Canadian Michael Kulas is an official member of the Brit-pop septet James, whose Best Of… album entered the British retail charts at No.1 and has remained in the top 10 for eight weeks. “I just received my first platinum album,” says Kulas excitedly.
Kulas had been hired on a 12-month contract by James last March to play acoustic guitar, percussion and sing back-up for the Whiplash tour. But, a year later, as his contract came to an end and visa came up for renewal, Kulas was “officially inaugurated” into the band as the rhythm guitarist and backing vocalist.
“What that means is I’m actually credited and start writing and playing stuff on the records. Before The Best Of…my role was kind of ambiguous,” says Kulas, speaking on the phone from Dollar, Scotland, a town 45-minutes northeast of Glasgow he has called home since leaving Toronto.
His relationship with James dates back to the early `90s, when he met the band’s guitarist/violinist Saul Davies through a mutual friend. Davies, who had a girlfriend in Toronto at the time, would often get together with Kulas to hack away on their guitars. In 1994, Davies produced and played on Kulas’s solo album, Mosquito.
In the summer of 1996, Kulas played electric guitar and sang on James singer Tim Booth’s solo album, Booth & The Bad Angel, in New York. It worked out so well, that when James reconvened to record Whiplash, he was asked to audition as the utility player for the band’s live show. Within a week of auditioning, he joined James on the David Letterman show, then embarked on a full British tour just days later.
The Peterborough, Ontario-born singer-songwriter, who was once in a band with ex Skid Row metalhead Sebastian Bach, has a few credits in the liner notes of The Best Of and limited-edition live album, for contributing backing vocals on several James songs, but is now fully working on the new studio album.
“We’ve been working on the record since last November,” says Kulas. “But at that point, we had to do two new singles for The Best Of, “Destiny Calling” and “Runaground”. Since that was released in March, we’ve been recording at Real World, Peter Gabriel’s studio, and we’ve got songs ready for the next record, but we still have 24 new songs that aren’t fully worked out. So at the end of it all, we’re going to have about 30 songs to choose from. The album release date is sometime in the fall.”
While it is self-produced, says Kulas, Brian Eno, who has worked with James before on Wah Wah, Laid and Whiplash, might “get involved” with recording the album. Stephen Street, of Blur and Suede fame, is also a possibility. A guy named Ott is mixing it.
Ott has also been engineering Kulas’s new solo project. Between touring and recording with James this summer, Kulas plans to finish the album, which he describes as “the Propellerheads meets the Jam” with huge break-beats.
“I went down last week and did some work with (James keyboardist) Mark (Hunter) in Leeds and I’ve been doing some work here with Saul on and off for the last few months,” says Kulas. “I’m going to take those tapes and go down to Bath this summer and just build on them and then come back and do some more work with who ever is around. When every body has a few days off,” he adds, “the last thing they want to do is get back into the recording studio.”
Meanwhile, James is playing some half-dozen U.K. festivals this summer, including Glastonbury (June 26), and concerts in France and Portugal. Because of the recent No. 1 album, the band is already booked to do a U.K. arena tour in December (5th to 15th).
“It’s a really good renaissance for James,” says Kulas. “The band is cool at the moment, following up on the Verve and Texas who have all had a resurgence from slumps and I think James is at the same point.”