March 14, 2017 It’s not often that I get the chance to sit down face to face with an artist who’s been a huge part of the soundtrack of my life (some of it knowingly and some unknowingly), but on Saturday afternoon I got just that opportunity with the one and only, Kasim Sulton.
Many of you will recognize that name straight away, whilst others of you may need some help. Kasim Sulton is most notably known for his break through career with the legendary band Utopia and from hit songs like “Set Me Free”, but his career only truly made it’s opening mark with Utopia and while Utopia was a huge and amazing part of his career, what has followed that time has been a pretty amazing as well. To name just a few of the artists he’s worked with through out his career: Cherry Vanilla, Patty Smyth, Joan Jett, Todd Rundgren, Hall & Oates, Meatloaf, Blue Öyster Cult (current gig since 2012), The New Cars, Mick Jagger, Cheap Trick, Richie Sambora, Celine Dion, etc, etc… On top of all of that, he’s also a successful solo artist. Either way you look at it, he’s a musician that has transcended the generations, age gaps and music genres.
Being a solo artist is the work that is the most rewarding for Kasim and he just released a new album in February “Live Bootleg” (see the album review here). Grab a copy for yourself from his pledgemusic.com campaign.
Kasim is doing a few solo gigs on the east coast in April. These are going to be very special events, so if you are in that area or headed that way in April check out one of his live shows. Here’s the details for each date and links for tickets:
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
Kasim Sulton’s Solo Releases:
The Basement Tapes (1998)
Quid Pro Quo (2002)
All Sides Compilation (2007)
Live Bootleg (2017)
Now let’s get to the interview with Kasim Sulton:
YesterdazeNews: Who is Kasim Sulton as a musician and as a person today in 2017 vs Kasim Sulton of the Utopia times?
KS: 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, works with anyone that’s good and does his own work as well.
YDN: Many fans today still attribute the majority of your career to Utopia and rightfully so as Utopia was a huge part of your career, but not the only part. Do you ever grow tired of people asking about or focusing on your history with Utopia when there is so much more to your story or wish that fans would talk more about your solo work?
KS: No, I mean Utopia was such a big part of my life and other people’s lives as well. There are bands you grow up listening to that their music becomes part of the sound track of your life and Utopia was that, not for a lot of people but a substantial amount. We had a pretty good fan base. The best thing about Utopia for me was that a lot of musicians I grew up listening to, that I respected and that I learned from by record or listening to their music and copying what they were doing, they come up to me today and say, “I love your work with Utopia, that was some of the best work, it influences me, had an effect on me and it was just a great band.” So I’m really proud of that part of my life. I don’t mind talking about it at all. I keep trying to come up with new stories because people come up asking me to tell them stories and I’ve pretty much ran out of them or they’ve been told already.
YDN: When you look back on your amazing career and everything you have accomplished, is there anything still lingering you wish you would have done or still want to do?
KS: I’m very, very lucky and very blessed. I get to do what I want really. I get to play with other bands like Blue Öyster Cult, Todd Rundgren or any one of a number of people and then I still get to do my solo shows. So again it kind of goes full circle because I wish I could do more solo work but short of stopping working with everyone else and just concentrating on my own work, I can’t really do that. When the phone rings, I have a big problem saying no. So there’s really not too much that I haven’t done that I’d say I wish I’d done this, if I had only taken that tour or played that kind of music. I’ve done every kind of music that you can possibly imagine from fusion, heavy metal, R&B, ballads to kind of I’ve done it all.
YDN: What is your personal favorite?
KS: My personal favorite is melodic pop music. That’s really where more forte lies. That’s what I think I do best, that’s what I enjoy the most and what gives me the most satisfaction.
YDN: Do you collaborate with a lot of people?
KS: I’m looking to collaborate with more people. I think up until this point in my life I’ve been in the mindset that “I’m doing this all by myself, I don’t need any help, I don’t need anybody and I don’t need to work ideas because I know exactly what I want to do, exactly how I want it to sound and exactly how I want to do it.”
YDN: And how did that work for you?
KS: It worked well, it worked out ok but there’s a certain narrowness about that and it doesn’t give you a chance to get other people’s ideas in on your own stuff or at least come up with an idea that’s conjoined. So I’m finding it very, even on my last record I had 15 other musicians on my record. I had never done that before, well not never but rarely had I done that.
YDN: You released your new project in February 2017, Live Bootleg. Why at this point in your career did you decide to do the Live Bootleg project?
KS: 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.
YDN: I believe it and like mentioned, I’ve got it. I bought into the campaign and the day the album dropped I downloaded it immediately and took a listen and it’s fantastic, I really enjoyed it.
KS: It’s not bad, it’s really good and the juxtaposition between the two shows which is the album opens with the Cutting Room show which is a full band with a great bunch of musicians. Then the second half of the record is pretty much just me solo acoustic with a couple of other people but just on acoustic instruments. So it’s kind of night and day between a full band rocking out and what I do a lot of which is the solo acoustic shows.
YDN: Is there any consideration of releasing the Live Bootleg on dvd?
KS: 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.
YDN: Part of the Live Bootleg project included raising money for charity, how did you pick that particular organization?
KS: It was through Scott Kushner. He’s on the board of the Reisenbach Foundation and they oversee a bunch of charities and I said I would like to give something back to the community and it would be nice to attach a charity to the project. So he gave me a list of the charities he works with and told me to pick one that spoke to me. I love children, I have 3.
YDN: Any grandchildren yet?
KS: Yes, 2. And so I just found this My Stuffed Bags Foundation that helps children when taken out of their homes and put into foster care because of displacement from child abuse and neglect. When these children are taken out of their homes, many times it’s without anything. Protective services have to take these children into custody without any personal belongings, no bag, no clothes, no toothbrush, no blanket, no stuffed animal, just nothing. The My Stuffed Bags Foundation provides that to these children and I thought that, that’s really something that I wanted to do.
YDN: That’s really cool. I like to see when artists and everyday people get involved with charity. I think finding charitable organizations to get involved in is important. We all need to get involved and find ways to help.
KS: Yea and I think it’s really important for us as a society to give back. There are a lot of people who aren’t nearly as lucky as we are.
YDN: Do you work with any other charities?
KS: I also do some work with Todd Rundgren’s charity called The Spirit of Harmony. They facilitate with putting music programs back in schools. A lot of public schools today have discontinued their music programs because they can’t fund them and whatever music programs they may or do have are severely underfunded. They are a facilitating organization that help programs get linked up with resources.
YDN: It’s hard to see music programs being cut today. For me growing up, music was so fundamental and many times what I would turn when going through tough times. And it’s even proven that music is fundamental in helping children learn so I just can’t imagine schools without music programs in them.
KS: Both of my daughters are school teachers in special education programs and every so often I will go up to play music in their classrooms.
YDN: Please thank your daughters from me personally for their service and dedication in teaching. I think it is amazing that people choose to be so selfless and go into a teaching career. It’s not easy. It’s such an underappreciated and underfunded profession.
YDN: So what are you listening to right now?
KS: There’s a new band that I just heard called The Lemon Twigs. They are east coast. Two brothers, a female bass player and another guy on keyboards. They are just the sweetest kids. They came to see us when I played with Todd Rundgren last week in New York City. They are huge Utopia/Todd fans. They are a younger retro music, how can I put it…. Beatle’ish a bit quirky, really nice melodies and really good lyrics. They’re from Long Island. So I am listening to them and you know I go back to stuff. I’m a big Rufus Wainwright fan, listen to a lot of classical music and it just runs the gamut. There’s a band from Manchester, England that I listen to called Elbow that I love. They’re great, you’ve gotta listen to Elbow, you’d love them.
YDN: Do you have a favorite record of all time?
KS: No, I do not have a favorite record. There’s just so much out there, how could you pick one thing and then say, “that’s it, if I had to listen to one song for the rest of my life or one record it would be that one.” That would be like only having vanilla ice cream for the rest of your life. You couldn’t, you’d have to have mint chocolate chip every once in a while or pistachio or coffee ice cream.
Kasim Sulton is currently on tour with Blue Öyster Cult.