- - Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Whether they like to admit it or not, The Winery Dogs are a rock ‘n’ roll supergroup, composed of the best players in the business. The drummer is Mike Portnoy from Dream Theater, Adrenaline Mob and, most recently, Twisted Sister. Bass god Bill Sheehan was the driving rumble behind Mr. Big, David Lee Roth and Steve Vai. Richie Kotzen, the final piece of this majestic rock triangle, is the band’s lead singer and guitarist. You know him from his stint in Poison as well as a string of bluesy solo CDs.

Put them together and Winery Dogs has quite a pedigree indeed. But unlike other bands, this is not a “side project” crammed into the players’ free time between their “day job” gig. Winery Dogs is the real deal.

To mark the release of their much-anticipated second CD, “Hot Streak,” Mr. Kotzen sat down to discuss how “That Metal Show“‘s Eddie Trunk is responsible for the band, what it was like to be in Poison and the hotness of “Hot Streak.”

Question: How did the band come together?

Answer: I had known Billy for a while. We played in two different things together. Mike Portnoy I didn’t know very well. Mike is friends with Eddie Trunk, host of “That Metal Show.” Eddie called me one day and asked what I had been doing and if I was interested in meeting with Mike and Billy and maybe jamming. They were interested in playing with me.

We got together at my house and threw some ideas around. Next thing you know we started writing songs, and here we are.

Q: Where did the band’s name come from?

A: When we made the first record, everything was so easy. The one thing we could not agree on was a name. I didn’t like any of the suggestions, and I wasn’t coming up with anything. A buddy of mine said, “I’ve got a great idea for a band name: The Winery Dogs!” I told the guys, and I got a lot of resistance. But in the end I was able to push through. I love the name.

Q: Are there real dogs called “winery dogs”?

A: Apparently, years ago, when you had a vineyard, if you had an issue with rodents and whatnot eating your grapes, you would have dogs running through the vineyard to chase away any animals that were going after the grapes. In regards to music, the way we make our records is kinda old-school. We are guarding and preserving the old-school way of making a record.

Q: Do you consider it a “supergroup”?

A: In the beginning I just thought it would be a really cool project that would be a diversion from my solo career. It turned into something more. We toured for over a year. We became a real band. We never billed ourselves as anything more than The Winery Dogs. If someone else wants to label it, that’s on them.

Q: What is the songwriting process like between the three of you?

A: On the first record a lot of songs were songs that I had previously written and brought in. We worked them into Winery Dogs songs. The remaining songs were musically written together, then I went in with the instrumental pieces and turned them into songs by writing lyrics. On this record we got in a room for five days and jammed and came up with musical ideas and riffs, recorded them. I sat with that stuff for months, then found the inspiration to write lyrics. But the nucleus of those songs is the three of us in a room working together.

Q: Is there more pressure on you as the lyricist?

A: I don’t look at it as pressure. I’ve been doing it now for over 20 years. It’s what I do — what I bring in and my value in the band.

Q: Is it difficult to make real rock in a time of processed pop?

A: It’s a nonvariable. It simply doesn’t affect any aspect of what we do. The reality is there is not a huge market for the kind of rock that we play. We’re not doing this for anything other than than the love of the genre. If we were out to make money or win a popularity contest, we wouldn’t be playing these songs.

Q: What can fans expect from the new CD “Hot Streak”?

A: Lyrically I was more connected on this record. I think the first record was great, and “Regret” is one of the best songs I have ever written. On “Hot Streak” the songs stretch out a bit more. There is a progressive rock element to this record. At the same time we have maintained the elements that got people excited about the band.

Q: Do you have good memories about your time in Poison?

A: It was a fantastic situation. I have nothing but amazing memories. I went from being on an independent label, where if we spent more than $20,000 to make the record we would be in trouble. [Then] Poison, where our album budget was $2.5 million. We stayed in the studio as long as we wanted, had fantastic dinners together. Traveled.

Unfortunately, it ended in a bad way. That’s old news. I’ve seen them all out over the years, and we are on friendly terms. Looking back on it, it was one of the best experiences in my life.

Q: What is the one thing you need to have with you on tour?

A: I guess my sanity, somehow. I have to have a certain kind of mindset. I am not a road dog. One of the keys for me is to take the minimalist approach. Having the least amount of physical things: computer, phones, shoes. The lighter I travel, the happier I am.

Q: Away from The Winery Dogs, you have a DVD coming out, yes?

A: I’m releasing the first-ever official live DVD of my solo band. We’ve been touring for over 15 years around the world, and there have been various bootleg videos made. This is the first time we’ve done an official high-quality DVD. It’s for people who want to see what I do away from The Winery Dogs.

“Hot Streak” is available now.


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