Photo by Travis Shinn
The Winery Dogs perform at The King of Clubs on Wednesday, March 1. The show is sold out.
Mike Portnoy is a busy man. On a recent podcast, he counted ten projects that he’s currently involved with on top of the dozen or so that he’s worked with in the past. While best known as Dream Theater’s drummer from 1985 – 2010, his current focus is on the supergroup he’s in with singer/guitarist Richie Kotzen and bassist Billy Sheehan (Mr. Big, David Lee Roth), The Winery Dogs. Active since 2012, The Winery Dogs took a bit of a hiatus between their second album, Hot Streak (2015), and their latest, III, which was released on February 3 of this year. But, when locked in to The Winery Dogs, Portnoy says that’s all he’s got on his mind for 2023 with extensive touring planned.
I don’t know how much you pay attention to ticket sales, but The Winery Dogs show selling out is great. People are anxious and ready to see you guys live. I’ve read that for the first album, you were throwing in covers of songs by the other bands you guys are in. Now that you’re on album three, I’m guessing there’s no covers. How do you put together a setlist with three Winery Dogs albums to choose from?
For me, it was a matter of balancing the three albums. I want to have almost equal songs from all three albums represented. It’s a great setlist. It almost feels like a greatest hits set even though we don’t really have hits. All the songs we’ve done videos for and all the singles, it’s a strong setlist. At this point, it’s nice to have three albums worth of stuff where we don’t have to do anything other than our own material.
I saw The Who last year. Right in the middle of the set, they introduced a song by saying, “This is from an album that came out a few years ago.” I watched hundreds of people head to the concourse for a bathroom break or to get beer. You’re the kind of band that people aren’t going to walk away if you say, “Here’s a new one.”
There’s a big difference. The Who have been doing it for 60 years and have made very few new albums. People that go see them want to hear the classic stuff. The Winery Dogs is a new band and everything we’ve written has been in the last 10 years. I saw The Who’s farewell tour 40 years ago. I saw them in ’82 for their farewell tour and now it’s 41 years later and they’re still touring.
I’ve somehow never seen KISS. I’m long past the point where I believe that every farewell tour they announce is really a farewell tour.
I saw KISS for the first time in ’77. I saw the start of their farewell tour in 2019 which is now 4 years ago. And, of course, they’re still going.
Every band you’re in goes through the same four stages – write songs, rehearse songs, record songs, tour. With The Winery Dogs, is there an equal balance of all four of those stages or do you, for instance, write quickly but spend more time recording?
With this new album, we wrote and arranged the music over the course of two sessions of about a week each over the summer of ’21. In those cases, every time we’d finish arranging a song, I would track my drums right there and then. So, it was still very fresh and it was still in the moment of what we were doing for each song. That process of getting all my drums tracked was pretty quick. It only takes a couple of days. But, the process that follows, which is recording the guitar and bass and then Richie spending a lot of time writing the lyrics and the melodies and doing the vocals, that takes a little more time. Once he does his vocals, Billy and I do our vocals. There’s a mixing process and a mastering process. So even though the time we spent together arranging the music and tracking my drums was maybe a week or two, the whole process takes about a year or so, from putting the artwork and layout together to shooting the videos and taking photos. Now that’s all behind us and we’ll start rehearsing for the tour and then we hit the road for the rest of the year.
Has the record been done for a while?
It has, actually. It’s been done since last year but we all had other things going on. We didn’t want to put it out when we finished it and mixed it. If we had put it out then, we would have been sitting around for 6 months or so waiting to start touring because we had to wait to align the tour around all three of our individual schedules. Once we had a starting point for the tour, we arranged the release date of the album accordingly so that they would come together.
Do you have any traditions while recording the album like all going out to dinner after the first night in the studio?
It’s all about the dinner. It’s kind of like the session all day long, writing and recording, we’re just kind of wasting time until we can go out and have a nice meal. That’s when we finally loosen up and have fun. That’s when we have the best time.
Where does The Winery Dogs record?
We did this album at Richie’s place. He’s down in Southern California and he’s got his home studio so we recorded it there.
You tour with so many bands. What do you do to pass the time on a 5, 6, 7 hour drive?
Sleep. Watch a lot of movies and TV shows. Listen to music. There’s a lot of down time. When you’re on tour, the two hours on stage is the fun part. The other 22 hours of the day can get pretty tedious.
How will The Winery Dogs tour start? Do you all fly to the city of the first show and the tour bus picks you up at the airport? Does the bus swing by your house and pick you up?
This tour starts in Pennsylvania, where I live, so we’ll do rehearsals out here by me and then the crew will fly out to meet up with us and prep for the tour. The tour bus will pick us up and then we’ll hit the road.
You’ve got two kids. At this point in their lives, do they come and see you every time you’re playing near them?
Oh God, no. My daughter is 25, my son is 23 and has a whole career of his own. He’s touring more than I do at this point. He’s on the road with his bands and doing his own thing and my daughter is an actress and she’s got a TV show that she’s on. They only come see me when we are crossing paths with wherever they are.
When the kids were younger, was it hard to go out and tour and leave them?
This is what I do. They’re used to it. They don’t know any other way. They grew up touring with me in Dream Theater and becoming friends with all the other band members’ kids and living on tour busses and traveling for the summer. It’s the way they were raised so they know no differently.
What band does your son play with?
He’s got his own band called Tallah, which he put together and writes all the music for. They just released their second album. And then he also now plays drums for the band Code Orange out of Pittsburgh so he moved there recently to be with the band full time.
The Winery Dogs is filled with exceptional musicians. Are you the kind of band that strives for perfection live or are there occasions where somebody might hit a wrong note? If so, is that okay or do you spend time after the show scrutinizing the performance and the flaws?
Everybody makes mistakes. With the Winery Dogs, it’s okay, it’s supposed to be loose and fun and jammy. It’s not about perfections, it’s about having a live energy and interacting with each other and interacting with the fans. There are some bands that I’ve been a part of that are more about the precision and the perfection but, to me, I would rather be about having fun and playing with feel and being a part of an energy in the room. That’s what playing live is all about.
Your resume is a mile long but is there any band or artist that you still dream of playing with that you haven’t already?
There’s dozens. I just love so much music. Anytime I get an opportunity to play with an existing, established band, it’s always an honor. I’ve had the fun of doing it with lots of different bands, from Twisted Sister to Avenged Sevenfold. But, yeah, there’s plenty I’d like to play with.
You’re mainly known for playing with prog rock and hard rock bands. Do you listen to anything else outside of those genres?
Of course. I have a huge soft spot for power-pop stuff, bands like Jellyfish and The Greys. I just did an album last year with a band called Fuzzbubble that’s very much in that vein. I played on four tracks on their latest album and it’s kind of in that vein of Jellyfish, Cheap Trick, Redd Kross, Sloan. I have a big appreciation for that kind of music.
With all the touring you do, is there anything you remember about Columbus?
It’s probably not what Columbus wants to be known for but, of course, the first thing that comes to mind is Dimebag and the Alrosa Villa. I played there many, many times in the early touring days of Dream Theater. Dimebag was a friend of mine as was Vinnie. That was just such a tragic, tragic thing. I played there, I think with The Winery Dogs, a few years ago before it was torn down. Sadly, there was still the bullet holes in the dressing room wall.
I think the last U.S. headlining show I played with Dream Theater was in Columbus as well, at the Newport Music Hall. We were touring with Iron Maiden during the summer of 2010 and we filled in a couple of holes in the schedule with our own headlining shows. I think the very last headlining show I did in America with Dream Theater was at the Newport. Beatallica was opening for us and I sat in with them for a song.