Samick Motherlode

December 2014
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Interview: Bruce Kulick Discusses Gear and Recording for BK3

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Interview: Bruce Kulick Discusses Gear and Recording for BK3
Few guitarists can boast the career highlights that Bruce Kulick can. Best known for his 11-year stint with Kiss—a resume point that alone would provide lifelong satisfaction for most guitarists—Kulick has put out a body of work that spans so much more that. His first big gig was circling the globe with Meat Loaf on the Bat Out Of Hell tour. And his work with Union, Grand Funk Railroad, and Blackjack has garnered fans the world over. In addition, he has released his own solo material, 2001’s Audio Dog, 2003’s Transformer, and this year’s BK3. His latest outing features an impressive lineup of guests, including Steve Lukather, fellow Kiss personnel Eric Singer and Gene Simmons (as well as Simmons’ son Nick, who covers vocals on one track), Doug Fieger from the Knack, ex-Motley Crue vocalist John Corabi, and singer Tobias Sammet from German metal band Edguy.

Kulick recently spoke to PG about the new album, his vast gear collection, and the thrills of recording and writing with some of his favorite artists.

Tell me about the making of this album and what sparked it?

Well, the song “I’ll Survive” refers to me getting shot on Sunset Boulevard. I feel that I was blessed that day and was very fortunate that I survived despite some guy having a crazed desire to shoot a gun wildly on the street. The bullet went through my leg, and one nicked my head. I was literally an inch away from being crippled or dead. That happened in October of 2003, and I wrote most of the music during my healing process that November. I really love how that track came out, with a little bit of my Beatles, Aerosmith, and Pink Floyd influences—you know, bands that I really, really love. That was the first thing I wrote for the record. Jeremy and I had some other material that didn’t end up on the album, but it was a little more in the pop direction and I wanted it to be heavier. Having Gene and Nick involved really helped bring that out. But the album still has a great variety of songs, from heavy rock tunes to a ballad, and I love that.

What’s the biggest difference between BK3 and your previous solo efforts?

It’s more about collaborating with someone who had a bigger vision, which would be Jeremy Rubolino—the guy who produced it with me. Jeremy always had this vision of me doing the definitive solo record. He wanted to work with me on Transformer, but I was already committed and in the studio at that point. I really liked this compilation CD he gave me with material that he worked on with other bands, so I promised him the opportunity to work with me when I was ready to start the third record so we could see what would happen. Jeremy is a huge Kiss fan and is the cousin of Bob Ezrin. I always saw talent in him with some of the work that I did with him in the past. He worked at my brother’s [Bob Kulick] studio, and I got to hang with him. Eventually, he hired me to be on a record that he produced for Thomas Ian Nicholas [of American Pie fame], and that was when we started writing together. It was great to see what an eccentric, brilliant perfectionist he was, and he was always challenging me.

How did that impact the songs and your playing?

With my previous solo work, money and time played a big part in the recording process. This time, I got to remove those two factors. If a song had to be done three times, it was done three times—meaning in three different sessions. If a song needed a rewrite, it was rewritten. I wasn’t able to do that when I was working by myself on the other two solo records. Jeremy’s tenacity of pushing things until he was really happy helped out the process a lot. He was able to point out when something was magical or not [laughs]. Overall, it was a constant process of not settling for anything and making sure that there were no filler songs.

So working with Jeremy really allowed you to open up creatively.

Oh yeah! For example, this record has the best vocals I’ve ever done, and I know that’s due to him. He’s also very in tune with my guitar style, and he’ll say things like “Let’s stick a little harmony line in there.” He’s very, very good at things like that. So not only does he help with songwriting, but he also helps me arrange the guitars in a very musical yet challenging manner. And that’s the Ezrin factor right there. Bob used to do things like that for Kiss. One of the biggest highlights of my career was doing the Revenge record—it was a very educational time for me. Jeremy hasn’t really worked with his cousin too much, but I do see a very similar creative process in how he does things.

That first track, “Fate,” immediately grabbed me. It’s a barn burner!

That was actually the last track to be worked on. Sometimes you don’t know what you need until you do a big overview of what you’ve done. With all the Beatles remasters coming out recently, I’ve been reading a lot of articles and things about their recording process and finding out things like, “Oh wow, they recorded stuff for Sgt. Pepper’s that never was actually on the album,” and “Abbey Road wasn’t written chronologically.” I realized every record has that opportunity to be flexible in the writing process. So with “Fate,” I was already pretty pleased with all of the songs, but Jeremy said, “We need one more heavy rocker.” So we reached out to Kevin Churko, who worked with Ozzy Osbourne on his last couple of records. Jeremy basically said, “Hey, do you have some tracks, maybe some material that Bruce and I can jump in on?” He had the original tracks to “Fate,” but Jeremy and I came up with a melody and an arrangement. We loved the vibe and intensity of the song, but I ended up adjusting all of the guitar parts to make it my own. You talk about being diverse, there you go! Kevin also ended up engineering the session that Gene did the bass tracks for, “Ain’t Gonna Die.”

Speaking of Gene, you’ve got a pretty impressive lineup of guest stars all around.

Jeremy pushed me to get Lukather. I had lunch with him and we hit it off, and I was very pleased when he said yes! Eric Singer recommended that I add Gene, and Gene offered his son Nick, as well. I met Doug Fieger at Rock ’n’ Roll Fantasy Camp one year, and I knew that he would be great for the power pop tune on the record that wouldn’t fit my vocals so well. Jeremy didn’t know about Tobias Sammet, but I met him through Eric and once we brought him in the studio he was thrilled to death. The guy’s got a great voice! I had worked with John Corabi previously in Union, and we did some really good things. One of Jeremy’s favorite albums is the second Union record, The Blue Room, so he knew just how good John and I could be together. I certainly feel like the song with John is a definitive song on the record.

How did you begin the whole tracking process?

A lot of the songs were demos at first. Then we dumped them into Pro Tools and added real drums, along with any ideas that Jeremy and I had along the way. We’d record ideas on a little tape recorder wherever inspiration struck, sometimes in my living room or somewhere else. Eventually, we’d throw a drum loop or section into Pro Tools and lay the idea out, and then start overdubbing on it. It was actually pretty fun, especially when we were using this little black Gretsch acoustic with a pickup to hash out how the song would go. That was the first guitar used during the recording of the album. Then we’d add bass and arrange it, overdub, redo things as needed, and then see how it turned out.

What were your main amps for the recording sessions?

I don’t own a lot of amps, but I know what a good one should sound like. When you have four or five really good tones, you can really make a lot happen. My old Marshall JCM 900 2100 series head has always been my go-to amp. It has EL34s and it just sounds killer! My tracks on the Kiss Revenge album were recorded with it. The amp doesn’t have a whole lot of versatility, but it sounds great and it gives me that big sound whenever I want it. I also like to run through a 1966 Fender Bassman head coupled with 4x12 Marshall cabs with Vintage 30s. I also have a Rivera 2x12 cabinet with Vintage 30s, and a 4x10 cab. I’d occasionally use a Marshall JCM 2000 TSL, but everything was tracked mainly with a Marshall 4x12 driven by either the Fender or the JCM 900. I love the Orange Tiny Terror for more Class A-esque tones, as well as my early reissue Vox AC30 in red tolex. I normally don’t record leads through it, but it’s great for adding texture. One of the tricks that I learned a long time ago is to not play through the same thing for everything, which really helps with textures. The most recent amp that I’ve acquired is an Egnater Rebel 20, which is really flexible.

How about guitars?

My main guitar is a conversion 1953 Gibson Les Paul. People who know about Les Pauls from that era would think it’s a goldtop, but it’s been in the Kulick family for a very long time. My brother got it in ’74. At the time, it had already been refinished with a sunburst paint job. The neck has been reset, and it has a wonderful shape. It had also been converted from P-90s to humbuckers, and it came with a stop tailpiece and Tune-o-matic bridge. Paul [Stanley]’s solo record had the guitar on it when my brother played with him. My brother didn’t really want it, and he really didn’t use it much. So I bought it from him, and I used it on every Kiss album after that. Tom Murphy repainted it for me in the ’90s, because the sunburst refinish was pretty weak. It’s just beautiful now and has the old brown case. I also have some great Les Paul reissues and a Gibson ES-330 hollowbody. ESP guitars have always treated me well, and I have some really nice ones. In fact, Steve [Lukather] played my bolt-on Vintage Plus from the ’90s on his track. There’s nothing better than a good P bass in a song, so I have some of those as well as some Jazz basses. Gene let us borrow one of his axe basses for a track too. You can find a ton of information on my gear collection on my website, too, because I’m sure I’m forgetting a lot.

I understand you have a pretty big pedal collection, too.

It’s crazy how many pedals I own, but I have a good instinct on which ones to bring. I used my Creation Audio Labs MK. 4.23 booster a lot. It doesn’t color the sound, and it just pushes the amp when it’s not giving enough. Toward the end, I got turned on to Keeley pedals, and I’m also a huge fan of vintage Boss effects. GeekMacDaddy made me a nice Univibe clone and a custom wah, which sounded more like my early Vox ones.

What’s your favorite track on the album?

You know, I love them all, but I’m sure that you hear that all of the time! “I’ll Survive” is very personal to me, considering its inspiration. It kills me every time I hear it—I just love it. I also think Gene and I hit a real mark with “Ain’t Gonna Die” and that real Revenge-era vibe. Nick did a great job, too. All in all, I’m proud of every song on there.
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