In 2001, Collective Soul fired their longtime guitarist, Ross Childress, and the band’s guitar tech stepped into the role as lead guitarist for the band. But Joel Kosche was influencing the tone of the band long before becoming a member of the band. Joel was hot rodding and building custom amps for the band since he started as a tech in 1996. In the following interview Joel talks about the secret to the Collective Soul tone, the latest full length album from the band (Rabbit), as well has his debut solo record.
Joel Kosche: We recorded it at Ed’s house - he has a house on a lake in South Carolina. We would all convene there for a week and hash out the songs. Typically Ed writes the song on an acoustic guitar and then we take his riffs and build a song. We’ve got the drums set up in the living room and we work through the arrangements and come up with some more elaborate electric versions of stuff. There was one song on there that Steve and I worked on together called “You”, so that was cool. I did a few of the solos and little guitar parts in my studio at home but for the most part it was all recorded right there.
Guitar.com: So most of your songs are written acoustically and adapted to electric?
Kosche: Yeah, lately that’s been how things have come together on the past few albums. Ed is the primary songwriter and he will be the one on the back of the bus with an acoustic guitar strumming away and then what he brings in we decide if we want to take it in a more rock direction or pop or whatever.
Guitar.com: Is it a conscious decision for you guys whether or not you want a song to be played on the radio or have a certain appeal to it or do you let the pieces fall where they may?
Kosche: We pretty much the pieces fall where they may. I don’t think we conscious try to make things marketable but Ed is very pop minded and that’s how a lot of the songs come out. Its not like he has to think about making hooks and making radio friendly music - its just comes out like that sometimes.
Guitar.com: You just put out a solo record on June 15th. Is that something you’d like to do more of?
Kosche: Its one of those things where Im always writing songs and a lot of the songs on that record I wrote before I joined this band. The songwriting bu is not something you can turn off. But a lot of the stuff on that record doesn’t really fit the Collective Soul sound. That record was a home for all the songs I wrote that didn’t fit any other musical project.
Guitar.com: Do you feel a certain sense of freedom when you’re making your own record?
Kosche: Oh yeah, I produced and engineered it as well. The trade off is that you tend to do a lot of second guessing and things like that because you’re a little more self conscious. So you end up wasting a lot of time with little things like that but at the end of the day you have something that’s you did exactly the way you want. Right now im doing everything all on my own. Self financed and everything. The music industry has changed so much these days its very dynamic so I wouldn’t rule out getting a record label but Im not really looking for one right now. I worked too hard on it to relinquish any kind of control over it.
Guitar.com: Do you feel any pressure from labels when working with Collective Soul?
Kosche: On this last album we partnered up with Roadrunner Records. Collective Soul hasnt been on a major label since Atlantic Records back in the day, we’ve been doing the independent thing. So we tried to partner up with Roadrunner on this one and it was an experiment. There were certain things that were good about it and certain things that were not so great about it. They didnt really pressure us into anything but you certainly have more opinions that you have to deal with from the label. You hope you’re doing the right thing when you try it their way but we’re probably going to go back the independent route next time. We’re not an upcoming band - we’ve been around the block and we all have strong opinions to the direction the band should go in and how we wanted to be presented.
Guitar.com: You started out as a guitar tech for the band. How did you feel about the transition into the band?
Kosche: Well I had always been in bands and I had my day job - that was my source of income. Every struggling musician knows what that’s like. So I became a guitar tech so that I could work within the music world while I played music. I used to guitar tech for Steve Winwood too so I did pretty well doing that but I found that the touring life takes you away from having your own band. So I stopped that and Collective Soul called me up in 2001 when they fired their guitar player and asked me to fill in. A week later we were in Australia doing the Goodwill Games and it was a whirlwind of drama for a while. But I knew the songs just from working with the guys in the studio. From a technical standpoint it was a comfortable transition - I learned all the songs in about a week. The personal part wasn’t easy. Its always hard to loose a band member and have someone replace them.
Guitar.com: What is the secret to your tone with Collective Soul?
Kosche: Ed is very into experimenting with different amps and pedals - so anything goes at anytime. Every song might be a different setup on the records. I always push to use the amps and the guitars I like which boils down to my MJ Mirage Guitars and I usually use a homemade amp that I built that I call the Sugarfuzz, which is this hot rodded Marshall/VOX type thing. Its like a Marshall and a Vox smashed together. I also use amps by a company called Splawn which have a very hot-rodded Fender tone. And then I use AC-30s. Whenever I can that’s what I use and on my solo record that what I used.
Guitar.com: How long have you been messing around with building amps?
Kosche: About 12 years - going back to my guitar tech days. Ed had some old VOX AC-30s from the 60s and they were always blowing up so I figured I should learn how to fic that stuff. So I bought some books and one thing led to another and then I was tinkering with them and modding them, putting different gain stages in, stuff like that.
Guitar.com: Its kind of like an addiction in a way.
Kosche: Yeah it is. Its like you’re chasing after this magical tone and by the time you get it you’re so convoluted that you want something else. You end up chasing your tail a lot but I love it. All my amps at home have the wires sticking out of them and they pretty much stay that way because Im always changing something.
Guitar.com: How would you recommend the average musician go about hot-rodding amps?
Kosche: Well that’s one of those things, people tend to get hung up on mods they want to do to an amp. But really you need to just listen to your sound and ask yourself what it’s missing or what you want more of and then go from there. Because it can be so different from one person to the next. I’d also recommend finding a good tech somewhere who is familiar with that kind of stuff and get an idea of exactly how to do it and get that sound you’re looking for.
Joel Kosche Rig
ErnieBall Volume pedal
Digitech Wammy pedal
Morley Bad Horsie 2 Wah pedal
GCX switcher system
Boss OC-2 octave
MXR EVH phaser
Zvex Fuzz pedal
Line 6 (green) rackmount delay
2 - Vox AC30 Custom Classics (set up clean and into the top boost channels)
*Note: Both Splawn heads power Splawn 4x12 cabs (loaded with Eminence Greenback-type speakers) in a true stereo configuration.