Drumhead magazine spoke to new DREAM THEATER drummer Mike Mangini about how he landed his new gig and the preparation for the recording process for the band's new album.
"I'm pinching myself," he said. "I wake up most mornings thinking about my personal playing growth and DREAM THEATER. I have a smile and it's amazing — what a great day I have when I acknowledge what is happening to me. How did I end up here? Whoa!
"Part of my joining any band, or going for any drumming position, is me just letting what is, be. I don't want to change anything that's going on. I just want to play my drums; that's it, that's what I want to do. All I'm expecting to do is to be able to have the opportunity to come up with the greatest drum stuff that I can come up with, along with respect what DREAM THEATER is already.
"What Mike Portnoy has made for DREAM THEATER — and it's not hard for me to like that — is a great thing, it's not only hectic drum stuff, it has a sound, and his sound stems from some similar influences. We both love RUSH and METALLICA, so it's feeling natural for me to do that. I want to continue to replicate that kind of a vibe, as well as to offer a new drum thing that I have been working on that is DREAM THEATER.
"As for the audition, I just walked in with a great feeling and greeted everyone, 'Hi, guys, I'm ready for this.' I was absolutely ready to go in there and not make one stinking mistake. In my mind, I had to be like that. This was important to me. I just had too much interest in these people and in this music to blow it. I was not going to blow it.
"So there I am. I play the tunes and everything is just forward-motion for me, meaning, I wasn't thinking, 'Oh my gosh, this is an audition!' It was more, 'Okay, I'm going to count here, I'm going to look at Jordan [Rudess] there playing the keyboard line, John Myung here, John Petrucci there, James LaBrie there, etc.' I was in the moment. My eyes were picking up everything they were doing. It was like I knew everything they did. For example, if John Myung played something different in 'The Spirit Carries On', I was ready. I was watching, listening and feeling everything they were doing like my life depended on it. When Jordan or John did something in a solo, I followed it. I thrived off that 'one' guitar riff I just had to catch. I would look at them and let them know that I knew what they were doing. [John Petrucci] picked up on everything.
"We were on the same page 100 percent, it seemed. They kept coming over to me and saying the nicest things, acknowledging what I was doing.
"I don't want to sound broken or needy, but I needed them to say these things. I believe we all can use acknowledgement and a dose of niceness with what we really love to do. They knew that I respected them and appreciated being there."
On the preparation for the recording process for the new DREAM THEATER album:
"John [Petrucci] sent me a demo. He didn't ask me to do anything, he just said, 'Check it out.' I grabbed it and thought, 'I'm going to get back to him quicker than he thinks I am, and I'm going to get back to him with more than he's expecting. I'm going to go the extra 17 miles.' So, I transcribed it, got into my studio and recorded it, tried stuff and just did a take. And it was okay. I listened to it and thought to let my wife hear it, and she said, 'You're holding back.' She's not a musician, but she said, 'I know you. You're holding back.' And she was absolutely right. I said, 'You know what?! I'm afraid of doing something wrong or doing too much.' Anyway, I did another take and I kind of let go. Again, because everything happened so naturally in the audition, that's what I needed to follow as a feeling: just be me. Not think too much about this, that and the other thing, and just go with what's coming out naturally. If it's not the right thing, he'll tell me."
On the beginning of this new chapter in his drumming career:
"So, how did it happen… I prayed daily and I just put my head down and said, 'I can do this. I cannot fail those who also believe that I can do this. It's for my family, extended family, friends, fellow drummer friends, endorsement companies and students that also believe that I'll make good on the gifts I've been given. And finally it's for the DREAM THEATER family for giving me the opportunity.'"