BACK WITH A BOOM
October 02, 2009
For KISS and frontman Paul Stanley, it's full steam ahead

By DARRYL STERDAN, Sun Media

KISS Army lifers who feared the band would never make another studio album are in good company -- even Paul Stanley had given up on the idea.

Sessions for the band's 1998 reunion album with original guitarist Ace Frehley and drummer Peter Criss went so badly that the star-sporting frontman had no desire to return to the studio.

"What soured me was Psycho Circus," admits a subdued Stanley.

"It was a heartfelt attempt to make a band album where there was no band. It culminated with a lot of delusional people who were talking through attorneys instead of being in the studio, and this weird sense of entitlement from people that they had some sort of birthright to have songs on an album whether or not they're good. When you have bandmembers who see the band as a way to further themselves rather than seeing themselves as a way to further the band, you're in trouble.

"Besides that, it had also reached a point where there were a lot of co-writers outside the band, which means you're not doing your job. Basically, it means you're allowing somebody else to interpret who you are instead of just being who you are.

"So there were a lot of reasons that I didn't want to do another KISS album. I didn't want to make an album that we had to apologize for or had to qualify."

But the 57-year-old singer-guitarist says he and long-tongued bassist Gene Simmons gradually decided it was time to rock 'n' roll over once they reconnected with drummer Eric Singer and lead guitarist Tommy Thayer (formerly the band's road manager).

"It wasn't until this lineup had been together as long as it has -- Eric has been in and out of the band 18 years, while Tommy has been in the band for seven years and has been around as long as I can remember -- that it changed. I think everybody, pretty much to a man, can say the band's never been better. So it was a great opportunity to make a great album as long as everybody had their priorities right. From the git-go, I knew how to do it. And so far, judging by the reviews, mission accomplished."

Fair enough -- the Stanley-produced Sonic Boom, the band's first album in 11 years, is a return to their classic '70s and '80s form, dispensing with ballads, keyboards and studio musicians in favour of guitar-driven rock. And it has garnered some of their best reviews in decades.

KISS's current Alive! 35 Tour continues that old-school approach with a set list drawn from their career-making 1975 Alive! album.

En route to tonight's Air Canada Centre gig in Toronto (KISS also play the MTS Centre on Nov. 9), Stanley took a few minutes to discuss Sonic Boom, the band's legacy and more.

How is Canada treating you this time?

Terrific. It's always been terrific -- from the days of playing Sudbury and Moncton forward to today. Not only has Canada seen KISS grow, KISS has seen Canada grow.

Yet you forgot to include Oshawa on this leg of the tour after that online vote.

You know, WE didn't forget Oshawa. The truth is we always planned on playing; whether it was going to be on this leg or another leg was up for grabs. But as I said before, to announce Oshawa as the big winner in that contest and not play it would be insane. So we pushed it up and we will, of course, be there.

Will you give them a little something extra?

We don't know anything about giving extra. We only know about giving KISS. And that is about as much as you can give.

You're the guy who decided you wanted to produce the new album and have no outside writers or players. Did you meet with any resistance?

What's refreshing is that everybody said yes. And that's so indicative of the difference in the band. As for Gene and I writing together, I think he was a little ... I don't know if ambivalent was the word, but I don't know how he felt about it. But I thought it was vital. And once we started, the chemistry was there, the magic was there. Between that and rehearsing and recording, we've never had more fun doing a KISS album. The band enjoys each other's company. And you know, some people see Eric and Tommy as replacements. But when I'm on the fence about something, the first person I go to is Tommy. So it's funny that for some people, they're substitutes. But I guess Ron Wood will always be the new Stone.

Part of the problem might be that they're wearing Ace and Peter's costumes and makeup. With no disrespect to Tommy and Eric, a lot of fans see that as a slap in the face.

That there are people who take issue with it is all well and good. To say the vast majority don't agree would be an understatement. The fact is, there are four iconic figures that are what KISS is. To change that because someone is no longer in the band cheats me, because I busted my butt for 35 years making this what it is. So why would I let somebody deny me and the majority of the fans what they expect? That's what we owe to people; the representation and embodiment of what KISS has been since the beginning.

So if you left, you wouldn't mind someone else putting on the star?

I would hope it would happen. It would only affirm that the band is bigger than any of us. That the band is about an ideal, about a point of view, about a way to deliver a show, about a philosophy that puts the fans first. I'm not delusional enough to think I couldn't be replaced.

You guys aren't kidding with the Alive! 35 tour -- the set list is almost identical to the old album except for Firehouse and Rock Bottom. Why did you drop those?

We had to make sure we could include songs other than Alive! songs. We're doing a marathon encore, and at some point, something's gotta give. And while those songs may be considered classics to some, they're more obscure to others. Certainly Rock Bottom. We were faced with a choice between Rock Bottom and Hotter Than Hell, and we chose the one the audience sings along with.

Speaking of something's gotta give, you've had a couple of hip replacements. How does that affect your performance?

Other than setting off metal detectors, my only concern onstage is that I don't jump too high because I'll hit the lighting truss (laughs). I'm more athletic, more agile -- everything is there that ever was, plus.

How do you feel about the possibility of a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction after all these years? Is it too little too late now?

It's terrific. I think my feelings about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame have been fairly clear. My feeling is that the hall of fame we're a member of is the one that's put 80 million albums under our belt. But if we are inducted, we'll absolutely accept. I'm proud of the people who fought for us. But I'm equally proud of the people who fight against us. They're all a part of who we are.

Do you have a crazy workout regimen? You go shirtless, so you've got to keep the belly toned.

Sometimes I wish for a suit of armor (laughs). Before I go onstage, I usually do about 75 crunches.

Here's the tough question: That chest hair of your still looks totally black. Do you dye or pluck?

If you saw me up close, you'd realize I'm human, as much as I would like to think otherwise. You can't possibly be my age and be as black as stallion.