Interview with Richie Kotzen of The Winery Dogs

Interview with Richie Kotzen of The Winery Dogs
November 9, 2015 | By More

Richie Kotzen has been very busy in 2015. He has released his solo album “Cannibals”, toured with his solo band, wrote, recorded and released “Hot Streak” with The Winery Dogs, released a live DVD with his solo band and just finished up the first leg of The Winery Dogs tour in support of their new album. How he finds time to be a father, constantly remodel his house and do all the press he does is beyond me. I had a chance to catch up with Richie a week ago to discuss the new album with The Winery Dogs, their tour, his new live DVD with his solo band, his plans for November through January which include a couple of solo gigs in L.A. at The Baked Potato as well as the Def Leppard Cruise and various other non-musical topics.

Richie Kotzen
(Photo Courtesy of UEG, Inc. & ABC Public Relations)

LRI: Hey Richie, how are you this evening?

RK: I’m good, thank you!

LRI: Thank you for taking the time this evening after soundcheck to do this interview. I figured you’d want to rest up before the show.

RK: I’d been missing them at the 2 o’clock time so I figured this time would be best.

LRI: You’re in the final week of this leg of the tour, how have the crowds been reacting to the new material of off “Hot Streak?

RK: The response has been really really good. The interesting thing is we are playing A LOT of new material. A lot of times, bands go out with a new record and play two or three songs from it. We kind of took a chance because really, we are excited about the record.

We put a lot of new songs in the set and they’ve been going over great! I think the timing is great because people have heard the record, I can see people singing along already. That’s always a good sign when people are singing along early on in the tour cycle. Then you know that people are really connecting with the music so it’s been really good.

LRI: With this tour, The Winery Dogs have the luxury of two albums worth of material to choose a live set from. So, you’ve dropped the solo material, past bands material and cover tunes from the cycle of touring that the band did behind the debut album. It seems set is about half from the debut & half from “Hot Streak”. Was it hard to decide what Winery Dogs tunes to include and what to leave out?

RK: The interesting thing with this band is we all kind of wear different hats and play different roles. One of the things I love is that Mike [Portnoy] has a great sense of making a set list. He’s really show minded. When he puts together a set list, he usually comes up with stuff that is perfect for what I’d like to do.

Basically, we wrote down all the songs that we’d like to do and he came up with a sequence & we loved it. It really made a lot of sense so we rolled with it and it’s working. I think we are going to introduced some of the other songs later on, on future legs of the tour.

I think the coolest thing is now we are in a position where we don’t have to play anything other than Winery Dogs songs. Which I love. We will do a cover song from time-to-time if it is something that resonates with me. You know, something from my childhood or something that I wished I would have written sort of speak! Now, thankfully, the band is in a position where the band can do all Winery Dogs songs, we have options and it’s a great thing. We are very excited about that!

LRI: The Winery Dogs are taking a break from the 9th of November til the end of January. Do you have any plans in the meantime? Any chance of recording new solo material, solo dates or just take the break to re-charge and spend time with your family?

RK: Me, no, I’m not. I really exhausted my creative resources on this record. I’m really proud of what we did together as a band. I always have song ideas but basically, right now I’m in more of a performance mode. You are right, I do have a lot of time off and I do have ideas. I’ll probably archive a lot of those ideas that I’ve come up with on the road. I probably won’t finish anything unless it finishes itself and happens automatically. That is nice when that happens and it does happen from time-to-time. I’m not even thinking about recording anything. We spent a lot of time in the studio and I’m happy to be out here touring.

I’m also happy that is it now the holidays and I plan on spending a lot of quality time with my family. This is going to be a large campaign. We are going to stay out for a long time in 2016. So, this break is great because I can spend time with my family and be there for the holidays.

Come January, we are going to go out and play. I’m going to do a couple of little solo shows locally in L.A. because I like to play and I enjoy walking down the street & playing at the local place. Which for me is The Baked Potato so we’ve got a couple of shows we’re going to there in January. That’ll be with just me and my guys, my solo band. Oh, plus my solo band are doing the Def Leppard Cruise in January, I can’t remember the exact dates but they shouldn’t be too hard to find. (Laughs) Just really for fun because we like to play.

As far as solo stuff and recording, anything involving a campaign sort of speak, I don’t have any plans for that. I want to follow the course of The Winery Dogs and see where it takes us.

The Winery Dogs – Hot Streak
OUT Now on Loud & Proud Records

LRI: Can you talk about your parts on a couple of the songs on The Winery Dogs “Hot Streak”? I was curious about what guitars you used on the songs “Fire” and “Ghost Town”. I had seen an Instagram post where you showed what guitars you were using in the studio and was curious which songs you used the hollow body on.

RK: I’ve got this hollow bodied guitar, it’s a Yamaha. I’ve had it for a long long time. I’ve used it extensively on just about every record I’ve ever done since 2000 on. That guitar has made an appearance in one way or another. The song “Change” for example, I’m not sure what year that record came out [Editor’s Note: ”Change” was released in 2003] but that guitar can be heard on that record.

It’s a texture instrument you know. I did do a solo on that guitar. The solo to “The Bridge” is that guitar. It just has a different tonality and the thing that is great about being in the studio is that all these instruments are like brushes. You can use them to color the canvas however you want. The majority of what I’m playing on the record is the tobacco [Richie Kotzen] Signature Model Fender Telecaster. That’s what I use that majority of the time and everything else is just a color or an extra tone.

LRI: The song “Spiral” has some very unique sounds on it. Could you walk us through how you got those unique or I hate to say weird but the different sounds on the song? Was that done with the Vintage Vibe?

RK: The Vintage Vibe is not on “Spiral” actually. The Vintage Vibe is an electric piano that is kind of a hybrid between a Wurlitzer and a Rhodes. That instrument is not on that song. Acoustic piano, yes. I played acoustic piano on that song and I also did kind of an interesting trick which might be what you are hearing.

We taped the keys down. Let’s say you pick a chord and you pick a chord that goes across the entire upper register of the piano. Technically, you would need like three or four hands to play this chord. So, we don’t have three or four hands so we taped the notes down. Once the notes are taped down, you can go inside the piano and pluck the individual strings. You will know what strings to pluck because the hammer will be up on the piano.

Or, you can take a guitar pick and do like a gliss right down the strings of the piano. What it does is it creates a harp sound. Maybe what you are hearing, that thing that sounds like a harp is actually me playing the piano as if it were a huge guitar.

LRI: Oh wow, that’s cool. When I first heard it, it was very different and I hate using the word weird because that makes it sound like its bad but it was very unique sounding to my untrained non-musical ears.

RK: It is different, it’s not something you are used to hearing. To me, when I hear that, it sounds like a harp or a really massive 12 string guitar that doesn’t exist! It’s an old trick that I learned from a record producer friend of mine many many many years ago. It’s pretty cool and it’s an effective little trick.

I think it adds to the song. I think the songs has a cool atmosphere thing to it. The song actually originated from a bass riff that Billy [Sheehan] was playing. Mike, Billy and I arranged it together & we came up with a couple of other sections. Then I wrote the words and the melodies & it really came together nice. It’s a really interesting song and I think it’s an artistic step in a new direction for The Winery Dogs. Now, I don’t think we’d make an entire record like that but it’s nice to have that different sound on the album.

LRI: Now, is it the Vintage Vibe on “Think It Over” & “The Lamb”?

RK: Not on “The Lamb”! The Vintage Vibe is on “Think It Over”. As a matter of fact, it’s the featured instrument on “Think It Over”. On “The Lamb” you are hearing a B3 organ and…..I’m pretty sure I just played Hammond Organ on there but I’d have to go back and listen to it.

The Vintage Vibe, where else did that appear? There are some parts where it appeared on the record that you’d never know because it’s used as a subliminal overdub. It is actually in “Captain Love”.

LRI: Wow! Really?

RK: Yeah! If you listen you might hear it now that I mentioned it! It’s playing certain lines, it’s doubling the bass on certain sections. These are these things in the studio, I’ll make these choices or I try to make these choices where I bring the song to life. Sometimes you do things that you don’t even think about live, you just do what’s right for the studio. When it comes to live, live is a different thing!

Richie Kotzen
(Photo Courtesy of UEG, Inc & ABC Public Relations

LRI: Do you ever foresee a time in the future where you decide to dump the vault and compile a box set of demos, unreleased tracks, the songs you submitted to Poison (Stand, Until You Suffer Some {Fire & Ice}, 7 Days Over You, Body Talk) and/or Arthur’s Museum to release?

RK: Believe it or not, there is not a lot of that! I don’t really have a lot of that lying around. We did do “The Essential Collection” which was a really cool thing for people who really weren’t following my career or that are not really attached to what it is that I do but knew my name. I think that “The Essential Collection” is a great introduction to people that have never heard of me but at the same time, it’s a cool collector piece for people that have been following me because there are some outtakes and a couple of new songs on there. We did that and it worked really well. I’m really happy with the way it came out.

Believe it or not, I don’t really have a ton of unreleased stuff. I have plenty of undeveloped ideas. The concept of unreleased stuff, at least in my perspective as an artist for lack of a better term, things that are unreleased are unreleased for a reason. The things that I don’t release are things that I don’t think are very good and are representing me at my very best!

It is always weird to me when I see artists that have been dead for like a really really long time and suddenly there is this unreleased, never-before-heard material. I always wonder, for me, I’d be like spinning in my grave! Like “How dare you release something that I recorded that I didn’t release it because it wasn’t ready or didn’t want to put it out!” It is an interesting perspective that I have on that versus the fan side of just wanting to hear everything. I think that there is the element of not everything is meant to be heard by everyone. There are things that are developmental, personal and private.

I wonder about some of the artists that have had things come out. If they knew they were coming out, would they really want them to be released? It’s a weird thing to me. But to answer that, I really don’t have a huge stockpile of songs that are just sitting there. I have undeveloped stuff that I might finish one day but that’s pretty much what it is!

LRI: As a fan, I always thought it’d be cool to hear some of the songs you had recorded and submitted to Poison that later came out on “Native Tongue” or hear demos of your solo material. It’s always interesting, to me at least, to hear the development of songs you really digg. That’s the fan side obviously! (Laughs)

RK: I never submitted anything. I sat in a room with an acoustic guitar and played it. It was never a situation where I submitted anything. I actually went to Bret’s house and discussed the idea of me being in the band. A few weeks later, I went to their rehearsal room and played their songs with them. Then they asked me if I write songs, do you have anything of your own. I played them a couple of things, two of the things were “Stand” and “Until You Suffer Some {Fire & Ice}” in slightly different incarnations. I never submitted any demos or anything.

LRI: Oh ok, I’d read an interview years ago during that time that you had submitted songs to the band that later ended up on the album you did with them. My apologies for misinterpreting what you meant by submitted in that interview. I knew you had played a few things for them but I thought you’d submitted songs you had recorded to them then you guys later re-worked them to fit that album.

RK: I see.

LRI: I also have a Poison “Native Tongue” EPK where you said you had a version of “Body Talk” that sounded like a cross between Sly & The Family Stone and old Van Halen. I always thought that’d be cool to hear!

RK: I did have a version of that and “7 Days Over You”. I probably had a version of “Stand” as well but my point is that I never sent them a tape and said hey, listen to these. I sat there in the room and played them for them. But, I know for a fact that I did have other demos of those other songs you mentioned because prior to getting in that band I was making demos for my Interscope record. So, somewhere out there, there is a bunch of stuff.

Like I said before, none of those things are anything that I’d ever want anyone to hear because they are undeveloped and, in my opinion, they are just not very good! The ideas might be good but I knew they were undeveloped, they were demos so they weren’t meant to be heard by anyone other than me & my producer’s at the label. That’s the thing when you talk about unreleased stuff, there is a reason why it is unreleased. Usually, it is because it is not that good!

LRI: One of those things where you have it in your will that your archives are to be incinerated and your hard drives deleted upon your death?

RK: (Laughs) Believe it or not, I have that in my will, literally, that nothing…..well, I can’t stop it if I’m dead but that’s how insane I am, I actually have that that if anyone finds anything that it is to remain where it is. Let’s see what happens! (Laughs) It’s pretty dark! (Laughs)

Richie Kotzen Live DVD

LRI: On to the current, you have a new live DVD with the solo band, let’s talk about that!

RK: I do, yeah! I’m very excited about that! The new DVD is something I am very excited about because I’ve never had an opportunity to take a show and record it at that level. You know, with that level of cameras and audio. I did one years ago when I was in Brazil and I really like it because the show was really really good but unfortunately, back then, it must have been ten years ago by now. Back then, we really recorded it in a way that really wasn’t so amazing. We didn’t have any budget so we just did it the way we did it on our laptops.

With this one, we recorded one of the last shows of the tour in Japan. They just did a great job over there of editing it. You know, they did everything for me. They just did a really great job! The thing about these things is you have an opportunity to record something. Well, that’s great, you’ve got the cameras there, you’ve got the computers or Pro-Tools rig or whatever it is but you don’t have any guarantee that you’re going to have a great show. It could be a nightmare but we got lucky because we had everything there and we played really really well and I think we captured a special moment so I am excited that it is out there!

LRI: Yeah, you guys were on fire that night. One of my favorite aspects of the video is that it wasn’t shot like most live DVD’s where you have a camera on each guy and a full stage shot that are very generic angles. This one has some interesting angles and viewpoints. You almost feel like you are on stage as you guys perform. The audio is top notch as well.

RK: Yeah, they did some interesting things. It is the same crew that did The Winery Dogs video [The Winery Dogs – Unleashed In Japan 2013]. They did some really cool things on both of the DVD’s where they had their Go-Pro’s and captured some really cool angles. They just do a great job. In Japan, they just really focus on the details, they just do a great job over there. Everything they do is just high quality. Even the paper they use to print the packaging on is just really, they just pay a lot of attention to the detail.

LRI: I figured I’d ask this since I have the opportunity to ask for those on the internet music forums, social media, etc. but people are pissing and moaning “Why didn’t he release this on Blu-Ray?”

RK: (Laughs) That is hysterical! The first though that comes to my mind and I think to myself, gee, I’ve never done a DVD before of this quality. The last one I did was called “Bootlegged In Brazil” and it was all done with little handheld cameras where all the video went to tape. Those little digital tapes. Guys are getting bumped in to so you have shaky cameras and the audio came out pretty well.

Here, finally I have a really well done, well shot DVD with really great audio and now people are complaining “Why isn’t it on Blu-Ray?” In my mind, I’m just thinking “Wow! If it was me I’d just be happy to have it on DVD!” I am just happy that it exists on DVD. I guess, you know, I’m not one of those guys, like I don’t have a turntable and I don’t have a Blu-Ray player in my house. I don’t have a lot of this stuff, a lot of this technology stuff because I’m always worried about the content versus the quality in which it was recorded.

In another words, like I said earlier, I could have had the best cameras in the world record that show in Brazil. I could have had the best cameras in the world and the best audio in the world but if the band sucked, the DVD would suck! But, I was lucky enough to have someone there and recorded on whatever format they recorded it on & captured one of the best moments of my career that night in Brazil. To me, that’s much much much much more important than whether it’s released on some technology that I personally don’t even own or understand what it means. I’m much more of a “Is it a great song?” Yeah, then the quality of the recording of is always secondary to me because you can have great quality and be recording a pile of shit!

LRI: Now, on to something way off topic. You’ve been on tour for the last month so have you had a chance to keep an eye on your Philadelphia Eagles? If so, can you share your thoughts?

RK: Oh, well, you know as long as Dallas and the other teams in my division keep losing, I think we might have a chance!

LRI: The NFC East and the AFC South are just pitiful this year which is sad because there are some quality teams in both divisions or at least I thought there were! It’ll be interesting to see how those divisions play out.

RK: What’s even more disturbing to me besides the Eagles are the Lakers. I’ve lived in L.A. for 25 years now and when the Lakers were great, I was still a 76’ers fan because of Allen Iverson. As time went on and Allen left the league, I became a Lakers fan. I love Kobe Bryant and I’m just really frustrated with how things have been going. Now, here we are starting out and we lost the first three games. I’m just hoping it is not another repeat of last year especially since it might be Kobe’s last year. I’d just like to see him do something amazing this year and I think he will. He’s breaking records and to me, he’s the best that ever played but here I am a Lakers fan, finally & it’s not easy.

LRI: I’ve been a Lakers fan since the mid 80’s when I was a little kid living in BFE Kansas but since the team became “The Kobe Bryant Show” and Jim Buss has become part-owner and executive vice president of basketball operations, I can’t watch them. Between Kobe’s arrogance and Buss’ ignorance, I had to tune out. I can’t knock Kobe as a player but he needs to realize he has teammates.

RK: I just know that I’d really like to see them do really well and I really love Kobe so I’d just like to see him win one more ring before the end. I just don’t know how that will happen.

LRI: I think if they could force Jim Buss out somehow, they’d have a shot because they could get someone in to make decisions who knows what the hell they are doing. Buss just doesn’t seem to care, in my opinion. Who knows?!??!

I just wondered if you were able to keep an eye on your Eagles being busy on the road and all?

RK: I’m not super in tune with what is going on there but I watched what I watched. I guess Dallas and New York lost so that’s always good for us. Right now, it’s close and as long as it’s close, we’ve got a chance!

LRI: At least you’re now a Packers fan like me because the Broncos stomped their ass last night!

RK: You do have Aaron Rodgers though and he’s pretty much the best there is right now so!

LRI: Yeah, but he only had 77 yards total last night. It was UGLY!

RK: What’s your record?

LRI: 6-1!

RK: Better than my Eagles!

LRI: Well, I’ll let you go, have a great rest of the tour, stay safe on the road and enjoy your holiday break!

RK: Thanks! We will talk to ya soon!

LRI: Sounds good! Bye!

RK: Bye!

The Winery Dogs
(Photo Credit:Jamel Toppin)

Richie Kotzen Live DVD Teaser

Richie Kotzen “You Can’t Save Me” from “Richie Kotzen Live” DVD

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Del Leppard Cruise
January 21st through January 25th, 2016

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The Winery Dogs 2016 European Tour Dates

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