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Metal Imperium was on the phone with Max Portnoy, son of Dream Theatre’s drummer Mike Portnoy, and himself the drummer of Next To None. With the upcoming release of “Phases”, the second album of the Pennsylvania band, we talked about the recording process, expectations on the new sound of the band and childhood memories.

M.I. – Max, thank you for having the time to talk to us. Let’s start from the beginning: How did Next To None get started?

I’ve grown up in this music environment, getting exposed to music from a very early age, and being my father a drummer, I ended up playing drums my whole life. So when I was about 10 I started taking it a little more serious, playing a couple of gigs and jamming with lots of people. When I met Thomas Cuce (keyboards and lead vocals), we decided it was time to start writing and composing stuff. I knew Kris Rank (bass) since he was a guitar player and when he joined Next To None he moved to playing bass. Derrick Schneider was the last one to get on board, when he replaced our former guitarist that went to university.

M.I. – Being the son of such a high profile drummer, did that eventually influenced your choice of instrument?

Obviously that if you start playing drums when you are just 3, and just because those things are laying around your house and everywhere you go, you tend to stick to that. It was like that in my case. There was never an advice from my father to choose drums over any other instrument but it became too easy to continue instead of start something else.

M.I. – You mentioned having all that gear around your house and you followed Dream Theatre on tour ever since you were born. Are they an influence to you?

It would be crazy not to list my father as a major influence, of course. But I have been introduced to so many bands that I cannot narrow it down to just him. I love Slipknot since the first day I heard them, so I would say they are one of the main influences, but so are Lamb of Good, Korn or Tool.

M.I. – You started writing at the age of 10/11, an age that most kids are interested in other stuff…

That is so true. Most of the kids I know that have the same age as me are definitely interested in other stuff, but that is just the way it happened. I think it was all a very natural process.

M.I. – Talking about “Phases”, your second album, there’s a clear change in direction on your music, towards a much heavier sound than the debut “A Light In The Dark” from 2015…

Definitely heavier…

M.I. – Did that have to do with the change of producer? In 2015, the album was produced by your father. “Phases” is now self-produced. Was it a step towards cutting that invisible cord, which makes a lot of people wondering if your sound is more your father’s work than yours?

That is perfectly correct. We had people questioning our ability to play, saying that my father had done it. We wanted to show we were able to create music that is completely our own. Every that you listen there came from us as a band. For this record we ended up working together for 4/5 months, and even when the production was being done, we were all there to contribute. Obviously people will always compare and talk about my father’s involvement in the process, but that is not the case on this one.

M.I. – Your sound has been described as a new generation modern prog-rock, and looking at the songs that made it to the record, we find some with 9 minutes long between some much shorter ones. Was that intended? How did you go about in the studio to make them like that?

When we start composing and writing the lyrics it is difficult to anticipate the time each song will have in the end. We may record a track with 3 minutes that we think is perfect and not touch it more and there are times we feel a 4 minute track needs more layers, extra keyboards, another guitar riff, and we end up extending it 2 or 3 more minutes. What is important is that we are happy with the final result.

M.I. – Does that mean also that live those songs have space to be stretched even more?

That is an excellent question. Just the other day I was at a Tool concert and I watched how they played their songs with extra details, adding more stuff to them. And it worked brilliantly. I think some of our songs can also have that extra moments live. It is definitely something to consider!

M.I. – You went on tour earlier in the year with Haken. Did you get to play some new songs?

Not a lot. We played two or three, the first single “The Apple”, obviously, but I could see the reaction in people when that heavier stuff was being played. The shows were really great; playing in England, Italy and Germany was awesome. But now we are flying back to Europe again for a mini-tour supporting Mike Portnoy’s Shattered Forest and a lot more will be introduced.

M.I. – So you are going to Europe now? Will you be around when the record is released, on the 7th July?

We will play a serious of concerts around Europe, starting June 28 at London’s Koko, and then finishing in Holland on the eve of the release. We then return to the United States for a couple of gigs and eventually spend July touring with Doll Skin.

M.I. – When you play live, you hide behind a massive set of drums and cymbals and you can get really active throughout the show. How are your stamina levels at the end of a gig?

Pretty low!!! I always give my 100% on stage and love to headbanger throughout the concert, so I get exhausted towards the end. I have to drink at least two full bottles of water before the gig even finished!!

M.I. – Thank you for the interview and good luck for the future. Hope to catch you one day here in Portugal. One final message to all our readers?

Thanks for the support. The new album will be out on the 7th July and it has something for everyone, so if you can have a listen and we’ll see you on the road!

Interview by Vasco Rodrigues