Interview with Richie Kotzen of The Winery Dogs at Sonisphere 2014

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The Winery Dogs Band Promo Photo 2014

What happens when you put three musical titans together? Pure genius, that’s what! Power trio The Winery Dogs is made up of Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater, Avenged Sevenfold), Billy Sheehan (Mr. Big) and Richie Kotzen (Mr. Big, Poison). Rock Sins was lucky enough to be able to sit down and had a chat with Richie Kotzen at Sonisphere.

This is Lisa Fox for Rock Sins. 

RK: I’m Richie Kotzen of The Winery Dogs.

How was the show?

RK: The show was great.  You know when you do these festivals it’s, moves quick, the crew has to set up quick, you don’t really do a typical sound check so you’re kind of depending on your experience as a musician to do what you got to do and I don’t think it could have went better I was totally happy and we connected with the audience which is the most important thing.

And that’s hard to do at a festival when you’re quite far away from the crowd.

RK: You know it’s funny there was a lot of people there but it didn’t seem that way to me, it seemed like we were really connected and I look at people when I’m on stage, you know, I really felt the energy and it was all really strong, positive.

I’m sure you’ve picked up some new fans from today.

RK: Hopefully.

It was a great show.  It really was. So tell me, how did the band come about?

RK: Well Mike and Billy have been playing together in some other formats and I guess they want to do a power trio type of thing and they reached out to me, you know I have a long history of working with Billy on and off. And we got together at my house and we never discussed a direction or anything like that, we started jamming.  Before we knew it we had three songs that ended up being on the record.  But we did those first three we demoed them and felt good about it so we wrote a few more and it was sort of a really simple, kind of mellow process. No real pressure.

So tell me where the name The Winery Dogs came from.

RK: I lobbied hard for that name.  We had a list, a long list of names, that was the hardest thing for us to decide was the band name.  the record was done and we still didn’t have a band name. And I was out with one of my friends and he actually suggested it and I brought it back to the guys and told them what it meant, where it came from and put up a real hard sale and they ended up saying yes we’re The Winery Dogs.

What does it mean?

RK: You see winery dogs used to guard vineyards to keep like pests away from destroying the grapes and the mines.  To me the name reminds me of one of those old bands from the late sixties and early seventies and I think our influence kind of pulls from that era but also because winery dogs are guarding vineyards we can kind of make a parallel to what we’re doing, I don’t think we’re guarding anything but I think we’re definitely calling attention to a preserving the old preserving the old format of making records where it’s really just three guys playing their instruments.  All the sounds you hear on the record are made by either the guitar bass drums or when I play piano, organ.  So, all the instrumentation is real, the performances are real, they’re not altered electronically. And so in that regard it also ties in with the name.

Cool.  So tell me about the album, you released the album last year?

RK: Yes in June. Well we recorded and entire record at my house and we had Jay Ruston do the mixes for us and say a major percentage of the material really came out of us kind of jamming you know we would play a riff or a drum beat or a bass side and then, so, “Try doing this, try doing that” so we could create this kind of skeleton and then from that I would go back and try to write lyrics or we’d sing over it.  Send that back to the guys to make comments here and there, sometimes not and then I’d say maybe seven or eight of the songs we did that way.  A couple of other songs that I had written previously that I brought in that they liked and we turned them into Winery Dogs songs.  A couple of other things that were ideas that I never finished and we took those on and developed them and it’s easy, you know an easy process.  I did all my tracks alone, like I normally record.  I have a studio in my house so everything’s ready to go for that.  I just put the microphone up in front of the board and start singing and that’s how we did it and we handed them off to Jay for the mixes and I, like a three month process in total.  The total time spent from beginning to end and it, we ended up with a record that we really liked and didn’t have any expectations. Apparently it was well received so here we are.

Well I was just going to say that because musically you guys have done a variety of different sounds between all of you, but the Winery Dogs sound is quite rock and roll. Is that just what came out organically?

RK: It is, you know we never discussed direction.  I grew up listening to classic rock and R and B songs so my style falls within that parameter.  Billy and Mike have some things that they were in to that I never listened to when I was younger but then we have in common some things.  So I think what happened is our commonality was the nucleus of our sound.  It’s that common ground you know.  We’re all different…for example.  I don’t have a progressive rock thing but Mike does, he brings that, Mike doesn’t have a history of listening to a lot of you know R and B psychedelic for example but I do so we all have our other things that kind of come together and what I love about the record, it does sound like a new thing but when you hear it no-one’s identity got lost, you know that’s Billy playing bass, you know that’s Mike playing drums and you obviously know what I do, can identify me easily.  So I think that’s the charm of the band.

You worked on quite a lot of projects in your time. You’ve done bits and pieces with Poison and you’ve done some solo stuff,  and you’ve done production as well. What has been your favourite thing to do? 

RK: Well I’ve been a solo artist since 1989 like you said I did a brief thing with Poison but I averaged a record a year since 1989 so I remember in 2011 I finished a solo record 24 Hours. The name of the record is 24 Hours and after that tour cycle I remember saying to one of my friends, “Look I haven’t been in a band in over 10 years maybe it would be nice to take a break for myself and do some co-writing and work with some other guys”.  And literally a few months later the phone rang and they were looking to do something so the timing was perfect. And right now I’m focused on what we’re doing with the Winery Dogs.  I think we’re connecting with people and we’re playing music that we want to play. That’s important. And so there’s no reason not to keep going.

You’ve just released a live album?

RK: Yes, we recorded our second show ever, which is pretty insane and it’s kind of funny because there’s mistakes on the record but we left them there and it’s kind of the charm of it.  That’s going to be out here fairly soon.  I’m curious to see what happens when we make the next one, so we have one from the second show and then we can make one from the 100th show. It will be kind of interesting to see how the band evolved.

It’s interesting that you’ve not corrected the errors in it because a lot of bands would.

RK: What’s really funny, what’s funny is I did, I made a huge mistake on a record.  We open the show with a song called Elevate.  Midway through we play a song called Six Feet Deeper and the guitar line is very similar. When Mike counted off Six Feet Deeper I started playing Elevate which we had already played. And for the first four measures I’m playing the wrong riff and then I realise, oh shit, fixed it and we kept it, it’s in the video.  There’s another point where we do a cover song, we do Fool Around and Fell In Love so I started, and for some reason I started playing Sarah’s Smile by Hall and Oates and the band doesn’t know that song.  I know it but we never play it together and all of a sudden, right on the mic I say, “Oh fuck I started the wrong song”.  And we were in Japan so I don’t think anyone knew what I said but it’s on the DVD.  Pretty funny.  But there’s some really good moments on there so we’re sharing it with everybody, mistakes and all.

How do you find performing live as a three piece, because it is tough to get that depth of sound live?

RK: Well for me it isn’t.  My format for my entire career has been a power trio. It’s a format that I, that I prefer.  There’s so much musical freedom for a rock band that format and what I love about playing live is having the room to improvise.  If you notice, with the Winery Dogs and with my solo bands, it’s the same thing, we play the songs but we have these long sections where we improvise the solos and they’re different night to night because we listen and play off each other.  So the three piece makes that all the more easier to do. You know listening and responding and you know because I sing it just makes sense you know, I sing and play guitar.  If I didn’t sing we’d have a lead singer, there’d be four guys……but it just makes sense to be a power trio.

What’s next for Winery Dogs?

RK: Well we’re finishing after this tour and we’re going to end in Toronto and we’ve got some European things.  We’ve got some more US shows and then we’re going to wrap it up in Toronto, take a break and hopefully start recording the new records first thing next year.

Fantastic.  I know it’s not really a question for you but are there any thoughts on Dream Theater playing tomorrow?

RK: Oh we’re not going to be here for that. I, I got to be honest I’m not really, I never followed Dream Theater.  I remember the hit that they had years ago because it was on MTV around the same time that a Poison video was on MTV so I remember hearing it, I liked it but I’ve never followed the band but I’m sure they’ll be great.

Are you going to check out any bands today?

RK: Yes I’d like to see Iron Maiden.

Who wouldn’t?

RK:Yes.

Will you see the planes going over as well?

RK: I’m going to watch that too.

So as a final question, because the site is called Rock Sins, what would you say is your biggest rock sin?

RK: Biggest rock sin, well this is going to be a boring sin but I think putting myself in the position playing music that I don’t really want to be playing, and I kind of made a vow to myself years ago that I’ll quit music before I’ll ever make a record that’s something that I don’t want to make.  Because sometimes when you’re young you’re in positions where you have no choice because you want to get to a certain place and then you realise at some point I had a turning point and realised why I’m playing music and it’s because it makes me feel a certain way.  Positive.  You know a good way and that’s what I want to feel, I don’t ever want to be mad at music.  So there’ve been times where I’ve felt that so maybe that was my only sin against myself so to speak.

RK: Thank you.

Thank you very much indeed.

The Winery Dogs’ self-titled debut out album is out now on Loud & Proud Records. The band recently released a 2014 wrap up, which you can read at the following location – https://t.co/Qono9qIwL4. Look out for more great things from The Winery Dogs in 2015!

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