Interview and photos: By Robert Cavuoto
Richie Kotzen will be releasing his latest and 21st solo CD; Salting Earth, on April 14th. A powerful and passionate CD inspired by his roots in R&B, soul, and classic rock. All songs showcase his scorching guitar solos and soaring vocals that one would expect from this guitar virtuoso. Richie takes listeners on an emotional journey, expressing himself and his feelings; bending sounds as well as listeners’ minds.
From the more edgier and aggressive opening track called “End of Earth” to the soulful “My Rock” Richie has created an exquisite CD with infectiously memorable songs with great vocal melodies.
I had the pleasure of sitting down with Richie to talk about his latest release and to give us an update on the status of the Winery Dogs.
Robert Cavuoto: Congratulation on the release of your new solo CD; Salting Earth.
Richie Kotzen: Thank you, I’m really happy with it. I had the luxury of finishing it and then letting it sit for a while. I went back to it after several months and loved it the same way I did when I finished recording it. Now I’m going to put it out.
Robert Cavuoto: You strike me as a very detailed oriented person; do you always leave time in case you want to make edits to the songs?
Richie Kotzen: I’m probably not as meticulous as you may think. I really have only one way that I make decisions. If I love a song and want to keep listening to it and feel it’s the best thing I ever heard then I know it’s done. I say that tongue and cheek but if I have that same excitement in the beginning as I do at the end then I know I have something special. If I don’t have that excitement with a song, then I try to determine if it’s worth putting additional effort into it to make it better. Sometimes it is and I’m able to get it where it needs to be. Other times I walk away from it writing something new. Every song is different. I have songs on this CD that are new while others are ten years in the making. With the song “Make it Easy;” the music and guitar solo was recorded ten years ago for a different CD but was never finished. When I was working on this CD I went back to the vault and found it. I thought to myself, maybe I can write lyrics for it now, and I was able to.
Robert Cavuoto: I found Salting Earth to be very soulful and blues-oriented, is that style of music in your comfort zone?
Richie Kotzen: I grew up listening to a lot of soul and R& B living outside of Philadelphia. I was never a blues guy but I did listen to bands like The Spinners, The Four Tops, Hall and Oates, and Sly and the Family Stone. I have that style of music in my DNA along with all the classic rock like AC/DC and Van Halen. When I write music it’s just the nature of how I put together the chord changes, the rhythms, and the bass lines. They are coming more from a soul and R&B point of view than a rock thing. But when I pick up a guitar to do a solo, I have more of a rock guitar player attitude. It’s an interesting hybrid. Those are my influences and I never try to make it sound like anything, it is what it is. It’s just what I do.
Robert Cavuoto: My favorite song on the CD was “My Rock” which could be a song by The Temptations.
Richie Kotzen: That’s an interesting song as it was written on piano and the final master has no guitar. It’s just piano, bass, drums, and a whole lot of vocals. That song is one of my favorites as well. It’s been around for three or four years. I did some more work on it to it to get it on this CD.
Robert Cavuoto: The lyrics to all your songs come across as personal and passionate. Where do you pull your inspiration from?
Richie Kotzen: My lyrics come from different places. I really don’t dissect or think about it until the song is done. I rarely set out to write for someone, it’s something that just happens. When writing I’m in the moment, I can’t dissect and pull myself out of the moment. I’m going to write whatever is happening. I’ll tell you something about my lyrics; I love lyrics that are more conversational. I don’t write about abstract or random things, I like lyrics that are people oriented. I think that has a lot to do with the music I listened to like Don Henley, Elvis Costello, and Bob Seger. Those artists had lyrics that were more conversational and situations that people go through. I tend to make up a situation but sometimes write about things that have happened to me or something I saw someone else go through. Every case is slightly different.
Robert Cavuoto: Was the song “Grammy” written about your grandmother?
Richie Kotzen: [Laughing] I don’t know why people have been saying that. Grammy is a music award and the nickname for Grandmother is “Granny”. Maybe it’s a regional thing where people call their Grandmother “Grammy”. It was more a tongue and cheek thing because at the end I’m saying “No one understands me except for my woman” so I’m calling her my Grammy – like the ultimate music award. There is a great story about how it was written. The song is actually written for my wife Julia, who is a bassist. I was at her gig and started drinking wine early in the day so I ended up falling asleep. When I woke up at 3:30 in the morning, I had a melody and lyrics in my head. I went in my studio, programmed the drum machine and started jamming with the guitar, by 7:30 am the track was done. It was weird how fast it wrote itself. I didn’t even think to sing “Grammy” until the last chorus of the last line of the song. I said “…Baby is my Grammy.” I thought it was cool and decided to call the song “Grammy.” I never thought it would be interrupted by a song about my Grandmother [laughing].
Robert Cavuoto: You’re such an innovative guitar player; do you feel the need to re-invent yourself CD after CD? Are people expecting that from you?
Richie Kotzen: No, if a song is meant to be written or worth being written it usual writes itself. It’s not a labored process for me. I might have a song on acoustic guitar or on the piano or an aggressive song but every song is there for a reason. I don’t have filler songs. I wait until I have the material then I’ll release it as a collection. A lot of people get caught up in meeting deadlines or having to be active. If you actually get away from music for a long time and come back to it fresh you instinctively have new ideas.
Robert Cavuoto: With that thought process in mind, do you challenge yourself and do something you’ve never done?
Richie Kotzen: For me, music is not a sport, there are no challenges. If it’s challenging then it’s not an art; it’s something else. It’s more of an instinct for me whether writing or playing. Ninety percent of the time I hear it in my head already finished. I know the bass line and what the drums should be – quickly and instinctively. What happens in the evolution of the song is I hear things that I can’t physically play. That happens to me a lot. Then I have to sit and figure out how to play it. It actually becomes my practice. In the song “My Rock,” there a quick piano line in the beginning. It’s something I heard in my head and when I went to record I tried to play it but not well enough for the CD. I sat there for an hour or so and practiced until I got my hands moving and suddenly I was able to play it. My practice evolves into something else and has more of a purpose.
Robert Cavuoto: Tell me about the significance of the CD title – Salting Earth. There is a mention of the phrase in the first song on the CD called “End of Earth.”
Richie Kotzen: You got it! I was struggling with a title of the CD. My CD’s always have a track that stands out for the CD title. This CD didn’t have that in my opinion. I started reading my lyric and there is a line in “End of Earth” where I say “…I’m salting this bit of Earth” I started thinking about what I meant by that line. It was about leaving something behind; all this work that I have done since I was 18 years old whether on my solo CD’s or with bands it’s my little mark. Obviously, there are things more important like relationships and family, but it about me salting the Earth and putting my flavor out there. I travel the world and meet people who share stories of my song being their wedding song, or how a song helped get them through a tough patch, or they have my lyrics a tattooed on their arm. Not to sound dark, but what if this is the last CD I will ever make, you never know. So I felt it was appropriate for the CD title. This will be the 21st solo CD and it seemed appropriate.
Robert Cavuoto: What’s the status of Winery Dogs and when can we expect the next CD or tour?
Richie Kotzen: Nothing at the moment, I don’t foresee anything happening for a couple of years. It’s an interesting thing, with the Winery Dogs I wasn’t looking to join a band for the rest of my life. My idea was to take a break from being Richie Kotzen and do something more collaborative. I thought it would be fun to do the first Winery Dog CD and tour to some key market shows and that would be the end of it. We ended up getting a great response and toured for over a year. People loved the CD so much that we got back in the studio to do the second one. For me, it’s time to come home and do what I’ve always done. I have been making Richie Kotzen records since I was 18; it’s a source of survival, sanity, art, and everything you want to call it. I know the other guys have something very exciting in the works which people will love. It may fill a Winery Dogs void. I’m not saying it’s over; you never know in a couple of years from now we may get back together and do something. What I am saying is the Winery Dogs are the furthest thing from my mind right now with a new CD coming out.