Whether it be his 15 years studying Jazz to touring with Nuclear Assault, over the course of his illustrious career Karl has been involved in many notable bands and projects, including, of course, Frehley’s Comet and ESP.
In this interview Karl discusses all his past influences and accomplishments, as well as what the future holds for him, including a solo album and possible Frehley’s Comet “reunion” with Ace.
KA: Thanks for taking the time for this Karl. We definitely wanted to hook up with you because you were obviously very involved in the ESP album, which is an awesome album.
KC: Oh, cool. Thanks, I appreciate it.
KA: I guess one of the first points is something that came up from Eric, he said that you have the left over track “Some Kind of Wonderful” floating around somewhere. Is that the only one that is still out there that didn’t make it on any of the other three versions?
KC: Yeah, I have that one. He’s right. We originally did that stuff in my studio before I ended up changing over the format, doing a bigger, full blown studio. I ended up getting a bigger machine, same kind of machine that we used at Curt Cuomo’s where we recorded the record. It just so happens that Curt and I have the identical machine. So, it worked out.
KA: Logistically how did the recording take shape? Everybody else is out on the “left coast” and you are over here on Eastern time.
KC: What happened was Eric and I talked about doing a record together with original stuff. In the course of that, writing some riffs and doing some stuff, we started recording some covers. We just jammed around and talked back and forth. And then Keith Leroux said it would be a cool idea if we did some covers and we ended up doing a few tunes. Now, I wasn’t too up on my studio yet because it was new and I’m not like “Joe Engineer.” I am used to using other guys like Dave Whitman, guys who have mixed major albums for people like KISS and Zepplin. At the time we ended up doing those first songs they were kind of like demo songs. Then Eric said to me that Bruce and John were interested and so what ended up happening was I ended up flying out West and we did it at Curt Cuomo’s. But it initially started with Eric and I. We had played in a little 3 piece band out in LA and we were jamming all over the place. We have always like each others’ playing and have been good friends for a bunch of years. So….
KA: It just seemed natural?
KC: Yeah, everything was very natural. We like the same bands, have the same influences, so it was an easy thing. And him and Bruce being with KISS and me being with Ace it all kind or worked well, you know? I think the KISS fans really love Eric and Bruce, and I am sure they got a kick out of all us playing together.
KA: And as you said, you do have quite a bit of history with Ace, who has been the “center” of some rumor and controversy lately between the books and now his public refernce to the “end of KISS” and a Farewell Tour. Are you still close to Ace?
KC: Honestly, my situation with Ace is great. I consider Ace a dear friend and a good person, a person that I respect. He has just been a standout person and anything that anyone has written negative about him, like Gordon Gebert, as far as I am concerned from my dealings with Ace it’s bullshit. As far as I am concerned, as far as people putting out everybody else’s dirty laundry, I don’t believe in that. Your personal business is your personal business. All my situations with Ace have been really good. As far as I am concerned, playing with him couldn’t have been a better move.
KA: Ace has said a couple of things publicly about KISS not being together much longer after the turn of the century and wanting to get back doing some stuff on his own, getting another record contract, etc. Do you expect that you will be called back into that situation?
KC: I’m sure. Eventually he is going to want to put out a record, he has gotta. He only got one song on the KISS album! I mean, for anybody that knows Ace, Ace has got a lot of musical input and he likes it to be heard. I am sure he is gonna do Frehley’s Comet again eventually, and if the timing’s right I am going to be involved. I am sure he is going to ask me, I have already been writing with him over the past few weeks. Like I said, our relationship is great as friends and as people to work with. We work great together. And Anton is great to work with too, he is a great person. Just turn on David Letterman or listen to some of the old albums, you’ll hear Anton on a lot of stuff. Yeah, I’m sure Ace is going to do Frehley’s Comet, just like Paul is going to do Phantom and other things and Gene is going to do movies. There is going to be life after KISS.
But just because Ace does Frehley’s Comet doesn’t mean he’s not going to do another KISS album. Even with Bruce being in the band longer than Ace if you really look at the number of years, the fans still gravitate towards Ace because he was the original. You know, people are always going to identify Ace Frehley with KISS and he can never get away from that either. But that is the business. In a nutshell, that is the way the ball rolls. But as far as ESP goes, all those guys are great musicians! Bruce is a great player and he has actually surprised me in a lot of ways because I never realized that beside being a great guitar player he is a great bass player too. And he has got great ears, he hears things. He’s also good with engineering, just a very talented guy. Eric, the same thing. And John, John surprises me too. Everybody carries their weight and it worked real well. We went over to Australia it went great too.
KA: They did really love it, the reports were awesome! They also really appreciated the fact that you guys even bothered, because they get left out of the loop a lot.
KC: Absolutely, because it is pretty far. I mean I did 27 hours on the plane! But you know it was well worth it to meet all the people in Australia and everybody that worked with us. They were all great, everybody was real good people over there. I had a great time in Australia, we all did. The ESP thing has been a real fun thing and that is what it was meant to be. Not a serious thing where there is a lot of tension or problems you know what I mean? Not like in a band where there is tension and people are worried about this and worried about that and before you know it the band breaks up. I have a student here right now who has gone through that with his band, you know? So, yeah, it has been a fun thing.
KA: Is teaching one of the things that you do on a regular basis?
KC: Yeah. I have been teaching for about twelve years. This is my life, this is what I do. I don’t work a day job, not to say that any musician shouldn’t. I’ve made music my full priority. I just figured that either I am in it completely, or I am not going to do it. I am not one of those persons that just puts my foot a little bit in the door. I am the type of person who goes and does it 110%. That’s what made me be able to play bass and tour with Ace. I was really a guitar player before that, playing with Joe Lynn Turner. I mean, that’s no easy gig playing with a guy like that! Rainbow and Deep Purple and Yngwie Malmsteen are not anything to sneeze at on guitar! And Al Pitrelli, the guy I replaced, he is no guy to sneeze at on guitar either.
And the musicians that played with Joe, anybody who hears Joe sing knows that he is the real deal. And I played with Stephen Pearcy too, from Ratt, and a bunch of different people over the course of my career. You know I have had the chance to play with Corky Lainge from Mountain. I just touched on some of the ESP stuff, I mean we have recorded Four Day Creep, which I jammed with Steve Marriott on. I actually spoke to Steve several days before he died. And Felix Pappalardi I spoke to a few times too before he was shot by his wife, which was a pretty terrible thing, a real big waste of great talent. Life is weird. Things can go so quick, you gotta just enjoy it while you have it. Leslie West was a big influence on me too as a guitar player, and was also one of Ace’s influence.
KA: Well, since there are probably some kids who aren’t as familiar with what you have done beyond the world of Frehley’s Comet and KISS related projects it’s good to hear some of the run down for those who might not be as aware.
KC: Right, right. I also toured with Nuclear Assault, and that was a real challenge! You know, it really wasn’t my bag, but I will tell you playing that music is a test. Anybody who tells you that any of that stuff is easy and it’s all noise…. wrong!
KA: If nothing else there has got to be a tremendous endurance factor there.
KC: That is what it is, it’s just endurance of the right hand! And I’ll tell ya, I never realized how hard that stuff was. So when anybody says anything about the heavy bands that are out there, I challenge people to learn that stuff and go out there night after night and day after day and tour and play that stuff and tell me that its not hard. It is, believe me! But it is a different thing, a different style of music. Of course I also studied fifteen years of jazz.
KA: You’re very well versed.
KC: Well, I grew up on music with my father. He was a disc jockey for the Armed Forces Network in Berlin, Germany. He was also a D.J. in New York so I have been around everything from big band music to you name it. I heard it as a kid.
KA: Well it seems from a common sense point of view that it couldn’t do anything but help as a musician to have a lot of different input and background and influence because then you can take bits and pieces and incorporate from all of it.
KC: Absolutely. And I do that with all my students. I teach everybody individually. The guys that want to learn the blues, I teach them that. I have a bass student who wants to learn a lot of classical styled stuff on bass and soloing, I teach him that. I teach everybody individually, and all different styles. I teach country, blues, metal, I teach my students Ace’s stuff, stuff that I have done on different records, from A-Z, you know? I also play four nights a week in a local club here; I am constantly playing.
KA: Like you said, you are either doing it or you’re not.
KC: And that’s where I am at. I tell this to everybody, you can practice until you are blue in the face, but it’s the time that you put that instrument on and go in front of people and play live that’s the real time that practice really comes to use, all that knowledge spurts out. You could go see somebody play in a club and you might think, “That guy is just O.K.” But then if you were to go see them or take a lesson from them and realize how much more knowledge that they have of so much different stuff because, you know, sometimes in the situation a guy is not able to play the different styles because he is just playing rock n’ roll. You see? And where I come from, I obviously respect everything. I think everything is an art and I respect anybody that puts a lot of hard time and effort in to anything as a player.
KA: Well, having said that, what is your opinion on artists these days who are getting big and having a lot of success by sampling other songs or basically re-making a song?
KC: I am not really too crazy about people taking samples and just putting them right on there to be real honest with you. I think there are some talented rapper guys, I am not gonna say that there aren’t. I think it is a different art form. But for somebody to steal something, sample it right off by the push of a button, that doesn’t impress me. Show me that you can do it live. Play it, if you can pull it off, and do it live. Then we are talking a different story, from a musician’s point of view. Am I impressed with people who have a keyboard that have all the sounds inside like an entire horn section coming right out, all this stuff comes flying out of this keyboard… am I impressed with that? Absolutely not. I would be more impressed with one guy grabbing a single acoustic guitar and singing his ass off and playing his ass off than a band with like three guys in it and they hit a button and all this shit comes out. It’s like kareoke night!
KA: Depeche Mode, are you listening?
KC: Yeah, exactly! Or like the two guys, one is dead, Milli Vanilli. Two guys who couldn’t sing worth a damn, and basically one of them died because he couldn’t handle the bashing that they took, which is a shame. I mean, that whole story was a shame. But you know, give me Grand Funk. You get those bands that play, that do it live. That is the real deal.
KA: It’s not about what style you are playing, it’s just playing it and playing it well no matter what style you are doing.
KC: Yeah. Being real about it and playing it for real. Playing it because you love to play. That is why I am into music. Of course you gotta put on a show, obviously, but to me it stems from the playing. Edward Van Halen lit the whole eighties on fire coming out with that album. Every kid that put on that album heard that guitar and thought, “How the heck is he doing this!?” Hendrix, he was another one. I also think that feel is very important, that you can feel what you hearing. It is not just hearing it, it is feeling it. I think that where Eric and I and Bruce and John all really come from. We are really from that, all four of us. We jammed at the Baked Potato Tuesday and it was great! We had never played the songs together before, but we just jammed and had a great time and that is what it is all about.
KA: Are you working on your own album yet?
KC: Absolutely. I am doing a record right now, and everything I’ve touched base with you about, playing, feel, the 70’s sound, what ESP is about, is exactly what I am doing with my partner who plays with me, Bruce Terkildsen. Bruce used to sing and play bass in a band called Dreamer in the old days with Vito Bratta from White Lion. Bruce is singing and playing bass with me, and he also plays in the cover band that I play in. I do a duo with him and we work about four nights a week. As a matter of fact, he played bass with me and Eric at the KISS Expo last year in Jersey. He plays left handed bass and is a great singer and great writer.
I wrote some songs with Robert Mason, who sang in Lynch Mob and also sang background for Ozzy Osbourne on the last few tours, and they are going on the album too. Ace is on the record already, and Anton is going to be on the record, he is going to play on it. We are going to try and figure out the timing and everything and Eric is probably going to play on it. Probably the engineer that worked on the early KISS stuff and worked with Foreigner and everybody else, who also did the Ace Frehley tribute track with me “Love Her All I Can,” which Eric and I did like last year or the year before, he is going to engineer some of the stuff with us.
KA: Sounds like it is going to be one hell of an album.
KC: Yeah, it is all original stuff, more 70’s. A very 70’s vibe. I have label interest, a bunch of different labels are very interested.
KA: Do you know how many tracks are going to make it?
KC: Well there were about 25 songs, so I would probably guarantee at least 12 tracks.
KA: What kind of time frame you are shooting for?
KC: We are shooting for September. I want it done. I have been trying to get this whole record done for like the last year, but what happened was I ended up buying new machines and upgrading the studio. I finally went all the way and got myself a 24 track machine and did it the right way.
KA: Do you have a title yet?
KC: I’m not really sure what the title will be, but it is gonna be a band name most likely. It will probably be a band name. Everybody that has heard the stuff really likes it.
KA: Sounds like it’s going to be awesome. Is there some way for fans to keep in touch with you online? Do you have an email address you’d like to give out?
KC: Sure. Let me give it to you and you can put it down for any of the fans that want to get a hold of me. My email is TAKKO@worldnet.att.net, and if anybody is interested in lessons, saying hi and dropping me a line, whatever, they can e-mail me. And if someone does e-mail me and I don’t get back to them immediately, just understand that I am traveling sometimes, so there are times I don’t get all my e-mails.
I have gotten a lot of e-mails saying that “Into the Void” with their favorite tune, real happy that I ended up writing that with Ace. And in Guitar Player magazine Ace mentioned that I wrote the riffs and came up with the music, which was real cool. Like I said, Ace has been good to me. He never had to say any of that. As a matter of fact, in Guitar Player magazine they did an article on him and he ended up mentioning me. Out of the whole Frehley’s Comet band I was the one who got the mention. It was written that I was a great guitar player and singer, besides you know, being a bass player with him. Ace is always giving credit and is always humble and cool.
KA: It seems that the reason he probably does drive some people crazy is because there doesn’t seem to be a phony bone in his body. The guy is just up front and you can take it or leave it.
KC: Absolutely! And you know that is the way he and I hit it off. He and Eric are friends and that is how he got into the thing on the ESP record, which was a very cool thing for him to do. A lot of the fans who have gotten the ESP record dig the fact that Ace is on there, and that is just to show all the fans that he is a good person and he didn’t have to play on that record for us. He did it because he wanted to, cause he digs playing and we are all good friends. That is just the way he is. All the fans should know that when I think of Ace I smile, that is where it is at. I have had great times with him, he just cracks me up! Everybody tries to do an Ace impersonation, you know the way he talks. But he’s just Ace. He’s from the Bronx, he’s got the voice, the whole thing. There have been a few times where he has called at Eric’s looking for me and Eric would crack up because Eric loves his accent. They’re all good guys and the ESP thing had been a real fun thing. I’m glad that people are digging it and buying it and supporting it.
KA: Thanks so much for taking the time Karl. Be sure to keep everyone updated on your album!
Note: This interview was originally posted on the website KISS Asylum, which I was co-owner/content manager of from 1997-2004. Additionally, some of the photographs that originally accompanied the interview have been replaced with more recent images, as the originals were no longer available.