James Kottak - Various Artists "Living on Vital Energy"
Interview with James Kottak, former drummer of the Scorpions, on his new solo release, reforming Kingdom Come, and other projects
By: Joanne Laroche | Published: Monday, February 19, 2018
James Kottak. Copyright Joanne Laroche
After over 21 years of being the drummer with hard rock royalty in the German band the Scorpions and Kingdom Come before that, James Kottak took a much needed breather to rest, relax, and get clean and sober. Now, his passion and energy are revived and he is gearing up with a new album in the works as well as a line-up of projects with plenty of help from his rock and roll entourage of friends and previous bandmates.
I caught up with James during his busy schedule working on his new album that is being crowdfunded through a campaign with Pledgemusic Kottak. Full of positive energy and optimistic for the rock and roll in his future, we discussed a little bit of everything from his upcoming album, to his time with the Scorpions, a possible Kingdom Come reunion as well plans on touring and all things rock and roll.
MM: Hey James thanks for taking the time to talk with me today. How are you doing?
Kottak: Busy! As much as I wanna be. Last year I spent most of it enjoying my life for the first time in 30 years. I've actually figured out how to live like a human, because I've been on the road for the last 30 years and I didn't know what life was like. It's been very enjoyable, lots of time with the kids. My kids are all adults now; they are 27, 24 and 20. It's just been a wonderful, wonderful re-building time.
MM: After being the drummer for the Scorpions for over 21 years, touring non-stop, how does it feel to be back on somewhat solid Californian ground? It must be quite a big adjustment.
Kottak: I have to say, I was fortunate to have 21 years with the Scorpions and we're still friends. What a wonderful experience it was. You know, it's a different way of life--I've been jet lagged for 20 years. But I'm grateful and so wonderfully thankful for my time with the guys. There's all kinds of good stuff going on. I've got different projects such as Project Rock, also my band Kottak, Pledgemusic, and I hope to get Kingdom Come back up and running. It's a wonderful time; it's a reboot so to speak.
MM: On social media, it seems that there are a number of fans that are waiting for a Kingdom Come reunion and tour announcement. Can you elaborate on that?
Kottak: Absolutely! The story behind this is, when the Scorpions announced the Farewell Tour in 2010, I was meeting with Lenny [Wolf] in Hamburg, who's the singer from Kingdom Come and we talked many times about this reboot. So I was like "Okay wait, so I have two years..." I have Project Rock together which we toured Russia three times, I was doing my Kottak band and another album; we toured Germany, Japan and America, and then Kingdom Come. We went so far... We were all in LA, we rehearsed together, we had it all set up and running and then the phone rang one day in February 2012 and it was Mr. Klaus Meine [Scorpions]. He was like, "Hey James, you know I noticed you've been doing these bands on the side and we've decided not to retire and to continue on. So, can you please not play with these other bands?" I was going, "You've got to be joking." But I respect Mr. Meine and the band, and I love Scorpions and that's my allegiance, so I put everything on hold. That meant putting 20 peoples' lives on hold. Cause we had managers, agents and band members and we had the original line-up.
Now, I've been talking to Lenny and we're reaching out to promoters and we have some offers and everything looks really good for a Kingdom Come reboot with the original five members.
I hope it happens. I really worked hard on it, it hasn't been easy. We'll see.
"But you have to evolve and adapt to the times, because if you don't, then you're left behind and you're nothing." --James Kottak
MM: Talking about Kottak and your new album that is currently being funded with Pledgemusic, how has that project been going?
Kottak: Honestly, it's a lot of work, because I have to post and re-post. It's crazy in this day and age; nobody has any money, so we have to go to the source--the consumers who are the actual people who are the backbone of the record industry now--meaning, fans, friends and family and that's where we have to get the money. There's just no money; it blows. But you have to evolve and adapt to the times, because if you don't, then you're left behind and you're nothing.
So on Pledgemusic everybody and their brother is there. It's unbelievable.
I've been recording some tracks with my good friend Rick Steier [Kingdom Come] and Bruce Robinson who I'm partners with at our studio and we're moving forward. It's cool. I've kind of moved away from the punky, poppy rock stuff. I'm more like Foo Fighters meet Nickelback and it's wonderful. I have to do something with my time. [laugh]
MM: How much is the new Kottak album going to be directly done by you? For example, you are known to play drums, sing, play guitar--maybe the kitchen sink thrown in there. What will be your main focus?
Kottak: My main focus is the songwriting, in which I wrote 90% of the stuff so far. Of course I'm playing tons of drums. Over the years there have been 4 prior Kottak albums and those albums were a result of me doing a passion project. I am always writing songs and there were songs that Scorpions didn't want. However, I do have quite a few songs on Scorpions' albums. The songs I wrote were just not up the alley for the Scorpions so I would put them on my albums for better or worse. Some people liked them, some people didn't.
Now this 5th album has moved onto new directions, these are songs I've been wanting to do for quite a while. Some of them are songs I presented to the Scorpions that there just wasn't room for because there are so many songwriters. Some of them were just songs that I really, really like. I just wanna do, what I wanna do. It's not like, "Wow I'm gonna get rich here." It's about stuff I write and that's about it. Then share them with people, going out and touring and playing rock and roll.
MM: How about inspiration? Are the new songs a mix or is there a theme such as past experiences or possibly the future?
Kottak: It's definitely a theme and the theme is called L-O-V-E and that comes from Living On Vital Energy and that is love. A lot of the songs are about love and it's about lost love and new found love and it's about what most rock guys don't want to talk or sing about, but I do. Because it's something we all have in common and it makes sense to me and it's the songs I ended up picking out. Titles like, "Save Your Love for Me," and "Love is Inside." Actually the title song "Love is Inside" came from Rudolf [Schenker] and here is a song that we wanted to put on several Scorpions' albums and unfortunately it just didn't make it. However, I have always loved that song and I always wanted to do it. So you know what I'm gonna do? I'm gonna put it on my album and hopefully I'll get Rudolf to play on it. That's where a lot of this comes from.
There's just songs that live with you. The song "Love Is Inside" is 20 years old, but it never escaped my mind. It's kind of the backbone to the entire album.
MM: When do you expect the new album will be ready for release?
Kottak: We have about 80 days left in the campaign and the goal is to reach $40,000. Many campaigns go pretty slow in the beginning and ours is going pretty good. If all goes as planned, May 1st  the album should be done and printed. We've got CDs, vinyls, downloads, t-shirts--the whole works. We're trying to stick with the schedule, but we'll see.
MM: The music industry seems to be struggling or some might say is broken right now. What do you think would have to happen for it to improve?
Kottak: All the file sharing and all the sharing..I get a Google alert almost every day on [file sharing of] all 4 of my Kottak albums. I put a lot of money and many people put effort into those such as Tommy Henrikson the producer for Hollywood Vampires, Nikki Sixx [Motley Crue] and so on, put a lot of work into them and I paid cash for that. It's only proper, what's 10 bucks to pay for 12 songs? I don't know what the answer is, I don't know how it's gonna work. A few days ago Best Buy announced that they are no longer gonna sell CDs. Target is next. No one wants CDs; they can download anything they want. The system is broken and we're not gonna have a solution anytime soon.
Before you go download something for free, think about the artist, think about the people. Artists have families and bills just like everybody else. It's a small price to pay for some great rock and roll.
You either evolve and adapt or you die. If you have the opportunity to buy something- buy it. Pledgemusic Kottak that's where you can donate directly to our project and we'll see what happens.
MM: Once the album is released, do you see yourself going back out on tour immediately to support it?
Kottak: Absolutely! I've talked to some agents/promoters about touring. I want to focus on North America first--mainly focusing on Canada, America and Mexico. I love Europe and will eventually get there but I'm still burnt out on traveling. I really look forward to being on the road though.
Or Project Rock which we renamed "A New Revenge" that's me, Keri Kelli, Tim "Ripper" Owens from Judas Priest and Rudy Sarzo on bass. We recorded an album a few years ago and it's just now coming out. We signed a deal with an Australian Indie label which is distributed globally.
And also Kingdom Come. So between the three of these I will be on the road starting in June-ish/July . Somewhere making trouble. [Laugh]
MM: It seems to be trendy lately, but have you ever considered writing a book about your experiences touring the world with rock and roll royalty? I'm sure you've got some stories to tell.
Kottak: As a matter of fact, I wrote a book. I was on a "holiday" in Dubai for 33 days and while I was there I wrote everything down front/back by hand, in cursive--190 pages. I spoke to a few publishers about releasing it, I'm not after the money so much but I wanted to give it, it's due. If somebody's out there and wants to release my book--come get it, it's all ready.
MM: You have quite the large Rock & Roll Forever tattoo on your back, which always seemed to amaze/surprise and please fans during your drum solos when you played with the Scorpions. When you got the tattoo, did you ever expect it to become such an impactful tattoo/logo?
Kottak: No I did not actually. The reason I got that tattoo was; me and my ex-wife Athena had a big falling out one day and I knew I wanted a new tattoo. I ran out the door, got into my car, and went to my tattoo shop, I said, "Hey, I want this." And I used the Rock & Roll Forever that my drum tech designed. It was kind of like a little kid rebelling against his mother sort of a thing. [laughs] I never really thought about it. I wanted something that was big, bold and says what I'm all about and that's what I am about.
Rock & Roll Forever tat
MM: The Scorpions have quite a catalog of songs, which Scorpions song did you feel the most connection with?
Kottak: Always from day one, even before I was with the Scorpions, I always liked that song, "I'm Leaving You" [Album: Love at First Sting]. It's classic Scorpions. But also I was playing all of the Scorpions' hits when I was playing in bars and cover bands back in the early ‘80s, (like '81 to '86) that's how I made my bread and butter back then. So when I joined the Scorpions I already knew all their music. Matthias [Jabs] will hate me but we argued over this song forever. But I love that song.
MM: Most drummers are usually busy keeping the beat going during a live concert. But you always seem to take the time to make some kind of personal connection or eye contact with the audience members. Do you find that distracting when playing in front of all those people?
Kottak: I don't find it distracting, it's entertaining because as much as I say I cannot multi-task; when I'm playing drums and singing in front of 25,000 people, I can do it with my eyes closed because I have done it so many times. And then it's always fun to interact with someone in the crowd. Maybe it's a chick named Joanne or maybe this one or that. It keeps you more focused, because when you look past the front row or the end of the eagle ramp, you don't see anything, it's like you're in the dark.
It's very important to make that eye contact, it makes you feel you're more part of the crowd/part of what's going on and it's more exciting that you're connecting with someone. That's what rock and roll is all about; it's a big connection, whether it's through the music or a handshake, that's what makes it more personable. That's what I think.
MM: If you could go back one moment in time and re-play a live show in the past, which one would you choose and why?
Kottak: Easily, there was a show in 2012 in France [Nancy on the Rocks] where I might have drank too much and I regret drinking that much, but what really happened was, I double-dosed on my medication. So, I really didn't drink that much, I double-dosed which is a very dangerous thing and I'm since off that medication. I sent out an apology to the fans/friends in France for that event. Other than that, rock and roll is just rock and roll.
MM: Tour essentials: Choose 3 things (that don't involve musical instruments) that you always bring on tour with you.
Kottak: Ramen noodles, Swiss army knife and I also have a bag of spices so I can make the food taste like I want.
MM: You sometimes post photos of your pet cats, as well as doing some fostering. Do you ever find yourself herding cats?
Kottak: Herding cats, I'm not familiar with the term but the 3 cats living in my house are happy and run around and they all sleep on my bed. And they're just the best thing ever. Big Snoopy, he's eight years old, and Bean she's a sphynx and she's three years old and Rock who is six months old--I am fostering him, but it looks like he's going to be staying, he's a sphynx as well. Other than that it's a free-for-all around our house, these cats are all nuts.
MM: Picture this... You are driving in your car cranking up the tunes. You find yourself being pulled over for speeding, which song was playing?
Kottak: It was definitely talk radio, ‘cause I'm always listening to talk radio. But if it was ever a song it would be "I'm Leaving You" by the Scorpions.
Kottak: It's a who's who of rock and roll, including Dave Mustaine of Megadeth, Zakk Wylde [Ozzy Osbourne, Black Label Society], Nita Strauss from Alice Cooper and it's gonna be just a blast. Four days of non-stop rock and I'm excited to do it. I hope to see you there!
MM: If you could give one piece of advice to anyone thinking about getting into the music industry as an artist, what would you tell them?
Kottak: Join a band. Get in a band and start practicing, but most important: book a gig. If it's February 1st, book a gig for March 1st and no matter what you have to go play that gig. You're organizing and get the other members in line and go play that gig. Whether it's 10 songs, just go do it. Without a band, you're just a guy.
I have always been a team player since when I was a kid, from 8 years old I started playing basketball and I was on the team. Then I played baseball and I was on a team. I was in a high school marching band and I was on a team. I was then in college and on a team. Join a team. Your team is just you and 4 other freaks and you go and play rock and roll. Doing it on your own is never gonna happen.
MM: Thanks James! It's been great talking to you. I wish you all the best with your new album and I hope to see you on tour soon!