BREAKING THE SOUND BARRIER
November 15, 2009
By Ray Paul and Suzanne Chenery

It's been 12 years since KISS released Psycho Circus, so you could say "Sonic Boom" is the band's comeback album. Gone are Ace Frehley and Peter Criss, and donning the face paint are Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer as Cat and Spaceman respectively.

The man, who in my opinion has kept the true spirit of rock n' roll alive through all the band's ups and downs is Paul Stanley. Not only has he now taken the reins by producing "Sonic Boom," but he also had very clear ideas on what he wanted this album to be as opposed to their last release "Psycho Circus" and the shortcomings he felt that album had.

I had a chance to catch up with the legendary Starchild prior to the 2nd night of the band's much publicised shows at Cobo Hall Detroit and talk about the new CD, and of all things KISS past and present.

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Well, it's big news in Europe with the imminent release of "Sonic Boom!" Now, I've gotta ask you, was it hard to persuade Gene to do this album as he has had some strong views on internet piracy?

Paul: You know, to put it all into perspective, I think that Gene at any given time will say anything to get a rise out of people, and it's certainly not much more than that, really! The reason that we didn't make an album wasn't because of piracy - the reason that we hadn't made an album was really because we didn't feel, for a long time, that it was necessary, and our last attempt was not very successful from our point of view for a lot of reasons. It really took the fans' response and the huge success of our last tour.

The tour that we did through Europe and Australia, South America and Canada was the largest and most successful tour that we've done, and we, as a band, have never been better. So the idea of capturing the band today, doing what it does which is really classic, I mean, the band has never been more classic than now, and this was something that under the right guidelines was very appealing, certainly to me.

The real deal breaker for me was producing the album. If I couldn't produce the album, then I didn't want to do the album!

So, what made you decide that you had to produce it as opposed to somebody else?

Well, because I had a very clear idea on what we should do and how we should do it. I think that we needed some ground rules set, and I also think that there were times where we've had producers and they tend to dilute the band if anything, and I knew that with me in control, I had a very clear vision of what this album should be and how we should do it. So, very quickly everyone signed on and said "yeah," and then my second rule was no outside writers, all material had to come from within the band. It's very easy for people to either have other people to write their songs and put their name on it or basically collaborate with somebody who interprets what you're doing instead of you stating what you're doing, so for me it was very much that this was going to be a band album and nobody was going to phone in their parts or be involved in anything that took them away from it. It was very successful in the sense that everything was written from within the band.

Now, the CD comes in a very good value package with a DVD and re-recorded greatest hits. I've heard this as it was originally released in Japan. What was the reason behind re-recording some of your biggest songs?

Partly, it was two-fold because we get a lot of requests to use some of our songs for either films or commercial use, and rather than go through a record company or anything like that, there was no reason why we couldn't virtually re-create them in a way that really is identical. I mean, you could play them side by side. We took the time to study them and make sure it wasn't us interpreting the songs as so much as us being faithful to them. But in that way, we have control over the songs, and if they are to be used for any use outside of the band, then it goes through us, so it's just about more control.

So, that was the initial reason that we started doing it, but with "Sonic Boom," the idea of being able to put together a package which is kind of like a more overdone version of what we did on the classic albums, making it more than an album, making it an event whether you're giving a poster or some sort of prize inside. With Sonic Boom, you get the 15 re-records, and you get a DVD of excerpts from one of our most recent stadium shows in Buenos Aires, so hey, it's also the price of a normal CD, so you can't lose!

Talking about re-recordings, I was wondering if you've ever been tempted to go back to some songs; for example "Nowhere to Run" or "Tomorrow," and re-record them? They were great songs but they never got the chance in their time.

No, but you know, instead of trying to resurrect the past in that sense, I'd rather write the future, so "Sonic Boom" was really about using everything we'd done up until now as the foundation and taking it to the next step, and the response to "Sonic Boom" has been nothing less than stellar! I mean it's a classic album of ours in every sense. By that I don't mean it's a retro album - the last thing we needed was to make an album that would be confused with one that came out around 30 years ago. It's classic in the sense that it has the vitality, the commitment and the excitement that's within the band. The beauty of the band is that you have four people with distinct personalities who are working to make a great band, as opposed to four people who are working to make themselves great.

Now, you've been happy to let Tommy and Eric take some vocals, and there is one song that really stands out for me, which is "All For The Glory," and I think Eric does the vocal on that. That's a classic, isn't it?

Yeah, I think so! Eric's got that great whisky voice and we wanted a great song for him, and we literally wrote it for him in rehearsal. Everything on this album was written, rehearsed and recorded very, very quickly. We wrote the songs in hotels, on the sofa and in their rooms at hotels or back home and rehearsed them and quickly recorded them.

The actual recording process of the album literally took us six weeks, which in this day and age is like six minutes.

It certainly is. Now a couple more songs that really stand out for me are, off the top of my head, "Danger Us" and Gene's "I'm an Animal." Some people have said these have got a kind of feel of "Rock and Roll Over" but at the same time have a freshness that brings KISS very much up to date. Would you agree with that?

Yes, it's much more multi-levelled in terms of reaching down to the depths that will rattle the floor and also the highs that will shred your curtains, so sonically it's far, far more advanced than earlier albums.

In terms of the songwriting, I certainly thought that it was important for Gene to get back to classic Gene in the sense of the personality and the songwriting that really made him the character he really is, and I think in years gone by he's gone away from that. I wanted to steer him back to that vocal quality and that lyric perspective and the music that people have always loved about him. I think that all his songs on the album have really captured him and reintroduced him to himself!

Absolutely. I mean, I have been a KISS fan for 30 years, and Gene is definitely back big time. Now I've got to ask you, as a songwriter Paul, apart from your solo album, it's been a long time since you've been able to get your music out to people. Has that been difficult for you?

No, I mean I'm a songwriter, and perhaps the trouble is to over-think things again and again. With "Sonic Boom," what I wanted us to do was write more instinctively and without overanalysing what we were doing, in the same way that when we went into the studio to record, there was no reason to do ten takes of a song because what are you going to do better on the tenth than on the first or second?

Whatever you gain in terms of perfection, you lose in terms of feel. It's important for everybody to remember to be reminded that all the music that we love and grew up loving was not made on a computer; it was made by people who were flesh and blood and trying to purge emotion, whether it was the Motown stuff or the Stacks Vault music, James Brown, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin... all that music was made from the heart, and it wasn't perfect, but it is interesting that when people have tried to re-record these songs, the closer you get to making them perfect, the further away you get from the spirit and the sound that made them so exciting; so that was another thing we had to capture on this album ... the raw urgency of the songs as opposed to spending so much time that we get them glossy but lose everything that makes them classics.

To mention Led Zeppelin and The Who, I'm lead to believe that you're a fan of both. Do you ever take the time, Paul, to sit down some days and think these bands that I loved so many moons ago nowadays have KISS mentioned in the same breath?

Well, I'm humbled and honoured by it. Whether or not I necessarily agree with it is perhaps one of the things that makes me who I am! The fact is that the bands and the people that I've always looked up to, I continue to look up to, and anybody who chooses to mention us in the same sentence makes me feel deeply humbled and honoured by it.

Now, going back to "Sonic Boom," how many songs from the album can we hope to included in the KISS set now?

We're going to continue to add them. This really right now is the final leg of the Alive 35 tour, so that's been celebrating the KISS Alive album, celebrating the 35 years since it came out, but it is starting to morph into the "Sonic Boom" tour.

Right now we're doing "Modern Day Delilah," and as time goes by we'll be doing more. We have to be really careful about adding too much because every song that we add, we have to leave one out, and we've got a setlist now where it would be crazy to leave out "Love Gun" or crazy to leave out "Shout It Out Loud" or "Detroit Rock City," "C'mon And Love Me," "Deuce," "Strutter..." so you know as time goes on and it's warranted, we'll be adding more.

Okay, now on your solo tour, I know that you played "Magic Touch" and "A Million To One," which are very, very special and I don't believe they've ever been played live. Are there any surprises from the past that you would like to add to the set, possibly?

You know, it's anybody's guess! The only thing that I don't want to get into is the idea of playing obscure tracks just for the sake of doing something different. I'm a big believer that most obscure tracks are obscure for a reason, you know. The cream rises to the top, and the songs that people love are the songs that, for whatever reason, are the best!

I remember going to see a very, very famous long-running band, and the night that they were playing the theatre was a night of them playing obscure material, and I've got to say, being there, I understood why it was all obscure... ha ha!

Now, obviously Tommy and Eric have been in the band for a long time, and as much as all KISS fans love Ace and Peter, is life easier in the band for you and Gene with these guys?

Well, life is easier for KISS because KISS really is the four of us, and it's always interesting that some people wrongfully think of Tommy and Eric as two extra guys, you know, fillers or something, and the truth is that most of the time when I need feedback on a question, I ask Tommy; and Eric has been in the band off and on for near on eighteen years, so is it easier for Gene and me? Well, it's easier for the band, because it is a band!

It takes four people to make a band, which is why "Psycho Circus" was such a debacle, because it was us valiantly trying to make an album where there was no band. You can't make an album with lawyers, you know! When band members aren't showing up... and you can't make an album with people making demands to have songs included that may not be good enough. Again, it really comes down to you're either seeing the band as a vehicle to make you more famous, or you're seeing yourself as a vehicle to make the band more famous. The situation in the band now, thankfully, is that everyone works to make the band better, and it shows on stage, and it shows on "Sonic Boom."

You've just played Cobo Hall, am I right in saying that?

Yeah, we played last night and we play tonight.

Wow, that must be something.

It's magical.

Yeah, that's just a little bit of history for KISS, isn't it? Am I right in thinking that the hall is going to be knocked down after this?

We heard it's not being knocked down, but it's as good as being knocked down, as it's being turned into some sort of convention hall for trade shows or something. So the last music they will hear is our "Sonic Boom!" The last walls to be cracked will be done by us!

Well, that's appropriate! Now, I've got to ask you, will you guys be coming to Europe?

Yes, absolutely! We're just signing everything up now, and there is no way that we wouldn't be on your side of the pond sooner or later.

That's fantastic. I would just like to finish off with one final question, Paul. You have had, and you still continue to have, an incredible career. Is there one moment that stands out for you in KISStory?

Gosh, you know, it's hard to think of doing something as long as I have and only have one moment. However, I certainly remember being backstage at a show in Ohio and looking out from behind the curtain at a packed house, and it had happened the night before, and the night before that, and I suddenly realised that I went from telling people that we were going to be the biggest band to the fact that we were on the precipice of becoming the biggest band. It was a humbling and very exciting but also intimidating moment.