Scorpions: Interview with James Kottak

James Kottak has had a pretty successful career as a drummer, with bands such as Montrose, Kingdom Come and Warrant. For the past 15 years, he’s had the opportunity to be the drummer for one of the biggest, most successful rock bands in history. I got the chance to talk with James the day before the Scorpions got inducted into the Hollywood rock walk, where they’ll be honored by fans with a special ceremony at Guitar Center, after having sold over 100 million records world-wide.

Amanda: First off, I just wanted to say, congrats on getting inducted into Hollywood’s rock walk, which takes place tomorrow. Do you know where your handprints will be yet?

James: There’s a sidewalk right in front of Guitar Center, and it’s just kind of randomly wherever – They’ll be among VanHalen, Motley Crue, and all kinds of other people, so we’re not sure – We’ll get there and we’ll see how it goes.

Amanda: Your new album, Sting in the Tail just got released March 23rd here in the US, which seems to be doing pretty well far. Tell me, after 40 years as a band, what made Scorpions come to the decision to make this album the last?

James: It’s actually something we just kind talked about over the last year, and the timing just feels right. I’ve been in the band for over 15 years, which in rock ‘n roll, that’s an eternity – Think back to when Klaus started this thing, and it’s been that many years, and that many albums, and that many tours, and then finally you just kind of say ‘enough’. It’s going to be a three year tour, and we’re going to start in may – It doesn’t really feel like the end, because we’re just getting started.

Amanda: That has to be pretty cool, to be able to go around the world, and see all your fans one last time.

James: Yeah, and you also have to realize, with every album we’ve done, (since I’ve been in the band anyways) it takes about 2-1/2 years to do a real world tour. We play everywhere, I mean literally everywhere. We’ve even played Siberia, I mean places I can’t even pronounce, so that’s the cool part, but to do this every time, you have to realize it’s really 2-1/2 to 3 years for a real tour, and to do it right. And you know we just want to go out with a bang!

Amanda: After working on the 5 previous Scorpions albums, how would you say Sting in the Tail compares?

James: I actually like this one as one of the best – It’s more hard rock, it just says ‘OK, it’s time to have a party!’ I never was that heavy serious kind of a guy, so this is right up my alley. I’m just excited that there are at least 3 or 4 songs with the word rock in it.

Amanda: What was it like working with Tarja Turunen of Nightwish, on the song The Good Die Young?

James: I actually had very little to do with this – She did a duo with Klaus, and I don’t even think that they were in the studio at the same time. We just did a TV show in Germany last week and she was there, and we met in person for the first time, and she was very nice, and did an incredible job.

Amanda: You guys must be getting excited for your upcoming tour which is called Get Your Sting On, and Blackout. How do you prepare mentally and physically for such a long tour?

James: We kind of never really stop – We just did Prague and Moscow, and this month we have like 3 shows, so we can get things up and running again. We have a new stage set up, and we just get together and rehearse, just like you’d picture any band rehearsing and after about 3 shows, things are usually running and flying great.

Amanda: Where can we expect to see the Scorpions touring over the next three years – Is it going to be three years straight, or will you guys be taking some down time in between?

James: We basically start full-time in Germany in May – We’ll do Germany, France, and I think there are 3 shows in Greece. Then we’ll come to America for like 2 months, then we get about 2 weeks off, then we go down to Brazil and South America. We do all the countries this time – We’ll go back to Europe in November, and we’ll sleep in December. (Laughs)

Amanda: So then you’ll be in the US for just 2 months out of the tour?

James: Yeah, and once again, how can you say, this is the last time to play in these cities – We’re probably going to have to come back again.

Amanda: What kind of shows do you prefer playing, small venues or huge arenas?

James: The bigger the better!

Amanda: I have to ask, what’s it like playing for the Scorpions – I know it’s been a while for you, but they’ve been around for 40 years, so it has to be pretty cool to play in a band, that’s been around since you were a kid, right?

James: Oh it’s totally awesome, and Rudolph is like my hero he’s the best to play in a band with. It’s almost like we have little competitions to see who can kick each other’s ass – It’s the best! I get to sing with one of the best singers in the world, because I do a lot of backup vocals. And getting to sing with Klaus is just awesome – Honestly, it just doesn’t get any better than this. This is what I started out to do, and to spend the last few years with these guys has been totally awesome.

Amanda: So it’s safe to say, they influenced you as a drummer growing up?

James: When I was starting out in clubs back in the early 80’s, if you were a rock band, you played Scorpions covers. I already knew most of the songs, so it came together nicely when I met them, and it’s been going along just great.

Amanda: How did you get your big break as a drummer starting off?

James: I’m from Louisville Kentucky, and was playing in a band there, when I met Ronnie Montrose, and he got me and the singer, and flew us out to do a record in San Francisco for two weeks, and we did the Montrose Mean album, and that was in ’83-’84. I moved to Los Angeles in about ’87, and by then I was just dying to get out here – I joined Kingdom Come, and it was a brand new band, brand new deal, and we started that, and as they say, the rest is history.

Amanda: Very nice – I’d have to say that’s probably one of the best jobs you could get.

James: Heck yeah!

Amanda: What are you listening to these days, new music wise?

James: I like Nickleback, I like (believe it or not) Coldplay, and when I’m driving around downtown Los Angeles, I listen to country.

Amanda: That’s cool – It’s good to have a nice appreciation for all genres of music. Tell me a little bit about your other band, Kottak.

James: Originally we were called Krunk – Athena and I started the band years ago, and it was just for something fun, something to do, and it kind of grew on its own, and that’s something we hadn’t planned on. In 2006 we got a deal with a record label and put our album out in 2007, and that’s when we changed the name to Kottak. We have a brand new album that we just finished in October, and we signed a deal with CMM International. We’ve been talking to so many labels for months and this just finally felt right, with the right people. We’re kind of like Cheap Trick meets Green Day on a bad day.

Amanda: I love that – I did get to listen to a couple songs from the album Therupy – Where did you come up with the album name? I saw that you guys spelled it a little differently.

James: Well, our very first album is called Greatist Hits, and on the first album I spelled it “G-R-E-A-T-I-S-T”, and I didn’t even notice it was the wrong spelling… Drummers. (Laughs) It just stuck, so we did Therupy like that. Our new album is called Rock and Roll Forever, and we definitely did not spell that wrong.

Amanda: So it was pretty much just a joke then, to miss-spell it?

James: Exactly – Yea, but also the songs on Therupy were a little heavier, as far as the theme goes.

Amanda: Very cool. I read somewhere that Athena claims to have gotten no help on drumming from her brother Tommy Lee – Did she play drums before you two met, or was that something you had a helping hand in?

James: Well actually the day I met her was the very first show she ever did in her life. We played in L.A. at the Monsters of Rock, and after the show, this guy comes and goes ‘Dude man, what’s up!’ And it’s Tommy Lee. So we got to talking because he was really into Kingdom Come at the time, and he goes ‘Dude man, you know you seem really cool, you’d probably like my sister’, and he goes ‘She’s playing tonight down on Sunset Blvd’. So I went down there, thinking this is crazy, and Tommy met me at the door, and took me over and introduced me to mom & dad before I even met her, and we’ve kind of been together ever since. When she started drumming, Tommy had already pretty much moved out of the house when he was 17, and that’s when she says, he was just gone – it wasn’t that he didn’t want to help her. I’d help her, but honestly she’s really good, and she doesn’t need any help from me. She writes most of the lyrics, and I write most of the music, and it really works out quite well, and we love it. We did a three week tour in Europe back in February, and froze our asses off, but other than that, we’re looking forward to doing some summer shows in between the Scorpions tour.

Amanda: What made you decide to use your alter-ego, Jimmy Ratchitt in Kottak?

James: Well it kind of just puts me in a different frame of mind – I’ve been James Kottak the drummer for so long. It’s kind of like Alice Cooper – He’s Alice Cooper the man, but when he puts the make-up on, he becomes that character, and for me, it’s kind of the same way too, because I’m a singer and a guitarist in the band, and it makes me look at myself in a totally different way.

Amanda: You mentioned Athena comes up with most of your lyrics – Does anyone else contribute, or is it all her?

James: Athena does about 90%, but we also write with Tommy Hendrickson, who is the producer, and he co-wrote with us on the new album, so I’d say a third of the songs come from him, and the rest was Athena.

Amanda: What made you, after having such a successful drumming career, decide to kind of change gears, and play guitar, and be a front man?

James: Well I’ve always been a song writer, and this is just a good creative outlet for me. With the Scorpions, they hired me and said ‘hey, we need a drummer’, they didn’t ask for a song writer. I did co-write on about 4 songs, but I’m a drummer in that band. So I’ve just been writing all these songs, and we already have another 20 songs for the next Kottak album.

Amanda: So it’s a great way for you to release all your extra creativity then?

James: Exactly!