: STILL PARTYING EVERY DAY 35 YEARS ON
November 20, 2009
by KELLI SKYE FADROSKI, THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

Kiss is a band that needs no introduction, as the face-painted, pyro-loving, blood-spitting rockers have been at it for more than three decades.

To celebrate the 35th anniversary of its February '74 self-titled debut, the ever-popular concert attraction, founded by frontmen Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons, has been out on its worldwide KISS Alive/35 Tour, which stops Tuesday at Honda Center in Anaheim and Wednesday at Staples Center in L.A.

It's turning out to be a busy year in Kiss' history. For starters, the current tour coincides with the release of Sonic Boom, the band's well-received first studio effort in 11 years, following 1998's lackluster Psycho Circus, the first album to feature the original Kiss lineup since 1977's Love Gun and Alive II.

Meanwhile, after a decade of eligibility, the quartet has finally been nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Its competition for next year's five coveted spots are Swedish pop superstars ABBA, reggae legend Jimmy Cliff, punk and metal godfathers the Stooges, prog-rock forebear Genesis and two acts whose rise began in the '80s, Red Hot Chili Peppers and LL Cool J.

Still, none of these reasons to return were needed to get the band back on the road. "It's always a good time for Kiss," Stanley said during a phone interview last week, in the same breath noting that he was only wearing a robe. He, Simmons, guitarist Tommy Thayer and drummer Eric Singer were enjoying a rare day off during this latest leg of their lengthy tour, between gigs in Canada.

After months of performing in ginormous arenas throughout Europe, Australia and South America, Stanley says the band is excited to bring its newest spectacle to North America.

"These have been the biggest and best shows we've ever done," he boasts, noting that "besides getting raves from fans, we've been suspiciously getting good reviews from the critics. I have a feeling that either they just got pummeled into realizing that we're the right way to go, or the critics who gave us bad reviews have all been fired."

Of course, original members Peter Criss and Ace Frehley have once again acrimoniously parted ways with Stanley and Simmons, splitting over financial and creative matters shortly after Kiss' career-reviving reunion tours of the late '90s. Filling in are longtime Criss replacement Singer, who has served behind the kit for the better part of 20 years, and seven-year Kiss veteran Thayer.

"It isn't our first tour with this lineup," Stanley points out. "Quite honestly, once again the philosophy has turned out to be true that the band is not about any particular individual. The band is a way of thinking. It's a frame of mind, it's a mantra -- it's living up to everything that Kiss is supposed to be.

"Kiss should be timeless. It shouldn't depend upon specific people being in the band."

Sonic Boom, released on Oct. 6, took just four months to create, from songwriting to completed recording -- remarkably fast for a band that had to squeeze in sessions while touring South America throughout spring. By June, the guys had hunkered down inside L.A.'s Conway Studios to cut the disc quickly.

Stanley says he "wanted to make a Kiss album that was really steeped in our heritage but is also a statement of today and for tomorrow. I thought it would be great to go into the studio, provided I could produce the album, because (Psycho Circus) was such an unpleasant experience. It sort of soured it for us."

The trouble with the previous collection was a case of too many leaders, not enough followers. "I mean, even in a car someone has to drive -- if everyone just has their hands on the steering wheel it crashes. Democracy in the studio is vastly overrated. Everyone should have an opinion, but at the end of the day someone has to make the decisions.

"We're about making a great Kiss album, instead of being about what kind of music each person likes, or the idea that everyone is entitled to a quota of songs on an album, or entitled to sing because they're in the band." (That said, for Sonic Boom Thayer takes the lead vocally on "When Lightening Strikes" while Singer steps up with "All for the Glory.")

Having one chief overseer, Stanley says, is the healthiest way for Kiss to work in the studio -- and as such, the recording process was effortless this time. "We wrote on our days off from the tour, and when we were recording, nothing got past a first or second take."

Times certainly have changed since '74 -- and so have Kiss' luxuries. Like other touring giants, the band now flies around the world on a private jet. "It allows us to stay based in a city longer and fly out every day and do more shows," Stanley explains.

"Those early times are great, though, because they toughen you up and make you appreciate the rewards. If you're just getting everything from the beginning, then what's there to work toward?"

Stanley, soon to be 58, insists that when he and Simmons, now 60, formed what would become one of the most successful (and often reviled) bands of the '70s, one that served as a dividing line between baby boomers and their offspring, he never could have foreseen all the spoils that have come their way. He still doesn't take any of it for granted.

"At that point (in the '70s) there was no precedent for this sort of thing. There weren't bands that had lasted more than five to seven years, so the idea of a band lasting 35 years... no, no, no. There was a time when rock 'n' roll was so disposable.

"Mind you, there's still an element of it now, where you have almost a product-manufactured artist or band that would have an appeal for only a certain period of time, and then they're replaced. If we weren't Kiss, and we weren't doing these great shows and constantly building on what we've done, we wouldn't still be here.

"There's a lot of commitment to what we do. We live in our own shadows. We've made a career out of not competing with anything but ourselves."

And, at last, they're on the verge of receiving one of rock's highest honors.

Not that Kiss entirely cares.

"It's a double-edged sword," Stanley says, "because the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is like a private club. It's a group of people, mainly critics and a couple of record executives, who got together and came up with a terrific name that sounds very official and very impressive, even to me. But it's not a reflection of the public's taste. You only have to look at some of the people who have been inducted, and you go, 'Who? But what about this band... or this one?'

"Yet there have been people fighting so hard to get us in. So should they want to induct us, I'll be there, absolutely. It would be an insult to the people who have fought for us to get in to not show up."

All the same, he adds, "I'm also very proud of the people who have been fighting to keep us out of there, too. That's part of what makes us so great."

Photo by Fernando Vergara, The Associated Press.