The Winery Dogs

By Jay Oakley and Christie Gerber

So, you're putting together a new record. Tell us about it?

Billy Sheehan: We are. We'll be starting next week to actually start recording. We've got most of the songs written for the most part. We never complete everything completely when we go to record. There's always some extra little thingy or twist or turn that we add or subtract but I'm excited about it because we did so well with our first record. Overwhelming well and we didn't expect that kind of response. 

Oh, people love you guys! Are you kidding me?

Billy: I know and we're so grateful because we wouldn't put anything out that we didn't like. But I felt very strongly about this record when it first came out. In my life I've had two other records that I felt really strong about, Eat 'Em and Smile (David Lee Roth,) Lean Into It with Mr. Big and the first Winery Dogs record and equally with all of them I've felt, "This is something." But, you never know if people are going to concur with you or not and if the people, the general public, is going to go along. But in this case they did so we're extremely lucky and thankful.

Richie, how has everything been going for you with the new record? How are you feeling about it?

Richie Kotzen: I feel pretty good. We did the usual thing where we get together and jam and throw a bunch of ideas around and pick the best of what we've got. Now we've kinda of narrowed it down and we're gonna go in and record and it should be fun, I think. 

The first record was a little bit of a mystery. Not knowing because we had never played together, we never wrote together and in the end it came out really nice. This time I would imagine it being that much easier and faster just because of the experience that we had. Not only being in the studio before but being on the road as well because we're more familiar with the boundaries creatively.

Billy: We did a lot of shows. How many shows did we do, Mike?

Mike Portnoy: Believe it or not, I think it was a hundred and one. We literally made it into the triple digits by like two shows.

You guys toured all over the place.

Mike: We were out for well over a year. We went to American, Europe, South America, Asia so it was an amazing first chapter. We couldn't have asked for a better first chapter for a new band.

Were there ever the "I want to kill him!" moments? Be honest!

Mike: Not for me, to be honest. I also find it easier to be in a band with only three guys. I spent all those years in a band with five guys and with three guys it's a lot easier with everybody's personalities. I think we have three distinctively different personalities as well but it somehow works.

But you all seem pretty laid back.

Mike: I think it's also because all three of us have been doing this for twenty, twenty-five, thirty, thirty-five years or whatever so you're done with the head-games and needing to prove yourself and battling for position. But with this we all respect each others histories because we know that we've all been around the block, we've all done this before and I think we all respect each other creatively and as artists. In other bands I would fight for control because I always felt that my idea was best and I knew what was best but in this case there's two other guys that I respect as artists so I can trust that their opinion will be incredibly valid. I think that helps when you have a situation like this, when you have people that are veterans and coming together.

Are you allowed to announce the name of the album?

Mike: We don't even have it yet. We won't know that until later on in the process.

When it came to this new record, did you guys ever have a hard time getting together to put work into it? Especially with all the other projects that you're all doing?

Richie: I don't think so. The only thing I had a hard time with was once we had all the ideas, because I'm the singer and it's up to me write the words that I have to sing and melodies and come up with something I would want to sing and feel emotionally connected to. I remember when we finished and there was a period of time were I felt everything was really great but now I don't feel like doing any work. They're out doing work but I don't wanna work.

So I went through a weird thing for two weeks where I ripped my house apart and did a bunch of construction and then somehow in that process I was able to get away from the music and then when I went back and started listening all the lyrics started happening. So for me, it's a little weird thing where I can't be that wrapped up in music. 

Like what he does, (Mike) I can't do it. I can't go from this to that and from this to that because I start to hate music. I need that balance of feeling creative and inspired so let me do the music gag and then at a certain point I feel I don't want to hear the sound of a guitar for a while so I need that kind of pendulum swing. 

But that's why I'm only in one band. Well I have my solo thing which I've done since I was eighteen so I don't count that because that's just me being me. But as far as bands, where it's collaboration and writing together and making decisions together this is the only band that I'm in.

Well since you're in one band (Richie.) How about you guys? (Billy and Mike) Because I swear at one time you guys were running a competition to see who could be in more bands.

Mike: I've got six right now but let me clarify that. I only have one full-time band and that's the Winery Dogs. But I do have five other things that are projects or part-time or I'll fill-in. It works for some people and doesn't work for others. 

Like Richie just said, he likes staying focused on one thing and then having a breather. I can't handle breathers, I need to be working and my mind is always going in a million directions. I like doing multiple things because these guys don't have what I have where I was in one band for twenty-five years so I feel now like I'm sowing my musical oats. I want to do a thrash metal thing and I want to do a progressive thing and I want to do an alternative thing so any opportunity that arises I'll say, "Yes" to. I have a hard time saying no and I'm just a music fan that wants to play, play, play, play. But the Winery Dogs is absolutely my priority.

How about you?

Billy: Well I only really have Mr. Big which only goes out like every two or three years and we do good. We're all good friends now and have grown up through all kinds of crazy stuff and we enjoy playing but the Winery Dogs is also my main focus in fact. Niacin, a little progressive, fussiony thing, instrumental thing I do once in a blue moon and not much else really. I do sessions with people but I like to be concentrated because I have to play a lot to keep my hands in shape. So when we're off I hope for something I can do, to go out and play live for the hell of it just to keep my hands in shape.

You could just teach lessons.

Billy: It's not the same. You have to be on stage. You have to be on stage, sweat and hot, for it to really make a difference. I could sit and practice all day and it's equal to about one minute on stage.

Mike: Some people thrive on it. I hate playing by myself. I hated doing clinics by myself, I way prefer playing in front of people. I don't even like being in the studio making a record. To me, people have that struggle about whether they like the studio better, do you like live better and for me it's not even a second thought, I way prefer being on stage. The studio is a very tedious, meticulous, boring process. I want to play to people. I want to feel that feedback, I want to feel that interaction.

Richie, do you prefer to be out live?

Richie: Not always. It's different for me because the thing I love most is the creative process. More then anything, I like when I have an idea for a song that's been floating around in my head for a month and then suddenly one night it gets too a point where it all makes sense like a puzzle and I can sit down, record it and make the speakers produce what I'm hearing in my head. That's the ultimate thing. I could probably go the rest of my life and never play on stage again if I could continue to do that. 

But that doesn't necessarily mean that I love being in the studio because the studio can be very much a grind. I love playing live too. It's not one or the other for me. It's all connected in this kind of puzzle but at the core of it I need to feel creatively moving those wheels. If someone said I could play gigs for the rest of my life but you have to play covers I would absolutely quit music, I wouldn't do it. I don't get off on it the same way unless it was something I was involved in.

Guys, this was an honor and a pleasure. Thank you so much.

Together: Thank you, anytime.