Exclusive: Richie Kotzen talks new album, tour

World renowned guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Richie Kotzen is gearing up to release his 21st solo record, Salting Earth, and hit the road in support of it. His new CD will be available April 14th via his own Headroom, Inc. label with a tour to follow on April 21st. Kotzen, who’s worked mostly as a solo artist, co-formed The Winery Dogs in 2013 with bassist Billy Sheehan and drummer Mike Portnoy. With the band on hiatus, Kotzen has been focusing on his solo career, releasing Cannibals in 2015 and then sitting six months on Salting Earth before deciding to release it. Kotzen took time between rehearsals to discuss the album and tour with The Music Universe. Below you’ll find some snippets of the interview with the full audio embedded at the end.

It’s your 21st studio album, and while you’ve performed with a number of acts over the years, you’ve always really been a solo artist which has allowed you to do music your way.

“I don’t have any projects. I’m very much doing my own thing most of the time. Recently, I formed a band with Billy Sheehan and Mike Portnoy back in 2013 called The Winery Dogs. But other than that, I’ve just been making my records and existing and having my solo career. I don’t really get preoccupied with anything other than writing my music and recording it. I guess twenty-one sounds like a lot, when it’s taken out of context, but if you look at the fact that I made my first record in 1989, and now here we are in 2017, I guess, to me, it seems to make a sense that I would put a record out a year. I don’t do much else than write music and record. I have plenty of time to do it, you know.”

You’re a one man band on the album. Other than backing vocals on “Make It Easy,” you performed all the instruments on Salting Earth.

“It just kind of happens that way. I have so many records that end up being basically me, being the only guy on the record. It’s not really planned that way, but it often comes my nature how I record my music. Ninety percent of the time when I write a song, I’m hearing it finished in my mind. I know what the bass line is. I know what the drum beat is. I just know. I hear it and I know how to do it and I know how to make it come to life.”

How is this album different from Cannibals, your previous record?

“There’s a common thread. The thing that I like about this album, is that I think for ten songs, it really captures the full pendulum swing of what I do. Cannibals was a cool record, but I think some of the more rocking elements of Richie Kotzen may have been absent from Cannibals and it was more focused on the kinda more soulful or funkier kinda elements, smaller guitar sounds and that sort of thing. Whereas this record is diverse, it has both. You have a song like ‘This Is Life’ or ‘My Rock’ which is clearly more R&B oriented but then at the same time, you have the opening track ‘Thunder’ and ‘End Of Earth’ which clearly are more guitar driven. I think this record showcases the spectrum of what I do. It doesn’t have everything. There’s no jazz fusion instrumentals on here, but I haven’t really done that since I was in my late twenties. I think it really encompasses what it is that I do very very well.

I’m really happy with the record. You know the record’s been finished for a long time. I sat on it for six months and took a break from music. I did that deliberately because I wanted to come back to it with fresh ears and see how I felt. Most of the time when I make a record, I just finish it and release it where this time I wanted to take a break and when I came back to it, I really liked it. I was very very happy with what I did and so that was my confirmation that it needed to be released.

Will the project be available at just your website or digitally as well?

“It goes everywhere. You know the thing about digital is fantastic. Whatever advocator you use to get your music from Point A to Point B, once you’re in the system you’re everywhere. So you’re on iTunes, you’re on Spotify, every single medium, you’re there. As far as physical copy, obviously we sell physical copies at shows. You can order online at Amazon, and in certain stores in certain part in the countries, the record is stocked where there is demand. And that’s really how that works nowadays. You have your mom and pop record stores, which are great, but you don’t have like Tower Records and that sort of thing anymore. They’ll have a couple of records in Best Buy — they have a record section, but in order to be stocked there, you have to have a demand.”

Who is your touring band what can fans expect to see on this tour?

“Dylan Wilson is the bass player and the drummer’s name is Mike Bennett. Interestingly enough, we were talking the other day, in October, it’ll be six years that Dylan and I have been playing together and I think Mike and I are up to about seven years of playing together. In that time, you really get to know how to interact. We got such a great live chemistry. Something that I really cherish about these guys is our ability to improvise and really to change arrangements on the spot. It’s almost like an instinct we have when we play together It’s really unique and I don’t think I’ve really had that in any musical situation at the level I have it with this band.”

What is planned after this month long tour in the United States?

“We’ve got tons of dates and they’re updating my site. That’s where we put everything so people know where we are. We’ve got like five weeks in the United States. We’ve got a month in Europe in September. We’ve got Australia, Japan. We’re going to Mexico, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, a few other countries in South America. And then we’re hopefully going to be doing a second run in the US in October that will lead us to Canada as well, so we really have a long year ahead of us.”

Buddy Iahn
Buddy Iahn

Buddy Iahn founded The Music Universe when he decided to juxtapose his love of web design and music. As a lifelong drummer, he decided to take a hiatus from playing music to report it. The website began as a fun project in 2013 to one of the top independent news sites. Email: info@themusicuniverse.com