Adrenaline Mob interview with Russell Allen and Mike Portnoy
By Wojtek Gabriel, June 2012
A number of new supergroups have emerged on the scene in the recent years but Adrenaline Mob is probably one of the most unique ones. The style of this gaining more and more attention creature has basically nothing in common with what its members used to play with their previous bands and people who expected Russell Allen (Symphony-X) and Mike Portnoy (ex-Dream Theater) to come up with a quality progressive metal release have bashed Adrenaline Mob as its music didn't meet their expectation. The guys in the band seem to not give a shit and do their own thing and most people have already come to terms with them playing straight up modern heavy rock. Even though the band was basically founded by the quite unknown guitarist Mike Orlando, the two aforementioned names made the most buzz around the band and that's also who Noizz Eater spoke to before the band's Glasgow gig.
The album was recorded at Mike Orlando's studio and you guys produced it yourselves. The final product sounds really good. So, who had the most input on production of "Omerta" and where did the experience in that field come from?
R: I guess it would be me and Orlando at the beginning and Mike Portnoy came in during the recording process. I've had a lot of experience doing recordings and so has Mike Orlando so I guess that's where the recording experience comes from. Me and Orlando have technical background in engineering. And the producing experience comes from me and Mike Portnoy. It started out as a kind of home grown project, you know? We tracked all the drums and the guitars and bass at Mike Orlando's studio and we did the vocals at my place. And then of course when Mike came in he had production and recording experience as well so, it really was a group effort to really wrap it, to bring the album together. Of course his experience in the studio is more than all of ours, ha-ha!
Anthrax producer Jay Ruston mixed the album. Are you happy with the job he's done?
R: I think he did a phenomenal job. He was pleasure to work with, really, really cool guy. He understood what we needed to sound like, understood the language that we used in expressing our ideas to him and he was very instrumental in bringing the sound that we all hoped that we'd have to life and making it the part of the final product.
Was it easy to get a deal with one of the biggest music labels in the world?
R: Well, if you have Mike Portnoy in the band, yeah, sure, it's pretty easy, ha-ha!
M: The guy that signed us, Michael Kaplan is somebody that I have been friends with for 20 years. He tried to sign Dream Theater 20 years ago, he wanted to sign Transatlantic 10 years ago, so he's somebody that I have been friends with and he wanted to be involved. As soon as he heard the Adrenaline Mob album he immediately wanted to be part of it and finally he was able to pull the trigger and make it happen.
You started looking for a label after the album had been completed. Do you think if you went to EMI and just introduced the line-up to them, you would have got the deal as easily?
R: I don't think so. I really think in this day and age, the way the market has been hit with a lot of setbacks in the labels business, they're not as quick to take a risk on an unproven commodity, especially when they have not even heard the product. There's a lot of talk about getting this type of groups together but I think it would have been next to impossible if the music wasn't there. I think because the music was as strong as it is, that's why we got the deal.
M: I think this music is stronger and has more potential than any of our names, actually. I think my name will sell x amount to the prog fans and Russel's name will sell x amount to the prog fans, but if you were to just hear this album and not know the personnel who made it, I think the songs have the ability to sell way beyond anything that Dream Theater or Symphony X have ever sold. I think just because it's very accessible, song oriented music.
R: I think our name value actually is an obstacle that we have to overcome at this point. I'm dead serious. I feel like we've brought the attention but from an area that will not really exploit the two of us. We're coming at this with music from a whole different area and I think in the beginning it really hurt a little bit that we had this name recognition thing. But like he said, I think the music obviously is strong enough. It's carried us beyond that hurdle and it's starting to build a strong momentum and it's gained its own fans and that's what our goal is from the beginning.
Mike, the material had been written before you joined the band so, did you have any input on the final shape of the songs, apart from the drum arrangements?
M: A little bit here and there but you know, to be honest I'm a team player and I can wear different hats for different projects. In this case I didn't come in like, "I gotta be a part of the writing and I gotta be involved in this." I mean the songs were there. If it ain't broke don't fix it. I thought the songs were strong and perfect to begin with. So yeah, there was a bit here and there, where maybe we would chop off something or maybe I'd make an arrangement suggestion or a production suggestion but it was minimal. Everything was pretty much there and I'm fine with that, you know? That's why I wanted to be a part of it, because the songs were already there. That being said though I really am looking forward to a follow up record where we can actually utilise the four way chemistry that we now have and I look forward to the potential that we have in going to the next level as well.
R: When Mike joined the band it was that, it was joining the band. It wasn't saying, "OK, well, we're gonna do this as a project", that wasn't what we wanted. We wanted to have a band here, so obviously a lot of work was already done but of course to hear his opinion and feel that he was confident in what was going on was a validation of what we'd already done. So if anything it was great to have him say, "I love it, I like this". You know, having that input and stuff on the work that had already been done and also taking song ideas that we had, he stretched them out, he did some cool shit, that's what it is all about, you know? You have to have an open forum in a creative environment in order to achieve the potential of the band. So that's instrumental, even though maybe one person contributes this much or this much at the whole, it doesn't matter how much somebody did , because that one little thing could've been the biggest hook or something or the coolest part or thing that really helped to make the band successful. It's about the combination of everybody involved that makes this band special.
OK, now about the "Come Undone" cover song. Who in the band is a Duran Duran fan?
M: Not me! Ha-ha!
R: Not me! Ha-ha!
M: Let's just say I do respect them as songwriters and I think they're one of the best songwriters of that era, but new wave music at the time when I was a kid, it wasn't my cup of tea. So that was Mr. Orlando's doing, I guess he's a huge Duran Duran fan.
NE: Who knew Lzzy from Halestorm and asked her to guest on the album?
M: I toured with her when I was in Avenged Sevenfold. We toured together in America and it was a no brainer to ask her to sing on the track. She's one of the strongest female voices out there today. So yeah, it was awesome that she was able to do it and I think she brought it to a whole new level.
Many reviewers have complained about the cheesiness in the lyrics. So, what do you think did people expect lyric wise?
R: Well the most of people that reviewed the record and had negative things to say about it were obviously our prog fans. You need to put a perspective like I said before. Bringing name value to this project was a hurdle that had to be overcome. Because the initial people that even gave a shit about this band were the people who knew who Mike Portnoy and Russell Allen were and expected certain things from them. The lyrics maybe seem cheesy to them because they're not over the top fantastic, you know Symphony X is more fantasy based or mythologically based, more high literature sort of stuff, you know? Dream Theater is very introspective... This band isn't about trying to wow you with literary expertise. The lyrics are from the heart, you know? If that's cheesy then fuck you, that's all I got to say. This is the heart here, you know what I'm saying? I tell it like it is in this band. That stuff is great but in this band has no place. So most negative reviewers unfortunately are from the world that expected something different from us and what we gave them was maybe something too weird for them to handle.
At the release party you played the entire album live, which isn't a very common thing at such parties. Whose idea was it?
M: That was mine. I thought at most of these album release parties you have a DJ premiering the record and we already knew we were gonna play at the party but the idea of actually doing it from start to finish was my idea just 'cause I thought, "Hey let the people hear it for the very first time live on stage." Actually even on this tour we are playing the whole album, we're just no doing it in sequence, but even at these shows we're playing all eleven songs. But the idea at the release party was to do it from start to finish. I mean I've done album from start to finish, I've done at least a dozen of those through the years between Transatlantic concept albums or Dream Theater concept albums or covering Maiden or Metallica, whatever. So the idea of doing it start to finish I think is a cool thing and makes for a special gig for everyone.
Mike, you actually released two albums three months ago, from Adrenaline Mob and also Flying Colors. Was it wise from the promotional and marketing point of view?
M: I don't know. It wasn't any sort of masterplan. I think when both dates got put on the calendar I think both bands were concerned about it and I was concerned about it but both labels and both managers seemed OK with it so I went with the flow. It meant for me a tremendous amount of press, but I guess on one hand it worked out good, because every interview I did I talked about both so I guess it kinda made it a little easier for me even though I was juggling a lot. I don't know if it was a good thing or a bad thing but the one thing I can say is that they're completely different worlds so I don't think one took away from the other. If anything the cross promotion may have possibly benefitted both.
R: I think it kind of softened the blow for some of those prog fan reviewers that you know, had you coming out in this straight-up rock/metal band, and at the same time it' was like, "OK, at least we have Flying Colors, Mike's still doing this." Time will tell but it seems to me that maybe the fates aligned to be that way and it took a lot of heat off having Adrenaline Mob being perceived as some sort of thing that it wasn't. So if anything, having the other project, there's a very clear definition, Adrenaline Mob is completely in different genre and different direction and Mike still does what he does with Flying Colors and his other projects. I think it's pretty cool that it worked out that way.
Mike, you've got John Moyer from Disturbed in the band now and previously you toured with Paul DiLeo from Fozzy. As a drummer you have to closely collaborate with the bass players, so how different is it for you to lock with players such as John and Paul as compared to Dream Theater's John Myung?
M: Oh, for starters you say as a drummer it's very important for me to lock with the bass player, that's not necessarily true. I've built a career locking with the guitar player. With Dream Theater it was always about me and John Petrucci and I spent those 25 years listening and locking with the guitar player, very much like Lars Ulrich with James Hetfield relationship, or Dimebag and Vinnie Paul relationship. I'm not one of those type of drummers that listens to the bass and works off the bass. So for starters I'll say that for me it's the guitar that's important. But that being said obviously John Moyer and Paul DiLeo are very different players and I think they both bring something good to the Mob. I mean Paul is more of a loosey-goosey, greasy bass player, whereas John has got more attack, he's more precise and I think what he does with Disturbed suits this band well, especially in terms of filling out the sound.
Talking about line-up changes, since Rich Ward left to focus on Fozzy you've been a one guitar band. Is it like you don't really need another guitarist or you just can't find a suitable one?
M: I think Russ and Mike Orlando didn't even want a second guitar player. It was something that I suggested. After my time with Avenged I just really thought this could be a very cool two guitar band. So we did that for the first tour last year and then once Rich and Paul decided to stay with Fozzy and we knew we needed to replace them, these guys suggested, "Let's just try it as a four piece." And when John Moyer auditioned we gave it a shot and the sound was really full and the three bands that come to mind for me that have this kind of instrumentation are Black Sabbath, Van Halen and Pantera. And those are like three bands I think this band models itself after. And those were just guitar, bass, drums and vocals. Once we played that way it really worked and we decided to keep it that way. I think Mike's guitar cuts throughout more this way and it's also one less person to argue with, ha-ha!
R: Having a band is like having a bunch of wives, you know? That's what they say and it's true.
M: It's one less schedule to worry about. It just made more sense this way.
R: We weren't certain whether or not it would actually work but when we finally got to try it, it was killer. And so that is what we need. We kinda needed to go through these growing pains and even though we've been around the block with all the stuff that we've done this is a brand new thing, you know? So we still had to go through the growing pains and we're still going through some growing pains. But the truth of it is this is the band and it took a while to get there but this is the band.
Russ, Mike Orlando and your Symphony X band mate Mike Romeo live close to each other and are friends. Did Mike Romeo recommend you when Mike Orlando was looking for a singer or did you guys know each other anyway?
R: No, I've known Mike Orlando for about seven years and we were working on a solo album of mine for a while. This material had come up when we were kinda getting burned out and I was losing steam on the project because I was moving into my house, I had two kids, I had Symphony X going and there was a bunch of stuff happening so the solo album kinda was sort of dying. He brought this material and just said, "I had this planned, I wanted to do a band like this for a long time, this kind of stuff. Here's what I wrote for it when I tried to do it ten years ago." That's how it all started. He had some material, he brought a bunch of demos that he had taken to the industry prior and we started working on music together. I introduced Mike Orlando to Mike Romeo technically. That's how that friendship started to blossom. They had known of each other but never knew each other until I was working with them both.
M: Russ, in case you haven't noticed has to be in a band with at least two Mikes at any given time.
R: Or it just doesn't work, the magic isn't there. I've got three Mikes in the other band, I've got two Mikes in this band, and the ongoing joke was if Mike wasn't in this band or some other Mike bass player I think I would have just jumped off the bridge, you know what I'm saying?
M: And you're singing to a mike as well...
R: Yes, I do. So I'm surrounded by Mikes. My father's name? Mike...
M: The guy that signed us?
You recorded "The Mob Rules" on your debut EP. Did this album inspire the band name?
M: It was the other way around. As soon as we came up with the band name I remember I said like immediately, "We have to cover 'Mob Rules'", it was a natural. Not only it was a natural because of the name but it's a natural for Russ's voice and the style of the band. We knew we had to cover it as soon as we came up with the band name.
Russ, as far as I know Mike was the first drummer you asked to join the band. Why him?
R: Well, why him? I usually shoot for the top and then I work my way down, ha-ha! So it's very rare that I get hold on one, but I got a hold on one. So, you know, truthfully this guy is one of the greatest drummers that's ever lived. We were friends before this whole thing went down and you know, I started working with Orlando and he and I were starting working on the material together and we had it pretty much done. And then when I got the material up to a point with him that I thought it was time to show to some people I sent Mike the stuff that we were working on and he was totally into it in immediate moment. I literally sent him "Undaunted" the night we were working on it. We just finished doing the whole thing. We just arranged it with the drum machine, we just got the chorus done so we just buttoned up this whole track without solo yet of course and we put in an mp3 and I sent it over to him that night. I was gonna ask him beforehand and then we got that song, that was the first thing. I sent him that one and immediately back 30 seconds later, "I'm in." That was it. I was excited as hell because here I had a chance to work with somebody who I admired for a long time. Not only did I respect Mike's playing but I respected him as a person on a personal level. I liked this guy; I wanted do business with this guy. He's got a good head for this business; he took Dream Theater to all the heights of success that they now enjoy. So you know, I have nothing but accolades for Mike and I was totally looking forward to building our own little gangster empire together. That was exciting that he was into the material and I knew if he'd approved and he had liked what he heard that we had something. So it was a cool day, night, whatever.
Do you still get negative reactions from people who expected Adrenaline Mob to play progressive metal and not straight forward modern hard rock/metal?
M: We got a lot of that at the beginning when the EP came out but I think everybody's over that now. I think everybody knows what this band is now and had stopped with the preconceptions and now accepts it for what it is.
R: We had all of that negative shit coming on because of the expectations, but we exceeded that and then some, so everybody who got the "Omerta" album already knew what they were getting into. So our success to this point is not due in any part to the progressive negative force, it already has passed us.
M: I also think people still won't truly understand what this band is about unless they come to a show. I think people that are still on the fence about his band and are unsure, "Ehh is it my cup of tea", unanimously 100% of the audience that comes to see the band live walks out and says, "Wow, I get this now, I totally get it."
R: People got to come here and they're gonna get their head blown back for about 75 minutes and I think that like you said, they don't get the power that's happening until they actually witness it and they see it and they understand what's happening. Before you have all these preconceived ideas, bla, bla, bla... But there's powerful drummer, a powerful presence on stage. Orlando's playing is fierce, he's one of the fiercest shredders I've ever seen and he kills you with a smile, this guy just smiles all night. And of course Moyer is an amazing bassist; he comes with his own vibe and high energy, so this band is a super high energy band.
M: And you got Russell Allen fronting that whole band...
R: ...and me up there fronting this Mob of just super charged high energy guys, I mean no one's expecting this. That's what's so great about it. We actually have a lot of fun, fucking with people, because when we get up there and the show's over they're like, "Gee, what just happened?"
M: I actually feel on stage and I'll tell you honestly, and I've played with some of the greatest musicians in the world, but I tell you, when I'm on stage with this band I just feel like I'm in the world's most dangerous band. Seriously, there's no fuckin' stopping this band. It's like a free train. When you see it live you'll see there's energy and a buzz and excitement and I'm up there and I'm proud of each and every one of these guys. You know, hey, maybe there's bass players that are faster or singers that are more operatic or whatever but that's not what this band's about. This band is about going up there and taking over the fuckin' room. And everybody that's in that audience, if you're not moving by the first song or two you will be. Just by the end of the night you're down with the Mob.
Adrenaline Mob is often called a supergroup. If you could form another supergroup with any other musicians, current members of Adrenaline Mob excluded, who would they be?
R: This is the only supergroup I wanna be in so I have no desire to do another supergroup but if I could work with another musician I would love to just do a performance or anything with Jimmy Page. Led Zeppelin is my all time favourite band. So that would be it for me. Or Dave Grohl, you know? He's my all time favourite '90s guy, so... But as far as being in a supergroup, this is about as super as I wanna be right now.
M: I've already put together a million supergroups. I mean anything my imagination could think of. I mean with Transatlantic, that was my prog supergroup. I had this thing with Billy Sheehan and Tony MacAlpine and Derek Sherinian, that's like a supergroup for that type of music. Adrenaline Mob is a supergroup for this type of music. Like I said a minute ago, when I'm on stage with these guys it's like, fuckin' Russel Allen is like my favourite singer, you have Mike Orlando there, one of those the most amazing guitar talents up there with like Zak or Dimebag and then John Moyer is just a complete badass, so for this type of genre this is a supergroup. I've had the pleasure of working with lots of different bands and lots of projects through the years and you know, I don't have really any other supergroups waiting to happen. I'm very, very happy with what's going on.
R: I'm a one supergroup at a time sort of guy, ha-ha! So for me, I wanna get this supergroup super successful and you know, maybe then I'll consider trying do it again. But I'm not a good multitasker when it comes to creativity. I'm a one kinda album at a time kinda guy, that's why my solo album suffered from the other band...
It's maybe too early to talk about this, but the debut album was in making for a couple of years. When you start working on a follow-up to "Omerta" you will have much less time to complete the song writing and polish the material. Will you be able to match the quality of "Omerta" with the second album?
R: I'm pretty confident that we'll be able to, only because we have what we all kinda jokingly call Mike Orlando's graveyard of riffs. So we have this well of music to draw from. This gentleman here is really like myself, we're both in the moment types, so we can be very creative and very effective in the moment. That's where we excel. So looking forward I see this band sculpting songs very quickly. When me and Orlando started writing together we were slow, we didn't know each other very well, you know? By the time we got to start to write the "Omerta" material, beyond the few songs that Orlando had pretty much already done that we had for the initial demo for the labels, we had a really, really good writing chemistry together. We did "Undaunted" in about four hours. We did "Feeling Me", the music was completed, we did the lyrics, melody and arrangement section, again, that was about six hours. Now we have time and touring together with this group of guys we are getting to know each other very, very quickly very well and I'm very confident that when we put us in the studio next time we're gonna really have a lot to talk about. We've had experiences together, we have a lot of energy and passion for this music. I think the next album, we'll be ready for the challenge and I hope and I think and believe that we're gonna outdo ourselves with the following record. It won't be easy but I think we can do it.
What are your plans for the remainder of 2012?
M: Oh the remainder of 2012, I think everybody's got different things on the calendars for the next couple of months but we look forward to touring with this band well into next year and I think there's a lot of legs that this record can have.
R: We're gonna take a little bit of time off, I need it. I'm doing Symphony X and doing this, you know, the cycles overlap a little bit for me, so I haven't been home for a while. So you know, I wanna get some time with the kids and we all kinda need some family time of course and then we're gonna promote this album at home, that's our next focus right now. We have a radio campaign in place that's working right now for us. We were not sure what would happen here in Europe but the response's been phenomenal so we are in the midst of figuring out how to fan the flames of the fires that we've started here. We're looking already at coming back within a year's time. We have no concrete plans to announce but we're definitely gonna keep the band moving through the year.
M: This isn't a side project that's just gonna do two months of touring and then another album. This is a band that needs to be on the road and the live show is what will absolutely break and sustain this band and we're just wanna keep playing as much as we can. Right now that's the focus. We're not thinking about the next record. We're thinking about touring as much as we can to as many different places as we can.
R: Because the album is very solid we have complete faith in the cycle being extended as far as it needs to be. You have to tour if the opportunities are there. Again, we have a lot of people who need to see this band, because honestly, it's a new band and our name value is not gonna carry the day with this album because it's not the music that those people were expecting. Me and Mike are excited about this challenge that we've taken on at this point of our careers to actually, you know, build another mountain to stand on. That's what the excitement is, to go and do what we've done especially in places like Paris and some of these other shows where we didn't know what was gonna happen. The audience's response's just been overwhelming. I mean some of them were so loud they hurt my ears, they scream so damn loud. I haven't experienced this since I was a kid starting out in Symphony X. So it's really exciting and I think we're all taken back by that a little bit and it's a validation of our decision to do this. So we're moving forward. We're gonna capitalise on what we have going on here in Europe and we're really excited about it.
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