KISS — Interviews, concert reviews and commentaries
by Alan K. Stout
Stanley Still Passionate About KISS
(Interview, July 2004)
The Times Leader
By Alan K. Stout
Any doubts about whether a certain legendary rock band made the right move in continuing on, despite announcing its 2000 "Farewell Tour" would be its last?
Take a look at the devoted fans coming out in droves to catch the current tour, vocalist/guitarist Paul Stanley says.
Feel the love. And the wisdom of the decision.
The band-fan covenant is sealed. Sealed with a KISS, in fact.
"Interestingly, the only people that seem to want to know why you've come back are the people that wish you wouldn't," Stanley says with a chuckle. "It's been an amazing response, and the turnouts have been incredible. I couldn't have wished for anything this good. Not only big crowds, but huge, boisterous approval of the show. The only thing louder than the band is the audience."
KISS, formed in New York City in 1973, has earned more gold albums than any American rock band. The original line-up of Stanley, vocalist/bassist Gene Simmons, vocalist/guitarist Ace Frehley and vocalist/drummer Peter Criss stayed intact throughout the '70s, but by 1982, only Stanley and Simmons remained.
In 1996, however, the original four reunited, and despite some recurring inner turmoil, they stayed together five years to again become one of rock's top-grossing acts. Now, Frehley and Criss are out again, replaced by guitarist Tommy Thayer and drummer Eric Singer. Stanley, who acknowledges Criss and Frehley can be tough to work with, says keeping the re-formed original line-up together for just five years was challenging.
"I don't think a lot of people know the half of it," he says. "It was very difficult. Ace and Peter ... sometimes the problems that are there from the beginning don't really go away. They may recede into the background, and then they rear their ugly head again."
Stanley says KISS has regained its focus. No member is bigger than the band, he says.
"Ultimately, the most important thing has always been KISS, and KISS is a tradition, a legend and something that the public wants on no uncertain terms" he says. "The band has never been better. The set that we're playing and the flexibility we have now is amazing, and the crowd response - and I mean, to the die-hards - is fanatically positive. People are coming over after the show and saying 'This is by far the best I've ever seen the band and by far the best show I've ever seen.' "
KISS has again attracted large crowds on its current tour, indicating its fans are happy the group has gone back on its "farewell" words of four years ago. (The Who and Ozzy did it, too.) Still, some have questioned why Thayer and Singer are donning the famous "Spaceman" and "Catman" costumes of Frehley and Criss. Stanley, the "Starchild," had always said those personas were direct extensions of their individual personalities, and when new members joined the group in the early '80s, they were given a new costume and new makeup character.
The move was similar to sports, in which certain jersey numbers are respectfully retired. Now, however, those numbers, or costumes, have been passed out again.
"The fact is that those original notions - ours or anyone else's - were a mistake," Stanley says. "We spent 30 years building KISS into the icon that those images are. You could take a picture of KISS arguably anywhere in the world, and people would know that it is in fact KISS, but they wouldn't necessarily be able to name all of the members. That's the point. To dilute what KISS has built with a lot of hard work - and not always from the same people, mind you - by having to come up with 'giraffe-boy' or 'ant-man' is ridiculous. It ultimately compromises the fan, and the fan - and I mean the vast, vast majority of fans - want KISS and want KISS as those four iconic images."
KISS also has changed its set list, sprinkling nuggets such as "Got To Choose," "She" and "All The Way" among the classics. Though Stanley chooses not to comment on the musical abilities of Frehley and Criss, he does say playing with the new band has been liberating.
"I would rather talk about all of the positives over the years and let the live band, and everything that we are and everything that encompasses us, speak for itself," he says. "We virtually became prisoners of our own set list, and that was also because of some of the internal problems. To now be able to celebrate all that we are and all that we've accomplished is glorious, and it's what we should be doing."
At 9 p.m. Saturday, VH1 will debut a new KISS special, "When KISS Ruled the World," which will focus on the band's incredible success in the '70s when a Gallup Poll revealed it was America's favorite group. And a new CD, "The Best of KISS Vol. II," celebrates the group's success in the '80s, when without makeup, it earned a string of platinum albums and scored hits such as "Heaven's On Fire," "Tears Are Falling" and "Forever."
Stanley says he's glad to see some of those tunes get their due.
"There's no way that the '80s - although those albums sold millions of copies - can compete, impact-wise, with the makeup persona," he says. "So as great as those songs are, they sometimes get a bit overlooked. I always find it funny when people say they grew up in the '80s, and almost have to apologize, because there are other people saying, 'Yeah, but the '70s was the real deal.' It's like going to a party and having somebody say, 'You think this party is good? You missed the real party.' It's nonsense. Whenever you show up is the beginning of the party for you."
Although KISS' most famous tune, "Rock and Roll All Nite," talks about "partying every day," many '80s-era KISS songs spoke about individuality, self-worth and self-confidence. Stanley, who was in his mid-30s at the time, says he wasn't trying to be a role model but simply singing about what he believed in.
"Independence and standing your ground knows no age," he says. '"What I celebrate and sing in song are the same things that I celebrated and sang in songs on the first album. It's believing in yourself, reaping the rewards and enjoying them to fullest. It's playing by your own rules and winning."
In 1978, KISS' members all released solo albums on the same day. Stanley's is often considered the best. He says he plans to unveil another early next year but won't reveal any details.
"Talk is cheap, and the last thing I want to do is sell sizzle," he says. "I'm more about selling steak. It's very easy to razzle-dazzle people with a tap dance and all kinds of stuff, and then afterwards they kind of wonder what they actually got. I'm spending time making sure it's a great album with great songs, and I'll let it speak for itself."
Bravado has never been a problem for The Starchild, and when talking about the future of KISS, he stays true to form.
"You ain't seen nothing yet," Stanley says. "The band is on steroids, and the only thing that matches it is audience. The response, nightly, is overwhelming, but I gotta say it's justified."
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