'On The Road Again'
Acknowledged throughout the upper echelons of rock ‘n roll as one of the top bass guitarists, lyricists, keyboardists and general go-to-guys, Kasim Sulton is back at it again in full force.
Sulton is currently in the middle of his own solo tour while simultaneously playing shows on the Todd Rundgren/ Utopia “A Wizard A True Star” Tour. Sounds hectic, but it’s all just a day’s work for the artist who has toured with some of the biggest names in music.
After playing in Joan Jett’s backing band “The Blackhearts” and touring with Meatloaf’s “Everything Louder” tour for over three years, Sulton has finished up his fourth solo album released in 2007 and aptly titled “All Sides”.
A retro-rock compilation full of synth-driven beats and groovy bass notes, “All Sides” gives you everything from 80’s appeal to modern-edged pop; acid washed jeans and Member’s Only jackets are optional.
Exclusive Magazine recently caught up with Kasim Sulton and spoke about his lengthy music career, the upcoming tour, old friends and the new album.
Your music has it’s roots in rock ‘n roll. Who were your musical influences growing up and how many still factor into your music today? "I grew up in the 60's (ouch!) The British Invasion served as my primary school in terms of what I listened to and the effect it had on me. The Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Who, The Small Faces and a little later Led Zepplin all played a role in shaping my musical future. Since I grew up with these bands, it's only natural that whenever I sit down to write, I'm going to draw on the things that were so important to me when I first started playing music."
For someone who may be unfamiliar with your music as a solo-artist, how would you describe the sound and style of your newest album “All Sides”? "I've always been attracted to the 'pop' genre. Thats the kind of music I'm comfortable making. All Sides is a collection of my music from 1976 to the most current songs I've written."
You got your first big break as a teen playing piano for singer Cherry Vanilla, who was David Bowie’s publicist at the time. Tell us how this opportunity came about and how it helped to shape your musical career "A very close friend of mine was working as a stage tech for Cherry and found out her piano player was about to leave the band. I had just gotten my first piano about six months prior and had taught myself how to play a little bit. He suggested I try out for the band."
"I didn't think there was a snowball's chance in hell of me getting the audition so...what did I have to lose by trying out? I thought it would be a good experience for me. I guess I made a good impression on Cherry because even though I wasn't that adept at playing keyboards, I got the gig. Playing with Cherry opened up a whole new group of people and musicians for me to work with. Before I knew it I was hanging around with Debbie Harry, Patty Smith, Mick Ronson, Andy Warhol and David Bowie."
You really broke onto the music scene in the 1980’s after singing lead on Utopia’s Top 40 hit, “Set Me Free”. Describe how the success of this song helped open doors for your continuing success as a musician "I wrote Set Me Free as a plea to Albert Grossman to release me from a solo record contract. When I brought the rough demo to the rest of the band for consideration on the record we were recording at the time, I just thought it would make a good album cut."
"I had no idea that it would wind up being the only Top 20 hit Utopia would have."
You’ve also made quite the name for yourself by touring the world as a supporting guitarist, back-up vocalist and keyboardist for such artists as Hall & Oates, Meatloaf, Joan Jett and Mick Jagger. In the past 25 years you’ve been in the business, what has been the most memorable moment for you? "Opening for Led Zepplin in 1979 at The Knebworth Music Festival outside London. I was 21 years old at the time and was playing in front of 150,000 people. Pretty cool."
With the exception of a brief stint in Los Angeles, you’ve always called New York your home. After touring all over the world, what is it about New York that keeps you coming back? "There is a brutal honesty about New York City that you won't find anywhere else. There might be a few places that are prettier, cleaner, quieter or saner, but you will not find a more vibrant, energized, full of 'real life' place anywhere else."
How easy or hard is it to create a new, vibrant, wanted-by-the-public sound that both builds on and surpasses the musical wonderments and accomplishments that preceded it within the industry? "The moment you try to create something to please others, or two try and catch a wave, you're doomed. There is nothing wrong with trying to make something "sound" current but to make a conscious effort to create something please anyone but yourself, you're not being true to your own art."
"I just try and make music that makes me happy first and hope that others get the same feeling from it."
You’re currently on a US tour promoting both your own solo efforts and the new album of long-time friend, Todd Rundgren. Where can fans see you play and what can they expect from a live Kasim Sulton show? "The most likely places are up and down the East Coast and some spots in the Mid West. I seem to have a nice following in Chicago for some reason and couldn't be happier about that."
You just performed a solo show at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on September 26th. Tell us a little about this recent event; how you were approached and what the experience was like for you "A close friend of mine works closely with the executive staff at The Rock Hall. Every week, they have different performers in to play at the main stage just off the lobby. I was lucky enough to get a spot and had a great time playing to the people that had come to view the exhibits that day."
My Director & Editor in Chief, Russell, actually met you (and Meat Loaf) backstage in Detroit a couple of years ago and raves that you were the perfect gentlemen, that you chatted for a while, and that you were always smiling. Is that your true persona on and off the stage or is there a dark side to Kasim that's rarely seen? "I always treat people the way I'd like to be treated. I don't believe that anyone is more, or less, important than anyone else. I'm the same person off stage as I am on. I only go 'dark' when I don't get my way."
He also mentioned that the times he's seen you live on stage (in Meat Loaf's band) that you seemed to be lost in your own world; looking around at the audience, smiling, and yet still playing guitar to the highest of levels. Do you find yourself 'lost' sometimes up there on stage, your mind wandering, perhaps? And if so, where does it usually wander off to? "Depends really...sometimes I'll be thinking about how I'm a part of something that makes so many people happy and feeling good. Sometimes I'm thinking about what movie I might watch back at my hotel room or why my electric bill was so high that month. There's only so many times you can play a set of material and not get slightly distracted."
If asked to record one for charity, what '80s (and possibly cheesy!) pop/rock song would you love to cover today and why? "'Everybody Have Fun Tonight' by Wang Chung. What a great song. Cheesy but soooooo cool. Great track. Besides that fact that Wang Chung was a wonderful Chinese philosopher."
Lastly, and throwing you a journalistic curve ball, Exclusive Magazine loves Penguins, do you? "The last time I loved a Penguin I got left in a pool of blood. Broke my heart. Since then, I've sworn off anything and everything Penguin related. Thanks for reminding me of a really bad time in my life!"
For more on Kasim Sulton’s new (and old) albums, current tour dates et cetera, check out his personal website, and Myspace pages. Also, be sure to listen to the new album “All Sides” available on iTunes now!
Interview: Erin M. Stranyak
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