INTERVIEW: Richie Kotzen, solo artist and member of The Winery Dogs

talks about inspiration and song writing as well as touring Australia

Richie Kotzen is perhaps best known for the illustrious band projects he’s been a part of over the years but for those with a great ear for music it’s in his solo work that the real magic happens. Richie will soon be bringing that music down under for the first time ever as he brings the ‘Salting The Earth’ Tour to our Eastern States later in the year. We caught up with the man himself to talk all about the new album, what makes a great song and his time with the likes of The Winery Dogs and Mr Big.

Mark: Hi Richie great to speak to you this morning, how are you?

Richie: Hello, I’m doing great thanks

Mark: So you’re finally coming to see us, or at least the Eastern States between August 24th and 26th. It’s a whirlwind tour and hopefully the first of many. Has Australia always been on your list of places you wanted to play?

Richie: It’s definitely something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time and the truth is I’ve had offers in the past, but unfortunately timing, or an offer coming in when I wasn’t in an album cycle meant I haven’t been able to make it. But this time when the offer came in we had that window and it made sense. I’m thrilled to be able to come there and more so to be able to play there and with all the press I’ve been doing lately it seems like you are interested in me making an appearance so hopefully we’ll have a good run there.

Mark: It should be great. I last saw you both solo and with The Winery Dogs back in 2015 so it’s great we now get to see you in our own backyard supporting the wonderful ‘Salting Earth’. I’ve not heard your full back catalogue, but of what I have this one seems the most focused, passionate and downright unmissable so far. We’re you happy as an artist with the final product?

Richie: Yeah, and you know I did something interesting this time. I worked on this record periodically over the course of however long it was, I’d come off a tour break and go in my studio and mess around and document my ideas and develop the recordings. I really took my time with this one, I didn’t have any kind of pressure or intent. I just figured I had these ideas for songs and I’d just record them when I had the time and see where it leads. Then at some point I had ten songs together that I really liked and I thought, that could be a record, but rather than rush and put it out I decided to put it on the back burner and let it sit for a while – I went off and I got away from music for a good three or four months and then I got back and listened to it at the end of last year and it still stuck with me. So I thought, I’ve really got a record here let me start the engines and get really to do an album cycle. I think part of the reason it really works is because it was recorded in such a carefree, no pressure kind of way, and I think when an artist is allowed to function that way I think you’re just going to get a much more truthful result.

Mark: And you played absolutely everything yourself this time?

Richie: Yeah I did this time, my wife sang background vocals on one song because I wanted a different tonality on the background vocals on ‘Make It Easy’, but everything else is me.

Mark: Do you consider yourself a guitarist who sings, a singer who plays guitar or a musician who seeks to push his boundaries in all directions?

Richie: I love that question. For me the thing that excites me the most about what I do is the creative process. Having an idea for a song, bringing it to life and having the ability to hit play and have the speakers project what I had in my head. I don’t necessarily divide everything, but obviously if I had to dissect it voice and guitar are my two primary instruments and they go hand in hand for me, I think everything else you know, well I don’t consider myself a piano player or a drummer but I can play enough to do what I need to do to get the result that I want. So the big picture for me is really the song and the creative process.

Mark: And is it true that we have Kiss to blame for it all, that they were to band that drove you to the guitar in the first place?

Richie: Well I remember I was taking piano lessons and I didn’t really take to it very well and then about a year later I saw a guitar in a yard sale and I grabbed it and convinced my parents to buy it. But certainly back then a lot of me and my friends who were interested in music were just enamoured with Kiss both because of the visual element and obviously the music too.  That was the mid to late Seventies when I got hip to Kiss and I remember that I was somewhere and I saw their poster and  I was a little kid and I told my mom to buy the poster and she said “aren’t you gonna be afraid having that in your room”? You know because of the way they looked and all the make-up and I said “no mom that’s Kiss they’re cool, please buy it”. And I remember back in the day I had those big posters they used to sell up in my room and they were those huge 4’ by 8’ posters. I had a couple of Kiss and one of Aerosmith. It was a great time for Rock music growing up in the late seventies and early eighties.

Mark: It was, and I can’t believe that my Nan said exactly the same when I had my huge Kiss poster too!

Mark: As far as the writing process goes how much is intuitive for you and how much technical?

Richie: Well I think it’s all intuitive in a sense for me. What I learned over the years is that when I do have an idea and these ideas can come at any time, I could be at a restaurant, I could be asleep and get an idea. And I’ve learned that wherever I am, and with today’s technology I’ll grab my phone, hit the recording ‘app’ and sing into the phone. It might just be a bass-line, sometimes a lyric, or a melody and a lyric and I document that stuff.  And then when I have time or the opportunity to get to the studio, then I’ll go back and listen to what I have and I must have a 100or so ideas on my phone right now – I don’t know what’s on there (laughs). There’s a song on the new record called ‘Cannonball’ and on my phone there’s a recording of me waking up literally out of a sleep and stumbling into my studio, sitting at the piano and playing the chords. It just kind of comes to me that way I don’t really force things, I’ll let an idea sit for a while and if I get to a point here I can’t take it any further or can’t finish it I’ll wait till the inspiration comes to finish it. And that’s how my records are made.  I could have an idea from ten years ago and that’s what happened on this record with ‘Make it Easy’ – most of that track was written ten years ago and I couldn’t finish it because I had no ideas about the lyrics. So I let it sit, and then when I was doing this record I went back to some of my older ideas and I found that and in suddenly in that moment I got hit with the idea for a lyric  and I did the vocals. So that’s really my kind of process and in working that way I never find myself in a place where I have writers block because I trust that eventually I’ll have a complete idea and everything will come together.

Mark: It sounds like technology has been a great tool for you, it must be so much easier these days to get those ideas down than be scrambling for a tape recorder or paper?

Richie: well I used to have one of those mini cassette players, I still have it somewhere. And I’d sing into that and sometimes it would play back at the wrong speed and chaos! (laughs)

Mark: (laughs) You’re also a musician who is well known for his collaborations starting off I guess for most people with Poison, but also with Mr. big and the Winery Dogs. What does the band situation give to you?

Richie: Well you end up doing something that wouldn’t have happened because you have the influence of other people’s ideas and it’s a bit more of a role playing thing. Obviously if I’m on my on doing my own thing I’m not going to argue with myself or try to convince myself to do something – if I’m on my own I know what I like and what I don’t. But when you’re working with other people you might come in with an idea and have a concept of where you want it to go, then they might have a different idea, or perceive it differently. So you hash it out and in the end you get something different. And there’s value in all of that and I’ve been lucky to have been involved in some nice collaborations. Obviously the Winery Dogs is the latest one and we have a great way of working together.

Mark: You’ve a Winery Dogs live album out at the moment which sounds great. Are there any firm plans for when you’ll get back together and record that third album?

Richie: Well you know we definitely plan on doing something in the foreseeable future. Obviously I’m in the middle of my album cycle at the moment and Billy just started a new Mr. Big cycle and from what I hear they made a fantastic record and that will take him the rest of the year, and Mike has always been extremely active in doing many different things in many different styles. So you know, we’re doing what we’ve always done as individuals but obviously we value the band and everything it’s brought to us as individuals. So while we have no definite dates because we don’t know where all this is gonna end we certainly will be doing something more for sure.

Mark: If you could have been a fly on the wall for the creation of any album, at any point in time, what would it have been for you, and why? What’s the one album that’s always intrigued you?

Richie: Purple Rain probably, that would be a really interesting album I think to see what was going on back then. It was such a powerful moment in rock history when that record was made and the movie obviously that went along with it. It had such an influence on me as a teenager. I think that prince was the ultimate artist as far as Rock Pop and Soul music is concerned, so that would probably be my answer to that question.

Mark: An album that moved so many people.

Richie: Absolutely.

Mark: And the final question we have for you, the easy one we leave for last. What is the meaning of life?

Richie: Well you know I think happiness, and I answered that pretty quick because I think that if you’re not happy, you’re not happy! You know what I mean? (laughs). I think what it comes down to is that if you can find a way to turn a hobby into a means of survival I think you’ve got it figured out. And that to me is my primary goal in every situation, and you can’t always control everything but you know for me I try to stay focussed on what I can control, and oftentimes that’s my attitude and how I react to things and how I perceive them. So that’s my answer to that.

Mark: I think you’re right, if you can do something you love and make your heart content and manage to make a living from it you’re certainly on the way.

Mark: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to The Rockpit today Richie. You’re in Australia for just the three dates from August 24th to August 26th playing Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne m

Richie: Great, well thanks man, thanks for calling me, glad we got to chat and I’ll see you in a month or so. Ciao.

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