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10th July 2015
METAL DISCOVERY: ‘A Light in the Dark’ has just been released, so how does it feel to finally be able to unleash your debut album upon the world?
MAX: It's really awesome to be able to release our debut album, but to release our debut album on one of the biggest Prog labels in the world was absolutely amazing. We are super excited with everything that's going on and all the fans have been super supportive and great!
(Max Portnoy on Next To None's debut album)
"…I hope that people listen to ‘A Light In The Dark’ without thinking that we are 15/16 and without thinking it’s Mike Portnoy's son on drums. I think this album is a really strong CD and if people listened to it with an open mind they would really enjoy it..."
Interview by Mark Holmes
Official Next To None Website:
Next To None (2013)
Albums & EPs
Next To None are the new kids on the progressive block. Their debut album, 'A Light in the Dark', was recorded when they were just 15/16 years old, so kids is most certainly an apposite description for these newcomers. However, although their music lacks the refinement and finesse of the prog scene's more seasoned players, their compositional skills and collective musicianship has a discernible maturity way beyond their tender years, which has resulted in a more than respectable debut. Metal Discovery quizzed sticksman Max Portnoy, son of Mike, about the band, the album, his drumming inspirations and squirrels...
Next To None - promo shot
Photograph copyright © 2015 Gregory M Styer of GMS Photography
Official Next To None Facebook:
Thanks to Freddy Palmer for arranging the interview.
A Light in the Dark (2015)
MD: I understand there’s a concept that binds together some of the tracks on the album – can you explain a little about this concept?
MAX: There's a six song concept throughout the album about a guy who struggles with mental illness and the mere fact that he's not happy with his life and what he's doing with it. The first two tracks he is basically arguing with himself over what is right and what is wrong. Track 4 (‘A Lonely Walk’), he comes to a crossroads. By the end of the song he has convinced himself that he needs to do something with his life. Track 6 (‘Control’), he loses control of himself. Tracks 8 and 9 (‘Legacy’ and ‘Blood on My Hands’) are after the incident when he reflects on what he has done.
MD: Even though you’re still all in your mid-teens, I gather you’ve been playing together for a few years now… so was it important to spend some time trying to discover your identity as a band before hitting the studio for a full length album?
MAX: The band has been together for about four years now, and we have been writing ‘A Light In The Dark’ ever since we started. Originally we wanted to be a more straightforward rock band but we decided to be a Prog Metal band since that is what we found more exciting and interesting. There is still rock influences in the songs but we really enjoy the way we went and becoming a Prog Metal band.
MD: You recorded and released an EP back in 2013, so how would you say you’ve developed as a band since then?
MAX: The songs for the EP were written in 2012 and that was when we were leaning towards being a rock band, but once the album was out in 2013 we decided that we wanted to go for a more progressive and heavier side, which I'm glad we chose because I love playing that stuff more than rock and I think our fans like it more as well.
MD: There’s obviously a big difference between trying to be progressive and being progressive – the former’s more forced and contrived, whereas the latter engenders a more naturally innovative state. Do you think you’ve found your naturally progressive flow as a band yet?
MAX: Definitely. The songs we wrote were 100% natural, we weren't forcing ourselves to do odd time signatures or anything; it was something we developed over time. I guess, as we matured, we began to add all that stuff naturally and it was super comfortable and easy for us. You can tell too when a band isn't comfortable with the stuff that they write based on the way they play it, but we were all into it and it came naturally for us.
MD: All the press blurb refers to Next To None as a “teen prodigy band”, but do you regard yourselves as prodigies, or just a bunch of musicians doing your thing?
MAX: Honestly, I think both. We are just a couple of kids writing music for fun but everyone in this band is super talented. Every day we see each other we keep getting better and better extremely quick! I hope one day we can be like one of those bands like Rush or Dream Theater that people look up to because of how talented they are.
MD: I’m guessing your dad’s drumming and his music have been a big influence on your own playing and motivation, but what other musicians inspire and motivate you to play and make music?
MAX: My favorite band is Slipknot and they really motivate me to make my own music. I love Joey Jordison's drumming and same with Chris Adler. I really like metal drumming, it’s what catches my interest and I like to combine it with the progressive music I like, which is kinda what I do with my style.
MD: How was the experience of working with your dad as producer? Did he have any creative input or suggestions for how you might refine your compositions and/or performances?
MAX: No. my dad was there to basically show us the ropes and teach us how to function in a studio. It was our first time, so we didn't really know what to do, and it was nice to have a professional there to help us out. We learnt a lot from him and I think we are able to record an album on our own now, but it’s still nice to have my dad around in case we do need help still.
MD: Would you want to use your dad as producer on future releases, or are there any producers out there whose output you respect and who you’d like to work with?
MAX: I think, for our next album, we would like to have my dad there since we still are new to everything. We sort of have an idea about how it works but we would like to still have him there. I think, in the future, we will be able to produce our own albums, like what my dad did when he was in Dream Theater.
MD: How did the deal with Inside Out come about? Did you approach various labels initially or was Inside Out top of your list?
MAX: We went to a couple record labels but, obviously, the one we were hoping for was Inside Out. Some other labels wanted us but we thought Inside Out was like home for us and thankfully they enjoyed the music and took us on board!
MD: I gather before Next To None came to be, you formed a band called Psycho Squirrels. Do you regard squirrels as a generally psycho species?
MAX: If the squirrel has rabies, then it can be pretty psycho, but for the most part squirrels are pretty baller.
MD: When and why did you decide to switch to Next To None; was it important for you to adopt a more ‘serious’ name when the band became a more serious entity?
MAX: Psycho Squirrels was just a fun band with different members that aren't in Next To None. After a couple of years, I formed Next To None with the guys who are in it now and that was my serious band. Psycho Squirrels had nothing to do with Next To None.
MD: You were just 15/16 years old when recording the album, but do you hope people will judge your music on its own merits, regardless of your ages?
MAX: Yes, definitely, I hope that people listen to ‘A Light In The Dark’ without thinking that we are 15/16 and without thinking it’s Mike Portnoy's son on drums. I think this album is a really strong CD and if people listened to it with an open mind they would really enjoy it, and a lot of people are listening to it that way and we are happy they like it!
MD: As one of the younger prog metal bands currently out there, do you regard yourselves as flag-bearers to help preserve and popularise the genre for new, younger generations of fans?
MAX: I think we definitely will start bringing younger fans into this genre, just because we are young like them. It was never our intention to bring young people into this genre, it’s something that I think might happen, and it would be really cool if it does.
MD: Finally, is touring on the cards for Next To None. Can we expect some European shows at some point?
MAX: We are currently looking for tour opportunities, and we want to tour as much as we can. We are playing a lot of local shows currently, but we have some bigger plans for the near future. We would gladly go to Europe, but the album just came out so we need to see how good it does over in Europe first, but if it does well then we would gladly fly over there in a second!
MD: Thanks for the interview and best of luck with the album.
MAX: Thank you for having me for the interview!!!!! :D