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| 31 January 2015 | Reply

There are rock and roll workhorses that stay the course and get involved in as many projects as possible.  Guitar virtuoso Richie Kotzen is one of those guys.  He has recorded with tons of A-List musicians and put out projects that would make any musician jealous.  His latest is another solo release full of Kotzen gems and magic.  As he prepares for a short upcoming Japan tour and then working on The Winery Dogs second release, Richie allowed us into his world and head and shared thoughts on the new disc and life with us…

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Toddstar: Thank you so much for taking time out of your schedule. I know you’re really busy right now.

Richie: Yeah.  It’s funny. I came off the road on Thanksgiving after really having been out for what I call like a year and a half, on and off. Before The Winery Dogs geared up, I was doing a solo run in Europe. Then I came home for a few days and started the whole Winery Dogs thing. That lasted for a long time it feels like. Then I went right into the solo tour. Tomorrow I’m headed to Japan which is actually the last of my solo dates. Then the plan is to come back and start writing songs for The Winery Dogs. It’s been a whirlwind, but it’s good to have stuff to do. It’s a good feeling. The records that I’ve made so far, The Winery Dogs, and the last one I put out, “Cannibals,” seems to be well received. There’s really not much to complain about.

Toddstar: Well, you brought it up; let’s talk about Cannibals. It seems kind of a conglomeration of older tracks that you had laying around plus some new stuff or stuff that you kind of touched up. What made you reach back into your catalog and say, “Hey, I’ve still got these things lying around that either didn’t fit or just didn’t a tweak here or there.” What made you decide to do that?

Richie: I wrote the song “Cannibals,” that’s a brand new song, and then I had a lot of ideas floating around. One the ideas I had shortly after “Cannibals” was the song called “The Enemy.” I ended up recording that shortly after “Cannibals.” Somehow, in listening to the demo recording that I did, I just wasn’t very connected with the verse part of the song. I had a hard time coming up with something. I have all these files on my computer from previous things that I’ve done. I went back and I was listening to things, and I found this other song that has this really cool intro and a verse, music section that I liked. I tried to combine them. In the process I came up with what I thought was a song that was worth recording which is what you hear now when you hear “The Enemy.” In that process of uncovering things, I uncovered another song that was an older thing that I really liked, but I didn’t like the chorus. I started working on that. Then I ended up fixing the chorus, and then suddenly I had three songs that were ready to be released. That was really how it went. In just discovering some of the things that I wasn’t able to finish from the past for whatever reason, now I just had that inspiration to bring them to a close.

Toddstar: As a fan, I am very glad you did. I love the album top to bottom. I love the diversity of the different songs and how, even though they may sound different, it makes a cohesive piece from beginning to end. You kind of revisited this whole concept with your The Essential Collection last year where you dug out some older original versions or some demo tracks and things like that. Is there just a huge Richie backlog that the fans can look forward to in the future, or do you think you’re clearing out everything so that you can start fresh on the next project?

Richie: There are things there, and then there are always, as you clear them out as you say, there’s always a replacement element to it. Maybe I cleared out four or five songs with this new record. However, as I move forward I might create things that later will become clearance material so to speak. I have other ideas that become incomplete ideas or underdeveloped. Then suddenly, years from now, I go back and there’s new material to pull from. It kind of works along those lines.

Toddstar: Again, going back to the diversity of the album, there’s pieces on there, and there’s one that I know holds very dear to your heart. I think it’s about the ninth track called “You” which is an old composition of your daughter’s I believe. You’ve mentioned that it’s one of your proudest moments. When it was all said and done, was she as proud as you are?

Richie: That’s a great question. First of all, she’s a teenager so no matter what I do she finds a way to make me feel stupid about it. That’s just like the whole vibe there. It’s like, “Dads can’t be cool.” I think deep down she thinks that sometimes I’m cool. Anyway, when I played it for her, actually she had an interesting reaction. She pretty much said that, “Oh, well I want to do that song.” I said, “August, it’s been sitting on the hard drive like for four years.” “Well, whatever. You can put that on your record, but now I want to do it too.” I’m like, “Okay.” That was my indication that she liked what I did.

Toddstar: Very cool. That’s got to be a great feeling as not only an artist but as a parent.

Richie: Yeah. She’s doing her own thing now with music. She was flown to England recently by a very successful record producer that wants to write with her. She wrote four what I think are just amazing songs. She was doing writing sessions for a while with Linda Perry, which was very exciting. Now she’s working on what I think is going to be her first official release. She’s been in the studio. It’s really exciting. She has such a strong vision lyrically. Her personality is very powerful with what she does with the music. I’m excited about it. She actually inspires me with some of the stuff she comes up with. 

Toddstar: Very cool. Winery Dogs, you talk about that. You’ve been part of different bands or different projects in the past. You come in and you have either been a hired gun or the guy who sits at the time. What about Winery Dogs really allowed Richie to put his stamp on everything from start to finish?


Richie: I will say this. I have never in my career, I’m proud to say, been a hired gun. The only bands that I’ve ever been a part of in the rock world would be Poison and Mr. Big. Then, of course, I had a band with Stanley Clarke and Lenny White that was more of a jazz and fusion thing. In all three of those situations, I was brought in as a band member. I was very involved in the writing. You can listen to the Poison record and it’s clear that it’s radically different than anything they had ever done. I’ve never been a hired gun, and I don’t think I ever would accept that role. With The Winery Dogs, it’s interesting. To me, The Winery Dogs really reminds me of what I do as a solo artist but with input from other musicians that are coming from a different angle than I am. We have common ground because we’re all fans of classic rock. Obviously Mike Portnoy is really rooted in progressive metal, and Billy has a strong innovative stature in the whole shred guitar movement. There are other influences there at play that are cool, that gives The Winery Dogs their own kind of sound. Even though in the end I’m the lead singer and the lead guitar player and a lot of the songs we do can kind of parallel music that I’ve released in the past, with their influence in the writing aspect of it; it has a more aggressive, more… how do I say it? In-your-face kind of approach.

Toddstar: Sure. First of all, let me apologize for the hired gun comment. Thank you for correcting me on that. Going back to Cannibals for a second and the sound of it. It’s funny to me, you mention your name and automatically people come up with the whole guitar hero thing.

Richie: Yeah.

Toddstar: I think that comes from your influence in a lot of music. Yet, when you listen to these songs on Cannibals, this is not shred fast from “Cannibals” through “Time For The Payment.” There’s so much funk and soul and rhythm in these songs that it’s not just picking up a six or seven-string and beating the hell out of it for sixty minutes.

Richie: Sure. I guess the shred thing comes up because in the beginning of my career I put out a record that I recorded when I was eighteen, songs that I wrote when I was seventeen. They were geared towards the whole shredder, over-the-top kind of guitar playing which was something that was super popular throughout the mid-eighties. It was how I got recognized. It was how I got my first break and left Birdsboro, Pennsylvania. That was the first thing I did. I did that as a seventeen, eighteen-year-old kid. That record, for the time for what it was, broke me out. It put me on the cover of Guitar World Magazine at a very young age. From there it led to me joining the band Poison. That was kind of a high-profile time. After that, I went back to doing my solo thing. My solo career just didn’t get a lot of attention. Although I was building a fan base and people were buying my records, which are consistent with what it is that I’m doing now. If you look at a record as far back as Mother Head’s Family Reunion which was in ’94, there are parallels between that and what I’m doing now. It was kind of under the radar. I was slowly building a base over the course of time. The people that remember me from my first record, that didn’t follow my career, they still exist and they still think of Richie Kotzen as an eighteen-year-old guitar player and not a forty-four-year-old man that’s been making solo records for twenty years or however long. It’s understandable, but that’s not really my problem. I’m just being me. I keep saying this in interviews but it’s true. I don’t ever want to be mad at music. I do music for the love of the creative process and having an opportunity to express myself. Whatever happens outside of that external for me isn’t really my business or my concern. My concern is if I write a song and I claim it to be finished, I want that song to reflect how I’m feeling emotionally and spiritually and even physically. What I hear in my head is what I want to hear come out of the speakers. That’s my primary objective every time I go in the studio.

Toddstar: It’s a great insight into you. You’re kind of a workhorse. You’re constantly turning out products. You’ve been at this for twenty-five years or so.  Since Arthurs Museum’s release in ’88 you’ve been cranking stuff out. You’re well over a disc a year. How do you keep the magic alive as far as being able to generate new stuff without going back to the well every time and saying I’ll just tweak this or that that? You’ve been cranking out new stuff for years.

Richie: I guess it comes down to a balance. It’s easy to get sterile or stagnant if you do the same thing too long. You’ve got to grow and encourage growth. I think at least for me, everyone’s different, but I personally need to get away from music from time-to-time. I need that break to do something else to reset my brain. Otherwise you don’t allow yourself to grow. I don’t mean growing as a player. I don’t mean growing as an instrumentalist. I mean growing in the sense of your artistic vision and your scope. That’s probably why, for me personally, my records went from my very first record being an instrumental record to what it is that I became over the years. It’s because I continually would try to grow and not do the same thing over and over again. I don’t want to be a cartoon character. I want to experience new things. For me to do that I have to have periods of time where I literally get away from music altogether. That could mean anything. That could mean spending two weeks with my friends in Verona, Italy, or it could mean remodeling the house, putting in a new bathroom and being at Home Depot every other day buying materials, which is literally something that I do. It’s a balance. If I stay on the road for too long, if I’m in the studio for too long, any of that stuff, I start to get depressed and uninspired.  It’s just about balance.

Toddstar: Cool. Let’s talk about you for a minute. I know you’re busy, and I know I’ve got to cut you loose soon.  You’ve done so much with so many other great players, whether it was your foray into being in bands or whether it was your own projects. You’ve got this A-List of musicians. Who’s still on that list that you haven’t been able to lay down a track with?


Richie: That’s a good question. I don’t know. I don’t always think in terms of like, “Oh, I want to play with this person. I want to play with that person.” There are people that I love the way they play. I’ve gotten to work with some of them. I would have to literally sit here and wrack my brain and start coming up with names. I don’t know how sincere I would be if I’m forcing myself to come up with names in this moment. I will say that one of the things that is very important is to play with people that elevate you and inspire you. Even when it comes to if you are a solo artist and you’re going to play with people, you can get guys that can play the parts exactly how you wrote them, or you can get guys that can play your parts but add a little something else that elevates you. That’s what I do with my solo band. Dillon and Mike for example, they play the stuff the way I want them to play it. Then when we get into the dance sections, they’re able to inspire me to play a little differently. When I say different I mean better. It’s like you’ve got to play with people that you can learn from and grow from. At the same time, known players. When I played with Stanley Clarke, I was out of my element. After the term we played together, I grew from that and learned a lot. It elevated my own personal playing. It’s important for a young musician to get out there and play with other people, but also play with people that you can learn from and take something from.

Toddstar: Cool.  As an aside, I love that Vertu album.

Richie: Thanks.

Toddstar: Finally, with all this said, you are so introspective and self-aware. With everything going on, like you said you’re ready to head to Japan, you’ve got a Winery Dogs second disc coming up, Cannibals, everything going on for you. Everything is turned upward and skyward. For you at this point in your life, Richie, what’s the meaning of life?

Richie: I think people create their own meaning in life. I don’t know what anyone else’s meaning in life is, so I can’t answer it from that perspective. I believe that I create my own meaning moment-to-moment. Ultimately, happiness, being able to love myself and accept who I am, and be willing to grow, and have that reflect onto the people around me in a positive way. The most important thing to me above everything is my family. I just think that a lot of times people get caught up in searching for meaning. You really can’t. You really create your own meaning. Today, for me, the meaning of life today is to make sure that I pack all my components that I need to perform in these four shows I have booked in Japan. Once I get on stage my meaning is going to be to transcend what I’m feeling emotionally and mentally into a form where people can hear it and respond to it through music. You create your own meaning. I think people get in a lot of trouble and find themselves feeling empty because they over-analyze and they create ideals and want to put themselves somewhere that they think they should be, but that may not be who they are and where they are. You have to be able to acknowledge that. I don’t think there is a meaning per se. We’re the only creatures on the planet that can put that out there. If you were a tiger, you’re meaning would be survival probably. I don’t know.

Toddstar: Makes sense. We miss you here in Detroit, Richie, in any form.  We would love to see you back in Detroit as soon as possible. We’re wishing you well with Cannibals and the promotion of that album. Essential hit number four on our best of list for 2014. We know Cannibals is going to be right up there. Safe travels on this upcoming trip. Hopefully, we’ll see you real soon.

Richie: All right. Thank you for the interview. Talk to you later.






Photos: Travis Shinn

Category: Interviews

About the Author ()

ToddStar - that's me... just a rocking accountant who had dreams of being a rock star. I get to do the next best thing to rocking the globe - I get to take pictures of the lucky ones that do. I love to shoot all genres of music and different types of performers. If it is related to music, I love to photograph it. I get to shoot and hang with not only some of my friends and idols, but some of the coolest people around today.

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