The Winery Dogs are comprised of Mike Portnoy, Richie Kotzen, and Billy Sheehan. What started out as these three veterans jamming eventually led to the release of their debut record back in 2013. Two years, and a hundred-plus shows later, they are all set to tour in support of their second effort, Hot Streak. This time, they have a captive audience that is excited to hear the next installment for this band. At a time when “supergroups” are far too common, The Winery Dogs stand in a league of their own. With what seems to be a hundred-plus years of experience between the three of them, their incredible musicianship has allowed them to successfully collaborate together and hone in on their own unique sound and style.
I had the opportunity to chat with the band’s drummer, Mike Portnoy, about the upcoming tour and the newest release for the band. Topics of discussion also included setlist creation, balancing various bands and projects, as well as the importance of signing and acoustic events. Check out all that Mike had to say below:
Was there a process or anything that you encountered from making the debut album that you guys wanted to change this go around?
No, we actually didn’t change anything. Everything seemed to work really well for us the first time, and we felt like we established the sound and style of the band rather naturally then. And back then, there wasn’t any preconceived notion of how we were going to sound or what we were going to play. We kinda just got together and everything seemed to fall into place. The only difference, I guess you could say, was that we have a band history on this release. You know, we have promoted the first album by playing over a hundred shows together. So now, we were making an album as a real band with an audience that was waiting for a follow-up. And none of that really existed the first time. So to answer your question, the chemistry changed because of all of that, but the process remained the same.
And because you guys are a set band, and now have fans waiting for another release, did that add any sort of pressure?
Well, the three of us have been making music for what seems to be a hundred-plus years combined (laughs). With that being said, it’s the love of music and passion that excites us. Especially at this stage in our careers, we don’t make records for any company or expectations of the industry. We love to make music, so we do it for our own enjoyment. Even though The Winery Dogs is a “new band,” we have all been making music for years and we do this because we enjoy each others’ company and making music together. Any perks or anything that come along with this are just bonuses for us.
Did you have any tracks or song skeletons prior to your writing sessions with each other?
Well, the three of us got together in January and wrote about 15 songs in all, musically. All 15 songs pretty much came all from scratch and we just collaborated and jammed and it all came together nicely. We didn’t have anything really ready for those sessions at all. Everything came together from those spontaneous jams. When all of that was done, Richie went off and did all of the vocals and vocal melodies. At that point, we got back together in May and began the recording process. Nothing was pre-existed, it all came together in a room with just the three of us.
I saw in a few interviews where you guys discussed the making of “Empire,” that Richie was a bit skeptical on that song at first. Were there any other songs that have interesting stories like that? Anything that you had to completely re-tool or anything of that sort?
Well, we do have a few songs right now that are essentially just sitting on the shelf, waiting to be finished. Like I said before, we wrote about 15 songs back in January and recorded a cover for “Love Is Alive.” So we tracked 16 songs, 13 of which ended up on the album. One of the tunes “Solid Ground” is on the Japanese release. So we do have a few things that we can use for bonus tracks or something like that down the road. We originally didn’t even want to have 13 tracks on the record. It was just so hard to leave some of them off, so we ended up going with the 13.
Now, I saw Richie and Billy had rehearsals last week. Were you able to join the guys for rehearsal at all, or will you be doing that this week?
Yeah, I was out with two of my other bands last week (laughs). We will begin rehearsing on Wednesday before the tour kicks off on Saturday.
I would imagine finding time for rehearsal might be hectic with all of the juggling between schedules.
Yeah, I am in five other bands and am currently in six (laughs). But that’s just how I work best. Although it sounds crazy on paper, being in these six bands is just a natural thing for me. I am very comfortable jumping from band to band, and tour to tour. I know not everyone would be into that, Richie and Billy might not be. It’s just the way my personality is. This month, for example, I have went from touring with Twisted Sister, to Neal Morse, to Metal Allegiance, and now to Winery Dogs. I can handle it because of the way my mind is set.
So when it comes to adding new material to your live repertoire, I’m sure it’s the same feeling?
In terms of balancing new Winery Dogs material to old, it’s great. On that first tour we had to include material from our own individual bands or covers to help fill out the sets. Now, we can actually have a full set of Winery Dog material from the two albums. And even with that, we will have a lot of leftover material. So we are going to start with about six or seven of the new tunes in the set right now. But by the end of the cycle, we will have played everything from the record.
During this cycle you will be doing an acoustic performance/signing session. That must be exciting to throw in a tour.
Absolutely. Although these are the types of events that are set up by the record labels and the retailers, we enjoy getting to do them. Especially with the way the industry is these days, record stores are few and far between. So you always want to support them. Doing events like these are great to be able to do that. When there’s an opportunity to go to a Looney Tunes or a Vintage Vinyl, you want to do that.
And is playing a hometown show a bit more exciting or stressful for you?
It’s always great playing New York. I just played the Best Buy Theater with Metal Allegiance. Whether it is playing New York City, Long Island, or New Jersey, it is always great coming home. That being said, it is also very stressful (laughs). You know, you have to deal with guest lists and friends and family. In terms of The Winery Dogs, Richie is originally from Reading, PA and Billy is from Buffalo, NY; but they both live in Los Angeles now. However, I am still on the East Coast. It’s always fun and I always say there’s no place like home. That being said, it is usually internally, and behind the scenes, quite stressful.
The Winery Dogs will hit the stage at the Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, NJ on Oct. 9. They will follow up that performance with a show in New York, NY at the Playstation Theater (formerly the Best Buy Theater) on Oct. 10. Hot Streak is now available. For more tour dates and information, head on over to thewinerydogs.com.