BACK WITH A BOOM
October 16, 2009
By MICHAEL CHRISTOPHER

Critics who have dismissed modern-day Kiss as nothing but a cartoonish merchandising machine take note: the band has proven that there is some rock and roll left in the tank, and this week celebrates the highest charting release in its history as "Sonic Boom" landed in the No. 2 slot on the Billboard charts.

Rock Music Menu caught up with drummer Eric Singer after the grease-painted foursome played an explosive, career spanning set at the Wachovia Center Monday night and talked about what it is that makes the new album so appealing.

"Everyone knew what the task at hand was," Singer said. "We all got on board in the same vehicle heading down the same road and we knew what are destination was."

Singer joined Kiss in 1991 initially as temporary substitute for drummer Eric Carr, who was battling heart cancer and subsequently passed away later that year. He played on the 1992 record "Revenge," which, like "Sonic Boom," is seen as a touchstone in the band's catalog and a return to form after many had left them for dead.

"A friend of mine said, "It's kind of ironic how two of my favorite Kiss albums are two that you played on,'" Singer said. "I'm not gonna take the credit for it, but I do believe that sometimes a certain chemistry with people at a given time contributes a lot to a band's sound and a vibe and an energy and a direction that you may have."

"It's like baking a cake; you can make the same cake over and over, but sometimes it just tastes a little better, especially when people make things from scratch rather than follow exact directions."

To start from scratch, Singer, guitarist Tommy Thayer and Kiss co-founders Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons went back to their roots, not to find the sound, but to look for inspiration.

"We weren't trying to make a '70s record," Singer said. "We we're trying to make a record in the spirit of the '70s where a band went in, worked on riffs, and recorded them live. Paul said, "I want to make this record like we did when we started out.'"

"We really created more of a unified sound where everybody contributed, it wasn't like one guy was the main writer and he does everything; we wanted to do everything organically like the way we do live."

"Sonic Boom" definitely has that classic Kiss feel. The big, arena ready riffs, the steady pop choruses and the cheesiest lyrics this side of AC/DC. Simply put, this is the record Kiss fans have been waiting for, and eleven years since the disappointment of "Psycho Circus," it's been a long time coming.

The past decade has seen the lineup of the stumble and fracture, with original members Peter Criss and Ace Frehley using the revolving door as both were substituted by Singer and Thayer respectively, right down to donning the "Catman" and "Spaceman" make-up, which many fans consider sacrilegious.

"I can understand how they can really appreciate the original Kiss," Singer said. "Hey, I like the original Kiss too, I loved it all, but original Kiss doesn't exist anymore... it can't exist in that incarnation."

Singer went on to add that he has no personal attachment to the issue, and when he says he doesn't care what fans think, it's not meant to be disrespectful because he understands how people can be married to the past.

"People should get on board or move on. I think that a lot of people have obviously chosen to stay with it because certainly they love the band, they love the music and they realize that is bigger than any one individual member."

That's a fact proven time and again in Kiss, and one that Singer knows all too well. Despite the success of the "Revenge" album, Stanley and Simmons shelved the lineup featuring Singer and guitarist Bruce Kulick in favor of a highly successful reunion 1996 tour with Criss and Frehley. The drummer was welcomed back into the fold in early 2001 when Criss left the band.

"I do remember when I first started wearing the make-up in 2001 and Ace was still in the band and they called me up and asked me about coming back and playing," Singer said. "I was on the road at the time and someone who was handling my business called and said, "Hey, Kiss wants you to come play in the band," and I said, "OK, are they going to want me to wear make-up?” And I was out of the country at the time and he said it would all be worked out by the time I got home."

"I think they paused for literally a second and said, 'What do we do here?' but this is what everybody knows, they know these characters, so that was it."

Criss returned once again for a short stint, but was replaced, ostensibly for good, by Singer in 2004. At that point, Frehley had already left and Thayer had filled his spot underneath the make-up. Rather than create new characters like the band did in the early '80s for Carr (the Fox) and guitarist Vinnie Vincent, whose face featured a ridiculous looking ankh, Singer said staying true to the original war paint keeps in tact the legacy of the group.

"People know these four characters; these are the icons for what Kiss is known for, and to keep trying to change with different members... I mean, people say, "Well, they did it for Vinnie," but when you look back, it kind of diluted things."

Adding to the resurgence of Kiss on a musical level is this year's nomination for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2010. The group has been eligible for a decade, and Singer agrees with the opinion of many that it’s about time.

"Everybody has their own personal opinion as to what they think about that whole Hall of Fame stuff,” he said. "I'm a big sports fan, so when I think of 'hall of fame,' I think of it from a sports point of view where they honor you and recognize you and it's not just for longevity, it's for achievements whether it's passed for a lot of touchdowns or broken a lot of records, and to me that’s what it's about."

"To me, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a popularity contest based on some select individuals and what their personal tastes are rather than the achievements that an individual band has accomplished."

Kiss has been one of the glaring rock and roll omissions from the ballot each year, much to the consternation of hardcore fans, who have even led marches in protest at the Rock Hall museum in Cleveland, while more undeserving artists, in Singer's opinion, have been inducted because of the nominating committee's politics.

"With all due respect to certain artists, but how does Patti Smith end up in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame when Alice Cooper or especially a band like Kiss is not in there now?” Singer said. "No offense, but all the time I grew up, she was someone that only critics ever liked."

"I don't remember any of my friends or anybody I know being huge fans of hers or really liking what she did, but somehow people go, 'Oh she's legit, she's credible.' And I'm thinking, 'But in the Hall of Fame? In rock and roll?' Come on, it should be what a band accomplished, and nobody has ever accomplished what Kiss has done."

But the question on everyone's mind is that if Kiss does indeed end up getting into the Hall at the ceremony in March, who will show up to accept the award? Will the original lineup be reunited again - or is it going to be the current edition of the group?

"I'd be there whether I'm one of the people inducted or whether I'm there supporting the band being inducted," Singer said. "I've been a part of Kisstory and there's a lot of people who've helped the band keep going and had success with the band that may not be original guys and they are all a part of that too."

"To me, everybody that's been a part of Kiss deserves to be recognized."

"If the band does get inducted, how they'll deal with that, at the time - I don't know," he said. "Let's hope we have to cross that bridge."