Richie Kotzen has never been an artist known for playing by the rules. And for this ever-adventurous triple-threat songwriter/guitarist/vocalist, that meant putting on the brakes after a nonstop flurry of band-related activity in order to refuel the creative process for the ten heartfelt and hard-hitting songs that comprise his vibrant new solo album, Salting Earth, out April 14 via his own custom label, Headroom-Inc. In other words, Kotzen tossed convention on its ear by actually taking one step back in order to move two steps forward. “It’s something I really needed to do in order to reset myself,” Kotzen explains.
Kotzen’s “charge to recharge” was officially put into play following the mega-success of the 2015–16 tour behind his band The Winery Dogs’ sophomore effort, the oh-so-appropriately named Hot Streak. And the man’s reset manifesto wound up hitting all the right buttons too. The proof is on display deep within the grooves of Salting Earth, which veers from the balls-out, heads-up declaration of the opening track “End of Earth” to the burning-sky harmonic thrust of “Thunder” to the Prince-like funk-jazz swing of “This Is Life” to the acoustified take-me-as-I-am self-reflection of the album’s final song, “Grammy.”
Once Kotzen caught his creative breath, the ideas for Salting Earth just kept on a-coming. “I have a theory about writer’s block,” he offers. “Basically, I don’t believe in it. In my experience, when I don’t feel inspired or I don’t have any ideas, it equates to not having any output. In order to have output, you need input. So it really comes down to the balance between your artistic side and your life side. You need balance between the two, and that’s why it’s so important for me to take long breaks from music.”
Kotzen’s reaffirming commitment to that life/work balance soon begat vibrant, new music. “It’s in that time when I’m away from it where ideas begin to take shape,” he continues. “Then, when I find myself coming back to music, I end up in a situation with a wealth of ideas and creative energy. When I’m in that zone, the music literally writes itself. Lyrics, music, production, performance — it all happens simultaneously on its own.”
The majority of Salting Earth is the result of Kotzen’s one-man production machine, with the exception of Julia Lage adding background vocals to “Make It Easy,” a tasty, sing-along groove stew. “It’s really not deliberate when the record is finished and suddenly I’m the only performer on it,” Kotzen admits. “It actually comes out of my process of writing and documenting my ideas. It started back in the late-’80s when I had a makeshift studio in my parents’ barn. I grew up fairly isolated, and I soon realized in order to get this music out of my head and onto a format where I could listen to it, I’d have to figure out how to do it alone.”
Part of Kotzen’s Salting Earth reset process also meant having a commitment to challenge himself. “I’m not sure I can totally define how or why my creative process works the way it does, but I will say once again that I believe long breaks help me stay inspired musically,” he reiterates. “I do know that on this record, I wrote a lot more on the piano. The song ‘My Rock,’ for example, has absolutely no guitar in the recording — it’s just piano, bass, drums, and vocals. Not that that is an odd choice, but being that for most of my career I’ve been highlighted as a guitarist, I suppose for people who never bought one of my CDs in the past, this would be surprising. But it’s not so surprising to me.”
For the artist within, the music mined for Salting Earth ultimately came down to being about the relationship between song and vocal. “That’s really it,” Kotzen agrees. “Every other choice is made based on what I feel suits the composition and what will support the lead vocal. That is the foundation on how my music is built. I suppose it’s just how I hear things. If you think about it, when your mind hums a tune, you are humming the melody. When you sing ‘Happy Birthday,’ you don’t sing the drumbeat, do you?”
Kotzen’s previous solo release, 2015’s diverse, far-reaching Cannibals, was a well-received hit among his core fan base, and Salting Earth cuts like the aforementioned “End of Earth,” “Thunder,” and “Divine Power” all showcase the scorching guitar solos and soaring vocals that one would expect from a Kotzen solo album. That said, there’s also quite a vulnerable side on display here that’s perhaps best demonstrated in the stripped-down approach to the album’s closing salvo, “Grammy.”
“That song came to me in the oddest way at the most inconvenient time,” Kotzen reveals of the track that can be filed in the “first thought, best thought” category. One night when he was home alone, “I basically woke myself up with the chorus melody in my head, and in my haze, I knew that if I didn’t at least record the idea, it would be forever lost,” Kotzen explains. “I ended up programming a simple drum beat, and then recorded the acoustic guitar. The lyrics pretty much wrote themselves. By 6 in the morning, the song was finished. I was going to do more overdubs, but I kept playing it over and over, and I just felt like there was something so personal coming out of the speakers. By messing with it, I’d likely destroy the magic — so I left it as it is.” (Good call on that one, Richie!)
Bringing Salting Earth live to the people is Kotzen’s next holy mission. “My real outlet is touring — playing live as much as I can, wherever I can, whenever I can,” he says enthusiastically. “It’s one of the few things you can’t copy, steal, or download. It’s an engaging human experience that’s a give-and-take between both the performer and the audience, and there is nothing else like it on this earth.”
To that end, Kotzen will launch his Salting Earth Tour on April 21 at The Canyon Club in Agoura Hills, California, and then the man and his band will tour extensively throughout the United States and continue their journey into Mexico, South America, and Europe. Further tour details will be posted on Kotzen’s official website, www.richiekotzen.com, and additional information regarding upcoming shows and releases can be followed on Twitter (@Richie_Kotzen) and Instagram (richie_kotzen).
Kotzen is clearly eager to hit the road. “I know this is going to be a long album cycle of touring, and already we are talking about going to places I’ve never been before — like Australia, for example,” Kotzen notes. “With the new record being done and knowing dates are being booked around the world, I can feel my creative energy surging once again.”
Said energy surge has been seeded quite liberally all throughout Salting Earth, an album that shows Kotzen as the pillar for how to harness newfound creativity in the best light imaginable. Come and dig his Earth.
Get ready for some rock and roll and look no further than Black4 from Chicago, Illinois. This band will take your musical needs and drop a hybrid metal/punk/stoner rock evolved earthquake at your doorstep. Black4 has been pushing the limits and building a solid fan base since 2011. Bryan Tunis ( Hungry Onion) brings a life to the microphone that few can deny. In addition, drummer Brian Madurzak (Bello) effortlesssly turns Black4 into a fist pounding roar. With the otherworldly riffs of Curtis Taylor (Guiltrip) on guitar and the thunderous rhythms of Jason Forrester (Guiltrip) on bass, the band is geared to rock Chicago to it’s core.
Starting at the beginning of the trail, the suburbs of Chicago is where they planted the seeds of a new group. Breaking into Chicago’s rock scene is not an easy task especially when the goal is to bring a new angle to the scene that few others have achieved. One that delivers a punch that leaves you with your fist in the air, celebrating the power of true muscianship and solid rock and roll.
Working their way closer to Michigan Ave. with every move and bringing their dedicated fan base with them. Black4 plays out consistently at many venues in Chicago not only headlining but also opening for high profile acts such as Filter, Wino, The Skull and Mondo Generator. This year, Black4 took their act to the South By Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas, playing to rave reviews and leaving the fans wanting more. Leaving a lasting impression, this was definitley a solid step for Black4. A major highlight for this year, but the best was yet to come.
June of 2014 marked the release of their debut album ” The Tales of Cuatro Negro”. Recorded at The Island Recording in Chicago with Paul Norman tracking and Elliot Bancel producing. The delivery of killer riffs, slamming drums and solid vocals Black4 brings it full circle with a force that invites you to come along for the ride. Black4 found a new set of rules to play by when the album was completed, pushing their roots deeper into the Chicago streets. This album presents a sort of rock collection, forged together by influences from Kyuss, Black Sabbath, Queens of the Stone Age, Fu Manchu and Clutch. Spending three months in the studio, the band came out with an true representation of their passion. Black4 found a new shot of adrenaline after the albums release, with awesome reviews and support coming in from all directions especially overseas.
October of 2014 saw Black4 as the featured band on episode #220 of the podcast Tell’em Steve Dave. A podcast on the Kevin Smith podcast network featuring members of the Impractical Jokers and Comicbook Men TV shows.
January 2015 started off with a bang as Black4 was the featured band of the week on Twisters Music. Not only was the music featured, but the week ended with a long, live call in featuring Bryan.
March of 2015 saw Black4 returning to the scene of one of last years highlights, SXSW. Once again proving the force from Chicago couldn’t be stopped, playing to large crowds and rave reviews.
In July of 2015 Black4 was featured in a interview for the U.K. magazine Fireworks. Along with the interview, the track “Combat” was also featured on the magazines CD sampler.August of 2015 saw the band team up with Breakout Artist Music Group for a stop on the Summer Shine tour. This show helped propel Breakout and Black4 into launching a successful Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for a new video single.
The band entered MicroMega Studios in Austin, Tx. with Marcos Delgado in late 2015 to record the new single “Cougar Love”. Mixed at The Island Recording in Chicago by Elliot Bancel and released in April of 2016 with a new video shot by 517 Creative.
The future of Black4 is on the move, with plans to use this momentum as a stepping stone to promote themselves to the right label. With success and their increasing number of supporters, keep an eye out for Black4 as they’ll be hitting the stage like a full steam freight train…