Exclusive Interview: Mike Portnoy Talks The Winery Dogs

Since leaving Dream Theater Mike Portnoy has been in about 15 different bands. I just picked that number out of thin air, but it seems like everytime I turn around he’s got something new coming out. The sick part is that most of it is great. Adrenaline Mob is a great hard rock band, Flying Colors hands down had the best album of 2012, There was the Avenged Sevenfold run and he even played a show with Stone Sour. Now he has a this new band featuring Ritchie Kotzen (Mr. Big, Poison) and Billy Sheehan (Mr. Big) that is so amazing. I went from bummed that Portnoy had left Adrenaline Mob too overly excited when I heard The Winery Dogs. The album is great and I got to chat with Portnoy about it.

Bob Zerull (BZ): Hey how are you doing Mike?

Mike Portnoy (MP): Good, how are you doing?

BZ: Pretty good, congratulations on the Winery Dogs album and signing with Loud and Proud. How did this project come into existence?

MP: It started about a year or two ago when Billy Sheehan and I were working with another guitar player and looking to do a cool power trio thing. Things didn’t work out with the guy we were working with, but my good friend Eddie Trunk (That Metal Show) suggested Ritchie Kotzen. Immediately Billy and I thought it was a perfect suggestion because we were looking for not only an amazing guitar player but also an amazing singer and an amazing songwriter and Ritchie is all three of those. It was a perfect suggestion and obviously Billy and Ritchie worked together in Mr. Big many years ago and were both excited to work together again. The three of us got together and the chemistry was immediately apparent.

BZ: Ritchie has never really gotten the credit he’s deserved as a musician both vocally and as a guitarist. He really gets to shine on this album, along with all of you, do you feel like the critics are starting to recognize this as the reviews come out?

MP: I hope so. To me that’s the most exciting thing about this album is going to be watching people discover the amazing talent that Ritchie is. I think people really have no idea. They immediately write him off as the guy that was in Mr. Big and in Poison. In both of those cases he wasn’t singing and the sole songwriter. I don’t think his talents have been truly recognized and hopefully this album will do exactly that, because he is the real deal, the total package.

BZ: What was the songwriting process?

MP: The three of us got together at Ritchie’s house in Ritchie’s home studio and just immediately started collaborating and bouncing ideas off one another and real quickly we found ourselves with fourteen songs, twelve of which were completely collaborated on and then there are two on the album that were Ritchie’s to begin with, but basically the other twelve were all three of us, either jamming on an idea that was brought in or jamming on an idea that came up when we were playing together in the room. In all cases it was all about the three-way chemistry and everybody’s ideas being incorporated.

BZ: As a listener and a fan, especially of prog rock, jazz and fusion, the hardest part for me to wrap my head around are those instrumental breaks. You had them in Dream Theater and you guys do them The Winery Dogs, it’s different than Dream Theater, but they are still there. Are those created out of jam sessions? How does one orchestrate something so complicated?

MP: Being that Winery Dogs is definitely not a prog rock band it’s a little different for this band than with Dream Theater. With Dream Theater instrumental breaks like that are very orchestrated and written out as part of the song structure. Where as with Winery Dogs, we’re not a prog rock band, we’re just a classic rock band, but being that everybody in the band is a bit of an accomplished musician there’s inevitably going to be instrumental breaks that are sprinkled with in the songs. In the case of the Winery Dogs it’s not any sort of pre written or pre structured thing, it’s more live when we were jamming the tunes we would just naturally jam. All of those instrumental breaks were something that spontaneously happened. We knew the song structure and where it was going to fall, but what happened within it was always spontaneous. From there Billy and Ritchie would write around a drum groove that I jammed out or vice versa. This is more of a jam band in the sense of the classic 60’s and 70’s bands like Led Zeppelin and The Who and bands like that, Cream and Hendrix. They had instrumental breaks but its not like progressive instrumental breaks its more jamming instrumental breaks.

BZ: You recently left Adrenaline Mob, you have so many other projects going on, or you have had so many going on over the last few years, is this a full on band, is this a part time band, what is Winery Dogs?

MP: We all would love for this to be our new home. I think all three of us are hoping for that and shooting for that, but only time will tell. For all intents and purposes all three of us would love for this to be the next chapter in all three of our careers. But like everything else I’ve been doing the last couple of years you plant the seeds and you see which ones grow and which ones don’t grow. We’re all hoping that The Winery Dogs grows into something that can be a long-term band for many years to come. We surely think that the chemistry is there and definitely has the potential to do so.

BZ: Do you have any shows lined up?

MP: Yeah absolutely. The tour starts in July starting in Japan and then from there we go to South America and play in six or seven countries in South America and then Europe in September and then we’re hoping to get US shows on either side of Europe, hopefully some in August and hopefully some in October. But yeah the calendar is slowly filling up.


Check out the video for "Elevate" right here:


 BYLINE: Bob Zerull is the Managing Editor of Zoiks! Online. He writes pop culture commentary, does interviews with bands, and reviews music and stand-up concerts. He also administers Zoiks! Online's Facebook page. Follow Bob on twitter at bzerull. Email Bob at bob@zoiksonline.com.
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