Kottak’s Athena is a very funny, tell-it-like-it-is, beautiful woman who kicks ass behind the drumkit. Born a few years after her famous sibling—Mötley Crüe’s Tommy Lee—Athena is a cancer survivor, a mom, and the wife of Jimmy Ratchitt. Athena says she knew she would marry Ratchitt—aka James Kottak, former Kingdom Come and current Scorpions drummer—the very first day they met. Years later, they did marry, had children, and in 1998 formed a band Krunk (with Jimmy on vocals and guitars and Athena on drums), known these days as Kottak. Their latest CD, Therupy, on Escapi Music, has been described as “Cheap Trick meets Green Day on a bad day.” MD Online spoke with Athena from her home in California.
MD: How are you feeling?
Athena: I’m feeling great!
MD: Congratulations on winning Access magazine’s Best Female Drummer award.
Athena: Thank you!
MD: Has being a female drummer ever presented concerns for you? Did it bother you one way or the other?
Athena: Not at all. I could care less.
MD: What advice would you give to female readers?
Athena: Keep playing. And if there’s a boy playing next to you, kick ass and play harder.
MD: How’s James?
Athena: James and the Scorpions are working on their next record. The coolest thing is, he goes in for a day, knocks out all his tracks, and the rest of the record takes months. Wait until you hear it. Desmond Child has basically written the entire record.
MD: Were you familiar with Jimmy as a player?
Athena: No, I had no idea. I just pointed at him the first time I ever met him and said, “I’m going to marry you,” and that was it. I didn’t have a clue what he did. When I found out he was a drummer and saw him play, he freaked me out—he’s amazing! And he won’t teach me a thing, and that pisses me off.
MD: So you never play drums together?
Athena: Nope. He won’t do it. And there’s a lot of times I go, “I know something would sound better right here,” and he’ll go, “well, figure it out.”
MD: It’s good that he wants you to put your input on it. You did co-write most of the material for the record?
Athena: Yes, basically the whole album was written in one night at a cabin. We just said, Let’s drive up to the mountains—and in fact, we drove by this house that was all black with a pink light bulb, and I go, “That would make somebody snap after a while.” So there comes the song “Pink/Soft.” Pretty much everything went down that quickly.
MD: How did you track the drums for the record?
Athena: I did the drum tracks to scratch/guide tracks. We have a friend down the street, and we just went in his garage and did the whole record there.
MD: Then the rest of the band did their parts as overdubs?
Athena: Yes. This is the way I like to record. I’ve recorded before just on my own, with no guide tracks, and it didn’t come out the same, because I couldn’t get the feel right. You listened to our record, right?
Athena: Okay, I’m going to tell you: There are two songs that James plays on, because I had something else to do, and I challenged my friends to figure out which cuts were him and which were me. [laughs] I’d tell them, “Pick out James and pick out me,” and they’d go, “That’s James,” and I’d go, “Nope, that’s me.” I think it’s cool, because he’s like the best drummer on the planet. And they pick a song and it’s me and I go, “Ha! You thought it was him”? [laughs]
MD: So are you going to tell us which ones are which?
Athena: No way! [laughs] And I’ll bet you’ll get it wrong. I think he played a bit sloppier to make it sound like it was me.
MD: I noticed on the credits in the CD that you thank the Food Channel. Obviously, you like to cook. Did you know Rachel Ray plays drums?
Athena: Really? And I love to cook! That’s what I do for fun. That’s like my favorite thing on the planet. Wow! Rachel, call me…you give me a recipe, I’ll give you a drum lesson! [laughs]
MD: Tell us about the first time you played in front of an audience.
Athena: My brother was a huge star when I was a kid. So I just basically grew up in the middle of all of it all, and the very first show I ever played in my life, Jon Bon Jovi, Ann and Nancy Wilson from Heart, Aerosmith—everybody was there, and I was shaking. I thought I was going to die because I had never played live before. But I went out there and kicked ass. I remember laughing my face off. “Look who I just played for.” And then my brother brings Bon Jovi up to me and says, “Athena, Jon’s really shy—can you introduce him to your friends”? I go, “Dude, right now I’m just so into my own thing…,” and he goes, “Please.” So here I am, walking Jon Bon Jovi around and introducing him to my friends.
MD: Where was this?
Athena: Back in the day there was this club in California called Gazzari’s, which is now the Key Club. And the coolest thing is that I never told my parents I was playing. I just invited them down. So they come to the club, and my mom and dad see me playing and are are going, “What”? I told Tommy, “Don’t tell mom and dad.” He was married to Heather Locklear at the time. Nobody knew. I didn’t tell a soul. Also, that was the day my brother walked in with James [Kottak] and Sebastian Bach.
Tommy didn’t say a thing about my playing; he just wanted to hang out with his friends. So I said, “By the way, I just played. Was I good”? He goes, “Yeah, mom and dad are upstairs so I’ll see you in a bit,” and went off with his friends. That was the day Mötley played Monsters of Rock, and brought everybody there. I thought, If I can get through this day, I can get through the rest of my life.
MD: Let’s go back to the beginning. When did you actually start taking an interest in the drums?
Athena: The very first day I sat behind a kit—at this time Tommy already had a soundproof studio that my dad built for him, because our neighbor was complaining—I remember I wanted to go to a dance, but for some reason I couldn’t go, and I was super mad. My brother goes, “Are you pissed”? I go, “What do you think”? “Come downstairs.” He hands me sticks and says, “Here, take it out on this.” So I just started hitting the drums, and in seconds I started feeling better.
MD: How old were you?
Athena: Fifteen, sixteen. And it was fun. So then he goes, “Oh my God, here, try this.” So he taught me a beat. I started playing it, and then I just went from there. I was hooked.
MD: So it was pretty natural.
Athena: Yeah. And then he left to go on tour and I thought, “Don’t think I’m not playing with your stuff.” [laughs] I guess he thought I’d never go back, but I couldn’t wait for him to leave so I could go in and play. And that’s what I did.
MD: Did he allow you to go down and play, or did he say, “Don’t touch my stuff when I’m not here”?
Athena: Well, it was like an unspoken thing. You don’t touch the kits. [laughs] That first day I had permission because he was sitting with me, but when he wasn’t there I wasn’t supposed to touch them. And he knew where everything was set. I’d go down there and I’d play and then I’d make sure everything was perfectly back where he put it. Before I would sit down I would go, “Okay, that’s there…” After I’d play, I’d put everything back, and he never knew. I grew up a dancer—not a stripper, a dancer—and every kind of beat moved me. So going to the drums was kind of a natural thing. To this day people will go, “Can you teach me drums”? and I tell them, “Either you have it or you don’t.” And that’s not being rude, that’s just the way it is. You either have it or you don’t.
MD: You need to have coordination and independence among your four limbs.
Athena: Absolutely. And my brother used to crack up because I couldn’t play unless I chewed gum. He’d be like, “That’s just wrong.” [laughs] I just think every single part of me has to be working in order to make me relax. I know that sounds retarded, but that’s the honest-to-God truth. If I don’t chew gum, I almost can’t play. You know how some people can’t multi-task? I can chew gum, play drums, and talk on the phone.
MD: Are you familiar with Dennis Chambers? He chews gum when he plays.
Athena: Yes! Oh man, you’re not going to believe this, Dennis Chambers is my favorite drummer! Dennis, if you’re reading this, there’s a chick in Woodland Hills, California that would just love to talk to you. Oh…my…god!
MD: Speaking of favorite drummers, who did you notice when you first started playing? Was Tommy a huge influence?
Athena: Actually, Tommy wasn’t that big of an influence, because he left for the road when I was still in high school. I would watch MTV back in the day when they just played videos, and I saw Terry Bozzio in a Missing Persons video and went, “That guy is great.” I would just sit there, waiting for that video to come back on. So, Terry Bozzio rocked my world. It was almost like he was dancing while he was playing, and like I said, I was very into dancing. And Vinnie Appice is the bomb!
MD: What about lessons?
Athena: I never had lesson when I was growing up. But this past year I took lessons with a teacher to learn some technique, and he gave me a booklet to go home with and a pad. I’ll watch TV and play on the pad. Basically he took me back to paradiddles, because my left hand is super slow. But once I started doing these exercises my left hand got as good as my right.
MD: Is there any new music out now that you’re diggin’?
Athena: Hinder’s “Lips Of An Angel” is one of my favorite songs right now. It melts me. I’m pissed that I didn’t write it.
MD: That’s a good song, it sounds like Diane Warren could have written it.
Athena: Absolutely! She’s an amazing songwriting.
MD: Last question, what’s one of your favorite songs to play live?
Athena: I like playing “Ten Shots,” from our older record with Krunk. That’s one of the most fun songs to play live. For some reason people just go bananas for that one.