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Travis Sheen

Winery Dogs.

When reached by phone recently, Winery Dogs lead singer and guitarist Richie Kotzen was listening to the hard rock band’s latest album, IIIin preparation for the upcoming tour, which will bring the band to the Agora on March 2.

“I haven’t really listened to the new album since we finished it,” he admits. “It’s always a process of going back and realizing, ‘What did I do?’ But we have a set selected. It’s been a long time – 2019 was the last time we went on stage together – so we’re really looking forward to it.”

The Winery Dogs formed in 2012 when talk show host Eddie Trunk told Kotzen that drummer Mike Portnoy and bassist Billy Sheehan were going to form a power trio. They tried to work with singer and guitarist John Sykes, but this group did not work out. Sheehan knew Kotzen since their Mr. Big in the late 1990s, so the collaboration definitely had potential.

“We got together at my house in Los Angeles and discussed the idea of ​​what we were going to do, and then we went to my studio and played for a while,” Kotzen recalls. “I had a few songs that would have ended up on the solo record that we used bits and pieces of. It developed from there, and before we knew it, it had five or six songs that we really liked.”

These tunes were included on the band’s self-titled debut, which the band recorded at Kotsen’s home. For the next album of 2015 Hot streakthe band recorded the drums in a proper studio and then worked on perfecting the songs in Kotzen’s studio.

“I didn’t bring anything I was working on,” says Kotsen. “We did everything from scratch. It was a slightly different approach. There are some songs that sound a little more manufactured. I added more guitars and vocals and stuff like that. It was the perfect follow-up album to the first one.”

Kotsen wrote a couple of songs for IIIan album that he says ties together the self-titled debut and Hot streak, during a lockdown that occurred in the midst of the COVID pandemic. Initially, the group wanted to start writing and recording earlier, but the pandemic delayed the process.

“We went all the way into 2017 and did a live video and recording,” says Kotzen. “After that I went and did a solo album and a big tour that went to Japan and Australia and Europe and the United States. Shortly after that, we did another installment in 2019. After that we planned to go back and work on new music. Things fell off the rails, but it was nice to have a break from writing. When we finally got into the studio, everything felt completely new and exciting.”

The first new tune to which Kotzen added lyrics was the single from the album “Xanadu”. The track, which begins with a bit of fusion guitar before morphing into a Soundgarden-esque rocker, sees Kotzen take on a soulful croon.

“I remember going into the studio and working on a song,” says Kotzen. “The next day I picked up the guys who were staying in the hotel room and played in the car and they really dug it. At that point I thought I was back on track and we could relax a bit.”

The band again went down the path of self-production and brought in Jay Ruston to master.

“It’s just our process,” says Kotzen. “We’ve all been recording for a long time and we have a certain skill set in the studio. We like the idea of ​​making our own creative decisions. The only reason we do it is because we can. In certain situations, bands need a producer to pull them up. With us we can do it. Giving it to Jay to mix, we’ll take it off our hands. This is where you can get into trouble. When three people try to mix an album, it can get a little silly. We come up with creative things. I’m into layering vocals and harmony. It’s a process that works for us.

Another album highlight, “Mad World,” features Kotsen’s gorgeous vocals.

“It’s really hard for me to pick out the lyrics and tell exactly where it came from,” Kotsen says when asked about the melody. “I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, but it’s about not getting caught up in the day-to-day and there’s a situation where if you don’t think a certain way, they really want to give it to you and put you in a bad spot. Ultimately, the message should be positive. It’s a lot like Motown to me, which I really like.”

Kotzen, a veteran musician who joined glam rockers Poison in the early ’90s, doesn’t give much credence to the argument that rock ‘n’ roll is in decline.

“Fortunately, there’s still an audience for what we’re doing,” he says. “We released two videos for this record and they were well received. Tickets for our tour are selling well. I never get into the conversation about whether rock is dead or alive. It doesn’t pique my interest. The reality is very clear. It’s all good because it’s evolution. People do not live in the past. Fortunately, I’m standing somewhere on a street corner and I can do what I’ve always done, and it’s still interesting and rewarding for me.”

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