So yeah, it has its own challenges and I’m embracing that and I’m trying to hit the ball, I’m trying to score. You know, it’s a penalty kick, I don’t want people yelling at me for missing the penalty kick.
When I talked to Jordan and some of the other guys, they mentioned making “The Astonishing Live” an eventually DVD/Blu-ray. Do you have any knowledge of that?
MM: No, I have tonight to focus on, you know, one step at a time.
There you go, one day at a time.
MM: Yeah, getting into future things so much can affect the day.
Do you have a favorite song to play live?
MM: No. But I don’t have a favorite anything. I don’t have a favorite drummer. I don’t have a favorite band. I don’t have a favorite anything because of what I do, which is take components of the best of the best`of the best that I can take and it also allows me to respect a lot more. I respect so many more drummers because I see so many more with skills that they do and I don’t. Or that they do and other drummers don’t. Same thing with bands, so I don’t have a favorite anything.
This one is probably my favorite question of the interview. Recently we got a release of a song from “The Astonishing” with Lzzy Hale singing vocals, “A New World”. How did that happen? How did that come about? Can you give us a little bit of insight into this?
MM: That was an idea that came from within the record company and it seemed pretty common sense to us, since there are female voices, actually a bunch, within this musical so let’s have a female singer. It was a good idea and Lzzy is great, you know, she’s popular, she’s attractive, she’s a great singer, there you go.
What type of music do you listen to?
MM: I’m thinking about my answer here. OK, so.. I’ll listen to energetic Latin music. One of my favorite drummers on the planet is Horacio Hernandez and he’s taught me a lot about Latin music. And my kids like it, it’s dance music, it’s really awesome. I listen to that. I listen to the heaviness of like Rammstein, Disturbed, I don’t know, there are so many names and genres. I don’t subscribe to particular lyrics that go against what I think is the right thing to say or do, it’s just what I do, it’s what I believe. But it doesn’t stop me sometimes from listening to music so I’ll check out all kinds of stuff. I’ll check out a speed metal thing to see what other young drummers are practicing and doing that I don’t do, but lyrically with a lot of it, I don’t know, whatever. It’s a loaded question because there are different reasons I listen to things.
Your drum kit has evolved since day one at Dream Theater. Is this something that naturally will continue to happen? You will continue to make changes as you need to?
MM: As I see need to, again, I’m like an amoeba, just trying to survive. If you study management, that organism is going to die if it doesn’t adjust to its environment, it simple 101 management of yourself, of a business or anything. If you don’t adjust, you die. And so I’m trying to adjust, I mean, I change my kit to add things that Mike Portnoy used as signature sounds and I can’t even fit the stuff. And of course I gotta hear “You need these drums to play…” or “Why do you use so many drums?” and I’m like come on, don’t I have enough to worry about? So I mean I’m evolving, changing, I reduced drums for this record. It’s just a lot to hit and it kind of hurts my shoulder blades but hey I like to have access to a lot of sounds, I mean, why wouldn’t I? I hit things, that what I do. Me hitting things, boom, it makes a sound, “Oh, that’s fun!”. I like bigger, boomier, bombastic sounds, I like funny sounds, you know, I had the electronics last time and I put a lot of like rap things, voices and stuff like that, that the band would hear. We’d be in the middle of a sound check and I’d use them. It’s fun, whatever, I’ll adjust. Yeah, I’ll play a 4 piece kit, I rehearsed for “The Astonishing” on a 4 piece drum set. I didn’t learn any of the songs. I went into the studio and did 18 in five days and I did not practice one of them. I did not learn one song on the set. I just didn’t really know how to interpret it, I needed help.
What do you do when you’re not playing drums? What are your hobbies?
MM: I’m getting back into reading more now that I have the proper glasses. It stopped from reading for a while, yeah, plus I was reading such heavy stuff for about 8 or 9 years, so much philosophy, so many different world religions to try to understand people, not argue against them. Like “What do you think?”, “Where do you come from””, you just start at one point in your life, you’re like “Oh my gosh, we’re one a big rock, solar system’s going, 500,000 miles an hour…”, so it’s like “excuse me?”. So it takes a while to get into that and so anyway, I didn’t realize I needed glasses, I stopped reading altogether and my mind needed a break anyway. So since now, these are working well , I’m reading a little more, not a lot. I’m trying to exercise a little bit, just because I’m getting older but I have a family. So there you go… I’m also writing music and composing, I’m doing everything, from soup to nuts, I’m doing every instrument, all the engineering, the production, everything.
Are we talking Mike Mangini solo album?
MM: Oh, absolutely! I’m learning, I’m doing this right now as a learning experience. How am I supposed to offer stuff to a band like Dream Theater, which I have, but it just… it’s not on their level, so you know, I’ll do my stuff that’s not the same as theirs and well, whatever. Whatever, whatever, whatever. Mainly I’m learning right now.
Very interesting. The boys back in Venezuela mentioned this to me. You actually visited Venezuela with G3, when you were with John Petrucci.
MM: And I did a drum clinic there too.
Yeah, that too. Any cool memories about your trip there?
MM: It’s always the food. Because you know the food makes people smile, makes me smile and it’s just like it transcends all else, you know? It’s something people share, it’s kinda like music, it transcends all else. It’s great to be a musician, it’s great to eat, and appreciate cultures of food. So there you go.