By ANDREW McKAYSMITH
BRUCE Kulick is one of the most respected guitarists in rock’n’roll.
Kulick is featured on five KISS studio albums: Asylum (‘85), Crazy Nights (’87), Hot in the Shade (’89), Revenge (’92) and Carnival of Souls (‘97) and on compilations Alive III (’93) and KISS Unplugged (’96). It’s a fair bet that most fans will know him through his association with the rock titans.
He is soon heading our way for The Thunder Down Under 2017 Australian Tour. With a tour so close there is no better time than to catch up with Kulick and celebrate his wonderful career. During the interview we covered so much ground and discussed less celebrated aspects of his career that I thought it best to share the interview as it happened.
Ladies and gentleman… Mr Bruce Kulick’s interview with Hot Metal!
Hot Metal: You’re one of those guitarists that I think anybody that listens to the radio would have heard at least at some point, such is the length and breadth of your contribution to rock ‘n roll. I’ll ask you for your take on your career as you look back over the past- and I think I counted you’re up to about your 45th year of recorded music history.
Bruce Kulick: “Wow, you’re making me humble now and older. No but it still means the same to me as when I was 20, so I’m all good with that. I’m flattered that you figured that out, thank you. But you know, the biggest … I guess really for me, what I’ve noticed especially more recently because KISS has gone on for such a long time and still such an important band for rock ‘n roll … Of course in ’14 with the Hall of Fame as much as it was controversial as well but still there was that recognition. And the fans just … they seem to go generation to generation which is a blessing and many of them dig deep and discover me, which is wonderful. So I have all these fans that were not born or even barely conceived when I was in the band, now following me and that’s pretty remarkable. You can’t say that about a lot of bands, so you know what? That part of it really makes me humble about the idea that when I was in KISS and doing my job and I always loved playing guitar and being in KISS was fairly natural for me but I would not possibly think that we’d be talking about KISS 30 years later. And people would be making all these celebrations. If you’re talking about some of the earliest stuff I did with them, you’re talking 30, almost a 33 and a half years, almost 34 years. And all that is just mind-blowing for me, it truly is, and I love the stuff that people share. They finally have digitised like bumping into me at a hotel or that meet and greet or that … the gig where they took a picture on an Instamatic or whatever the heck they had, you know. So it’s really become quite humbling for me and in a big way I’m very gratified to think that something that happened so long ago is important to people now.”
HM: So you’re coming to Australia for the Thunder Down Under 2017 tour. You must be aware that you personally have a considerable following in Australia.
BK: “I love that. I’d still get that email after I was just there that, ‘When are you coming down to Australia mate?’. And I’m like, ‘Oh God, alright but maybe they’re from a city that I didn’t go to because I have been stingy that way by only really having the time or the opportunity to hit Melbourne and Sydney’. Sometimes I ventured out to Adelaide and maybe only one or two times to Brisbane. Perth has rarely been since ’96. So it’s certainly exciting to think that on this tour finally, I’m getting an opportunity to go to places I’ve never been before. So that’s really exciting for me.”
HM: So I’m going to dive into a period of your career that I feel is incredibly underrated and that’s the Carnival of Souls album (’97). So I’m going to call controversy a little bit and say that it’s easily my favourite KISS album, it’s actually the album that I got into KISS through as well.
BK: “Wow that is weird. That’s almost backwards engineering with Bruce Kulick, okay right.”
HM: So what are your feelings about that album today? Can we expect to hear any of of those album cuts on the upcoming tour?
BK: “I was thinking of seeing if Sister’s Doll who’s my backing band, talented young brothers … if we rehearse ‘I Walk Alone’ and if we can pull it off reasonably. Yes, because it is the song I sang with the band, it’s the only song I ever sang in KISS but getting back to that record, I have to admit, I know Paul doesn’t like it at all (any)more and it was done at an interesting time. We did Revenge and that was a really strong, powerful record with Bob Ezrin producing and it still couldn’t put KISS back in the limelight because music was changing. You know, you had the whole Seattle thing happening with bands like Stone Temple Pilots and Nirvana and Alice in Chains and bands like that but the point was fashion and what was hip and what was cool. And the Revenge tour was successful but not what it should have been for an album that strong. The same thing with the sales of Revenge, and that’s such a great record. But when we revamped and we toured for it, we went international and did things, we did the Convention Tour. We were always writing and part of what we were doing writing was a kind of an idea of a … we weren’t going to go with a poppier record, so we just started to think about what would be even a more darker, heavier record than Revenge.”(continued below)
HM: Yes, that’s what I love about it. It is a darker, heavier record and it’s a different side of KISS and it’s a side, to be frank, that I wish was explored more and I think your contribution … I think I’m going to sound like I’m a bit of a fan boy here but I really heard your contribution … on that record above all other records that you played on in KISS. Is that a fair assessment or have I read too much into that?
BK: “Well no, you are correct. I was going through a lot of changes in my life, I was going through the start of a separation and eventual separation from the woman I was married to at the time and all I wanted to do was just play my guitar and I was hungry, hungry, hungry. And I seemed to plug in to these dark, heavy riffs that I could throw at both Gene and Paul, who probably weren’t that familiar with that but had a desire to explore. So I lucked out with all these co-writes and it’s not like I didn’t contribute on other records or … I mean, that is my largest contribution as Carnival of Souls. What I’m saying is, I did throw more ideas at Revenge but I wasn’t always in the writing click at the time, Ezrin and Bob, or rather Bob and Paul, were working hard and I remember one time Ezrin hearing me play something that I worked on with my brother for something because I started it but I didn’t finish it.
“I didn’t even get a chance to get it past Gene or Paul and Ezrin said, “What’s that? I like it.” And I said, ‘Well I was hoping to have Paul or Gene finish it but it didn’t happen’. So each album, to be honest, during my years with KISS, it was always a challenge to make Gene or Paul really zone in and say, “I wanna work on that.” You don’t know what they’re going to react to, and you can’t … music is subjective in taste. Kind of like certain food and everything, you know what I mean. The choices are wide and varied, very different. Then the issue with them was, if you played something for Gene, you can’t play it for Paul. You know what I mean? It was like you had to pick and choose your battles and everything. Anyway that was always like an interesting dynamic but understandable. Groups are very much like that. Just like within a family you know, you can tell one brother one thing but you wouldn’t mention that to the other … your sister or whatever.”
HM: I can definitely relate to that, yes.
BK: “Yes, I mean I only have one sibling but I just know that families have dynamics like bands. So somehow I just was dialled in right and I remember Gene and Paul were both very appreciative of it because they did like what I was coming up with. We started the record because we took a commitment from the record company but it was a very odd time for the band because we had the material and we had made the commitment but we didn’t really start, then we did Unplugged and unbeknownst to me, officially they were actually negotiating the reunion tour. I remember calling Gene and saying, “Why aren’t we recording yet? I know you got Toby Wright to co-produce with you guys. What’s going on?” You know, kind of a…”
HM: Is that Toby Wright the Korn producer?
BK: “Yes, he knew a lot of people in the same circles as us so it was kind of a logical choice. I do think that Toby did some really great things for the album and I think at times he couldn’t relate well enough to what Gene and Paul are about, so there was a lot of tension during that recording with him. Especially with Gene at times oddly enough but in the end anyway, Gene was like, ‘I’ll get back to you’, and sure enough, we started recording. I think they realised that no matter what they were negotiating, they made a commitment with the record company, and we were supposed to record. And think about it, it was pretty brilliant because let’s say Ace or Peter started to get very difficult then they still have the current version of KISS moving forward and creating and working. I technically wasn’t under a contract but Gene and Paul and the band called KISS was under contract. So, very interesting time and I’m glad you like it but to some people that’s a very odd record for KISS. “
HM: I’m 39, so grunge was effectively my era…
BK: “Well there you go, and if all you cared about was ‘Shout it out Loud’, in the beginning you might have gone, ‘What happened, they took heroin? What happened to these guys?'”
HM: I just love the album and it’s a shame that Paul doesn’t get into it because I think that the heavier nature of the record really lends itself to his voice. You’d think that his voice was a little bit poppy but no, it really works.
BK: “I think he did some incredible stuff on that record. I was proud once it finally came out and the dust settled for the reunion tour and they needed to … the record company said, ‘We’re putting this out because Paul promised me’, even though there were terrible bootlegs of it. He did promise it would come out and sure enough there it was and it … the bootlegs were terrible but when it came out, it came out almost like an afterthought. ‘Jungle ‘was the single, so that song particularly is a terrific Paul vocal and co-write and that was me playing on it actually and most of the guitars. So I’m quite proud of … and that single actually charted pretty well but there was no real promotion and no gigs.”
HM: In the same era, you formed Union with John Corabi another record that I just love to this day. What are your thoughts on that project and can we even expected any album cuts from that album on the upcoming tour?
BK: “I know there are fans in Australia with Union because when we went there with ESP, when John and I went there with our singer, we’d always do a couple Union tracks because Eric liked the band as well but I have been thinking about that because there’s just too much KISS material that I feel the fans would like to hear. I’m real proud of those records though and John and I definitely had a certain chemistry together. I feel that that was quite natural and it’s funny, we were both like … the bands we were known for just left us behind and moved on.”
HM: It was a bit like that wasn’t it…
BK: “Yes, and we were both having a similar parallel on our relationships with women. So that was pretty weird too, so we had a lot to bond over. We’re very different type of people, you know, he’s tattooed and pierced and I faint at the sight of a needle but there was a certain chemistry there and I think it was a terrific band, and we were one of those bands that should have but didn’t.”
HM: It sounds like you need to get down here more often. I almost think you could come down and tour with your other stuff including Union. When was the last time you were in Australia?
BK: “Well I was able to do some work in ’95 and it was interesting, I only did one full concert although I did perform at the KISS expo. There was also an expo but much more outside of Melbourne, more towards the centre of the city, like we are at Wicks in Melbourne but the one gig in Adelaide was wonderful and then I wound up doing some clinics for the Allen’s chain of music shops, which was fun. I always enjoy doing those things, I will be doing clinics on both days of the Melbourne Expo which is very fun for the people to … it’s kind of like pulling the curtain back on some of the tracks that I perform with and they get to hear it in a unique way and I could talk about it.
“I also jammed at that fun gig in Sydney I sat in with, and not only did I do a master class for the music store but I played at that Frankie’s Pizza place which was a lot of fun. So I did a lot of different things on that trip, this one’s more of a real legitimate full on kind of tour which kicks off with two expo dates and then there’s seven gigs. So this is a little more unique but you know, I’m looking forward to it. I think the gigs are a great bill, Sister’s Doll have a lot of energy and they’re really super talented young kids that love this era of music and style even. That is just something that I’m well aware of but I think they’re sharing it with new generations and that’s wonderful.”
HM: You mentioned your brother earlier so you are from a famously musical family. Your brother is Bob Kulick and much like yourself has appeared on so many songs that it would be almost impossible not to have heard his stellar guitar playing. What do you think it is about the Kulick family producing such gifted guitarists?
Bruce: “Well I think it is very, very unusual. I will admit I don’t see it a lot but I certainly … it’s remarkable to me that you can hear some similarity in our playing and yet we’re not exactly the same. So I’m glad that he’s older, which meant that he was able to expose me to stuff that I probably wouldn’t have found out if I didn’t have an older brother and that was valuable. He was the one that would do these brave trips to England and come back and go like, ‘Look at the way they do G cords there, and check this out’. And he turned me onto so many incredible things that I am very fortunate about having that kind of brother in my life and of course there he was auditioning for KISS the same time as Ace, how unusual is that? And Gene and Paul really liked Bob but they went with Ace and obviously history proves that that was it.
“But to think years later when Ace was … whatever his issues were, Bob gets the call to play guitar on a KISS album. It’s pretty incredible, the whole connection between my family and KISS. And you know, when I first met Gene and Paul, Gene was very casual. I got to go up to the studio and they were working on Creatures of the Night but with Paul occasionally, because my brother was his friend and Paul was a huge rock star living like a king in New York City… Bob would go, ‘Come on along, let’s go’, we were in Queens we’d hang out, ‘We’re going to the movies with Paul Stanley’, and everyone was like, ‘Wow, that’s kind of cool’.
HM: It was just Paul, the regular bloke who wanted to have a slice of pizza and a pint of beer.
BK: “Yes, ‘Alright, let’s go see E.T’, ‘What?’ ‘Okay, we’re going to the movies, yeah cool’. Or Close Encounters or something. I remember we saw one of those sci-fi films. Or we’d go to … there was a really cool, hip club down in Manhattan that we got to go to but for me to be kind of like that other guy hanging out with Paul Stanley. That was kind of weird, I’m not saying I really got to know him well. You know when you have that level of fame, you’re very carefully with your circle of people you hang with. But that helped when Paul realised, ‘You know, I’m hearing good things about Bruce, not only from Bob, from other musicians in LA’. That’s how I really got my start, so I’m grateful to my brother obviously for the introduction but the rest was all my own … it had to be my talent and my ability to work with these guys because there’s a lot of talented people out there, I’m always in awe of how many gifted people there are but they can’t seem to put it together in their life, to get from A to B is what I like to say because you need to be able to build your career and present yourself properly and be professional. A lot of that stuff has nothing to do with your talent.”
HM: Okay, so not many people will know that both you and your brother were in Meatloaf’s touring band during the massive Bat out of Hell tour, is that correct?
BK: “We were both there and that was Fat out of Hell, I remember the headlines, yes”.
HM: What are your memories of the tour and playing with your brother?
BK: “That was my first time in Australia and I was blown away, I was very impressed,and it was great of course. It took a long time for me to return and that was with KISS and now of course I’ve been doing it a lot on my own. I remember … I’m still friends with a girl I met at one of the famous radio stations. Back then you’d meet the radio stations and my friend is still down there and she knows many of the same people I do from LA, it’s kind of a small world! The point is I have to say that I just immediately had a connection with the people in Australia and I felt very comfortable. And those gigs were cool, I mean, ‘Yeah, he passed out’, and there he was with the oxygen. So the headline read, ‘Fat outta Hell’ so that’s my biggest memory of it really, it was really funny. But I had a great time, I really did have a great time.”
Catch Bruce at the dates below for The Thunder Down Under 2017 Australian Tour!
Saturday 13th May: Kiss Konvention Wick Studios Melbourne
Sunday 14th May: Kiss Konvention Wick Studios Melbourne
Tuesday 16th May: the Basement Canberra
Wednesday 17th May: The Bridge Hotel Sydney
Thursday 18th May: (Venue now tbc) Newcastle
Friday 19th May: Max Watts Brisbane
Saturday 20th May: the Bridgeway Hotel Adelaide
Sunday 21st May: Burlington Hotel Bunbury
Monday 22ND May: The Rosemount Hotel Perth