Richie Kotzen on ‘Salting Earth,’ the Rolling Stones + More – Interview


Story by Anne Erickson

Interview: Richie Kotzen discusses ‘Salting Earth’ and why he loves working with Mike Portnoy and the Winery Dogs

Richie Kotzen seems to never have writer’s block. The guitarist and vocalist is on his 21st solo album, the recently released “Salting Earth,” and the ideas continue to flow.

“I kind of lost track a little bit!” Kotzen said of his many releases. “There’s a lot of stuff out there, not only solo records but collaborations, but apparently that’s what they’re saying! Number 21 for the official solo records. So, I guess I’ve been doing this for a long time, or a little bit of time, at least!”

Kotzen spoke with Anne about the new album, his love for playing live and what’s new with his supergroup, the Winery Dogs.

Kotzen is currently on the road, and for his full roster of tour dates, visit Kotzen’s official website.

Anne Erickson: Congratulations on the upcoming album, “Salting Earth.” First of all, this is your 21st solo album. That’s amazing!

Richie Kotzen: Yeah, apparently so! I kind of lost track a little bit. There’s a lot of stuff out there, not only solo records but collaborations, but apparently that’s what they’re saying! Number 21 for the official solo records. So, I guess I’ve been doing this for a long time, or a little bit of time, at least.

How do you keep coming up with fresh ideas?

What happens for me is that over the course of a year, I might write five or six or 10 or 12 songs that I really like, and then after I write each one, I record it. So, the songs are all recorded at different times. And then, at some point I’ll go back and listen to everything and decide which ones I really like. If I feel like I have a record, then I release something. Sometimes, I might have seven songs that I really like and then go back and discover two or three things that I never finished, and I suddenly feel inspired to finish them. It’s a different kind of process. It’s very different from the process of going into a studio, booking time and saying, “Okay, I have two weeks to do this record.” I don’t really have deadlines. I just write what I write, and when I have enough material that I’m excited about, I’ll put it together and release it.

You’re the only performer on “Salting Earth.”

Yes, I’m the only musician on the record with the exception of my wife, who sang background on a song for me. It’s something that’s happened a lot on my records. It’s the process of when I write, often times I write something and then I start recording it, and recording may take me a few hours or a year. Because of the way it works, it’s a process that happens naturally. I have my studio set up with all the instruments that I use, and I’m always ready to record any moment. So, if I have an idea for drums, I can literally just go sit behind the drums, press record and it can be documented. It’s convenient that it’s set up in a way for me to work in an open format.

Are you excited to have these new songs on the road?

I am! What’s really interesting is that in the past when I was putting a new record out, we would do a couple songs from the new record, but this time, we’re doing almost the entire record. I think we’re doing seven out of 10 songs, which is interesting. I’ve never done that before. I’ll be out with my band of Mike Bennett on drums and Dylan Wilson on bass.

You play Westland, the Detroit area, on May 5. What do you enjoy about playing Michigan?  

I haven’t been there in quite a while, so I’m really looking forward to it. I’ll tell you there are no fans like the fans in Michigan. When they’re into what you’re doing, they’re your best friend. If they don’t like it, they will let you know! I’m really thrilled that I’m going there. The fans are fantastic, and something I love about the creative process is that I want to take this music on the road and play the songs and get that audience reaction.

You’ve had the pleasure of working with so many great musicians over the years. What musical experiences and projects really stand out?

In 2006, I was the opening act for the Rolling Stones, and their tour was called “A Bigger Bang.” They had three weeks of shows in Japan, so we were over there and opened up for them on all their shows in the stadiums over there. That was something I will never forget.

Is anything new with the Winery Dogs?

The Winery Dogs are on hiatus for a while. We did our first record back in 2013, and I was shocked at how well it was received. I was happy about it, of course. I was pleasantly surprised. And then, we decided to just run right back into another cycle, so we did two back-to-back records and two back-to-back tours. For me, I wasn’t expecting it to be anything more than a cool project. It actually turned into something more than that, and people really connected to it. So, we jumped into a second album and the second tour. By the end of that tour, at least for me, I really wanted to get back to doing what I had done prior to that, which is what I’m doing now, and I think the other guys are off doing some other things and exploring some other styles of music. So, the band still exists. I would imagine at some point in the future, we will reconvene and talk about what makes sense for us to do, but for the time being, at least the next couple of years, the band is on a bit of a hiatus.

What was it like working with Mike Portnoy in the Winery Dogs? He’s such a talented guy, and I always thought you guys had great musical chemistry together.

He’s a lot of fun. You know, I will say something beyond the musical chemistry, because when you talk about musical chemistry, the audience can pick up on that. They can listen to the record or come to the show and feel what’s going on with the band. But behind the scenes, as a person, he’s just a fantastic guy. He’s a very warm, nurturing, loving, understanding guy. Not to say that he doesn’t have his opinions. Not to say that he doesn’t want to see things a certain way, but his personality is very strong. All of us have personalities that are very strong, and I think the beauty of that group is that we really did work well together. Everybody gave everybody their space. Mike did a lot of the planning when it comes to the album designs and the layout, and I don’t really like being bothered with that, but I wrote the melodies and lyrics… we have this nice camaraderie. We really did get along, not only musically, but personally, that was a nice experience.

Photo credit: Julia Lage

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