Australian Guitar - - Feature -

Amer­i­can gui­tarist, pro­ducer, vo­cal­ist and song­writer Richie Kotzen has been re­leas­ing al­bums reg­u­larly since the late ‘80s, after de­but­ing as an in­stru­men­tal gui­tar tech­ni­cian dur­ing the Shrap­nel Records hey­day. His over­all pre­sen­ta­tion and mu­si­cal out­put has changed a lot since then, and along the way, he’s en­joyed brief, yet solid stints play­ing in huge-sell­ing bands like Poi­son, Mr. Big and The Win­ery Dogs. Ahead of his first ever Aus­tralian tour this Au­gust, we got Kotzen on the phone for a quick chat. What can we ex­pect to hear on your up­com­ing Aus­tralian tour?

I’m do­ing a lot of songs from the new record [Salt­ingEarth], which is cool. There’s one song we’ve never done be­fore, and some other songs that we haven’t played in a while too. Do you favour be­ing in a three-piece band?

Yeah. There was a short pe­riod where we added a Ham­mond or­gan as well, but for most of my life it’s al­ways been a three-piece. It gives me free­dom, and it’s a com­fort­able and ex­pres­sive for­mat. The lineup has been to­gether for seven years now, so we can read each other re­ally well. When you did a mag­a­zine col­umn in the late ‘80s, it was at the tail end of the shred era. What are your thoughts in hind­sight?

I was eigh­teen when I did that col­umn, after my first record [ RichieKotzen] came out. I didn’t find my foot­ing as an artist un­til after I’d made my sec­ond record [ Fev­erDream] – which was the first I ever sang on – and I de­vel­oped quickly from there. I look at

Mother Head’s Fam­ily Re­union as the al­bum where I found my stamp as an artist. Would you say that switch­ing from Ibanez gui­tars to Fender Tele­cast­ers was re­flec­tive of your de­vel­op­ment?

That came from want­ing a dif­fer­ent re­la­tion­ship with the gui­tar and a dif­fer­ent sound. I started play­ing a Stra­to­caster and Tele­caster a lot after my sec­ond record, and Ibanez made me a good Tele­caster copy [Starfield] after that. Fender saw them and of­fered me two Mas­ter Built gui­tars: a red Stra­to­caster and a brown Tele­caster, the lat­ter of which later evolved into a sig­na­ture model. There’s a sig­na­ture Stra­to­caster too. Those are my main ones, and the only mod­i­fi­ca­tion I’ve made to the rack model Tele­caster was to sand the fin­ish off the neck. The Tele­caster sounds very bright. Did putting DiMarzio pick­ups in them counter that?

Yeah, we’ve got a hum­bucker in there that is louder and darker than a nor­mal Tele­caster pickup [Chop­per T], but it’s not as loud as what you might put in a Les Paul. The neck pickup is a stan­dard re­place­ment Tele­caster pickup [Twang King]. The Stra­to­caster has DiMarzios, but they’re pretty stan­dard sin­gle coil pick­ups. Does dig­i­tal am­pli­fier mod­el­ling ap­peal to you given that is be­com­ing more widespread?

No, be­cause even though it’s con­ve­nient in cer­tain ap­pli­ca­tions, I’ve been play­ing through tube am­pli­fiers for my en­tire life. There are ways that a phys­i­cal am­pli­fier will re­spond de­pend­ing on what you play and where you’re stand­ing. There are so many vari­ables, and I can feel those things miss­ing in a dig­i­tal mod­el­ling am­pli­fier. If I have the com­po­nents I need to get my cre­ative vi­sion across, then I’m happy. I don’t get caught up in the gear thing. What events led to mak­ing your Tech21 [Richie Kotzen Sig­na­ture RK5 Fly Rig] piece of ef­fects gear?

That came about from do­ing a lot of fly dates – fly­ing into a re­gion, do­ing sev­eral shows, and then leav­ing. I took an over­drive and a Tech21 de­lay pedal, mounted them into a hard­wired box and added two switches for a Fender Twin. I went to Tech21 [to de­velop a pro­to­type], and we put in a de­lay [Tap Tempo], a re­verb and the San­sAmp. The two-stage over­drive part took sev­eral months to get right, but it’s a re­ally cool and prac­ti­cal pedal. I’ve also got a sig­na­ture 50-watt combo Vic­tory amp on the way. We added a gain con­trol, and tremolo and re­verb cir­cuits. What led to the de­ci­sion to stop us­ing a plec­trum as part of your play­ing tech­nique?

Ten years ago, I was hav­ing a rough time get­ting sounds on tour, so I went on stage and did my whole set with­out a pick. It elim­i­nated a lot of my reper­toire – in­clud­ing sweep­ing and al­ter­nate pick­ing – but forced me to play dif­fer­ently. I ended that show feel­ing more con­nected to my mu­sic, and I played bet­ter by slow­ing down and phras­ing more to my feel­ings. Over time, I worked on bring­ing those other things back, like sweep­ing, so the way I per­form is ever-evolv­ing. I still use a pick for some things in the stu­dio, though. In hind­sight, how do you re­gard be­ing in Poi­son as con­tribut­ing to your mu­si­cal de­vel­op­ment?

Poi­son was very im­por­tant for me, be­cause hav­ing done three records at the time, my con­tract was bought out by a ma­jor la­bel [In­ter­scope]. We had it all lined up that the di­rec­tion for the next al­bum would be a com­bi­na­tion of soul and rock – which is what I wanted – but the la­bel were push­ing for a stan­dard rock record. So I asked to be dropped from the la­bel. Dur­ing that process, they in­formed me that Bret Michaels had ex­pressed in­ter­est in hav­ing me join the band. Ini­tially, that didn’t make any sense, but I sat down with him and oddly enough, I hit it off with him and his de­sire to take the band in a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion. So we started writ­ing, and it was a lot of fun. I’m still ex­cited about that record [Na­tiveTongue] and it was a very im­por­tant part of my life.

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