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Winery Dogs Richie Kotzen and Billy Sheehan Talk Gear and New Album, 'Hot Streak'

Winery Dogs Richie Kotzen and Billy Sheehan Talk Gear and New Album, 'Hot Streak'

Two years after taking the world by storm with their infectious self-titled 2013 debut, the Winery Dogs are back with a blistering new album dubbed Hot Streak.

On the new album, which is set for an October 2 release, we find the power trio of guitarist Richie Kotzen, bassist Billy Sheehan and drummer Mike Portnoy once again firing on all cylinders, not to mention expanding their horizons while staying true to their roots.

Whether it’s the blistering guitar attack of “Oblivion,” the Eighties-rock feel of “Captain Love” or the hauntingly beautiful “Fire," Hot Streak shows the evolution of the Winery Dogs as artists and songwriters.

In conjunction with the release of Hot Streak, the Winery Dogs will embark on a world tour that kicks off October 3 in the U.S. Stay tuned for those dates.

In the meantime, see what Kotzen and Sheehan have to say about Hot Streak, their gear and more.

GUITAR WORLD: What was the writing process like for Hot Streak?

SHEEHAN: We approached this album a lot like the first one, without any planning or discussion. We all just got in a room together and started playing to write. The only thing we brought in differently was the experience of having done 100-plus shows on stage together.

KOTZEN: We all had some down time this past January and decided to get together at my place to throw some ideas around. Before we knew it, we had about 15 musical “skeletons,” as I like to call them. I sat with them for a few months and out of nowhere started hearing melodies and lyrics. Then I sent them to the guys and said, “Hey, I think we have a record here!” Everything was fresh from the very beginning. It’s a true representation of what we do together.

Did you take any chances musically on this record?

SHEEHAN: “Ghost Town” is a track that people find appealing. It has spooky, distant lyrics and an unusual breakdown in the middle. “Spiral” is a real wild one that came from an arpeggiated bass line that’s going to be an arm buster to play live.

Let’s discuss a few more tracks from the new album, starting with "Oblivion."

SHEEHAN: We wrote that while we were getting ready for another leg of our last tour and popped it together while we were rehearsing at Mike’s house. It went through a few variations until we went in the studio and fine-tuned the lyrics and arrangements.

How about the title track, "Hot Streak"?

SHEEHAN: The main riff was a bass line I had that was an adaptation of a Stanley Clarke lick. “How Long” and a few others were also built on a bass line where the other guys would jump in and play along.

KOTZEN: I remember walking into the studio and hearing Billy playing that lick. I said, “That’s cool! That could be a song!” So Billy started playing it over and over and then Mike started playing the drum beat and I started singing the melody. We started calling chords out and wound up recording a few minutes us jamming on that riff. Then I went back and spliced it up on my computer and came up with an arrangement.

When we got in the studio to record I said, “OK. Play it down the way the demo is and I’ll make it work when I do my overdubs.” Later that night, I took it back to my studio, recorded the guitars and lead vocal and then moved all kinds of things around. I didn’t touch the drums and there was no bass on it at the time. I showed it to the guys the next day and they loved it. Then Billy put his bass on, I came back in and did the backgrounds and added a few tweaks and that was it. It was essentially a song born out of an exercise Billy had, and with some clever vision and editing, it became one of the coolest songs on the record.

"Captain Love"

KOTZEN: That’s a very interesting song. I remember when I came up with the idea. I started playing the chords and asked Mike to play a straight beat and then Billy chimed in too. Musically, it sounds huge and the reason it does is because there’s a lot of space. Lyrically, the cadence of the melody came to me but I wasn’t really sure what to sing. Then one day I wrote lyrics that were a bit silly but for some reason worked perfectly for the track. It could easily be a tongue-in-cheek throwback Eighties rock song. It’s a fun song and I’m looking forward to playing it live.

"Fire."

KOTZEN: That’s one of my favorite songs. It’s a melody and chord progression I had in my head for a long time.

SHEEHAN: That’s a beautiful piece. I remember pulling pieces together and Richie just started stinging melodies without any real words to it yet. The melody was haunting but instantly memorable. When he got the lyrics it really brought the whole thing home.

What can you tell me about the upcoming Winery Dogs tour?

SHEEHAN: We’ll be starting in the U.S. and we'll go through November. Then we’ll pick up the beginning of next year overseas and go extensively and come back to do some festivals in the U.S. and Europe. We want to hit a lot of shows everywhere.

KOTZEN: This is going to be a world tour, and we plan on staying out and playing as many places as we can.

What’s your setup going to be like for the tour?

SHEEHAN: Pretty much the same except that I’ll be using Hartke HyDrive cabinets. I did a show a few years ago in Indonesia with PSMS (Portnoy, Sheehan, MacAlpine, Sherinian) where we went out with no crew and used local guys. They had HyDrive instead of my usual AK cabinets. I wasn’t really sure if I’d be able to get used to the sound, but the bass tone was spectacular and it was one of the best nights I’ve had at a festival. It really impressed me. I’m going to try those for this one.

KOTZEN: I’m going to bring back my Signature Model Cornford RK 100 guitar head. I plugged that in one day and had forgotten how good it sounds. I wound up using that amp on 90 percent of the new record. So I decided to take it out on the road again. It’s not available for people to buy, but it sure is a cool amp.

Richie, in addition to the new Winery Dogs album you’ll be releasing a live DVD. What can you tell me about it?

KOTZEN: It’s going to be released the same day as the Winery Dogs record, and I’m super excited about it. I’ve never really had a DVD done with great audio and camera. Not only is it recorded well but it’s also a great representation of what I do. I’m really proud of it.

Billy, are there any other projects you’re working on?

SHEEHAN: I just produced a record for a young lady named Madame Mayhem that will be out in mid-October. It’s a cool record that has me on guitar and bass, plus Bumblefoot, Russ Parish from Steel Panther and Ray Luzier playing drums on it.

What excites you the most about Hot Streak and this next chapter in the Winery Dogs career?

KOTZEN: We really outdid ourselves on this record. It’s a step above the first one and I’m excited to get out there and find out how people respond to it.

SHEEHAN: Now that everyone has had more than a year to dig deep and listen long to the first album, it will be interesting to see how people react to this new record and respond to it live. I’m looking forward to playing the new songs and putting them together with a great mix of the old stuff along with a few surprises and then carrying it around the world.

For more about the Winery Dogs, visit thewinerydogs.com.

James Wood is a writer, musician and self-proclaimed metalhead who maintains his own website, GoJimmyGo.net. His articles and interviews are written on a variety of topics with passion and humor. You can follow him on Twitter @JimEWood.

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