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The Winery Dogs Discuss Formation of Band, Debut Album + More

Charles Epting, Loudwire

The self-titled debut Winery Dogs album (out July 23) is one of the most intriguing releases of the year. The all-star trio, which includes Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater, Avenged Sevenfold, Adrenaline Mob), Billy Sheehan (Mr. Big, David Lee Roth) and Richie Kotzen (Mr. Big, Poison), has delivered a blistering collection of soaring tunes.

The band just hit the road to kick off their first tour of Japan. They’ll be buzzing the world for the next several months but fortunately Loudwire had a chance to sit down with all three guys during a rehearsal break in Los Angeles recently. Check out our interview with the Winery Dogs below:

Right out of the gate there has been an incredible response to this music.

Mike Portnoy: It’s the most unanimously positive reaction to anything I’ve ever been a part of. It’s being embraced by everyone which is awesome. We knew it was good, we just didn’t expect this kind of reaction. It’s been a little overwhelming. But we’ll take it (laughs).

Billy Sheehan: This is the first band I’ve started in a long time so it’s fun doing something from scratch. And to have that type of positive response, as a result of our decision to collaborate really builds a fire under us. And we’re all about playing live so this tour coming up is really exciting. That’s what it’s all about. Live. People are excited to see what this band is capable of onstage.

Richie, how did this come about for you?

Richie Kotzen: I was just minding my own business when I got a phone call from Eddie Trunk. He said he was talking to Mike and Billy and that they had a project in the works. The wanted to do a power trio band with a guitar player that could sing. So my name came up, they were interested in talking and obviously I was excited. It’s funny because prior to this I’ve been doing solo records my whole life, touring and everything, and I remembered telling someone very recently, “It’s been 10 years since I revisited the band thing; it would be nice if that came along.”

Portnoy: Be careful you wish for (laughs). There was an absolute chemistry immediately with these guys. It was very organic and not forced at all. Literally within 10 minutes of being in Richie’s studio we were writing. By the end of the day we had three or four songs written. Sure there’s some built-in chemistry. These guys played in Mr. Big of course. I’ve played with Billy. That all probably helped us ease into the situation and deliver. It was incredible how easy it was right from the start.

Billy, talk about your influences a bit and how they filtered into this band.

Sheehan: We all have a long history of playing all kinds of music. And we all grew up in that time when that great 70s thing was going on. I don’t really like the term ‘classic rock’ because it doesn’t really mean anything now. But what they used to mean by that is kind of the first launch of the first bands that really did it, like Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple. Bands that really established the form. All those bands launched essentially everything we have today. And our record is heavily influenced by all of that, but we are not looking back over our shoulders. This is a very modern record but it’s hard to escape your influences when they are good as the ones we have. I’m so excited to be playing in a band like this.. It’s a real breath of fresh air for me.

Kotzen: I agree. It’s really exciting. Like Mike said, the chemistry was so instant. If there was not chemistry we would not be sitting here right now. It’s the only reason to do it. Otherwise there is no point. It’s too much work and too much time for everyone to not enjoy it.

Sheehan: As far as this band being a priority, it definitely is. Sure we have other things going on but there’s a real commitment to Winery Dogs. A true focus. There will be little things to do here and there after this tour but we are very excited about the future of this band.

Mike, how will the live show shake out?

Portnoy: Inevitably when you have just one album, that’s your set. In this case we are able to padded out with some stuff from our other musical lives. And maybe add some covers. But with the solos and all, there’s your 90 minutes. As far as his band on stage, I think this will be an amazing live act. We are all about the performance. We will pour our heart and soul out each night.

No doubt fans will be thrilled to meet you once the tour kicks off. Any memories of musicians you’ve met over the years that stand out above the rest? Or that made a big impression on you?

Portnoy: In Brooklyn recently, I met this new up-and-coming artist named Paul McCartney (laughs). I turned into a 10-year-old fan boy. It was surreal. Experiences like that make me remember why I do this. I’m a fan first and foremost. Always will be. Sometimes we take it for granted in this job that you mix and mingle with so many of your heroes. Like even right now with these guys! But throughout my life I’ve met some of the people that I love and admire. But nothing like Paul McCartney. He took about 10 minutes with me, hanging out casually, having a great conversation. And here he is the biggest position of history the planet and yet he still has that relationship with his fans. That he could just sit and talk to you like that. It was a rush. Just amazing.

Sheehan: I had a chance to get to know Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top. We actually became friends after that. And he is just a wonderful guy — a walking encyclopedia, an amazing player, totally generous. always brings gifts with him — just an amazing guy. I’ve always been a big ZZ Top fan and to get to know a guy as iconic as Billy for me was something really special.

Kotzen: I remember when I moved to L.A., I was at a club, one of those places with the velvet ropes outside. A buddy and I and my guitar tech went out one night we got in. And sitting at a table in this near empty club was George Harrison and I was sitting right next to him. And we sat there and drank with him the whole night. It was pretty intense. The same thing happened with Eddie Van Halen. Those are things I never forget. Having these moments with people that you totally worship and as it turns out, they are really cool people. Amazing.

The Winery Dogs’ self-titled debut album arrives July 23. You can pick it up at iTunes now.

Watch the Winery Dogs’ Video for ‘I’m No Angel’

Next: Winery Dogs Select Track-by-Track Breakdown

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