Phosphorous Heads

Lit by Atma Anur

The SCORE Magazine Interviews Atma Anur _June_2015

Atma AnurTHE SCORE: Hi Atma, first off, let me say what a pleasure it is to have a chance to get a glimpse into your groovy world. To start, let us know what your formative years were like at New York, San Francisco. When did you start playing, how did you start, and what were some of your first experiences drumming?

Atma Anur: That’s quite a complex question actually.

I began playing drums officially at age 11, while we were living in NYC, but my mother had told me that I would stand in front of the TV watching Ringo Starr with the Beatles, and point to him while dancing and laughing. That was at about age 2, while we were still living in London.

At age 10 we had a “Show and Tell” day at my Grammar School and one kid brought a marching snare drum in to show to us all. Well, I spent the day walking around the school and wildly tapping away at this instrument (one that I had never even seen before). Once I got home that evening I announced to my parents that “I can play the drums!”

My High School years in NYC were quite wonderful in hindsight, any teenager thinks life is not so great while living it, wherever they may be. I first went to a Science and Mathematics School and was in the school Jazz band… but quite briefly. I later transferred to a “School without Walls” High School with a focus on music and art, something that was quite popular in some parts of the States back in the 70s.

I had my first more serious band finally in that first High School at about age 14/15. We played music by Deep Purple, Hendrix, Scorpions, Al Di Meola and quite a few other popular, but musically difficult, bands in those days.

I attended the Manhattan School of Music at age 16 in a pre-enrollment program where I studied Orchestral and Tuned Percussion… That was a great experience and really got me started in reading. From then on I regularly visited the Lincoln Center for The Performing Arts Music Library to read book, scores and listen to music LP-s of all kinds.

I had my first private drum teacher at about age 12/13. That was the legendary William Kessler, a renowned Author and Jazz Musician. I think I was very lucky to have found such a master at such a young age.

Atma AnurTS: How did your formal education in music help your career? What was studying at Berklee like those days? Did it help you become a better educator as well?

AA: I believe that if one is serious about a topic, one will naturally want to study that topic. Study, of course, comes in many possible forms, but I think that formal study in music is an important part of any professional musician’s life. Most of us improvisation-based musicians begin by playing and enjoying that process, where the orchestrally-oriented player usually begins by sitting with a one-on-one teacher. My belief is that both of these modes of learning will serve the individual the most if they occur simultaneously.

That is how things happened for me, and many of the other excellent professionals that I know and have played with. There is no question that actually learning the language of music, both as it relates to my own instrument and as it relates to communicating with other musicians, has helped my professional career immensely.

As a professional side man, it has been my job to help writers and instrumentalists realize the vision that they have for their music. Most of the time this needs to be done in a short and productive time frame, while being able to have fun and stay creative. My personal understanding of the role and tools of my instrument, and my ability to speak in correct musical terms with the other players has been a huge “selling point” to my being hired so much over the past 30 years.

Berklee was one of the most amazing and influential experiences of my life. I carry the tools and concepts that I learned there in the 70s with me to this very day. One of the most intense aspects of being there was the opportunity to see and play with other talented international musicians, and share ideas and mistakes… invaluable! Being around Steve Vai, Stu Hamm, Tain Watts, Smitty Smith and so many others gave me a deep perspective on what being a “good” musician could mean.

I use the ideas, theories, concepts and values that I have internalized from my days of formal study at schools, private study at “home” (which is on-going) and my personal professional experiences to help younger musicians as much as I have the opportunity to do so… and I love seeing what the future of music holds.

Atma AnurTS: You have played and lived across different continents and recorded on over 145 albums. What were some of the defining moments of your journey and who were they with?

AA: More of my time has been spent in the rehearsal room than on stage or in the studio. The experimentation and learning while playing is what defines me to me. As for what defines who I am to others, I would have to guess it is what people see and hear at shows and on records… which is not the bulk of my playing. I think that this is true of any musician who remains in the learning and growing mode.

Playing Jazz on the streets of NYC in the 70s was a huge and pivotal experience for me. It took me from wanting to play consistently to simply playing consistently. Improvising in front of so many people for so many hours per day made me the type of musician that takes chances… simple.

Learning note-for-note music from bands like Return to Forever, The Mahavishnu Orchestra, Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, Bob Marley, John Coltrane and many others, gave me insight into what real chops are on my instrument… not to mention, Groove!

Meeting Mike Varney, President of Shrapnel Records, and having the opportunity to record so many great albums with such amazing musicians has had a deep effect on who I am as a musician. Being in world-class recording studios with great, creative producers like Steve Fontano and Richie Zito (to name just a couple) also helped to give me a better perspective on what and how to play well commercially while still being creative and true to myself.

Getting to play huge stages for audiences of up to 500,000 people has also changed who I am as a player and as a performer. Seeing the effect of what I am playing on such a large scale brings a lot of consistency and power to one’s professional creative process… truly learning what not to play, and why.

Watching how other very well-known, talented musicians interact and create together is also invaluable for any professional musician. The relationship between the people playing can make or break the music. That relationship also makes things move faster or slower… or not at all. Communication feeds creativity in most cases… and feeds the personal joy for what one is doing.

I can mention just a few names that come to mind who really stand out for me as people that inspired me as a player and as a person and were a joy to work with. Richie Kotzen, Jason Becker, Marty Friedman, Tony MacAlpine, Neal Schon, T.M. Stevens, Guthrie Govan, Michael Lee Firkins, Arthur Rhames… and so many more amazing creative and talented people that have helped shape who I am as a musician and as a person to this day.

Atma AnurTS: What kind of music do you dig and play these days? Recent collaborations? 

AA: I really love playing and listening to Fusion and Modern Jazz more than other styles, but I have played more Rock, Reggae, Funk and Blues live over the years. Honestly, I love playing anything that sounds good, music is the whole point for me.

Since relocating to Europe I have played and recorded more Hard Rock, Prog Rock, Neo Classical, Metal and straight Pop than other styles. I, of course, play many other things in my personal time.

There have been many, and a wide variety of, collaborations since leaving the States 8 years ago, but at this moment I am recording CDs with Jani J. Szentkiralyi (Hunagary), If Wen (U.K.), Timo Somers (the Netherlands), The Vivaldi Metal Project (International) and a “secret” Tribute Project for Japanese release. At any given time I usually have 2 or 3 CDs being tracked if I’m not touring… I’m at 145 CDs now… and counting!

Atma Anur - photo credits Izabela DoniecTS: You have taught at SAM earlier during its very first semester. What memories of India do you carry and what are the things you are looking forward to doing this trip, musically and otherwise?

AA: Well that first trip to India was a true high point for me in so many ways. I made many new friends that I stay in contact with to this day, and was personally exposed to the Carnatic music system and Traditional South Indian Classical Music as a whole. Working with people like Ghatam Karthick, Ed DeGenaro, Ranjit Barot, Ashish Manchanda, Amit Trivedi and Nandini Srikar while there, and then meeting other great Indian musicians later on, like Shree Sundarkumar, Sunita Sarathy and others, was such a great experience and I really look forward to more creative expression with each of them… and all the new yet “un-met” musicians there.

I am extra, super excited about getting back to the food (which is one of my very favourite kinds) and the very warm people. The vibe is gloriously positive and inspiring.

Atma AnurTS: We know your energy is infectious! What can students at SAM expect from Atma Anur this Fall?

AA: For sure more of the same! It’s been five years since I was at SAM and I am really looking forward to meeting the new students, the older faculty and friends. I’m also really looking forward to doing some great shows and more recordings as well.

I have been working quite a bit on my book on Poly-Rhythms and sixteenth-note understanding, so I will draw from that in my drum instruction classes for sure as well.

I look forward to sharing this wonderful gift of music and the joy that it brings… my goal is to bless as I have been blessed… and beyond.



Atma Anur At WorkHi Atma, welcome to Groove Portal. First of all, tell us how did you start playing drums?

I am told that as a baby, once I could walk, I stood in front of the TV and danced wildly to the Beatles, and pointed to Ringo as he played. I have two older siblings that played music in the house all the time, mostly Blue Beat (now called Reggae) and Soul. My dad bought me a red toy snare drum when I was about 2 and I walked around the house playing that quite a lot. We had a “Show and Tell” day at my grammar school in NYC when I was about 10 or so and one kid brought in a real marching snare drum. I played that thing for just about the whole day, and when I got home I announced to my mom that “I can play the drums”. I asked for a drum set for the next whole year… finally got one as a birthday gift (a paper drum kit!). Once I figured out that it was not a “real” kit I went back to the asking phase… lol, a few months later we went to a local music shop and got a Stewart 3-piece drum kit (20″ kick, 14″ snare, 12″ tom with 1 cymbal attached to the kick drum)… it was glorious. I started playing in a band with some school friends and also at my church in NYC. My first teacher was the well-known author William V. Kessler… I think that was good luck.

Billy CobhamWho are the drummers that most inspire your style now, and who were the first?

I get inspiration from many musicians, not only drummers. I love Sax, Guitar and Violin especially. But Piano players and Percussionists also inspire my playing. Honestly, I am more interested in music than I am in drumming in particular. As I said, the first drummer that I noticed was Ringo Starr, after him there have been a great many drummers that I credit with helping to shape my playing over the years. Some of the first real influences were Ian Paice, Bill Bruford, Phil Collins, Bill Ward. Also the drummers for James Brown, the drummers for Bob Marley… Carl Palmer from ELP as well. As I got older I started listening to an even wider variety of styles and got into The Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return to Forever, Yes and Tony Williams’ Life Time. Soon after came my interest in Jazz, I got into players like Elvin Jones, Art Blakey, Jack DeJonette and Buddy Rich. Narada Michael Walden, Billy Cobham, Terry Bozzio, Steve Smith and Vinnie Colaiuta are still big influences up to today.

Atma Anur, photo credits: Michal Kubicki, June 28th, 2013What are your current projects?

Things are constantly changing for me as far as projects go. Personally I have gone back to my foundational roots and am playing the rudiments slowly with a metronome and working on placing them on the full kit. I periodically re-work my technique, that is an important thing to do I think. I began playing matched grip and quickly moved to traditional grip. I played traditional for about 7 years then moved back to matched while I was studying at Berklee. There are 5 new CDs that were recorded over the past few years that are scheduled to come out this year. Wojciech Hoffmann’s Behind the Windows (Poland), Roy Marchbank’s The Grand Design (U.K.), Timo Somers’ Tri-Head (Netherlands), and two other projects still being mixed. I am currently tracking three other CDs right now for some European artists including Neo-Classical guitarist Jani J. Szentkiralyi (Hungary) and Folk artist If Wen (U.K.). I am constantly recording with all kinds of musicians doing all kinds of music. I am touring and teaching as well.

Uk poster for Nov 16 2012Tell us something about your experience with Jason Becker and Cacophony.

I met Jason Becker through my relationship with Mike Varney and Shrapnel Records. Mike actually hooked me up with Marty Friedman first and we spoke about putting this new project together. Then we met with Jason and a bass player and began working through some music. I knew Peter Marrino from our time together in his band Le Mans, we have worked on quite a few projects together over the years. Playing with Marty and Jason was a great pleasure, they are both easy to work with and very creative, excellent musicians. Mike Varney has a talent for finding the best. I found Jason to be one of the most naturally gifted guitar players I’ve met through Mike, he just incorporated any new idea into his playing with ease and excitement. Both he and Marty share my love of odd meters and odd subdivisions… so it worked out well. Tracking those two CDs was the usual Varney experience of those days… everything had to be done very quickly and done perfectly… right now! So that was how that went. The version of Cacophony that I was in did a few live shows in California and also at the 1988/89? NAMM show… great fun.

Atma's setup for the Jason Becker Fest 2011What kind of warm-up do you do before a show?

That really depends on what kind of show I am playing. Physically speaking I like doing push-ups, stretching and playing doubles and paradiddles on a pillow. Depending on how familiar I am with the material, I will listen to the rehearsal tapes while warming up… possibly to the “original” recordings and look over my charts as well just before doing the show. Getting into the right frame of mind is important for me as well. I want to feel relaxed and in control of my mind and body as much as possible. Checking the vibe of the room/venue helps, and being by myself in silence just before I go on stage also helps with that.

Drum setHow do you choose the placement of your drumkit?

You mean my set up? or where I am on the stage? As for my set up, I like things to be close to me. I don’t want to really reach for any part of my kit. I like my cymbals high and I like to sit low. These two things are for leverage. Although my cymbals may look “very high”, they are only high enough for me to extend my arm to where my elbow is just below my shoulder, my elbow is never straight. My thighs are parallel to the floor and I play a slight heel-up foot technique most of the time… not always though.

Atma AnurPlease recommend 5 albums that you consider essential for a drummer.

  • Inner Mounting Flame – The Mahavishnu Orchestra

  • A Love Supreme – John Coltrane

  • Sex Machine – James Brown

  • Are You Experienced – Jimi Hendrix

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – The Beatles

Honestly it’s kind of impossible to talk about only 5 albums. I guess these are a good sampling of good musical drumming in a few styles, but in 5 albums I am leaving out a lot of music… really! A drummer should listen to as wide a variety of music as possible… all the time. One should also try playing things that one does not like, is not to one’s taste, as much as possible. This shows our weaknesses very quickly and gives one things to work on without having a teacher. Of course you should play what you like… and also what you are able to play. But don’t do this as much in terms of practice. I would say figuring out what kind of drummer you want to be will also help, if you want a professional career. Spend time reading music, practice with a metronome and also just improvise and have fun.  

Atma AnurWhat are the aspects of your drumming that you consider the most powerful?

This seems like an impossible question for me to answer… maybe ask the people that I work with what they think. I hope that I show dedication, enthusiasm, discipline and creativity. All of these, along with ability and humility. That would be my goal. I study all kinds of music and practice “styles” as much as possible. I come up with parts to the music that is in front of me and then play things based on what came to me first… It’s important to be consistent in your parts but also be able to spontaneously improvise within the context of the foundational ideas for the song you are playing. At my core I am an improviser, but I understand the need for recurrence in popular music.

Atma AnurWhich are the qualities that a good drummer must have, in your opinion?

A good drummer cares about what he is playing. The basic job of any drummer in any style is time keeping… but creativity and ability (as they pertain to the song) are also quite important. If one cares about being “good”, one will take the things one does seriously. More than that would be me saying too much about what someone else should or should not do. For example, I like to practice a lot, I like to improvise a lot, I transcribe other musicians and learn other drummer’s “stuff” as well. I think the 26 rudiments are very cool and useful and I play poly-rhythms, in many forms, as much as I can. These are my personal things… other musicians have their “things”… that’s good, and keeps the world as interesting as it is.

Atma Anur teaching a comboDo you teach?

Yes. I actually started teaching friends by around 15 years old and have continued in many forms since then. I teach privately, in schools around the world and on line through Skype. My focus as a music teacher is to point people in a direction that seems to fit what they want to do with their drumming and try to give them the tools to improve what they play… and want to play.

Do you give drum clinics?

Yes. My first clinic was in San Francisco in the early 80’s and I have continued ever since. I like sharing what I am working on. That’s why I post videos of me working on stuff. I figure that the final product will be on a CD or in a live show. I have been a clinician for DW, PDP, Pearl, P.I.T, Razor-Back and Sabian… also for schools and music shops.

Atma Anur, Barend Curbois and Timo SomerWhat format do you follow in your drum clinics?

I am really into explaining how I come up with my drum parts. I also talk about odd-meter grooves and how to understand them. I speak about how to write charts, read them and understand music notation using examples from my book. The book is a theoretical look at an approach to rhythm and poly-rhythm based on Mathematical probabilities. I have a lot to say about music on a conceptual level and may actually do more talking than other clinicians. Clinics are an opportunity for the listeners to learn something that they may not get from only listening to someone play music. This is the spotlight on the “how” and “why” of the clinician’s creative process. I play along with tracks from various CDs that I played on and may be working on at the time, and use those as a way to introduce my thoughts on drumming and music in general. I also talk about the gear that I use and my reasons for choosing them.

Atma AnurWhat are the questions that you receive most often from the crowd?

I get all kinds of questions really. Questions about speed (playing fast) could be one of the most frequent. I talk about practice, the metronome and relaxation. As I mentioned, I do refine my hand technique regularly, so I talk about that as well. I will show how my technique applies to playing music. I am also asked about groove and feeling quite a bit. I have quite a lot to say about those two topics.

Atma Anur What are your future plans?

I am thinking about a teaching residency some place right now. I plan to continue recording and improving my skills as a musician and an engineer. I am looking forward to playing some live shows this year in support of a few of these new CDs coming this Spring and Summer. I am continuing my endeavour to master my instrument… that means spending time listening, reading, practicing and playing. I change how and what I do physically in order to keep me sharp and creative. I am always open to new situations as a drummer or teacher. I invite the readers to stay tuned to my web site, and also contact me about studying on Skype.

ATMA ANUR recording session for Tri-Head February, 2012Can you give some advice to anyone studying music, and those who might want to become professional drummers?

I always say that one will know inside if they should do music professionally or just enjoy it as a hobby. I would not advise anyone to choose a life as a professional musician. If you feel that you MUST play music at all costs… then there you have it. Once one would choose this professional level of playing, my advice would be to learn and practice as a way of life. To establish a relationship with your spiritual side, and develop a humble and focused personality. The main thing is to follow your dreams and do not give up. But that’s just me.

Atma Anur - photo credits Izabela DoniecOver the past few years YouTube has become a great way for drummers to promote themselves; with cover videos, drum cam videos and tutorials. What you think about this?

Information is good in general. YouTube can be a way of getting information about topics of interest. In my day, let’s say… we drummers just listened to records with great musicians playing, and tried to copy what we heard. Music is sound… not so much sight. These days people seem to want to “see” music, and have less time for listening… quite strange. The visual aspect of advanced playing is a smaller part than the auditory aspect, but maybe the way we learn is changing. The traditional way to learn is to play what you hear… not what you see. The wonderful thing about not seeing what you hear is that it gives one the opportunity to discover one’s own way to get the sounds… The one aspect about YouTube that is not helpful is that anyone can post anything… so in terms of music, there is a lot of nonsense on there… with quite a lot of views I might add. Numbers of views confuse the issue of quality and relevance. In the past, more or less only the talented and meaningful players got the chance to record music and share it with the public in general. These days, due to the web and home recording/video production… everyone can (and does) make music/videos etc… I believe that art in general is for everyone, but that does not mean that all art is “good” or “meaningful”. Our culture seems to have a huge desire for fame so something like YouTube is perfect for these times. Too much information is just about the same as none at all, however.

Atma AnurDo you think YouTube could be a good way to receive information or not?

Yes. Real improvement comes from playing music with people that are better and more experienced than you are. Having a good personal private teacher is also very important. Videos can help, but you need to watch the right ones and know how to implement what you see and hear…. that can be difficult to figure out.

Thanks for this amazing interview Atma, we hope to see you soon in Italy!

MOTHER HEAD’S FAMILY REUNION 20th Anniversary Retrospective Interview with Richie Kotzen, Atma Anur & Richie Zito

Today, October 11th marks the 20th anniversary of Richie Kotzen’s major label debut as a solo artist. The album, ‘Mother Head’s Family Reunion’ helped break Richie out of the stereotype of being “A Shrapnel Shredder” and put the focus on his songwriting & vocal ability more so than his six-string wizardry. Now, twenty years later, ‘Mother Head’s Family Reunion’ is heralded by a majority of his fans as his best album so far.

Sadly, Geffen Records dropped the ball with its release which you will soon find out as I had the pleasure of speaking with Richie Kotzen, drummer Atma Anur and producer Richie Zito about the making of this album. Thankfully MCA in Japan knew a true talent when they saw it & gave this sonic work of art a new life overseas. The album has been out-of-print in the U.S. since its only pressing in 1994 & fetches big money on eBay and other online music outlets. Hopefully, one day it will be re-issued.

This is a candid, no-holds barred discussion about what lead up to the making of the album, the songwriting & demo process, the search for a label, record label politics, the recording of and many never-before-known aspects about ‘Mother Head’s Family Reunion’. Thank you to Richie Zito, Atma Anur and Richie Kotzen for their time and contributions to this project! This has been a dream of mine for many years to learn more about the making of ‘Mother Head’s Family Reunion’! The album has been my all-time favorite since it came out, twenty years ago today!!!

Mother Head’s Family Reunion – Album Cover (Courtesy of Geffen Records)


Interview with Producer Richie Zito

LRI: You produced Poison’s ‘Native Tongue’ album that Richie was very instrumental in as a songwriter and musician. It was known at that time that Richie Kotzen would still release solo material while in Poison. Did you foresee one day producing any of Richie’s solo material while he was in Poison?

RZ: Richie came into ‘Native Tongue’ with ‘Stand’. I knew then that Richie was the whole package. Extraordinary musician, writer and performer.

LRI: What lead to you becoming the producer for what would become Richie’s ‘Mother Head’s Family Reunion’ album?

At that time I made a deal to start ZITO/BMG Records. Richie was the first artist I tried to sign. He went to Geffen. They recommended he work with another Producer. When that didn’t work out, Richie convinced John Kalodner to hire me!

LRI: You recorded at Rumbo Recorders, did you decide on Rumbo due to your familiarity with the studio from recording the Native Tongue album there?

RZ: I always liked Rumbo! That was Studio B, where Guns N’ Roses made ‘Appetite for Destruction.’ It was a good Rock Room.

LRI: Richie Kotzen stated that it was Geffen who had decided not to allow John Moore to play on the ‘Mother Head’s Family Reunion’ sessions, was it your idea to bring John Pierce in?

RZ: Yes!

LRI: Had you worked with John Pierce before?

RZ: I knew and had worked with John before ‘Mother’s Head Family Reunion.’

LRI: John Pierce played bass on every song but ‘Socialite’. How was he to work with?

RZ: John is a talented musician and a fun guy!

LRI: Tommy Funderburk and Timothy B. Schmit provided background vocals on several songs on the album, what was it like to work with them?

RZ: Throughout my career as both a musician and producer, I’ve worked with an array of extraordinary talents! Timothy and Tommy exemplify that. The Eagles’ “I Can’t Tell You Why”!!!

LRI: Now we will go through the album, track-by-track, can you give readers some insight on the recording process, gear used and anything else of interest of each track?

RZ: We recorded ‘Mother’s Head Family Reunion’ at Rumbo Recording, Studio “B” where Guns N’ Roses recorded ‘Appetite For Destruction.’ We used a Trident Console. I don’t remember Model Designation…..TSM /Series 80? It was Brown!

Other than that, I don’t remember, except that the equipment wasn’t the thing. To me, it was about the music and performances! The tools are just the tools, it’s about who uses them.

The thing about ‘Mother Head’s Family Reunion’ was it was never meant to be a collection of 12 songs! It was meant to be a “Full Album”, a “complete thought” and a representation of Richie Kotzen, the artist, performing his music!! I think we were able to capture a “Live Sound” on this record with minimal overdubs. Not a lot of tricks. Nothing that would stand in the way of Richie’s talent!

Some of the Things that stand out to me:

‘Mother’s Head Family Reunion’, the title track captures the spirit of the album.

When I think of ‘Mother’s Head Family Reunion’, ‘A Love Divine’ immediately plays in my head!! Maybe my favorite track! Love the “no rhythm guitar” behind the solo. The solo still kicks my ass!!

‘Soul To Soul”, the ballad of the album. The vocal is believable as hell! His guitar through a Leslie is in such a great place in the song that it works great!

“Reach Out, I’ll Be There”, awesome solo. I’m a big fan of Richie singing along with his playing!

LRI: Do you have any funny in-studio moments from the recording of this album that you care to or can share?

RZ: Nah!!!

LRI: The album is considered amongst Richie Kotzen fans as his ‘Led Zeppelin:IV’ or ‘Kiss:Destroyer’ & now that 20 years has passed, what is your opinion of the album?

RZ: Wow! Led Zeppelin IV and Kiss’ Destroyer, good company! I’ve had the pleasure of working on ‘Mother’s Head Family Reunion’, Poison’s ‘Native Tongue’ & then a variety of other projects along the way…..Mr. Big, etc. Richie’s talent shines on all of them!

I guess ‘Mother’s Head Family Reunion’ sticks out in that it was Richie’s first major label album as musician, writer and singer. He was raring to go at that point in his career! Glad I was there.

LRI: Are you surprised that fans still hold that album in such high regard after 20 years?

RZ: I’m still a fan of Kotzen’s after 20 years! Not surprised at all!

LRI: You’ve written Richie and produced on a few more of his solo albums and did the Wilson Hawk album with him. Can you give readers some insight into the Wilson Hawk project?

RZ: One of the many musical influences Richie & I share is Soul Music! Richie grew up in Pennsylvania and was exposed to “Philly Soul”. The Spinners, The O’Jays, etc.

I grew up in New York and I was signed to Atlantic Records when I was 15. I grew up listening to a lot of R&B Records on Atlantic and Stax/Volt. Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin.

We always talked about making a RNB/Soul Influenced Record. That’s how Wilson Hawk happened!

LRI: Any chance of writing with or producing Richie again?

RZ: If and when it makes sense, I’d love to!

LRI: Let’s fast forward to today, what is Richie Zito up to and where can fans reach you at?

RZ: My background as a musician and producer was always rooted in artists that are excellent musicians, songwriters, singers, performers and capable of making a number of great albums that make up a body of work!

In addition to Richie, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to work with artists like Elton John, Tina Turner, Heart, Cheap Trick, Roger Daltry/Pete Townsend, Beach Boys, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, etc.

I’m waiting for the next one of those to call me!

– Official Richie Zito Website

Interview with Drummer Atma Anur

LRI: What led up to you becoming involved in what was to become Richie’s ‘Mother Head’s Family Reunion’ album?

AA: Well Richie and I had been playing together for a few years already. Mike Varney introduced us in I think ’89. Over the years since then we have done some Shrapnel albums and records on other labels (Fever Dream, Electric Joy, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Time’s Gonna Tell, Wave of Emotion, Something to Say),some great live shows and lots of playing and jamming on various kinds of music (and 2 CDs with Greg Howe).

At some point after Richie had moved to LA in the early 90s, we spoke and he wanted to show me his new songs that he had been working on while still in Poison. We got together and worked quite a bit on that new material, I think he was planning a move from Poison if I remember correctly.

LRI: John Pierce played bass on every song but ‘Socialite’. How was he to work with?

AA: Oh John was wonderful, a real pro and a very nice guy. He took everything very seriously and has a killer feel. I think he did a great job. I remember that he had the transcription book of Bass lines played by James Jamerson and used that on “I’ll be There”. He also rolled up to the sessions with a huge trap case on wheels with about 15 or 20 amazing basses in it.

I would also have been happy if John Moore had done the tracks, we spent quite a bit of time working on our grooves for those songs. The live shows with Moore were killer, great feel, great voice and the rock star look.

LRI: Tommy Funderburk and Timothy B. Schmit provided background vocals on several songs on the album, what was it like to work with them?

AA: I was not around much when the backing vocals were recorded but it all came together perfectly. I think Richie could also have done the backgrounds himself in any case, but having the other timbres was a very musical touch.

LRI: Now we will go through the album, track-by-track, can you give readers some insight on the recording process, gear used and anything else of interest of each track?

AA: I guess I can speak best about my perspectives as the drummer and what thoughts went into the parts. I don’t remember much about the recording process itself, I think we did very few takes for the drum tracks of these songs. This is because we had rehearsed the songs enough to know what we wanted beforehand.

I used my green DW kit (what would now be called the Collector’s Series) for these recordings with my 13 DW snare on almost everything. I think we used a couple of other snare drums for a few of the songs. The drums were mostly wide open except for the kick which had a pillow and the front head on (that is how I like to record and play my kick drums)as I remember.

A 22 bass drum with a double pedal, 10 and 12 rack toms and 14 and 16 floor toms on legs. Sabian cymbals and a drum set mounted tambourine. I think I used more than one ride cymbal on this CD, and my usual 14, 16, 18 crashes, 10/12 splashes, and 13 and 10 hi-hats (at that time).

For me Richie and I have great chemistry, this is just one of those things that come naturally in life, like meeting a good friend or a life partner. This is why we sound the way we sound together. I remember that we had a connection from the first notes we played together back at Prairie Sun Studios at our very first meeting. Another important factor is that we are the type of musician that takes his parts in any song quite seriously, working things out (to a larger extent) before we finalize the song, while still allowing the moment to influence how we manifest those parts (that is musical honesty for me).

I have a particular aesthetic when it comes to how I like the “time” to feel in a commercially oriented piece of music. For example John Bonham and Charlie Watts play a bit behind the beat… ala The Blues. And Tony Williams and Tony Thompson played a bit ahead of the beat. I used those guys as examples of this aesthetic because I love their playing (even though they each play very differently.

I see this effect as the difference between “Driving” the groove and “Steering” the groove. I am a “steering” kind of drummer.


AA: Here we have my version of a James Brown type of 16th note swinging funky groove on the verse. Then, I play a “re-grouped” 16thnote groove that follows the rhythm of the gtr/vocal line exactly, on the chorus. The chorus groove is possibly a bit unorthodox but fits the section quite nicely… and is very cool.

The chorus really moves, and this was my whole point. The bridge section is a Sly Stone vibe in my mind… worked out well.

Mother Head’s Family Reunion-

AA: This song has a great verse groove that Richie showed me on drums… very retro and still unique. I modified the groove to be played left hand lead on the hi-hat while keeping the tom hits on beat 1 and 3. The rest is just good old fashioned rock and roll. The video was great fun to make and this song always went over very well live.

Richie always had great ideas for drum patterns on his songs but always left huge space for me to create as I felt. Most great writers that I have worked with have an idea about how drums fit to what they write before they bring songs into the band. The key with most guitarists that I have worked with is that they use their “ears” more than their “brain” to make decisions on parts… that’s just good music in my opinion.

Where Did Our Love Go-

AA: This is another very natural 70’s vibe ballad with a straight forward funky drum approach. The bass and kick drum are very locked with the vocal accents. You may also notice that the 8th note hi-hat part is ever so slightly swung… keeps things moving nicely.

Natural Thing-

AA: This has a kind of signature “Atma” drum fill intro… melodic use of chops as I see it. The verse groove is again my swung interpretation of a 16th note groove, using the Jazz ride pattern on the hi-hat along with the right grace notes on the snare. I try to keep the accents within these patterns seeming to lean toward straight 8th notes (even though many more notes are actually being played).

A Love Divine-

AA: This is really a huge, old school R&B rock track. I use the floor tom ride pattern in the way I learned from playing with Journey for that very short time in the 80s.

I am again focusing on the way the snare drum grace notes keep the seemingly 8th note ride pattern moving forward from behind the beat. The chorus is plain old solid rock and roll… ala the 70s.

Soul To Soul-

AA: This one is really a Motown track to me. That cross stick intro tells the tale. You may also notice the slightly open hi-hats on the second verse and so on… that is true Motown R&B drumming right there.

I absolutely love this track… what a feeling it brings!

Reach Out I’ll Be There [cover of The Four Tops classic]-

AA: Here we have a real favorite of mine. I played the mounted tambourine part with the right hand while keeping the rest of the hi-hat and snare parts going with my left. I was going for the vibe the Motown guys got on those funky tracks from that Era. The rhythm arrangement on the chorus was my idea… to keep it in a harder rock vibe.

You may also notice that the hi-hat on the verse is played much harder and more ahead than the other sections of the song. This makes the sections pop out from one another.

John played the exact bass part from the transcription in the Jamerson bass lines book… wonderful.

Check the “breath” in the vibe of the solo section drum part. The second half of the solo section has the lick I borrowed from Steve Gadd. 32nd note triplets played RLL between the hi-hat and the snare as a groove, using the hi-hat as an up-beat accent… very funky and quite cool.


AA: I thought of this track as an Arena Rock kind of vibe, with a dance groove for the chorus. The open hi-hat is played harder and more ahead in the chorus, while keeping the kick part quite swung.

This track really features my idea of putting The Funk in the Rock.


AA: This is a psychedelic song in a kind of Beatles/Hendrix style. I thought about how to be funky and work the 16ths while staying true to what I heard as a 60’s period groove. I wanted the track to feel mysterious but still almost danceable. The verse features my playing the ride as opposed to the hi-hat and using the closed hi-hat to play the grace notes with my left hand (notes that might usually be played on the snare drum).

The end solo section for me was a real return to our Shrapnel days, that is my bass line idea of “re-grouping” the rhythm of the 8th notes into 7/7/2 (played as 1,3,5/1,3,5/1). This end solo features a long improvised groovy section, with an intricate drum and bass groove and cool chops.

Richie played melodically while still showing that he has great facility on his instrument. This reminds me of those killer Jeff Beck instrumental albums of the 70s and 80s.

A Woman and A Man-

AA: The verse is and old school R&B kind of ballad where I focused on the 16th notes in the hi-hat part, and the grace notes in the snare… while keeping the back beat steady and strong. I was thinking Al Green for this song.

Livin’ Easy-

AA: This song has a Bowie-esque verse groove and moves into a 70s style Disco/Rock groove for the chorus.

There is quite an unusual motion between the vocal melody and the chords, I think it’s really wonderful. Once again the chorus really moves.

The solo section has a similar groove while riding the floor tom in a kind of Hendrix-ish fashion… Love me some Mitch Mitchell!

Cover Me-

AA: This one has my David Garibaldi influenced way of following the pre-verse guitar riff, into a Fusion/Rock vocal verse as far as drum parts are concerned. This is once again very moving.

The chorus on this track actually moves a bit less than the verse and retains a more traditional rock groove… this was the point and seemed to support the vocal melody and the emotion of the line best.

Then of course we have our quarter note becomes dotted quarter note (approximately), 6/8 “Blues” guitar solo section. Once again, a tribute to our Shrapnel “Guitar Master” days. This is really what Richie and I sound like just having solo-istic fun.

Wailing Wall [Japanese Bonus Track]-

AA: Straight Funk/Rock… Hendrix, Mother’s Finest, etc… with a touch of Free and Deep Purple thrown in.

LRI: What memories do you have of making the video for the title track?

AA: That was a crazy day, we had a bunch of family members there as well. It was super fun.
They tried to get the music in the room loud enough for me to actually play drums to… that was not so simple. Anyway that went fine since we had played the song so many times, and in those days I had just about every single note I played on the whole record embedded into my memory… lol

Doing the background vocal parts and dancing around was also a great time, we wanted to get a kind of 70s Rock/R&B band vibe back then.

LRI: You toured the US in support of the album. How long did you tour?

AA: I don’t remember how long we supported that record. I know we had a cool tour, a few bands and did many shows. John Moore and I became really good friends on that tour… we hung out just about all the time.

LRI: I know of bills that you shared with Jackyl, Bruce Dickinson and Type O Negative. Were there any other bands you shared the stage with during the touring cycle for the album? Any crazy road stories involving those bands that you’d care to share?

AA: I don’t remember any of the other bands but there could have been more. I was really thinking about our band and how to make the show better and better. I thought Richie was doing an amazing job fronting the band and I wanted John and I to continue to grow as an exciting rhythm section. We both took the whole thing very seriously.

We had fun with Jackyl for sure… lots of hanging after the shows and so on. There are most likely many stories but I don’t remember… hilarious.

Let’s say that life on the road is a trip… for all musicians.

LRI: The album is considered amongst Richie Kotzen fans as his ‘Led Zeppelin:IV’ or ‘Kiss:Destroyer’ & now that 20 years have passed, what is your opinion of the album?

AA: I love that record. I think we did something unusual and fresh… I am not sure that the label understood or expected what we did then.

LRI: Are you surprised that fans still hold that album in such high regard after 20 years?

AA: Not at all… it’s simply good music played very well… what’s not to enjoy about that?

LRI: In all, you have drummed on at least six other Richie Kotzen studio albums, do you have a personal favorite?

AA: I really love all the work I’ve done with Richie Kotzen, I think he is a unique talent and a wonderful musician. I especially like “Mother Head’s” and “Something to Say”. I remember at the time we were preparing to do “Something to Say”, Richie had two possible directions for song writing. One was another funky kind of record (like “Wave of Emotion”) and the other was the “Something to Say” vibe… a kind of retro rock vibe.

I am very glad he chose the retro vibe that we did.

LRI: Are you still in contact with Richie, Richie Zito, John Pierce or John Moore?

AA: I am in touch with Richie Kotzen, I get to see him when he comes to Europe, we have been friends for a really long time. We know each other’s family and so on. I consider him to be a close friend.

I have not seen or heard much about Moore over the years although I would love to be back in touch. We were quite close in those days.

I did see Richie Zito a bit in LA while I lived there, but not after that. Unfortunately John Pierce and I did not stay in touch. I am not in touch with the others… although I’d love to see them.

LRI: Let’s fast forward to today, what is Atma Anur up to and where can fans reach you at?

AA: I am currently living in Poland, in the beautiful city of Krakow. You can look me up on YouTube, Sound Cloud, Instagram and Twitter if you like as well. Apart from these, there is, of course, a Facebook Atma Anur fanpage and my blog (Phosphorous Heads).
I am teaching at schools in many countries and also privately on line. I have a few projects where I am playing some co-written compositions in the fusion vein, and also a couple of projects where I am playing drums and doing the lead vocals as well… something new for me.

I have returned to Pearl Drums after over 20 years, and have a new cooperation deal with a new Turkish Cymbal company, T-Cymbals, as of 2014, after 25 years with another cymbal company. I am recording, teaching and touring with a variety of artists, and have my own drum recording facility. I keep my eyes and ears open for new musical adventures just as I have throughout my whole career, and I continue to support young and talented musicians from around the world.

– Official Atma Anur Website

Richie Kotzen 1994

(Photo Courtesy of Richie Kotzen)

Interview with Richie Kotzen

LRI: In July 1993, you played your last show with Poison on their ‘Native Tongue’ tour before parting ways with the band. Had you planned on doing a solo while you were in Poison?

RK: I was writing while I was in the band. Some of the songs, I had the back room of the bus, it was my bedroom. I remember having a guitar back there and doing a quite a bit of writing. I don’t know exactly what songs I wrote back there but there are definitely a handful of songs that ended up on the record that were written while I was on tour.

When I joined Poison, the plan was for me to do an album cycle and during the down time I would do a solo album. I was definitely planning on doing a solo record. I was originally planning on re-signing with Interscope Records but they had went in a complete different direction with the rap thing & were focused on that so I went with Geffen for the ‘Mother Head’s Family Reunion’ record.

LRI: After your departure from Poison, what labels were interested in signing you?

RK: It was an interesting time. When I left the band, I had about five or six songs I needed to record. The first thing I did, I didn’t have a place to live at the time so all my stuff was in storage in L.A. so I moved in with my girlfriend [Deanna Eve]. We flew to Philadelphia just to spend time with my family. I worked on some more songs when we were back there. Then, I think that is when I recorded some demos for these songs. I had sent the demos to Atma Anur who was living in San Francisco at the time. Then I flew back to California but I went up to San Francisco. We booked the studio time at a place called “Coast.”

That’s where I recorded the demos that got me my record deal. I didn’t really know who was going to put the record out. I had a phone conversation with a friend of mine in Boston who was a music business attorney. He put me on a conference call with a manager named Larry Mazer. Larry was a Philadelphia based manager. I knew his name from living back there. He was really in to what I did musically. He was planning on coming to L.A. the following week.

I went to a meeting with him and I think it might have been a Monday or Tuesday. By the end of that week we sat down in the Geffen offices with John Kalodner’s and he had listened to the demos. By the following week, we had a deal. It was the craziest thing, ever! We didn’t even go to any other labels, it happened so fast. At that moment, there was a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of excitement.

It was funny, I remember, the day I went to meet with Larry before we even met. There was a homeless guy on the side of the road and I had stopped & the guy was there. He was holding a sign and I don’t remember the exact wording but it was something to the effect of “If you do something good for someone, it’ll come back tenfold!” But, the way it was written just kind of struck me so I looked to see if I had any cash & all I had was a hundred dollar bill. I was like “Alright, I’ve done worse with money than giving it to someone who really needs it.” So, I handed him a hundred dollars and I drove away.

It’s weird because literally a week later after doing that, I had a deal from a major label that was a great deal. It was just interesting, I always think about that moment. Not that I’m superstitious but it was definitely one of those weird kind of things, the way the sign struck me, doing that in that moment not knowing what my future was going to bring. Then, seven days later I had a full career re-set so-to-speak with the solo deal on a major label. That was the initial chain of events that happened before we actually went in and started recording the record.

LRI: Wow! That is interesting how stuff works out like that sometimes!

RK: Yeah, true.

LRI: In 2009, on Eddie Trunk’s radio show you told the story about John Kalodner’s thoughts on the whole situation that went down in Poison, could you tell LRI’s readers the story? I thought it was pretty humorous.

RK: Yeah! This will tie back into more of the whole drama as to why I left the band but you know, I’ll go to a different place with this. The interesting thing was how exciting and amazing it was getting signed with Geffen. There was comments made like “this is a boxed set career”, “this is a twenty year investment” and “Richie’s a real artist.” There was all this kind of talk that you want to hear when you are doing a deal.

Somehow within the course of a year it went from that to being in the studio with my producer and no one from the label came down, not once, to see what we were doing. We could have been doing anything in there. I thought that was weird but then I thought “I kind of like that they are giving me all this creative freedom so I shouldn’t complain!”

The reality was by the time we delivered the record my A&R guy was leaving. He was the guy that was behind Aerosmith and their contract ended. So, when they left Geffen and went to Sony, they took him with him. Suddenly, I had no one at the label that really was focused on me or was aware of me. Unfortunately, they straight up told me “well, you know, we are just going to release this. We are going to print 15,000 copies and that is going to be it & we are going to let you out of your contract!” I was like “Wow!” In one year, we are talking twenty year boxed-set career to getting dropped and not even trying to promote the record.

I remember being in a meeting with my publisher and there was a song on that record called ‘A Woman & A Man.’ After that song came on he stopped the tape & said “This is a hit! This could be a huge song! What is your plan? I hope Geffen doesn’t fuck this up!” (Laughs) Exact words he said! We knew by then that they [Geffen] were in fact fucking it up! We were trying everything we could to save it but it just fell apart.

Now, what happened was when the record was delivered internationally, Japan got it. I think, back then, it was MCA who released the Geffen records. There team in Japan loved the record so they actually worked the record. That is what opened up the whole Japan thing for me that carried me through the 90′s. It was really devastating. There was a moment where RCA was going to pick up the record but I literally ruined that situation. Which is a whole other story. Unfortunately the record came out, appeared in Tower Records and when the initial 15,000 copies sold they never printed anymore & that was the end of it!

LRI: (Laughs) Well, that answers my next question. I was going to ask, John Kalodner:John Kalodner is known to be a taskmaster with his artists. How involved was John Kalodner:John Kalodner in the making on the album?

RK: That’s the thing that is so weird about it. He must have known soon after signing me what was going to happen. Normally, he was very involved but he didn’t come down to the studio once. To show you how involved he was in other projects. When I did the initial demos, I was a big fan of what The Black Crowes were doing & I wanted that kind of gospelly background vocal thing. My wife at the time, Deanna, is a singer so she sang on all the demos with me, all the background vocals. Those were the demos that got me signed. The label signed me based on hearing those recordings.

I had a meeting with a very famous record producer that came to my house. I was thinking about using him. He listened to my demos, he said to me “You know, there is very much an R&B, almost Gospel element to what you are doing. Are you sure you want that?” I’m like “Wow! Are you sure you want to produce me? What kind of question is that? Obviously, that is what I hear, that’s what I do! Yeah, I want that, that is why I recorded it!” He said “I hear a woman’s voice. Who is singing?” I said “That is my wife doing backgrounds.”

So, the next meeting I had with Geffen, John says to me “I didn’t know your wife sang on your demos with you.” I’m like “Yeah, she sang the gang vocals, the background vocals with me because I need other voices on there other than mine!” He said “Just so you know, you are not going to have any women recording on your record!” I was like “What?” He was like “Yeah, you’re not having your wife or any other women record on your record. If you want background singers, we will hire them but they will be men!”

I thought that was the most bizarre thing, it didn’t make any sense to me. I was listening to The Black Crowes thinking “Well, why are they allowed to do it? I don’t understand why you are putting this weird rule on me!” It was so bizarre! So we ending up hiring, actually, Timothy B. Schmit from The Eagles ended up singing a lot of the background vocals on that record. That was the only involvement he had in the making of that record. It was such a bizarre weird statement. I guess, my manager said that he had a couple female artists he worked with and had a lot of problems. So, he was just being a hard-ass about it. It was so counterproductive as it relates to being creative. It just goes to show, in a way, Thank God the music business changed because you had so many people making so many ridiculous choices based on their ego and not based on the art of making a great record. So, I guess everything happens for a reason but that was a very bizarre moment for me.

LRI: Richie Zito, who had produced Poison’s ‘Native Tongue’ album was brought on board to produce this album. Was he your only choice or did you look at other producers?

RK: I can talk more about. The reality was, I was insisting on producing the record myself because that was my thing. I didn’t believe I needed a record producer involved because I knew what I wanted to do musically. Again, the label was insisting I have a producer because no artist should produce themselves. I’m thinking in my head “I can name like 15 artists that are self-produced that have huge records. I’m like, ok, whatever, here we go again!”

So, because the situation went south with the first guy we were talking about using, I immediately said “How about Richie Zito?” At least I knew they had a track record they would endorse plus I had already worked with him on the Poison record. We had become friends and I knew he understood musically what I was about so I wasn’t worried that he was going to pull me off in to some strange direction so that is why I picked Richie Zito.

LRI: Atma Anur played drums on the album and did the tour. You two had previously worked on your ‘Fever Dream’ & ‘Electric Joy’ albums. Was he your first choice or did you audition other drummers?

RK: No, I didn’t audition anyone. When we did the ‘Fever Dream’ record we really hit it off well. I really like Atma and really respect him as a musician & as a person. Because we played so well together back then I never thought about auditioning drummers. I figured all along he was the guy I was going to make the record with. So, I never had an audition process.

LRI: John Moore would join the band and tour as the bassist. How did you meet John?

We did have a hard time finding a Bass player. One day or one night rather, we were out. It was Atma, me and my friend Stevie Salas. I had just two years earlier sang a lead vocal on a cover song [Dorothy Moore’s ‘I Don’t Want To Be With Nobody But You’] that came out on Stevie’s record called ‘The Electric Pow Wow’ which featured a bunch of different musicians. This cool lookin’ guy comes up with long hair and dressed kind of like I dressed so I thought he was cool. He started talking to Stevie because he recognized him. He was like “Man, I love that song that is on your record. Who is that? Is that Terence Trent D’Arby?” Well, I knew Terence wasn’t on the record and I figured I had been ripping off Terence Trent D’Arby the whole time I was singing back then. I figured he must be talking about me. Stevie’s like “No, that’s Richie Kotzen.” I’m standing right there. John said “The guitar player?” Stevie said “Yeah, that is him. He sings like that.”

John started talking to me, telling me more, he was like “Oh my God, I love the way you sing. I am a singer too but actually, I’m really a bass player but I am really focusing more on singing.” I said “That is amazing because we are looking for a bass player for our band.” So, we started playing with John & he became the bass player!

Stevie Salas with Richie Kotzen – I Don’t Want To Be With Nobody But You

LRI: John Pierce played bass on the album but was not in the band featured in the album artwork and subsequent tour. How did he become involved?

RK: The saddest thing, for me, about making that record is the three of us, John, Atma and I had a great hang & played really well together. We were a really good trio. For some reason when we got in the studio, I think this was common back then but producers and labels used to like to sign bands & then not let certain members play on the record. It was such a bizarre thing the way rock records were made back then. So, immediately it was like they were looking for a weak link which he wasn’t a weak link. John was a great player back then and was able to play everything I threw at him back then. Somehow they were able to get in his head to the point where they convinced everyone involved that we needed a different bass player to play on the record.

It was like “This is ridiculous! There is no reason, first of all, if you don’t want John to play on the record, that’s not cool & there is no reason for that! If you are insisting on that then give me the bass because I wrote the fucking bass lines, I’ll play them, I know how they are supposed to be played!” It was the beginning of this weird, like, no worries, blah blah blah. Jesus Christ, there were so many weird little rules back then! That was something that always bothered me because, you know, I wished he would have played on the record. I couldn’t really control that element because they were the one writing the checks back then.

It always kind of bothered me because we had that great live vibe. Even though that record is a cool record, it is not nearly as good as it could have been. As a matter of fact, the demos, when we were trying to do vocals, we actually ended up flying in the lead vocals from MHFR in to the session with a 1/2″ tape machine. That was really tricky to fly in stuff like that back then, now it is easy with Pro-Tools! When you listen to that song, some of the key lines in the verse were the performances done on the demo in San Francisco. Then I went back in L.A. when we recorded the record, I think I replaced some of the lines. It is a hybrid track.

The demos had a certain kind of magic to them. We went up to San Francisco, sat there for three or four days & knocked off like six songs. Once we got to L.A. to make the record suddenly we can’t have women singing on the record, you can’t use your bass player & you have to work with a producer and all these elements, you know, I think were just wrong choices that were put in to play. Even though it is a record that a lot of people like, the record is not as good as it should have been or could have been.

LRI: You recorded at Rumbo Recorders, did you decide on Rumbo due to your familiarity with the studio from recording the Native Tongue album there?

RK: Rumbo was a spot where a lot of rock records were made back then. It was a great studio back then. We would always do drums at A&M, I don’t remember back then if we did the drums at A&M or if we did everything at Rumbo. I just don’t remember. The producer usually deals with what studio we were going to record at. Richie [Zito] wanted to work at Rumbo & I had already worked there before so it wasn’t an issue for me. I would have worked pretty much anywhere he suggested.

LRI: Tommy Funderburk and Timothy B. Schmit provided background vocals on several songs on the album, you already answered this indirectly but whose idea was it to bring them in & what was it like to work with them?

RK: (Laughs) I remember, it was kind of embarrassing but I didn’t realize who was singing. I knew Tommy was a guy who was doing a lot of sessions in L.A. & his voice is on a lot of big records either as a ghost singer or as a background singer. I didn’t realize Timothy was Timothy when he was in the session, you know? (Laughs)

When they were figuring out parts I was just kind of talking to him like he was a normal, not that I have to talk to someone different, this is going to come across wrong but I was kind of like more aggressive than I would have been had I known who he was. You know what I am trying to say?

LRI: Yeah! (Laughs)

RK: Like “No, no, no, stop, stop, stop! That is not the right part! Go back!” All that kind of shit! If I would have realized who he was I would have just let him sing the lines alone! I wouldn’t have given it anymore attention. When the session was over they were like “Do you realize who that was that just sang on your record?” I was like “Oh my God! Why am I so ignorant?” You know, to be honest with you, I was already in a fucked up mindset because of all these rules they put on me that I didn’t agree with so my mood during a lot of the record wasn’t the healthiest.

LRI: How long did it take to record, mix and master the album?

RK: From start to finish?

LRI: Yes!

RK: I think maybe a couple of months from start to finish. What happened was, when I started doing lead vocals, I was so used to working on an independent label, like with Shrapnel Records for example. Back then, you didn’t have much time so you had to do things really quick because we didn’t have a lot of money. We would do, in one day, we’d have four guitar solos done, rhythm guitars done on three songs. It was like lightning speed. So, when we started lead vocals, I had that mentality.

I remember, in one day, I did five lead vocals. On the fifth one, I think it ‘Socialite’, I started losing my voice. Richie [Zito, producer] was like “We got to stop dude! I’m fucking tired! It’s like three in the morning and you are still trying to sing. We’ve got enough done. You have a whole week to do this!”

I lost my voice and it never came back. Well, it came back but when it came back, there was something wrong. Every time I would go to sing, my voice would freak out and do this really weird thing that I wasn’t telling it to do. I couldn’t understand what the hell was going on. I really struggled through the vocal performances from then on. I got through it but it was really a laboring process.

Finally, I’m thinking “Alright, this is going to get better.” We had a tour lined up, I went to the doctor, I think it was after the tour so I’m still struggling on that tour to sing. It was a nightmare! I went to the doctor afterwards and I had a node on my left vocal cord. I did surgery. He fixed it and my voice came back. I recorded another record in 1995 and then, after I recorded that record, I had the same problem. I was like “What the hell?” So, I went back to the doctor, he said “Yup, it’s there again!” He said “You are doing something wrong.” So, I did another surgery. I had two surgeries on my throat for a node that was appearing in the same place.

Then, I figured “This is not cool!” so I went back to Ron Anderson who was my original vocal coach. I told him what happened and he said “Well, let me listen to your recordings.” He told me exactly what I was doing. He said “You are singing with rasp, which is fine but the way you are achieving it is an unnatural way and you are going to ruin your voice.” He deconstructed the entire architecture of how I was singing and put it back together. Knock on wood, that was a long time ago, almost twenty years ago, almost, since I had that surgery. After I went back to Ron Anderson, he fixed everything for me. He taught me how to sing correctly, still get the same sound but do it without hurting myself.

LRI: Now we will go through the album, track-by-track, can you give readers some insight on the songwriting process, recording, gear used and anything else of interest of each track?


RK: Kind of a crazy song. The chorus was reassembled, when we cut the tune, I remember there was some comments from Richie [Zito] about it not being all it could be. So, I changed it and his advice was right. We made it much better than the original demo. I remember there was a sound to the demo that we had a hard time capturing. There was a certain vocal sound. I remember when I recorded the demo, I sang through a 57 with a wind screen & one of those DDX Compressors. It had this really percussive, over-compressed sound that sounded killer. It was really interesting. We had a hard time capturing the sound and we never really did, unfortunately but we improve the song.

We improved the actual composition but I never felt like we achieved the vibe it had of the demo. Sometimes when you do stuff quickly and it is Lo-Fi, you are not thinking. There is a realness that you capture. Then when you are trying to re-produce that in the studio and you’ve got a $10,000 U-47 microphone, amazing pre-amps and that is great. Sometimes to get the other sound, a lot of time engineers are reluctant to do those things. I never got the sound I wanted on the song but we actually made the song better. I think that is the most important thing is getting the composition right.

Lyrically, it is a self-explanatory song. I know when I first came to L.A., especially coming from Pennsylvania. It was a major culture shock. The first thing I noticed and it was never about my personal friends but there was an element of people just trying to put themselves over in a insecure way. It was like “I won’t be friends with you because you can’t help me but I’ll be friends with you because you can further me!” There was a lot of that and I always was just disgusted by that mentality. It lacked realness. So, when I wrote that song that was the….those were the thoughts in my mind. I was just writing about the observations when I first moved from Philadelphia to Los Angeles.

Mother Head’s Family Reunion-

RK: (Laughs) That is kind of an interesting song. The title, I guess it just sounds like nonsense. The reality is, before my Mother met my Dad, she dated a musician and they had a band. The band was called The Mother Head’s Family Reunion. It was this hippie band and I remember her telling me about it. I just loved that name. It reminded me of Sly & The Family Stone. Which I was really into Sly back then. I had that riff and I just thought, well, I’m not going to call my band this but maybe I can write a song around this. That’s what I did and I think it came out well. It’s a cool track and that was the song that got me signed to Geffen. That was the first thing they heard when the listened to my demo. I think, stylistically, it sent a message of who my influences were and what it was that I was trying to do.

Where Did Our Love Go-

RK: That song started from a guitar riff. It is a love song but it is kind of a reversal. I say “I don’t want to ever ask the question, where did our love go?” In another words, I want this feeling to last and continue on. Being that I was very much in love at that time, a lot of these songs on that record are tied to that relationship and this is one of them.

Natural Thing-

RK: Actually, this is one of those songs that I actually forgot I wrote. We’ve had this conversation before or maybe another journalist where they asked “what is it like to have done so many records?” I said “Actually, I have songs I’ve forgot about!” That is one of them but as I talk about it, it is more of an up-tempo song. Again, you know, writing from the perspective of being in love and having a strong relationship. I think that song has a cool breakdown where I play Clavinet. I was allowed to play keyboards on the record but they wouldn’t allow me to play bass, but anyways! (Laughs)

That song was not on the original demo, that was written after I got my deal. As far as the timeline, that song is a newer song. Considering what I initially recorded, there were initially six songs on the demo and that wasn’t one of them.

A Love Divine-

RK: ‘A Love Divine’, I’m pretty sure was on the original demo. I’m pretty sure it was. I don’t play a lot of this material live anymore but this song often creeps its way into the set. I think, stylistically, there is something in that song that still consistent with the way I write, now. It is a fun song for me to play live. It is also a song that when we play it live, we tend to stretch out the solo section. It has evolved, the treatment of the song has changed over the years from playing it live so much. I’m pretty sure that was one of the original demo songs. I may have even written it on the tour bus back in the day.

Soul To Soul-

RK: That is one of my favorite songs actually and one that was off my radar, I actually forgot about it until you just mentioned it. Another riff based song. It was one of those songs that kind of just wrote itself, it was really easy to write. Sometimes when you are writing you have a melody idea or you have a guitar riff or a lyrical concept. Then other times you just pick up the instrument & start playing and the song just happens. That song was written that way.

Reach Out I’ll Be There [cover of The Four Tops classic]-

RK: That was a song that I wanted to cover. I wasn’t necessarily planning on recording it at any time but when we used to jam with Atma, John and I, we used to play that. I was a big fan of The Four Tops and a lot of those R&B acts. I heard a version of that that would have translated in a rock way that I thought would be cool! We ended up playing that live and jamming that out at the rehearsal room. I think we ended up putting it on the record because it had some sensibility that reflected where I was getting my influence from. A lot of people, especially back then, people like to pigeonhole me as to who I sound like or who I listen to but nobody really knows unless they are inside your head. Taking a song like that and reinterpreting it, it is something that is fun for me because that music is in my roots but at the same time it gives the listener some insight as to where is this guy coming from or who did he listen to growing up? I thought it was a good choice for us to include on our record.

LRI: Definitely! My Senior Year in High School, I was at home listening to the album and my Mom was like “Who the hell is that singing?”

RK: (Laughs)

LRI: I said it is Richie Kotzen, he is a singer and guitar player I really digg! Back then I was big into Motley, Poison, Pantera, Megadeth, etc. It took her for a loop. I told her she needed to listen to the whole album because I knew she would digg it! I told her it sounds like something that may have come out during her younger years. She was into old R&B, the Oldies, Creedence and stuff like that. She said “I just can’t believe somebody you like can sing like that!” One day, I got her to listen to it and she dugg it and asked for a copy of it. She became a fan of that record!

RK: Oh cool! So, I’m reaching multiple generations. That is awesome!


RK: That song, I remember recording on my little eight track. I recorded that demo in L.A. That was definitely written and recorded around the same time of ‘Socialite.’ I had rented this little house in the valley, actually Doug Aldrich ended up buying the house and I think he still lives there to this day. In the back yard there was a pool back there and there was a little pool house. I had that pool house in a very crude way. (Laughs) Atma & I used to live back there. We were in there all the time, recording, playing and jamming. ‘Testify’ was one of the songs I had written when I moved in to that house. I think that song really ties in well with the whole direction of that record. When you put it up against the title track, ‘Mother Head’s Family Reunion’, it ties in to that whole Sly & The Family Stone thing. I was really obsessed with that kind of music back then. So, that’s another, I think the writing style of that song is clearly from the influence of listening to Sly.


RK: That is another one I forgot about but I’ve played that in recent times. Not with my present lineup but with the previous lineup. That was also written in that pool house studio that I just mentioned. The arrangement is interesting to that song because it had the verse, chorus, verse, chorus but then it goes in to a whole other thing at the end. It was something I did a lot more in my writing back then than I do now. If you listen to that song or you listen to ‘Soul To Soul’, they have these extra sections that come in the end. Which is kind of cool. ‘Used’ was one that is fun to play live because I like the songs where the verses are more mellow and let me open up as a singer then suddenly there is a big chorus that appears. So, that is a fun song play and a fun writing formula to use.

LRI: Actually this next song is my favorite song on the record and I am aware of what it is about but I have to ask, how tight were your pants when you hit those notes at the beginning?

A Woman & A Man-

RK: (Laughs) I think I hit a G. I can still hit that note. The only thing is I go through phases of smoking and when I’m in my cigarette phase then I lose some of my top range but when I am healthy….actually, there is a new song coming out called ‘Shake It Off’ that is on my new solo record & I think I hit the highest note I have ever recorded in that chorus. I’m trying to think, where is my guitar? (grabs guitar that is nearby and picks a few notes) Yeah, it is still a G, I hit another high G!

That falsetto is something I’ve always really liked the sound of. Probably from listening to R&B singers all these years. It is something that has been easy for me to use and incorporate. One of the things in my style, I like the sound when singers move in-and-out of falsetto, from falsetto to real voice. There is a break point there that if you can learn to sing over that and have it be smooth, it is a cool sound. It is another way of expressing. I combine that a lot, especially now. I didn’t do it as much back then but as years went on I’ve really focused on that. I do that a lot on my recordings where I move from my normal voice in to falsetto. Actually, the lead track for my next solo record, ‘Cannibals’, there is a lot of that going on where it is like, regular voice in to the falsetto and back down.

That song you are talking about. I wrote that in Pennsylvania in my old bedroom that I grew up in. I remember sitting and there is a spot in that room where I’d always sit by the window and play. I wrote that song there. That song wrote itself again, much like a previous song I spoke about. I didn’t know if it was done. I wasn’t sure if it was done because in my mind, the chorus, when I wrote it, I was like “Is this really a chorus?”, I didn’t know but it wrote itself so easy.

When I played it for Richie [Zito]. He loved it & thought it was great! I talked about the story early when I went back to my publisher and played that song then stopped everything after that song played & said “This is a hit! This could be a huge song! What is your plan? I hope Geffen doesn’t fuck this up!” The thing that is very interesting and it happens all the time & I don’t quite understand it. You have these songs, like that song on that album that could cross over in to other genres. Which is kind of what an artist needs to break in to another level. You need those cross over songs. Record companies are always focused on, at least in my experience, they focus on “You are a rock act so we need to lead with a rock track!” It’s like “Yeah, ok, but at some point real soon, you should, since you have limited budget to spend, you should go for the obvious cross over because if you take that gamble and it pops then you’re in a whole other world. Everything you release now the gates are open and the eyes are on you & you have a doorway to go through in to that new format.”

It is frustrating as hell to have a song like that or other songs I’ve put out where there were labels involved they just get ignored. I’m like “This is the song that everyone is going to talk about!” It is just bizarre! It gets really mindboggling frustrating to be writer and have your music in someone’s hands and them picking the song, is like that is kind of a B-Level song as far as they are concerned. Not that it is bad but it is not something I would want to tell the world “Hey, look at me!” and play that song.

There is so many elements that come in to play when trying to break a record. I just kind of give up thinking about it. The reality is, is my focus is making music that I connect with. If I finish a record & I listen back & I like it and I feel it represents my creative vision then it is done and it successful. Anything else that happens after that is just a bonus. To look at the situation any other way as an artist, you will spiral in to complete madness!

Livin’ Easy-

RK: Trying to remember where I was when I wrote that. I don’t know. For some reason, it must have when I was back in Pennsylvania on that break. That is an interesting song on that record because it has this…..there is a funky element to it but there is almost a….not country but there is another style in that song and I don’t know where it came from. It has this bouncy, you know, kind of cascading guitar line. I don’t know what to say about it but I can hear it in my head right now. Somehow, that song adds another kind of depth to the record stylistically, yet it doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb, it is just like another side.

When I think about that record, I think you have songs like ‘Testify’, ‘Mother Head’s Family Reunion’ and even ‘Natural Thing’ that are sort of cut from the same stone then you have songs like ‘Soul To Soul’, ‘A Love Divine’ and ‘Where Did Our Love Go’ that are cut from a similar stone. This song and ‘A Woman & A Man’ both seem like they are coming from yet another stone so to speak, a stone that is equally part of my makeup but definitely another side.

Cover Me-

RK: ‘Cover Me’ is one of the most difficult songs for me to perform just because of the vocal. That chorus, I have to be one hundred percent healthy to pull that chorus off, it is not an easy one. It was another one that was demoed in my pool house studio in California. It is a similar kind of thing like ‘Testify’ and ‘Mother Head’s Family Reunion’, there are similarities there. There is also a certain jamminess to it. It is not sloppy but there is a certain kind of looseness to that song that creates excitement. There is a whole improv section that we did that was always fun to play live. I remember when we were playing that I’d look at the setlist and say “Oh God! Here we go! I don’t know what is going to happen but let’s try and do it!” It was never the guitar parts, it was the vocal parts sometimes where I’d think “I don’t know if I am going to be able to finish it!”

Wailing Wall [Japanese Bonus Track]-

RK: That was a song recorded on the original demo. Matter of fact, that IS the original demo. We never cut that song at Rumbo. That was done in San Francisco. That wasn’t part of the recorded sessions for Geffen, that was before the deal. That was the demo I recorded up in San Francisco at Coast.

Japan always wants a bonus track. Now, it is not as relevant but back when people were actually buying physical cd’s and that was the only way to get music. We had a huge problem with imports. It was a situation back then that a person in Japan could get the US record and it’d be cheaper than buying it straight from Japan. I’m not sure how that works because it was never explained to me. So, they would ask for bonus content for that territory because that was a strong territory for our kind of music.

That is how that got released. It would have never been released if they didn’t need a bonus track. Not that it is a bad song but I never felt like, I felt like it was kind of redundant when you put it up against the other material. There were other songs that I thought were similar but they were better so I left it off but it was done & it is a good recording so we gave it to them as a bonus track.

LRI: What memories do you have of making the video for the title track?

RK: Just jumping around like a crazy person & acting like a fool, pretty much that was the premise! (Laughs) There was never going to be a video because Geffen was squashing the record but the Japanese label asked for a video. They gave us the money to make a video and actually, the director’s name was August so that is how I ended up naming my daughter so I got something good out of it. The video was just us acting like a bunch of clowns. I was way more into the theatrics visually as a performer. I was able to do the full-on James Brown splits with my guitar, play behind my back, behind my head and all that craziness so we tried to incorporate all the elements of our live show into it the video. My ex-wife is in there dancing and singing, acting like a lunatic. It is a cool video so I like it!

Mother Head’s Family Reunion (Promo Video)

LRI: I know of bills that you shared with Jackyl, Bruce Dickinson and Type O Negative. Were there any other bands you shared the stage with during the touring cycle for the album? Any crazy road stories involving those bands that you’d care to share?

RK: That was my first full tour. We went out in a van and traveled around with those guys. For some reason, I remember playing in Detroit, it was a Type O Negative show. Our band come out and oh, they hated us! They were literally booing, we got booed off the stage! I guess they probably didn’t know what the hell they were watching because we were like this noisy power trio with long instrumental jams. There were sections where I’d fucking dance around like James Brown & do my splits and all that nonsense. They were probably looking at us like “What the hell?” You know, it didn’t go over so well that night! Some of the other nights we had some really great shows.

I know at one point I thought I had alcohol poisoning during that tour. A LOT of drinking going on with Richie Kotzen back then! One of our road guys, somehow, there was never any beer at the end of the show. Towards the end of the show, the Tour Manager, at the time, kept beating up this guy verbally the whole time. He was like our Stage Tech. He would drive and we had a Ryder truck with all our gear in it. Him and another guy were in there & my band and the tour manager were in the van. This tour manager was constantly giving this roadie a hard time.

One of the things that was going on was, we would have all this Corona that was supposed to be on our rider. We’d see it but when we got off stage, it’d be all gone! We were like “What the hell is going on?” It turned out this roadie was stealing the beer. I don’t even know if this is true but they said they were trading the beer for drugs. It just doesn’t seem like a realistic trade to me, but that’s what they said he was doing. I mean, trading beer for drugs. (Laughs)

He was definitely out of his mind! I have these “Master Built” Fender guitars and one of them, he broke the truss rod. He didn’t even touch the truss rod but he fucking broke it…..probably because he was all cracked out of his mind & needed something to do! The other guitar had the logo, the “Master Built” logo that defined that it was a special guitar and he sanded it off the neck. He did all this really weird shit!

At the end of the tour, I don’t know what happened but the Tour Manager said the last thing to him that he wanted to hear and he snapped! I remember, he literally pulled the Tour Manager out of the window of the van and proceeded to beat the shit out of him. (Laughs) So, I jumped out & jumped on top of them to try and pull them apart. Somehow my foot got caught up in the chaos. I fell on the ground, they are still fighting & I’m stuck on the ground because I can’t get my foot out of this mess. Suddenly, my bass comes over and he pulls me out. Then they stop.

I got into the back of the Ryder truck & I see all these coolers and there’s all the beer! So I started pulling beer bottles out & I’m screaming at the guy “What the fuck! Why have you been taking all our beer?” He was supposed to drive all of our equipment home, like from Oklahoma City back to L.A. So I started smashing all the beer while I am screaming at him so he didn’t have any beers to drink! It was so childish and insane but that was the craziest story.


LRI: The album is considered amongst your fans as your ‘Led Zeppelin:IV’ or ‘Kiss:Destroyer’ & now that 20 years has passed, what is your opinion of the album?

RK: I totally appreciate the record. It was a pretty important period of my life, there was a lot going on with me. I think that was reflected well, artistically, on the record. Perhaps people pick up on that, I don’t know. It was really a very cohesive record in the sense of direction. I think that comes down to the way it was produced and I think that Richie [Zito] did a great job producing on it. I will say that when I listen to it, I hear the growth, in other words, as good as the record is, I’m miles better of a singer than I was then. I have way more connection to what I hear in my head and what I’m able to do with my voice. Same thing with the guitar. It is interesting that a lot of artists will make a record and they constantly go backwards from there. Even with that, I understand what makes that record special. It has a lot to do with when it was done and what was happening. I can definitely hear my evolution as an artist if I compare ‘Mother Head’s Family Reunion’ to a record like ‘Peace Sign’ for example or even ‘Go Faster.’ Which is a good thing because I don’t ever want to get stuck in time sort of speak.

LRI: Are you surprised that fans still hold that album in such high regard after 20 years?

RK: I think it is nice that they think of it that way. You have to remember, my awareness of what people think is my best work is not always on my radar. I know a lot of people talk about ‘Into The Black’ as one of the favorites & they say the same thing about the ‘Mother Head’s Family Reunion’ and I know why they say it, I get it, you know. As a record, both those records feel like there is a certain consistency in the production and the sound where a lot of times when I make records I go off that. I might have a Rock song or a R&B song or whatever and this is a collection of songs.

My identity is what I write, how I sing and how I play. So, I don’t really feel like I need to be locked in to making sure the record is done in a way where everything sounds relatively the same as far as instrumentation. As an artist, I find that more interesting but for whatever reason on those two records they really got pushed that way. I think that is a big part of why they talk about them. I think it has to do with the songs. Like ‘You Can’t Save Me’ is my most downloaded song and for whatever reason people connect with that song so therefore it shines a light on the entire album!

Also, what I’ll say about the ‘Mother Head’s Family Reunion’ record is that was a turning point because up until then I had two instrumental records released, one vocal record and a stint in Poison. I wasn’t clearly defined as an artist back then until I released that record. I think that is the record that set the foundation for who I am and who I became. In a way, ‘Mother Head’s Family Reunion’ should have been my first record! If I think about it, if the first three records wouldn’t have existed and ‘Mother Head’s Family Reunion’ was my first record, it would make total sense to me. I’m not saying that I am sorry I put out the first three records but artistically I didn’t really find myself until that stage in my life.

LRI: Have you ever thought of doing a concert or a tour where you’d perform the album in its entirety?

RK: Yeah, you know, people have talked about doing these things. Eddie Trunk said I should do a show where I did ‘Into The Black’ from top to bottom. There all cool ideas! I don’t know why I haven’t done that yet? It is something I almost did. I do these shows at The Baked Potato here in L.A. just because they are so convenient for me & they are fun and intimate. We were talking about that. The three of us, my band, talked about doing two nights, back-to-back, one night do ‘Into The Black’ and the next night do ‘Mother Head’s Family Reunion.’ I just haven’t done it. It’d require a certain level of work for me. The real reason why I don’t do it is the energy involved. I’ll go on tour now and I’ll do two or three songs from ‘Into The Black’ and maybe one song from ‘Mother Head’s Family Reunion’ record, maybe two but I play those songs because they still completely tie in to where I am at today. So, the other tunes I’d have to go back & re-learn and get my head around again but some, I can’t do that. I think there is a laziness for me of having to sit down with the record and having to re-learn my own material that I did twenty years ago. (Laughs) It’d be cool to do it, to re-interpret it & I probably should do it but it is just a matter of putting the time in. I think that is the only reason I haven’t done it is because with everything else going on, I just haven’t had the energy to and when I do have time I am usually pretty exhausted from the previous thing I just did. So that time just needs to be filled with absolutely nothing that relates to music.

LRI: As of October 11, 2014, what is next for Richie Kotzen?

RK: The good news is the ‘Cannibals’ is finished, mastered and ready to be delivered. I haven’t picked a date yet but I’m anticipating a release date sometime in January but of course, Japan will get it first. So, I think it will be on the street there sometime in November. The plan is a lot of touring from now until the end of November.

I did a September run in Europe, I’m on a South American run this month and an United States run in November. I think we are going to look in to Japan as well which I haven’t done a solo gig there since 2006 when I did The Rolling Stones tour! Actually wait, that is not true, I did do one small show there a few years ago. Nevermind, scratch that! (Laughs) That is the plan, touring and the new record!

Richie Kotzen 2014
(Photo Courtesy of UEG, Inc.)

– Official Richie Kotzen Website

Article published on Legendary Rock Interviews.


It doAtma Anur At Workes not happen every day, to be able to interview a world-class musician such as Atma Anur. The British drummer who holds  participation in more than one hundred and forty records, a real war machine that moves nimbly between Latin rhythms, jazz, hip hop, rock and metal. One of the heroes of the extraordinary season of Mike Varney’s Shrapnel Records, a breeding ground of talented guitarists from the 80’s to present day. Atma proves to be a musician that is open to ever more collaborations, one that is always evolving, passionate and generous, even for something like this interview. He has also worked in recent years with some interesting Italian guitarists like Steve Saluto, Marco Sfogli and Luca Zamberlin. I purposely left out any reference to his history and his records, I mention the names of Richie Kotzen and Billy Sheehan, just to give you some clues …


1) Atma, tell us how it was in NYC during the 70’s, both musically and personally. What are your memories of the “vibrations” of those days?

NYC is a magical place in general. Creativity and Passion are everywhere you look. I remember feeling like anything was possible, and I was constantly excited about life. I have rarely had that kind of feeling anywhere else in the world.

The best part about spending my teen years there would be the musical and cultural diversity that is a normal everyday part of living in NYC. I had the chance to see and listen to all kinds of music and dance, performed by the original artists, all the time. Latin, Jazz, Funk, Rock, African, Indian and much, much more.

I also began my formal studies there, attending the Manhattan School of Music and also frequenting the Lincoln Centre Music library.

Playing on the streets of mid-town and down-town Manhattan in different band configurations (from duets to 6-piece Jazz groups) was also a huge learning experience for me in the late 70’s. I met and jammed with some of the best musicians I have ever encountered in that situation.

2) In 1981 you moved to San Francisco. What differences did you find living on the West Coast?

The West Coast of the States is a very beautiful place. Lots of culture and music; and the music industry is quite alive there as well. The people seem to have a different approach to art and music than those on the East Coast though. Both coasts have a lot to offer (as does the whole United States) in terms of being an artist.

Atma AnurI was very fortunate to make some important connections during my years living there.  I had the biggest gigs of my career on the West Coast so far. I also made many dear life-long friends living there.

3) After playing and studying jazz for many years, you worked with Mike Varney, and his team of virtuoso guitarists, for Shrapnel Records. How did that situation come about, and how would you evaluate that experience? 

I began as a rock player. My first experience in listening and trying to play drums was with the music of artists like Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones and Deep Purple (although my earliest memories of hearing music were Reggae and Soul music). Then I went on to learning the music of artists like Yes, Genesis, ELP and other popular Prog bands of those days.

I got more into Jazz after hearing Tony Williams, Chick Corea and also The Mahavishnu Orchestra. That led me to listening to Miles Davis and John Coltrane… and the rest is history!

I realized that I wanted to do this (drumming) professionally and needed to really study music. That is when I started looking at music colleges and got my first private teacher. I began playing in church at a young age and also had my first band in NY at about 12 years old.

I first met Mike Varney through my relationship with Peter Marrino (the original Cacophony singer), Peter introduced me to Mike, in 1885, (I had been playing lots of musical styles in many bands between 81 and that point) when he asked me to join his band Lemans, (which was at that time signed to Columbia Records), Mike was their manager.

Soon after that meeting Mike told me about his then new project called Shrapnel Records, and that he wanted to introduce me to some artists he was thinking about doing something with.

As an evaluation of the situation I would say that life is quite complex and that things happen as they are supposed to happen. I am very thankful for all that has happened in my life. Living in NYC and San Francisco were a big part of my musical and personal development.

4) Who is the guitar player that impressed you the most during that period?

For me Tony MacAlpine is the most impressive musician I met through my relationship with Shrapnel Records. That is not to say that people like Jason Becker or Richie Kotzen are any less talented (everyone that Mike Varney chooses to work with is an exceptional talent)… but you asked about who impressed me THE MOST.

Tony is an all round exceptional musician, he sings, writes and plays many instruments on the highest possible level… I only know a handful of others in that category.

5) Here I have the first album from Greg Howe. I was only 16 when it was released, but I loved that album! You were the drummer, what do you remember about the recordings, and about Greg and the amazing Billy Sheehan? 

Atma AnurThe situations with those Shrapnel recordings were all just about the same. Very creative and very exciting. Mike is a true visionary and always brought the best out of the people he enlisted to make those records. Mike always worked very fast, and gave us all a short time to come up with the most killer music we had in us at the time.

Meeting Greg was excellent, he is a calm but intense musician with a huge musical vocabulary. His groove and approach to what he is doing on the guitar is really original and inspiring. Greg is simply excellent.

Billy is an awesome person and a killer musician.  I learned a lot from the time we spent together about “sitting” in a phat rock groove. I was most inspired by Billy’s tone, and his ability to play chops that retained the groove that they were a part of. That is an unusual thing for many rock oriented bass players. Both Greg and Billy are very supportive musicians, that makes creativity the next natural step.  They both have a very natural approach to time, I mean odd meters and so on. That record was great fun to make.

6) I’m a great fan of Ritchie Kotzen’s “Mother Head’s Family Reunion”  A wonderful album you made with him. What a fantastic record, isn’t it?

I made quite a few records with Richie and did loads of playing, jamming, writing, rehearsing, touring… the whole deal. Richie Kotzen was the person that I met through Mike Varney that I had the longest and most fruitful relationship with.

The Mother Head’s time was quite magical and lots of fun. Yes that record was awesome… but so are all the others we did together. We also toured with that band and that music quite a bit. The experience of making that CD was quite special also. We had a good budget from Geffen Records so we recorded tracks in quite a few of L.A.’s best recording studios… another great learning experience. Richie is an especially talented person and a good friend.

7)  I have a good friend in Krakow, Poland where you live now. What can you tell us about the music scene in Krakow?

The Polish music scene is just as different to the music scene in the States as is the cultural difference between Poland and The United States. Although the same basic genres of music are present there, the approach and emphasis are completely different.

There is a great love of Jazz in Poland, and some great Jazz clubs and music schools in Krakow it self.  Krakow is also a very beautiful European city with a great cultural history, a very nice city to live in.

There are many excellent musicians of all kinds in Poland., I have played with many on tour and also taught at music schools and given quite a few clinics there. My focus remains mostly outside of that scene however.

8) Do you have any special preparation before you perform? Or any particular method to help your concentration? Or do you follow the flow of your instincts and feelings at the time? 

old school atma pearlsI am a believer in good preparation, and lots of study and practice. One needs to have goals and work toward making them reality… both musically and personally.

As for shows I want to know the music well, know my part in making it a worthwhile experience for the listener, and bring something new and exciting to the moment.

Concentration is something that comes from focus and practice. It can be acquired and increased through practice.

Being in the moment is just as important as preparation in order to be true to the music. Instincts are gained with experience, both in playing and in listening.

9) I know you’ve worked with Luke Zamberlin , Italian guitarist of great talent. How did you get to work in Italy? It seems to me that it’s been a lot of fun playing and recording together. Italy is not a bad place to be, do you agree with me? 

Yes I do agree. I first played and recorded in Italy with Steve Saluto. We did 2 CDs together, with Marco Mendoza, Doug Wimbish and some other well known musicians. I was in Italy recording something for Steve with Piero Trevisan on one occasion, and after one of our sessions we went to a jam, and that is when I met Luca Zamberlin.

Luca and I stayed in contact and have been doing things on and off ever since. So far I have met some wonderful people and killer musicians in Italy (I should mention Marco Sfogli). I hope to continue to play there… and I love the food!

10) You’ have been a professional musician for a long time, and you have recorded an impressive number of albums, 142 by now. What prompted you to become a musician in the beginning? What were your motivations and your feelings about that?

I believe that music chooses those that are destined to express it. I’ve heard stories from my parents about my beating a small toy drum and dancing around from when I was 2 years old. They thought it was strange but also kind of wonderful.

As things progressed I found myself feeling a sense of personal responsibility toward music. It occurred to me that I had been given a gift and was supposed to put it to use. So I try to live up to the responsibility that music has chosen me to fulfil.

11) A typical but still important question, What is the most important advice for a drummer? Advice you would give to a beginner or a professional.

The most important single piece of advice I would give a drummer is that the MELODY is THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF THE MUSIC.

With that in mind, learn your instrument and play musically with all your heart… all of the time.

12) I’m a bass player and a great lover of music of any kind. From heavy rock to David Bowie, from the amazing Bill Evans to Miles Davis (one of my faves is the In a Silent Way album). So, please suggest three records to learn something from, as a musician as well as a listener.

Impressions by John Coltrane

The Inner Mounting Flame by The Mahavishnu Orchestra

Sex Machine by James Brown

There are so many other records that I would suggest to anyone for listening, if one is looking for musical enlightenment and enjoyment… but you asked for only 3.

You’re right! I missed a great opportunity, next time I’ll be more careful. Thank so much for your kindness and availability, Atma. See you in Venice, I know for sure you’ll come back!


Check out Atma’s website for even more info, updates, music, videos and photos!

Interview published in Italian on Gene Master Volume on May 12th, 2014.


1. How did you get to know each other, and how did you come up with the idea of working together? 

Atma & Jani

ATMA: If I remember correctly, Jani contacted me on Facebook about the possibility of working on some of his (new) recordings. I had not yet met him but after listening to the things he sent me I thought it would be a cool collaboration (at this point I try to not play music that I don’t enjoy).

We spent a lot of time chatting, getting to know each other. We found we had many things in common and basically had a good time in conversation (his English is much better than he thinks… lol

Jani J. Szentkiralyi JANI: Well, back in 2010 I sent a demo of five songs to Mike Varney (Shrapnel Records) who replied and suggested to record the drums with Atma Anur. So I contacted Atma and sent him the songs, and from that point we started comunicating and systematically working on the songs and the musical ideas that came to us.

2. From which CDs did you know Atma before and which is your favorite one?

JANI: The first CD I heard on which Atma is drumming was Cacophony’s Speed Metal Symphony, and shortly after that Jason Becker’s Perpetual Burn. Both of these are reference CDs for me till today.

It is very hard to pick one, because Atma’s legacy is so wide after playing with so many artists. There are more than 140 CDs (Cacophony, Jason Becker, Tony MacAlpine, Greg Howe, Richie Kotzen …… to name a few) and all of them are outstanding, but for the sake of giving an answer I will pick the Cacophony and Jason Becker CDs because both of them are close to my musical taste and heart.

3. Atma, it seems that you like Hungarian musicians because you are working with two great Hungarian guitarists at the same time, with the same name. Is this a coincidence or something more?

ATMA: The fact that they have the same name is actually quite funny… to me

I like working with good musicians, it’s really as simple as that. I don’t actually care much where someone is from or whatever may or may not be going on with them… other than what the music sounds like.

Atma Anur

With that said, I will also say that I have found many great musicians (especially guitar players) in the Central and Eastern European area since leaving the States… and that’s quite cool I think. Jani and Janos are both talented cool people… so what’s not to like?

4.  How do you remember your first meeting with Jani, and what were your first impressions when you heard his music?

ATMA: We first met in person at the Marty Friedman show in Budapest back in 2011, lots of good fun. Jani showed me quite a lot of Budapest and we had a chance to hang with Marty as well. I made a few other new friends there on that trip as well. Atma & Jani

As for his music, I thought he sounded great, had a cool feel and an exciting vibe. I like playing good music, I love Progressive Rock and Fusion, and I saw an opportunity to play my style and have a good time doing it… Jani also thought that my style would fit his writing… so it was a good match.

JANI: LOL ……. there is always a smile on my face when I remember the moment I met Atma. Besides the awesome time we spent together at Marty Friedman’s gig in Budapest, and having the opportunity to hang with one of my favourite guitar players, Atma and I also started mixing our first recording,  Canon Rock, and I could tell that Atma is an ENERGY BOMB (literally). He is so disciplined that he shocked me (in a positive way). In those moments I realized that I was dealing with one of the best of the best. He is the guy who used to go to sleep the last, no matter what time it was when we went to sleep…and he woke up first (a funny story I remember is that we went home from Marty’s gig very late, I went to sleep but Atma was still doing  things, then I woke up in the morning to Atma was mixing his drum tracks ……. hahaha). In this short period of time we also became close friends, and this relationship is still the same till today.

5. Which are Jani’s most impressive skills? Is there anyone of your previous musical partners who is playing in a similar way to him?

Jani J. Szentkiralyi ATMA: The best thing about Jani is his personality, he is simply a great person. He is quite serious about music and about life in general… I have a lot of respect for those things.

Jani shares a particular quality with most of the exceptional musicians that I have played with, that is Joy. Expressing the joy that is at the core of music is a special but simple element that I find in the best of the best…

I also find Jani to be quite open minded, besides the fact that he is a talented musician.

6. You are very busy and I’m sure you get invitations all the time to take part in various musical endeavors. How do you find time to do such projects and how do you decide to take part in such sessions?

Atma Anur ATMA: As I said before I am always into playing good music, my decisions are based on the music first and the relationship next. I am, and have been a working professional for many years, there is always time for good music. If I like the sound and the vibe of the music I will most likely want to play…

7.  How do you write the songs, how can we imagine the process?

JANI: We started with the songs which were included on my demo but I also shared with Atma all of my musical ideas, and from that point we shared our thoughts and vision. Actually Atma changed almost everything rhythmically….. lol. He’s thoughts and ideas are so brilliant and inspiring.(as we used to say jokingly: These Berklee guys think musically different ……lol)

So, we dont have a specific way of working, we simply just share ideas, thoughts and so on but, I need to mention here that Atma is taking part in the composition section too. On all of the songs he is a co-writer.

8. How would you sum up the essence of the music?  

ATMA: From the drumming side of things I can say that these songs have the groove and the creativity that anyone that likes my style will recognize and enjoy…

JANI: I’m sure that those who like guitar music and especially the ’shred’ style will love it. I feel that sometimes it’s a bit “progressive” influenced, sometimes neo-classical but we also have slow, melancholic lines and parts.

9.  How did Piero Trevisan come into the picture as a bass player?

ATMA: I met Piero when I first met Steve Saluto (Italian guitarist/composer). I worked with Piero on at least 3 recording sessions and also some live shows.

Jani and I were working with a few bass players on the recordings and I also suggested that Jani check out Piero for some possible gigs… So far everything sounds and feels great. Piero has a talent for finding the most groovy simple parts that fit the vibe very well.

10. What we  need to know about the upcoming EP? Will there be a sequel, any concerts?

JANI: The EP will contain 5 songs and it looks like it will be released by a Hungarian label. Sequel? Definitely. Yes, we want to take those songs to the stage, and continue recording.

ATMA: I hope to record a full CD’s worth of songs and do live shows of this music…

11.  What other projects are you working on?

ATMA: Right now I am working on a bunch of things with some European and South American musicians, I am also trying to finish my first solo CD and am writing for my second one… there is a lot to be done still to get these finished!

I am also putting finishing touches on my Theoretical book on rhythmic understanding… I try to stay busy being creative… I want to leave as much of what God has given me to do as possible after I have had my time in this life.

JANI: Right now I’m not working in other projects. I’m doing some studio work, for example I recorded guitars on two songs for Alina Alens (Romanian pop-rock artist).

12.  Which are the best three albums of all times? Atma Anur

 JANI: Speed Metal Symphony by Cacophony

A Dramatic Turn of Events by Dream Theater

1987 by Whitesnake

ATMA: Impressions by John Coltrane

Inner mounting Flame by the Mahavishnu Orchestra

Are You Experienced by Jimi Hendrix

13. What is the meaning of life?

ATMA: Beauty, Love, Loss… Peace, Anger, Music… Passion and Forgiveness.

To understand time and the basic human condition that we ALL share.

To make something useful of what is presented to you, and to express gratitude and joyfulness in every situation.

Jani J. Szentkiralyi

Life is about relationship… to one another, and to God.

JANI: Atma’s answer is so wide ….. so all I can say is that I identify myself with his answer.