Adrian Smith och Richie Kotzen släpper snart sitt debutalbum. Vi fick en kort pratstund med Maiden-gitarristen som berättade om samarbetet, de två gitarristernas olika stil, att lira med Nicko McBrain utanför Iron Maiden och minnen från inspelningen av Hear´N Aids “Stars:
– To be honest, I wasn´t looking forward to it. There were all these shredders there and in those days everyone was trying to outdo each other and play faster and play louder and I just wasn´t interested in it. I did it because Jimmy asked and it was for charity.
Did you guys ever think of calling it something else than Smith/Kotzen?
Briefly. The trouble is when you come up with a name and then you have to tell people what it is, so why not say what it is straight away? It´s Smith/Kotzen and that´s exactly what it is. It is what it says on the chart, so we thought it´d be less complicated and more straight to the point than coming up with a band name. We were happy with that.
Do you have a personal favorite on the album?
I like all of the tracks to be honest. I think every song´s got its own strength. I mean, “Running” was the first one we wrote together, so I´ve kind of got a soft spot for that one, but I´m really proud of all songs on it.
My personal favorite is “Scars”
“Scars”, again, was something that we wrote early on and I like that track. It was just released as a single. It´s got that space in the song and a heavy beat and I like the chorus and the lyrics. Pretty happy with that one.
Playing with Richie, is there anything you´ve picked up from him as a guitar player?
Yeah, just watching him in the studio was quite an eye opener. He has an amazing technique. He started when he was eight years old and I started when I was fifteen because I thought I could meet girls and be in a band and be really cool. Richie probably started because he loved the guitar, you know. (laughs) I do love the guitar, but he probably trained and was dedicated from an early age and his got that very solid technique and he did all the shredding stuff. I suppose that if I really wanted to be a shredder I would´ve sat down and played six hours a day, but that was never my thing. I wanted to write songs and sing and just do the whole thing. Richie actually plays quite lightly and he´s got a very unusual style the way he plays with the fingers on his right hand, which gives you a lot of different options and different tones and all that sort of thing. I wouldn´t try and copy what he does, but it´s great that we have different styles because it gives the songs so much reach and we have such a wide canvas to paint on. My style, which is more bluesy and sort of melodic and Richie can shred if he needs to, which he does at a lot of the ends of songs, just let him off the leash. I probably could brush up on my shredding when I listen to it. (laughs) You play as your personality don´t you? It´s something you develop over the years.
What was your working relationship like when you were putting songs together?
It was great and we have a great chemistry. It doesn´t always work like that. Richie and I sat down and in the first afternoon we worked together, we had two songs. We both sat there with guitars and we both had a microphone and we had an idea for “Running” and put that down on tape, the verse. The he said “I´ve got a chorus.”, so we put the chorus on and then it was back and forth. He does something and I´ll say “Oh, that inspired something!” and so on. That´s a perfect chemistry. I´ve tried to write with people, very well known people where we sat in a room, and it´s been very awkward and it just has not clicked. So when you get someone you click with, you want to take advantage of it and get the best out of it. It´s very natural and I think we had the same vision, we wanted to make a classic hard rock album with a bit of a bluesy tinch and that was our starting point. Then we saw that vision through I think.
Classic hard rock, is that the music you tend to listen to when you´re at home?
Yeah, pretty much. And stuff like Stevie Ray Vaughn and such. Ironically, when I rejoined Iron Maiden about 20 years ago, when I had off time and I wanted to keep my chops up, I used to get a band together when we weren´t touring. It was always different guys, so we ended up playing mostly 12-bars because people know them. It doesn´t take a lot of rehearsal and you can just turn up and play them. Stuff like “Crossroads”, “Purple haze”, “Voodoo chile”, “Little wing”, “Born under a bad sign” and all these sorts of things and stuff that everyone, certainly in my age, knows. I grew up in the early 70´s with bands like Free, Bad Company, Humble Pie, so it´s almost like going back to my roots, for lack of a better phrase really. It´s second nature for me and when I grew up, the first five years I was in a band and I was singing and I learned to play the guitar and just went along.
You brought in Nicko McBrain for some drumming on the album. What´s it like playing with Nicko in a different setting?
I think we´ve always had a connection since he joined Iron Maiden, because I was a fan of other bands he was in, like Pat Travers band years ago. I respected him for that so we´ve always jammed together over the years, if it was at soundcheck or just me and him in a rehearsal room. We´ll just jam some Pat Travers songs or whatever. When we had the song “Solar fire” and we were looking to maybe get someone to play on it, Richie actually said “What about Nicko?” and I said “Yeah, that would be great.”, so we sent him the song and he smashed it. Good old Nick.
Do you look at Smith/Kotzen as something that will continue beyond this album?
I think so, yes. We´ve already kind of talked about it in casual conversation. Obviously it´s difficult at the moment with the lockdown. This album hasn´t been released yet, but I´m already thinking about it and I´ve already got ideas and I spend a lot of time writing. It´s very exciting. We´d like to go out and play live as well, but unfortunately that´s going to be difficult at the moment. I think we´d like to do more. Like I said, when you get that chemistry, why not see where it goes.
You´re in Iron Maiden, so with this band, is that more of a freedom for you? Being able to go outside of the box and play something quite different?
Yeah, of course it is. I mean, I love what I do in Iron Maiden and I love being on stage. It´s great, but these days we get a lot of time when we´re not on the road and I like to be creative. I don´t think it´s healthy to do nothing. I like to be creative and I think I´ve still got a lot more to say kind of thing. I´m quite a prolific writer and I need to get these ideas out and I wanted to get back into singing, so I´m working on that as well. It´s nice to have something as you get older, to feel like you can improve and it sort of drives you. I´m really excited about this and I can see us doing another album.
I talked to Richie and we talked about the first real rock show he saw, which happened to be Iron Maiden on the “Piece of mind” tour. What was your first real rock show?
When I was about 15 or 16 I went to a place called the Rainbow theatre in London and Mott The Hoople were popular at that time with the song “All the young dudes” and me and Dave Murray went and saw them, so that was the first band I saw and it (1972) was electrifying when they came on stage. That was my first concert experience.
A final thing. Hear ´N Aid and the song “Stars” turn 35 this year. Any memories from those sessions?
Well, I knew Jimmy Bain (1947-2016) a bit from just hanging around in LA a bit and he asked us to do it and it was a charity so we couldn´t say no. To be honest, I wasn´t looking forward to it. There were all these shredders there and in those days everyone was trying to outdo each other and play faster and play louder and I just wasn´t interested in it. I did it because Jimmy asked and it was for charity. Dave and I went there and I said to Dave “I don´t really wanna try and compete with these shredders.” Vivian Campbell and Yngwie Malmsteen and I was like “Jesus!” so I said “Let´s do something melodic!” We just played a melodic line on this chorus and Ronnie (Dio) was standing there and he was like really surprised and he said “Thank god, I was dreading for you coming in and playing like 100 notes per second over everyone else. I´m glad you did something musical.” I loved Ronnie. He was a lovely guy. It was one of those ones… it was like a scene out of a movie about rock music. There was all full of groupies in the control room. There must´ve been about 30 people in the control room while we were trying to work, which I hated. I just kind of gritted my teeth and got on with it. It was like chicks, people smoking joints… it was real old school. (laughs) I actually said to Jimmy “It´s a really good song you´ve got here.” and he said “Yeah, I know, we should´ve put it on our (Dio) album.” and he sort of regretted it a little bit that they didn´t put it on their latest album, but it went out for charity.
Text: Niclas Müller-Hansen
Foto: Therés Stephansdotter Björk