How Kiss Built Their ‘Asylum': Exclusive Interview
"I remember working 21 days in a row at Electric Lady," Kulick tells UCR about the summer 1985 sessions that yielded Asylum, his first album with the band. "I remember being there on the Fourth of July, everybody was doing hot dog grilling on the roof, it was Greenwich Village, summertime in New York City. And I'm working, but I was having the time of my life - I mean, I'm the guitar player in Kiss!"
After secretly contributing guitar work to two tracks on 1984's Animalize, and quietly replacing Mark St. John for almost all of the six-month tour in support of the album, Kulick was finally getting his share of the spotlight. "It took forever for anyone to know who the hell was the guitar player in Kiss," he says. "I was finally going to be officially in the band. I was going to record the album, co-write songs and take the photo shoot, be on the cover of the record."
Thanks to the hit single "Heaven's on Fire," Animalize had become the first Kiss album to go platinum since 1979's Dynasty, capping a hard-fought comeback that saw band members remove their trademark face paint and burn through a trio of lead guitarists in just three years.
A few short weeks after the March 29, 1985, end of the Animalize World Tour, Kulick and his new bandmates began work on what would become Kiss' 13th studio album. "The tour was very successful, and back then you did try to do a record a year," he notes. "The guys were pretty hungry to keep things going. Especially Paul [Stanley], because he was very focused on Kiss. Gene [Simmons] was amassing his bigger empire of aspirations as an actor and everything like that at the time. I was writing with Paul in the late spring. I remember going to his apartment in Manhattan quite a few times, meeting [songwriting collaborator] Desmond Child, things like that. Next thing you know, we're going in to record at Electric Lady."
Kulick ended up with three co-writing credits on Asylum, working with Stanley on two songs and Simmons on another. "The wonderful thing was the fact that they did offer me the opportunity for me to present some song ideas," he says. "I certainly was very happy to be there. I ping-ponged between Gene and Paul, working every day for them. If Paul would take a weekend off, then Gene was there."
One of Kulick's ideas became the album's opening track, "King of the Mountain." "I had the verse idea, the chords," he recalls. "And I remember Paul doing the moving chords that would become the chorus. I don't remember all the other parts of it, but I know that I jump-started the song by having a verse idea for that. That interesting drum intro and the guitar solo with the drums and all that - that came up when we were rehearsing it. It was something that Paul had a vision for. That was so special for that song. That track was a great vehicle for [drummer] Eric Carr, as well as me, of course. There's a lot of wild guitar things on it. It was a great way to start the record off."
Listen to Kiss' 'King of the Mountain'
Another Kulick-Stanley-Child collaboration closed out the album's first side. "'I'm Alive' was this wild uptempo thing," the guitarist explains.
"Paul is not the guy that usually likes to do the big uptempo tunes, but that one we did work on. I had the chorus, which definitely featured a Motley Crue-influenced vibe for me. I really liked the energy of those chords."
He was even more hands on with "Trail by Fire," which features Simmons on vocals. "I had a four-track demo of only the music. I had no melody, I had no words, nothing except music that I thought Gene would like. And I was spot on. He responded immediately. It was called 'Live Fast, Die Young' at one point."
Listen to Kiss' 'Trial by Fire'
Thanks partially to Kulick's contributions, Asylum achieved a fuller, more dynamic sound than the somewhat monochromatic Animalize. "I do feel that the direction for Asylum was musically more balanced in some ways," he notes."I am not going to criticize Animalize, I think it was a great record.
"Lick It Up [from 1983] certainly had so many good things on it, too. I think by then the band had turned the corner on so many things. [With 1981's] Music From 'The Elder,' they got off the road for a little bit. But they were certainly coming back strong between [1982's] Creatures of the Night, Lick It Up and Animalize, with Creatures being such an especially great return to a heavy sound."
Asylum kept Kiss' winning streak rolling, spawning another radio hit with "Tears Are Falling," as well as two popular MTV videos: "Who Wants to Be Lonely" and "Uh! All Night."
"I think the album strikes a great balance between what was expected from a hair band in the '80s, which was a lot of flashy guitars and outrageousness, and that '70s rock thing that Kiss was first known for," Kulick concludes. "Looking at it now with 2020 eyes, it has really held up very well and still deserves appreciation."