ESP Rocker Bruce Kulick Makes Sweet Sounds with Wife Lisa

Bruce Kulick has been a friend of ESP for decades, going back to our respective days in New York City in the ‘80s. You probably know Bruce from his time as a member of hard rock legends KISS (and as the current guitarist of Grand Funk Railroad), but Bruce’s latest effort is in quite a different direction, working with his wife Lisa Lane Kulick on a single called “If I Could Show You”. We chatted with Bruce about the song, and about his longterm love of ESP Guitars.

A lot of musicians find it to be a challenge to work with their significant other in a music setting… they have conflict when getting into critical performance details. Was this the first time you and Lisa did a recording project together?
Yes, and I do really understand why that kind of conflict can happen. There’s a different kind of stress while creating music in studios compared to more casual settings. You have to accept that the whole process of being creative is unique to each person, and it’s not always logical. You’re making decisions based on emotional instinct, and it’s so subjective, of course.

That’s why everyone is turned on by different things. That having been said, when you hear real talent, no matter what style of music it is, it’s obvious to the majority of listeners.

What prompted you to want to do the song?
Lisa is such an incredible woman to be a partner for me in my life. Musically, she doesn’t have all the language that I have, but she understands music instinctively. She did perform here and there as a singer when she was young.

She found a VHS tape of her doing songs with a piano player at a swanky place in New York. They were performing pop and jazz standards. I heard the tape and was blown away. On a side note, I actually love classic singers like Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. She’s a fan of Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand, and so on.

When I saw this tape, I recognized the ability Lisa had to own a song, which is to tell the story and make you, as the listener, feel it.

How did you choose the song?
It was a song I’d written around the time I did BK3 [Bruce’s 2010 solo album]. Andrew London first reinterpreted it so that we could use it at our wedding.

How did things go in the studio?
It was stressful at times. Lisa had experience as a singer — performing standards as a solo act, and she also had a band in high school where she did Pat Benatar and Blondie and Heart, stuff like that. But in the studio, you’re really under a microscope. Once it got beyond the phase of being in our living room, performing it with acoustics, it’s a different environment in the studio.

There were times when she’d present an idea, and I’d have a knee-jerk reaction. When something is different than the way I’d do it, I can’t get past it until I absorb it and take a bigger look at it. Once that happened, I was more open to doing things in different ways than I would have immediately chosen. To be honest, that’s only fair. This is her song, featuring me!

Singers and other musicians often get spooked when they find themselves surrounded by recording gear and red light goes on. I read that Lisa ran into some difficulty because she’d been watching The Voice and was trying to sound like other modern pop singers.
I just needed her to be herself! A good example is when we played at the Indianapolis KISS Expo. She and I did three KISS songs… one from the Revenge album, and two from Crazy Nights. Although her vocal range is perfect for that era of KISS, I told her, “I don’t want you to be Paul Stanley. Just be yourself.”

Well, the song came out great.
Thank you. We’ll be doing more live performances of the song in June. I’m using an LTD TL model for that, which is great. It’s a real throwback to my old ESP acoustic which, ironically, was called the Eclipse. I toured back in ’96 in Europe with that guitar.

You have a pretty legendary guitar collection. Roughly how many ESPs have you owned over the years?
I probably still have in my collection about 40 of them. I own about 120 guitars right now, and at least 40 of them are ESP. I collected my signature models, of course. But I’m also a fan of the Vintage Plus. I have six of those. For the rigs I use most often, I have Vipers and EC-1000s.

Of course, with me being a little bit nuts, if a model is discontinued, that’s the one I’ll seek out. I’ll find them on Reverb or eBay. Right now, I’ve got a guy holding a matte honey burst EC-1000 for me. If it’s a current model, I can say to the guys, “I want to use that,” and they’ll hook me up. I’ve bought some great Japanese ESP models online. I have a black ESP Viper from 2006 that’s light as a feather.

When you’re checking out a guitar you want, beyond the aspects of it being rare or otherwise valuable, what’s the first thing that draws you in? Looks? Feel? Tone?
Visually, when it comes to guitars, I’m old school. I do respond better to guitars that remind me of classic shapes. ESP gives you those things, but done in their own way. But I’m just I’m wired that way. With really wild shapes, you've lost me on those models.

So that’s number one in terms of what attracts me, but as soon as it’s in my hand, there’s a whole different criteria. I always look for guitars that have a nice balance. For the neck shape, all I want is for it to be comfortable in my hand. I’m not crazy picky.

And tone?
I feel more than anything else that tone is in your hands. That having been said, I’ve picked up some guitars and strummed them, and they’re so resonant that it sounds great all over the place. And that’s the reason why you want to actually play the guitar you’re getting. You can take two guitars with the same bodies, the same model, but the wood will generate a bit of a different tone. You should find the guitar that suits your playing the best.

What about using ESPs live? Any thoughts?
I prefer to take an LTD on the road. You’re not going to cry if something happens to it, unlike a custom Japanese ESP model. But more importantly, LTDs are really well-built and reliable. There have been times where I’ve done shows and just used an LTD guitar that was available locally. Last year, I did a KISS Expo in Stockholm. I just picked up a black EC-1000 while I was there, and it was gorgeous. It played great, and it sounded great. To be able to do that, and know the quality will be the same no matter where I go… that’s a good feeling. It’s why I’m proud to be an ESP endorser for all these years. They don’t let me down. That’s a good test of quality.

You’ve done this sweet love song with your wife, which might surprise most of your fans who know you as a hard rock, bluesy kind of player. Should musicians make it a point to explore other styles and genres than the ones they’re comfortable with?
It’s a great question. Everybody has their own take on this. Some people, if what they do works for them, there’s no negative in staying within their comfort zone if they’re successful at what they do and they enjoy it.

There are plenty of great players who just do what they do. I’m not sure Joe Bonamassa would want to listen to what I listen to, or play what I play.

What are some examples of music that you enjoy hearing or performing that might surprise your fans?
I love great vocalists, and great piano players. I love Bill Evans on the piano. The guy played melody and chords in a way that drew me in like no one else. As far as singers are concerned… Frank Sinatra. I’ve been obsessed with him lately, his phrasing, his tone.

Now, how does that relate to me being a known rock guitarist? I think I would be absorbing that swing and putting that back into the music I create. When you listen to an artist as accomplished as Frank, so many others just pale in comparison. That’s when it was real, before the days of autotune and all that. I’ve zoned into a particular period of Frank. Everything he did, he just owns the song.

That’s where the influence comes across to me, as a guitar player. Like Frank, I want every note to mean something. I want my emotion to stroke a chord in the listener. Whatever it is that makes me connect to the listener in that way is what I strive to do.

Sometimes you just connect to an artist, and you don’t need to analyze “why”.
Sure. Joni Mitchell. There’s another one. All that kind of music. I’ve immersed myself in a wide variety of bands and artists. I think Radiohead is amazing. Coldplay is excellent in that I find their sound is uplifting. There’s something about the music that’s uplifting. You can look at many qualities about the artists that connect to me, and it’s hard to explain why in each case, but I do put that passion into my own music.

Check out Lisa and Bruce's song "If I Could Show You" for yourself at the links below.