Get ready to rock this July as The Winery Dogs, consisting of Richie Kotzen, Billy Sheehan and Mike Portnoy, will be delivering a rocking good time to some lucky cities in the Midwest! The Winery Dogs have just completed a successful European tour and are bringing their music and enthusiasm stateside this July! Billy Sheehan took some time to talk about the current tour, The Winery Dogs’ new album Hot Streak, and social media’s impact on fan interaction.
Q: Hi Billy! I want to thank you for your time today. I hope you’ve been able to enjoy some time off since returning from Europe. How was the European leg of the tour?
A: Spectacular! It was a great run. It was nice to be in Europe in the summertime. We played a couple festivals and a couple other gigs. It was a great time.
Q: Have you guys had fun playing Hot Streak live?
A: A blast! We’ve modified it a bit where the audience sings parts of the songs now. They’re all familiar with that part of that particular song. There are a couple spots where we break down and become quieter. We extended the bass solo and it wasn’t even my idea! Every time we play something live it kind of morphs and evolves from what it was originally. A couple months into a tour we take it back to how it started and re-evolve it into something else. It’s like the song is alive. Every night is different! The improvisational part of the show figures significantly with The Winery Dogs and what we do.
Q: I’ve listened to and bought the album. I think it’s fantastic! Do you have a favorite track?
A: Hard to pick a favorite! It’s like having ten or twelve kids and picking a favorite. They all have their unique attributes. Today I’ll go with “Ghost Town.”
Q: In such tracks as “Empire”, “War Machine” and “The Bridge” you deliver a very prominent bass line. I even hear a little punk influence. Is that the case?
A: Oh yeah! I was into a lot of stuff in the 70s that was punk-ish. The Clash, the White Riot version of The Clash, not the MTV version. [I was a big fan of] the band Fear, an LA punk band. I’m influenced by many things from classical to Bulgarian choir music and everything in between.
Q: Let’s talk about “Captain Love”, which Richie referred to as the stripper pole song! I love this track and I picture you guys tearing this up live. How does the crowd react when you play this one?
A: Absolutely! Second song of the night! We launch into the chord and the crowd roars in approval so that’s a good sign.
Q: “Fire” is a beautiful track on the album. I love the mellow guitar and the addition of the rain stick. Can you tell me about writing this track?
A: Thank you! We do it live. Richie does it solo acoustic live. It’s a beautiful thing.
Q: What riffs do you like to play during warm up and sound check?
A: That’s a tough one. We ususally do a little bit of “Captain Love”. [We do] That bass riff in the middle that I do that introduces the guitar solo. As simple as it is, it’s actually tough to do because you have to play it really hard on the low strings. We usually do the opening song for the soundman to get used to how everything sounds, which is “Oblivion.” It’s a real crowd pleaser as an opener.
Q: You’ve worked with Richie before, obviously. How does your chemistry with Richie help with your creativity in songwriting?
A: Well, writing with people who can play and sing really well makes everything go easier. [You] take an average line and if it’s sung amazingly, already it’s kind of a song. That helps a lot. He [Richie] has a great voice. He sounded amazing last night in Eau Claire. He’s doing finger style rather than picking so it lines up well with my bass. We have a lot more musicality on our fretted instruments. He’s good at jumping in with what’s there and making more of it and making it better. When the vocals come around it just works it to a whole new level. We sit in a room and come up with stuff like crazy. We did the basis of five songs from the first record the first time we jammed. We’ve all played a lot of songs and a lot of different styles. It’s easy for us to dig deep and come up with new styles. I’m glad that it’s easy because when you’re laboring hard [at songwriting], you’re going down the wrong road.
Q: Tell me about a band you have seen live that left you awestruck.
A: Kings X! I love Kings X! They’ve been fans of ours also. I have their drummer Jerry Gaskill’s solo record. Doug Pinnick has sung on one of my solo records. He’s a dear friend of mine. He lives in LA so we can see each other a lot now. In my humble opinion, they pre-dated the ‘Seattle Sound’. Their first two records are absolute masterpieces.
Q: A question I often like to ask, Billy, is how do you think social media platforms have changed the way artists promote themselves?
A: I think it’s great. I have always been close with fans. I came from the old days and playing in clubs where there were no dressing rooms. You stepped off the stage and everyone in the audience was your friend. You’d hang out with them until you looked up at the clock and it was time to start your next set. There was no real barrier or security separating band and audience. That’s how I grew up. Obviously, things have gotten different. I prefer the old way and social media has brought that back. I can hear from people all over the world, communicate with them, talk with them, and answer questions. Today, there was a bass player here. He showed up early with one of my basses. I checked it out with him and showed him some things he could do on it. It was great! It [social media platforms] allows us to be really well connected with our audience and have made a lot of great friends as a result. We have people all over the world who will fly in to see us because we’re well connected. It’s worth its weight in platinum shavings!
Q: Billy, thank you again for your time! Is there anything else you would like to add?
A: We’re really thankful for everyone embracing this band and embracing the new record. We’re forever grateful when we do something and people enjoy it. If it enhances their musical experience, we’re very pleased. We’ll be doing a lot more shows and a lot more records. We are looking forward to getting everywhere as soon as possible!
Writer: Amanda Knight
Photo Credit: Jamal Toppin