“…if you look at putting out music as literally output at some point if all you’re doing is output you’re gonna run out, you’re gonna run dry so you need input, so for me I get the input on taking long breaks and doing other things with my time and then coming back to music or even not coming back to it deliberately, waiting until something strikes me as far as a song idea is concerned and then it usually starts happening again…”
From Release: Guitar virtuoso, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist, Richie Kotzen will tour Australia’s east coast for the first time this August. The current Winery Dogs axeman and former member of Poison and Mr Big has just released his 22nd solo album, Salting Earth via his own label, Headroom-Inc. From deep bluesy grooves to balls-out hard rock; burning sky harmonic glory to funk-jazz and acoustic numbers, Salting Earth captures Richie’s prolific career in one brilliant ten track album. A one man production machine, Kotzen writes all the music and plays every instrument on his solo work. Guitar, bass, drums, piano and more. Richie Kotzen burst onto the heavy metal scene as a teenager with his lightning-fast guitar technique.
We gave Richie Kotzen a call while he was at home in LA to talk about his debut tour of Australia, set lists, new music, recording, The Winery Dogs, and much more…
Unbelievably this will be your first time touring Australia, when you come somewhere for the first time and with a catalogue as big as yours is it a hard task putting a set list together?
Well you know we put a set list together that we’re putting together globally and for me I think it’s one of our most in depth shows, in the old days we’d go out and I’d pretty much just play electric guitar for the whole show and this time we’re bouncing around a little bit, I’ve got a bunch of songs I’m playing on electric piano and another section of the set where we do an acoustic thing where our bass player brings out the upright and our drummer plays the cone. So I think there’s a lot more variety and value in this particular show, we did a five week run here in The States and thankfully got a great response so I’m really excited to bring this show to Australia.
So with about 24,000 albums you’ve played on can we expect you to play for around seven hours to cover it all?
*laughs* No they’d be carrying me off the stage if I did that. The show is a ninety minute show and it’s really interesting this time, in the past when I do a new record I usually do about two or three new songs but we’re really doing a lot of the stuff off the new record which is really fun for me and gives me something new to attack and we also pulled out a few old ones, so it’s well rounded set and I’m really excited about it.
On ‘Salting Earth’ what were you able to do on this record that you felt you hadn’t done previously?
Well the process is always consistent for me, I write a lot during the course of the year and usually when I write something I start to record it and usually I finish it then and there, but what tends to happen over the course if time is I end up with a bunch of songs and once I feel like I have a collection that sits well together I start assembling it as a record and do whatever touch ups I have to do. So that’s what I did this time and I think on this record the production value was deliberately kept simple, there’s a song for example called ‘My Rock’ and it’s just bass, drums, piano and vocals, might be a few string passes but I kept things really simple because I wanted the focus to be on the song and I’m happy with the way it turned out and there’s all different ways to approach things but that was my general thought going in.
When making a solo album and especially the way you do it playing everything what’s the most challenging part of the process?
Well, it’s weird, I don’t really look at anything as a challenge perse but what happens is sometimes songs kind of write themselves and they’re usually the best ones and then other times it takes a little more time and what I tend to do and I’m working on something and I hit a snag or something in the creative flow stops I pretty much stop working on it and I move to something else, so what ends up happening is I have these archives of all these ideas that are in the stages of development and sometimes even with this record I go back and look at these older things and after enough time passes I find the creative flow again and finish it. A great example is a song on the new record, a song called ‘Make It Easy’, that song was originally recorded back in 2004 and I got to a point with the song where I just didn’t have lyrical concepts for it, I had the melodies and I had the guide vocal but I just kind of stopped working on it. When I was compiling songs for this record I just happened to find it and I thought there’s something cool here and it just hit me in that moment of what I wanted to say, so there you have an example of a song that was partially recorded over ten years ago and ended up fitting in with the new record, so there’s all kinds of ways to get it done. Usually when I hit a block of some kind I try to work around it if I can but often times I find it’s more effective to move on to something else.
Over an unbelievable twenty two solo albums as well as everything else you’ve played on what keeps you inspired to continually be able to make music?
I think it’s something I would refer to as a balance, if you look at putting out music as literally output at some point if all you’re doing is output you’re gonna run out, you’re gonna run dry so you need input, so for me I get the input on taking long breaks and doing other things with my time and then coming back to music or even not coming back to it deliberately, waiting until something strikes me as far as a song idea is concerned and then it usually starts happening again, but having said that I don’t ever and thankfully never run into the problem of what you would call writers block because I take those breaks and it kind of keeps me on point and keeps me inspired, I never write a song that I don’t feel like needs to be written so it works out for me that way.
So obviously things change over time, but what would you say is the one thing that’s stayed the same over your time making music?
Probably that approach to music making, in the early days I used to write two or three songs a week and I was constantly forcing myself and when I look back on some of those compositions and most of them have never been released I can hear how some of them aren’t really that great *laughs* so after a while I started trusting myself to only really write when I was inspired and when it came to me naturally as opposed to the opposite and trying to force a writing session. I mean sometimes that works, sometimes you can do it, I’ve actually gotten in a room with people and other artists with the idea to write and just started out having a conversation and all of a sudden we ended up with a song, so there’s no real set rules but the general style I work in is not forcing things and allowing them to come naturally.
As a player in your thirty years active recording is there one technique or piece of advice you were given that you have kept with you over your career?
I think playing live has always been really important, I know it’s really important in my development and where I really developed as a player more than anything I was fortunate when I grew up as a teenager to get in with some older guys who had already been touring and playing the club scene back in Pennsylvania and New Jersey and Delaware so by getting in with that mix back then and learning cover songs and that was developing my ear and those guys were such great players back then and I was so young I really kind of absorbed a lot. So I’d say for advise it’s important to get out there and play live with other people in front of an audience.
I still don’t understand how you play the guitar like you do without a pick half the time…
You know I’ve done it on and off my whole career and in the studio and it’s something that’s a different sound, but what has happened to me about ten years ago I was on a tour and I wasn’t really happy with my approach and how I was playing I felt kinda a stagnate and I wanted to challenge myself and there you go there’s that word challenge and that’s exactly what I tried to do was I thought the next show I’m going to get on stage and try and do my show without a pick and so I had done that before on a song or two but never a whole set. What happened was I immediately lost some of my vocabulary and if you’re a guitar player you’ll know ultimate picking or sweep picking, those two techniques were initially thrown out the window so it forced me to think differently and respond differently on the instrument, then over the years I really kinda focused on my finger style and figured out how to get back some of those techniques I would’ve done with a pick so thankfully I figured that out but on top of it the bonus was it opened up a whole new set of vocabulary for me to play new things. So it was something I needed to do because I felt stagnate and it worked out for me because it opened up a lot of doors.
I have to ask any chance we can expect a new Winery Dogs album in the near future?
I would imagine so, I mean we did two back to back cycles and after the second one I expressed the fact I wanted to go back to doing what I had done for many years before and make another record and also the fact that I love the band and I think that we did something really special and not only me but Mike Portnoy has a lot of things that he does that are very creative that wouldn’t necessarily translate into Winery Dogs and he wanted to go off and do those things, and the same thing with Billy, he’s still active in Mr Big and from what I understand they made a great new record and he’s out there touring on that. So I think breaks are healthy for bands and it’s the sort of thing I was talking about earlier, I think by the time we all get finished doing what it is that we’re doing now it we’ll probably be collectively excited to get back in and do something really fresh with The Winery Dogs.
Lastly let’s look ahead to the future, finish this sentence for me, by the end of 2017 Richie Kotzen wants to…
Take a long vacation somewhere on a beach *laughs*. We’ve got a lot on the table this year, this tour cycle is taking us thankfully to many, many different countries and places I’ve never been before like Australia obviously so we’re really excited about the opportunity.
Thursday, August 24: Max Watts, Brisbane
Friday, August 25: The Factory Theatre, Sydney
Saturday, August 26: Max Watts, Melbourne
Tickets onsale NOW
Presented by Storm Front Touring
From: Pennsylvania, USA
Latest release: Salting Earth (out now)