Shockwave Magazine had the privilege of sitting down and speaking with bassist, Kasim Sulton Saturday afternoon before the Blue Öyster Cult show in Tacoma, Washington. I had the chance to chat with Kasim about his early career days with Utopia, his solo work, his current gig with the world famous Blue Öyster Cult and anything else that came along about his amazing career. Kasim has a new solo album out, Live Bootleg, you can grab a copy now at www.pledgemusic.com/projects/kasimsulton. Please check out the interview and I hope you enjoy getting to know Kasim Sulton.
Interview conducted by: Diane Webb
Diane Webb of Shockwave Magazine: You’re currently on the road touring with Blue Öyster Cult and it looks to be a fairly busy touring year again this year. Any shows, festivals or areas that you are looking most forward to?
Kasim Sulton: You know on the Blue Öyster Cult tours we keep a very strict schedule and there’s not really any down time when you are in these places. Sometimes I’d just like to have an afternoon off to wander around, go to a park or go see a movie or something like that. The way that this band works is you get in, put your bags down, wait a couple hours then go to sound check and go do the show and then you leave at 5:00am the next morning.
I was wondering how this band worked travel, because you guys just played in Los Angeles last night and I was thinking you were either going to be up really early flying in today or getting here just before the show.
Oh yea, I was up at 6:00am today. I mean listen, people get up at 6:00am all the time, it’s just you don’t equate that hour of the morning with rock n roll. You’re usually going to bed at 6:00am. So, is there a festival I am looking forward to? I know we have Hellfest in June in Clisson, France, but again, that’s not my area of expertise, that’s not where I am most comfortable. I can do it and I appreciate everybody that does that and respect everyone that does that kind of stuff, but it’s not really what I do. I met Phil Campbell last year.
Phil Campbell as in the Bastard Sons?
I think so and Motorhead and here’s the funny thing. He came up to me and said, “You’re Kasim Sulton, I don’t believe, I’m such a fan, I love Utopia and everything you do.” And he’s like, I played with Lemmy for 20 years or how every many years it was. And I was like, “thank you so much I’m a big fan of yours too.” So yea, we will probably get to Hellfest about 2-3 hours before we go on, then hang out before we play, then leave right after and on to the next tour date.
So is it a bit surreal for you as part of Blue Öyster Cult, I mean you guys aren’t heavy metal, but then you get booked at metal festivals like Hellfest and Wacken.
I think it’s part of their (Blue Öyster Cult) history and part of their legacy that they are considered on the fringe of heavy metal. They’re not really a “heavy metal” band but they have influenced other heavy metal bands. So they have a certain cache’ and their ability to be accepted into that circle of people.
How do you occupy your time when you are on tour breaks from Blue Öyster Cult? What’s the typical day in life of Kasim Sulton really like?
Actually (laughing), recovering from the weekend before. It takes a few days to get back on my normal schedule after touring. Let’s see what do I do? I just painted my living room and I knocked a wall out in my house. I’m writing and putting a new solo record together that I am going to do this year. I just had some meetings in Los Angeles with a good friend, Shelly Peiken, she’s an amazing writer and I am going to be working with her on the new album. So what I am always doing, most of the time is working on music.
How do you feel about today’s music business?
It’s horrible, absolutely horrible. I mean you know I have a friend name Danny. He did the album art work for 3 and the Live Bootleg. We’ve worked together for 40 years. Well his son goes by the name Bones, TeamSESH. If you go on YouTube and look him up, you will see probably 200-300 videos he’s done and he’s had millions of views. A million here, 500,000 there. He refuses to sign with a record label. He’s like, “I don’t need a record label, why do I need a record label, so they can just take everything, no.” He sells out shows all over the place and he’s huge. I think he’s so great. So when I was in LA these last few days I stayed at Danny’s house. He gave me one of his son’s t-shirts and says why don’t you wear this on stage. So I said yea sure, absolutely I will wear it on stage. So after the show a friend came backstage and brought his brother, brothers wife and nephew back. His nephew who was probably 17 years old says to me, “Is that a Bones t-shirt you have on?” I say yea and he says, “Man, he’s great” and of course I am like, you know who Bones is, because he’s at a Blue Oyster Cult show. I just thought that was so cool. So the music is dependent on social media today. Unless you are Lady Gaga, Kanye, Taylor Swift, Keith Urban or one of the mega stars like that, you build your audience and social media is how they find out what you are doing, what you are working on and that’s just how it is now and you learn to adapt.
How about the integration of technology via the internet with social media as an artist? I know you have a presence, but how involved in it are you?
You know, I should be on Instagram more than I am. Twitter I am cool with and engage with it because you can say something there. Facebook, I’m there and I have someone running my page, well actually I have two pages one is the personal page the other is the music page and we really want people to engage on the music page and we are working to try to merge those pages so that there is just one page for everyone to use. (So fans, use the @KasimSultonMusic page on Facebook). Social media is very time consuming to run and it takes time away from my music and working on the music.
How do you feel about streaming services and digital music today vs CDs, vinyl or just having physical copies?
A good friend of mine, Jimmy Bralower, he mixed a few of the songs on my album 3 and has worked with Madonna and Stevie Winwood. He said, “It used to be that water was free and you paid for music and now music is free and you have to buy water.” So personally, I don’t mind popping a cd in my car or at home on my stereo but I also don’t mind calling something up on YouTube and listening to it and if I like it enough I will buy it.
I am the same and with the work I do I am always getting previews of new albums to review but I am a firm believer in buying the music I like, even if I am comp’d a copy because I want the artists I love to get paid and keep making music. Live music needs to be supported, artists need to be supported.
It’s a double edge sword, musicians and people like me, it’s all about the live music today. You’re not going to make a living selling records anymore. So you go out and you play live. It’s good for people who like live music and the fans. The paradigm has changed to it’s all about live shows. It’s no longer about, “I’m going to sell a million records.” No you’re not, you will be lucky if you sell 1,000 records.
Who is Kasim Sulton as a musician and as a person today in 2017 vs Kasim Sulton of the Utopia times?
Well, when I started playing in Utopia I was 20 years old, I had just turned 20. I came out of the New York club scene and bar bands and right up to the time I auditioned for Utopia I was playing with a girl, Cherry Vanilla. She was one of David Bowie’s publicists in the early 70’s. She fancied herself as a rock poetess, kind of a’la Patti Smith and a few other people in the New York scene at that time and she wanted a band. I got turned on to her, or came into her orbit through a circle of friends/co-workers and auditioned for her playing on piano and I wound up playing with her for a while. Through Cherry I became good friends with people like Mick Ronson, Michael Kamen (New York Rock Ensemble), all the David Bowie people, Tony Zanetta president of MainMan records at the time (Bowies record label), and this whole underground New York music scene. So through Cherry and Michael Kamen, that’s how I ended up in Utopia. So having said all of that, I’m a musician and I like to think that I can play with everybody from Joan Jett to Hall & Oates because that’s who I’ve played with in the past. My musical horizon is pretty broad, but I also have a real need and desire to have a solo career as well. It’s a little difficult being in a position like mine because most people either do one or the other, play with other people or do their own thing. I have managed for the last 40 years to do both and I think now that I am a little older I’d like to concentrate more on my solo career which is what gives me the most personal satisfaction, the most joy. I love writing and doing my own solo shows. So who’s Kasim Sulton in 2017? He’s kind of an everyman kind of guy, you know? Work with everybody, work with anyone that’s good and does his own work as well.
You released your new solo project in February 2017, Live Bootleg. Why at this point in your career did you decide to do the Live Bootleg project?
That was very interesting how that came about, but I had been working with someone I respect and have known the last 30 years, he used to produce the King Biscuit Flower Hour. That might have been an east coast thing. It was in the 70’s-80’s and was a very popular concert series that was broadcast on WNEW, WPLJ and a couple of other radio stations and he was one of the producers for that radio hour. So we reconnected and he said maybe there was something he could do or we could work on something or a project together. And I’ve always wanted to work with different people, not necessarily just musically, but something in the music business. So I had these solo shows booked and he said he had a video studio, he runs a video production studio. He said, “How about I send a video crew down to these shows and we film and record them just for archival purposes.” I was like, ok fine if you want to do that, that’s fine with me. I felt confident enough about the shows that I wasn’t like, nah I don’t want to do it at the shows. So he recorded the show in San Francisco and he recorded the show in New York. There was no talk about a live record. About 6 months later he said, “You know we have these shows and you don’t have a record out, haven’t had a record out in about 2 years. Why don’t you put a live record out?” And I was like well what am I going to put out, we’d have to record one and he said, “No, we have these two shows recorded and we can take half from one show and half from the other show. We can pick the best songs and performances from each one and put them out as a live record. A friend of mine runs a site called pledgemusic.com and we can generate some income from pre-selling the record and sell some other stuff like t-shirts and other stuff to make it interesting to the fans and keep you visible and let’s see what happens with it.” And it has been so great. It’s been really, really great. Best thing I ever did was this live record. So then what happened was compiling the record which is only 9 songs, so picking the best songs, touching them up, then adding the artwork and the pledgemusic.com campaign. Getting the t-shirts together, the handwritten lyrics, this and that. It’s been a full-time job for both of us since the campaign started.
Is there any consideration of releasing the Live Bootleg on DVD?
Well we have video from both shows. We did not want to do a DVD because it sounds better than it looks. But I’m testing the water and I really just wanted to have something out there for the fans.
Thank you for taking time out of your schedule to sit down and chat.
You can catch Kasim Sulton live with his limited solo tour in April (dates are below and all details are on his Facebook @kasimsultonmusic) as well as out on the road with Blue Öyster Cult (all of the tour dates are on their website http://www.blueoystercult.com/Road-main.html):
Kasim Sulton Solo Dates:
April 5th: The Iridium, New York, NY
April 9th: Daryl’s House, Pawling, NY
April 13th: The Vault, Berlin, NJ
April 20th: Havana New Hope, New Hope, PA