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Progressive Rock Interviews

Kasim Sulton

Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview with Kasim Sulton from 2015
MSJ:

Can you catch the readers up on the history of your involvement in music?

That’s a pretty tall order. I’ve had a 38 year professional career as well as the ten or so years before that learning my craft. So, almost a half century of nothing but music! I’ve been extremely lucky to have played with a few dozen artists over the years. Meat Loaf, Hall & Oates, Joan Jett, Celine Dion, Cheap Trick, Patti Smith, Jon Bon Jovi and Blue Oyster Cult to name a few.

My professional career really started in 1976 when I joined Todd Rundgren’s band Utopia as the Bassist. I went from playing local clubs, bars and lounges to playing in a national known band, making records and performing in front of 100,000 people at a festival in the UK. It was quite a shock to the system.

In addition to being in Utopia, touring and recording, I had the opportunity to develop being a solo artist. In between tours I would concentrate on writing and recording my own material. In 1981 I made my first solo record for EMI America, self titled. I’ve just released my third solo record aptly titled “3.”

MSJ: If you weren't involved in music what do you think you'd be doing?
Picturing myself at a desk job doesn’t make me light up. Nor does punching a time clock. However, there is something to be said for the security of steady work. My next door neighbor is a former NYC Police officer, we’re about the same age. On any given day you can find him in his garage tinkering with his motorcycle and Corvette. He put in his requisite 20 years and now has the freedom to do whatever he pleases. On some level that might seem attractive on the surface, I don’t think anything other than being a musician would have worked for me. My attention span for things not related to music is almost nonexistent. I do like to cook though so maybe Iron Chef?
MSJ: Do you have any favorite memories from Utopia?
My entire time in that band is a favorite memory. Like most things in life, had I known it was to play a somewhat brief roll in life’s bigger picture I might have been a bit more observant. I think there was a part of me that thought the band would last forever. When we finally made the decision to disband I was quite depressed. I grew up with these guys. Traveled all over with them and spent the majority of my twenties making records, touring and “living” with Todd, Roger and Willie.

I think the more memorable times were in the late 70s into 80 - 81. We had hit a groove. Our live show was excellent and we had a good time together. The RA tour, OOP’s Wrong Planet and Adventures In Utopia tours were very successful. Traveling with a 50 foot Pyramid and a Sphinx head, lasers, pyrotechnics, costumes … that was all very exciting but I think that when you’re in the midst of it, you might not be as conscious of what’s going on around you as much as you’re focused on the task at hand. How to make the show better, how to keep your voice after five shows in a row, things like that become more important than individual moments.

There was one time that the crew thought it would be a hoot to toss a tumbleweed on stage while I was playing a bass solo and have it blown across the stage by a very large industrial wind machine we carried with us. No one took into account that your average size tumbleweed weighs about 25 to 30 pounds and is covered in thorns. When the crew realized it wasn’t moving across the stage fast enough, they gave it a little help by pushing it as hard as they could. Unfortunately, it only made it as far as where I was standing, and I was more or less impaled by the thorns. I think I still have a couple of small scars on my leg where it attached itself to me.

MSJ:

Who would you see as your musical influences?

Pretty much everyone I grew up listening to: The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Small Faces, Cream, Led Zeppelin, Credence Clearwater Revival, The Animals, The Doors, Procol Harum, Jimi Hendrix … All that music played a roll in my formative years. Deciding what type of music I wanted to play and then learning how to play it. 

In my twenties and thirties all I wanted to do was write good, strong pop songs. I looked at Todd Rundgren, who I was working with at the time as a truly great songwriter, not only musically but lyrically as well. It’s not easy being proficient at both. It always amazed me how he was able to sit down with a composition notebook and in 45 minutes come up with a great lyric. So I’d have to say that Todd was a big influence. These days I listen to all kinds of music. As trite as it may sound, a good song is a good song. So when I hear something that appeals to my ear, it usually has some influence on me.

MSJ: What's ahead for you?
I recently released my third solo record so I’m currently promoting that -doing live shows, interviews and the like. I’ll be concentrating on this record for the foreseeable future. I’m always writing new material so

I’m sure at some point I’ll be recording again.

Meantime between solo shows I’ll be performing with Blue Oyster Cult.

MSJ: I know artists hate to have their music pigeonholed or labeled, but how would you describe your music?
Good - especially this new record. I think I’ve always written in a certain vein. Melodic pop songs. Seems to be what I’m drawn to and what I enjoy writing. On my latest record I took my time and came up with what I think is my best work. I didn’t take any short cuts or make compromises in order to finish sooner. I took care with every note, melody and lyric. I also asked some friends to contribute performances on this record and if I wasn’t completely happy with what they sent me, I asked them to try it again. The end result is a record I’m extremely proud of. I don’t usually say that about my solo work, preferring instead to let the audience decide for themselves whether it’s good or … less than good. This time I feel confident and comfortable saying this is a really good record - top to bottom.
MSJ:

Are there musicians with whom you would like to play with in the future?

The list could be endless, but to name a few, Stevie Wonder, Sting, Billy Joel, Bruno Mars, Paul McCartney, Rufus Wainwright, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton.
MSJ: Do you think that illegal downloading of music is a help or hindrance to the careers of musicians?

It certainly makes earning a living making music more difficult but there’s not much sense in lamenting the fact that, if your so inclined, you don’t have to buy music any more. You can find most music on the internet for free. Does it hinder a career? I don’t think so. It might be more about live performances these days. Getting out there and building an audience, finding different avenues of revenue income. Of course, I’d like to see some guidelines in place that requires purchasing the music you want to hear. We’re still in the early days of what I’d like to think of as “restructuring.”

MSJ: In a related question, how do you feel about fans recording shows and trading them?
I’m sure for some artists that works. I’d like to be able to have some say in what’s available out there in terms of my live shows. Sometimes when I hear something that’s been recorded I’m less than thrilled. I always think it could be better. However, these days there’s not much you can do about people recording shows and trading them.
MSJ: If you were a superhero, what music person would be your arch nemesis and why?
Rather than single out a specific person, I’d like to focus my Superhero powers on destroying Auto-Tune - makes it too easy for talentless performers to have a career.
MSJ: If you were to put together your ultimate band (a band you'd like to hear or catch live), who would be in it and why?
The band would be much too large to get on a stage. There are simply too many amazing artists out there today.
MSJ: What was the last CD you bought and/or what have you been listening to lately?
I purchased Mark Rivera’s new CD, Common Bond. He’s a dear friend, played on my record, and it’s important that we support one another. Besides, it’s a really good record.
MSJ: Have you read any good books lately?
Living High in the Dirty Business of Dreams The Dean Martin Biography by Nick Tosches.
MSJ: What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?
Billy Joel at Madison Square Garden. Absolutely fantastic two hours of songs that you probably know all the words to.
MSJ: Do you have a musical guilty pleasure?
Trying my hand at writing a Classical piece of music. I’m currently doing just that.
MSJ: If you could sit down to dinner with any three people, living or dead, for food and conversation, with whom would you be dining?
John F Kennedy
John Lennon
Winston Churchill
Jim Steinman
Jesus Christ
MSJ: What would be on the menu?
Tapas and Dessert (Burnt Honey Ice Cream)
MSJ: Are there any closing thoughts you would like to get out there?
Buy my record!

Follow me on Twitter.

Like me on Facebook.

Always strive for goodness.

MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2015  Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.
 
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