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Kasim Sulton of Utopia has crafted a power pop classic with ‘Kasim 2021’

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One of the best power pop albums of the year has just been released by a rock and roll MVP you’ve heard many times, although you might not have known it.

“Kasim 2021” is the fourth solo album from Kasim Sulton, longtime Todd Rundgren collaborator, bassist and singer for Utopia, and on projects for Hall & Oates, Scandal, Joan Jett, Blue Oyster Cult, and over 50 more. Sulton’s musicianship and vocals were an integral part of Meat Loaf’s 50 million-selling “Bat Out of Hell” and its chart-topping sequel.

“Kasim 2021” could be one of the most uplifting records you hear this year, with its buoyant melodies, positive message and musical hooks that lend it an instant likability. The strong song craftsmanship comes from Sulton and collaborator Phil Thornalley (The Cure, Natalie Imbruglia, Bryan Adams), whom the artist credits with giving him the kick he needed to start a solo record.

The opening cut on “Kasim 2021,” is “More Love,” a bright burst of sunshine pop that turned out to be the last tune recorded for the project, according to Sulton.

“We’d finished 11 songs when Phil came to me and said we needed one more uptempo positive message song to round out the record,” Sulton explains. “He brought the idea of ‘More Love’ to me and it bookends the record with Nick Lowe’s ‘(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding.’ Who’s going to argue that the world doesn’t need a little more love?”

On the richly produced “Unsung,” Sulton confronts his backing player status head on with a song that expresses both appreciation and frustration with the fact that he’s usually heard in the context of other artist’s music.

“Two sides of the same coin can’t join, that’s my conundrum, I’m on the road paying all my bills, thank God for Rundgren,” Sulton sings on a song about his life as a player in someone else’s story. True to form, he’s on tour with Todd as you read this.

The pop hooks of “Kasim 2021” are not far removed from the tuneful pop of groups like Fountains of Wayne or Weezer, a band that receives a nod from Sulton on the dynamic “Blame Somebody Else.”

“I tend to be a little more in the middle, but that chorus is very hard-hitting,” Sulton explains, crediting Thornalley with coaxing him out of his comfort zone.

Sulton recently shared a wonderful live band version of the album track “Sweetest Fascination” on social media and says he looks forward to heading out in early 2022 for a full-blown tour in support of “Kasim 2021.”

The Maine Edge: You’ve performed in Maine a number of times. What was your most memorable visit?

Kasim Sulton: I’ve been through Maine countless times and I’d have to say my most memorable experience was in Portland at this little white lobster house down in the harbor. They have the best lobster rolls I’ve ever had in my life. Portland is a great little town.

The Maine Edge: When I first listened to “Kasim 2021,” it sounded like a record full of hits. What was your goal with this record?

Kasim Sulton: I had no intention of doing a full album, but I was in England visiting Phil Thornalley. We both came up in the ‘80s making records with other people. He asked if I had some new material, so I played four or five things and when he heard them, he said we’re doing a Kasim Sulton solo record and offered to produce.

The Maine Edge: We know you best for your work with Todd Rundgren over the last 45 years, with Utopia and his solo work. He’s a fascinating guy but I think he’s misunderstood by a lot of people. How would you describe Todd as an artist?

Kasim Sulton: The thing I’ve always loved and admired about Todd is that he’s a person who says this is what I do. He’s not going to do something because people expect it of him. When some artists have successful records, they try to top it by doing something very similar. Todd never does the same thing twice and I think that’s very admirable.

The Maine Edge: Not long after you joined Utopia, the band performed in front a colossal crowd of 300,000 at the Knebworth Festival in England with Led Zeppelin. What did it feel like to perform for an audience of that magnitude?

Kasim Sulton: I was only 20 years old and had never traveled beyond New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. I’m in England with this national touring act on the same bill as Led Zeppelin. I’m on the stage looking back at John Bonham’s setup that would roll out later. It was a really hot day and I think we went on at around 1 p.m. I looked out on that sea of people, and I can’t tell you how exhilarating that rush of adrenaline felt at the sight. I was beside myself at the stroke of good luck that brought me to that place in time.

The Maine Edge: Was it your connection to Todd that led to you playing bass and singing backing vocals for Meat Loaf’s “Bat Out of Hell?”

Kasim Sulton: Yes, and I can never thank him enough for that because it’s one of the biggest selling records of all time.

The Maine Edge: When I used to do weddings, “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” was always one of the big requests. They loved to act it out on the dance floor.

Kasim Sulton: It’s inclusive! If you include the audience in your story, it makes it so much more personable. People related to that three or four minute back and forth between Meat Loaf and Ellen Foley. That was a brilliant move on (composer) Jim Steinman’s part.

The Maine Edge: We lost Jim Steinman this year. What comes to mind when you think of working with him?

Kasim Sulton: Jim taught me a great life lesson. I’ve always hated making decisions and so did he. It was a constant thread throughout his life. We had a conversation once where he told me that making decisions meant the death of all possibilities. In the studio, he would try at least five different approaches to everything. During a break in the middle of a recording session, we’d go to a restaurant. He could not decide on what to order so he’d order one of everything on the menu, I’m completely serious. He’d say “Bring me one of everything.”

The Maine Edge: What was the server’s reaction?

Kasim Sulton: The server would be delighted thinking about the substantial tip they were about to receive (laughs).  

Last modified on Wednesday, 20 October 2021 07:11


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