Dee Haley of BackstageAxxess.com recently conducted an interview with guitarist/vocalist Richie Kotzen (MR. BIG, POISON) about THE WINERY DOGS, his new power trio with drummer Mike Portnoy (DREAM THEATER, AVENGED SEVENFOLD, ADRENALINE MOB) and legendary bassist Billy Sheehan (MR. BIG, TALAS, DAVID LEE ROTH). A couple of excerpts from the chat follow below.
BackstageAxxess.com: The three of you as musicians don't seem to have boundaries when it comes to your playing styles; you really seem to work well together. The first song, "Elevate", does seem to have a MR. BIG-ish sound and you have worked with Billy Sheehan before. How did the dynamics of THE WINERY DOGS differ from, say, MR. BIG or the other bands that you have been in?
Richie: The dynamics between me and Billy have always been kind of consistent. We did the MR. BIG thing together and there was a period of time when Billy and Pat Torpey and I were working together with thoughts of maybe doing a project but that never happened. They ended up playing on one of my solo records. Billy and I connected again and I took him with me to Japan when I had the opportunity to open for THE ROLLING STONES. Billy and I have a lot of history, and not just playing together, we like each other and we're friends. It's a good vibe there, so to work with him is easy. He knows how to communicate with me and I know how to communicate with him and we get it done. With THE WINERY DOGS record, it was an interesting process in writing, it was kind of two separate formulas really at play. The first thing was half the record was written in such a way that we would literally get in a room and just jam ideas, whether it started from a bass riff that Billy had or a guitar riff that I had or a drum beat. We would just kind of mess around and end up with these little skeletons of songs where you have a verse and a chorus, or a chord, maybe a bridge or solo section and that sort of thing. We recorded all of those in a very quick way. Nothing that was done proper; just a couple microphones and get it going. Those guys went on the road for a while with another project they had so I kind of laid back and threw around some melody ideas and lyric ideas and I pretty much finished those songs. Some of those songs were "Time Machine" and one called "Criminal", but there's a bunch of them that we did that way. I would record some vocals and send them off and they would make comments on them. We like that or we don't like that, can we keep this, can we keep that. That was kind of how a lot of the record was written. The rest of the songs were songs that really I brought in towards the end. Songs like "Regret" or "Damaged" or "I'm No Angel", even "Elevate". Those were songs that I had originally had demoed in my studio. I remember there was a couple of days that I was kind of pulling up songs and said hey, what do you think about this? Do you want to make it into a WINERY DOGS song? So the ones that ended up on the record were the ones that I had mentioned and then together we sat down and fine tuned those and made them into a little more fitting in with what THE WINERY DOGS are about. That was really the process. We ended up with 14 songs, but unfortunately, we had to save one for a bonus track in Japan and the other for a bonus track in the U.S. There are two different versions of the record floating around. So people who want to hear everything might have to do a little bit of research to get all of the material but when you come see us live you will hear all 14 songs.
BackstageAxxess.com: What was the timeline in creating this record? I know you had done an acoustic tour before this came out.
Richie: That tour was already booked and in the works prior to the completion of THE WINERY DOGS record so that was already something I knew I was going to be doing. As far as the actual timeline, we had gotten together and Mike Portnoy was the one who really has this engraved in his head, but to my memory, we got together the initial time and we came up with maybe 4 or 5 ideas and I remember going back and finishing the songs, putting vocals on and sending off what I did to the guys, I think I finished 2 of them. We got together again and came up with another batch and at some point we demoed these songs and I went in and sang on these demos and came up with whatever melodies I wanted to sing and lyric ideas. There was one of them that Mike did lyrics on; he demoed it. So then we had maybe 7 or 8 of these songs that existed and we got together at that point to try to start cutting the record. In that process is where I played some of the songs I had laying around and presented them and they became WINERY DOGS songs as well, which were songs I mentioned earlier. In the end, we had 14 songs to cut drums to so we did all that in about two weeks and they took off. I went in and did guitars and vocals. They came back and finetuned everything. They did background vocals, percussion, a couple little lyric tweaks here and there. We sent it off to Jay Ruston to get mixed and we ended up with our record.
BackstageAxxess.com: You had mentioned you had some of the songs. Did you have the music to the songs or the lyrics too? Did you write them together?
Richie: "Regret" and "Damaged". I have a demo of "Damaged" and it really sounds like a disco song. I have to dig it up one day and put it on a B side. "I'm No Angel" was done, although it was called "Misfortune" and we changed the title. "Elevate" was done in the sense that the chorus existed with the lyrics and the melody and so did the verse, but in two different songs. Originally, that riff and that verse I had in another song with a whole other chorus. It was Mike who decided to put that verse with the chorus that you hear now. When we did that idea, when we put them together, there was a key issue; the verse and the chorus, they sounded weird at first. I remember Billy and I spent a lot of time on that song reconfiguring the bass line and the guitar to make it a smooth transit and that's how that song came to be. "We Are One" was a song that I had the music to all written out and I had the melodies, but the chord progression was different so Billy and I ended up rewriting that as well. There was a lot of skeletons we dealt with and threw some meat on them. There were some that were finished. The ones that were the most finished would be "Damaged", "Regret" and "I'm No Angel" as far as the ones I brought in. The other ones were in different stages of work.
Read the entire interview at BackstageAxxess.com.