Bruce Kulick gained his reputation as a top-notch axeman working with a variety of major artists such as Kiss, Meatloaf, Michael Bolton, Billy Squier, as well as his own band, Union. Most recently, Kulick signed on as a member of the revitalized Grand Funk Railroad. He has also released two impressive solo discs, Audio Dog (2001), and his latest work, Transformer.
VG first interviewed Kulick in 1996, and again in October, 2000, and we recently checked in with him between dates on an international tour spanning the U.S., Japan, and Australia, supporting his solo material and his longtime relationship with ESP guitars.
Vintage Guitar: In what ways have you evolved as a musician?
Bruce Kulick: I’m learning to follow my instincts better. And I’ve reached that point where I like bouncing ideas off people who I trust. But I feel like I’ve become a committee of one, and I’m comfortable with that.
I’m also more confident about knowing how to get the tones I hear in my head and choosing the right tools for those ideas. Years ago it was harder for me to dial in sounds because I wasn’t sure which guitar and amp to use. I’d usually just pick a guitar that stayed in tune and was easy to play, and use my favorite amp. Now I’ll play something that fights me if I know it’s going to give me the tone I’m after.
I’ve gotten more confident about constructing sounds and I’ve also become a lot more confident as a songwriter. This is the first time I’ve been aggressive about finishing songs myself, without collaborating. Now I feel like I can express my point of view lyrically. I’m no Bob Dylan, but I can get my point across. I tend to write most lyrics out of a real situation, problem, or emotion.
How did the writing process for Transformer differ from Audio Dog?
On Audio Dog, I’d collaborated with Curt Cuomo, the co-producer of both records. He’s a talented guy – a good songwriter and great co-writer.
When I started Audio Dog, it was my first time, and I didn’t know what to expect. I started with songs that were in the closet – ones I kind of wished Kiss would have done. Then I added new stuff, and put it together.
With all of the songs, I either had a lot of lyrics or the chorus or a title or just the emotion I was trying to get across. I’d take it to a certain point and then Curt would jump in. This time, the ideas and the process of actually writing lyrics just came so naturally to me, and I was really proud of that. I know I can do that now and it’s kind of interesting to come up with that confidence now, to find it at this time in my life, as opposed to when I was 25. But I’ll admit that when I was in Kiss, even if I could finish a whole lyric, that would not be the lyric on the co-write. Maybe the door hadn’t been too open there, which didn’t help to get me inspired to try to put pen to paper with lyric ideas.
Are you inspired by any new artists?
I bought John Mayer’s album when it came out. Then I bought Norah Jones’ album.
I do pick up something from these new artists in the same way I did with the classics. Another guy I like is Pete Yorn, who has some really moody, introspective, and interesting ways of using guitars and instruments.
Watching those artists become so huge gave me greater confidence as a singer. I tend to respond to people who are emoting and make me feel whatever it is they’re saying with their music. It has to have a melody and something musical about it, which is why I was never a huge punk fan. Some bands that were supposed to be the next great hope of rock and roll, like the Strokes and the Vines… I didn’t get it. I know who they were influenced by and they don’t hold a candle to any of those bands. That’s why I prefer an artist like Mayer, who is kind of a mixture of everything. [He] can also play guitar like Stevie Ray, so that’s kind of cool. But is he using it? No, because that’s not going to make him a pop star. But it’s nice that he can play that way.
Billy Corgan’s another monster guitar player. Unfortunately… the guitar hero thing is not really happening right now. But there are still plenty of people who respond to it. So I carry that flag, and that’s why my role in Grand Funk is so much fun. We get a great mixed audience and some of them are shocked when watching a lead guitar player.
What’s the experience like, working with Grand Funk Railroad? Had they influenced you early on?
I was hip to Grand Funk. I wasn’t a huge fan, but I did like them a lot. I remember seeing a video for “Inside Looking Out,” which is such a complete rave up, a real heavy metal trio kind of track. I loved Mel Schacher’s distorted bass, and you don’t get any better drumming than Don Brewer. Don is an incredible drummer and to be playing with that rhythm section is incredibly cool.
They’ve created a lot of important music and it’s just a thrill to be playing with them. Everyone is professional and they’re all great musicians. Max Carl, who used to be in .38 Special, covers the vocals that Mark did. I’m just doing the lead guitar work. It’s a terrific group and I’m excited to work with them.
When you play Mark’s parts, are you faithful to his original riffs?
It’s much like what I did with covering Ace Frehley’s parts in Kiss. In certain songs there are signature riffs that are important, like the beginning of “We’re An American Band,” and the solo. You can’t ignore those riffs. They’re classic and they fit.
I always take the essence of what’s really great in that way and just pump it up. I like Mark’s riffs and I think they’re all appropriate in the songs we do, so that’s not a problem. It’s a similar kind of role to what I did in Kiss with Ace’s parts. You take what’s important and just kind of go with it and make it your own.
Live photo: Nico Ciccarone.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Sept. ’03 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.