Bruce Kulick: The ClassicRockHistory.com Interview

Bruce Kulick Interview

Feature Photo: by Ralph K.Reichenback

Life is funny sometimes. One minute, you’re on top of the world, and the next, you’re left scratching your head, wondering aloud, “What the hell just happened.”

After spending 12 hard-fought years as the lead guitarist of KISS, only to be jettisoned in the wake of an impending reunion tour, the pain Bruce Kulick must have been a lot like that. Sure, one might think he saw it coming —especially considering the wild success of 1995’s MTV Unplugged performance that saw KISS’s original foursome, Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Peter Criss, and Ace Frehley, reunite.

But no matter— being ejected from something you not only helped keep alive but had also become a major creative force within has to sting, and sting bad. But Bruce Kulick was never the type to lay back and lick his wounds. Instead, he dusted himself off, grabbed his trusty ESP M-1 —along with several other iconic curios— and enacted a plan of musical attack.

Part of one of said attack was to center himself, and through the help of some old friends, before he’d done so. Next up was putting a band together. And that didn’t take too long, either. Soon, Kulick coupled up with the also downtrodden John Corabi, who had also been evicted from mega-band of his own, Mötley Crüe, in favor of old-hand Vince Neil. Ouch.

To say the bond between Kulick and Corabi was immediate would be an understatement. Within hours of their first meeting at Kulick’s Los Angeles home, the bonded through disillusion twosome had crafted “Around Again,” which, for those keeping score, would be their soon-to-be-named band’s first official song. The band of the band? Union, of course.

Shaking off rumors of their musical demise was no short order, but with the help of rhythmically sound bassist Jamie Hunting, and the deeply groovy Brent Fitz on drums, they weren’t off to such a bad start. With Union’s lineup officially intact, and a deal with indie label Mayhem Records, the foursome hit the studio with former KISS knob-twirler Curt Cuomo and proceeded to find the salvation they sought through sharp-tongued lyrics, expressive vocals, and wide-ranging guitars.

For a minute there, it seems that Union might catapult Kulick and Corabi to the heights of their former employs, as Union (1998) screamed to No. 35 on the Billboard Heatseekers Chart. But alas, it was not to be. The group’s status as glam metal veterans kept them from breaching the mainstream. And bizarrely, even though they were a new band, they weren’t small-time enough for large-scale tours to feel comfortable enough to take them on as openers due to fear of their legacy upstaging the prospective headliners.

All in all, Union didn’t do too badly for itself on that debut or during the turbulent turned triumphant club tour that followed. And if you’re unsure or uninitiated, the group’s Live at the Galaxy (1999) record is direct evidence. And in the wake of that tour, Union gave it one more go, recording their second album, The Blue Room (2000). But sadly, it was more of the same. And soon, Corabi moved on to Ratt, and Kulick joined the ranks of Grand Funk Railroad, where he still resides to this day.

Some 25 years after the release of Union, it would be all too easy to label as just another KISS-adjacent record. Or perhaps you’d even think it to be nothing more than just one more grungy rock record lost to the sands of time. But for some of us —Kulick and Corabi especially— Union represented all that was good in the rock ‘n’ roll world.

Unshackled from the chains of corporate rock, big business, and ugly record company dealings, Kulick and Corabi, despite some nasty circumstances, found strength within themselves to unfurrow some truly dazzling and memorable moments. Perhaps some of the best of their respective careers.

Nostalgic as he looks back at what had to be one of the more unsettling times in his personal and professional life, Bruce Kulick beamed in with Classic Rock History to shine the spotlight on the days that followed his being let go from KISS, forging a musical kinship with John Corabi, the formation of Union, and the long and winding road they were met with thereafter.

Bruce Kulick: The ClassicRockHistory.com Interview

Bruce Kulick

Photo courtesy of Bruce Kulick

Before the formation of Union, you were jettisoned from KISS after the Reunion Tour was announced. What was your state of mind at that time?

My post-KISS head space was complicated. I understood the success of the Reunion, but I did feel so much was left undone by KISS. In moving forward in my career, I would be starting from the ground up by starting a new band and working hard to create music that my fans could enjoy. Meeting John Corabi was the start of a very hard journey, although rewarding musically.

How did you and John first meet?

Larry Mazer introduced me. Larry was the last manager for KISS in my era, and his advice was given and taken. Larry was happy to hear how John and I clicked as a songwriting team. The music landscape was changing with grunge, and he knew it would be an uphill battle, but he never lost enthusiasm. As for how John and I initially met, he came to my home in L.A., and immediately we bonded both musically and emotionally. He was going through the post-Mötley Crüe phase, as well as a relationship that ended. I had the parallel thing happen with KISS as well as a separation/divorce.

John once told me that the two of you wrote “Around Again” during that initial meeting.

Yes, that’s true. It was really fun to be able to get that song off the ground so easily. John and I were very tuned in creatively, so for our first session, it was clear our songwriting partnership would flourish.

How did Brent Fitz and Jamie Hunting become involved?

Brent lived close to me in Woodland Hills, and since we did some work together with a singer named Lenita Erickson, he was immediately a go-to for the drum seat. Jamie was playing at the Hollywood Athletic Club in Hollywood, and he was so in the pocket; I really wanted his skills for the bass to be in the band. Both of them play completely amazingly on the Union music. They were just a super-talented rhythm section; both can sing backup expertly.

Did you look at any other bassists aside from Jamie?

Yes, we did. Chaz Coats-Butcher, who last November played with me on the first of the two KKXI, was one, and the other was Adam Kury from Candlebox.

Eric Singer was let go from KISS along with you. Was he considered for Union’s drumming vacancy?

I always got the impression that he was not looking to join a band. Years later —and it really surprised me to hear- he actually said he would have wanted to be in Union with John and me. I don’t think it would have changed very much in terms of what happened with Union, but it is a fascinating fantasy to discuss.

Did Union go with Mayhem Records due to a lack of major label interest?

There was no major label interest. The big labels only wanted grunge, and John and I were unfairly tied to “hair metal.” Another way I can explain it is that the record labels were and are only interested in quick money and never seeing the big picture. And that’s another reason they are not currently important. They’re like dinosaurs now [Laughs].

Did Curt Cuomo’s involvement with KISS’s Carnival of Souls record lead you to stick with him for Union’s debut?

Yes. I met Curt through Paul Stanley. Paul was active as a songwriter for a publishing deal that he had, and his publisher hooked him up with Curt. I liked the way Curt could work with Paul, who is very particular and has his vision. And Cuomo and I had no problem doing a great job for Paul for both Carnival of Souls and, later, during Psycho Circus. So, I kept Curt for Union because of that and because Corabi and I liked Curt’s ability to contribute to our songs. Curt was a melody guy and could play many instruments. Like most musician producers, he helped John and me get the most from our songs.

How did your guitar approach with Union differ from the one you used with KISS?

Well, the only thing I can think of —since I always try to do the best lead guitar for that particular song— is that I didn’t have to please Paul [Stanley] or Gene [Simmons]. I just had to be happy myself, hoping, of course, that John would love it too, and so would our producer. I’d say it was less pressure in many ways.

Did your guitar, pedal, or amp setup differ from your KISS days?

It wasn’t too different. By the time I had worked on Carnival of Souls with KISS, I think every wild and woolly pedal and my best guitars and amps were explored for different ideas. I continued down that path for Union, and the sounds I created for the band were perfect for what we needed.

What are the origins of “Love (I Don’t Need it Anymore)?”

John had that twisty riff and was able to get it into a verse. I believe Curt and John created the chorus. I remember the bridge being all mine and possibly the B section of the verse. Brent wasn’t sure if it was all put together right, and I was very happy. But in bands, you all know Lennon didn’t love all of McCartney’s songs and vice versa [Laughs].

I also wanted to touch on “Tangerine.” Can you recall how that one came together?

Corabi had the idea, another riff. I think my contribution was the melodic B section. I still can hear John’s voice asking me, “Where the heck did you get that melody and chords? I love it!” We had that enthusiasm for each other, and that was great. The guys in KISS are more competitive, and it’s expected, considering their long history together.

From a lead/rhythm perspective, would you describe your interplay with John instead of Paul Stanley?

John is a strong rhythm player, and he actually would love to be a lead guitarist, too. Paul’s ability in KISS was great since he knew how to have the guitars complement each other. That is a perfect blueprint for any band. I would have to say it was natural for John and me to use that approach for Union.

Did you demo anything for Carnival of Souls that ended up on the first Union album?

Absolutely! The one idea I demoed for Carnival of Souls that comes to mind is “Old Man Wise.” It was something Gene loved, and we were trying to do something cool with it. I did have nine co-writes on Carnival of Souls, which was very gratifying for me.

Union’s debut experienced strong reviews but struggled commercially. Would you say the band fell into a gray area commercially?

Yes. We were not able to sell enough records so that we could get on the big tours or get major label attention. Back then, you could start on an independent label, and they were ultimately tied to a bigger one. So, you could graduate if you had enough success. It was frustrating knowing we had a strong release but couldn’t get the radio play or create the buzz required for the band to climb the ladder of success.

Tell me about the Union Work Force and the grassroots club tour the Union embarked on to support its first record.

Since I had come from KISS, it was not surprising that some fans were so supportive of Union. KISS fans are the best! But these fans were literally vital to our survival. I owe them a tremendous amount of thanks for their belief in the band. They would assist us at shows, help sell merchandise, take us to places we needed to be, spend the word on our shows, etc. They were, in many ways, our lifeline for surviving on the road, especially when we had such a small crew and staff.

Live at the Galaxy was recorded on that same tour, right?

Yes, we opened for Cinderella in Orange County. They were going to record a live album, so we jumped on that opportunity when it was offered. We didn’t get a very good sound check, but we did play with passion.

How do you quantify Union’s meaning and legacy to you personally, and are you surprised that its cult following appears stronger than ever?

It’s a great time capsule for me, my first post-KISS effort, and creating a band from the ground up. It was very brave of me, actually. It’s much easier to do your musical best in a huge band like KISS without the pressure that Gene and Paul had to deal with. I was not driving that car; I was a passenger. Union, I would say, was the opposite. I have to admit; I am flattered and very proud. The fans didn’t forget us, and I think some new ones got on the Union bandwagon!

Twenty-five years later, what does that period signify for you? Do you look back with fondness? 

I went through a lot of changes, personally and professionally. I had to start from scratch, and it was not always an easy time for me. My talent and guitar seemed to keep me focused, although it was certainly never easy. We never really got any good breaks. But the music is strong. It was always from the heart, and we never followed anyone but ourselves in creating it. So, something special came out of the struggle. As much as we always strive for things to be easy, good things are never that simple. We might not have gotten the success we desired commercially, but we did create music that won’t be forgotten. That makes me smile now. 

It seems now more than ever; veteran bands are getting back together. Are there any plans for Union to do the same? 

With Union, I never say “never,” but I will add it has to be the right opportunity. Only time will tell if it will be a reality. Until then, I hope that I’m clear when I say that Union was a kick-ass band with strong songs and great playing. It’s wonderful to know people are still enjoying it and hoping they will see us again. I want to say thank you to all of them! You’ve all been so supportive. Thank you, all!

Bruce Kulick Interview

An Interview with Bruce Kulick, formerly of KISS/Union

By Andrew Daly

Bruce Kulick: The ClassicRockHistory.com Interview article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023

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