RICHIE KOTZEN Reflects About Upcoming SMITH/KOTZEN “Better Days…And Nights” Album and Dynamics Between Him and ADRIAN SMITH: ‘We Have a Very Fluid Way of Creating Songs Like a Friendly Tennis Match’

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Just seventeen months after the release of Adrian Smith and Richie Kotzen‘s debut album, the guitar titans are back with another stellar release, “Better Days…And Nights.” It’s comprised of four new studio songs, and five powerful and energic live songs were recorded while on their tour of the West Coast and the UK. This new album will be released on September 16th.

The album’s live and new studio tracks are filled with greased lightning guitar playing, blue bravado singing, chest-pounding bass runs, and thunderous drumming. Richie‘s roots have always been firmly planted in the blues and can be heard on every note of every of his solo work, Winery Dogs, and now the Smith/Kotzen band’s releases. Together they are rewriting the limits of hard rock blues vernacular, and the results of this new album and their debut release are proof of that. For their live band, Adrian and Richie enlisted internationally acclaimed bassist Julia Lage and drummer Bruno Valerde.

Tickets and VIP packages for Richie‘s current solo tour can be found HERE.

“Better Days …And Nights” Album Artwork

Pre-order for the new album “Better Days…And Nights” can be found AT THIS LOCATION.

Correspondent Robert Cavuoto spoke with Richie Kotzen about the duo’s new release, if some of the studio songs were new or held back from their debut album, how much time they spent rehearsing for their tour, if he changed his approach to your guitar playing from band-to-band, if we can expect a more extensive tour in the future, and Richie gives us an update that the third The Winery Dogs album could come out the end of this year with a tour in 2024. Check out their conversation below,  and remember that for more interviews and other daily content, make sure to follow Sonic Perspectives on Facebook, Flipboard and Twitter and  subscribe to our YouTube channel to be notified about new content we publish on a daily basis.


I’m excited about the new Smith/Kotzen album! It seems like a nice extension of the debut album and helps keep the success and momentum of the band going forward. Would you agree?

Yes, I would! What’s really great is that we captured some nice live moments to share. It’s always tricky when you get the idea of recording a show, but what it comes down to is the show worth sharing? Every show is different, and there are a lot of moving parts. With a little luck, you get to a situation to capture something that is interesting and worthwhile. We were able to do that, and we have five live songs and four new studio songs, so it’s great to have another thing to release.

Photo by Robert Cavuoto

Was there a reason the four studio songs were held back from the debut album?

We actually held two of the songs back and then got together and wrote; two new ones. If my memory serves me correctly, “Better Days” and “Got a Hold on Me” were the two new ones. I have so much music in my head between The Winery Dogs‘ new album and my current solo tour I have trouble keeping track of all the titles [laughing].

“Hate and Love” is a killer song with its catchy riff that really grooves. Kudos to you and Adrian on that!

Thanks that came together nice live too. It’s one of the songs I look forward to playing live because I can do the solo at the end and stretch out. One of the cool things about the band is that we have songs where live Adrian takes the wheel and stretches out on a solo, like with “Running.” “Hate and Love” is my spot! It’s nice to have a partner to play off. It works quite well.

Photo by Robert Cavuoto

It doesn’t sound like there are any overdubs or tons of layered guitar, just two guys jamming.

There are always some overdubs with the harmony vocals and some “ear candy” things here and there. Sometimes you harmonize a part or double a part. Adrian is really great with counterpoint lines. On the studio version of “Scars,” he came up with a great counterpoint line. So, overdubs in the standard sense of how you make a record are quite common. At the same time, we made choices so we wouldn’t get ourselves in trouble when we had to perform live. The reality is when you come to see the band play, we sound pretty much like the studio version, which I think is great.

It’s great to hear the studio and live version with two of the songs.

I haven’t done that before! When something is done, it’s done as I really don’t go back and listen to it. When you are making it, you are listening to it constantly, and you don’t want to hear it again [laughing]. Something that would be interesting to do, which I haven’t done, is sit down over a glass of wine to listen to the studio version and then the live version back-to-back. I think that would be interesting!

Photo by Robert Cavuoto

There’s a raw energy and some passionate playing on the five live songs. Did you find different ways to play them from how you originally recorded them?

Whether with this band or The Winery Dogs or my solo stuff, it always happens that you go into the studio to create the songs and lyrics. When you are recording, you are trying to figure out the sound of what you want with the overdubs. When you get out on the road, the song starts to build its own life. My solo song, “Remember,” which is always in my set, is better live [laughing]. Same with “Warpaint,” the live version has taken on another life! You start to think that maybe you should always make a live record, tour it for a year, and then go and make a studio record from it.

That sounds like a lot of work [laughing]!

In 2015, I did a tour where we recorded a show to make a live CD and DVD. If you go and listen to “Fear” off “Into the Black” and listen to “Fear” off the live version, you will hear exactly what I’m talking about.

How much time did you spend rehearsing with the band for the West Coast and UK run of shows?

Not as much as you would think. I despise rehearsing. A year ago, I got into a band where I knew the drummer, who was awesome, and I trusted time. We got together one time and ran through all the songs once. The next day, I said, “I just wanted to rehearse the space between the songs, like the intros and outros. How we end a song and then start the next one.” The bass player said, “This was the first time I ever went to a rehearsal and didn’t rehearse the songs, only what happens between the songs!” [Laughing]. We rehearsed for three days to at my house and then went to a proper studio/rehearsal room for another four days. With my trio, I don’t need as much rehearsal, but with this, there are more moving parts as to what Adrian and I will each play or what solos we will do. We’ve even switched things up where I take the first solo, and he takes the second or vice versa.

Photo by Robert Cavuoto

During the live shows, you perform Iron Maiden’s “Wasted Years.” Tell me how that song was selected to play live.

That’s a cool song. During the set, we wanted to do one of my solo songs which is known prior to Smith/Kotzen, and something that Adrian wrote. For me, it was “You Can’t Save Me,” which seems to be my most streamed song on Spotify [laughing]. “Wasted Years” is such a powerful track, and Adrian penned that one.

I saw the YouTube video with Nicko McBrain on drums performing “Wasted Years.” Was that a career-high moment playing with two members of Iron Maiden?

[Laughing] Totally!! You have to understand that I grew up outside of Philly and listened to a lot of soul music. My first concert was Stevie Wonder playing on a round stage. A month later, I saw George Benson. I got firmly rooted in the genre and then got into rock and metal. The first hard rock band I was obsessed with was KISS as a little boy, maybe five years old. Once I knew a little more, Iron Maiden was my groove. They were the first hard rock concert I ever saw for their “Piece of Mind” album in Allentown, PA. I was probably 12 or 13 years old. I listened to “The Number of the Beast” every morning before I would go to school. I was as big of an Iron Maiden fan as you could be. Now I look at this album, “Better Days…And Nights” and the logo says my name with Adrian Smith, and it’s a holy shit moment. So, it was pretty cool.

Photo by Robert Cavuoto

In the video, you have the biggest smile on your face while looking at Adrian and Nicko. You look like you are in total disbelief of what was happening!

[Laughing] Yes, Yes! My wife, Julia Lage, is playing bass in the band, and she is going, “What the Hell is going on? I can’t believe it!” It was so cool. It’s great where your path takes you in life. It’s been a cool journey for me, and I can’t complain.

Any plans to do a more extensive tour when Maiden is on hiatus?

I have to be honest; the California shows came together in an interesting way. Adrian was in town, and we decided to do some writing; then I said, why do we try and do some gigs? He had a very short window of availability. We pulled it together, and my wife jumped on the bass position, and we got our friend Bruno to play drums. He is out with me right now for my solo shows. Julia is an outstanding bassist who is playing with Vixen now, and Bruno plays with Angra, which is a very famous Brazilian hard rock group. We have a great rhythm section, and we do the things that we can do and what’s possible. Once our schedules open up, we will record another album, and then we can put a great show together. We would take that tour across the country.

Photo by Robert Cavuoto

Do you change your approach to your guitar playing from your solo work to The Winery Dogs to this band?

When I’m making a solo record, everything is together as one. I don’t separate; now I’m playing guitar; now I’m singing; and so on. It’s one cohesive and creative blob that moves around the studio. I’ll have everything set up, so I can go to the drums to play something, then the bass, and then guitar, then sing, and back around again. With the The Winery Dogs, it’s a different process; we collaborate in a room and create the track. Then I go back and write lyrics and melodies to craft the song. With Adrian, it’s yet another process. We both sit together with guitars and craft the song together. We don’t make tracks. It’s more like, “I have a chord progression,” or Adrian may say, “I have a lyric title.” It’s a very fluid way of creating like a friendly tennis match volleying, back and forth. Suddenly you are molding this clay, and it takes form. As it relates to the guitar, I play the way I play and hear the way I hear. I don’t play that differently. I think my solo stuff spans a wider scope creatively because I delve into areas that I wouldn’t delve into the other projects. It won’t make sense.

There seems to be a resurgence with the blues, particularly hard rock blues, with many bands and artists coming to the forefront of the genre. What do you find most fascinating about playing hard rock blues these days?

All the music that I love to listen to stems from the blues one way or another. As I mentioned by first concerts were Stevie Wonder and then George Benson, so that you can trace those back to the blues. The best and my favorite concert that I ever went to was Bootsy Collins in the House of Blues in LA. The music I did with Stanley Clarke might be considered Jazz-Fusion, but can still be traced back to the blues. The rock music I play can also be traced back to the blues. If it doesn’t have some sort of rooting back to the blues, where my neck starts bobbing, I don’t connect with it as much. I guess it’s the rhythm that draws me into it.

Photo by Robert Cavuoto

When you are volleying back and forth with Adrian, has plugging into a different amp or using a different guitar ever inspired a riff or song?

Yeah, sometimes we are also on acoustics guitar, and sometimes not. Your question inspires me to tell you something that no one realizes. On a couple of the songs, and these were at the end of our session, I needed to do two guitar solos. Adrian already had his gear set up; I asked him if I could use his setup for the solos. I picked up his guitar, which has a locking tremolo system, and did the two solos. I haven’t used a tremolo in 30 years! I started playing his guitar and using the tremolo arm like I used to when I was a teenager. I got this whole other sound on a couple of songs that sound like old Richie Kotzen. That was a fun thing for the guitar fans.

Any thoughts of going back and using a tremolo more often?

No, I don’t really like it. The problem is that I’m a singer and I accompany myself on the guitar. That’s how I view it. I need a guitar with a lot of dynamic range where I can control the tone through the volume knob. Also, I need a guitar that responds to the intensity of the fingers on my right hand. It’s the reason I switched to a Telecaster in 1990. I was singing more and realized I needed a guitar where the tone was justly served. So much of what I do comes out of my hands. I have the ability to use the volume knob to bring the guitar down quietly, and if I snap the string, it pops the way I want it to. In my experience, a locking tremolo system is great for many things, but it limits your dynamics and the instrument’s tone. If you have your guitar volume full-on all the time, then you are fine. For what I play and my style of playing, it just doesn’t work. Having said that, to grab a guitar with a tremolo to do a solo was fun.

To that point, it was odd seeing you play “Wasted Years” with your fingers and no tremolo.

[Laughing] That’s funny. I have a technique that is very natural, which I don’t think of as a technique. There is a way to approach the guitar that allows me not to use a pick. It’s fun and inspiring. I have always used the pick but with my fingers. I would sit in a jam session, and the dude would hand me a pick, and I would say, “No thanks!” I don’t even carry a guitar pick, so in a weird way, it is nothing new for me. When I made the move to go exclusively to just using my fingers, I would pack my bags and not even include picks. When I made that choice, it really forced me to dig into some other realms and develop some different techniques. A lot of my repertoire was sweep picking. Eventually, I learned to do it with my fingers. It inspired me to grow on the instrument.

Photo by Robert Cavuoto

My opinion of your music over the years is that you first proved yourself to be an excellent guitarist, then a fine vocalist, and now a tremendous songwriter. Would you agree on that progression?

I think songwriting has always been at the forefront. I did my first record as an instrumental guitarist, for which I was known for. I also had a band with original compositions when I was 17 years old, so there was only so much lyrically that I could write. When I was writing, it was always about the song. That was beaten into my head at a young age that without a song, you don’t have a career as an artist! You can be an artist and have people write for you, but the artist I wanted to be, I had to be able to write songs. I remember I was signed to Shrapnel Records and making my second record, and Michael Varney was very hard on me about songs. He would say, “You don’t have a song; you need a song!” I love to write and create and the creative process. From there, I got picked up by Interscope. I was signed by a guy there who was super successful. I’m not going to drop names, but he discovered artists that are now household names. His vibe was also song, song, song! He had me write with all kinds of people like Robert Hazard, who wrote “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” Edgar Winter and I wrote a song. As a young man, 19-20 years old, I had given up on focusing on how well I could play the guitar; it was how well I could get my ideas across as in a song. To me, the song is the first and foremost thing out of anything. More important than the guitar and more important than my voice. Without a song, I would not be riding in a tour bus right now heading towards my next gig [laughing]. People are coming to hear the music, which is the song.

What is the status of the third The Winery Dogs album, and will there be a tour to promote it?

Yes, there will be a tour next year. We agreed that we are all focusing on the The Winery Dogs and currently planning dates. Our management and agents are hard at work putting everything together. We don’t have a release date for the album yet. We need to do photos, pick a single, and do a promo video. I would imagine it would come out as soon as the end of this year; at the latest, top of next year.


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