Dog Years: Live in Santiago is available now from The Winery Dogs and fans are in for a treat as this live compilation is packed with new and familiar tracks! Billy Sheehan graciously shared his thoughts on the Live in Santiago recording, his latest projects, his tour with Mr. Big and particularly memorable shows he has played abroad!
Q: Hi Billy! Thank you for your time today! What have you been into lately?
A: All kinds of stuff! Two wonderful new bands that have been added to the list of things I’ve been working on. I love to play live and not every band goes out full time anymore so I’ve got a lot of other great options! The Sons of Apollo is the band with Mike Portnoy and Derek Sherinian and The Fell which includes Mike Krompas (former guitarist for Smashmouth) and Anthony De La Torre (De La Torre played Jack Sparrow’s brother in Pirates of the Caribbean) who just has a great voice. We get some great songs. And of course, I’m currently on tour with Mr. Big! It’s been a busy time.
Q: Speaking of Mr. Big, there’s a new album out now, correct?
A: Our new album is out and about right now, yes. I’ve been reading the comments on it on social media and we could not be more pleased with the feedback were getting from around the world. Things distribute quickly and everywhere these days. I’ve already gotten word from India, Korea, Brazil and Ecuador that people seem to really be enjoying the record as well as those all over the USA.
Q: How many dates does your current tour with Mr. Big include?
A: We just did a bunch in the US and we are leaving for South America and Mexico on August, 14. We do Southeast Asia and then Japan. After that it’s Europe and the UK and we’ll probably come back for more USA shows. There’s a possibility of doing Australia and New Zealand and hopefully Indonesia. I get more emails from Indonesia than anywhere. We’re up for a lot of festivals next year.
Q: Since you enjoy performing live, do you have a preference of festival shows versus more intimate settings?
A: They body have pluses and minuses. One thing about playing a festival is that it’s a huge show with hundreds of thousands of people. However, you’re not close to the people. There’s a big gap between the stage and the first person and I don’t like that. Anytime we’re at a venue where we have control over it; which sometimes we don’t due to laws and things, I always advocate to take the barricade away or put it as close as possible so we can at least shake hands or say hello. When people are close it’s great. It’s fun to play in front of a huge crowd but I’ve also done shows in tiny clubs. One that I like is called The Baked Potato, which is a jazz club that holds about 75. It’s always jammed and when you play there, there’s no place to put your drink so I put mine on the front table. That’s how close they are. For me as a fan to get that close and for me as an artist to be that close to the fans is really great.
Q: It seems that small venues allow you to really connect to your fans.
A: Yes. They can hear what’s said on stage and we can see all the expressions on everyone’s faces and hear what they are saying as well. I did five shows in Japan last year with Ritchie Kotzen opening for The Rolling Stones. The closest person to the stage was unrecognizable, they were that far away and my eyesight’s pretty good! I don’t think I could have thrown a hardball that far. There were about 90,000 people there but we felt alone on the stage. We had a wonderful time but I didn’t see one person in the audience I could recognize. Normally, I see friends and fans and I’ll talk to people after the show. We hang outside the venue or at the tour bus.
Q: The Dog Years: Live in Santiago DVD and Album has lots of material on it!
A: Yes! We added a few extra tracks that we had recorded on the first Winery Dogs record. We realized we weren’t going to be playing again probably until next year or the end of this year. A lot of fans were lonely so we wanted to give them everything we had and put it out there. The response has been great! With the exception of the bonus tracks, everything was recorded in Santiago, Chile. It had to be in Santiago do to logistics. It was a good venue and a video and audio crew could get there easily. We thought about Buenos Aires or San Paolo and many other cities but Santiago happened to be the one that worked out. The people of Santiago did not let us down. It was over the top and was a really great night.
Q: Was the audience aware that this night would be recorded ahead of time?
A: Oh yeah, it was hard to hide it. There were camera crews and guys up in the big chair that hovers over the audience. It was something you couldn’t miss.
Q: Would another venue have captured the aura that Santiago did for you that night?
A: Well, we did a show in Paris and the venue that was so crowded that you couldn’t have fit another person in there and it was one of the best nights. We did a show in Seoul, South Korea and that may have been the best show we’ve ever had. The crowd went out of their minds. Nagoya, Japan was crazy. The place went berserk and in San Paola the people sang the guitar solos. They were so into it. They knew every word to every song. So, we’re very lucky. And we do realize how very lucky we are to have such great fans. Most every place we played we’ve done really well. It’s tough launching a new band but the Winery Dogs…we’ve just done really well with it. We could have done it in any other cities but we have a certain amount of dates and South America is a tough tour because you get done with a show, you get to the hotel at two in the morning and you have to be at the airport at four in the morning. It can really wipe you out. Vocalists and crew have a tough time because there are no tour busses that can get you from one place to another. You have to fly in. All your gear has to go so if something gets left behind, it’s precarious. It’s really nerve wracking and we knew we had a little time in front of Santiago so that way if any gear got left behind; we would have time to get it together. So, it’s that a billion other little factors that ended up being this one particular place.
Q: Billy, you have been blessed to have a large international fan base and particularly in Asia. Tell me more about your fans from Japan and Southeast Asia.
A: Well, when Mr. Big started out we just did it right. I went to Japan to do bass clinics prior to Mr. Big starting out and we did a demo. My first time in Japan, I didn’t know if anyone knew who I was or not. The bass clinic is usually about a 100, maybe 200-300 people and you sit down and play some and talk about bass. I go to my first bass clinic and it’s at NHK Hall which holds about 3,000 people and it’s sold out. I was completely overwhelmed. I was playing a Mr. Big demo and no one had heard about the band yet. We launched with that and came back with Mr. Big and played the same venues I did bass clinics at. We went the extra mile. We answered every piece of fan mail and we treated the Japanese the way we treated all of our other audiences. It paid off in the end and now we have wonderful fans. Mr. Big outsold Pearl Jam at one point in Japan 40 to 1. So, we do really great there. People tend to focus on Japan but actually in Italy, at one time there were five Mr. Big cover bands. We played on the beach in San Paolo, Brazil once and there were 100,000 people on the beach. The military had to be called in to help. I get more email from Indonesia than anywhere else in the world. We’ve played in parts of Indonesia that no Western band ever has played. Driving through the streets and people looking at the vans full of Westerners with their mouths agape and then they see the show and it’s unlike anything they’ve ever seen before in their lives. We’ve made a big impact on them. And they were just wonderful people! [They were] sweet and fantastic!
Q: You and your bands, have always been so grateful for all of your fans. Do you think your artist/fan relationship has contributed to your continued successes?
A: There’s an undeniable truth at play. Everything I have, everything I own. My house, my car, I’m not a rich man but I have a little retirement fund. Everything. It came from someone buying a t-shirt, a ticket or a CD. Once they buy that ticket, that t-shirt, that CD. We’re even. They got what they got and I don’t owe them anything further. But, I choose to remember that and be thankful for that because they could have bought somebody else’s t-shirt or ticket but they chose to buy mine. I’m forever grateful for it and I don’t forget it. Some musicians do occasionally forget that and that’s up to them. They run their lives as they wish. To me, I choose to be supremely grateful for everything I have and I don’t forget for a minute where I came from.
Q: Billy, thank you again for your time today. What else would you like to add?
A: If you get a chance, listen to the record and hopefully people can get out to see us play live in some configuration at some point. Again, I’m supremely grateful for people to listen and pay attention and get some enjoyment out of it!
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Writer: Amanda knight