interview by Werner Bergen
You’re part of a popular rock band that has toured the world and the lead singer has quit to become an actor. What do you do?
If you’re Michael Kulas you release a solo album you’ve worked on for years and try and set up a new band complete with tour dates while awaiting the developments at big band level.
Kulas, originally from Lakefield, has released Kulas, Another Small Machine. it will be officially launched Feb. 23 at the Rivoli club in Toronto. He also hopes to set up a Peterborough concert date prior to the launch as a sort of warm up concert.
Kulas joined the British band James in 1997. He has been pivotal in adding his unique sound to songs from the albums Whiplash, Millionaires, Pleased to Meet You, and the multi-platinum selling Best Of album. He co-wrote the b-sides Wisdom of the Throat and Pocketful of Lemons with lead singer Tim Booth.
Kulas said he last played Peterborough in 1989 as part of the local band The Sea. He played with a variety of local bands, including a band created while attending Lakefield College School, which included a singer who would be known as Sebastian Bach, who went on to fame with Skid Row and playing Broadway in Jekyll & Hyde.
Kulas grew up in Lakefield and took up the guitar at the age of 11. His first band was The Crowd. He had been accepted at the Berklee College of Music in Boston but fell in with a group of musicians that formed The Sea that toured Ontario. He moved on to speak and put out a video called If I Was In Love With You Both.
He met musicians from the James band in 1993 and approached James band member Saul Davies. The collaboration ended up with the album Mosquito recorded in Vancouver. Chart magazine called it one of the top 20 independent albums of 1995. Impact magazine called in an “extraordinary album”.
Kulas joined James frontman Tim Booth and Davies and helped with the band’s preceding Horse With No Name. Six months later he was asked to do background vocals in support of the Whiplash album. He successfully auditioned for the band in 1997, in time for shows in Washington, Atlanta, New York and a performance of She’s a Star on Late Night with David Letterman.
He was asked to join the band in Britain about the same time he was runner-up for Q107’s Scott Liddle songwriting contest.
“James has a very loyal fan base all over the world,” said Kulas in an interview. “In many ways it may be called a fringe band but it’s stayed around while many bands haven’t.”
James never really broke through in North America, though the seven-piece band has several major hits in Europe since it’s inception in 1981. As a measure of it’s success, the band’s 1998 Best Of… album entered the u.k. sales charts at no. 1 and stayed in the top 10 for eight weeks.
“A lot of times people have that reaction of hearing of James from somewhere, the name is in their vocabulary they just can’t quite peg what song it is they are remembered the band by.” said Kulas.
With booth off pursuing an acting career and the band not sure what it is going to do – get a new lead singer, re-arrange in a new format or disband.
“With the band not sure what the future is it was a good time to release my solo material,” said Kulas.
“Everyone says that to me, why are you bothering (coming home)? it just feels like something i have to do,” he says.
“Even though i’ve been away and all over the world, it’s still a very important place to me. I’m Torontian and my family and very good friends are all here. It’s been five years since I’ve done a show in Canada and released my last record (the independently released Mosquito). It’s something that I have to do, I have to come home.”
Kulas wrote the material, played most of the instruments (except for the drums) while living in a small sea-side cottage in Scotland.
“I just think it’s pop rock and roll,” said Kulas. “It has traditional elements in it.”
While he calls it pop, it doesn’t mean the music is “bubble gum or lightweight.”
It’s not folk, it’s not blues, it’s not country and it’s not blue grass, he said. it could be called “transient rock and roll or atmospheric rock and roll.”
The sound and style was developed in the recording process, he said.
“The pop sensibilities come from experiences in the British pop music scene. in Britain there really is a pop culture.”
Right now he is assembling a band that already has drummer John Oberian (the original drummer in his new album) and bass player Tom Arliss, both of whom play in Sarah Horner’s band.
Kulas will return to his home near Glasgow this spring and summer to finish up several projects. but once that’s done he’ll be back to plug his solo recording and to play on much smaller Canadian stages.