KISS — Interviews, concert reviews and commentaries

by Alan K. Stout

KISS puckers up for the Poconos

Paul Stanley talks about the new KISS tour, the next album, his former band members, Eric Carr and "KISSOLOGY IV." He also shares his thoughts on his solo albums and his surprising vision on the future of KISS.

(Interview, July 2011)

The Weekender
July 6, 2011

By Alan K. Stout
Weekender Music Columnist

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When concert venues began announcing their summer lineups earlier this year, one band that appeared on some of those lists was a pleasant surprise, particularly to its self-proclaimed "Army" of fans. KISS, which had toured throughout much of 2009-2010 and is in the midst of recording a new album, wasn't expected to be on the road this year. And yet on the road they are, including a stop at the Mt. Laurel Pocono Mountains Performing Arts Center on Wednesday, July 13.

KISS co-founder Paul Stanley, in an interview with the Weekender, says that at one point the band had conducted an online poll asking its fans where they'd like to see a show. And while it wasn't always possible for the group to get to some of those places on the 2009-2010 tours, some of the stops on this summer's road jaunt are now indeed in those regions.

"There were cities that we just didn't get to, and we felt an obligation to go there," says Stanley. "Quite a few of the cities we're hitting are not your major cities, but were cities we felt we owed a show."

Stanley says this is not the first time that KISS has briefly halted the recording of an album to return to the road. He says the band did the same thing circa 1975-76 while working on its classic "Destroyer" album. "We did 'Destroyer' in two segments," he says. "We recorded quite a bit of it and took a break. We were still touring on 'Alive' and then we went back and finished the album. Not to draw any parallels, but we have done it before."

Some KISS albums are viewed as sister-albums to one another in that they're similar in songwriting style and production. ("Rock and Roll Over" and "Love Gun," "Dynasty and Unmasked" and "Animalize" and "Asylum.") Stanley says the new KISS album, which will be released in 2012, is in some ways a continuation of 2009's "Sonic Boom," as it will be the second studio recording featuring the lineup of Stanley, bassist/vocalist Gene Simmons, guitarist Tommy Thayer and drummer Eric Singer. This time, however, he says the band is on more solid footing.

"'Sonic Boom' was us coming to terms and exploring who we are today as a band," he says. "Everything we do is based on our past, and it was really time to see how that would manifest itself in the studio. We’re proud of whom we've been and who we are, but it was a matter of, 'OK. How does that translate to new songs? How does that translate to the sound and the vibe?' 'Sonic Boom' was us, in a sense, on a path of discovery. This next album is not that, in a sense that we're very clear and very sure of who we are."

Five years ago, Stanley appeared to be equally self-assured when he released his second solo album, "Live To Win." And though it was a strong collection of melodic hard-rock and featured some of the best songs he'd ever written, Stanley says he has no plans to record another. He says that because of the great musical synergy found within the current lineup of KISS, he couldn't imagine holding back quality songs for a solo effort rather than contributing them to a KISS album.

"I was determined to explore some other paths and do things musically and sonically that I wouldn't do in KISS," he says. "That's really what the purpose of 'Live To Win' was - for me to stretch out and indulge myself. You have to remember that album came before 'Sonic Boom,' and I didn't want to get caught in the trap of making a one-man KISS album, because I've done that before. There had been some KISS albums that were basically me filling in the blanks (for other people's absence). But the chemistry of what's going on in the band is so far beyond that, in terms of the pleasantness and the creativity, that there's really no need at this point to do solo albums. We enjoy each other's company."

Stanley adds that at a recent sound check before a show, the band tore through songs such as "Watchin' You," "She," "Makin' Love" and "Got To Choose" - all tunes that aren't even being played on the current tour. Such camaraderie and energy, he says, has carried itself into the sessions for the new album.

"The band is at a peak," he says. "And the basic mantra of doing KISS albums now is really that we're all in it together."

Though some KISS fans may have been surprised when Stanley and Simmons decided to continue on with KISS following the band's "Farewell Tour" more than a decade ago, that sense of surprise has long since passed. In fact, the current lineup has now been together for more than seven years. And while Simmons has initially said that former members Ace Frehley and Peter Criss were always welcome to return, Stanley says that is no longer the case.

"Honestly, that door is long closed," he says. "All I can say is the band couldn't exist today without them having been in it, and the band couldn't exist today with them in it. It works both ways. The shows we're doing, the album we made, and the new album is only the work of the four of us, and the commitment we have and the fun we have. This is such a pleasure."

Still, Stanley says he wishes his former bandmates well. He is asked whether the deaths of former KISS members Eric Carr (1991) and Mark. St. John (2007), as well as Peter Criss' more recent cancer scare has caused him to take stock in such old friendships.

"Illness is never to be taken lightly," he says. "I wish everybody good health and long life. The one that was shattering was Eric Carr. That was so close to me. I had never lost anybody before. It was pretty emotional, shocking and devastating."

Looking ahead, Stanley says work has begun on "KISSOLOGY IV," the fourth in a series of DVDs that chronicle KISS' history. It will include live footage of the band's 2009 show at Cobo Hall in Detroit as well as classic footage from the KISS vaults. He agrees when it is suggested that chronology is no longer necessary for the series, and that should items missing from the first three discs be discovered - such as pro-shot shows from the "Lick It Up" and "Asylum" tours - they should be included.

"We've reached a point where we've really brought everybody up to date," he says. "Now, let's just unearth all of the nuggets."

Another recent development in the KISS camp is speculation - sometimes fueled by Stanley and Simmons - that KISS will someday carry on without them. It would seem that - as long as it wasn't actually called "KISS" - an "officially sanctioned" KISS tribute show in which Stanley and Simmons were involved behind the scenes and made sure the production was up to KISS' standards might someday be accepted by fans. Stanley, however, disagrees. He says he can "totally" see KISS going on without him and that he "believes it more now than ever." He affirms that such a band can and will still be called KISS.

"It's KISS now," he says. "And KISS today is not KISS of 10 years ago, or 20 years ago, or 30 years ago. I stand by the idea that KISS is a way of delivering a great show. It's a state of mind. It's a lifestyle. And it's more than any group of individuals."

Stanley is asked if he's actually not selling himself way short. He and Simmons have remained constants in the KISS lineup, are master showmen, and have always written most of the band's songs. And for a time in the '80s, while Simmons explored a film career, it seemed that Stanley carried the band.

"I don't sell myself short at all," he says. "I'm pretty damn terrific at what I do, but I also I don't believe that I'm the only person that can do this. I'm not talking about getting an impersonator. I love the KISS tribute bands, but that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about someone that has the same heart and soul in what they're dong that I do, and it doesn't mean mimicking. It means following a tradition and a path. Everybody in the band today is aware of their roots and how this band evolved. Somebody coming in to put on my boots would be the same. I think that any skepticism would go right out the window when somebody would see that band, because I'm not irreplaceable. I can't be replaced with a clone of me, but somebody else could certainly come in and 'wow' people.

"I'm not saying anything called KISS wouldn't have me behind it," he adds. "If and when that time comes, I'm not saying, 'Nice to know ya. Good luck with the band,' This is my baby. But once again, I'm very clear that the band can thrive without me. In the past, people said 'You can't go on without the original guys.' Nonsense. The the truth is, when somebody's heart and soul is no longer into being in this band, they're the impostors, not the people coming after them."

Today, Stanley's heart and soul remain with KISS, though his time is also dedicated to his growing family. He and his wife are expecting their third child next month and has also has a son from a previous marriage. He says the arrival of the new baby is one of the reasons this summer's tour will be a short one, but he adds that some things on the road feel the same as always. With a catalog of music dating back 37 years, he admits putting the set list together to accompany KISS' dazzling stage show can be a challenge.

"We're kind of between a rock and a hard place," he says. "Do we pepper the show with obscure songs to please a handful of rabid fans, or do you do a set list that pleases thousands? Clearly, we're going the route to please the masses. If somebody doesn't get to hear 'Two Timer' there's a reason. Because if we put in 'Two Timer' we might have to take out 'Shout It Out Loud.'"

Stanley says that, for a road veteran like himself, he's enjoyed playing in towns and at venues that are new to the band.

"So far, five shows in, and five of the places, I've never been to," he says. "It's surprising. This is the tour that we spoke about. We're going to a lot of places that wanted us to come, and we said we would, and we are."