by Charlie Doom
Richie Kotzen initially found fame at the age of 21 in the hard rock band, Poison. Kotzen’s creative and technical command of almost every musical genre from rock, jazz, blues, fusion and pop to soul has led many to tout him as one of the best players in the world. Kotzen is also a prolific and gifted singer/songwriter, having recorded over 20 solo albums and collaborating on over 30 other studio albums crossing all musical styles.
Charlie Doom sat down with Richie and had just enough time to ask him 3 crucial questions:
1. Do you feel you’re still improving as a player? How do you push yourself creatively?
I think there should always be a feeling of moving forward — a feeling of learning something new. I suppose you could define this as improving, but I look at it more like adding a new word to your vocabulary or, better still, a new experience or emotion. The idea of music is to be creative and to be truly creative you need to move into the unknown. Doing the same thing over and over again with a different spin is not creativity — that’s not growing.
Creativity is something that comes through you, it is the unexpected. You can’t force it. What you learn over many years is how to identify this inspiration and when it arrives, knowing what to do with it. That is the real key: the inspiration will come from being free and clear. Identifying creative inspiration and knowing what to do with it is what most people do not grasp.
2. What’s your creative process like? Can you give us an overview of how you develop an idea in your head into a produced song?
I can’t give a specific platform idea, but I can say that songs come from the most unexpected places. Often times I dream music. I have heard melodies when I’m asleep and then remembered when I woke up that I was dreaming some really inspired piece of work. The trouble had been that because I did not force myself to wake up I would never write the music. Later on I realized I must sleep with a recording device by the bed so now when this happens I force myself to wake up and document the idea.
Other songs are not nearly as abstract in their incarnation. Some are simply born from a bass line or a lyrical idea. There are 2 songs on the Peace Sign CD that I wrote on the bass guitar; one is ‘We’re All Famous‘ and the other is ‘Your Entertainer‘.
At the end of the day the production is decided by the song and how I hear it in my head. I typically hear music in a completed form when I’m in the studio so most of the process is bringing that point of view to life. Then of course there are the moments where I go in the studio and have no clue what I’m going to come out with! I just keep messing around and then suddenly there is something, suddenly there is a song.
I suppose the short answer is there is no one process. Every song is a different animal.
3. What’s the best career advice you’ve ever gotten or would give?
Many years ago, Ozzy* gave me some good advice. It was just him and I talking about the music business (this was early 90′s) and Ozzy was making a point about how much lip service there is in the music business. He said, “if on the one hand a company is telling you everything they are going to do with you (basically empty promises) and on the other hand a company is guarantying nothing and are hard to get on the phone, but hand you a large some of money….”
He told me, “Always take the money.”
Which later on, Ozzy’s advice proved to be right. The only deals with companies I’ve ever made that really worked in my favor were the ones that offered significant advances. It is the only tangible commitment they can make to you in the beginning. Most of the time if someone is talking big that’s all they’re doing – talking. If someone says, “Well, we want you to be involved, but we have a limited budget…” start looking for the door!
*Yes, he ‘s talking about that Ozzy. And furthermore, Richie’s response to question #3 is perhaps one of the most honest insights on the music business you’ll ever find. Unless you’re doing work for a non-profit humanitarian organization, I suggest you heed Kotzen’s advice when conducting business. Don’t be a fool.