Kottak Attack !

In life as in behind his kit, James Kottak is always terribly restless. This child-like man looks around, ruffles his hair regularly and goas as far as searching my bag in the middle of the interview! He’s by far the one you’re most likely to meet during a show: he walks around, watches the roadies build the stage and meets his fans with great pleasure. By the way, you’ll soon be able to read the story of Scorpions’ French tour from the inside. And you’ll get enough gossip for a lifetime! From a musical point of view, the man is just as hyperactive. To quote the Nazis running after the Blues Brothers: « his file is two-mile long ».

Just a recent example: barely two months after Scorpions released Sting In The Tail, his band Kottak released Rock N Roll Forever, a very youthful punk rock album. Kottak sings and plays guitar, leaving the drums to his wife Athena, none other than Tommy Lee’s sister. Why? Because, as he puts it: « I look good when I play guitar! » .

Just like some people think (wrongly, if you ask me) that Scorpions’ split is nothing but a marketing move, you may find the sincerity of his answers doubtful. You may also find the drummer’s enthusiasm a little too politically correct. But it’s obvious that James Kottak loves what he does. This eternal teenager seems completely free, free to fulfill his every wish, free to yield to his whims and desires – in short, free to be himself without answering to anyone about it. That makes him a much-envied man.

« Dude, I feel like I got to the age of 22 or 25 and then just stopped. I think rock’n’roll really does keep you young. I think it’s the best therapy on earth! »

Radio Metal: James Kottak isn’t your real name, which is Jimmy Ratchitt. Where does the name James Kottak come from?

James Kottak : Actually, James Kottak is my real, and Jimmy Ratchitt is my alias. But I’ve been James Kottak the drummer for so long now that, when we started KOTTAK, my band, I was warming up in the dressing-room for the first show, and I was looking for my drumsticks, before it hit me that I was the singer/guitarist. A friend of mine always called me “J.R.”, ‘cause my full name is James Ray Kottak. Then he started to call me “Jimmy Ratchitt”, and I liked the name. Since I was doing the singing thing, I thought: “Maybe I need a character, to be more focused into being a singer, and not a drummer”. That’s where the Jimmy Ratchitt thing came from. It’s kinda like Alice Cooper putting on his make-up!

You’re American and, except for Pawel Maciwoda who’s Polish, all three other members of SCORPIONS are German. During all these years, were you ever the victim of some jokes as the American of the band?

It’s funny, « cause they do make fun of the way I talk sometimes. I’m a typical all-American guy, pretty much cracking jokes all the time, laughing around, goofing off. The three Germans tend to be a little bit more conservative, and I tend to be more outlandish! But it works well, like a family. It’s really wonderful.

With your band KOTTAK, you play straightforward rock’n’roll with a punkish edge. Do you need that raw energy?

I’ve always been a hyperactive, upbeat kind of a guy. I love hard rock, I love metal, I like all kinds of music. But I’ve always been really attracted to bands like CHEAP TRICK in the 70s. In the 80s, I spent so much time around metal and hard rock. Then the 90s came, and GREEN DAY released their album Dookie, and that really caught my ear. I always like THE RAMONES, that kind of stuff, but that really inspired me to starting writing a different kind of music. It led to this. We put out the first KOTTAK album around 2000, and that was really angry punk music. The second album had a more serious tone about it, and now, Rock & Roll Forever is more fun. It’s upbeat, it’s a blast, it’s sunny, it’s bright, and we love it!

Actually, there is something very youthful and innocent in your new album Rock & Roll Forever. It almost could have been made by teenagers. Do you still feel like a teenager?

Dude, I feel like I got to the age of 22 or 25 and then just stopped. I think rock’n’roll really does keep you young. I think it’s the best therapy on earth!

If we compare the two bands, although SCORPIONS has many rock’n’roll tunes, it is more subtle, with a lot of ballads, especially since the middle of the 90s. Is playing straight-ahead rock’n’roll something you’ve been missing in SCORPIONS?

No, not at all, because in SCORPIONS, we do play straight-ahead rock’n’roll. To me, songs like « Raised On Rock » or « Sting In The Tail » are straight-ahead rock. The KOTTAK stuff, you could almost call it punk’n’roll! It’s the best of both worlds.

« I’m a hyper fired-up kind of a guy, and I can really only sing one way: very loud and very aggressive. I don’t have a subtle voice. I think that goes back to the days of playing in cover bands, where I was always singing BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN or BOB SEGER. Anything that ruined your voice, I sang it! »

During SCORPIONS’ concerts, you sing and act like a showman. Did this desire to be in the spotlight push you to create KOTTAK and sing as well as play guitar? Were you itching to become a frontman?

With every band I’ve ever been in, I always sang. I was singing and playing in cover bands in bars years ago, I just always really enjoyed singing. This was kinda like the next logical step. Athena pushed me in that direction years ago, when we started playing shows in 2000. I kind of naturally evolved in what it is now.

You’re singing in the band KOTTAK and as far as I remember you only sang twice in Scorpions, except for backing vocals. That was on the songs « Du Bist So Schmutzig » from Eye To Eye and « Slave Me » of the new album. Would you have liked to do a little bit more vocals in SCORPIONS?

Of course. But SCORPIONS has a great singer named Klaus Meine, and he doesn’t need me! But actually, on Sting In The Tail, I sing on every single song, I do backing vocals and stuff. KOTTAK is a creative outlet for me, I get to sing on every song. And Athena sings, too.

You did some rap parts on this two SCORPIONS songs I mentioned. What is your connection to that type of music?

I don’t know. As a drummer, I’m very aggressive, I’m a hyper fired-up kind of a guy, and I can really only sing one way: very loud and very aggressive. I don’t have a subtle voice. I think that goes back to the days of playing in cover bands, where I was always singing BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN or BOB SEGER. Anything that ruined your voice, I sang it!

Did you suggest rap parts for Scorpions that in the end you didn’t keep because you were afraid of losing the identity your oldest fans were used to?

No. When you’re recording in the studio, the producer and the band have so much input. In many ways, I follow what I’m told to do, basically.

So you’re not frustrated?

Not at all. I have KOTTAK, that’s my creative outlet. I’m never frustrated!

You joined SCORPIONS at the time of Eye II Eye, a very special album that saw the band taking a very modern turn. What do you think about this album now?

I think the songs on Eye II Eye are great. I think the way they were recorded missed the mark just a little bit, but the songs were awesome. At this time, in the 90s, a lot of bands were going through the same experiments, using loops and stuff. I still think the songs are great.

« I’m not the best guitarist, but I look great when I play guitar! »

Does being in an extremely famous band mean you have to adhere strictly to one musical style? Are you less free to play whatever you want when you have millions of fans to please?

Well, SCORPIONS is SCORPIONS. When I’m with SCORPIONS, I play SCORPIONS, and I love it. I would not change a thing in the world, I’m so proud and privileged to be part of this gang. It’s not just like I’m in some band, they’re my best friends and family. We have dinner together, we travel together, and if I have a problem, I talk to one of them. Of course, with SCORPIONS, we can’t stray off our musical path. I never feel like I’m forced to play anything. I want to play, I want to support the songs, make them as powerful as possible, and give the fans what they want.

At the end of Rock & Roll Forever, there is a punkish cover of SCORPIONS’ song « Holiday ». Why did you want to cover this specific song, and why cover a SCORPIONS song? You must play a hundred shows a year with them and I’m sure this song is in every set. Don’t you have enough of it?

When you come to a KOTTAK show, there are always SCORPIONS fans there, and you can hear them scream: « Hey, play « Rock You Like A Hurricane’, blah blah blah ». So years ago, we started playing « Holiday » as an homage to SCORPIONS, just to satisfy a lot of people. It kinda stuck, it became our thing. So it’s expected we play « Holiday » every single time at KOTTAK shows, and the fans all sing along. We asked the fans what they wanted to hear on this album, and they all said: « Put « Holiday’ on it ».

Aren’t you bored of playing that song?

Not at all! I’m never bored of playing any song. I’m thankful that I’m healthy, and strong enough, and still going!

Is KOTTAK going to become your main project when SCORPIONS end their career?

It has been my main project for the last few years. When I’m not doing SCORPIONS, I automatically flip a switch and I’m doing KOTTAK. It’d be great spending six months in the year doing SCORPIONS, but then I’ll always be playing drums with someone. I’ve already been asked to do drums for a few people, and I hope to do so.

You play drums In SCORPIONS, while you play guitar in KOTTAK. What are you most comfortable with, and what do you enjoy the most? Drums or guitar?

I have to say I’m more comfortable playing drums in SCORPIONS. In KOTTAK, I’m more of a singer wearing a guitar! I wrote all the songs on guitar. I’m not the best guitarist, but I look great when I play guitar!

« Some guys goof off with their wives and do whatever; we get together and play rock’n’roll and tour the world. »

Your wife Athena, who is here right now, plays drums in the band KOTTAK. What is it like to be working in a band with your own wife?

Athena : It’s wonderful!

James : Oh, man, it sucks ! No, seriously, it’s really awesome, because we get to hang out together. Some guys goof off with their wives and do whatever; we get together and play rock’n’roll and tour the world.

Athena is actually the younger sister of Tommy Lee. Is your brother as crazy as the media say he is?

Athena :Yes!

James : I have to say, over the years, he’s done some pretty crazy, outrageous stuff, but he’s been more of a workaholic in the last five years. I think he’s calmed down a bit, though he’s still a crazy guy.

That makes a lot of drummers in the family! Is there any kind of competition sometimes?

No, but we have a new addition: our son Miles. He’s a drummer as well, and he’s got his own band, called BLACK OUT101. Watch out, « cause here they come!

Let’s talk about your performance in Taratata two months ago. I heard that you hadn’t warned anyone that you were going to have a break in the middle of Rock You Like A Hurricane. Is it true ?

There was some confusion on that, and I’m not really sure what happened. All I know is I played the right part, and I don’t know what happened. I heard the show was good, but I haven’t seen it yet.

After the medley, you climbed on your kit. Did you receive any comments after that ?

Not that I’m aware of. I climbed on my kit all the time, I hope I didn’t break any rules!

Are you tired of hearing: « Why did SCORPIONS decide to end their career? » when your statement on the subject was extremely clear?

At least people are interested enough to ask. It’s just time to say goodbye. For Rudolph and Klaus, it’s been 40 years, 30 years for Matthias. For me, when this is done, it’s gonna be 18 years. I guess it’s enough. Sometimes it’s just time to move forward.

Interview prepared by Spaceman & Metal’o Phil and conducted in Paris, the 20th of May, 2010.

Kottak’s Myspace : www.myspace.com/Kottak

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