KISS — Interviews, concert reviews and commentaries
by Alan K. Stout
KISS Kisses Off Its Detractors In Tribute Album
(Interview, June 1994)
The Times Leader
By Alan K. Stout
That's the title — and the message — of a new KISS tribute album, featuring some of today's hottest acts covering KISS classics.
KISS classics? A KISS tribute album? Get real.
If that's your attitude, then the album's title is directed toward, well — you — and all of the cynics, critics and detractors who have never taken the celebrated influential band seriously.
Now, after 20 years of the release of its first record, after 70 million album sales and after a career marked by sold-out arenas around the globe, KISS is finally beginning to get its due from many who once wouldn't have given them the passing glance.
KISS isn't about make-up, stageshows, fire-breathing and pyrotechnics.
KISS is about music. Good music.
Pioneers of theatrics as well as thunderous rock, KISS have raised the level of expectation at rock concerts. No more can groups come to town, do their 90 minutes and pick up the check. Since redefining the modern stage show by performing with intensity, energy and volume, KISS has made it so that any band simply going through the motions may as well pack it in — or get out of the way.
They simply give more.
WINDS OF CHANGE
The release this week of the tribute album is the latest saga in a stream of accolades the group has received in recent years. Attitudes began to change a few years ago, when thousands began to gather at annual "KISS Conventions" held throughout the country where memorabilia, recordings, and other KISS collectibles were bought, sold and traded by fans. Need a 1978 Gene Simmons doll? Here you can take one home for about $250 bucks.
Then quot;tribute acts" began popping up across the nation, packing clubs everywhere by re-creating the early KISS experience. Soon, every young hard-rock act was singing the group's praises, covering their songs and citing them as a major influence. In 1993, the group were enshrined in the Hollywood Rock Walk, with honors artists who have made significant contributions to rock music as a universal art form.
Now comes "KISS MY ASS."
"We've always been the black sheep of rock 'n' roll and continue to be," says KISS' Gene Simmons in a Times Leader interview. "But that's OK — it's not a bad cross to bear."
Simmons points to a previously released, relatively obscure album titled "Hard to Believe KISS Covers," featuring groups like Nirvana and the Melvins as one of the inspirations for the new record. Fans, according to Simmons, urged the group to organize a tribute album to show just how many artists were covering KISS songs.
The band was intrigued.
"The idea of new bands doing our tunes was a very exciting thing," he says. "I came up with the title 'KISS My ASS' because I liked the irreverence of it ... taking the air out of all that tribute stuff."
Simmons invited every artist he'd read who had cited KISS as an influence to appear on the album. When he completed a list of names, ranging from Garth Brooks to Soundgarden, he was shocked at the list's variety and length.
"We're holding a party," Simmons told the artists. "You're invited. If you'd like to come — let us know."
About 80 artists showed up.
RULES TO RECORD
Lawyers and record company red-tape kept many artists from appearing on the album, according to Simmons. The group's involvement was kept to three requests: 1) The bands had to choose the song they wanted to cover, without asking for a suggestion; 2) The songs had to be done in the band's own style. If it was close to the original, that was fine, but if they wanted to "take it to the twilight zone, they had our blessing," says Simmons, and 3) If two or more artists recorded the same song, the first received would appear on the record.
"I didn't want to shape this," says Simmons. "I didn't want to design the style. If it was going to be real, it had to come from them. If this was going to be a tribute record, it should certainly be as much a tribute to the bands on it as to us, the writers of the songs."
Groups appearing on the album include Lenny Kravitz, Stevie Wonder, Gin Blossoms and Extreme. One of Japan's biggest bands, X, featuring Yoshiki, contribute an instrumental version of the KISS classic "Black Diamond," backed by the American Symphony Orchestra.
The variety of performers and interpretations of KISS' music gives the album added validity, according to Simmons.
"It's what makes it a creative record as opposed to some kind of nostalgia link," he says, "We've taken a very laissez-faire attitude with this and just let the record exist as itself. There are no singles — none of that stuff. You take everything or nothing."
Yet despite two decades of platinum albums, accolades, conventions and now a star-packed tribute album, Simmons says KISS will probably never gain acceptance by the mainstream rock press.
"It will change nothing," he says. "I'm clear that that's good, because the day that people who hate us wind up liking us is the day that we go back to being everybody's favorite cup of tea. In the '70s, KISS started off being dangerous, and then became toys. Mom and Dad liked us, and it diluted it. I think it's better to have aging hippies hate the band and not get it."
But respect from peers and fans is a different story.
"KISS MY ASS" is really a vindication," he says. "Not for us. We're doing fine and have nothing to complain about. It's a vindication to the fans. It's the graduating class of the KISS Army who have formed their own bands. It's vindication from them."
And about those detractors?
Well, the album's title is the answer.
"There's something about KISS that's either love 'em or hate 'em," concludes Simmons. "And I wouldn't have it any other way."
(Note: I did this interview with Gene in June of 1994. Shortly thereafter, Paul also called to talk about the tribute album, so we ran a second story a few weeks later which included both Paul and Gene's thoughts on the record. That story, titled "KISS CAN'T MISS WITH LOYAL FANS, TRIBUTE ARTISTS," was published in July of 1994 and is also posted on this site.)
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