We always love talking to Richie Kotzen. This time, we decided to talk tone.
Kotzen played a huge part in developing the Tech 21 Signature RK5 Fly Rig, which happens to play a major role in how he gets his signature sound.
While Kotzen primarily uses his RK5 live in conjunction with his standard amp rig, this compact unit embodies an entire rig on its own. At its heart is the all-analog SansAmp, which makes it possible to go direct to a PA or mixer. For effects, you have the essentials: a reverb, a delay with tap tempo, a powerful boost and Kotzen’s Signature OMG overdrive.
Below, we discuss the RK5, the Winery Dogs his new solo album and more.
GUITAR WORLD: How did your relationship with Tech 21 begin?
They had sent me a few of their delays and other pedals to try out. I took a liking to the delay and started using it as my primary one. During tours with my band, I found myself doing these fly gigs where I would fly in, do a show or two and then fly out. I really wanted something compact and easy to deal with.
What I wound up doing was combining their delay pedal with the overdrive I was using at the time and then added a foot-switch mechanism for my amp and put it all into one little box. It was crude and wasn’t always super reliable, but I showed it to Andrew Barta at Tech 21 when he was in LA and he agreed it was a great idea. It took a good six months in developing until it was exactly right.
Was there a lot of trial and error involved in the process?
The delay was simple because I already knew what I wanted. The overdrive was a little trickier. I learned a lot about circuits by comparing things but relied a lot on my ears. It went through several variations until Andrew came up with a design that’s just right. I can put that pedal in front of any amp and still get a good sound.
What do you like most about the RK5 Fly Rig?
The fact that it's my personal overdrive design and that it's so small and convenient. It really is about convenience. I've never been a big pedal board guy. I've always liked to keep things simple so I can focus on the music and not have to worry about being on stage doing a tap dance when I'm trying to connect emotionally to the song. The Fly Rig gives me the essentials I need. There's reverb, delay and a two-stage overdrive. It's small and compact. It's perfect.
Since I've got you, let’s discuss a track from your new solo album, Cannibals. What can you tell me about “The Enemy”?
That was a song I wrote last summer. I knew the chorus and melody was special, but after I had demoed the song I realized the verse wasn’t working the way I wanted it to. So I went into my archives and found this old song that had an introduction that really grabbed me. I took that and used it as the intro for “The Enemy” as well as the verse. What’s interesting is that you have the original drums from the demo but then other parts of the song have a completely different drum set that was recorded 10 years ago in a different studio. I was able to meld them together to be effective.
There are all kinds of ways to create music. Sometimes things happen at one time and then over the course of a few years you find that things you thought may not have worked now suddenly make perfect sense!
Has your songwriting style changed much over the years?
Not really. As time goes on I feel more connected to myself and that helps me continue to grow. What works for me is that I try to avoid a situation where I write under pressure. For me, my best work is material that just happens naturally. And it comes in cycles. There might be a period of time where I won’t have any ideas, and then all of a sudden I’ll have a bunch of them. The main thing that happens over time is your awareness of how it all works. The more familiar you are with yourself, the easier it is.
What can you tell me about the Winery Dogs' 2015 Dog Camp?
It’s a great time and the surroundings are really inspiring. It will be exciting for us to once again connect, more personally, with people who are listening to our music. Last year, we had people who were new to music who just wanted to know how to get their band going and other people who were hobbyists who just enjoyed the vibe. The whole experience was genuinely rewarding. I walked away feeling like we really participated in something special. That’s why we’re doing it again.
James Wood is a writer, musician and self-proclaimed metalhead who maintains his own website, GoJimmyGo.net. His articles and interviews are written on a variety of topics with passion and humor. You can follow him on Twitter @JimEWood.