2015 has been another amazing year for guitarist Richie Kotzen as his creative fire burns brighter than ever. It is also an amazing time for fans of his work as their wish for a professionally-filmed look at his intricate guitar and genre-spanning song stylings finally came true in the form of his new DVD, ‘Richie Kotzen Live.’ Kotzen and his band ended their 2014-2015 tour in Tokyo, Japan at Akasaka Blitz, where they shot the entire concert in high-definition. The release showcases Richie Kotzen and his band, bassist Dylan Wilson and drummer Mike Bennett, at their best. It features classics, “You Can’t Save Me” and “Remember,” as well as new songs “Cannibals,” “War Paint” and “Walk With Me.” The collection also includes off-the-chart improvisational solo sections between Kotzen and his virtuoso rhythm section. This live DVD concert is a must-have for Kotzen fans worldwide, and it’s the perfect introduction to those who have yet to be a part of the Richie Kotzen experience.
With his guitar styles ranging from rock, blues, jazz and fusion to pop and soul, Richie Kotzen built a remarkably diverse 20-plus year career as a guitarist, singer and songwriter. During that span, Kotzen toured with his trio extensively outside the United States, building a loyal fan base and selling out shows throughout Europe, Latin America and Japan. In 1996, Fender guitars honored him with two signature model guitars. His signature model Telecaster is available worldwide and continues to be a top seller for the brand. In 2006, Kotzen received one of his biggest honors when The Rolling Stones chose him to open up a string of Japanese shows placing him in front of some of his biggest crowds to date. He not only built an incredibly successful solo career, but finds himself writing, recording and playing live with a variety of different artists, including Jazz legends Stanley Clarke and Lenny White.
Outside of his solo career, Richie Kotzen currently plays guitar and fronts The Winery Dogs with bassist Billy Sheehan and drummer Mike Portnoy. The trio first exploded onto the rock scene with their self-titled, self-produced and critically acclaimed debut album that was released July 23, 2013, on Loud & Proud Records and a sold-out worldwide tour. The chemistry between this iconic artists was undeniable and they soon found themselves returning to the studio for their sophomore effort. What resulted was the band’s critically acclaimed album, “Hot Streak,” which debuted at #2 on the Billboard Top Current Alternative Albums chart and #5 on Billboard’s Top Current Hard Music chart. The power of The Winery Dogs cannot be denied and will make a trek around the globe in 2016 to bring the magic to audiences worldwide. For Richie Kotzen, it is clear, the future is very bright!
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Richie Kotzen to discuss the release of his long-awaited live DVD, the talented artists with whom he shares the stage, the making of The Winery Dogs critically acclaimed new album, Hot Streak, and what the future holds for him as an artist.
You just put out a brand new live DVD. What can you tell us about it and what made now the right time for the release?
We had the opportunity to record one of the shows at the end of my tour. We had done a lot of shows together, even prior to this tour. Dylan [Wilson], Mike [Bennett] and I have been playing together for a very long time. We have been all over the world from Chile to China and all over Europe. We just have a great connection. I had never really had the opportunity to really document it properly until that final show in Japan. They had a great film crew there and they recorded everything the right way. When I saw it, I thought, “Not only did we have the option to film the show with really good cameras, we actually played really well!” It really just worked out! The funny thing with shows, performances and recording is that you never know when you are going to have a good night or bad night. It just wound up that we had the camera crew there and the show went really well. We ended up with a really cool DVD that documents what it is, what we do and have been doing for a long time. I am really happy we finally have that!
I totally agree and, from what I read, fans are really digging it as well.
Yeah. I had recorded a show, it had to be 10 years ago, in Brazil. It was another really good night but we just didn’t have the technology together with great cameras and great audio. I had released that and called it “Bootlegged in Brazil” because that was really kind of what it was. This time, we had it all done the right way, so I am really happy about it.
Knowing it was being shot for a potential release, did it impact what you did that night live?
Ya know, we just got up and played. That is just what we do! This band is really interesting in the sense that Dylan and Mike both have jazz backgrounds and we have played together for so long, we can really adapt to any situation musically. We have played in small clubs, like The Baked Potato here in Hollywood, and really, really large venues like those in Argentina and Sao Paulo. The band adapts so well because we really know how to listen to each other. A lot of musicians forget that and a lot of people talk about listening but they really don’t. It is one thing to listen but it is another to actually listen and respond. That is what we do really, really well. We listen to each other and respond to what we are doing musically. We have a saying, that is almost a joke but it’s true, “Play as if the audience was blind.” Then you are really playing the music and that is so special about what I do with Dylan and Mike. We really play the music and we respond in the moment. In doing that our show is different every night, even though we are playing the same songs, they are played differently because we are playing different rooms to different audiences and are responding off of each other in that moment. I think that is what makes what we do really special.
You have a lot of irons in the fire at the moment with the Winery Dogs, an album release early in 2015 and now this DVD release. Where does that leave you as far as future solo work?
I have been a solo artist since 1989. It is what I am, who I am and who I will always be. Obviously, I had a couple of stints in a few named bands and the people who know me know all about that and I had a cool band with Stanley Clarke that opened a lot of doors for me musically. I have been a solo artist my whole career and I will always do that. With that said, I am really enjoying being a part of The Winery Dogs. It’s interesting, the dynamic, because I feel like I am doing my solo stuff because it is not that different than what I do on my solo records, yet I have two amazing players who I can let take the ball every once in awhile. It really works out great for me and I am really happy that The Winery Dogs are resonating with people so well. But like I said, it is not that different from what I do on my own, even the process is very similar. To directly address your question, my focus has always been on being a solo artist, it is how I started and hopefully how I will end. That won’t change!
There is no question The Winery Dogs have a great collective chemistry. As an artist, what excites you about playing with both Billy Sheehan and Mike Portnoy?
Those guys are obviously great musicians but they are also stylists. That is what I would say, more than anything. They are stylists in the sense that they do them. They do them better than anybody! That is what makes it interesting! When you hear The Winery Dog record, we can talk about Billy for a minute, as a bass player he has such a distinct sound and approach. He does Billy Sheehan better than anybody, so when you listen to The Winery Dogs, you hear him in the band and it is helping to define the sound of the band. It is the same thing with Mike with the drums. Mike does Mike. It is all very powerful and it creates a very unique sound when the three of us play together. Billy’s approach is not typical on the instrument, so it creates a different energy and feeling in the music. That is what really makes The Winery Dogs unique, the combination of the three of us together. I am just doing my thing but it takes on a different form with their influence and input. I think it makes it really special.
Did you have goals or aspirations when it came to making the second Winery Dogs album?
It is interesting because, within our camp, the management and the label were really anxious for us to get back into the studio and do something. Personally, I really wasn’t. I was really happy with the way the first record was received and I was happy to let that balloon float out there for awhile. They really wanted us to go back and do something really special. I had a very relaxed kind of attitude and I don’t know if I voiced my opinion but in my mind I was saying, “You know what? I am going to write some songs and work with the guys. Let’s see!” I very much had that as an attitude and said to myself, “If we do something and it is really cool and we really like it collectively, we can put it out. If we don’t, we can wait.” I don’t think art is something you do under pressure. A lot of times it becomes that with bands. A band might come out with a first record and it does really well, then you feel like you have to fuckin’ beat it and there is all of this weird energy and pressure. I think that is really the recipe for failure or mediocracy. For me, I have a different attitude. My attitude is that I won’t release anything unless it is great. By saying great, I mean that it resonates with me, it excites me and that I feel it is an accurate representation of where I am emotionally at that time. That is how I look at it. Once we got together and completed the process, my feeling was that we outdid ourselves. I thought we had taken things to another level musically and as are the songs and the writing. I don’t know why it happened that way but it did and I think we have a really cool record.
Building on what you just said, what songs from this new album resonate with you the most at this point in time?
To me, the songs on the record are “Ghost Town” and “Hot Streak.” Those are the two songs that I feel best show the band’s evolution. “Hot Streak” originated from a bass guitar exercise that Billy was using for a long time, as a warm up. He was in the studio playing that and I had walked in on him playing that riff and thought, “Wow! That is really cool!” Mike starting jamming and I started scatting over it. It was really just two minutes that we played that riff. We threw in a couple of chord changes and the song was born. We tracked it and Mike did a lot of amazing drum stuff and it was all improv! He was basically riffing. I took the masters home from the studio that night and stayed up really late to do my guitars and vocals, creating the song “Hot Streak.” I took it back to them the next day and said, “Listen to this. This is what I did.” It was just guitar, vocal and drums. There wasn’t even a bass on it at that point, other than the main riff. Everybody loved it, so we developed it from there. It is so unique. It is funky. It’s progressive and I think it shows off the growth of the band really well. “Ghost Town” is a really special song. Lyrically, I connected on something that really made a lot of sense for me, in addition to it being a really fun song to play.
I wanted to ask you about the recent events in Paris. Obviously, it is something none of us experienced before. Does an incident like that have an impact on what you do professionally?
You know, there isn’t really a lot I, as an individual, can do. One thing I can do as an individual is protect my home and family, whatever that means, and do whatever I need to do to protect my family. I think it is really important, as an American, we take those steps and that we can actually do that because a lot of people don’t have that option. However, once you’re out in public, much like in our business, anything can happen at anytime. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a terrorist tied to a religious cult, it could be anything. Any crazy person can do anything at any given time and that is just the way it is. Unfortunately, it seems like there is a lot more of that happening now. It’s not a great thing and it is very scary but, ya know, fuck, I can’t really do much more than protect my home and family when I am here. For better or worse, my job involves me putting myself out there and getting on stage, sharing and playing music. It is something I truly love, so that is a shame there are a handful of people out there that want to ruin things but that is the times we live in and there isn’t much I can do. I am certainly not going to not play. I am not going to stay home, look out the window and be scared. This is what I do and nothing will stand in the way of that.
2015 has been a huge year for you. What have the highlights been and what are you most excited about when looking ahead to the new year?
Well, I am really excited about the live DVD being out there. There was a time when I thought it wasn’t going to happen or come together. Finally, I saw the edit and they did a great job, so I am really happy it is finally out there. I feel like it is kind of documenting me at a really good moment in my life. That is important because I have played for so long in so many different incarnations with so many different musicians, so to have something out there to really represent who I am as a musician is important and I finally have it. I am also thrilled with what we did with The Winery Dogs. That first record resonated with a lot of people globally. There were questions of “Can they do another record? Will they stay together? Was it just a one-off?” I think that the “Hot Streak” record is even stronger and a deeper record musically. It shows that we are a real band, we have a future and are going to continue to play together. With those things said, I think 2016 is going to be a great year!
Your work keeps getting better and better as you continue your musical journey. What is the best lesson we can take from your story so far?
The thing that I have learned is to really be true to myself. Music is something that comes out of love and is something you do because you feel inspired and it brings you joy. Even if you are singing a sad song, by the end of it you feel something really positive. I have learned that I never want to be in the position where I am mad at music. I never want to be in the position where I am playing, I am not inspired and it becomes a job. Once that happens, I think it is time to stop. I have been in that position in my life where I was playing music, it just didn’t feel right, I wasn’t enjoying it and I stopped. I don’t ever want to feel that and be mad at music. That is really the lesson I have learned and thankfully I am in the position now that when I am active musically, I am doing something I really want to do. I want to be there and it is a great place to be!
I couldn’t agree more, Richie! Thanks for your time today and I am looking forward to seeing where the music takes you in the future!
Thanks, Jason! I really appreciate your time!
For the latest news and tour dates for Richie Kotzen, visit his official website at www.richiekotzen.com. Connect with him on social media on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. ‘Richie Kotzen Live’ is now available to purchase through Amazon and CD Baby.