By Adam Waldman
With nearly 1.5 million followers on Facebook, it’s safe to say that legendary drummer Mike Portnoy is idolized by many, especially his son, Max. Most teenage boys don’t openly admit to idolizing their dads, but Max does so with pride. Then again, most fathers and sons aren’t bonded by a shared talent and passion that is so immense, that it actually helps define them as people.
As the saying goes…“the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” Although Max is a teenager, and is currently known more for being Mike’s son than his drumming, it’s hard to imagine this apple remaining in the shadow of the tree from which it fell for much longer. One listen to Max’s band, Next To None, and you’ll realize that it’s not being hyperbolic to say that this father and son tandem is on the road to becoming the most dynamic drumming duo since John and Jason Bonham.
You might think that such high praise would go to the head of the talented teen, but based on the conversation that the three of us had before launching this new feature on Hard Rock Daddy, that is nearly impossible to imagine. The fact of the matter is that, although Mike is widely considered to be one of the greatest rock drummers of all-time, the gifts that he has imparted upon Max go beyond the drum kit. Both Portnoys are humble, appreciative, and more interested in being the best that they can be at their craft than basking in any praise that comes their way.
A battle of wills between parents and their teenage children is commonplace, but for the Portnoys, there is a mutual admiration and respect that transcends the norm. Many teens don’t appreciate parental guidance until years later when they become parents themselves. It’s the nature of the beast. However, Max has fully embraced the guidance and life experience that Mike has to offer.
Rather than butting heads over the creative process, the father and son duo have a cooperative relationship. Though there is a temptation to classify their work together as a collaboration, Mike is quick to point out that his role as Next To None’s producer is more about guiding the process than writing or creating. That task falls squarely on the shoulders of a group of teens that are both wise and talented beyond their years.
Though the relationship between Mike and Max appears to be very much mentor-driven, ultimately, Mike is still a parent who wants what is best for his son. He and his wife, Marlene, are fully supportive of Max’s pursuit of a career in music, but both agree that he should graduate from the performing arts high school that he attends before taking the show on the road (so to speak) on a full-time basis. Given Marlene’s musical background (guitarist for the female thrash band – Meanstreak), it’s not surprising that she fully supports Max’s dreams. In fact, she is putting her experience to use as Next To None’s “mom-ager” (a phrase that Max used to describe his mom/manager).
Max grew up with Dream Theater, spending time on the road with the band throughout his youth and sitting behind his dad’s kit. His introduction to prog was by osmosis to some degree. Amazingly, he was able to find friends with similar musical tastes and talent right in the Pennsylvania suburbs where he lives.
To Max and the rest of Next To None, Mike is thought of as Max’s dad, not a rock star, largely because the members of the band have been friends since grade school. While many teenagers are embarrassed of their parents, Max truly enjoys Mike’s involvement in everything from the recording of their EP and album to his role in their 2013 debut video for “Fortune Cookie.”
Although Mike is one of the most accomplished drummers in rock today, his greatest sense of pride comes from the growth that Max has shown as a drummer and musician under his guidance.
Mike has a front row seat to watch the evolution of a group of talented, dedicated and focused teens who should be a force to be reckoned with for many years to come. As teenagers, they are already doing things musically and thematically that Mike didn’t explore until his mid-20s and 30s.
Parents take pride in seeing their children eclipse their accomplishments. The bar has been set ridiculously high for Max, but the work that he has already done as a teenager has proven that he has a bright future ahead of him. Individually, the Portnoys have something special to offer. Together, they are the embodiment of Generations Of Rock.