Richie Kotzen Interview—Essentially Calm, Cool, and Collected

This interview was originally published in 2014. It’s all about the guitar. Or at least it started that way. Richie Kotzen picked one up around age 7, and by his teens found himself on the cover or in the pages of all the major guitar magazines. One of the original cast of “shredder” guitarists discovered […]

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This interview was originally published in 2014.

It’s all about the guitar. Or at least it started that way. Richie Kotzen picked one up around age 7, and by his teens found himself on the cover or in the pages of all the major guitar magazines. One of the original cast of “shredder” guitarists discovered by Shrapnel Records founder Mike Varney way back in the ‘80s, Kotzen was just about as hot a guitar player as could be found anywhere on the planet.
He went on to release a prolific body of solo work, even while spending at least a couple years each writing, recording, and touring as a member of two chart-topping rock groups — Poison and Mr. Big — laying down tracks as a member of fusion group Virtu with jazz legends, bassist Stanley Clarke and drummer Lenny White; and teaming up with everyone from Greg Howe to Glenn Hughes to Gene Simmons.

Fast forward to 2014 and Kotzen is enjoying a bit of a break from The Winery Dogs, the supergroup he formed last year with bass legend Billy Sheehan and former Dream Theater skin pounder Mike Portnoy.

Somehow between Winery Dogs recording and tour dates Kotzen found time to put together a 2-CD/1-DVD set called The Essential Richie Kotzen, through Loud & Proud Records. The 23-song compendium features the guitarists’ hand-selected cuts from throughout much of his 25-year career, and drawing from many of his nearly 20 solo albums. The tracks on Essential represent songs that Kotzen feels make the deepest statement about him as a musician, as a songwriter, and as a person.

In this exclusive Guitar.com interview Kotzen talks enthusiastically about his guitar playing, about the mixture of classic rock and classic soul that fires his musicianship, and about all the great gigs that have come his way. He also gives excellent advice on recording techniques and gear, reminisces about his early days at Prairie Sun Studios, and discusses his relationships with Poison, Mr. Big, Paul Gilbert, Stanley Clarke, and much more. Read on.

Guitar.com: Hey Richie, how you doing?

Richie Kotzen: Pretty good, can’t complain.

Guitar.com: Am I calling you at home?

Kotzen: Yeah, I’m at home.

Guitar.com: And where is home these days?

Kotzen: I’ve lived in Los Angeles since 1990. I bought my house in ’96. It’s crazy to think I’ve lived in the same house for 18 years.

Guitar.com: That’s a long time.

Kotzen: I know right? Moving would be a real issue. A lot of stuff accumulated over the years.

Guitar.com: Didn’t you buy a commercial building and build a studio at some point?

Kotzen: That was a few years back. I did do that, but I sold the building in 2005 to Travis Barker and Mark Hoppus from Blink-182. I haven’t been back there since. I know somebody told me that they changed a lot of the decor. When I bought the building, my father and I went in and rehabbed it and converted into a studio. We both like old, Gothic architecture, so we decorated it like that.

It wasn’t because I wanted to be in the studio business, because I know it’s a dreadful business. But it was an opportunity and all the pieces lined up. I acquired the building, and later I was able to sell it at the height of the market, so everything worked out, thankfully, because it could have been a disaster.

The thing that was funny about the studio situation — and I outfitted it with all the gear that was living at my house — but my productivity went down. It was very interesting. Having a studio in my house where I can literally fall out of bed and fall into the studio and start working — I didn’t realize the value of that. And then suddenly I had to drive somewhere to record. And by the time I would get there, and turn the alarm off, and unlock the building, and fire up the rig — I would forget what the hell I even went down there for!

It was like, “I came down here to record a song. But now I forgot the idea.” So in the end I just realized that having a studio in my house is so much of a luxury. Now if I was producing outside artists, then it would be a nightmare. But because I primarily only record myself, it works out perfectly.

Guitar.com: I’m actually getting ready to move and upgrade my home studio. What kind of systems and gear do you use?

Kotzen: I’ve been using Pro Tools. In the old days I had a 2-inch MCI tape machine in the studio, and it was obviously everything that comes with tape — the good and the bad. Tape is expensive. It sounds amazing, but you have so many issues. And for awhile I had ADATs too, if you remember those frickin’ things, which were a real nightmare. I had three or four of the them linked up and they were constantly trying to chase each other, and you had that drama.

But when Pro Tools came out, when it got good, I jumped on it. And that changed everything. The first record I did on Pro Tools was called Slow in 2001, and if you listen to the production on that record, you can tell that I was loving the computer-based opportunity, and all the crazy sounds and the loops I was able to create.

But now my studio is Pro Tools. I have a lot of really good mic pre-amps from back in the ’90s when I had my home studio, whenever I got extra money, I would buy really good pre-amps and compressors. So I’ve got a couple of Neve 1073s, I’ve got the API stuff. If someone said, “You could have one pre-amp…” aside from the Neve 1073, which is an antique, and sounds amazing. But aside from that, stuff that I can still buy new, the API stuff is just great. It works amazing.

Guitar.com: Can you explain, how would somebody with a home studio benefit from these expensive mic pre-amps?

Kotzen: The microphone and the pre-amp are the initial stage. That’s when you’re capturing your performance. It’s all cumulative. If you have 16 tracks, and everything is recorded with the best possible microphone, the best signal path — being the pre-amp or whatever compressor and EQ you use — it’s cumulative. It adds up sonically from the kick drum all the way up to the lead vocals.

If you’re recording everything on a Mackie, you’re looking at a board that might cost $700 for 24 channels, versus pre-amps that have the best components that cost $2,000 per channel. By buying these pre-amps, it’s almost the same situation as going into the Record Plant, for example, and plugging into their Neve board. You’re getting that signal path, but you’re getting it in your house without having to buy a $300,000 board. You can spend a fraction of that money for your pre-amps, and still get that tone.

Guitar.com: A lot of people with a home studio, if they’re recording a guitar track, they’re plugging in an SM-57 in front of their amp. So you’re of the mindset of using a better microphone with a pre-amp?

Kotzen: Well I still use 57s. Those are great microphones for guitar and other instruments as well. I heard a rumor, 20 years ago, an engineer told me that there’s a Prince record — I don’t know which record or song — but he allegedly did a lead vocal with a 57 on one of his hit songs. I don’t know if that’s true, but that’s something I heard, and it was a reliable engineer who told me that. So you can get great recordings with 57s, but it also depends on what you’re recording in your home studio.

If you’re recording a drum set, for example, and you want to get a great drum sound, maybe if you have the luxury to be able to buy four really good mic pre-amps, and a couple compressors. So now you have your kick, your snare, and your overheads going through really great signal paths. As far as the other things, your toms, the hi-hat, you can get away with a more consumer grade mic pre-amp and still get a really good drum sound.

And all this ties into the notion of, even if you don’t have these pre-amps, and you just have a simple little Mackie board, you can get things to sound really good. Where you notice the difference is once your project is finished, you listen to it, and it sounds good. You like it. Then suddenly an Alice in Chains record comes on, and it just dwarfs what your recording sounds like. So that’s when you notice the difference.

But at the same time, I want to stress, the ultimate objective, throughout all this, is your performance. So if you have a shit performance, but it’s recorded on $500,000 worth of recording gear, it’s still gonna be a shit performance. And there are performances on records that are made on really cheap gear, that have been hits, and that are on the radio. I know Alanis Morissette, back in the day when she did her record, it was recorded on a Mackie with ADATs as far as what I read back then.

Maybe I’m wrong, but my point is you can still make great music on cheap gear. It’s not about the gear. People get caught up in it, but in the end, it’s really about the performance and the song. That’s the ultimate point.

Guitar.com: It’s interesting that you mention that your dad helped you rehab that studio years ago, and the influences that your parents had on you musically… We’ve met a couple times Richie, I ran Fender Frontline magazine around 96 and 97…

Kotzen: Oh cool.

Guitar.com: And I know you put out a signature model guitar back then. I also had come up in the very early ‘90s to a recording studio and did an interview with you when you were laying some tracks down for Mike Varney.

Kotzen: Are you based in the Bay area?

Guitar.com: I’m in Chicago now, but I lived in Southern California for much of my life. But I came up to some studio in Petaluma, I think it was…

Kotzen: Yep. That was Prairie Sun, in Cotati. That’s my old stomping ground man! I actually lived up there on that property for like two months. I spent a lot of time there. I did three records up there. Yeah, that’s my roots, so to speak.

Guitar.com: I remember that property was like paradise, the rolling green hills.

Kotzen: Do you remember Mooka, the guy who ran the place? [Editor’s note: Mark “Mooka” Rennick owns the studio and played bass with Commander Cody’s Billy C. Farlow.]

Guitar.com: Yeah, I think so. So with the path you’ve traveled from those early recordings, where you were doing the shredder route, and with everything that is on the new Essential Richie Kotzen, there’s some killer guitar playing, but I hear so much of a soul influence, and I know that came from your dad, didn’t it?

Kotzen: Well, you know my dad’s record collection… The story that I always tell when people ask what did I listen to growing up, I remember vividly my mom was a rock person. She had all the rock records. She saw every band back then, from Blood, Sweat & Tears, to Jimi Hendrix, when the Beatles came over, the Stones. She saw everybody. And so she played that music. So that’s what I grew up listening to.

Now my father on the other hand was not really a rock guy. He loved soul music, and R&B. And also growing up outside of Philadelphia, that whole sound, that’s what it was back then.

Guitar.com: The Philadelphia Sound…

Kotzen: My first concert I can remember was at Valley Forge, which is right outside Philadelphia, literally 10 minutes from my house. They had a venue there where I saw Stevie Wonder. My first concert that I remember seeing. And shortly after that they took me to see George Benson. And I can remember the stage was round and it moved. So it was a really great venue to see artists. So obviously I had that R&B, and a little bit of a jazz influence. But then shortly after that, I went to an Iron Maiden concert in Allentown, and that was another vivid memory. So that was my barometer, from Iron Maiden to Stevie Wonder, that’s where I would swing.

Guitar.com: That really set you up for a very wide-ranging set of skills and influences.

Kotzen: I guess I have a weird sound because of those influences, but I think, when I do my thing, when I write, and make a record, that’s where my pendulum swings. It goes anywhere from “Maybe Your Baby” from Talking Book, which is really bass, more funk related. It swings all the way back through the heavier stuff. I don’t know that I ever got quite as heavy as Iron Maiden, but there’s definitely that kind of Bad Company, blues rock thing that happens as well.

Guitar.com: Interesting that you mention Bad Company because I was listening to a Winery Dogs track, and a thought that popped into my head was the band Free.

Kotzen: Oh God, yeah! Well there’s a reason for that, because back when I did my first record, and I wrote all that material when I was 17, and I recorded it at 18, and it came out in 1989, I immediately realized that I did not want to be an instrumentalist. I knew that from the beginning. And so the second record I did were vocal songs, but I didn’t have a lead singer. And I can remember back then auditioning singers and sending them to the record label, and everything was being rejected. And finally the head of the label, Mike Varney, said, “You know, if you’re gonna do this, I think you should sing.” And I said, “Really?” And he said, “Yeah, you should sing. What do you like?”

So we had this conversation and I said, “Well I love old Rod Stewart, I love the way his voice sounds. And Bad Company.” And Mike said, “Well go listen to Free. As a matter of fact, why don’t you cover a Free song, and send it to me.” And I went and I covered “Fire and Water.” and I sent it off to him. And back then my whole thing was just to emulate Paul Rodgers. And I got so into Paul Rodgers, I learned everything he had ever sung at that point.

And then I did the same thing with Rod, Every Picture Tells A Story, that record. I went through that like a maniac. And then shortly after that, probably my third biggest influence — it’s Paul Rodgers, Rod Stewart, and then Terence Trent D’Arby had a record called Introducing the Hard Line. And then I was just like, “OK, I’m a singer. I want to be a singer. That’s what I want to do.”

Guitar.com: I absolutely hear that, and I’ve talked to Billy Sheehan many times and I know that Free was also something that registered with him.

Kotzen: Well they named their band after a Free song, “Mr. Big.”

Guitar.com: Yes they did. So you’ve had an interesting history of making some great solo albums, but also some pretty high-profile gigs with Poison and Mr. Big.

Kotzen: Yeah, you know it was interesting. The Poison thing came so out of left field. Back then, a couple years prior to Poison, I did my first record on Shrapnel. I did the second record, Fever Dream. And at that point Interscope Records appeared, and it was between Interscope and Atlantic back then. They both wanted to sign me. I remember coming to L.A. — I was still living in Philadelphia at the time. I went to L.A. and I did a showcase for both labels, and my management team convinced me to sign with Interscope, which, back then was a brand new label that Jimmy Iovine had formed.

So I signed with Interscope, they bought my contract from Shrapnel. I gave Shrapnel a third instrumental record that really never would have been made, but it was part of the buy-out. And suddenly I was in L.A. for a year, writing, and co-writing. We had Danny Kortchmar lined up to produce my record. And at the last minute after being out in California for a year, working so hard, Interscope pulled the plug, and said, “No, we’re not gonna let you make this record with Danny because you’re gonna make an R&B record, and we signed you to be a hard rock artist.”

So naturally I flipped out, because I’m not gonna be told what kind of record to make and all this kind of thing. So I demanded to be dropped, and they did it. They dropped me from my contract. But as they were dropping me, the A&R guy told me that Bret Michaels had contacted him about me. Because I had already been in the press, and had already been on the cover of Guitar World magazine. And he told me, “Bret’s interested in you joining the band.” And my initial reaction is like, “What! What are you smoking?”

And he said, “Listen, I’m not saying that you have to do this, kid, but I think you should. I think you should go join the band, make the record, do an album cycle, and then circle back a year later and we can figure out what kind of record to make with you.” He said, “I don’t think you really know who you are artistically yet.”

Now back then I thought that was bullshit. Now with the insight I have, he was probably right. I still should have been able to make the record I wanted to make, but I was still figuring it out.

So I went out and I met with Bret at his house in Calabasas, and immediately hit it off. Personally I loved the guy. He was awesome. I was never really a Poison fan, and it was kind of comical because at one point he asked me, “Well are you a fan of our band?” And of course I was being polite, “Oh yeah, yeah, totally.”

Now the truth is that I had a cover band when I was a teenager, and I refused to play Poison songs. I said, “I’m not playing this.” Because we were doing stuff like Yes, and Sugarloaf — we did “Green Eyed Lady — so we were way more progressive. And then when Poison became popular, and a lot of the other bands back then, I’m like, “I’m not playing this music.”

And now all of a sudden I’m in the dude’s house! But, a long story short, I liked Bret, I liked what he had to say, and they offered me full membership on the creative level, so that I was basically the primary songwriter on that record. And so it ended up being something that I did, and that I’m happy I did, because I think we made a really cool record.

So it was totally out of left field, but in the end I’m happy that I did it.

Guitar.com: I have a funny little story for you, because I auditioned for Poison before C.C. joined the band.

Kotzen: Oh my God, wow! That’s trippy.

Guitar.com: And it was in the early or mid ‘80s. They were already drawing a 1,000 people to the Country Club in Reseda. It was obvious they were gonna get signed, and their pictures were all through Bam magazine. And I was not into it, what they looked like, but like I said, it was obvious they were gonna get signed. And at the time I was being very much influenced as a guitar player by Yngwie Malmsteen, this is probably around ’85 or so.

I grew up with Van Halen and Zeppelin and Aerosmith. I was a hard rock player, and the hot shredder guys were just starting to come around in those days. So I go to do this audition with them, and they were living in a warehouse somewhere in West L.A. So they meet me at the door and question me for a minute or two at the door. And I passed that level, they asked me what are you into… And I’m like, “Aerosmith and Van Halen.” And that was good for them, so they invite me into the studio where they rehearse. But before I put on the guitar they ask me a few more questions. And as soon as I mentioned the name Yngwie Malmsteen, they were like, “Thank you very much for coming by. See ya!”

Kotzen: Oh yeah. They were song guys. They were party-rock song oriented guys, so the minute you said Yngwie, they thought you were gonna shred all over the place.

Guitar.com: Yeah. It was funny. I just read Slash’s autobiography and he said he went and auditioned for them too, and he didn’t get the gig either. And as he was walkin’ out this dude with full makeup and his hair all done walked in to audition, and he got the gig, C.C.

Kotzen: Yep. You know, all that shit, if it wasn’t for C.C. Poison would have never happened, because it all came down to what they did creatively as writers. And the same thing with Slash, you know, and Guns ‘n’ Roses. It all makes sense when you look back on it: “OK, that’s where he was supposed to go.” And we’re happy that it worked out that way.

Guitar.com: I know Bret is a really nice guy. I’ve spoken to him many times.

Kotzen: Oh yeah, he is.

Guitar.com: He laughed about that story and said, “Sorry dude!” So, anyway, your relationship with Billy Sheehan, who you play in the Winery Dogs with, goes back a ways. You were in Mr. Big for awhile too. That must have been a fun gig.

Kotzen: Yeah! That was kind of a strange time for me, because I remember. The Mr. Big thing was interesting because there was a lot going on with me back then. That year I had done a solo record, and then I was approached by Shrapnel to do more of a project oriented record, because Shrapnel Records was trying to launch a blues label, so they offered me an opportunity to record a blues record with cover songs, and a couple of original. So I did this kind of blues thing, which was a little out of character, because I’m not a blues guy per se. But it was fun.

And then I was in a band with Stanley Clarke. [Editor’s note: Kotzen recorded the jazz fusion album Vertu with Clarke and drummer Lenny White in 1999.] And that was all at the same time, so when Mr. Big initially contacted me, I was up in the Bay Area with Stanley, recording our record, and I remember going and meeting Eric [Martin], and talking to him and saying, “Man I don’t know how I could possibly join your band because I’m doing all this other shit.”

But when I got back to L.A. then Billy and Pat came over to my house. I remember they came into my kitchen and it was kind of dark in my house. And it was night time, and it was kind of an ominous meeting. I can remember them sitting across the table from me and more or less convincing me that I needed to do this. But I ended up doing it, and we made some cool records.

But it was very different than Poison. Poison was constant activity, whereas Mr. Big was like, “All right, we spent a month together recording the record, and then we go to Japan for a couple weeks, and then it’s over.” So it took very little time off the table to do that.

Guitar.com: That works out. It’s cool to be able to bounce in and out of projects, to be able to go have fun with it, reap the benefits, but not necessarily have it take up your whole life, right?

Kotzen: Yep. Totally. Absolutely.

Guitar.com: Keeps you free to do all kinds of other things. I can understand why they might have been strong-arming you a little bit: You’re probably one of the few guys on the planet capable of filling the shoes of Paul Gilbert on guitar — some of the crazy riffs he was playing, right?

Kotzen: Yeah. Paul’s unbelievable.

Guitar.com: Pretty tricky stuff in there. We just ran an interview with Paul recently. I just spoke with him. Have you heard his new album where he’s emulating all the singers with his guitar?

Kotzen: No… No, no, tell me.

Guitar.com: It’s pretty cool. It’s called Stone Pushing Uphill Man and it has covers of “Working for the Weekend” by Loverboy, “Back in the Saddle” by Aerosmith, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” by Elton John, and a whole bunch of tunes. And the album is almost entirely instrumental, and he re-creates almost all the instruments, other than drums, with his guitar, including keyboards. And he nails the vocal lines, especially on “Back in the Saddle” and “Working For The Weekend.” It’s very cool.

Kotzen: Oh my God. Wow. He’s such a creative guy. Paul and I, we did three shows here in Southern California with George Lynch, and initially it was going to be a bigger tour, but it never happened. But Paul was so fun to play with. At the end we did a jam. His whole personality comes out through what he does musically, which is so important. I even told Paul, I said, “You know, you would be a fun guy to be in a band with.” I really like him.

Guitar.com: Maybe there’s a future for the two of you to do some sort of dual guitar Iron Maiden style kind of thing!

Kotzen: There you go, absolutely!

Guitar.com: Back to your early roots! So what is up with the gear that you use these days? Do you write more on acoustic or electric?

Kotzen: Writing for me is so random. I write a lot of times without an instrument. Literally I’ve been in restaurants and had ideas and ran outside and opened my iPhone and used the recorder app and documented a song idea. I’ve woken myself out of sleep because I had ideas. And I learned that it’s important for me, when I have an idea like that, to force myself to wake up and document it, because I’ve lost great ideas, but I’ve also followed them through.

And then other times it is a guitar riff, or I sit down at the piano and play a chord progression. Sometimes it’s a bass line. It’s so random, there’s no real definitive way of songwriting for me.

Guitar.com: What are you using when you’re playing these days? In the past you haven’t always been big on effects.

Kotzen: I’m playing my signature model Telecaster, the one that’s available now. [Editor’s note: Kotzen and Fender have recently put out a new Richie Kotzen Signature model Telecaster.] And recently I switched back to using Marshall Plexis. I’ve got a really nice, 100 watt, hand-wired Plexi that they made for me many years ago. And so I’ve been touring with that.

As far as effects, I recently teamed up with Tech 21, and we developed a really cool pedal. There’s a version of the pedal that’s out now, that was out before my involvement, but I went back in and we spent about six months honing in the overdrive circuit. And now this pedal is going to be available to the public next year.

It’s a multi-effect pedal. It has a two-stage overdrive, a delay with a tap tempo, and a flutter function, which gives you a little bit of a chorus thing, and Tech 21 has the SansAmp, so we put a SansAmp in the pedal. And in that circuit there’s a reverb. So you can set the SansAmp flat and it won’t do anything, and just use that as a reverb. So you have this little pedal that has five buttons.

But the whole point of this goes back to something that I did four years ago because I do so many fly dates, like in Latin America for example: I fly into Rio, do a gig; fly to Sao Paulo, do a gig; fly over to Buenos Aires. And I don’t like carrying a lot of stuff with me.

So I took my favorite overdrive, my favorite delay, and I hard-wired them together, and also added the footswitch control for the Fender Twin, for the reverb and the tremolo — because I was playing Fender amps back then — and so I put this all into a very little pedal that I can just throw in my backpack.

That was were this idea came from. So when you see the pedal that I worked on with Tech 21, it’s this tiny little thing. It’s big enough so that you can press all the buttons, but the knobs are tiny little knobs that light up when you hit them. It’s still big enough that it’s easy to change settings, but it’s called the Fly Rig [Editor’s note: The Kotzen version of Tech 21s Fly Rig is not out yet as of September 2014, and not to be confused with their other Fly Rig units], so you basically throw it in your backpack and you appear at a gig, and you can plug into any amp, like you can plug into a Roland Jazz Chorus and make it sound like a Marshall. It’s pretty cool. It’s a cool little device.

Guitar.com: Tech 21 has a device called the Fly Rig 5, so is your’s a different version of that?

Kotzen: The difference between the Fly Rig that’s out now, which was inspired by my original pedal — the difference between that and the one that is coming out, is the one that’s coming out is tuned to my ear. So the overdrive circuit is completely different. It’s a totally different sound. The Fly Rig that’s available now just has one of their normal overdrive circuits. My overdrive is an LED based, clipping circuit. It’s a whole different sound. When that comes out, the pedal will be easily identifiable because it’s red. It has my name on it. That should be debuting by the winter NAMM.

Guitar.com: So in January, 2015.

Kotzen: Yeah.

Guitar.com: I was listening to a Winery Dogs tune before I called you, “Elevate.” Do I hear an octave doubler in there?

Kotzen: Oh well, I don’t remember exactly what I did on that song, but I know for a fact, like the song “Time Machine,” there’s that riff that bends. I think there’s like 8 or 10 guitars playing that line, that are not always audible. Sometimes they turn on depending on what part of the song. But I octaved out that line. I played the original line, doubled it. Did it an octave higher, doubled it; did it an octave higher again, doubled it; did it an octave lower, doubled it. You know, that kind of thing.

I do that a lot with bass guitar licks. For example, on the song “War Paint,” on the Essential Collection, there’s a normal bass track. But when the bass plays certain lines, I’ll double it an octave higher. So I don’t use a pedal. I do use pedals sometimes, but it’s a different sound. So often times I’ll just double key lines that I want to pop.

Guitar.com: But then when you play them live, how do you deal with that?

Kotzen: You don’t. It doesn’t matter. In other words, the whole concept is studio is studio; live is live. And I think people jam themselves up over this. It’s like the worst thing you ever want to do is be in the studio in a creative flow, and then have some dude say, “Don’t do that, how are you going to do it live.” It’s like “Man, that’s the point: We’re not live. We’re in the studio creating something. Let that creativity live, and let it breathe.” And then when we go to play live, live is live.
So like for example, obviously, Winery Dogs is a power trio. And we don’t want to regret, like I played piano, I played Hammond organ, I’ve got multiple guitars. All these things are happening. I sang the shit out of the chorus, overdubbing vocals, creating a Gospel choir. All these choices I made on that song on a production level, were to elevate the song. But when you go play live, I can sit down alone at the piano, and still play the song and convey emotion, and connect with people. So it’s a different thing.
Now I know there’s acts that want to replicate their album exactly, but then my argument is, “Then why should I come to your concert? I can sit in my living room, and put the TV on if you’re just gonna do that.” I want to see them interact. I want to see something happen spontaneously on the spot, something new, something real in that moment. So that’s always been my approach to differentiate between live and the studio.
Guitar.com: You know, in a sense, that brings the concept — because we’re all dealing with this idea of backing tracks and lip-syncing and all that. I live in Chicago, and there are club bands around here that are doing all that.
Kotzen: Sure.

Guitar.com: And it gets a little old, and yet they’re the club bands that are drawing and getting paid the best.

Kotzen: It depends on your audience. Like if you’re a teenager, and you’re into those Disney acts, for example, you go to that show, and those kinds of artists aren’t improvisational artists as far as it relates to being a musician. They’re performers. And you’re going to see a “show.” So at the point playing to tracks, I understand all that. It makes perfect sense. It’s more a theater approach. It’s a show.

As opposed to going to see, I don’t know, the Grateful Dead, for example. Where you know you’re going to go into a jam session and explore all kinds of musical things. It’s a different animal. So you can’t take a set of rules that apply to an artist like Taylor Swift, and stick them on an artist like the Winery Dogs. The rules are different for different situations. There are no rules for show business 101. I don’t believe in that.

Here’s the thing: I went to Budokan and saw the Chili Peppers, right? And you know you have guys talking like, “It’s Show Business 101 — Never Do This! and Never Do That!” So I go to the concert, it’s sold out, they get on stage and they don’t do anything. The lights are down, and they’re like talking to themselves in front of the drum set. And I’m like, “Wow, this is an interesting way to start a show.” So then they start playing a riff, and it’s like, a riff that — I don’t know if it’s one of their songs, or they’re jamming, or what — and they stop.

So the lights go down, and then they go back, they talk, they do some other thing, and then suddenly they kick into one of their hits. And everyone at Budokan was jumping and screaming. And I’m like, “OK, so this is one of the biggest, most successful rock bands on the planet, and they just continue to break every rule you can imagine.” So I’m not a guy who buys into the whole theory of Show Business 101. It’s just nonsense.

Guitar.com: In a sense, some of the things that you do, and what you do, and what you’re telling me — and because I’m a musician and I deal with this — an interview I did a long time ago with Jake E. Lee when had Badlands, after he left Ozzy, and he referenced the bands Free and Led Zeppelin, and he said — and this was the early ‘90s — even at that point he was saying, “People have forgotten what it’s like to see a live band actually perform live. And we want to remind them of what it’s like to see musicians interacting and being in the moment.”

Kotzen: I think there’s so much technology, back in the ‘80s there were some amazing records made back then. But then rock kind of took this turn where it became very manufactured, and not true to the art form. And so he was right in saying that, because so many bands didn’t do that. But it has a lot to do with technology.

Technology creates situations where people who normally could never make a record suddenly can make a record. Now that’s good in the sense that you get some other creative perspective, but then on the flip side, you’ve got people who aren’t musicians making music. So it goes back to what I said earlier: You can’t apply this set of rules for artist A to artist B, because the whole architecture is different. And it doesn’t mean that their artistic output isn’t as valid. It’s just different. It’s something else.

Guitar.com: So what do you have going on as far as the new album coming out? Are you out playing? Do you have some tour dates?

Kotzen: Yeah, I’ve got this record dropping called the Essential Richie Kotzen Collection. So I’m touring on that, starting in Europe. I go to Latin America after that. And then I’m gonna do a long run here in the United States, probably ending right around the beginning of December. And after that I’ve got a new solo record in the can, so that’s going to be released in January.

Guitar.com: It’s already recorded?

Kotzen: Already recorded, mixed, mastered, artwork is done. It’s ready to go. So that will drop in January. The album is called Cannibals. And I just shot a music video for one of the songs, and the song is a song that I wrote with my daughter. I have a 17-year-old daughter who is a musician, singer. And about three years ago she was playing this piece on the piano over and over and over. Finally I said, “What is that you keep playing?” because I liked it. And she said, “Oh, it’s something I wrote.” So I said, “We’ve got to record this.”

So I set up the microphones and we recorded it. And that lived on my hard drive, untouched, for about three or four years. And when I was making the Cannibals record I went back and I found it, and listened to it. And I was like, “Man, this needs to be finished.”

So I wrote some words, and threw down a lead vocal. And we made a music video for it this past weekend. So I’m really excited about that. And there’s some other interesting things on the record. It will be out in January.

Guitar.com: What’s the name of that song?

Kotzen: That song’s called “You.”

Guitar.com: And what’s your daughter’s name?

Kotzen: August Eve Kotzen.

Guitar.com: Very cool man! I’m really looking forward to that next record, and seeing you live sometime on your U.S. tour. Thanks so much for your time today Richie.

Kotzen: Awesome, thank you. I’ll talk to you later.

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