Greg Koch - Rhymes with Chalk
How do you say it? Greg's comical answering machine message spells it out once and for all. "Hi you've reached Greg "Rhymes with Chalk" Koch. You may know Greg Koch as the monster clinic guy who travels North America demonstrating the CyberTwin and CyberDeluxe amps on behalf of Fender. He's hard to miss. He's about six-foot-seven, he doubles as a standup comedian, and he'll kick anyone's ass on guitar. If you haven't already seen Greg do his thing at your local music store, get out there and prepare to be amazed and inspired.
But better yet, check out Greg in concert. He has been expanding his concert touring schedule further and further from his Milwaukee home since the release of his 2001 Favored Nations debut, The Grip. And with his latest effort for Favored Nations, Radio Free Gristle, only adding to his reputation as one of the hottest axe-slingers alive today, you're more likely than ever to be able to catch Greg at a venue near you.
In this detailed Guitar.com interview, Greg talks about his very popular clinics, making money doing sessions, his favorite gear, and of course, the twisted amalgamation of blues/rock/surf/jazz/honky-tonk that fires his original music into the stratosphere.
Guitar.com: Hey Greg it's Adam with Guitar.com
Greg Koch: How the heck are you?
Guitar.com: Pretty good. Are you up in Appleton today?
Koch: I am indeed. Beautiful Appleton, Wisconsin.
Guitar.com: Is it?
Koch: It's quasi-beautiful. It's not quite as fragrant as Milwaukee with all the factories and such down there. There is usually a pungent scent in the air. Appleton sometimes gets the waft of the paper mills which is sometimes equally as foul.
Guitar.com: That got to be nice, though, somewhat reminiscent of your home in the city that beer built. Where are you playing tonight?
Koch: At a place called Mill Creek. It's kind of a festive establishment. And there should be plenty of individuals out raising all kinds of hell.
Guitar.com: Should be. Do you do more clinics than shows these days?
Koch: Well it certainly was that way last year. This year is a little different in the fact that Fender is taking quite an interest in taking the whole band on the road to do these clinics, and now I've got a national agent that will actually book shows in and around the clinic dates. So it actually is going to work hand in glove.
Tonight is a regular club date. When the record company really wanted us to play out quite a bit in the region the first month the CD came out to try to make as big a splash as we could. So I kept up my end of the bargain and booked up every corner of Cheeseland. So tonight is the Fox Valley Tour - we're doing Appleton and then Oshkosh on Saturday, which is going to be a good times and great oldies. Actually the place tonight is very cool - Appleton is a pretty cool town and this club is kind of a cool House of Blues-type establishment. We've always done very well there so it should be a good time.
Guitar.com: How long are your shows?
Koch: Well I am brutal. I've been doing 3-1/2 hour sets and people go, 'Why do you play so long?' Well, I don't have to talk to anybody. It depends. I like playing straight through to be honest, but tonight we'll probably do two 75s or two 90s depending on my point of view. [Editor's note to you youngsters who can't play that long without a break: Greg means 75 or 90 minute sets.] Just so we can stop and sell more CD's and sign whatever and what have you's, that's usually what we like to do. We've got a wealth of material and it's impossible to play it all in one night, so we mix it up and play whatever comes off the top of my head pretty much. And away we go.
Guitar.com: Do you make set lists or do you just go for it?
Koch: Well we just play. Sometimes I'll make a set list but not really in terms of order, just sometimes I forget tunes so sometimes I'll just put a master list down there which I can draw from. At this point it's getting to be a ridiculous quantity of tunes. Obviously I'm trying to do as much for the new record as possible and still play the clubs and do the cro-magnan favorites that I like to wield out. I've got all kind of strange little medleys and things I've put together. There's a Dick Dale meets Jimmy Page kind of "Miserlou" meets "Dazed and Confused" thing that always gets the kids jumping.
Koch: And then there's a twisted country version of "She's So Heavy" by the Beatles that goes into a Santana meets the Yardbirds meets the Stones little diversion. All with of course tongue firmly in cheek. But it's done in fun and the kids love it. Bless 'em.
Guitar.com: Do you have any live recordings out?
Koch: I actually just recorded last weekend. I had done a CD a few years ago called "Double the Grizzle," and it was a half studio, half live thing. It's not currently available here although there's going to be a bunch of that stuff - I've got a record coming out in Europe in the fall that will have some of that stuff on it. There's too many Hendrix tunes on there and dealing with the Hendrix family in terms of licensing and all that kind of stuff is a little challenging, so in Europe I'll let them deal with it. So that's how that works.
Guitar.com: I consider you to be a person that has mastered a whole bunch of divergent styles: some country-ish stuff, some bluesy stuff, some honky-tonk type stuff, some surf stuff. How did you pull all these styles together?
Koch: Well basically, the modus operandi that was always in the back of my mind was kind of this overbearing Catholic guilt thing from my parents - first of all being a musician in the first place, then them saying, 'If you're going to be a musician you'd better be as well-rounded as possible or your going to work in a car wash.' My dad was an attorney so he kind of beat into me that if you're going to do it you're going to do X, Y and Z or else you're going to be destitute and miserable. So, with that kind of dysfunction lurking in the background I pretty much put together things that all kind of made sense in some weird way.
Like when I started with the blues stuff, first of all, it was because I was into Hendrix and I was into Clapton, and I read who they were into. And then I listened to Muddy Waters, B.B. King, and Albert King. And I listened to those people and didn't just blindly say, 'I like them all' because my heroes liked them. I specifically gravitated to the ones that made sense to me. Like the blues guys, Albert King is my favorite, B.B. King, some Buddy Guy, some Freddie King stuff and so on and so forth. Stuff that kind of fit into my mutant parameters of what I thought was cool.
And then when I got that Clapton record in 8th grade, when that "Just One Night" record came out and Albert Lee was playing on that live record and I heard that, needless to say, I was like, 'What the hell is going on there?' Because all the guitar players I had been into up to then had been or were pentatonic warriors of one sort or another and here this guy was playing a reaching chord change and doing little nuance things I just had no clue about. So then I started getting into Albert Lee and right about the same time I started to get more into some jazz stuff.
Then I got into the Allman Brothers heavily from like my freshman year in high school of course, you know all these records by then were already ten years passe and for whatever reason I started to get into that stuff. Live at the Fillmore was like the lick bible for my freshman and sophomore years in high school, and then one thing lead to another. I started listening to more Albert Lee and then sometime in my junior year in high school that Ricky Skaggs record came out, Highways and Heartaches, and Ray Flack was on there. I heard that and I said 'What's going on here?'
And then I got into Larry Carlton. I went to this jazz camp where I got a scholarship when I was in high school, and the guitar player up there recognized the fact that I was into all this blues stuff and he said, 'Well you should try to sophisticate your blues playing a little bit by learning to play these changes a la Larry Carlton . I heard Larry Carlton and I thought, 'Well here's a way that I can be able to play blues perhaps a little more intelligently.' So I started to get into that.
That led me to Mike Stern and eventually to Allan Holdsworth, Scott Henderson, and John Scofield, and these types of people. And I would just ping pong back and forth. I would get a record that would particularly inspire me and I would rape it for all I could, and then I'd hear about another new guy or an old guy that I finally got copies of the record - there was plenty of that, especially when I was in high school, because CDs hadn't come out yet and all the records were out of print. I'd hear about a lot of people, read Guitar Player magazine and hear about X, Y, and Z and fantasize about finally being able to find a copy of it.
Jimmy Bryant was one of those guys. I finally got all the Jimmy Bryant stuff; Jerry Reed, and all that kind of stuff. And then I finally got all the old blues stuff that I'd always wanted. A bunch of T- Bone Walker stuff, Earl Hooker. For slide stuff I was into Ry Cooder, David Lindley, not to mention of course Elmore James, Duane Allman, and all that kind of crap. So it was just kind of a non-stop obsession of just ping ponging between different stuff that I listened to that I wanted to incorporate into my own sick little stew.
And all kind of being cognizant of the fact that I didn't want to sound like anybody. I wanted to pay respects to the people I thought were my personal favorites but at the same time I knew just sounding blindly like somebody else would eventually get you nowhere. In this day and age, maybe that's not right.
Guitar.com: What do you work on in your own time these days? Do you have any of your own time?
Koch: I really don't to be honest. It's weird - I don't have as much time because I've got young kids and I'm traveling all over the place and when I'm not trying to work on record stuff and trying to get stuff together that way, or dealing with some kind of promotional endeavor, I'm writing these books for Hal Leonard and finishing up that kind of stuff. It's a pile, not that I'm complaining, but once in a while you just kind of go 'What day is it?' When I do get time, it seems it's a lot more constructive. I will have heard something that I really want to do so I'll work on that - I went out and saw Derek Trucks the other day and I stole things left and right, bless his heart. That was very inspiring - it's been a long time since you could go out and see somebody that is not just tiredly beating the same old bag but is trying to raise the bar a little bit. It was an awesome, awesome show.
I'll be working on some slide in the very near future. I've always said I've had the slide in the arsenal, on the latest record there's a bit more slide than on previous records, but it's the only part of my plan that I feel that I'm still kind of stuck in what others have done as opposed to taking it someplace new. And I'm going to be working on that a little bit. There's some different ideas I've got in that regard, so we'll see. It will be a slide world coming up.
Guitar.com: Radio Free Gristle, your second release on Steve Vai's Favored Nations label, is a pretty interesting project, especially with all of your segues in between.
Koch: Yeah, I had a good time with them.
Guitar.com: What brought that all up?
Koch: Well, it was kind of motivated from a couple of different things. First of all, what was weird was hooking up with Steve Vai's label. Predominately my stuff in the past has not been all instrumental, I've always had vocal tunes involved. Initially I had a lot more vocal tunes, but when I started to do more stuff for Fender and the only vehicle for me to travel nationally and internationally was doing clinics where, clearly, bursting into song is not really the point, I stuck to more the instrumental line of thinking.
The Grip [Editor's note: Koch's first Favored Nations disc, released in 2001.] was made up of all the best instrumental tunes off all my other recordings, which had a bunch of vocal tunes on them. So after The Grip was released I was writing all these instrumental tunes and so I put a bunch of these together. I recorded a bunch here in Milwaukee and there was some kind of rush, one of the guys at the label said, 'Well you know, The Grip is all old stuff, you need new stuff for us to promote.' Well, you know it may be old to people in Wisconsin, but it's new to everybody else. Somehow I thought there was some kind of marketing magic in what this guy was saying and I thought I had to go and record stuff right away.
So I went in for three days and recorded about 13 new tunes - they were all instrumentals - and Vai heard it and he's like, 'You know, I like a lot of the stuff, but you know it's missing that raw abandon that you had from The Grip.' I said, 'OK, you want abandon, I'll give you abandon.' So then I went out and recorded more stuff with the Mother Ship. And so I had these two kind of different sounding collections of tunes. When I was talking to Steve one day about what he preferred, and asked if he had any input on direction, I mean I had my own ideas but just wanted to get his two cents, he just basically said, 'You know, you're never going to get any airplay anyway because if you knew what it took to get airplay on rock radio these days, you'd just quit.'
I said, 'Well that's great,' so I guess what I'll do is make my own radio show. Part of the whole shtick that I do in these clinics is that it's as much the humor as it is the playing. I go off on a bunch of different tangents and so on and so forth. Clearly when I play with the band the humor thing is very much there. So I wanted to be able to capture, not only the implied humor in the music, which not everyone catches, but also having some of these little things in between tunes. I did a couple of them just off the top of my head and Steve heard them and was all for it. He said, 'Do the whole record like that if you want.'
And that's what I proceeded to do. I either made up little snippets that had something directly to do with the tune, or they had absolutely nothing to do with anything whatsoever. I just had a little fun with it. Then I had this buddy of mine that I went to high school with who is a political cartoonist and asked is there any way you can do like Mad Magazine-esqe type caricatures of me for the cover. I gave him the ideas and he did it. For all intents and purposes I probably made something that probably frightens the vast majority of people.
Guitar.com: I love the picture on the inside of you with the long blond Robert Plant hair and shirt.
Koch: Yeah, good old Bob Plant.
Guitar.com: When you do these clinics for Fender - I've seen you do one at NAMM when the Cyber Twin first came out - was I seeing something similar to what you do in the stores?
Koch: Certainly, that was the shtick I did
Guitar.com: That was really more selling the amp. Is that what you do in the stores or are you doing more player's clinics?
Koch: It's a pretty good balance. I talk a lot more about technique stuff at this point, but I also talk about the rig. I don't do it as much as give [general] information about the amp per se as it is about how do you use it and why do you want to use it. Do you know what I mean? Right now I'm going out with the trio and using the new Vibroverb amp, and I'm also using one of the Cyber amps as well. The basic gist is, you know, I've gone out and I've talked about the product for Fender just basically because I enjoy doing it and needless to say it was effective for them because the Cyber Twin sold like a demon. And so now they just want me to go out and play and do my thing.
I'm not an employee of Fender, but let's be honest, I've been taking a lot of money to do clinics for them. Not a ton of money, but in the musician world, being able to be the sole provider of a family while playing your guitar is no small feat. So now they are really kind of getting behind the whole thing, 'OK, let's get this career thing happening, and let's see what people have been seeing in Wisconsin for years of us doing our thing.' It's so hard to be able to get the opportunities to go out there. What's happening now is because Fender is getting behind me and letting me go out and do these clinics I'm converting people that way, but also it will enable me to be in areas to now get agents interested in me, because all they have to do is book things in between tours. I've already flown out there, the gear has already been provided, my hotel is already taken care of, so it's really kind of a no-brainer. Now it's a good combination: It's still entertainment, showing some techniques as well as how the amp works and getting down to playing - which is all good.
Guitar.com: How long are the clinics typically?
Koch: It depends how long they let me go. Usually about an hour-and-a-half to two hours. If we are in a place where I can play a little bit longer I have no problem going forever.
Guitar.com: At this point then, hopefully, you're going to be doing the clinic on the early evening side and then running off to the club.
Koch: Correct. Maybe staggered day-wise; maybe the next day I would do the club date or whatever the case may be. So we'll see.
Guitar.com: Right. Actually wouldn't it be better to do the clinic the next day in the afternoon and then be on your way to the next club?
Koch: That's probably the right point. I'm kind of experimenting which all these different scenarios. As it works this particular month they're pretty well separated, the gigs and the in-store appearances. Later this year we're going to try to put together the traveling scenario, but now that it's the band, a lot of these stores are actually booking restaurants and clubs, getting hotel halls for us to do our thing, so it's kind of killing two birds with one stone. So that's all good. It's kind of a round about way of getting it done, but it's a different world we live in and it isn't like the good old days where you would have a feature in Guitar Player magazine and you would sell 100,000 records. We're having to adapt a little bit and certainly the fact that I don't do one particular style and just beat it over the head and try to seek out the lowest common denominator routine - that's not made it easier either, but I'm having fun, so what's the point? If you're able to pull it off, let the good times roll.
Guitar.com: How much of the time are you on the road with these clinics?
Koch: It has worked out to be maybe four months last year if you put it all together time wise. That was including a couple of week trip to Europe, another week in Europe before that and another two- and-a-half-weeks in Asia. Then I did it all over the states again. Plus I'm doing these clinics for Hal Leonard which are all about technique and so on and so forth.
Guitar.com: What are you doing with those? I know you have a lot of material through them.
Koch: I helped rewrite their guitar method, which is just the basic, 'Here is the first note on the first string of the first fret.' Then it goes to a blues book I wrote for them, a country book, then I did one called "Lead Licks" which is just kind of my weird way of amalgamating styles, take a lick and morph it into five different styles which actually turned out pretty cool. I did the same thing for rhythm types of things too. I'll take a rhythm riff, as I call it, and mutate it into five different genres. It goes from very basic, just starting off to advanced stuff. They wanted me to go out on the road and kind of be their poster child to sell the method.
It's been going very, very well because I think the method is really cool in the fact that it's no longer just following the dancing, drinking gourd - there are selections to learn from. It actually teaches some contemporary techniques as opposed to kind of steering away from things that were kind of politically incorrect in the world of academia. I go out and I do these clinics and Fender kind of co-ops most of them and I go in, play my tunes and talk about some of the techniques. I show off my chicken pickin' techniques and some whammy bar resonance, and some scalar stuff. Then I talk about the method and what we did and how we wrote it and so forth. Then I invite them to purchase it in copious quantities and then I move on to my favorite restaurant of choice. That's really what it's all about.
Guitar.com: When you're home, don't you do a lot of studio work as well?
Koch: I certainly have been doing a bunch. When I go down to Chicago I've been working with a guy in Evanston that has been doing stuff for years and years and he just calls me up. Luckily it's been working out that I've been in town, and I just scoot on down and have been doing a ton of stuff down there, a bunch of stuff up here, whatever it takes. Whether it's commercials or industrials, or whether it's playing on other peoples' records - whatever it takes.
Guitar.com: When you do the commercials and things; these are short pieces, right?
Guitar.com: Is the music written out or do they just tell you to do your thing?
Koch: A lot of times it is specific charts with the melody written down, but to be honest, he brings me down to come up with stuff. I'll usually come up with little hook things and little effect things or whatever the case may be to just round things out. It's turned out to be very cool - I always joke that one of the ways that I actually was legitimized in the eyes of my in-laws is when we were up at Christmas one time and an Oldsmobile commercial came on and I said, 'Hey, that's me.' Then it was no longer 'musician boy,' it was 'my son-in-law plays on commercials!'
Guitar.com: Are some of these national commercials?
Koch: Yes indeed. There have been quite a few over the years.
Guitar.com: Can you name a few?
Koch: Well there was a Chevy Venture commercial that I was on, an Oldsmobile Aurora commercial, there was a campaign called "Brown Sugar for Kahlua," it was Brown Sugar by the Stones that we redid.
Guitar.com: Yeah, I remember that. Was that you singing too? Weren't there vocals on that?
Koch: There were vocals, I didn't sing it though. It was me and this other guy playing the guitar - the Keith and Mick treatment. There's been Vidal Sassoon, there's been Kellogg's, there's been some airline commercials; there was some hotel, all kinds of those health care commercials. Those are the ones I've been doing a lot lately. Locally there's a big Wisconsin lottery commercial that I'm actually in the commercial as well as playing the music on it.
Guitar.com: A TV commercial?
Koch: A TV commercial. All the kids at my kid's school are pretty impressed by that. So there's been a bunch of different stuff over the years. It just kind of comes up, I do them and you know, you never know which one will be the one where you keep getting paid - depending on how long they run. I did these Bank One commercials years ago and I got paid for a couple of years - that was beautiful.
Guitar.com: How does someone get into studio work?
Koch: What's weird about it is, as I was just telling people last night when I did that clinic at Gan Music in Northfield, it was at a clinic I did at that same store in 1995 that the owner of the store, Gary Gan, passed my CD along to this other guy who was doing all these jingles. From hearing that CD that I had out at the time he's been calling me ever since. It's happenstance, luck.
When I was in college going to this school in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, majoring in jazz guitar, one of the things they always talked about was that Chicago was such a hub of commercial and jingle work. The one thing they would always say was, 'Well, you know down there they don't run through it once just to see if you can play it, they run through it to make sure the notes are right on the page." It was this big intimidation factor that you had to sight read like a demon. So I was petrified the first session I had to do when this guy called me up and sat me down, I was petrified. Clearly you have to sight read the stuff but you know, they have demos of everything now so you could hear what it sounds like and so on and so forth. The biggest thing they want is an ability to get the sounds, to be able to come up with cool parts. To be able to, when they say, 'Well the client wants you to somehow accentuate that syrup going down that precipice of piping hot flapjacks on the screen, is there anyway you can do that?' And for you to say, 'you betcha!'
You have to be able to transcend the BS layer and actually give them what they want and look like you're very glad to do so. It's a combination of weird skills. I enjoy it; I have always enjoyed doing those sessions. It used to be stark terror when I was going down there. I would get about two blocks away from there and I would just start getting so nervous. But now I just know that no matter what, it's going to work out one way or the other. I've done everything from acoustic things, Dobro things, I've brought my Coral sitar down there, my baritone, and I've played slide, distorted stuff, clean stuff, just textural things. Most of the time it's textural. I think I can count on one hand with a couple of fingers missing when I've actually been called on to do my thing. Most of the time it just coming up with weird parts, a little hook and so on and so forth.
Guitar.com: Is there still a lot of studio work out there?
Koch: Well, even in the Chicago jingle circuit, I have a lot of buddies down there and that's primarily what they do. It used to be you could make a pretty decent living making sessions down there, but that has definitely changed. Part of it had to do with when there was a big strike, the summer before last, the big SAG strike. And things adjusted quite a bit. It was already kind of on the wane, but it's not what it used to be, that's for sure. Luckily it's purely supplemental for me.
Guitar.com: It seems to me that all of the other instruments can be sampled, but guitar playing can't be matched through samples, so it seems to me that there is a little hope in that at least.
Koch: That's true. I think that what has happened is that people with Pro Tools and stuff like that, that have the connections, they will just do their own stuff and I don't think there is as much ability for a guy to like hire a guitar player. It would just be a guy doing all that stuff. I have a buddy that does all this music library stuff, he lives here in Milwaukee but he works out of a company in New York and does CD after CD of these libraries where you buy a CD for a thousand bucks, or whatever the case may be, if you work at some ad agency or wherever else, and you can use these things ad nauseum.
Guitar.com: They're completed songs or are they sounds?
Koch: They're completed tunes. They're 30-second things or 60-seconds. They're tailor made for whatever you need.
Guitar.com: Different moods and everything.
Koch: Exactly. You pay for one down stroke to have it and I think you have to report when you use it, then whoever wrote it gets publishing, even international stuff, so the potential to make a lot of money is there.
Guitar.com: You haven't done that yet?
Koch: I haven't really done it. There were a couple of people in town here that have made really nice stipends of currency doing it, but a lot of it was say, 'We'll record one for nothing and then on the back end you may make fabulous cash and prizes.' I like to have vision, but preferably without blur involved.
Guitar.com: Do you have a home studio?
Koch: I do not. There's a studio downtown that I use all the time and it's inexpensive enough where I know it's going to be of world class caliber, and I don't have to own the gear, maintain it. I just go in, do my thing and be gone. To be honest, at the home front here, when I'm home, it's full on domesticity.
Guitar.com: Do you play at home at all?
Koch: I have guitars situated throughout the house and I sneak a few morsels in here and there. I've often made the joke that if people knew how little I actually practiced there might be trouble.
Guitar.com: How old are your kids?
Koch: 8, 6, 2 and I've got one on the way. Four is a good number
Guitar.com: Congratulations. I've got a 3 year old, and a 9 month old.
Koch: Oh, so you know all about the great struggle.
Guitar.com: My guitar playing is suffering greatly right now.
Koch: You know what, as I've said, you appreciate more when you can do it. Boy, there's been times when I sit down and just the smell of it ....
Guitar.com: How did you hook up with Fender? How did you start doing things for Fender?
Koch: About 1990-ish I was working in a music store
Guitar.com: In Milwaukee?
Koch: In Milwaukee. My band was pretty popular in town here we were kind of making waves. I was working at the store during the day and playing out at night and of course when you're 20-something that's what everyone aspires to. A couple of Fender guys came to the store and I was swapping jokes. One of the guys heard me playing a little bit and said, 'What's your deal? Are you playing around town?' And I said, 'As a matter of fact, I'm playing tonight. Why don't you come on down?'
So these guys came on down with the intention of staying for a couple of drinks. They stayed all night long and afterward one of the guys said, 'We have to get you into Frontline magazine. Two days later the local Fender rep brought through a guy named Jack Schwartz, who was a clinician. He used to do these bench checks all over the world for them and this guy told me that, 'He had no intention of staying, I just wanted to get out.' And he stayed all night. He proceeded to take our tape - we had a cassette out at the time. He grabbed that, he made copies of it, he gave it to everybody at Fender, and then I started doing stuff regionally for them. I did stuff in Milwaukee. I think I did one at Gan down there - I think it was the first one I did. Then up in Minneapolis and then out in the hinterlands of the Dakotas. Word started to spread that I was doing clinics and so on and so forth.
The big break was when they had my band come out and play at the Nashville NAMM show, which I think would have been in '96, and after we did that it kind of blew up from there. The big culminating thing being when I did all the stuff for the Cyber-Twin at the L.A. NAMM show [in January, 2000] because then I did seven shows a day for four days straight and everyone in the music business seemingly was coming in that place to check out that amp. So I was able to get a few licks in as it were. So that's how its just kind of developed.
Guitar.com: Who were the guys from Fender that initially came by?
Koch: One guys name is Don Johnston and the regional rep here at the time was Bob Grimwald. Don Johnston has been with the company since like 1966. He's the coolest dude; he looks just like Carl Perkins. He's still involved with the company; he carries a great deal of weight. He's cool as hell. He's helped me out immeasurably over the years.
Guitar.com: Is he a rep for this area?
Koch: He actually was the sales manager for North America at one point. He's been around forever. Occasionally what he will do is he will go out with a rep in an area to make sure everything is taken care of; or if there's a dealer that's giving him a hard time or whatever the case may be, they call in Don.
Guitar.com: I was running Fender's Frontline magazine back in '96 and '97.
Koch: No kidding?
Guitar.com: Yeah, so I know a lot of people over there; not all of them, but a lot of them. Oh, the Cyber-Twin: I have one, but again haven't dug into it and tried to use it a whole lot. Isn't it an amp that you can share files on the Internet with?
Koch: Theoretically it is. I have never really gotten to the point of doing all the MIDI out functions of it. What we were going to do is we were going to have all the sounds on a laptop so when I would go into a different region I could just download all the presets into the amp. I never got around to doing it because it was less of a hassle to just put in five of them, lickety-split, than it was to deal with all that stuff. Theoretically you're able to do that.
Guitar.com: So you don't have any of those files saved at this point?
Koch: No I don't.
Guitar.com: Many of the people I'm interviewing these days are using Pods and Cyber-Twins and these digital amps that do have file sharing capabilities. So basically, will you share some of your sounds with our users? That would be the coolest thing.
Koch: I've got some sounds that are in Fender Frontline and also on the Fender website. I did four sounds for the Cyber-Twin and four sounds for the Cyber-Deluxe.
Guitar.com: And people can download them?
Koch: No, but I tell how to do it.
Koch: Actually I'm going to do more; I need to do more of them. I've had people say, 'Those are cool, you have to do more, give us more.'
Guitar.com: I'll definitely link people through to there.
Koch: Excellent. I think I have a link to it on my site that takes you right there.
Guitar.com: Yeah, you do. What are you having the most fun with these days?
Koch: Playing live is probably the most fun thing for me. Putting together the wacky medleys. I play so much differently in the live context than I do with clinics and so on and so forth. It's really been my goal my last couple of years when all that stuff started happening with Fender doing the stuff with the NAMM show that they were going to do a bunch of clinics. I always had envisioned that sooner or later we would get the band to do them and then we would get an agent finally interested in booking stuff. That's such a hassle to get an agent even interested. Finally all these things are coming to fruition.
There's an extra little bit of glory when doing the gigs now. Plus it's gotten to the point where it's always been that way in Wisconsin, we've been lucky for the last 10 years, had a pretty good following up here. Now with the fact that I've had a little bit wider recognition and people respecting more the original tunes, it's a blast to go out and have people yelling out tunes. Play this play that; that aren't Hendrix tunes. Whatever the case may be, they're asking for a bunch of your tunes. That feels pretty good. To be able to pull off a three-and-a-half-hour set and keep people riveted in a place where they're usually just hanging out and getting blasted, it's kind of a good thing.
Guitar.com: Your relationship with Steve Vai is a cool thing I guess.
Koch: Yeah, it's one of these things where he's always been very cool towards me and very supportive. I guess when you sign with Steve Vai and his label you're kind of hoping that there's things mentioned like, 'What about a G3 type of tour with everyone on the label?' Or is Steve going to have you open up on a G3 tour, or is Steve going to do anything? Pretty much at this point I've kind of resigned myself to the fact that no, that's not going to happen. Regardless of that, it's a cool thing and certainly having him tout your wares and telling people what you're doing and supporting you is pretty unbelievable. He's definitely got some skills.
Guitar.com: I've interviewed him a few times and talked all about his label, and one comment he made to me at one point was, something along the lines, of I don't want to be a musician, I want to be a publisher. I'm wondering about the fact that he's signing all these instrumental artists, it seems to me that he would potentially have the avenues to get a lot of these tunes into movies and things.
Koch: You would certainly hope that would be the case and it certainly seems like the logical thing. I haven't seen evidence of that kind of activity.
Guitar.com: He also told me that if you think a publisher's going to do any work for you and get your songs placed anywhere, forget it. If you don't do it, nobody's going to do it for you.
Koch: That's really what it comes down to for all this stuff. It's one of those things that you always are learning over and over again. People will say, for this record we're going to do X, Y, and Z. Then you realize unless you follow up every single time, it's not that peoples' intentions are bad, it's just that no one believes in your thing other than yourself to the point where it's going to make any real difference. I can hear what he's saying in that regard is that you really have to do it yourself. And again it probably comes down to that kind of happenstance that had me hook up with this jingle guy down in Chicago and the Fender thing. Does ability come into play? Well, you hope so but certainly a bit of happenstance and luck and serendipity comes into play.
Guitar.com: You know also when I talk to younger musicians I often try to tell them, because I feel like I was blind to it was I was in my 20s, I just had my goal of having my hard rock band get signed to a big label and I didn't pursue or even think about other avenues or other opportunities. I try to tell people now, don't rule anything out. Try every possible avenue. Especially when you're in your 20s and especially if you're into a certain style of music, hard rock or whatever, everything else just seems gay to you. It's like, don't shoot yourself in the foot that way. You might want to be getting your heavy metal band signed, but if you're not playing seven nights a week, then you have five other nights to go out and play in a country band and learn something new, and a jazz band on Wednesday night, and a blues band on Thursday night. You never know what might come from it.
Koch: Exactly right - diversification.
Guitar.com: Real quick, can you give me a run down on the gear you're using these days.
Koch: Sure. It fluctuates - if I'm doing a session, I got a call right now and the guy wanted me to go down to Chicago I'm going to bring the Cyber-Twin. If I'm doing a session in town or for something quick on the fly, I'll probably grab the Cyber-Deluxe. If I'm going out to do a duo with this harp player that I do every now and again, I take out my 1954 Fender Super, 'cause it's the right volume and let's face it, it's as sexy as hell. For the band and trio stuff I'm using a combination of all of the above. I might take the Cyber-Twin, tonight I'll probably bring a Super Reverb and a Vibroverb and run them in stereo and proceed to destroy.
Sometimes I like to go old school. I use the Cyber-Twin all the time, but part of being a musician, is to be able to motivate your creativity by any different number of combination and elements. The new Vibroverb is really a delightful little treat. That's what I'm promoting on these clinic tours is that amp, and running them in tandem with a Cyber-Deluxe. That is a delightful little combo. But certainly the Super Reverb together with the Vibroverb connected with a couple of screaming shit boxes on the floor.
Guitar.com: What kind of boxes do you use?
Koch: I certainly like that Fulltone stuff. I use a combination of a Maxon OD808, that's divine. I use a Fulltone Octafuzz. I use a Fulltone Deja 'Vibe stereo, a Full-Drive 2 and then delay-wise - if I'm not using the Cyber-Twin or Cyber-Deluxe I just have a Boss DD3 that I've had since the beginning of time. And then I've got a Fulltone Clyde wah pedal, which is the Holy Grail. That's pretty much it. That's the current arsenal. I've got a Vibrotone Leslie that I may pull out every now and again.
It all depends. I wasn't using any boxes, with the exception of an Ibanez Tube Screamer when I used the Cyber-Twin. I had everything on board and was really comfortable using that but when I use these older style amps I need a few little treats on the ground. I don't have them on all the time. Most of the time for my clean sound and slightly overdriven sound, it's just the amps. I kick it over the top a little bit with the Maxon. If I really want uncontrollable feedback and debauchery I hit the Full Drive, but if I want a little watery succulence I put on the Univibe and the Octafuzz. It's beyond cool, it's just Band of Gypsies. It's excellent. I usually kick that on once I have the Maxon on. It's wicked.
Guitar.com: And what guitars?
Koch: I use a combination of things. I've been using those [Fender] Highway 1 Strats which I highly recommend to anybody who just wants an American-made Strat at a price point of $599 because right out of the box I can beat the living be-jesus out of that thing and it stays in tune. And it sounds great as well. I've got a Fender Custom Shop Strat that I use quite a bit that I ordered a couple of years ago. But my favorite sounding Strat that I'm using right now is a '56 Relic Strat from the Custom Shop. I always do a push, pull pot on my 2nd tone control so I can get the back and front pickup combination, and then all three pickups. And then I always put the resistor cap on and the volume control so I don't loose any highs when I turn it down. I've got all my Strats set up like that. Tele-wise, I've got a '51 Nocaster Relic from the Custom Shop, and I've got a B Bender Custom Shop piece that matches my blue Strat. Those are the four I take out, those are the four I'll be bringing tonight. They're very nice; I love them to death.
Guitar.com: What kind of strings do you use?
Koch: I use the Fender Bullet, stainless steel, .009 - .046. I used to use 10's all the time but as I got into more of those Albert King bends and all the country stuff it's so much easier to do with 9's. I thought, 'Why am I in pain?' Especially when you're bending up a third, you need to be able to have those light strings without drawing blood.
Guitar.com: Before we go, I want to make sure all our readers know that all your Hal Leonard instructional stuff is out there in the stores.
Koch: That is correct. I also did two Stevie Ray Vaughn DVD's for them. Those have turned out pretty well.
Guitar.com: Those are new?
Koch: Those just came out not too long ago. I get emails on those on a daily basis. I'm actually doing my own for them next week. Monday or Tuesday we're recording them.
Guitar.com: Great Greg, we'll be watching for those! Thanks for your time. Tear it up tonight!
Koch: Great, thanks.