by Deb Rao
– Senior Columnist –
New band The Winery Dogs comprised of veteran musicians Billy Sheehan, Richie Kotzen and Mike Portnoy have just released their self-titled debut album. The band is currently selling out shows in Japan and gearing up for a tour in South America, and the U.S. The Winery Dogs have a classic rock sound that infuses heartfelt lyrics, funky drum rhythms and epic guitar solos.
Hardrock Haven recently spoke with drummer Mike Portnoy regarding the debut of the band and Mike also gave Hardrock Haven an exclusive in-depth track-by-track review of the new album.
HRH: Mike, tell us how The Winery Dogs came into fruition?
Mike: We came together starting with me and Billy working together on a different project with a different guitar player. Things really never took off with that line-up, so he and I decided to stick together and look for something different. We wanted to do a player power trio kind of classic rock thing. My good friend Eddie Trunk made the suggestion of Richie Kotzen and it was a brilliant suggestion. Because Richie was exactly what we were looking for. That triple threat of guitar player, singer-songwriter. Once we called Richie the three of us got together and that is when The Winery Dogs began. We started from scratch with an empty palette to work from. We immediately started writing all of this music together.
HRH: The new album is out. Tell us about the writing process for the album. What was it like going into the studio with Billy and Richie? What goal did you have in mind when recording the songs?
Mike: We didn’t have any preconceived goals or direction. Even the style wasn’t even discussed. Within ten minutes of sitting in the same room together we immediately started writing incredibly, quickly and naturally within the first ten minutes we started writing the songs. Over the course of a couple of days this music was just falling out of us incredibly quickly. It was just very natural colaborating and putting ideas on the table. It was very organic and quick.
HRH: How would you describe the sound of the band? I think the band has a great classic sound and you bring back those great classic riffs.
Mike: I would describe it as a great classic rock band. It has all of the elements that the three of us grew up listening to. Bands like The Who and The Stones, Zeppelin. It has some twists and turns by maybe some Alice In Chains and Soundgarden. But really it is a straight up rock band with great songs, great playing and great vocal hooks. It is what it is. It is just the three of us.
HRH: You are such an established musician. How has The Winery Dogs given you the musical freedom to create what you want? It must be so exhilarating to create something from scratch?
Mike: Definitely. I am kind of fortunate throughout my musical career. I have always had great musical outlets with great musicians. The Winery Dogs is no exception. The Winery Dogs is a fresh, new start for all three of us. I think all three of us are looking for a new band in our careers to kind of write the next chapter of our careers. It is very exciting. I heard Billy say in an interview that he did yesterday that this is his first time in a long time starting a band from the ground up and starting from scratch. I guess the same could be said for Richie. Richie was like a replacement guy in Poison, and a replacement guy in Mr. Big. It is really cool to be able to start something from scratch with these guys. From the ground up.
HRH: The band is gearing up for an extensive touring season. You are going to be playing Japan, South America and the U.S. in October. Are you excited about the tour?
Mike: I can’t wait. We are covering a lot of ground right from the get go. We start in Japan, then go to South America, then do a couple of one offs in America. We head over to Europe for the month of September. Back to America starting on the West Coast in October for a full U.S. tour that will unveil in the coming weeks.
HRH: I read that you are Berklee School of Music alumni. I am originally from Boston. How great was it to attend Berklee? Do you have any favorite experiences attending Berklee? It is like one of the best music colleges in the world.
Mike: I went to Berklee in 1985 and 86. I was there a couple of semesters and that is where I met a couple of the guys I formed Dream Theater with. Basically my first year there was spent laying down the groundwork for Dream Theater and the other half immersed in all of these incredible musical academics. It was an incredible experience. It was the most inspiring musical environment that you could possibly be in.
Mike Portnoy Track by Track The Winery Dogs
l. Elevate: “Truly encompasses everything that The Winery Dogs are about. That is why I thought it was a great album opener. Also a great first single. It is a little bit of everything.”
2. Desire: “It has that funky sexy swagger and it is something that Richie sings the hell out of. It has a great groove to it.”
3. We Are One: “It has a little bit more of the shredding side of the band. Some of the more technical side and riffs. That one is a little more of a challenge”.
4. I’m No Angel: “It would be a strong single. I can picture getting a lot of radio airplay. It is one for the ladies.”
5. The Other Side: “Is a sleeper track for me. It is one of my favorites on the album but it is not one of the obvious immediate tracks for me. It is a sleeper track but one that I really love. I love the hooks on the chorus and some of the playing on the end jam”.
6. You Saved Me: “Is a very personal song for me. It is the only song on the album that I wrote the lyrics and melody too. It was song that I wrote for my wife as a ‘thank you’ for her incredible support over the last couple of years while I made big career changes in my life. It is my thank you to her.”
7. Not Hopeless: “It is one of the more upbeat songs on the album. It is in 7/4 time. It is one of the few songs on the album with an odd time signature. It has more of a more modern edge. To me it reminds me of Stone Temple Pilots or Velvet Revolver.”
8. One More Time: “This is the very first song that we wrote together. We wrote that within the first ten minutes of sitting in the same room together. To me that is a pretty important song because it is where it all began.”
9. Damaged: “Is one of the two tracks on the album that is solely Richie’s. To me it shows an incredible soft side that he has. Once again it could be a big radio hit. Another favorite of the ladies.”
10. Six Feet Deeper: “It is an upbeat rocker. Kind of reminds me of a Lenny Kravitz swagger to it. It is also one of the very first ones that we wrote together.”
ll. Time Machine: “It is probably one of the more modern ones. With an Alice and Chains kind of vibe to it”.
12. The Dying: “It is the epic on the album. It has this ‘Stairway To Heaven’ and ‘November Rain’ vibe to me. It is very slow and melodic and it builds and builds with amazing guitar solos”.
13. Regret: “It is probably the most different song on the album. It’s got Richie playing piano. It has a real gospel kind of vibe to it. Along with ‘Damaged’ it is the only other song on the album that Richie wrote solely by himself. I think it shows off his unbelievable vocal range.”
Find the band online at: www.facebook.com/thewinerydogs