Zisis Petkanas and Rock Overdose had the opportunity to talk to Mike Mangini, drummer of the progressive metal band, Dream Theater.
They talked about the upcoming Dream Theater album, the projects he is working on these days, as well as his memories from his years working with other artists.
(You may listen to the audio interview below)
RockOverdose: Mike, welcome to Rock Overdose! How are you these days?
Mike Mangini (DREAM THEATER): I am chaotic, frantic, dealing with our world situation, re-evaluating everything I’m doing with my time, taking care of lots of tasks that I’ve been putting off for a decade.
RockOverdose: What projects have been keeping you busy during quarantine?
Mike Mangini (DREAM THEATER): What I have been doing are business projects. I set up a Shopify store, where I’m selling tons of memorabilia signed, drumheads and sticks from different Dream Theater records, rhythm knowledge books, stuff like that. I promised people that I would make these things available and I kept blowing it off year after year so I said “I’m gonna get it done”.
The other thing is that I set up a Zoom interface for lessons. It’s an incredible system, it’s automated, it’s very easy, it took quite a while to get it right and I also had to take several weeks, just to get my audio and video to be incredible, because, it’s a nice idea to sit there and say “well, I’m gonna do lessons online or classes” and a person can set up and do it, but I wanted it to be absolutely mind - blowing, in look and in sound. It took a lot of work, time and relationships, I needed some help. Those are the three main things, transforming my studio into a broadcast video / audio recording, Shopify store and the actual interface to get it all working.
RockOverdose: I suppose you have a lot of work to do.
Mike Mangini (DREAM THEATER): Yes, because in the meantime, I’ve been making instructional videos that I’m about to launch on a Vimeo site (Vimeo Mike Mangini). The thing is, I started filming those halfway through 2020 and then I had to go write and record the current Dream Theater album, so I had to go back and revisit and it’s a lot of work, a lot of video editing. So, to say I’m busy is an understatement.
RockOverdose: Mike, do you think that online music lessons will replace face to face lessons, even after Covid?
Mike Mangini (DREAM THEATER): No, but they probably will be more prominent. They will be convenient and a really big choice. And what about this, what about if people in Greece would not pay money to get on an airplane, then a taxi, take a car, get a hotel room, fly to Boston to study with me, even if I did that, (which I probably wouldn’t)... Well, now they can do it!
RockOverdose: That’s a very impressive fact, internet is bringing us all together, this is great.
Mike Mangini (DREAM THEATER): Yes, it is great and look, we get to converse and you don’t have to deal with all that craziness with going to interview a rockstar guy and go through all the hoops and the protocols, everyone’s just a person anyway, I find it kind of funny to be called something like that. But anyway, you know what I mean, you don’t have to deal with all that, you have to deal with some certain protocols to legitimise this and get me to do this interview, but you know what I’m talking about.
RockOverdose: How do you feel when your fans, who have just started learning how to play drums come to you for advice? What is the most important advice you have for them?
Mike Mangini (DREAM THEATER): The most important advice I give (and most important thing I do) is take beginners. You know, I have stories of students that other teachers would not take them! The teachers would say “you’re not good enough yet”. And I’m like “wait a minute, the person is coming to you to teach them. If they’re good enough, why would they study anyway?”.
So the most important piece of advice I give is to learn it the right way from the beginning, because it’s very difficult to erase bad habits. So, if they get it right from the beginning, then those memories don’t have to be re-written, which is very difficult. The other piece of advice I give is to talk about their goals and the purpose of why they’re doing it. For example, if we want to understand anything at all, especially things we cannot see, what we do is we ask one question, which is “what is the nature of this thing, what is this, what does it do?”. I stole that in part from the emperor Marcus Aurelius, who put that in his book in Meditations, but it was an amazing couple of sentences that changed me, like “wow, that’s impressive!”. What it means, when a beginner comes in, is for me to say “Look kid, we have to identify where you are going, in other words let’s talk about how it works and what it is, so you can know what to do”.
If you wanna jam with friends, let’s talk about it, or if you wanna be a rockstar, that’s another thing. I have to give the ugly truth about what it really is, which is the job, so it’s like we have to address what things are and how they work, as well as them. I ask them “what are you?”. And of course, I never get any answer, because people don’t think about that, but what I mean is what do you do? What are you? Not what you do for a job, you’re a human person, what is that, how do you work? And then I can talk about the practice systems, the philosophies and about belief.
If you believe in a system, which is my job to make somebody believe, then you must do your homework and practice and it’s very difficult! So I have to talk about what we are and why we’re not disciplined, why we take the easy way out, why it’s ok that we don’t know everything and that noone of us even comes close to that. And then you know, you get older and you think “wow, I got that one wrong, I have to rethink that”. So anyway, my point is, I ask that question. What are you? How do you work? What is your nature and where are you going? What is that and how does it work?
RockOverdose: The fact is that you have to believe in yourself and know what are your needs, what you want to do.
Mike Mangini (DREAM THEATER): Yeah!
RockOverdose: So, what is the best or most memorable thing a fan has ever said to you, online or in person?
Mike Mangini (DREAM THEATER): I have to think about that for a minute… So many wonderful things are said. It’s in general, that they understand the difficulties that I face with the job that I have. In other words, numerous times I have jumped into bands that existed before me and there are certain things that go along with that, that are quite difficult, because there is no perfect way to do it, because there is no way to maintain the originality of what these people are used to, so the best thing is my being told that what I’m doing is making them really happy and they really like it, because they avoid talking about what we can’t control, they avoid comparisons to the way it was before. In any band I was with, any band, everyone of them.
I never really had to deal with it to the level I deal with it these days. It is what it is and I appreciate it when a fan just gets it with common sense and goes “hey, I really like what’s going on here” and the conversation turns positive or the responses from other people, they just get it, that the way to be is to move into the future, because trying to go to the past is futile, there’s no win to it. It takes some common sense to do that.
RockOverdose: We are all waiting for the new Dream Theater album, especially since you posted that drums are complete. What can we expect from your new work and when do you think we’ll listen to a first sample, like a teaser or something?
Mike Mangini (DREAM THEATER): I can only estimate that since we will probably release the record in September of this year, people will probably hear something a certain amount of weeks before it comes out for promotion, like a snippet, so this summer is probably when. As far as what to expect, people can expect another upgrade in anything we did before, so you take the best of your albums and combine it and here you go!
There were different ways we made albums, Distance Over Time was the only one for me that I was involved with to the level that I was and this latest one upgraded me, meaning I was way more involved than normal. But it’s not about me, it’s about everybody, by default, everyone was more involved in a way that you go around the room and express anything you want to express right at that moment for that part in the song.
RockOverdose: Can you give us more information about this album?
Mike Mangini (DREAM THEATER): I wanna use the words properly, it’s really energetic, it doesn’t mean it’s not a metal album or that everything is heavy. My words shouldn’t be misinterpreted with words I never even used, so I have to be clear about words I don’t mean.
The energy of each of the sections, either with an interesting rhythmic thing or a tempo or a melody that’s really powerful and engaging is what I’m talking about. When you hear a song, before you know it the song is over and the songs are lengthy, so that’s a sign of what I mean. Anybody can interpret what I’m saying however they want to, but I’ll repeat that, so it’s really clear: Whenever we finished writing a song, we were always shocked by the length, it seemed like it flew by! That means it’s engaging and the excitement and energy about that was present for the whole song, that’s what I mean.
RockOverdose: Do you have any song title or the album title to be revealed or is it too early?
Mike Mangini (DREAM THEATER): Not even close. We’re not even close to anywhere close to that at this point.
RockOverdose: I suppose after this whole pandemic ends, you will go on tour to promote the new album.
Mike Mangini (DREAM THEATER): We will see how the world goes, you’re asking the wrong person about that.
RockOverdose: How do you feel about your journey with Dream Theater so far?
Mike Mangini (DREAM THEATER): I feel well that it is my job.
RockOverdose: I suppose you feel proud because it’s a very well known band and it’s good to be with them?
Mike Mangini (DREAM THEATER): Yes, I can just give you an example, which comes from the writing of the album, that it was a great experience to work with like minded individuals, when it came to creating something and that’s part of why a lot of the ideas flow out so much.
If you take my comment from earlier, where I used the word “upgrade” or “energetic”, it doesn’t mean that the other albums weren’t something, it just means that us being able to churn out ideas so rapidly and so correctly, it just means that that time spent together allowed us to arrive at a point where making the record was easier, it just looked like it flew by. Maybe it’s a time thing, because we’ve been there for more than a decade and maybe it’s because we think the same way at that time. Both of those attributes of the writing session are fabulous.
RockOverdose: Apart from Dream Theater, you have also worked with a lot of different artists, like Steve Vai. Would you like to share a memory from your days touring with him?
Mike Mangini (DREAM THEATER): I remember smiling a lot. Working with people who are good deep down really is gratifying. I remember being very difficult, mentally and physically, we would play 16 or 17 shows in 18 or 19 days. I just can’t imagine doing that right now!
A lot of fun hanging out, especially on the Fire Garden tour, that was something special. What was included with that entire year and a half, I was on the very first G3 tour, which was Eric Johnson, us and Joe Satriani and that was an incredible experience too, like the Fire Garden tour, meaning each of the band members would hang out with any collection or individual of any other band or crew. Think about that for a minute. I remember when Kenny Wayne Shepherd was starting out and he took over for Eric Johnson. My drum tech and I took a bus drive in the Kenny Wayne Shepherd bus right through Las Vegas. We had such a good time!
That’s why I smile a lot, because the music was fun, challenging and all and again, like minded people, that just had fun playing together, trying to do a good job, but then you could laugh together. I have many many great memories, but in general I remember smiling a lot and I remember being tired. I also remember communing with all the other bands, I mean getting to know Satriani, who’s such a great person, I mean it’s not an accident that he has the career that he has. Steve Vai as well and Eric Johnson and Kenny Wayne Shepherd.
It’s not a surprise to me, because I got to know them, they were dedicated to excellence. Joe in particular, running all these G3 tours, which John Petrucci and I had the pleasure of joining in a couple of years ago. Joe has this great temperament and he just has this thing to be in the lead. Not everybody can do that, very good person, as well as I could talk about his guitar playing all day. He’s one of those players who just happen to do everything right. He’s so impressive in so many ways.
RockOverdose: In addition, you were a member of Annihilator and among others, you were a part of one of my favorite albums, “Set the World on Fire”. A great album, I have to say. What are your memories from that period?
Mike Mangini (DREAM THEATER): There are so many! I mean, that was the first real album that I ever recorded and the nature of how it was recorded blew my mind, because I never had to play so meticulously on the grid, like a drum machine. I really had to play every note with no swing whatsoever, but that was the job.
There are so many opinions about music and there are groups of people who say that if it doesn’t swing, it isn’t any good or it doesn’t have feel to them, because it’s machine, well they’re unfortunately limited, because their enjoyment doesn’t come from a history with music with notes need to be played spot on the grid, in order for it to be musical in each way, do you know what I’m saying? It’s just a different kind of music, that’s all that it is. So I had to learn what that was, because it wasn’t something I did to that level before. So that was incredible. You know, Jeff Waters, great musician, incredible guitarist, that has a way of doing things their way that I had to morph to and his ears are incredible, he would have me stop and replay something if a symbol ring in one ear didn’t match the symbol ring in the other ear.
We’re talking about measuring the heights of the symbols, it was just crazy, in a great way, but that was the job, so I remember that and it also made me go home and practice, trying to make my bass drum hit 10 exact hits with a metronome set at 40 beats per minute and I couldn’t do it. And that really taught me how to sub divide, which then transformed my mind into learning about sub dividing into incredibly fast and complicated numbers, like a beat at 40 sub divided into 19 even spaces, where I could hear those 19 even spaces. Just stuff like that, so it was a great learning experience and the other thing is this: I had fun playing those heavy metal songs that were so tight, where the whole band was so into playing the notes in time and it was such a challenge to do live and the travel schedule, we weren’t staying in hotels, it was a horrid life like that, so to really step it up and do that and forget about those struggles while you’re on stage was really cool. And now the most traumatic in a good way, the most intense memory of all, was the first show that I played in Europe in my life. It was with Annihilator in a place in London, called the Underground.
I can see the backstage pass in my mind, but I can’t quite make it out, I believe it was the Underground and when the band went on stage, I had never experienced a rush of adrenaline from a sole club crowd in all my life, though I had played for a lot more people with a Boston based band, we had big crowds in clubs, but the music was not heavy metal. I had never done this before. People literally were like, their necks were breaking from their hair. And then people rushed to the stage and stole some of my drumsticks and I did not have that many drumsticks for the tour, so I had to grab them and run, but I was laughing, instead of screaming at people or whatever, I was actually laughing, this is amazing, this is so cool. This feeling is unbelievable and so that’s another fantastic memory.
RockOverdose: That’s heavy metal. Talking about touring, have you ever felt that touring makes it difficult to have a stable personal life or that it prevents you from spending time with the people that you love?
Mike Mangini (DREAM THEATER): Of course touring takes us away from our families and routines and a lot of things, but also brings us towards things, a different way of life and I can just tell you this: I became incredibly grateful for FaceTime or any kind of video communication tool, because I was able to do homework with my children and checking in on them, seeing my family, things like that, it became very important, while I was able to make a living that essentially amounted to me providing the things that they need to survive.
You can’t escape that, being a person who is responsible for other human beings, it becomes a paramount of importance to be able to take care of them, so touring offered that and it took away the routine and a lot of things, but it also gave a lot of things.
RockOverdose: What are your future plans?
Mike Mangini (DREAM THEATER): My future plans are many. At this point, I have to network myself, so people are aware of my shop, my zoom classes, my videos, the music I will be churning out outside of Dream Theater, because they will be aware of what I’m doing with Dream Theater, from our promotional outlets. But my future is really gonna be focused on communicating how it is that I do what I do and that anybody can learn it. It’s gonna be about relating to people, on a pretty deep level and in order for that to happen, they have to know my philosophies and in order to know my philosophies, they have to almost talk to me, or study the systems.
Which they can do, they can read about it on my website. But it’s gonna be about connecting with people in a way that I did not do during my last decade on Dream Theater, 10 years, I did not do it. I was “off the grid”, so to speak. So I’m going to change and I have changed, I have adjusted and made a difference, I have been connecting with people. There’s a bunch of people jumping onto my zoom classes but the whole world doesn’t know about it yet. I have half a million people in my Facebook page and Facebook limits me to like, it reaches 1800 people and I’m like “what?”.
These people are following me, they chose to follow me, I’m not forcing anybody, so I can’t even reach these people, it’s absolutely frustrating! And they won’t even let me pay to boost an ad, it’s unbelievable to me! The point is, people who have connected with me are getting to know ways to improve themselves and it feels well, they were able to speak to me, they can tell me their issues, I can relate to them, I think it’s great, I almost have to apologise for not doing this for a decade, but forgive me, I was very overwhelmed with my main job and when the time came to rest and get away from it, I rested. I needed to de-compress, because it’s very tough mentally, to perform at the level that we do every night. And even for us, as a band, it’s not about “oh my gosh, it’s too much, I gotta go sleep for 3 months”. It’s not that, it’s the nature of relief, which we even do it together.
When Dream Theater wrote and recorded Distance Over Time, we used to cook together, even though we were still together, we’re not trying to escape each other, for a decade we’ve been sleeping like 3-4-5 feet apart, we’re literally sleeping next to each other. So, for us to want to hang out is an incredible thing. Again, I hope my words aren’t misinterpreted, I sometimes go off on tangents and end up looking like a crazy person a lot of the times, I mean really, I understand that, us drummers are a little nuts, we hit things for a living, we’ve taken a few too many hits to the head and we get to look at people’s backs all night long, so maybe that has an effect on people, I don’t know.
Anyway, back to seriousness here, we take breaks because it’s hard to focus like that, for weeks and months on end and be meticulous as we are, so you kinda have to take a break together, it’s not from each other, it’s from the thing that we do, with all of our passion and all of our souls.
RockOverdose: If a person is interested in getting Zoom lessons with you, how can they communicate with you?
Mike Mangini (DREAM THEATER): All they have to do is go to any of my social media to find the registration, which is on my Rhythm Knowledge website. Rhythm Knowledge is the name of my behavioral change system, that you could look at as a good drum books, but they’re behavioral change books, way better than drum books, way deeper than drum books.
That’s on rhythmknowledge.com and mikemangini.com and Mike Mangini My Shopify. It’s everywhere, on Instagram and Facebook, all these posts that I make. All you do is pop up my name on a search engine and it appears anyway.
RockOverdose: And I suppose you have many meetings and students to fill your day.
Mike Mangini (DREAM THEATER): Yes, from the ones that know about it. But I have only been teaching on Saturdays and the only reason I haven’t expanded is I haven’t organised the best times, because I have people in Asia, so I would need to have a morning time, people in the US that work during the day, people in the US working at night, people in Europe and some of those people work during the day and some of them during the night. So I have to figure out a way to organise properly.
What I wanted to do was finish my main video systems first, because people can access a humongous course, like the first two courses I’m putting at one is going to be 4 hours long and the other one is 10 hours long, meaning each course is about, the teaching is about an hour, but then I have the real stuff that you need, which is to practice with me, do this with me, so those are really vital and people can do that any time they want, for the same price as getting on with me in Zoom, why not just rent the course for a few months, go through it and that way people can not pay for a whole year that they don’t need or have courses they don’t need.
I’m really careful to keep the costs of all my products really low, I mean the cost is really low, because I understand what it’s like out there, I can’t say “It’s me and I’m valuable, and I’m worth that”, which might be true to a certain point, but people still have their lives to deal with and their budgets and I just wanna do it! I like it, I love teaching and everyone who’s in the class with me is having a blast, I’m going overtime with every single class, I keep talking about the stuff and answering questions, it’s really cool.
RockOverdose: It’s great that you’re open to everyone and not only care for the money.
Mike Mangini (DREAM THEATER): I really don’t and to be honest with you, I have a strong family background with concern about where do we go when it’s all over, what is there after this life. These are deep questions, but I have a strong family background with my faith and I’ve been given some gifts, I’ve worked very hard for the abilities and to do things with those gifts, which is something everyone has to do, but I feel real honour to able to share those for a fair price.
Let’s say one of my friend sells car tires, I won’t go there and say “I know you, please give me my tires”, I would never do that, so I’m willing to pay for something so people should be willing to pay and that’s what it is, making the money appropriate and fair.
RockOverdose: So what are your memories from Greece?
Mike Mangini (DREAM THEATER): First of all, I remember the food, I loved the seafood, I love the Grappa, it’s just the best, when I get back, I want some of that Grappa. It will help my digestive enzymes after a big meal. I remember the crowd, it’s amazing and really energetic and super, just smiling, welcoming us.
I remember hanging out with George Kollias and we practiced drums together, we played and took turns on the drums, we ate food and we had some wine and we discussed philosophy and all of these things. It’s so cool, when people are on the same page, looking at what are we trying to do here, how can we enjoy this, how can we each improve, how do we make life more enjoyable. Just getting into discussions because George’s teacher has the most incredible abilities, philosophies and heart.
He has a great heart, spending time and nurturing George and vice versa and George carries on that human quality and care for me and my questions and I’m able to answer things for him and then we’re able to talk about wines, why we like them and stuff our faces with incredible greek food.
RockOverdose: The food is something all foreign people really love here. Are there any greek bands you would like to share a stage with?
Mike Mangini (DREAM THEATER): I can’ think about any I would like to share a stage with, I mean me play with them and kick the drummer out (just kidding) or do you mean have a show together?
RockOverdose: Well, I guess it has two meanings, a show together or to play with the band. Maybe with Kollias.
Mike Mangini (DREAM THEATER): No no, my feet don’t move like that, that’s a lot of music to learn and no thank you, I wanna let him do it. Of course I’d like to watch him play a show if the guys were nice enough to invite me to like 955 shows even when he came to Boston, but I just wasn’t available, I just couldn’t do it, my children were so young at that time, it was bad timing, the couple of times that happened. I can’t think and I actually wouldn’t say it if there was a band I wanted to play with.
RockOverdose: Do you know any greek bands?
Mike Mangini (DREAM THEATER): I’m not familiar with a whole bunch.
RockOverdose: But you know very well George Kollias.
Mike Mangini (DREAM THEATER): Of course I do, he’s a great drummer, at the top of the list.
RockOverdose: So, would you like to leave a message to the greek fans and everyone who reads this interview?
Mike Mangini (DREAM THEATER): I hope all the greek fans hang in there and pursue their passions and their freedom. Music is for us a way to connect and keep that in mind, music is something that leads to bigger and better things, it’s just something along the way of life, for people to connect and enjoy creations of things together. Music that’s created is a beautiful thing and I just want everyone to hang in there and remember these things and to fight for them and share some Grappa with me when they meet me.
RockOverdose: Thank you very much for your time, it was a great pleasure and honour to chat with you and I really hope you visit Greece soon and why not meet you in person?
Mike Mangini (DREAM THEATER): That would be fantastic. Thank you for having me and take care of yourself.
For Rock Overdose,
Questions by Daphne Georgadaki