Rock 'n' Roll Over and Over and Over ...
My Last KISS Interview Ever (with apologies to Brett Baker)
By Michael Henningsen
Farewell, my ass. Count KISS among the many bands who've hoopla'ed their farewell tours only to quietly hit the road again shortly thereafter in search of more money, acceptance and, as KISS founding member Paul Stanley puts it, the "high." So they changed their minds. So what? Michael Jordan did it. Dennis Rodman is threatening to do it and the number of rock bands that have done it—many of them multiple times—is nearly inconceivable.
But they've also changed their members. With Ace Frehley and Peter Criss out of the fold seemingly for good, guitarist/vocalist Paul Stanley called from Japan to talk about the current tour, the future of KISS and rock stars who blather about politics.
Stanley is the last original member of KISS I hadn't spoken to. Until now. My life is complete, I'm ready to die.
You're in Japan right now, and I've read that the Japanese fans were the first to really embrace KISS. Are they still as enthusiastic?
It's amazing, you know? We just finished [touring] Australia and Japan, and the response never fails to amaze me. Granted, the band sounds fabulous, but 30 years on—I've seen other bands here, and I have to say they've not gotten the same reception that we do.
We've been gone a month now, and it's been great, because this time we wanted to rely a little less on the same set we've virtually been doing for the past, probably, six years. We've been in this enviable situation of having a wealth of songs that people want to hear. But if we just stick to those songs, the show never changes. So this time out we wanted to really be able to vary the show dramatically from night to night while keeping those classic songs. So on any given night, we can throw in five, six, seven different songs ...
You and Gene [Simmons], have kept KISS going for 30 years now. What inspires you to keep going at this point?
Well, I'm not only a member of the band, I'm a fan. And this is something as a fan I not only want to see continue, but continue in peak form. So the challenge for me is really to try to be better than I was last time. It's really not about living up to anyone else's expectations. It's about going beyond theirs and living up to mine.
You did the reunion tour in 1996, then released a new record, Psycho Circus, with all original members two years later, followed by another tour in support of that album. Then there was the "farewell tour." Why did you decide to continue beyond that?
In the same way that Michael Jordan said farewell, in the same way that Sugar Ray Leonard said farewell, and on and on—yeah, we had a farewell tour. One of the beauties of life is being able to say at some point, "That's what I felt then, but I don't any longer."
Do you have any fear that you'll wind up being considered a Dinosaur Rock band now that you've continued to tour after your widely publicized farewell?
Those categories seem to be more important to critics than to bands. What may look good in a newspaper has no relevancy to people who come to shows. It's an analysis that critics like to use, but it really doesn't mean anything. When people show up, that tells the tale. Whether 50,000 people or 5,000 people show up, at the low end, that's probably 4,999 more people than you or anyone else will ever play for. To put it in perspective: The glass is always overflowing—never half-full or half-empty.
Ace and Peter are not part of the current tour. Why did you choose Tommy Thayer to replace Ace over, say, Bruce, who was a member of KISS longer than Ace was?
Well, Ace and Peter aren't part of the band, period. And that's not going to change. Tommy has been around, in one capacity or another, for over 10 years and, when Ace rejoined for the reunion tour, actually worked with Ace helping him relearn his parts. He'd also played on demos with us over the past six or seven years, so it wasn't like bringing somebody in from the outside. Tommy seemed the most natural choice.
Do you and Gene still maintain a cordial relationship with Ace and Peter?
Ace has pretty much been incommunicado for the past two years. And Peter has certain feelings, which he's entitled to, and that's just the way of the world. Everyone has an opinion, and sometimes what they choose to say in public has me scratching my head, but that's the way it goes. ...
Have you any indication that longtime KISS fans feel a little slighted by the absence of Ace and Peter on the current tour?
I have no idea. That's something [the fans] would have to weigh in on. The response to this tour has been overwhelming. There is only one KISS.
Can we expect a new KISS record any time soon?
Good question. I guess my dilemma, or ambivalence about doing another KISS album is that those classic songs—be it "Love Gun," "God of Thunder," "Rock 'n' Roll All Nite" and on and on—are much bigger than musical pieces. They're sonic snapshots, so to speak, of people's lives. And that's something that's hard to compete with. When music has been around long enough, it becomes more a timepiece for people, and it takes on much greater importance than just being a song. It takes people back to the first time they heard it—who they were with, who they were sleeping with, who they went to their first KISS concert with. I could write the greatest song I ever wrote, and understandably, after hearing it, most people would want to hear "Shout it Out Loud."
Do you or Gene have any aspirations toward making solo albums?
Well, I'm in the midst of working on mine. It'll be out some time probably before the New Year. But, you know, right now the idea is KISS, and we're just about to embark on the U.S. leg of the tour, so that's really on the front burner.
You recently teamed with Silvertone for a line of signature guitars. How did that come about?
I've always been a big believer in being very hands on in terms of the guitars I play. And also, I've always been of the mind that there's no secret to making a quality guitar. Because you pay a lot of money doesn't mean you're getting a better guitar than you can get for less money. So, with that in mind, I wanted to design a line of guitars that would satisfy every player regardless of how long they've been playing or how much money they have. It's a creative outlet also—a way of putting musical instruments in people's hands that are worthy of being played. They've been enormously successful worldwide.
Is touring today still as thrilling as it was when you first went on the road?
You know it's very different, but I still get that same "high." We go up a set of stairs to the stage at each show. And I leave my concerns—anything that's going on in my life gets left at the bottom step. When I hit the stage, people are there with certain expectations, and I'm there to exceed them. Like I said before, no matter how many people show up, that's more than I ever expected to play for.
It seems that KISS has always kept itself removed from politics. Has that been a conscious effort on the part of the band?
I think it's embarrassing when you see somebody who, articulate or not, uses their fame in one arena, like music, to spout off about things that they really are not in a position to speak about. I find that an abuse of power, and often embarrassing. And if not, it's still really overstepping bounds. I no more want to hear a rock musician talk about world affairs than I want to see an actor accept an award and talk about the plight of, you know, anyone. It's the wrong place to be doing it, and I think it's the wrong person.
Do you vote?
I do. And that's where everybody has a say. That's where it's important for everybody no matter what their affiliation is or what their beliefs are, to be part of the process. You either have the chance to sit back and say, "My vote doesn't count," or you can put it to work.
How do you feel about P2P music sharing via the Internet?
People can come up with all kinds of terminology, but there's a word for it that goes back quite a ways: it's called stealing. If you steal under the guise of technology, you're still stealing. Anyone stealing music and, quote-unquote sharing it, is like me taking your car and saying I'm sharing transportation. You can't take what you don't own, and you can't share what isn't yours.
What do you think of all the KISS tribute bands and records that have appeared over the years? Is it flattering or do you think some of it is just insulting and sad?
I think that any time someone pays homage to you, in the right spirit, it can only be a good thing, provided somebody's not getting unduly wealthy on it and not giving me my piece.
I look forward to your Albuquerque show.
Albuquerque's got a great vibe, great people and magic to it. We're looking forward to coming back.
KISS will perform Wednesday, June 16, at Journal Pavilion with Poison at 7 p.m. Tickets on sale at Ticketmaster and the Journal Pavilion box office.
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Erika Wennerstrom • singer-