Bob Kulick has always had a head for big concepts and the guitar skills and production chops to pull them off. He also has a gift for putting just the right players into a musical framework to make a song blast out of a playback system to become a blissfully vicious earworm you won’t soon forget—even if you’re not a fan of the music itself. (Yeah, there has to be some kind of voodoo going on there, Bob.) But he has deployed all of his magic in the service of concept albums (Immortal Randy Rhoads: The Ultimate Tribute, Butchering the Beatles: A Headbashing Tribute, We Wish You a Merry Christmas and a Headbanging New Year) and productions for various bands.
So, okay then, if he is all that talented and creative, why did it take him more than 50 years to finally make his very own solo album? Like many things that force other things to happen, it was a consequence of love.
His girlfriend, photographer Julie Bergonz, kicked off the whole process that would become Skeletons in the Closet [Vanity Music Group] by encouraging Kulick to not only consider it was time to do something for himself, but she also went out and found the studio—Vegas View Recording in Las Vegas—and introduced him to the album’s co-producer, Bobby Ferrari.
At that point, it was time to pull out his producer’s call list to populate the album sessions with musicians that would bring his collection of new compositions, works from his vault, and a cover of “Goldfinger” to life. By the time Skeletons in the Closet was mixed, 23 players were credited, including Dee Snider, Eric Singer, Rudy Sarzo, and Robin McAuley.
Kulick—who Kiss Army members worship for his classic sessions with the band, as well as his jaw-dropping performances on Kiss Kruises with his brother Bruce (who was actually in Kiss from 1984-1996)—considers his very very long-in-coming first solo album a “retrospective,” due to its mix of songs from the past and present. Another appropriate word to define it would be “finally.”
How does a someone who picks up the guitar as a lifestyle and career more than 50 years ago, and, in the process becomes a Grammy-winning record producer with tons of songwriting credits and access to killer players, wait five decades to walk into a studio and do his own thing?
I never thought very much about a solo career. I’ve always been a team player. But my girlfriend, Julie, encouraged me, and I also realized that throughout my career as a producer, people have always said they’d like to do something with me. So it seemed like the right time to plug in the resources—my guest artists—and record something. It started out as an EP, but then we started adding some of my songs that had never seen the light of day, and we had an album. It was not something I could have predicted.
When you look at the retrospective material and the new songs that you’ve written, can you track your growth as a composer through the selections on Skeletons in the Closet?
I do feel I’ve improved as a writer, and it’s because of my better understanding of chords and tunings. As a result, I’m creating chords—I call them “piano chords”—that are different than I’ve ever had in my vocabulary before. I also moved away from writing everything in 4/4. So I was kind of proud when a guest artist would say, “This song sounds unique,” because that’s very hard to do these days. In addition, all of my experience as a producer helped me to not settle for some of the stuff that I might have settled for back in the day.
Did you change your approach to soloing for the album?
Usually, I like to catch the spontaneity of the moment, but I did spend time working out some of the guitar solos. I wanted to hear something different from myself, so I thought “Okay, let’s construct some stuff.”
Given your massive experience producing other artists, were there any particular challenges in making your own record?
It’s really challenging trying to create something special—and something that’s different for me—while not trying to be something I’m not. That was the hardest part of this project.
How did you science-out that task, then?
Well, as a producer, I’ve had to critique other people’s material and make changes, so I had those muscles exercised. But I was very lucky to have Bobby Ferrari as a co-producer. Bobby didn’t stand in the way of me being me, but he also really helped me make sure this was a more modern-sounding me. Some of the intro ideas and guitar sounds he came up were definitely not things I would have thought of.
Specifically, what did Bobby do that helped you modernize yourself a bit?
First, I think artists who chase after something they’re not usually fail, because if it’s not heartfelt—and, to me, this is one of the beauties of music—the audience somehow knows it. They can usually tell the true artists from the imitators. And, you know, it’s actually a tall order to try to chase something that’s not you, or to recapture who you were 20 or 30 years ago, and make it work. So I simply went with ten songs I was comfortable with, and I trusted what I played on those ten songs. Where Bobby was invaluable is the fact that he is very aware of my history, and he knew how far he could push me towards modern-ness without losing myself. For example, having three or four different amps plugged in together to get some different sounds was as about far as we went. I didn’t even try different guitars, because I really love my ESPs.
And it wasn’t weird for you to have a co-producer, when you’ve done the job yourself for years?
I was okay with it, because he saw the vision, and he was able to add to it. Bobby is also so musical that he made it a lot easier for me to relax and be the artist—rather than continually wearing the producer’s hat and beating myself up.
What is your main production doctrine?
It’s always about the songs. People need to have those great songs, guitar hooks, solos, and all of that. There are so many choices out there today, and a person can be incredibly discerning about what he or she wants to listen to. You have to start out with a brilliant, heartfelt song that people are going to remember.