MAY 17th, 2014

Interview by Ruben Mosqueda
Photo Credit: Metal Insider

MetalTitans recently spoke with The Winery Dogs’ drummer Mike Portnoy about the release of the expanded edition of the ‘self-titled’ album and their new boxset titled ‘Dog Treats.’ Portnoy and The Winery Dogs are still on tour once again in North America. Portnoy phoned in from Jim Thorpe, PA where the band was scheduled to play on May 4th, 2014.  “First and foremost with this band; the three of us agreed that we’d concentrate on writing good songs with really hooky vocals and three part harmonies. That’s what we want The Winery Dogs to be all about. The three of us have already made a career over the past 20, 25 or 30 years shredding away --that’s not what this band is all about,” proclaims Portnoy about The Winery Dogs. If you’ve heard the debut album you will know that The Winery Dogs are more about the strength of the song  vs. shredding and overindulgence. Guitarist/lead vocalist Riche Kotzen (Poison, Mr. Big, Forty Deuce), bassist Billy Sheehan (Talas, Mr. Big, David Lee Roth) and drummer Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater, Adrenaline Mob, Transatlantic) have created a hell of a debut album if you haven’t picked it up you should--it’s essentially listening.

MetalTitans: You’ve just issued an expanded edition of ‘The Winery Dogs’ and a box set called ‘Dog Treats.’ Were these idea conceived by the band or was it Loud & Proud?

Mike Portnoy: I worked very close with the label on this. I overlooked the content but of course I needed the label’s approval to get the product released. I’ve alway been very fan oriented; in Dream Theater I oversaw all the fan club CDs, the official bootlegs, the special editions ,  the box sets and thing like that. I’ve done that with all the bands that I’ve been in .

When The Winery Dogs debut album was released last year we simply couldn’t release a deluxe edition of the album--it was our debut album. No one knew the band at the time and no one really knew who we’d be received. Once the album was released and the positive reviews started rolling in we knew there was an audience for the band.

So I started using my fan catering skills  and put this deluxe edition together and the box set.

MetalTitans: The deluxe edition of the album features a live CD that captures The Winery Dogs’ second ever live show, correct?

Mike Portnoy: That’s right that’s the second show that we ever did as a band. We filmed it for a DVD in Japan and it might have been the craziest thing ever done in rock ‘n’ roll history. Usually bands will document the end of the tour after they’ve played 100 shows. Our label in Japan was interested in capturing the very beginning of the band. We were very reluctant at first but I think it was great to have a snapshot of the beginning of the band. You get a little taste of that on the bonus disc that features 10 tracks from that show.

MetalTitans: Having witnessed the band live the bonus disc really captures the energy of The Winery Dogs’ live show. It’s amazing to hear how tight your were as a band second show in. So to get things straight the audio on the second disc is part of the audio from the Japanese DVD, correct? And is there a chance that the DVD will surface in the United States?

Mike Portnoy: That is correct its the audio of the Japanese DVD.  We actually have a limited edition DVD of that performance for sale at our shows on this tour. It’s a great opportunity to have that DVD available for our fans and they can pick up that exact Japanese import for sale right from us.

MetalTitans: One really cool thing about the box set ‘Dog Treats’ is the demos disc. It’s like being a fly on the wall during the writing sessions for the record.

Mike Portnoy: What you’re hearing on ‘The Winery Pups’ disc of demos the result of us literally playing together for the second time ever.  We got together at Richie’s house and started banging out these demos. It’s a snapshot of the band at the very beginning that’s why I called that “The Winery Pups’ because we were still puppies at that point and we hadn’t fully developed yet! (laughs) You can hear some really interesting things in those demos you know a lot of sections that were changed from lyrics, to riffs and things that were changed entirely. It’s a look behind the scenes of what the songs were like prior to what eventually made it onto the album.

MetalTitans: You’re out on tour again in North America at the moment. How long will you remain on the road and when will you be working on new music?

Mike Portnoy: Well right now we’ll be touring through the summer , this leg  that we’re currently on began at the end of April. We’re booked through Mid-August; we’ll wind down and regroup and begin to write at the first of the year. We hope to have the new album out by spring of 2015 so we can be back out on the road as soon as possible. We’re playing one new track on this tour which will give the fans a taste of what’s to come.

MetalTitans: I spoke with Richie (Kotzen) last fall and in my conversation with him he had eluded to there being some additional recordings of some covers. Will those be used for an in between album release are will they remain dormant?

Mike Portnoy: (long pause) Yeah, unfortunately they are laying dormant. We started 8 covers when we started the band I layed  down the drum tracks and the foundation. (pause) Since then one of the band members I’m not going to name names but he decided that he didn’t want to  record covers so we’ve shelved them and they’ll remain unfinished at this point.

MetalTitans: Mike you’re playing a stripped down basic kit with The Winery Dogs. It’s tiny in comparison to the kits that you’ve played in Dream Theater or Adrenaline Mob. You look like you’re having the time of your life playing the smaller kit.

Mike Portnoy: I played mammoth drum set for 25 years in Dream Theater and one of the reasons that I left that band was that I needed new inspiration in my life; not only musically and personally but from the instrument itself. Having played that mammoth drum set for years  I need to do something different to shake things up and get me excited again.  The Winery Dogs is very much an old school classic rock  power trio  so I decide that it was a good time to strip down to the basic drum kit that I used when I was a kid. I’m just as comfortable playing a small kit as I am playing on a big kit. I want people to know there are many more side to Mike Portnoy than what they’ve seen in Dream Theater for all of those years. I have a very broad taste in music and broad taste in drummers; it doesn’t have to be very technical for me to enjoy it.  I’m still the same drummer back there big kit or small kit like you said I’m having a great time. I’m still a showman and I’m still interacting with the audience; that isn’t going to change no matter the size of the kit that I’m playing.

MetalTitans: How hard was it for you to leave Adrenaline Mob? You were there from the beginning and helped launch that band.

Mike Portnoy: It was really hard for me to walk away from Adrenaline Mob because I invested a lot of time in that band. I spent two years  really giving it my all. I invested a lot of money into the band; I spend money helping to get the band out on the road. I ‘ve said this before; since leaving Dream Theater I’m not going to commit to just one band. I said it before my intention was to plant many musical seeds and I wanted to see which ones grew. I gave two solid years to Adrenaline Mob and gave it my all but it was growing at a very slow pace. They were clear that they were willing to get in the van and play small clubs for the next 10 years if needed.

They wanted to know if I was willing to do that with them exclusively. I said to them “Look guys I love this band and I love this music but I’m a 47 year old man with a family that I need to provide for.” I had a Transatlantic record to work on and then there was The Winery Dogs record in progress; unfortunately I just couldn’t fully commit to what Adrenaline Mob needed from me. They needed someone that was willing to get into the van and bang it out for a year straight. Sadly they had to do it without me because The Winery Dogs album took off and there was a lot of touring and demand for this band. I had to go where the gigs are and with the bands that are working are. I had to let one shoe drop and unfortunately it had to be ‘The Mob.’ I wish them all the best  and I know that they’re out there doing very well. They are putting their heart in soul into what they’re doing and they’re out in the van banging it out. God bless them.