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Did you use any of these effects on Live in Sao Paulo?
No. Live in Sao Paulo was done before I had this pedal. The reality of the live disc is that I didn’t even have the Cornford for that. I was in Sao Paulo and they couldn’t get my amp down there so I was playing through a Marshall JCM800. I used a Japanese overdrive pedal from this company called Sobot.
Tone is in the hands.
I agree with that. The thing about gear is that if I have a shitty amp or a good amp, in general I’m still going to sound like me. I’m going to play stuff that I would play. If I have a great amp, it’s going to make it easier for me to play. It’s going to make it easier for me to express myself, so therefore I’m going to play better.
The real core of what you’re doing of course comes out of your hands, but so many times you can plug through an amp that’s just god-awful. You gotta roll with it. You gotta do what the amp is capable of doing because if you try to do everything and the amp is only capable of some things, you’re not going to be able to do what you gotta do.
Do you set your amp up with your guitar’s volume low for a clean rhythm tone, then roll your volume up to get a lead tone?
I do the opposite of that. I set my lead tone. I set the guitar full up to make sure I got a great lead tone, then I roll it back and find the sweet spot where my rhythm tone is going to be.
Your songwriting is more personal than the idea of having influences that you wear on your sleeve. I’m thinking of a song like “Remember.”
The songs come from different places. I wrote that song in 2004 and to be honest I don’t remember the conditions of which it was that I wrote the song, but I know the sentiment. I can’t say that right now I’m singing that song to someone because I’m not. But the situation is real and it was probably a real situation for me at the time that I wrote it. Those kinds of songs write themselves because they’re coming from a personal place. It’s that moment and you can’t predict it.
Do you ever get writer’s block?
I don’t believe in the notion of writer’s block. You write when there’s something to be written and it comes through you. You allow it to happen because you’re in that comfortable place and you’re inspired. You can’t force yourself to write a song.
What if you have nothing to say? Isn’t that writer’s block?
No. It just means you have nothing to say and there’s nothing to write. You’re not a writer at that point. You’re only a writer when you’re writing. When you say you’re having writer’s block, you’re saying, “I want to have something say.” I don’t walk around saying I’m a writer. It’s only when I’m writing a song that I’m actually a writer. When I have the inspiration or hear a melody, then I’ll go to the piano. If it turns into a song then it’s meant to be.
My point is when you pick up your guitar and you say to yourself, “I want to write a song,” and you go to write it and there’s nothing to write, then you say, “I have writer’s block.” That’s what I’m talking about. You’re going about it the wrong way. The time to write the song is when the song comes through you.
So you won’t write unless you have something to say.
I don’t write unless the song writes me! It comes out! [Laughing] I don’t say I have writer’s block. I say, “There’s nothing to be written.” I hate when people get hung up on that because they feel like they’re failing. No, you just have to wait until something happens significant enough for you to feel compelled to write about it.
Have you written craptastic songs that you refuse to show to anyone?
Every song that I’ve written that’s never been on one of my records is a bad song and there are a lot of them. I don’t write songs anymore that I think are bad because I never finish them. I only finish something that needs to be finished and then it usually ends up on a record.
Ten years ago I would be doing a record and force myself to write something and end up with… I don’t know what the hell it was. I don’t do that so much anymore. I stopped doing that on Into The Black. Maybe even on Get Up, but definitely on In To The Black. It was the first time I ever made a record where it was like... this isn’t really a record. I was just writing and recording songs. Eventually I had enough songs for a record and I put the record out. It’s a fairly recent feeling for me but it’s something that’s important because all the best songs that I have are all songs that just came out.
So to be clear, you don’t write songs just to write songs. You write when you’re inspired. You never write as an exercise.
I’m thinking of the song “Shine” that you wrote for Mr. Big. At some point didn’t you say to yourself, “We need a great pop song?”
I was watching something on TV and something sparked me to write the chorus to that song. I immediately heard the chorus. I immediately went to the studio and I immediately put together some kind of form for the song and I recorded it. I had 75% of it done. What I didn’t have was the verse. It lived on a hard drive for a long time. I had the chorus and the pre-chorus.
When we started working on the Mr. Big record Richie Zito was the producer and one of my best friends. He said, “We don’t have a single for this record.” There were a lot of songs but we didn’t have a lead track. We needed one and we didn’t have it. The album was being paid for by Atlantic and they needed what they needed to sell the record. I told Zito, “I have this song that I never finished called “Shine.” I played him what I had and he said, “You gotta finish it, it’s great!” I said, “Well I don’t know.”
We sat in the studio and started talking and he said, “How do you feel right now?” I said, “I don’t know. I don’t feel right. I don’t know why but I feel like something is wrong. I can’t put my finger on it.” He said, “Well that’s your first verse!” So the words, “I never really feel quite right, I don’t know why, all I know is there's something wrong…” became the first line.
I was talking about my personal state at the time. I just didn’t feel right. I didn’t feel good. I saw someone that seemed like they were always alive and I wanted them to shine that light on to my life. Zito said, “That’s what you gotta put into the song.” That’s how the song was finished. I wrote the song but I credited him as a co-writer because of that conversation. If it wasn’t for that conversation the song would never have been written. It would have sat on my hard drive and who knows what would have happened to it.
The point is, I put something personal into it. Maybe I had writer’s block and he broke my writer’s block. [Laughing]
Fender Richie Kotzen Signature Stratocaster
Fender Richie Kotzen Signature Telecaster
Cornford RK100 Richie Kotzen Signature Model
Cornford 4X12 cab with Celestion Vintage 30s
Zoom G2 Richie Kotzen FX pedal