Header Image credit Kelley Curran Photography/Courtesy of Quinton Kufahl/Mr. Speed Facebook (official)
By Andrew Daly
For Quinton Kufal, the manifestation of small-town dreams turned rock star reality has been a grind.
With origins in the sleepy suburbs of the Midwest, Kufal’s journey began with the idolization of drumming greats Peter Criss, Alex Van Halen, and the Professor, Neil Peart.
But it wasn’t until a faithful evening at a Warrant tribute show, where Kufal bared witness to Frankie Trash, the diminutive drummer for Cherry Pie, that his aspirations diverged toward a career in rock music.
Trials and tribulations saw Kufal wade through various talent shows and local parties before the burgeoning skin thrasher found himself a roadie for the same band that set his soul a fire, Cherry Pie.
From there, Kufal’s love for KISS found him as the drummer for Dr. Love, a notable KISS tribute band. In time, Kufal gained a reputation as an able timekeeper with a flair for the dramatic, who could bring a unique edge to the character of KISS’ original drummer, Peter Criss.
Through his connections within the KISS tribute community, Kufal soon found himself auditioning for the premier KISS tribute act, Mr. Speed. From there, the drummer was off and running, stamping his ticket to stardom amongst a bustling scene.
To Kufal, the role of Criss is not one to be taken lightly. Through years of vocal training, expert-level make-up application, and even going so far as to build a spot-on replica of Criss’ ’77-80 Pearl drum kit, Kufal has now set the standard by which all Peter Criss tributes will be compared against.
Even with all he’s accomplished, Kufal isn’t resting on his laurels.
“I believe that constantly working at and thinking about your goals and dreams will undoubtedly help put them into motion eventually,” said Kufal. “In five years, I see myself touring the world and creating music in true rock star fashion with either an a-list act as a hired gun/replacement band member or with a band that I put together.”
To that end, Kufal is working on his material, with “CHÖPPER” representing the drummer’s latest solo drum single. The video finds Kufal at the forefront of a dystopian backdrop with 80s glam-styled stylings and imagery that could be likened to an early W.A.S.P. video.
Aesthetics aside, Kufal’s drumming steals the show, and with more music on the way, it seems that “CHÖPPER” is only the tip of this soon-to-be household name’s proverbial iceberg.
Kufal recently took the time with me to run through his early leanings, giving way to a career on the verge of preeminence.
What was the moment which first sparked your interest in music?
I would have to say it was my father showing my brother and me KISS, Elvis, and Van Halen. That planted the seeds for me to enjoy music in that realm. But it’s a tricky question because many small and consistent moments have helped guide me. These moments are similar to my pop, showing me great rock ‘n’ roll music.
However, until entering 6th grade, I was all in on Batman and not thinking very seriously about music. And then, the movie School of Rock came out around that time, which was a big moment, but one that sticks out the most to me as being the moment that compelled me to put the blinders on and buckle down with drumming was seeing Frankie Trash of the Wisconsin cover band Cherry Pie perform.
Until then, my father had educated me on who the drummers of KISS were, who Alex Van Halen was, and the complexity of drumming that Neil Peart pioneered. But when I saw Frankie, he was a skinny dude with spiky black hair who played with a double bass drum set similar to Tommy Lee in the 80s and performed stick tricks in every part of the song. I could not take my eyes off watching what Frankie was doing. It looked so effortless yet rehearsed, and at that moment, I knew I wanted to be like Frank and be a rock star.
With those early influences in hand, how would you say your style has evolved as you’ve moved through your career?
As I mentioned above, the early main influences pre-middle school were Peter Criss, Alex Van Halen, Neil Peart, and Frankie Trash. As I entered 6th grade, I enrolled in private drum lessons with Ryan Schiedermayer, who taught me for seven years. So, when you take private lessons with anyone for that long, you will pick up so much of their style and the finesse the instructor has. And so, I think that aside from my pop, Ryan was instrumental in allowing me to be my own drummer and interpret parts in my own way, which I am beyond thankful for.
The evolution began after my enrollment in drum lessons, as Guitar Hero II had just come out, and every kid in my school owned that game. It was a major gateway into having my generation learn about the history of rock music, as well as other new bands coming up in 2006. Not to mention the installment of YouTube, where you could look up endless videos of your favorite drummers performing amazing solos and then have the platform recommend new videos to you, which opened up my eyes to so many other drummers, bands, and genres.
Another significant influence was the TV channels on cable, where I learned what metal music was from seeing everything from Metallica to Mötley Crüe. That was huge for me, seeing promo pictures of these bands while their singles would play and learning facts about them simultaneously. All of those elements were really important in my young development.
As I’ve navigated and grown older, my style has evolved in the way of maturing and refining. What I mean is that I will still play a huge over-the-top drum fill, but not at a point in the song that feels inappropriate to me. And the refinement has come from listening to the positive and negative feedback, digesting what you think is sincere and helpful to your own musical path, and then applying those notes in your practicing and at shows. As far as music goes, my current evolvement is wanting to work on more basic samba techniques, as well as delve into double-time swing.
What were some of your earliest gigs where you first cut your teeth?
Some of my first performances were at middle school parties. [Laughs]. Our 6th grade was broken up into three “houses,” and the teachers in my house implemented a reward system that if we could earn enough good merit points, my house could have a luau-themed party. So my class earned the treat, and in our math class, we were all planning the event, and the teacher had brought up playing music through a boom box. I thought that was so lame, but I knew two classmates of mine could play guitar, so we plotted to learn a few songs from Guitar Hero to then propose that we play this luau, and our amazing teachers agreed to us play the “gig.” [Laughs].
I think we played “Paranoid” by Black Sabbath about eight times in an hour and a half. [Laughs]. But it was important to us and became essential to our classmates, and other houses started to “hire” us to play their luau parties. This led my band at that time, called Toxic Solution, to play “Paranoid” flawlessly for our end-of-the-year talent show. In the years thereafter, I emphasized future talent shows for my short-lived band, which then segued into myself performing drum solos from 8th Grade on.
Can you take me through how you came to join Cherry Pie as a roadie?
I was attending a lot of Cherry Pie shows in my late teens to see how the band operates from the audience’s perspective, as well as meet many folks who shared the same love of music I did. At that time, I met the guitarist’s daughter, who I dated for a few years. I was then asked if I’d be interested in being a stagehand for the band since they knew me better, which I worked at for about 5 years.
What lessons did you take away that apply to this day with Mr. Speed?
Some lessons I took away were how to be a fun hang, be patient, and be flexible with everyone involved, from within the band, to folks who organized the events, and to be willing to work hard to see your vision through. Being a stagehand for Cherry Pie helped give me a great appreciation for just how much the people directly behind the scenes help put on the show and make sure the production runs as smoothly as possible. Having a few dedicated helpers behind the scenes can help make a show very easy. Another stepping stone was how to properly set up DMX-controlled effects, which can be a rather confusing task. Some differing comparisons are that in Mr. Speed, the days are longer given the mystique of trying to be KISS; otherwise, almost all of it is the same, except everything is much bigger and grander in the staging and outfits.
Take me through you joining Mr. Speed.
It’s quite a journey. I joined my first KISS Tribute Dr. Love in 2013, and it was a Milwaukee-based outfit. Upon joining, I found out that there were quite a few KISS tribute-related Facebook groups that I ended up joining, which allowed me to connect with other impersonators worldwide. One of those people was Jim Seda, who helped found and refine this scene.
So, after about a year and a half of playing with Dr. Love, Jim approached Matt Schroeder (Space Ace) and me about teaming up with a new tribute he had been building called KISS Live. So, we both hitched up with that outfit and played for maybe another year and a half before Jim was asked to join Mr. Speed. Then in December of 2016, I got a random call from Jim wanting to set up a conference call with the band to see if I would join Mr. Speed for their 2017 tour.
We set up an audition in the Cleveland, OH, area, where we played a few songs, and I was notified that I got the gig. Immediately after that audition, we were interviewed for a small documentary, and I then went to the former drummer’s house to purchase his old costumes. We headed to a trade show in Columbus, OH to try and sell what was then the new version of the band to festival buyers.
What are some of the biggest challenges of playing the role of Peter Criss? Do you feel your style is similar to Peter’s, or do you need to alter your approach significantly?
I feel like the biggest challenge to impersonating Peter Criss is not being myself behind the drums. I try to play drums, how Eddie Van Halen plays guitar, and entertain like Gene Simmons; I’m very aggressive and play many crazy notes, which Peter really doesn’t. One of the challenges is trying to get my voice to sound like his. Another is posing my body and face in a way that mimics him because our body types are very opposite. However, I have been listening and subconsciously studying Peter’s style since I was five years old because my childhood dream was to be him. So, when it finally came time for me to impersonate him, I was very prepared.
How did you create that spot-on replica of Peter’s late 70s Pearl drum kit?
This is a long story. Upon joining Mr. Speed, it became evident very quickly that I would have to turn the heat up to high in just about every facet of my tribute to The Catman. At the time, we were wearing the Love Gun costumes, and I had thought that down the road, it would be amazing to replicate the whole ’79 Dynasty look, in which Peter used a slightly scaled-down version of that ’77 drum set. So I decided to replicate his Pearl black chrome/world drum kit and add it to our stage show because very few KISS tribute drummers have had a replica drum kit that matched the band’s costume choice.
So, I stumbled upon petercrissdrums.com, which highlights every one of Pete’s drum sets, and features all of the details and specs. Christopher Williams had done a ton of research on this drum set to lend to this website, and it was here that I found out the drums were concert toms with fiberglass shells, each of sizes, and the little-known fact that the drum wrap was gold chrome with black stripes. After that, the hunt began across eBay, Reverb, Guitar Centers, Music Go Rounds, and Craigslist. I found all the drums I needed pretty quickly except two 14 x 12 Toms.
After a major letdown in my first custom order, I found a fellow named Bill Bello, who made custom fiberglass drums and was willing to take on the challenge of making these two drums for me. I drove out to his home in Pennsylvania one weekend while I was in Ohio for a show, met him, talked over details, and showed me a proof of what I’d be getting, which was incredible. He mailed the shells to me, and he had coated them in a primer to seal the secrets of how he made his shells.
So, because the inside of the drums are exposed and all bare fiberglass, I had to paint the interior of every drum with tan fiberglass paint. Another problem drum was Peter’s custom 14 x 10 snare drum. So, I ordered a 14 x14 wood Keller shell and had Rat Rod Drums cut and drill the drum for me and the floor toms, which are much shorter than a stock floor tom. A few holes also needed to be patched in the fiberglass drums because he had a virgin bass drum and concert floor toms, and for that fix, my father helped me.
Next began the process of wrapping the drums, which was helped by my friend, Jacob Adamczak, who was working his own graphic side hustle at the time. We ordered the gold chrome and black vinyl, and Jacob helped me wrap each drum. After looking through countless photos, I determined what the cymbal sizes I thought would be and ordered them, and that is how I Frankenstein’d the drum kit together. [Laughs].
What are your favorite tracks to play live? Do you have a favorite KISS album?
Some of my favorite tracks to play live in the 2022 Mr. Speed set list would be “God of Thunder” because I feel like I’ve put together a drum solo that highlights just how talented and exciting of a drummer Peter Criss was. I also love playing “Black Diamond” because that is my all-time favorite KISS track. And “Beth” because, as with “Black Diamond,” The Catman is responsible for singing those songs, and I feel confident and proud in saying that I know I’m singing those tunes well.
I came into the band shy about singing, but I took three years of singing lessons and put in the time to build my confidence. I am now at the point where I don’t need to close my eyes when I sing “Beth” because I’m nervous about my vocal performance or the notes I’m hitting. I am proud that my voice has come a long way to where I’m now beefing up our background vocals. I know that it means so much when fans, and it’s great when they come up and say, “Hey, I like your voice.” Hard work does pay off!
On the original side of things, what are you working on?
The wheels are constantly spinning, but I just finished up all of the necessary recording, filming, and photographing of my newest single, “CHÖPPER,” released on July 1st. It’s a rewarding relief to have completed that piece; now, I have to promote it. Soon, I have a few summer solo drum shows where I’ll be representing the new CHÖPPER look. I have already completed the next dual drum cover that will be released in October, so for the remainder of the year, I’ll be working on my next idea of original pieces, which I’m very excited about creating.
As a drummer looking to be the rockstar icon of today, what does that mean to you, and how do you plan to make that dream a reality?
I think it means a sense of responsibility in two ways, the first way being the most entertaining that I can be without compromising my artistic visions and desires. And secondly, it’s a sort of role model to all ages while being a genuine, professional, and truly good person, whether in person or over the internet.
In terms of how I try to make my dreams a reality, I believe that it is making the most of each day by working hard and towards whatever it is I’m a part of. I try to get up early, run and work out, take care of what I need to on social media, answer texts, messages, and emails, keep track of my ideas and flesh them out, and practice/research my craft.
What’s your wildest story from your time on the road?
There was a time that Mr. Speed was hired for a private party in Toronto, Canada, and the following day, we were scheduled to play a Harley Davidson dealership in Tifton, Georgia, a two-hour car ride from Atlanta’s Airport. That, on paper, is wild enough from being a self-run and managed tribute band with no backing from anybody, but it gets more interesting there.
So, once everyone arrived in Canada, we had to get into make-up and costume early so we could meet with a super fan whose Make-a-Wish of sorts was to spend an afternoon with us. It was one of the sweetest experiences I will cherish forever. From there, we went back to the venue, ate a quick dinner, touched up our make-up, and performed for this gentleman who was celebrating a birthday. We were told he’d have hundreds of guests, but only about 30 showed up, and maybe 5 of them were paying attention, so it was pretty awkward.
To make the situation even more bizarre, one of those 5 was a woman pulling her shirt up and flashing the band. Once the show ended, I believe we had a bit of trouble getting paid for the performance from the gentleman who hired us, and we then had to quickly get cleaned up and drive to the airport to catch our flight. Another problem was that the airport terminal was closed because it was very early in the morning, so we all tried our best to sleep on chairs or benches that weren’t already occupied. [Laughs].
When TSA finally opened, we boarded and flew to Atlanta, GA, where we quickly picked up a rental and drove to an IHOP for a quick breakfast. Well, at some point in our meal, one of the two rental van’s back windows was shattered, so we had the band and crew members loaded in the other van and began our two-hour drive on maybe a few minutes of sleep. Once we arrived, we set up our whole stage and went about our usual show flow. Once the show was finished, we had to pack up fast and drive back to Atlanta because all of our flights were in the very early morning to get home. That whole weekend was one big sprint with many setbacks, but we did it, and I don’t think I will ever forget that adventure.
If you had the opportunity to record an album of original music tomorrow, what does that album sound like?
I don’t want to give too much away because I’m actually in the beginnings of writing what I believe to be a full EP that will hopefully be released in 2023. But I can say that it’s a concept that would feature all of my favorite styles of music, including jazz and orchestra, and it would be grand and epic.
Aside from the vintage Pearl set we talked about, what type of drums, cymbals, and hardware are you using?
I have quite a few monster drum sets. A Vintage Tama Imperialstar concert tom drum set that is 15-23 pieces big, with RoadPro Boom Stands, and a variety of Zildjian A Cymbals or Zildjian Swish Cymbals. Another is a DDrum Hybrid drum kit that is 15 pieces with a custom black rack, Mapex Ebony Hardware, and either Zildjian Pitch Black Cymbals or PaisteVisions/Colorsound cymbals.
My most premier drum set is my Mapex Saturn III Laser Ivory Sparkle drum kit which is 15 pieces, and it is striking! I’ve used Zildjian Titanium Cymbals on that kit, and it requires sunglasses to be viewed. [Laughs]. On the back burner, I have the makings of Peter Criss’ white honeycomb drum set that he used from ‘76-‘77, and I’m always searching for the next coolest thing.
Last one. What’s next for you in all lanes, Quinton?
That is a good question. If all goes according to plan, I will begin working on about seven full singles to make up the concept EP I’d like to release in 2023, which will be a lot of work. However, sometimes fill-in gigs pop up and set me back a bit, which is a good thing, as I love performing.
On the gig front, finish the year with the shows I have planned while also booking more solo drum shows. For the personal side of things, enjoy the rest of summer, and make the most of fall and the holidays, as that is my favorite time of year.
Thank you so much for asking me to participate in this interview. I hope we can do this again. There were so many great questions, and I had fun giving you more insight into the kid behind the drum set with big dreams.