INTERVIEW AND LIVE PICS BY MARKO SYRJÄLÄ
Current solo artist and Grand Funk Railroad guitarist Bruce Kulick is best known about his stunt with U.S. music icons KISS. However, there’s plenty more that he’s been involved with during his long career which initially started in the mid-’70s. Bruce did his first major tour in 1978 with Meat Loaf, together with his older brother Bob, and later on, he worked with such famous names as Michael Bolton, Billy Squier, and Good Rats before he was asked to join KISS and replace Mark St. John in 1984. During the next eleven years, Bruce recorded five studio albums altogether with KISS including ASYLUM, CRAZY NIGHTS and REVENGE before the band decided to make a reunion with the original Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss lineup in 1996. After KISS, Bruce started a brand new band called Union together with onetime Motley Crue singer John Corabi, drummer Brent Fitz and bassist Jamie Hunting. The band released two highly acclaimed albums UNION (1998) and BLUE ROOM (2000) before they slowly disbanded out from the picture. In 2001 Kulick released his first solo album AUDIODOG and he also joined classic U.S rock band Grand Funk Railroad with whom he’s been playing since then. Now, ten years later, Bruce is a busy man as ever. The third solo album BK3 got released in 2010, and he’s been a part of numerous different projects including guest appearances on albums of such artists as Lordi, Shameless, Sebastian Gava, Tim Owens and his former KISS colleagues Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons solo releases. What did bring Bruce in Finland in the year 2011 is another project called ESP (Eric Singer Project). The band, which consist of current KISS drummer and Bruce’s former colleague Eric Singer, bassist Chuck Garrick (Alice Cooper) and another Bruce’s old mate John Corabi is a kind of “just for fun” type of band which keeps on doing small tours around the world every then and now when its members have free from their other commitments. ESP was originally formed in 1998, and they have released all covers album in the late ’90s plus some live releases including DVD called LIVE AT THE MARQUEE (2005). ESP visited first time in Finland back in 2008, and they now returned to play again in the front of fanatic KISS ARMY FINLAND in Nosturi in Helsinki. Bruce was kind enough to give some time for us and tell all the latest news but also a lot of exciting stories from the past including his early career, the state of Union and, of course, lots of interesting KISS stories and much more. Read on!
CURRENT ACTIVITIES AND BK3
First of all, it seems that you are more than a busy man on these days?
It certainly got very busy, yes, but busy is good when you’re a musician,
You just did a tour in South America, you’re doing those Grand Funk shows all the time, and now you’re in Europe with ESP. That sounds quite complicated schedule “laughs.”
Right, I mean, what happened was I knew that in between some of the gigs with Grand Funk I could go to South America which was a commitment that I, I was supposed to do Chile in December and that got pushed from on and then Argentina, the guy always wanted me to do something with him, Sebastian Gava. He’s very much like a Paul Stanley in 1991. He’s a talented guy, and he’s a nice guy too, and so I was able to put that together you know, a whole week and a half. I didn’t know the time would be so close to us going to Europe but this was the only window of opportunity for Eric and I especially because of Eric’s schedule, KISS recording and Gene was going to be busy too. So it was easy for him to say, okay I’m going to do these shows. So did I want this schedule to be like this? No, but I had no choice.
Your long-awaited solo album BK3 saw finally the light of day on last year. How satisfied you’re with the result and all the feedback you’ve received about it?
I’m very much satisfied with it. I was, look I mean for me I did the record for me, and my fans and I know I walked away from it saying this really is the best of me, and I feel like I top the other records and from not only the music and the guests which were wonderful but the artwork and the packaging and it’s actually, I’ve gotten very many favorable reviews which is great. So I’m very pleased. Sadly I had a busy year with Grand Funk, so I couldn’t do much in the sense of live things to promote it, but as this trip to South America, I was able to perform a few of the songs which is nice. And the album was kind of complicated. Seriously, it was not a pretty simple album, but usually, when people want to see me, they surely want to hear my era of KISS which even ESP doesn’t really represent. Okay, we’ll do some REVENGE because of Eric and me, but we’re not going to do “Crazy Nights” and “Tears are Falling” and “Turn on Night,” songs like that, or HOT IN THE SHADE you know like “Hide Your Heart” which I’ll do. So I have a built-in crowd really when I concentrate on my era fans.
In a way, it’s a curse as well. Because people are… you always HAVE to play that stuff, you know?
Yeah, but I enjoy it because it’s not overplayed by anybody then and I can put my signature sound on it. You should see the reaction I get from those songs you know. So as much as I love playing with ESP, I know when I go solo as long as I’m playing that stuff I go over really well.
Like you already mentioned there’s a list of great guests on BK3 album. How was it the work with Nick Simmons on track “Hand of the King” and how much Gene had to do with it that Nick ended up in the album?
I was going to ask Nick to be on the record. I was going to ask Gene if it was okay for him and Gene actually before I even asked him said, “How about my son Nick?” you know, it was like one of those which is smart of Gene. I mean he knows that I was going to be recording professionally using nice studios. It would be a good experience than to work with someone with my experience and he is. He was very, as we say in America, green you know. I mean he didn’t have a lot of knowledge of how to record. So working with my producer and me, it was great for Nick and to see him go from being kind of nervous at first and not getting a great performance very first time. By the end of that day we had a great performance, and then he even sang it one more time when we were going to do the armies, he said “I can sing it better now,” and so he did.
At times it’s almost frightening to listen to his singing because he sounds so much like young Gene…
Yeah. A lot of people see that, but I think Gene’s proud of it. It was the first single, and it got a lot of… it got the most favorite of iTunes track. Although personally for me I think “Hand of the King” is a great song, but I feel like what John and I did was like, it was like an equivalent to the best Union song. You know, “No Friend of Mine,” so. I get great performances out of everybody. I really did, and I was very pleased.
Say something about your working with Tobias Sammet. He did sing one track on BK3, and then, later on, you ended up playing on his Avantasia albums?
Eric introduced me to, and actually he told me, Tobias told me that he met and e-mailed me years before and I didn’t really know who it was. So I was kind of like, well, keep in touch maybe, you know and then all of a sudden I hear this voice at a KISS Expo in Japan and Eric says, I go like, who is this? Why are they playing that? Oh, that’s me with that Sammet guy. I said he is great, Bruce you should use him on your record you know I mean, so. And then I came to see Edguy, he was touring in America, and we got together. I had a great song which I thought he could really sing well, which he did. And we wrote the lyrics, and I’m very proud to have him on my record. He’s great, and I hope to do some other things with him.
Did you ever discuss possibility about you doing some Avantasia shows?
There was one time when there was a little window where it was going to South America where he invited me and but then, with the Grand Funk gigs, I just couldn’t do it. It just didn’t work, but I’d like to very much. Everybody knows that including Tobias.
ESP and UNION
Now when you’re in Europe once again doing these ESP shows, do you see that we’ll someday see a new release from you guys?
Someone asked this earlier. I mean we don’t have a real plan. It’s not something that we say we don’t want to do but it’ very hard to get the four of us together with us all really doing other things that take a lot of our time and most important obviously, everyone… I always do kind of say that everybody in my life kind of revolves around KISS too, even though I’m not in the band anymore. But it’s proven once again with Eric’s schedule and then when I can do things and look my Grand Funk, and it’s been great for me, but it’s just hard. Certain months aren’t good for me to go off to Europe because of how much work Grand Funk would get. So and that would even include possibly recording. I mean when could we fit that in but maybe the reaction from this tour would give us a little more you know kind of energy to do it.
How about making some original ESP material because you have more than enough talent with this lineup?
I know, well thanks. There’s a lot of talent in the band. That could be done, but that’s always a much bigger endeavor. I can’t tell you how hard it was for me to do BK3, took a long time but I was, you know, it was worth it.
Well, then I have to ask something about Union as well. It’s an interesting fact that you never actually broke up, right?
Well, I mean in a way we did. We all went our own ways, and it’s you know, and obviously every time I do stuff with John it makes me think about maybe revisiting it and we’ve actually had a few talks this year about his real, no real plans but you know the band, I felt like we were maybe before our time or something. I don’t know, I just thought it was a terrific band, but we just didn’t kind of get the business that we needed to survive at the time. We all have a lot of respect for each other.
Like you mentioned “Love’s Not Friend of Mine” does sound like Union a lot but there are also more songs which could have been included on Union albums, right?
Some of it. Yes.
Which one is actually a more difficult thing to do, to work on a solo album or a band album?
In a way, with a band, you have your brothers and as much as this is complicated because you have everyone’s needs and all, but it’s a group you know. So every decision and both of the Union records we did have a producer as much as you know I took over production credit with John as well. But I have to say the solo record is harder, because there’s so much you know depending on me and my name and the pressure is higher that’s all.
Union around the year 2000: Jamie Hunting, Brent Fitz, Bruce, and John Corabi
GRAND FUNK RAILROAD
So about Grand Funk Railroad, when you first joined the band, you first had something like three year deal with them, but now it’s been more than ten years you’ve been playing with them. What’s your deal with them at the moment?
I mean there was never really any contract, to be honest. It was more like let’s see how this goes and just go and here I am in my eleventh year playing with them. We’ll see, you never know, it might go even further than KISS “laughs” You know the twelve years I have with KISS. But they’re a great band, and these guys play amazing. They have no real desire to put down new material or DVDs you know.
That must be because Mark Farner isn’t in the band anymore, right?
You know, it’s some of it is complicated businesswise because of Mark. Mark’s still in a sense has a, he’s still related to what is the corporation of Grand Funk. And again, I have nothing to do with them you know. Its kind of like you know, how complicated was it with Ace and Peter with KISS? So I don’t have a lot of knowledge of it, but I am aware that it’s just complicated but believe me, the guys in new Grand Funk, if there was a desire to do a record, we’d put out a killer record. Max, the singer is amazing. He’s a famous songwriter too. He’s had hits in America. No, he isn’t Mark Farner, but he certainly can sing those bongs. But we could come up with… we actually do a couple of new songs in this show, but it’s really up to Don and Nell. It’s like it’s up to Gene and Paul what KISS does. So I just, I’m grateful about the talent and the fact that we really get together as a band.
At least live album would be great to hear from this lineup?
Yeah. Again, I would love to. I think we kick ass, but it’s up to those guys.
THE OLD STUFF
Some time ago you released a great collection of songs from your early band called KKB. Is there some more material like that still stored on “the closet” which might get released later in the future?
You know, there really isn’t much. I was very… it was odd how that came about. I remember, I always knew about KKB. In fact, I played it for Gene when I did like Donington back in ’88. He was like, this is good. You know what I mean. I was like okay. But it took me pulling out the tape when I found someone at a garage sale in my neighborhood to have big real to real, I love real to real and analog and everything. I put the tape on. I had a friend of mine over, two friends over. Chuck Wright actually, the bass player and he goes like this is great, and I’m like, you think so? Really? He goes like, yeah, your fans would love to hear this. And I’m like, thank you. It’ll be like two years until BK3 comes out. Maybe I can put this together? I just cleaned it up. I didn’t overdub anything but Mike the guy who sang and wrote most of the songs; he was over the moon thrilled. He was just, this is so great, and the fact that I was able to hand like a CD of that, to Jack Bruce who is our hero you know and Jack to know me and know that project and I got to see him at fantasy camp. I played with him in and all. I met his daughter and so on. That made it all worthwhile and I did it at very limited edition you know one thousand copies only and I think there might be two of the gig right now but I really only have a couple left. I mean it’s technically sold out, but I always keep a few behinds. It’s a good record, and that’s me at the age like 20, 21. That’s crazy, and I don’t think I sound that different either since it’s been, even though I know I can play, I know now more about guitar and music. It’s kind of… everything’s there you know. That’s very flattering to me.
Speaking about old days, your brother Bob Kulick started his musician career in the early ’70s already. How important influence he was for you in the very beginning?
I learned a lot from him even though I took lessons from a private teacher, I was always trying to jam with him and learn things from him, and I learned so much about the business, and I wouldn’t have met KISS if it wasn’t for my brother and been in the band. So I owe lots to him. Meat Loaf, he got the audition first and brought me in, and that turned out to be a great gig for us you know. So I owe a lot to Bob, and he knows that I’m very, very grateful for him.
Do you have any memories from the times when he did that KISS audition?
Well, I think they always knew that he was a better role as goes a guitar player, not a member of the band.
But do you remember the day when he did that first audition for Kiss back in 1973?
Right. I just knew that he would audition with people. I mean again he didn’t know then that it was like “a famous day.” Except he does remember that Ace was there on the same day and it was, of course, years later that he ran into those guys at that recording studio and struck up a friendship. I knew Paul way before I was in the band you know.
Tell something about the Wendorff album KISS THE WORLD GOODBYE which you played on with Bob back in 1977?
Oh wow! That was my first record I think. My brother actually said like; “Have my brother to play a song.” You know, it’s just as simple as that. I was like, wow! And then I remember being in the studio and I was like, everyone’s watching me, I’m like and they were like, wow! He’s good. You know I mean, there’s always something about that I’m always fascinated to see that when somebody, the young one gets his opportunity, he’s shying a little bit you know and everybody is like, see yeah, I told you it was good you know.
The Kulick brothers
BLACKJACK AND MICHAEL BOLTON
The next thing what I was going to ask is about band Blackjack and Michael Bolton.
First of all, how you and Michael met each other and then decided to start work together?
My brother knew him, and he was a famous singer in New Haven. So he was always looking for new guitar players and then first of all Bob and I both played with him on some gigs. And then he started to shop around a record deal thing, and it turned out that he, they wanted to give him a record deal, but they wanted him to have a band. So that’s, that’s he asked me to be the guitar player, and it was, it was very interesting working with Michael. He was a very shall I say… driven guy, okay and he worked hard, and I’m not surprised, it wasn’t on rock n’ roll, but I’m not surprised that he became very famous or infamous in some ways because a lot of people are like Michael Bolton? But he is a very talented singer. He really fell into his own thing. And I introduced him to Paul and he wanted to write a power ballad with Michael as he was known as being a good singer and songwriter and then obviously “Forever” turned out to be something really important for my career with KISS. So I was very happy about that.
When you now mentioned “Forever,” how the writing actually went between Paul and Michael?
Michael co-wrote it with Paul, trust me, all right? Do not forget that. I don’t care if Michael came up with two chords, he co-wrote it with Paul. I know that Paul has an issue with Michael because I think he introduces it as his song that he wrote, and he should say that he wrote it with Paul, which is fair. So now you get to pissing match “laughs.”
How much you are still in contact with other former Blackjack guys and would you see it possible that some kind of formation of Blackjack could someday do something together again like some kind of one of thing?
Oh! With Jimmy (Haslip) you mean and Sandy (Gennaro). I do work with Sandy at the Rock n’ Roll Fantasy camp you know. He’s a good friend, but Jimmy really is just doing big jazz stuff you know that and he’s very popular. I wouldn’t rule it out to play with them, but I’m not expecting it to happen.
Blackjack was a really interesting band, and it could have been a really big thing if you would have continued the band some time longer?
Yeah, I think so.
Was it for the reason why Blackjack disbanded back in the day?
What happened was that we got a really big record deal with a guy that with a new label president who really believed in it. We sold like a hundred thousand records which, we’re a new band, was very good and then, in the end, he got fired, and we barely got the second record out. So that’s it was profits. Some bands don’t make it because they just, something changes at the label and they’re like Oh, Oh! We can’t promote with them anymore. That was his project. He got fired. He said ‘screw them,’ and that’s all there is. And that’s why I’ve been on, able to go on and do great. Everybody in the band has gone on and done some really good things.
So it was all about the record company stuff back then?
The record company, that was about it. They didn’t… the guy got fired, and you know, the label president got fired, and that was the end of it. I just said that if there was nobody to fund the record back then you know you got help the advances and did a record with a big producer and everything. We had Tom Dowd, one of the most famous producers.
You did two promotional videos with Blackjack.
Yeah. The videos were very early. Even before MTV. Yeah.
The other one was filmed somewhere at the top of the building. Do you have memories of working on that video?
It was just in New York. It was interesting, helicopter and everything and it’s kind of cool. I didn’t even understand the power of a video then. Again, the timing was bad if that was a few years later on MTV, like that’s how Michael as a solo artist got some attention because he was on MTV.
After Blackjack was long gone, you continued working with Michael when he started his solo career?
Yeah. That’s how I met Don Brewer because when we stopped Blackjack Michael then started writing and doing that solo record and then he asked me to play on it. Then he got a tour, and then he changed the spelling of his last name from Bolotin to Bolton. I was happy to be his guitar player, and we even used to perform some of the Blackjack songs live where we got the like three weeks with Bob Seger. We got some dates for Peter Frampton, which is a great opportunity for a brand new band. So in the end though, it was Don Brewer was playing with Seger. So that’s how I met him actually, and years later when Grand Funk was looking for Grand Funk II you know, I was on the shortlist call. So that was, you know it’s interesting how you never know who you’re going to meet you know and when and how it could give you something in the future you know. So… “laughs.”
LEARNING KISS RIFFS
Your career with KISS started in 1984 when you were first asked to play some solos for ANIMALIZE. It wasn’t long after before you were asked to join permanently and replace Mark St. John, the question is, why they didn’t hire you in the first place because they already knew you and they knew what you were capable of doing?
They were looking for a hotshot guitar player from LA. Paul calls up the guy from Jackson guitars [and says] “gimme some names,” and the next thing you know they meet Mark Norton and they think “this guy is faster than Vinnie, he’s amazing!”. I thought he was all wrong. Fate has an interesting way of working.
Later on, you worked together with Mark on KISS Expos and…
I jammed with Mark, and we did gigs, Expos, together. I was very kind to him, and then we did Expos even after hours and then KISS in the mornings you know. It is, he didn’t have the… he had a lot of talent although I don’t think his style was right with the KISS but his, he certainly didn’t fit KISS to where I could have fit KISS, and that’s why when I got the opportunity it was pretty obvious who should be in the band.
Overall when you first joined KISS, it must have been a big challenge for you because KISS was quite different material compared what you did with your past bands and projects. I mean KISS was for sure quite different to Blackjack, Billy Squier or Good Rats, right?
Well, I mean I always try to fit in with what is right for the project but KISS was going through changes, they just did this album with some fast guitar playing on it, and finger tapping was popular, whammy bar stuff you know. So they wanted me to be competitive with that. Back in the Blackjack days, I wouldn’t think about doing anything “Hendrixy” or anything like that or, so I always try to fit in and do what’s appropriate or what the people who were paying me to want. That helps you know.
Do you remember a guy called Allan Scharzenberger?
You mean that drummer, right? I never actually met him but I’ve heard a lot about him. But I didn’t know him.
He’s well-known studio musician who has played on hundreds of albums including Alice Cooper, Peter Gabriel, James Brown, Roger Daltrey, and KISS. It’s known the fact that he played on DESTROYER, DYNASTY and THE ELDER albums but now there are rumors which do say that he also played at least partly on ANIMALIZE and ASYLUM as well. What is your opinion about those arguments?
He did not play on REVENGE.
No, no. I’m talking about the albums ASYLUM and ANIMALIZE here.
ASYLUM was definitely Eric Carr. I was there for all the sessions. ANIMALIZE, I couldn’t say. I wasn’t really around; I came in at the last minute and did one and a half solos, that was it.
Like you said Eric did play the ASYLUM album, but later on, there were lots of drum machines used for the next records and…
Not on CRAZY NIGHTS. Ron Nevison triggered things; it was a very popular thing to do then. It takes the snare, and then triggers it, you know. HOT IN THE SHADE sadly had some drum machines. I was very upset. I don’t remember which songs but it was just stupid. We took the demo, and it wound up being; like ok “that feels better than what he can play” and Eric didn’t like it, and I thought it sucked.
Was that a pure money issue?
Back then it was amazing that the demos could sound almost like a record. It’s like well, we don’t want to make this too polished. So whatever they were thinking, I dunno. You couldn’t argue with it. I didn’t agree with it, but I couldn’t argue it. Just a little Cesar though, you know?
You and Eric Carr were really close, that’s what I have understood. What was your first reaction when you first heard about his health problems back in 1991?
Well, I was pretty concerned. I didn’t know that it was cancer and that it would kill him but I was really worried and then the news only ever got worse, and even when the news was good I had doctor friends that kind of knew cancer he had, said and I said, so he’s in remission, they go like, that’s not good. I go, what do you mean? Well that kind of cancer, if it goes in remission like that, it’s only going to come back even stronger. I’m like, what? What do I know about that kind of a situation and so it was really sad, very sad.
What are your best memoirs about Eric Carr?
Well, certainly he had a great sense of humor. I like the way he treated fans and then when we were creative, and it was working that was a lot of fun. Because it was fun to be, he was a really talented guy, and he had a great voice. That’s how we were able to do the songs for the ROCKHEADS. It was a lot of fun. You know, we didn’t have to worry about Gene and Paul’s opinion you know, because it was something different and you know I realized it was a real passion for him that he seemed to have a real point of view or, so. I mean you know, the tough sides were his insecurities and the fact that he always was struggling with his role in KISS which can be difficult if you don’t get it. So…. he was a very talented guy, and it was sad, but I know many people who remember him.
There kind of two separate camps in KISS back then?
Well, that’s the way it is when you know Paul and Gene are at that level. They created a KISS, and then you’re coming in years later, so you’re in that group you know what I mean, there’s always a pecking order in every band. From Aerosmith to the Beatles, it really doesn’t matter. So you play your role, you’re still valuable, but in life, there’s a pecking order. There’s a pecking order in your family you know. Who is the moral helper? Who is in charge? Everyone means something, but it’s just nature. It’s just nature. So I didn’t mind that. I got it. I understood it better than Eric did I guess.
There were some rumors that in the early ’90s, Eric was kind of pissed off on Paul and Gene enough and he was about to leave the band?
He definitely was… the Eric Carr book talks a little bit about it. He was very miserable about the drum solo being cut. He felt he was being picked on. He thought I was on their side; I wasn’t on any side. It was just let’s all get along here and have a good time and rock n’ roll you don’t know how lucky you are. Once Paul had a good heart to heart with him, he kinda turned it all around.
Let’s turn the same thing upside down; there are also rumors which do say that Paul and Gene wanted to get rid of Eric Carr?
Well, let’s put it this way. If Eric was gonna stay with the attitude, he had, yeah, I mean, you know, who wants a “Debbie Downer” in the band? He had legitimate gripes, but then you deal with it. You don’t act like “I’m not talking to you.”
When the problems with actually started?
That was only during the HOT IN THE SHADE tour in 89, 90, that tour. It started with the drum solo being taken away, but that’s just because the manager thought we should play more songs.
Some sources also say that he was pissed off because he didn’t get his songs on the albums?
Well, Peter could say that Ace could say that, I could tell that. I don’t think it was the main cause. Look, if you both have a great ballad; Paul’s got a great ballad, and Eric’s got a great ballad; then Paul’s ballad is going on the record. Ok?
KISS in 1989: Bruce, Paul Stanley, Eric Carr, and Gene Simmons
REVENGE AND ERIC SINGER
Eric Singer joined KISS officially at the end of 1991. Did you know Singer before that?
Yeah, I knew he was a drummer in the solo band for Paul back in ’89 and Eric Carr met him and said that this was the guy that’s gonna replace him in Kiss. Eric was definitely side-kicked about that, I dunno why. I know he said that about it, I was like what are ya talking about?! At the time I saw that more as, well, maybe if he’s so miserable, maybe he’ll get fired and Eric will be the new drummer. I didn’t realize he’d get sick and die. But he said it. He said it to Carrie; he used to say it to me, “that’s the guy who’s gonna replace me.” Why would you say such a thing? I never saw Tommy Thayer and said: “that’s the guy who’s gonna replace me.” I didn’t know what was gonna happen in Kiss but I certainly wasn’t running around with premonitions like that. In fact, I was nervous they were going to like me. I was kinda relieved even though I really do miss being in the band but I didn’t want to become Ace; I just didn’t want to do that.
You didn’t want to wear Ace’s makeup but do you remember how you reacted when you first saw Eric wearing Peter’s makeup “laughs.”
I was like shocked but I thought it was really cool and I knew it was like Peter which just thinks he’s god and Gene and Paul sure taught him a lesson. Oh here is Eric as the Cat you know. I think they went to Japan or somewhere. I forget the first tour he did.
How important role he, Eric Singer, had on creating REVENGE. He did bring some new and fresh energy for the band and the album became one of the strongest pieces in the whole KISSSTORY?
No, I really think that fate has a way of… that’s what happened. I’m not trying to negate Eric Singer’s role in that but you gotta remember that the band was determined with someone so talented, named Bob Ezrin, to make a great record with no compromise which meant redoing things, spending all the time, rewriting things, cutting it in a different key. Eric was the right guy to be involved but the point is, I think we still would have done a great record but it wasn’t meant to be for Eric Carr. But I just can’t give Eric Singer the cause of that. The cause was a famous producer kicking our ass. I give all the credit to Bob Ezrin.
Bob has a long history and he also has a long history working with KISS. How it overall to work with him?
Well, I got along with him but it was hard. He’s like a taskmaster. You know, Chuck (Garrick) got a little taste of it with Alice Cooper because they’re now working with Ezrin. Bob is difficult but he’s difficult on purpose. He’s going to push you and demand the best from you and you’re never going to be lazy.
I remember when REVENGE came out and you said you have never been in a tougher place but making that album?
But, look at the playing and look at the album. And I also walked away from the album saying I’m 99.9% happy. You know what I mean? Where usually I’m always like I think I’m 80% happy now. You know what I mean. So we got the record that I really hoped for and it stands the test of time.
So overall, working on REVENGE was the toughest thing you ever did with KISS?
Working with Ezrin… He’s very demanding and he’s a great producer. I really am very grateful for what he was able to get out of me, shall I say? He really made me work hard.
How much you leftover songs from the REVENGE sessions? I know there are some and…
Yeah. Not too many but there were a few extra songs that didn’t make it. But…
Like the one which Paul wrote with Dave Sabo?
“Do You Wanna Touch Me Now”? It’s a great track. I have an amazing version of it at home. I was surprised they didn’t put it on the box. Don’t ask me why? It’s a great tune. There is some great Eric’s drumming on it. There are no solos on it, just the rhythm tracks. It does sound like a cousin of “Heart of Chrome” and “Tough Love,” you know. Sounds like right in that band.
CARNIVAL OF SOULS AND END OF AN ERA
REVENGE was great and you managed kind of revitalize the whole band but it seemed not to be enough because the reunion with the original band was about to come within a few years later. How much grunge and overall significant changes in the music business at that time did effect for the reunion decision, you know?
That kind of softened what the effect of REVENGE would be. Broader than you die-hard KISS people you know. So, that’s when Gene started thinking, well we’ll do a live record, you know, we’ll have all the hits on it and then we’ll try these conventions. You see what I mean and then the more he went that way, the more he realized, well if we can always sell gold with a record like REVENGE maybe it’s time to think about the past again and then Gene, then Ace and Peter were pretty desperate. You know, they weren’t doing well and it was easy for that MTV Unplugged thing to be the catalyst as you call it for a reunion. I know there were many other times they were getting calls about it, but they didn’t want to act on it. Now we have to; our best effort only won gold, it’s time to think about you know, which is why like currently KISS does very, very well without that Ace and Peter and Gene and Paul loved them tremendously. But you know, they should do very well. They’re excellent, they’re in makeup, they’re carrying on and they are putting out a great show. We were up against a lot of music changes. We didn’t have the makeup which made us different from whatever you know. But just having a great album I mean, I feel like the same thing doing Union with John. We didn’t have a fair share with them. So I don’t think REVENGE did what it could have done. But fate has it that it was time for a reunion. It was like 20 years you know. It’s like Star Wars coming back. That’s the way I look at it.
Although there was a reunion was already in the works you continued to work as a band for the next KISS album CARNIVAL OF SOULS. That must have been a bizarre time for you and Eric?
CARNIVAL OF SOULS was a commitment to the label. Gene and Paul had a record deal and it was the time between the records. What better way to move forward when you are not really sure if Ace and Peter are going to behave… You go into the studio with the band you have, which is functioning. I know they were already plotting the reunion tour before we even started recording. I remember calling Gene and saying “When are we starting the record?” because we did all these demos, we had all these songs, we had Toby Wright on hold. All of a sudden he said “let me call you right back”… and then all of a sudden we’re booked next Monday, then we’re going into the studio.
I felt like it was like “HELLLOOOO??!?!” (Bruce knocks on the table). Part of it was we were already committed to a record and then I didn’t realize what was going on but think about it. The Ace and Peter wild card – you know the expression? Eric and I, firm commitment, label, money – go to the studio, and there we were. While we were recording, lawyers were negotiating. Eric and I were told right before the mixing that they were going to do it. I’m not saying that because I said something to Gene that we recorded that record. But I am saying that it was kind of a little bit confusing as to what direction knowing that this big thing could be starting. How do they handle it? I think they politically did it very well. They protected themselves. They honored the commitment to the label. I’ll tell ya another thing that I’m sure that they go off and they are huge in make-up and here’s this record that the label paid for and they are like what are we gonna do with this? Ace and Peter going – please don’t put out a record – you know what I mean? Oh well, are you going to buy it? They’d already took the money! The record came out. Paul always said to me, “That record will come out Bruce, don’t worry” and I’m like “hmmm I don’t believe you” because I was thinking “why to bother?”. But I forgot, somebody paid for it, so of course, they are going to put it out. What record company is going to spend millions of dollars for a band to do a record and then bury it? They are not going to! It didn’t come out with much fanfare as I’d like to say but it did come out… “Final sessions.” It was a dark record, that was intentional in a way to be even HEAVIER than REVENGE.
When the reunion was officially announced, KISS also stated that you and Eric were still a part of the “KISS family.” What that actually meant in practice?
I think that was a safety valve for them. They did pay me for an entire year. Maybe it was a “just in case” a “what if.” Why would they want to ruin what they had? And the same reason why Grand Funk isn’t really tempted with using Mark Farner again because then they’d lose the other three guys that we’ve been working with for ten years now and it really works…because I’m not gonna wait around for that! They were smart with that and they never broke up and then it was obvious. I used to say to people “OK we made 40 million with make-up, then we made 4 million without” hmmm…OK, I think we should be in makeup. It’s obvious with that iconic kind of thing and then the fact that it was so many years since the original guys. It drew a new spotlight on them.
Overall, how was the CARNIVAL OF SOULS working process? Was it mostly you and Eric who did most of the album without Paul’s and Gene’s absence?
The whole band was there. There were certain songs if I demoed with Paul, he preferred me playing the bass, but that’s only because I did the demo. I did the demo on PSYCHO CIRCUS, so I played the bass on it. Ok? I imitate Gene well. I prefer Gene because he plays like Gene, he is Gene. So really it came down to…look, I really had a big part of CARNIVAL OF SOULS because they were looking for dark riffs and I had nothing to do, I wasn’t thinking about a reunion. I’m like “oh god, I gotta write some riffs here. Maybe I can get some more co-writes” ya know!?
The album leaked in pretty early stage and it was bootlegged widely before the actual album came out in late 1997. How much more pressure that gave to release the album although the Reunion was already running on full force, you know?
Well, somehow, some rough mixes or some final mixes all fucked up came out. That was very upsetting for me, but I couldn’t, we couldn’t prevent that it happens. It was very, very hurtful for me because I was so proud of the fact that I had, even though I didn’t think it was the ultimate KISS record, I still preferred REVENGE, but I was just proud that I had a lot of co-writes and all of a sudden it’s being bootlegged and people are going, what the hell is this? You know? Oh, they loved it. You know what I mean. I would say, don’t blame me if you don’t like it. But you can thank me if you like it. But that’s what they were looking for the heavy time signatures.
Say something about the track “I Walk Alone.” Ironically those lyrics became kind of reality for you, in a way?
You know Gene wrote the lyrics. I got to be honest and he saw it as if you were like, kind of like the way Nirvana, Curt Cobain was very you know, I kind of like, little bit menthol, a little bit.
Wasn’t it Toby, the producer, who actually pushed you to sing that one?
Yeah. True. Toby was cool and he really stuck up for me and to be honest I never expected to sing it but I did the demo just because I did so many things creatively with the backward tracks and this middle section and the forward and backward harmonics and the beginning and the ending and then Toby said “You should sing on it, you sound great on this” and then Gene and Paul are like, kind of like, “Okay”. You know what I mean, but I think he had to convince them. So, it’s like a pathetic title because they were already planning the reunion tour and I didn’t know that. But it’s okay. Everything happens for a reason.
The classic REVENGE era promo shot
BITS AND PIECES
Well, how is your personal opinion about KISS reunion album PSYCHCO CIRCUS?
I thought that was a good record. There was the result of a lot of different styles on it but I thought it was good. I know they didn’t really get along with the producer, who then died like a month after you know it came out, that was something crazy.
It’s not a big secret that you were a part of that album as well. How much did you participate in PSYCHO CIRCUS after all?
I played some bass things on some of the Paul songs and I only played some rhythm on “Dreaming.” I didn’t play any leads; I know some people think I did. The backward things on “Within” are from the demo, so that’s me, but it’s like whatever.
Wasn’t “Within” initially recorded for CARNIVAL OF SOULS?
Yeah. It was a demo for CARNIVAL OF SOULS.
If you didn’t play any leads on PSYCHO CIRCUS, then it was Tommy Thayer who played a lot that album?
Yeah, I think so. I think there was a lot of Tommy. I think Paul played actually more than I expected.
It’s the time of the very last question… How is your honest opinion about Gene Simmons?
I actually think Gene is an extremely, you know, generous and kind person. He is a businessman and he could be a bit hard with people and pushy with people or demanding of people. But he’s actually quite a, I mean again because I have respect from him I see the best of him you know. So I have to defend him and say that he’s a very, he didn’t have to perform on my record you know. And he didn’t charge me a hundred grand. He didn’t charge me any at all okay? And he even gave me his son to sing on the album and his name and so. Okay?
That’s it. Thank you, Bruce!
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