Q&A with Rock/Blues guitarist Michal Kulbaka, sold his soul to rock n' roll, toured extensively with various bands

"Music became too corporate and too over produced. All that mainstream music it seems very sad, dull like it wants you to be depressed. Music is not as important for younger generation life like it was before. From teaching experience, a lot of younger kids don't even listen to music anymore."

Michal Kulbaka: Rock'n'Roll is Here to Stay

Michal Kulbaka is a self thought guitarist born in Poland. He was 12 years old when he started playing guitar. Michal's first guitar was an old battered acoustic guitar and was aquired when his father traded a bottle of strong Polish vodka for it. From that day on Michal sold his soul to rock n' roll... Picking basic chords and scales Michal started listening to blues. It was a John Mayall and Eric Clapton record that changed his life. The John Mayall Bluesbreaker album... At 15 years old he started his first band The Staff playing in local pubs with older musicians. The band won second place in a local bands talent contest in Poland. A year later at 16 Michal and The Staff toured Germany. Michal traveled to Ireland in 2006 where he began his musical journey. In 2008 Michal joined The Glitter Bugs as a session player touring around Ireland and supporting Irish stars The Saw Doctors.                                     (Michal Kulbaka / Photo by Jorg Schnebele)

Late in 2008 Michal started a new group Solar Flux along with brothers Marcin Kulbaka on bass and Adam Kulbaka on drums. Michal has also recorded some solo stuff to showcase his guitar playing. In 2015 Michal team up with with lead vocalist David P. Byrne and become writing original material. In 2016 new project Samarkind was born and the duo began recording at famous Westland Studio in Dublin with producer Alwyn Walker. The new recorded material at the moment is at mixing stage. Durning 2016 Michal contributed to new EP from established singer/songwriter Racheal McCormack. Currently is member of Brian Downey's Alive and Dangerous, a band/project of original founding drummer of Thin Lizzy, Brian Downey. 

Interview by Michael Limnios

How has the Rock Culture influenced your views of the world? How do you understand the music and the meaning of life?

Well, haha this looks like a deep interview, some tricky ones here lol. I guess it did. I was born and raised in Poland, and in my early life I didn't speak or understand English language at that point till my early 20's at least when I moved to Ireland. Growing up in the 90's and early 2000's I was exposed to my parents’ music collection first, stuff like The Beatles, The Shadows Elvis, plus Polish music of the 60's,70's and 80's etc. I loved the energy, the sound of those records and cool image that these guys had. I was hooked up by it straight away. Every time I heard those records it felt like a great dream, I was hypnotized by what I've heard...almost stoned by it haha... Then on the other hand my brothers where listening to a lot of hard rock, punk, prog and blues. Bands like GN'R, The Police Sex Pistols, Nirvana, Yardbirds you name it.

Music was always played at our home. Some of it was a bit heavy for me at the time, so I stuck with Beatles and all the rock'n roll/blues of the 50's/60's that got me into guitar I suppose. Hank Marvin was massive hero to me at the start. I always loved the energy and freedom, but also the style and kind of rebel feel too it, felt like it was bigger than life in a way. Culturally it was the Polish rock of the 70's and 80's that shaped my views on the world and life meaning I suppose. Bands like Dzem, Perfekt, Czeslaw Niemen and others. Because of the mother language, the lyrical content of the songs was, more close to my heart as it reflect on the reality of the communism times and beyond, and even till this day listen back to some of that stuff you can still refer to it. Those artists always seemed to me very truthful in music and lyrics, that influenced me to be always honest to myself and others in any life aspect, sort of like the good old ''Simply Man'' song.

You have to understand the historical background where I come from and the post war years, impressed communism upon us made music one of the very few outlets too disagree with the reality, point out the bullshit to the masses. With heavy censorship over the decades, these artists were brilliant in double sided meaning of lyrics still could pass the message, maintained versatility of it that still can be fresh these days. You could refer to those lyrics in any situation or political current. I think that what makes great music and timeless songs meaningful in our life’s. Music is our voice, our experiences, feelings, the best thing that release kindness that human nature has somewhere in people. It is also a manifesto against evil and injustice. The good stuff has that deep meaning, what we should try to be in our lives, but I think that kind of art is dying fast these days, it becomes background noise and not good medicine anymore. 

"I have learned loads over time, you really want to love what you do and be 110% sure what you want to be. There are no shortcuts. Always depend on your own guts and yourself. No one will give you handouts, and you are not a star." (Michal Kulbaka / Photo by Jorg Schnebele)

How do you describe your sound and music philosophy? What's the balance in music between technique skills and soul/ emotions?

If I would have to describe my approach to sound or music, well it has to be honest. I rather play from the heart then trying to have tones of gear to create those sounds and emotions. It's your character what really get out there and feelings in you, people will pick on that straightaway. I always like to perform 110% full on, crowd can feel that and also it's a part of the entertainment. Imagine standing on stage like a log of wood even if you play acrobatics who cares? I wouldn't lol. Well, is there balance between skills, soul and emotion? I think it is a very broad subject. First of all, word technique, that depends on the point of view you look at. You can have a player that plays certain way with his own voice, using very few notes, but with interesting notes choices touch and feel. That's already hell a lot of technique, that someone can shred millions notes in second would not be able to do or replicate. Like anybody can play B.B King licks, but no one can replicate his emotions, like some dudes can copy Yngwie Malmsteen chops and will sound close or exactly the same, just as an example I know it might sound extreme.

What I mean by that is that you are your own technique that comes from inside, from the guts, then you have guitar techniques, that can be helpful tools to express your personality and emotions. Now it can go obviously different direction depending on the individual. I think some people can connect both together like Gary Moore did, he could shred but also had a ton of emotion and feel in his playing even in those fast lines. Then on the other hand you have mindless noodlers that can play million notes with a precision of swiss knife, but not bring anything into the table musically. You can teach donkey to run like a horse but what's the point? I always loved melodic players with touch of good technique. One of my top guitarists would be SRV and he's playing for a blues rock guy is insane there is soo much feel going through his incredible chops, that attack and groove behind those shuffle tune like Rude Mood...incredible.

The same goes for Jeff beck just outrageous his technique was, and on the other spectrum you have Eddie Van Halen. I think, that's way these dudes are the master of that art because they were able in their own way blend all those things in their own playing and that came out through music. Like these days you have so many skilled guitar players with feel or without, but they can't somehow play with sense or either be themself and find their own voice. It is all becoming about hits' 1 min vids and gear and maybe that's one of the reason over the years that debate started. Tricky one to do fair justice to.                               (Brian Downey Alive & Dangerous / Photo by Rudolf Holscher)

"Music is our voice, our experiences, feelings, the best thing that release kindness that human nature has somewhere in people. It is also a manifesto against evil and injustice. The good stuff has that deep meaning, what we should try to be in our lives, but I think that kind of art is dying fast these days, it becomes background noise and not good medicine anymore."

What moment changed your music life the most? What´s been the highlights in your life and career so far?

I think when I heard "Lenny" by SRV it blows my head off haha, and I knew I want to play guitar for life, even I got hit by Hank Marvin or Hendrix before that, hearing those opening notes was just another experience, nothing was the same since that day I was 12 years old. Well, there was good few now. I've been asked to original founding drummer of Thin Lizzy, Brian Downey (Brian Downey's Alive & Dangerous). I think playing Rockpalast recently with Brian Downey was a teenager dream to come true. That was something special, but the biggest highlight of my life is my son Oskar. He is almost 2 years old and it can be put in words how much joy and love he is in our life. The most beautiful thing that can happen to anyone.

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

Yeah, there is one funny I think. I was 16 and my first band the Staff, we were asked to open some festival in Basel, Germany. That was before the EU around 2002. On the way down we reached Polish/German border and at the time German border control was always very suspicious towards Poles travelling there, so this German officer pull our van on the side and got his staff to search it and all that craic. He asked us who we are and why we are crossing border.

We told him we are musicians going play gig in Germany. He said... 'really' that's interesting? pick your instruments and come with me!!! We went to his office; I think he thought we were taking a piss. He said let's see if you can play something, so we did play Pride and Joy and then he liked it asked us to do few more tunes, so we ended up doing little gig at the border. He said 'Ja, das gut you can go !!!' Quite surreal it felt a bit like in WW2 movie, we were scared to death, but also had great laugh as we were out of our heads at the time lol.

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?                               (Photo: Michal Kulbaka)

I miss songs... good songs. Music these days is like fast food, the quality of composition is diminished to minimum. Music became too corporate and too over produced. All that mainstream music it seems very sad, dull like it wants you to be depressed. Music is not as important for younger generation life like it was before. From teaching experience, a lot of younger kids don't even listen to music anymore. It is just a background noise for them. Nobody listens to albums it's all Spotify playlists skipping tunes. Attention span is gone too. Some dudes don't even bother to know what is the actual name of the artist they stream I think that's quiet bonkers. It doesn’t look promising, but again there is good side too it a lot of niche genres have some great artists that will still make some great music in coming years, but unfortunately majority listens to mainstream stuff.

I think music used to be a voice for people, but that's now changed as we live comfy and prosper life. I see lately that a lot of young girls pick up guitars and listen to rock stuff of the 80', 90's or 00's which is fantastic thing to see. That could be good for the music, but again I don't think we will see anything like before, especially with AI technologies it does look pretty scary. Again I could be very negative here, I'd say back in the day people were freaking out with synth technology or anything that was new and looked like a bit of threat to the old ways. 

Why do you think that Thin Lizzy music continues to generate such a devoted following?

I suppose Phil was the reason and still is for people discovering Thin Lizzy music. He wrote some of the most timeless songs with the band, and all that was cemented by amazing musicianship that everyone could experience in their live performances back in the day, that put Thin Lizzy on the status of legends. Phil's amazing charisma, he was bigger than life, I think. He had all the qualities of superstar like Elvis did or Hendrix. I remember when I was 14 or 15 when my brother showed me cover of Thin Lizzy the Wild One the best of thing and seeing him on it. I was like, man this guy is so cool, put it on in the player and I was hooked on that music straightaway.

Thin Lizzy music and Phil lyrics are universal, I can refer some of those stories from the songs to my life situation or events from the past for example. I guess anybody doesn’t matter when you come from. From my point of view that what makes that band special, like The Boys Are Back in Town we won't hear such a cool song I think like that anymore. They don't make them like that anymore...still sounds fresh today even with that amount of time that passed!!!

"I think when I heard "Lenny" by SRV it blows my head off haha, and I knew I want to play guitar for life, even I got hit by Hank Marvin or Hendrix before that, hearing those opening notes was just another experience, nothing was the same since that day I was 12 years old." (Michal Kulbaka / Photo by sal.prophoto)

What is the impact of music on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want the music to affect people?

Like I mentioned before about the Polish music having an impact on social life and culture back there in the socialism was pretty big. For instance, Punk music over there created big movement for young people that could get some freedom through it. Punk really criticized the government at the time and the grim reality. It was real rebellion against the establishment, but also it was the solidarity that brought young people together and made them forget and be happy for a bit. I think music also had impact back then at the political situation there too from the mid 60's onwards, as with more western music had influence on Polish music, fashion and life the communist parties did have to mellow down with their strict regime to some degree as it was really harming their image. At that point in time the atmosphere among the nation towards them wasn't at all great with all the workers strikes and Martial law. The Punk scene of the 80s was definitely the peak of all that. That really pointed the 'F' finger towards the commies. Everyone had enough. Now, todays don’t music have that power anymore because it touches on different matters, it's consumed different way. Most people listen to it just for enjoyment. I don't think the new stuff has that deep meaning anymore, as over time became soo commercial and our lives also are a bit more easy to live. Here in Europe now we live in great prosperity, it would be different perspective for a guy that comes from poorer place on the planet. He would have a totally different views on the world he is surrounded by. Again, that also could depend on genre of music as well, it is very broad subject I think, again depends how you look at it from your own experiences and were you were raised what you be influenced by.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

I have learned loads over time, you really want to love what you do and be 110% sure what you want to be. There are no shortcuts. Always depend on your own guts and yourself. No one will give you handouts, and you are not a star. Always be kind to others. Be reliable, on time and don't bullshit others. Don't get stuck with others’ opinions or critics. Don't compare yourself it is not a race. Hard work pays off in long term. It is hard as it is I think so keep positive what gets you through the most. Doubt is like bad seeds in your head.

(Michal Kulbaka / Photo by Jorg Schnebele)

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