PUTS ON NEW FACE
July 31, 2010
New members keep band rocking and rolling all night

By John J. Moser, OF THE MORNING CALL

Four years ago, when Kiss frontman and co-founder Paul Stanley was promoting his first solo disc in 28 years and first solo tour ever, he said in an interview that slipping sales and flagging interest in any Kiss music besides the hits made him doubt the band would ever again record a new album.

It had already been eight years since Kiss recorded "Psycho Circus," the first disc featuring the band's original members in nearly 20 years, amid a five-year reunion tour that brought Stanley and co-founder Gene Simmons back together with former members Ace Frehley and Peter Criss.

Fast-forward to today.

Kiss not only recorded a new album, "Sonic Boom," in 2009, but it became the group's highest-charting disc ever, reaching No. 2 on Billboard's albums chart.

And now the group is two years into a tour to celebrate the 35th anniversary of its breakthrough disc, 1975's "Alive," which gave the band its first Top 10 album, as well as its first hit, "Rock and Roll All Night."

So what changed?

Simmons, the band's demon-costumed bassist, says simply that the band dropped Frehley and Criss from the lineup and replaced them with guitarist Tommy Thayer and drummer Eric Singer. The move, he said, saved the self-proclaimed "Hottest Band in the World."

"The thing that changed is Tommy and Eric," Simmons says, calling recently from backstage at "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," where Kiss had just performed the "Sonic Boom" single "Modern Day Delilah."

"You want to go forward when you feel there's a real team committed to doing everything," he says."If you're in a soccer game or a football game or any kind of team situation, you don't feel like getting out on the field if not everybody's holding up their end. So with Tommy and Eric as part of the team, it felt I don't know convincing and easy to do."

While the original members' reunion was financially successful and helped renew interest in the band, it also brought back bad elements that prompted the original splits with Criss in 1979 and Frehley in 1982, Simmons says.

"Ace and Peter were going through their thing again of last-minute sending lawyers in to do all kinds of stuff," Simmons says. "And you know what? We just said, 'Stay home,' you don't need to be in the band, and you don't need to torture everybody. You're happier at home and everybody should respect you because you were pivotal members of one of the most enduring bands in rock and roll history. Kiss couldn't have done it without Ace and Peter then, and Kiss cannot do it with Ace and Peter now."

Criss quit again in 2001, reportedly unhappy with his pay, and was replaced by Singer, who was drummer for four years before the reunion. Frehley left in 2002 after he missed shows and had to be replaced by Thayer, who was the band's guitar tech.

"I think it's best for them and bless them both," Simmons says. "We love them. It's best for them to rest on their laurels. But we don't have time for the past. We're too busy having a good time right now. We're looking forward to the future."

Simmons says touring now is much easier.

"Better than ever," he says. "No drug addicts or alcoholics in the band, no excuses, no dark clouds. It's just great to have a four-wheel-drive vehicle again. After all, we introduced ourselves with 'You wanted the best, you got the best. The hottest band in the world.' We're calling this the hottest show on earth.' So you've gotta have some king-sized nuts to go out there with two of the guys just dragging their sorry butts around."

Asked about the physical requirements of such shows and how difficult it is with him about to turn 61 and Stanley 58, Simmons says, "If you take a look at the biggest bands on earth, none of them are [under] 20 years old. None. And, in fact, a few of them are quite a bit older." He points out that The Rolling Stones' Mick Jagger is 67 and former Beatle Paul McCartney 68.

"It's like a kid having sex for the first time," he says. "The more you do it, the longer you can go, because you know how to pace yourself. If the spotlight's on Tommy taking a solo, and I'm jumping up and down killing myself and you can't see me on the screens, or people are looking the other way, it's a wasted energy."

Asked whether he sees Kiss recording another album, Simmons says, "Sure, why not?" Recording "Sonic Boom" was "one of the easiest records we've ever done," he says. And the fact that the band performs "Modern Day Delilah" on Leno instead of a classic song shows the disc's music holds up.

"But the old stuff holds up, too," he says. He notes a new Dr. Pepper commercial uses the song "Calling Dr. Love," and "there are any number of other products that use 'Rock and Roll All Night.' "

"We're playing, I don't know, about half the [new] record live," he says. "And going into the '80s and doing that stuff. In fact, this tour takes bits and pieces from every decade."

Simmons says the fact that "Sonic Boom" is Kiss's highest charting record doesn't mean much.

"It really hasn't ever been an issue," he says. "Most important, although it sounds cornball, is the fans."

Despite such long term success Kiss is not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It was nominated for the first time this year, after being eligible for a decade, but not accepted.

Simmons sniffs, "It's not a snub to us. "We've gotten everything we've ever dreamed of and more. There's nobody in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in fact, if you took all of them and put them together that could match all the licensing and merchandising we've done and the legacy we've left.

"I mean, yes, Madonna's important. I have no [darned] idea what she's doing in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Or Grandmaster Flash or any other disco or rap artist. I think it's an insult to them to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I don't want to be in the Rap Hall of Fame.

"But what band would I rather be? There's not a band in there that has as much fun as we have. ...Would I rather be in Crosby, Stills and Nash or Kiss? I think I'll take Kiss."

In recent years, Simmons has become just as well-known for his reality television show "Gene Simmons Family Jewels," which documents his life with his longtime companion, Shannon Tweed, and their two children. He also participated in Donald Trump's show "Celebrity Apprentice."

Simmons says he doesn't mind how the show portrays him: "My life's an open book," he says. "Take it or leave it. Not everybody liked Jesus, either." And he proudly points out "Family Jewels" recently broadcast its 100th episode.

He also says his business dealings have left him very secure. He notes, for example, that he narrates the new video game "Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock. " Simmons says "making a great business deal that throws off millions of dollars, that's pretty satisfying," but notes being on stage with Kiss "is unequaled."

"We are having a ball, as you can imagine. How'd you like to get up on stage, wear high heels and more make-up than your mommy does? "

So now that Kiss is back on track, how long will the band last?

"No end in sight that we can see," he says. "There's going to be a certain point where they're going to have to bury us in the ground. We're all going to get our turn. But so far, so good."