Joel Kosche’s music career has been a long and interesting journey through several different phases of rock music. His accomplishments range from being in the eclectic Jovian Storm, to being a touring guitar tech, playing guitar in Collective Soul and doing his own solo project! Joel will be one of the clinicians hosted at the 3rd annual SEGAS, make sure you make it to his clinic!!
SEGAS: First we would like to thank you for taking the time to do this interview with us. We are very excited to have you at SEGAS this year! How long have you been active in the music industry and how did you get started?
Kosche: Well, I started playing guitar when I was thirteen and was in and out of various bands from around age sixteen or so. I never was able to make any real money in the music industry until I took a job as a guitar tech back in 1997 and that was for the band Collective Soul. I did that gig off and on until 2001; I even started working for other bands too. I was actually Steve Winwood’s guitar tech for a few weeks which was very cool. Anyway, when Collective Soul fired their lead guitar player I got the call to fill in which eventually turned into a full-time gig and I joined the band officially in 2003.
SEGAS: If you had to identify one person as a major key influence in your desire to play music, who would it be?
Kosche: I think the desire to play music came to me naturally. I’m amazed at how little babies will bob their heads and move to music without anyone showing them how to – I can’t help but to believe that music is really in us all from birth. I grew up knowing that I liked Elvis and later as I got older my brother and I would paper the walls of our bedroom with posters from our favorite and now classic Rock bands. I knew that playing guitar was cool and out of all of them, Jimi Hendrix was the coolest to me. The upside down-backwards guitar, the crazy clothes and hair just really struck me. My brother had a Sears electric guitar that he gave up on playing and I ended up beating on it. It wasn’t until I saw my best friend’s cousin tune the thing up and play it that the switch just flipped on for real. He played a D chord and I thought it was just magic, that beat up guitar could actually make music! From there I started learning out of a Mel Bay book and picking up anything I could from other kids that were on the same quest.
SEGAS: What’s on your playlist right now?
Kosche: Of course there’s all my favorite classic bands that I love: Queen, Pink Floyd, AC/DC, Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Kansas, Van Halen etc… Then there’s more recent stuff from Aimee Mann, Foo Fighters, Muse and oh yes the new Cult record is awesome!
SEGAS: It’s been rumored that you’ve built several of the guitars you have used on stage, is there any validity to this? If so, what types of parts do you typically go for?
Kosche: Yes, I’ve built two original-designed guitars over the last couple of years. I call them “Sefton” guitars which is my son’s name. It all started when the people over at MJ Guitars wanted to work together on a signature model for me. So they were asking me about what kinds of woods I like and the electronics finishes etc… It made me sit down and really think about what I really want out of a guitar. What is it that makes the thing sound the way it does and what do I want it to sound like? What makes a guitar more aesthetically pleasing to me? What makes a guitar play or feel better to me? Every guitar player knows what I’m talking about; there are some guitars that just “right” and they become your favorite. You go through a bunch of different stuff but then there’s always your “baby”, the one that’s just right. I became obsessed with learning about what makes a guitar “right” to me and that pointed me into learning how to build a guitar from scratch. I’ve always done little woodworking projects like furniture, cabinets etc… so I’m not new to that world and I’ve got lots of tools and machines that I’ve amassed over the years. At this point I think I’ve done a good job at making sure that Stew-Mac doesn’t go out of business anytime soon! I bought a book called “Make Your Own Electric Guitar” by Melvyn Hiscock that’s considered the “Bible” for someone taking their first foray into the world of being a luthier. I decided to build two guitars at once so I bought pre-planned pieces of swamp ash and mahogany for the bodies, maple for the necks and I bought pre-slotted ebony blanks for the fretboards. I turned our dining room into an R and D department, something my wife was not too thrilled about! Where we normally sit down to have a nice meal was now a drafting table and that’s where I drew up a full size plan of the guitar. I made templates and jigs for almost every part and process so the first guitar actually took me about six or seven months to complete. I did something a little different cosmetically on the swamp ash guitar in that I used aluminum for the binding and some of the other parts like the pickup rings. They both turned out really great and I learned a hell of a lot about how different components influence the overall tone of the guitar. As an experiment, I built one guitar with a swamp ash body and the other one with a mahogany body with everything else being the same including the pickups and electronics. So what I found was the body wood alone does indeed affect the tone a lot more than I would have thought. I’ve got a few different MJs that have different wood combinations also so I knew that the wood contributes to the tone but I just didn’t know how exactly. Anyway, you’ve heard it before and it’s true when they say a good sounding-guitar starts with a good recipe. As far as the electronics go, I use Seymour Duncan pickups and instead of a conventional tone control I put in a rotary switch that hard wires different cap values to ground. Some of the positions are a subtle high end roll-off and then they get increasingly more filtered sounding and bassy. I used Sperzel locking tuners and a Schaller roller bridge.
SEGAS: Aside from your self-made axes, what is your go-to guitar?
Kosche: My MJs! I really love those guitars. I have a bunch of them but I usually come back to my favorite ol’ trusty black Mirage that’s had the finish worn off. It’s a very light all-mahogany one with an ebony fretboard. It’s very warm, almost too warm in some cases but it really helps when you are dealing with high gain amps that have that high end stuff mixed in with the distortion. In the studio I use another one with P90s that’s great. Now I’m really excited about this new signature model that we’re cooking up. it’s a Mirage also. I’ve been playing the prototype on our current tour and I think it sounds amazing! It really is the result and culmination of all my experiments and what I learned from building my own instruments but the difference is that it’s built by the master luthier Mark Johnson.
SEGAS: Collective Soul is a long way from your earlier, more complex stuff in Jovian Storm. What types of challenges did you encounter in the transition from progressive music to more subtle, alternative/post-grunge rock?
Kosche: Jesus, man you’re going way back! I was in my early twenties when I played in that band so when I think back at that stuff I just kind of laugh a little. Musically I was just so immature, you know? As a band we were all over the place- progressive, pop, older eighties-sounding stuff, I mean really anything except of course what was popular at the time! We were anything but grunge which was the flavor of the day. The truth is I didn’t start writing songs that were even remotely good until I started singing. When you incorporate singing into your playing it helps to map out what you’re capable of doing and you learn what your style is going to be by default. You also start thinking about the big picture when it comes to writing songs and not just guitar riffs. I really didn’t start coming into my own until I formed the band “Steep” along with the Monty Conner, the bass player from Jovian Storm. We put that band together around 1999 and kept it going until about 2003 or so when it became really hard to play full-time for Collective Soul and do my own band thing too.
SEGAS: Tell us a little bit about your newest solo record, “Fight Years.” What was your primary source of inspiration for this record?
Kosche: “Fight Years” is first and foremost a guitar-driven Rock record. The songs are fully-realized arrangements complete with vocals, meaning that it’s not a noodle-fest instrumental guitar record with programmed drums, etc… As much as I love the guitar, that’s just not where I’m at these days. Some of the songs that ended up on the record go back maybe ten years to when I was playing with Steep and then there’s songs that I wrote all the way up to right before we mixed it. It’s almost like a journey through my musical life and the lyrics reflect that as well. Music is something that I love dearly but it’s been a long, extremely hard road for me as a musician. I never saw a paycheck until I was in my thirties, I mean when you factor in the rehearsal space and the costs for recording, etc…I’ve always had to pay out to play music. There were so many times when I would ask myself “How much longer can you pursue this?” and “What else can you be happy doing?” Every serious musician knows what I’m talking about, you love music so much but at some point you have to decide when it’s time to get a “real” job and admit to yourself that it’s probably not going to happen like you dreamed it would. It’s almost like a damn curse or something! Anyway, on the record I do all the lead vocals, most of the bass and of course all the guitar stuff. Ryan Hoyle who played for Collective Soul and Paul Rodgers did all the drums and I had a few “guest” musicians on there as well. I had Steve Walsh from Kansas do background vocals on a couple of songs which was a big thrill for me and I had Ed Roland from Collective Soul do a background vocal on a song that I wrote in-part about the passing of his father. My sister Tirza who’s an amazing violinist and her husband DaVid who’s an incredible cellist played strings on a song. Monty Conner and Bryan Smith from my old band Steep played on a couple of songs too. I self-produced and co-engineered the record while I worked mainly out of my home studio. Shawn Grove, who has worked with Collective Soul did a lot of the engineering and also mixed the record.
SEGAS: You’ve managed to cultivate what seems like a pretty distinct tone for your solo record, what kind of process did you go through while trying to find that perfect sound for this project?
Kosche: I think if anything, a lot of it has to do with my homemade amp and those MJ guitars. I’ve built four amps so far – that’s another addictive thing that I’m way into. Oh and of course there’s a ton of SEGAS parts in them! I also used a Splawn Quickrod for a lot of the rhythm guitars and handful of my go-to effects. That being said, I still feel like the tone thing is really in the hands and what you hear in your own head. Meaning, I could play through some other amps and guitars and it would probably sound pretty close because that’s how I hear things and so that’s how I dial it up.
SEGAS: I find it particularly interesting that you decided to keep digital sounds off of this record at a time when it seems like every new record has some sort of synth present. It seems to produce a much more organic feel to the music. What was your basis for this decision?
Kosche: It really wasn’t intentional at first. I actually enjoy tinkering around on keyboards and stuff but after a while I realized that I enjoyed the process of coming up with neat, pad-sounding things on the guitar more than firing up a keyboard plugin. I used an e-bow for a lot of things and then I have a couple of effects that I like including leslie pedals and whammy pedals…various delays, etc…
SEGAS: It seems like you were able to have a lot of fun in producing your solo record by bringing in friends and family and putting them on the record. Can we expect to see any of these folks performing live with you?
Kosche: The band that I’ve put together to get behind this record is: Cheney Brannon who also played drums with Collective Soul, Steve Mckinley on bass and Bryan Smith on rhythm guitar. As much I’d love to have some guests out, right now this is the current band lineup.
SEGAS: What are your intentions for your solo career in conjunction with your duties in Collective Soul?
Kosche: Well I can’t make myself not write songs, the creative side of my brain never really stops so I’ll always need an outlet which will be more solo records. It really just boils down to having the time and energy to do it. I’m actually starting the recording process for a new record right now.
SEGAS: Collective Soul’s last record was in ’09. Do you and the rest of the guys have anything planned for the near future?
Kosche: Well we’re finishing up a tour right now and I suppose at some point we’ll do another record. It would likely be a 2013 release.
SEGAS: What types of things can we expect to learn from you at your SEGAS clinic this year?
Kosche: This is the first time I’ve done any type of official guitar clinic so I’m a little nervous to be honest! A few weeks ago I went out to a music store outside of San Francisco and we sort of debuted the new MJ signature guitar and I played a couple of jams, talked shop etc… I really enjoyed it. I suppose I’ll do something similar. I’m not an instrumental guitar-shred kind of guy so I’ll probably play some of my songs from the solo record or maybe do something demonstrating some of the things I do within the parts or solos. I love to play but what I do is always connected to a song so I’m not the kind of guy who can just sit there and solo for hours over the same change. What I really look forward to is just rapping about some of the technical stuff like building amps and guitars, how I like to use different effects and maybe a little bit about the business. I’d love to take questions on the recording side of things or what it was like to be a guitar tech. Doing this clinic will definitely be a learning experience for me too!
SEGAS: We are all really looking forward to your clinic this year at SEGAS as well as your performance! Thanks again for taking the time to do this interview with us. See you in September!