INTERVJU: Richie Kotzen

Richie Kotzen har slagit ihop sina påsar med Adrian Smith och spelat in ett album. Vi ringde upp herr Kotzen i Kalifornien och pratade om samarbetet med Iron Maiden-gitarristen, att spela in i paradiset Turks and Caicos, att höra Eddie Van halen för första gången och att få komplimanger från Ron Wood:

– “Your voice sounds like early Rod Stewart. You sound like a combination between Rod Stewart and Bernard Fowler.” Bernard is the background singer for The Rolling Stones and he´s one of the coolest most badass singers that ever walked the earth, so Ron Wood just paid me a compliment, like the best compliment I could ever get paid.

When was the first time you guys met?

Well, we met almost ten years ago. It seems like the older I get, the more twisted memory becomes. We´ve known each other for quite some time. Adrian has a home in Malibu and my wife and I live close by to where his house is here in California. We would go over there for parties and such and he has a room in his house that is set up like a soundproofed jam room. We would all go in there and play and finally at one of these times someone said “You two should try and write a song together!” so we did it and I think the first song that we wrote is “Running” It was very easy for us to do it and it came out really cool and quick. No hang ups, so we thought “Well, let´s try another one.” And before we knew it we had three or four songs we felt good about. Then we thought “Hey, maybe we should make a record?” and that´s how we got here.

I read somewhere that Iron Maiden was actually the first show you went to?

No, the first concert I ever went to was Stevie Wonder, but it was also around the same time I went and saw my first rock concert, so yes, my first hard rock show was Iron Maiden on the “Piece of mind” tour and that was something. I loved it. I was a huge Iron Maiden fan as a kid and I still am.

I picked three songs from the album. Let´s start with “Scars”

That´s one of my favorites. I thought that was the first song we wrote together, but Adrian corrected me and he was right. It was “Running” If someone said “What song sums up the vibe of the record the best?”, I would pick that one. Even though it´s a slower song, there´s still something heavy about it and the guitar playing… I think we really compliment each other very well on it. I´m glad you picked that one. It´s one of my favorites for sure.

Next one is “Some people” There´s some stuff in there that kinda has an Eddie Van Halen feel to it.

You know, possibly. One of the things about Eddie Van Halen that guys like you and I understand, but a lot of people overlook it, is that his rhythm playing is spectacular. He has such a swagger and a feel to what he played on those records and on the song you pointed out, the rhythm guitar has a lot of personality. I don´t wanna say funk, because of the terms of what funk is. It´s not funky, but in the realm of hard rock it has a funkier swagger to it, which I thought Eddie always had. That´s probably why you´re drawing that comparison.

A guy like Eddie, what did he mean to you?

That would be the first and one of the few guitarists that I tried to emulate as a young student of the instrument. I will never forget the first time I heard him and this is how out of touch I was. We were driving home, my parents had the radio on and I was in the back of the car and the guitar solo to “Beat it” (Michael Jackson) came on. That guitar started playing and my dad was about to turn off the car and I screamed and said “No!” and I scared him. From there I needed to find out who the hell was playing that. I had never heard a guitar sound like that. I had been around and I´d seen concerts and I was a Sabbath fan and a Scorpions fan, but I had never heard a guitar sound like that. That´s how I got turned on to Van Halen and from there I bought every record they made.

So you hadn´t come across the band Van Halen before that?

Isn´t that crazy? (laughs) I´ll never forget, one of my young friends and I were looking through a magazine and and we saw a picture of Van Halen and said “Look at these guys! They ruined their guitars. Why would they paint their guitars like that?” I didn´t say that. My friend pointed to the picture and said it and we didn´t know who Van Halen was. We knew who Black Sabbath was, we knew the Scorpions, but we didn´t know about Van Halen.

Third song I picked is “Solar fire”

That´s interesting. I forget about that song. To me, that song sounds like a typical Richie Kotzen song. That one sounds like it would be off of one of my records back in the 90´s. When we did that that was an obvious one where Adrian said “I should get Nicko to play on this one.” and he just tore it up. That song came to life when he picked up the drumsticks and played it for sure.

Writing songs for an album like this one, did you pick up things from each other when it comes to playing?

I don´t know. First and foremost with Adrian and I and really the reason why this works so well, is that we are both songwriters. Adrian writes song after song and he´s got tons of ideas and you know my track record of writing songs, that´s what I do. I don´t pick up the guitar unless I have an idea for a song, it´s that simple. The song element came pretty easy. With the guitar playing, that was easy as well, but it was real casual, like “Hey, Richie, why don´t you play the beginning of this and I´ll take the outro?” or “He Adrian, let me do the solo into the chorus because I have an idea about how I wanna get out of it.” We just did really what we wanted. Maybe we discussed a different approach to the songs in the mixes or something, but in general it was all just casual. Very easy and no egos. I think because we both have been doing this business of writing songs, recording them and performing them long enough to not have any bullshit get in the way. If one of us was not a songwriter, if one guy was just a musician… I´m gonna separate something here. There´s a massive difference between a musician and a recording artist. A recording artist writes songs, signs publishing deals, signs recording contracts. A musician plays music. Sometimes they´re both. I´m both and Adrian is both, but if one of us was just a guy who kinda play the guitar and do a lot of hot licks, you´d probably have some problems. It wouldn´t be about songs, it would be about somebody trying to show off. But because our priority is songs, we don´t have any bullshit.

Besides living close to each other and so on, what else made you guys click, so to speak? He´s British and in one of the biggest metal bands, you´re American and the cool looking guy?

(laughs) Well look, I think Adrian´s pretty fucking cool and I´ve been a fan of his since I was a young boy trying to figure out his guitar licks. But the point of the matter is this, why this works is because we have a common ground. Adrian loves American blues and I grew up listening to traditional R&B and soul music and we both love the original rock bands like The Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles and that´s our common ground. We both kinda have this love for soul and blues, but when it comes to rock and roll we´re gonna listen to The Stones before we put on a record from the 90´s or something, if you follow what I´m saying? That´s why we have a foundation to build on.

How do you end up recording an album in Turks and Caicos and how do you get anything done in a place like that?

(laughs) No shit! I´ll tell you something, they go down there a lot, Adrian and his wife. I had never been there. Not only that, and I´ve been all around the world, but I never knew about Turks and Caicos. We rented a house down there and set up and it was a great environment, it was surreal. You wake up in the morning and you take a swim, go to the beach or whatever and then you´re in the studio all day and then you go out for a nice dinner. Then you wake up and do it again. It was very exciting and a great way to make a record. I recommend it to everyone.

Do you look at this as something that will continue? Will there be a second album?

Hey, if I have anything to do with it, absolutely. It´s an interesting thing because I remember this when we did The Winery Dogs and the record wasn´t even out yet and people were carrying on “Is it a real band? Are you gonna make another record?” and I said “Listen to the record we made first and worry about it later!” To be honest, yeah. The process was so easy and I don´t see a reason to not make another record as I sit here today. Of course.

You mentioned The Rolling Stones. You opened up for them in Japan. I talked to Joe Satriani recently and he mentioned how cool Mick Jagger was when he played with him. What was it like opening for The Stones?

I´ll tell you something. The Rolling Stones never had an opening act in Japan ever. I was the only one to ever do it. In Japan it is traditional to not have an opening band. Normally you just go and see the headliner play and that´s the end of it. I was skeptical and I didn´t really brag about it or tell anybody about it until after I played the first show. Then I made a couple of phone calls from Tokyo or wherever we were and said “Hi, you´ll never believe what I just did!”, because I was convinced I was gonna get there and everybody´s gonna look at me and say “Who the hell is this guy?” The other thing that was really great was that when I got there, I knew half of the guys in the road crew from mutual friends, so all these guys were going “Hi Richie!” They all fucking knew me so it was great. Then, which was a kicker, before the last show you take a photograph with the band and I have it hanging up in my house. I had to sign a waiver that you can´t post it, can´t share it, can´t so nothing with this fucking picture. It was the worst fucking resolution and they sent it to me and I was like “I don´t even know if I can print this fucking thing!” I printed it and I hung it up. When they took the picture, Ron Wood came out and he looked at Mick Jagger and said “Oh my god Mick, did you hear this guy´s voice? Did you hear him sing?” and Mick said “No Ron, I´ll check it out.” Ron put his hand on my throat and said “Your voice sounds like early Rod Stewart. You sound like a combination between Rod Stewart and Bernard Fowler.” Bernard is the background singer for The Rolling Stones and he´s one of the coolest most badass singers that ever walked the earth, so Ron Wood just paid me a compliment, like the best compliment I could ever get paid. Comparing me as a hybrid between Bernard and Rod, in front of everybody, the whole fucking group. And in front of my fucking band and in front of Bernard who acted like he didn´t know who I was and I´ve known him for 15 fucking years. Ron looked at Bernard and said “Did you hear him sing?” and he said “No.” I was like “Are you out of your fucking mind? We hang out at the Sunset Marquis every fucking night!”, but you know, it was just a funny moment. That was a real “Pinch yourself Richie!” moment.

A final thing. Is there anything happening with The Winery Dogs?

No… you know, unfortunately it´s tricky because… look… Adrian and I, he´s got a house down the road from me so we can get together whenever he´s in town. Billy (Sheehan) lives in Nashville, Mike (Portnoy) lives in Pennsylvania and I´m out in California so for us to really do something proper and for it to be true to the band… Look, I can write a song and send it to Billy and tell him to put bass on it, but that ain´t a Winery Dogs song. We gotta be in the fucking room and until all three of us can agree… I think we should all go down to Nashville. Billy´s down there and he´s got a beautiful house. We´ve worked at my house, my old house, and we´ve worked at Portnoy´s house, but we´ve never worked at Billy´s house. I ain´t getting on an airplane anytime soon, I can tell you that, but once everybody´s clear in this Covid bullshit, I´ll fly down to Nashville and work on an album.

Text: Niclas Müller-Hansen