The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world

The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world









check out THE WINERY DOGS album review here...


Rock's latest Supergroup THE WINERY DOGS break the trend, they are actually very good indeed, you might say frighteningly good. We spoke to Mike Portnoy a few weeks after getting a first listen to the stunningly soulful new album...


Mark: Hi, Mike, it’s Mark here from The Rockpit, in Australia. How are you? Thanks for taking the time to speak to us. Taking us back, right to the start, The Winery Dogs, the web site has been following your career for a long time now, but, is this the idea you originally started working with John Sykes on?



Mike: They are very different projects actually. One led to the other, but they are both very different. Initially I was working with John Sykes on a project, and it was basically all his material that he had already written, and I was working with him on it, and Billy Sheehan came on board and it was going to be the three of us, but it kind of just stopped dead in the water, and never went anywhere. So, we were waiting and waiting, and Billy and I just decided to pick up and start something different, we wanted to do a power trio thing, but it just wasn’t working with John. So, a friend of ours Eddie Trunk suggested Richie Kotzen, and it was a great, great suggestion because Richie is the real deal, he’s the whole package, he’s an amazing guitar player, singer and song writer! That’s when The Winery Dogs began, when me Richie and Billy began this band from scratch, having nothing to do with when we were with John.



Mark: Of course, there’s the connection between Billy, and Richie and Mr Big. How does the tag, “Supergroup” sit with you?



Mike: Well I guess it’s an easy tag to put on a band like this, and the Supergroup tag is not a new concept, it began in the sixties with Cream, and it’s been around for four decades! I think it applies to this group, because we are three guys who have all played 25-30 years plus, separately, when you have three guys that have individual paths and careers, coming together, I guess that’s the term that’s going to be applied!



Mark: It’s a great album; we’ve been listening to it solidly for the past week or so, it has a timeless, very soulful sound, and at times it’s very intense. How did the songs come together, and did it feel like you were making something magic happen in the studio?



Mike: It was definitely magical and it was immediate too. From the very first hour that the three of us were sitting down together playing, the songs were just spilling out! And the song “One More Time”, was written in the first ten minutes of us playing together, and then came “Time Machine”, and they just kept spilling out one after the other. There is a real natural chemistry between the three of us.



Mark: How did the name come about, it’s a really unusual name?



Mike: That was probably the most difficult part for us as a band, coming up with the name! For months we discussed it, and threw around different names, there was probably a list of one hundred band names after the first couple of months, and it was impossible to find one that we all agreed upon! Richie, suggested “The Winery Dogs”, it was something he liked, and felt really strongly about, so at the end of the day, we decided, ok, let’s go with it. I had never been in a band with a ‘The’ in it, so I thought that was pretty cool!



Mark: What is a winery dog? Is there such a thing?



Mike: I have no idea!!



Mark: Ok!! The release date is July 23rd on Loud and Proud Records, tell us about some of the feedback so far, have you checked out any reviews?



Mike: It has been unbelievable, unanimously positive, and a special release for me, because everything I have done, since leaving Dream Theater, three years ago, people either love it or hate it, it’s not for everyone, you know! Adrenaline Mob wasn’t for everybody, Flying Colors, wasn’t for everybody. But it seems Winery Dogs, has been universally embraced so far, and it’s the sort of music that can really speak to anybody, mainly because it’s a straight up rock band! A lot of the things I do are rooted in Progressive Rock, or rooted in Metal, and The Winery Dogs, is neither, it’s a straight up rock band, in a way that Van Halen is a rock band, Zeppelin, or Aerosmith, the music is timeless and universal, and I think this music has both of those qualities.



Mark: It is. Let’s have a look at some of the songs, quickly. “Elevate” is an absolutely huge opening song, where did that one come from?



Mike: Well, that one came from what were originally two different ideas that were on the table. Initially Richie had the main idea that was the riff and the verses, and he threw that out there, and then there was also a version of what became “I’m No Angel”, which had the chorus of “Elevate” in it, so we ended up removing it, and rewriting that chorus. So, there were bits and pieces lying around from ideas that Richie had, and I suggested what if we took the riff and the verse from one song, and use the chorus from “I’m No Angel” and put them together, and that’s how “Elevate” was born. As soon as we wrote that song I knew it was the perfect album opener, and also the perfect song to introduce people to The Winery Dogs, it really has a little bit of everything in it. It’s got the crazy playing, and the amazing vocals and the catchy chorus, I knew it would be the perfect opener.



Mark: Yeah, I think that’s one of the things that grabbed us, it’s one of those songs that demands your attention! The biggest revelation for us, was Richie’s voice, he sounds absolutely fantastic!!



Mike: I know, incredible! To me that is the beauty of this band and this album, it’s people discovering the unbelievable talent of Richie. I mean, people may be aware of his guitar playing, but not of his singing. To me he’s Glenn Hughes, meets Chris Cornell, meets Prince!! He is such a talent.



Mark: “Desire”, as well, has that massive groove, with such a sweet chorus; did that fell like a special song to you?



Mike: Absolutely! I remember, Richie, I was in his kitchen, he was sitting there with an acoustic guitar, and he came up with that riff and the chorus, and it was like magic, and I said let’s go right to the studio and record that right now!! And, we did, we pretty much put that song together, and recorded it within twenty minutes! It just fell in to place so naturally, and that’s when you know you have a magical song, you don’t have to over think it, or over analyse it, you just let it spill out and be, and that’s one of those songs!



Mark: We also got to see three videos that your PR guy sent through, we saw “I’m No Angel” which you mentioned earlier, and the massive groove that you had going on “Not Hopeless”, that was one of my favourite songs on there.



Mike: Thanks. “Not Hopeless” is interesting because I it’s in 7/4 time, it’s one of the few songs on the album that has a time signature. It’s interesting because it was the seventh song we wrote, and it’s in seven time, and it’s also the seventh track on the album, either that or it’s by total coincidence!!



Mark: “Regret” is a massive closing number, was it one of the last songs you wrote?



Mike: That is one of two songs that were solely Richie’s, and we didn’t want to fuck with it, because it was so perfect, as is!! “Regret” and “Damaged” were solely Richie’s compositions. As soon as Richie played “Regret” for us, sitting at the piano we knew it was something special; it was like going to church!! It had that gospel feel, and Richie just banged the shit out of it!!! It’s the song to play if you want to turn someone on to Richie’s voice, its spine tingling.



Mark: Do you have a particular favourite on the album?



Mike: It changes from day to day; it’s one of those albums where every day I have a different favourite! I love “Elevate” for all the reasons I mentioned earlier, and “The Other Side” is one that I don’t always think of, but when it comes up on the CD, I always love it. “You Saved Me”, because I wrote the lyrics and melodies for it, every song, like every album you do, like children, hold different places in your heart.





Mark: There is a great chemistry between you all, was that there from the start and do you think you managed to bring out the best performances in each other?



Mike: It was all very natural, but granted, there was already a built in chemistry between Billy and Richie, from working together in Mr Big. There was also the built in chemistry between me and Billy, as we had already done various things through the years. I had to ease in to the relationship, but realistically, it all came together very naturally. I don’t know the reason for that, as there’s only the three of us, I’ve been in many bands with four or five people in them, and that’s obviously a lot of different personalities to go in to a melting pot! But, when there are three of you it’s very easy to relax and just go with it.



Mark: So where does your love of this type of music come from, as we mentioned earlier, we already know you from Dream Theater, and some other prog/metal bands, so where does the love of the Blues and soulful music come from?



Mike: Well the reality is, is that before I had progressive music in my life, before I had heavy music in my life, I started with classic rock. My first ten years on earth was revolving around bands like The Beatles, The Stones, The Who, Zeppelin, Hendrix and The Doors, that was where my interest in music began, especially the three drummers, John Bonham, Keith Moon, and Ringo, were my first three cult heroes! So, this style of music, really, is the most natural for me to be involved with. Progressive music came much later for me, when I was a teenager, and Metal music didn’t even exist, until I was in college! This is my roots, this is my background, and all those years in Dream Theater, those guys were never really classic rock. I went out and did tribute bands, Paul Gilbert and I did a Beatles, Who and Zeppelin tribute, and that was my way of getting my classic rock roots out of my system. For me this is a great outlet, to tap in to those styles, those bands and those influences.



Mark: Well, that answered my next question! Is it true the album was pretty much recorded live?



Mike: Yeah, but not really!! Pretty much in that vein, and with that spirit. We wrote everything in a room, and together with the three of us just playing, recorded the songs as we played them. When you have a power trio, there’s so much space for that wide sound, and that was the vibe we were going for. Inevitably the guys did those tracks with us later, but the vibe and the spirit was very much live and right there and then!



Mark: You have a heavy touring schedule coming up very soon, you are going to Japan, South America, the US and Europe, are you looking forward to that?



Mike: I am so looking forward to it! I can’t wait to get on stage with these guys! Billy and I have played live together before, and it’s such a magic vibe, as we are both performers, we both love being on stage, it’s not just about playing an instrument, it’s about the interaction with each other and the audience. Billy and I both live for that, and I can’t wait to get up there with him again and Richie, and let people see the unbelievable soul and artistry that he is. I guess the big question is when we come down to Australia, I can’t wait!! It’s been way too long, so I’m hoping and praying we can get some dates on the calendar.



Mark: That would be great, we last saw you here with Dream Theater a while ago. Is there anyone that you would drop everything for, if the offer came??



Mike: Obviously, there’s my all-time heroes, my four biggest living heroes are Paul McCartney, Roger Waters, Pete Townsend, and Jimmy Page. So, if the phone rang from any of those four guys, sorry, all bets are off, I’d get on a plane and go, no matter what the hell I’m doing!! It’s crazy, I’ve actually had the chance to meet three out of the four of them, I met Paul McCartney for the first time recently, I’ve met Jimmy Page a couple of times, and I’ve met Roger Waters before, but otherwise I’m a very committed artist, contrary to what the asshole trolls say on the internet!! I’m actually a very devoted, committed and loyal artist! In my 25 years of Dream Theater, I was living, breathing, and shitting everything that that band did!! I am very committed to The Winery Dogs right now, and looking forward to working as hard as I can over the coming year or so to get everywhere we can with the band, and get out and play for as many people as possible.



Mark: I suppose it’s a natural thing, when you’ve been with a band like Dream Theater, for 25 years, it must feel like the end of a marriage, was it very liberating, a big pressure off??



Mike: It was liberating, but it was also scary! You grow and feel a sense of security with 25 years with the same band, and it takes a lot of balls to walk away from that! To be honest it wasn’t that easy for me, but, it had to happen. There’s a great expression that I love, and that is “It is better to regret something that you have done, than to regret something that you haven’t”. I very much had that feeling, if I hadn’t left Dream Theater, I would have probably spent the rest of my life wondering, “what if?” what I could’ve done, rather than what I did do, and after 25 years of Dream Theater, I needed to explore other things, I didn’t want to be defined by them for the rest of my life. I needed to explore other styles with other people. So, as difficult as it was to walk away from that security, I had to follow my heart.



Mark: I think that’s a great answer, and one that many people who have been following you over the years will hopefully get behind you with. A couple of quick questions to finish off with, that we ask everyone, if you could have been a fly on the wall for the recording of any classic rock album, what would it have been for you and why?



Mike: God! I have to say three that immediately come to mind! I am one of those people with a million lists, and so I can never break it down to just one! So “Sergeant Pepper”, “The Wall” and “OK Computer”, I just think that all those are such ground breaking albums, creatively, and I would have just loved to see the creative process, not only the writing, but the recording as well.



Mark: Yes, three great choices. Finally, what is the meaning of life?



Mike: I’m still trying to find out!! So, I’ll let you know, when I find out!



Mark; Thank you, Mike, I do hope you get down to see us here in Australia at some point, but, good luck with the tour. It’s a great album, one of the best I’ve heard over the last couple of years, thank you for talking to us. Take care.



Mike: Thank you, I appreciate that. Bye.



By Mark Diggins July 2013




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