Interview With Bruce Kulick of KISS for House of Hair Online
By Ray Van Horn, Jr.
House of Hair Online: You were, of course, a part of the Big ‘80s resurrection of Kiss. It’s one thing Kiss was able to come back strong in the decade, but you all were a part of that Big ‘80s thing of rock and entertainment. I saw a different and larger stage presentation than Kiss during the ‘70s since I was in the front row for the Crazy Nights tour, but put us up there with you during this timeframe on those massive stages.
Bruce Kulick: We definitely had some really huge stage shows. People would always think of Kiss during the seventies as being the biggest shows around, but for Hot in the Shade there was the sphinx and laser beams right down to the Revenge tour with the giant Statue of Liberty/Terminator thing. It was always very, very cool stuff. Although I loved it when we were doing the club tour; a little weird being in clubs with them, but it wasn’t weird blowing everyone away!
HOH: You came in during a hot transition period of guitarists for Kiss with Vinnie Vincent and Mark St. John preceding you. How intimidated were you—if at all—first coming into the gig? The story goes your brother Bob introduced you to the band, is that correct? Naturally you made the position stick for more than a decade.
BK: Yeah, that’s how I met them. It was unusual how I walked into the band. My brother always did tell Gene and Paul about me and I got to meet them a few times, but it took the hardship with Mark St. John and then Paul was having some health problems. They hired my brother before as the ghost guitar guy and instead they wound up asking me, which was really cool. I didn’t realize at the time they said ‘Don’t cut your hair,’ that there was going to be the opportunity for me to fill in. At first it was something for them to maybe take me for a couple weeks, but it turned into 12 years, so that’s quite exciting.
HOH: For me, one of the most meaningful moments as a Kiss fan was the MTV Unplugged reunion show. Just to have a chance to see Eric (Singer) play next to Peter (Criss), then you next to Ace (Frehley), for me, it didn’t get any better than that! It was cool watching that show again on Kissology Volume 3 since there’s now the opportunity to see the entire performance versus what MTV had to previously cut. How do you remember that show going from your experience?
BK: There’s no doubt that MTV would shoot it really beautiful, and it was. It came off very, very attractive. At the time it was a real honor to be involved with one of their Unplugged shows. It was a little awkward with the Ace and Peter thing, but I was so proud of the fact that the band—which was Gene, Paul, Eric Singer and myself as a non-makeup band—it gave us a chance to showcase what we were able to do playing those Kiss songs acoustically, which is a challenge enough. We held our own in a big way. We were getting some comments from the diehard people like Scott Ian of Anthrax, who was much more a fan of the makeup era; here he is watching the show because there was an event happening—which was the reunion—and he was like, ‘You guys played great!’ So I really enjoyed that. I didn’t realize it would be my last gig with the band (laughs), but ultimately it gave a certain exposure and it certainly was also the catalyst to the reunion tour, but it still had its place and I was proud to be a part of it.
HOH: I rank that show as high as anything as the ‘70s spectacles largely for the craft of the playing. You know, I don’t know which album I would pick from your era in Kiss as the best, but I always think Asylum or Revengeis my favorite. What rings happiest to your ears if you go back and listen to the albums you played on?
BK: Well, there are highlights on all of them, but I’ll still always feel like Revenge was the best record. Everything on it was really strong, but if you look at Asylum, “Tears Are Falling” stands out to me. If you look at Crazy Nights, there’s a couple songs that are really cool on there; they mixed my guitar playing where it was out there, forward, and really sounding great. Certainly by the time you get into Hot in the Shade, there was “Forever” and “Hide Your Heart,” which were very popular. There’s highlights on each record, no doubt. Of course Revenge has killer tracks from top-to-bottom, and I’m still proud of Carnival of Souls. It’s considered a little bit of an odd Kiss record in some ways since it’s heavier than the others. I’m really proud of all the stuff I did through the Kiss years. Certain songs feature me more, but I really did have a great opportunity to be showcased in that band.
HOH: I was on your website taking a look at those pictures of you backstage at a recent Kiss show, and listening to your new solo album BK3, you have Gene and Eric contributing. I’d say it’s safe to assume you’re still a part of the brotherhood, no matter the paths that unfolded after your tenure in the band.
BK: Yeah, it was great to get the overall access pass and that’s why I wanted to share that with the fans. You know, here’s me holding Paul’s guitar backstage and Gene’s. It was really fun, it was wonderful. I even got to catch some of the sound check, which was a lot of fun. Those guys have always been really cool to me. You know, I miss being in the band and all, but the truth is it makes sense for Tommy (Thayer) to do the Ace stuff. Honestly, they know what I contributed to the band. It’s not a case of was I good enough or smart enough to be in the band; they wanted to do the makeup thing and that’s certainly a very comfortable role for Tommy to be Ace. I had my own era to be proud of.
HOH: In the event that things were different and you were asked to be the Spaceman, would you have done it?
BK: Well, look, I don’t want to lie and say absolutely not, no way, but everybody has a price sometimes! (laughs) I’m kind of relieved I didn’t have the choice. It just made sense for me to represent my era of Kiss. I’m very proud of the guys to get the new music out there because of the fact the band acted like they would never do it; why bother spending the time do that, you know? Still, I think it’s very cool.
HOH: I want to touch on Northern Lights Orchestra a minute. To me, this is one of the biggest gatherings of eighties rockers and metal artists since Hear ‘n Aid! How’d you get involved with this project?
BK: It was Chuck Wright who threw me into the mix. I’ve known Chuck a long time and he was the bass player on most of the tracks. Next thing I know, Ken Mary, the drummer guy, sent me some tracks and said ‘Hey, here’s these couple of songs we’d like you to play on.’ You know, any session I do I take very seriously. I took them into the studio and really worked hard on them. I used Jeremy (Rubolino), my producer for BK3, and we banged it out. I’m really happy with it. The tracks came out great and they were a bit of a challenge; they were symphonic in nature, these songs.
HOH: I think that element might’ve spilled over just a bit into the last song of BK3, “Life.” That finale, man, wow…
BK: You know, the ending on that song is supposed to be a celebration of life. That’s why I bring in all of those instruments played together. It had a very cool vibe.
HOH: To me, it was almost a Beatles vibe…
BK: Yeah, I was certainly going for a Beatles sort of thing, so I’ll say thank you.
HOH: (laughs) Nice! Back to Northern Lights for a second, naturally there are comparables to Trans-Siberian Orchestra with the holiday slant and big theater aspect. From your perspective of the Northern Lights group, what does this ensemble bring to the table the other group might not?
BK: The holiday time is a good time for people to celebrate, and if you’re going to rock out, there’s no harm in rocking out to some songs that are inspired by the season, you know? I think there’s a place for both bands. Trans-Siberian has been around for quite awhile; it’s very huge and they put on an unbelievable show. Northern Lights, I know they did a show and a DVD of it. I was busy overseas, so that’s why I wasn’t involved with it, though of course I played on the regular CD, so it’s hard for me to do an exact comparison, but the real point of it—especially with the NLO—is there’s a charity involved with it. It’s for people who have had drug issues and stuff like that, to help them stay on the right path. I was proud to be a part of it in that way.
HOH: Moving into BK3, I feel one of the album’s big highlights is all the guests you have on it. You have John Carabi, Tobias Sommet, of course Eric Singer plus Gene and Nick Simmons. I would imagine this was something of like throwing your own private party in the studio having these guests come on board for the album.
BK: Well, I’d like to be candid and say it wasn’t always a party because it was very hard to schedule everybody as you can imagine. Ultimately everybody did a really wonderful job and I think each song that fell in their laps fit them well. I think they really did them justice. I was actually very proud of everyone’s contributions.
HOH: You know, I have to give Gene a ton of credit on “Ain’t Gonna Die.” He really saved some of his best vocals for you!
BK: When Jeremy and I heard him open up his mouth we were like, ‘Oh shit, this is great!’ Look, he’s pro in the studio and it didn’t take him long. We knew what we had and what it could sound like, which is why I hired a real string section to do the bridge parts and the ending. It was quite an interesting day. I had a wonderful time.
HOH: He’s definitely a large part of the groove on that track, and it sounds to me like Nick is working out to be a mirror of Gene, judging by his vocals on “Hand of the King.”
BK: Yeah, he was like a mini-Gene there; in his own way, though.
HOH: I like this generation bridge you got between Gene, yourself and Nick! Nice unity.
BK: Yeah, that track worked out really well. I loved the whole vibe that Nick created. He comes from a more sci-fi, comic book world type of thing. Those lyrics were really, really inspiring once I read them and saw how creative he was. He just handled it. I mean, the studio was new to him, of course, but he’s a smart guy, he’s a classy kid and he’s very talented. He could probably do whatever he wants, you know?
HOH: I especially love the variety of BK3. You have the feelgood toe-tappers like “And I Know” and “Dirty Girl,” you have the heavy stuff like “I’m the Animal” and you have some Hendrix funk on “Between the Lines.” How much does diversity trigger your songwriting through three solo albums to this point?
BK: I do like a lot of different styles of stuff. It really wasn’t that hard to keep the diversity. Jeremy and I changed the formula a bit once we realized that we had the Gene track finished, and we had some heavy stuff; we needed things to compliment those, if you get what I’m saying. There has to be that recipe for the record you’re making and I feel really comfortable with the way we had to keep evolving along with it. It was all for the right reasons, you know? I like that the record has a lot of different elements. There’s no way you’ll get bored with it, that’s for sure!
HOH: (laughs) Going back to “Dirty Girl,” you have Doug Fieger from The Knack on what I thought was a very appropriate idling-away kind of jam. I’ve heard a lot of groups covering “My Sharona” over the years, but there were a lot of cool songs by The Knack such as “Good Girls Don’t” or “Let Me Out.” Was it your intention to bring a little more attention to The Knack by bringing Doug in for “Dirty Girl?”
BK: You know, what happened with that song is, it’s a power pop tune. I knew I wouldn’t sing it, that it wasn’t going to be strong enough for me. “And I Know” would be a better power pop song for me to sing. Jeremy and I had to look at the choices, you know? It was like, ‘Alright, who could do this well?’ Then it just turned out that I met Doug at a fantasy camp about a year prior to the track being ready. It was that point where I was very excited and I thought, ‘You know what? He’d be great for it!’ I went ahead and asked him and sure enough he loved the track and he did a killer job on it.
HOH: I think “Fate” is one of my favorite songs on BK3 because it has such a great grinding rock sound to it. Just looking at your schedule these days, “Fate” is kind of reflective of what’s going in your life. You have Grand Funk, the Eric Singer Project, Northern Lights, the rock clinics, and of course BK3. Is that basic drive of “Fate” symbolic of the rapid pace Bruce Kulick’s been keeping 2009 and ’10?
BK: Yeah, I guess I have been keeping the rapid pace! You know, I just do what I do and I’m very fortunate that I’ve had this career keeping me busy as heck. I don’t over-think it, if you know what I mean. It’s hard to keep it all together thinking about it too much. Ultimately I like to just do as much quality work as I can and I do feel that this record is a real testament to what I think is part of my goals in my career. This record is taking me there, which I’m really happy about. I can’t wait for all the fans to really dig into it!
HOH: (laughs) Right on. What’re you listening to these days?
BK: You know, I just got that Crooked Vultures album. I like some unusual stuff you wouldn’t think I like. I do like Coldplay, Muse and Radiohead, but I was told I need to check out the new Wolfmother! I really like them; I have their first record. From what I hear, the new record is good. I’m always looking for interesting things, but I’ve got a lot of long plane flights and I’ll end up listening to Hendrix or The Beatles, stuff that’s almost like comfort food. It like when you go back to Led Zeppelin. I’ll also take a little left turn and listen to some Stevie Wonder or Steely Dan or something. Music’s great to pass the time with!