You know what they say: Familiarity breeds creativity. Just witness the aptly named Hot Streak, the supercharged follow-up to the self-titled rabidly rocking 2013 debut of the three-piece musical dynamo known as The Winery Dogs. Hot Streak shows the powerfully pedigreed trio’s initial burst of collective chemistry was no accident, from the sturm und headbang of “Captain Love” to the propulsive uplifting vibe of “The Bridge” to the introspective acoustic harmonic convergence of “Fire.” If these three Dogs thought they captured lightning in a supper dish the first time around, Hot Streak barks ups the aural ante into exciting new territory.
“We elevated the band to the next level,” says vocalist/guitarist Richie Kotzen. “I wasn’t nervous about it at all. There’s always that worry with a follow-up record when you have a first one that’s so well received, but I believed in it from Day 1. I knew in my heart if we made a record that wasn’t as good as the first one that we wouldn’t release it, but I know I did my best on every song. I also like the fact that there’s a commonality between the first and second records — and there’s also an evolution too, as we’ve dug a little deeper.”
Some of The Winery Dogs’ intrinsic universality has to do with the way each band member understands how to serve the song first and play off each other, rather than showboat their own chops. “It’s the great advantage of this three-piece band,” observes bassist Billy Sheehan. “We always have each other on our radars pretty tightly. I can see when Richie’s going for something or if Mike is going for something, and I can either lay a path down for them and get out of the way, or get behind them and help push them towards it.” Sheehan clearly relishes his role as The Winery Dogs’ anchor. “As a bass player, I’ve always been aggressive in my playing, but my job is to lock in with the drums,” he notes. “If you’re aggressive and you’re all over the place, it’s a mess. So I’ve always tried to use that as my focus point — and the point is to play as an ensemble player, as opposed to an individual. Fortunately, I’ve worked with Richie a lot in the past [in Mr. Big], and I love his playing. Same with Mike. If you’re willing to step back and get out of the way and enjoy what those guys do, it’s a lot of fun being a supportive member of this band.”
On Hot Streak, The Winery Dogs have found themselves sniffing around outside their comfort zone to expand their musical horizons while staying true to their power-trio roots, as songs like the subtle whirling dervish “Spiral” and the aforementioned “Fire” easily attest. “‘Fire’ is a great example of Richie’s ability to create something that’s very poppy or very mainstream, something that you could hear Sting or Sade doing,” observes Portnoy. “It’s an unusual left-turn for us,” concurs Sheehan. “I’m glad we’re not playing it safe and just doing songs that automatically fit in the category of what we did on the first record. Some of the songs are a little different, and we definitely took chances. But you have to do that — otherwise, you don’t grow.” The album’s funky, hard-driving title track is fine evidence of such growth. After playing over 100 shows in support of the first album, The Winery Dogs are eager to head back out on the road to get behind Hot Streak.
As far as Portnoy is concerned, the more original material to cull from live, the better. “This time around, I’m looking forward to having two albums and 25 or so of our own songs to choose from,” he says. “We can even keep the set completely, exclusively Winery Dogs material if we want. That’s the sign of a real band. When the first album came out, a lot of people were writing us off as a supergroup or whatever, but we wanted people to understand this wasn’t just a ‘project.’ It’s a legitimate band, and we want to make many albums together in the future.”
Sheehan relishes the thought of playing a lot of Hot Streak onstage. “The original material opens up the set list quite a bit,” he notes. “We can pull from both records to make the live shows a little bit less formulaic and predictable, because sometimes we’ll play three or four shows within a 100-mile radius, and we have people coming out to all of those shows.”