Ex-James singer and songwriter returns to T.O. with second solo album
Betsy Powell – Entertainment Reporter
Five years ago, Michael Kulas left Toronto to join U.K. rock outfit James, touring the world and mixing with some of his biggest rock ‘n’ roll heroes including Brian Eno, Sinead O’Connor, and Elvis Costello.
And then, late last year, James’ singer Tim Booth bowed out, preferring to leave on a high note rather than let the seven-piece outfit “degenerate into an act that’s alive to maintain contractual obligations,” explains Kulas.
Now, on the heels of a sold-out farewell arena tour in the U.K., the guitarist, singer/songwriter resurfaces in Toronto with his second solo record, Another Small Machine, a self-produced collection of tuneful pop recorded in a seaside cabin in Scotland and released on his own imprint, Interloper.
The title came to him “sitting in the middle of nowhere recording,” begins Kulas, who plays Rancho Relaxo (1:00 a.m.) on Saturday night as one of NXNE’s closing acts. “I started thinking about my little project, a tiny little machine within the bigger structure which is James and the pop music industry.”
Wait a minute. Where’s the rock-star attitude one might expect from someone who has played to tens of thousands of people — even if it’s true, as he suggests, that a raging ego (“if you catch me on the right day”) lurks.
Perhaps, but he still laughs at the uncertainty the “breather” has presented.
“Returning to Canada meant leaving a large part of my life in Britain,” he says. “But it was also, after five years, important to return and reconnect with the city I know best in the world.”
Clearly, Kulas has a practical side. “Once I knew that James was finished for me, I also knew I’ve got an album in the can so while I’m home, why don’t I just pick up where I left off five years prior?”
Kulas tends to stick to his own music rather than to reheat James’ repertoire
His debut solo CD, 1994’s Mosquito — produced by fellow James member Saul Davies — was released when guys with guitars ruled the roost. Now, despite the teen bubble bursting, the industry, the majors anyway, shows a dismaying reluctance to get behind a male solo artist not peddling saccharin, r ‘n’ b-flavoured pop.
Despite this, Kulas remains undeterred and pleased with the reception he’s received, both with a press and public curious about his transatlantic association. “The crowds have been wonderful in Toronto. I think the James connection has something to do with that. I think the connection from doing Mosquito before I went to the U.K. has a lot to do with that.”
With the James association comes expectations. Kulas, however, tends to stick to his own music rather than to reheat James’ repertoire, though he did recently play an impromptu, punk version of James’ anthem “Sit Down.”
For Saturday’s show, Kulas has brought some new players on board, because “the original bass player and guitar player were on loan from another band.”
For now, he’s put the uncertainty aside.
“It’s becoming clear now the best thing is to continue performing and writing and see where the next path leads.”