ENDLESS , PAUL IS READY
August 10, 2012
The lead singer in Kiss thinks band can live on without current members, him included, and that suits him fine

Written by George Varga

The Rolling Stones without Mick Jagger and Keith Richards? Unthinkable.

Metallica without James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich? Ditto.

But Kiss without Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons, who co-founded the larger-than-life band in 1973 and have co-led a dozen different lineups since then? Not a problem.

“The band is bigger than its members,” said Stanley, who performs Sunday with Kiss at Cricket Wireless Amphitheatre. “And it only takes, in this case, four like-minded people with a similar outlook and talent to further the cause and continue Kiss. It makes perfect sense to me. It may not make sense to other bands, but we’re not other bands. We don’t live by those rules. We never have.”

Might Stanley (born: Paul Stanley Eisen) be concerned that he and Simmons (born Chaim Witz) are growing too old to rock ’n’ roll all night?

“I’m damn good at what I do,” the singer and guitarist said, speaking from a tour stop in San Antonio. “But do I think I’m the only person capable of doing what I do? Absolutely not. I’m not talking about a clone (of me), but somebody with the same passion, drive and love for the music I love. So, can I envision a time when I won’t be here anymore? Absolutely. It’s not tomorrow, or next week. But when it happens, I would be celebratory. Because it would prove that I was right and that Kiss is exactly what I believe it is: an ideal, a way of performing, a point of view. It’s an attitude, and the respect and love (we have for) our audience.”

Attitude — and lots of fire-breathing chutzpah, literally and figuratively — have been key components of Kiss for the past four decades.

During that time the New York-bred band has sold close to 100 million albums worldwide and scored such hard-rocking hits as “Shout It Out Loud” and “Calling Dr. Love.” The group, which refers to its fans as the “Kiss Army,” has also inspired everyone from Garth Brooks and Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails to former San Diegans Matt Cameron and Mike McCready of Pearl Jam.

Along the way, there has been a slew of Kiss-related products, from pinball machines and condoms to lunchboxes and coffins. Like no other band (or brand) before or since, Kiss is determined to capitalize on its fans both coming and going.

“When Kiss comes to town, everybody is in the Kiss Army,” country-music superstar Toby Keith said. “You want to see Kiss, you go see Kiss. You can’t see that anywhere else.”

In 2000, Kiss embarked on its farewell tour, four years after its “Alive/World Wide” reunion tour of 1996 and ’97 grossed $150 million. However, the farewell ended up applying only to original Kiss drummer Peter Criss and lead guitarist Ace Frehley (now a San Diego resident). Their roles in the band were filled by Eric Singer (who first replaced Criss in 1980) and Tommy Thayer (who came on board in 2002).

Might another reunion of the four original members of Kiss be possible?

“Never!” Stanley replied. “You only get so many opportunities and so many chances. And while I don’t wish (Frehley and Criss) any ill will at this point, you know, most people are fortunate to win the lottery once. When you win it twice, and throw it away, the opportunities are gone.

“Plus, everything that those guys did, unfortunately, jeopardized what I do. Those who don’t learn from their mistakes are doomed to repeat them. … The intent and spirit of what this band was founded on is more intact and alive today than ever. And it’s not because of the individual founding members or any of that nonsense, but because of people who have the passion, the love and commitment to live up to what Kiss is.”

The group’s next album, “Monster,” is due out Oct. 16. It features no-frills songs that are inspired, in part, by some of the bands that inspired the members of Kiss before Kiss existed. One number, “Shout Mercy,” suggests Stanley was a big fan of the blues-rocking English band Humble Pie, circa its galvanizing 1971 live album “Rockin’ the Fillmore.”

“I was there when they recorded it!” he said. “I was a huge, huge fan. I thought (lead singer) Steve Marriott was the ultimate showman/singer, and he turned a venue into an evangelical event. That’s one of those bands I still listen to.”

The new Kiss album also includes “Back to the Stone Age,” which features a stop-go guitar riff that evokes the MC5’s 1968 metal-meets-proto-punk classic “Kick Out the Jams.”

“I don’t necessarily like citing influences if they become a distraction,” Stanley said. “But we were in the studio writing the song, and Eric brought up the MC5. And, although we didn’t want to copy something, we certainly wanted to capture a primal kind of vibe that they had. One of the goals for me with the album was not to make a great Kiss album, but to make a great rock album that could stand with some of my heroes, the people that influenced me.

"You can’t re-invent the wheel, you can just make sure you make a great wheel. The goal was to make an album that really had the sense of what inspired me and the band in the first pace, not a tip of the hat, as much as making sure the DNA was there. And if it’s apparent to some, then that’s fine.”

And just how does Stanley make the distinction between a great Kiss album and a great rock album?

"I didn’t want the scope to be quite as narrow," he replied. "And with all respect to our past and previous lineups -- Eric has been in and out of the band for 20 years and Tommy’s been with us close to 10 years -- the band is capable of flexing our muscles a little more than perhaps in the past. And those influences are very healthy and solid for any band.

"Rather than narrowing the scope to try and make an album that falls into solely the category of being judged as a Kiss album. I wanted to make an album that would be judged as a rock album, and that means raising the bar. It’s not that they’re not one and the same, but the criteria is a bit more expansive."

Bonus Q&A with Paul Stanley

QUESTION: Where are you calling from today?

STANLEY: I'm in San Antonio. It’s a much welcome day off, because all the shows we've been doing have been outdoors. The night before last, we played Dallas and it was 100 degrees. And Houston was much the same. The heat has been staggering. And we’re putting out incredible heat on stage, which doesn’t help things.

Q: And you're wearing some pretty heavy boots and stage costumes.

STANLEY: Trust me, in a pair of shorts you’d be ready to be basted; it’s just mind-bogling, the heat that’s going on. One-hundred degree heat, with 100 percent humidity. So it takes a lot of determination and commitment to do what people are expecting of us. We show up with the commitment to live up to what people are expecting, only it’s a different scenario in a steam room!

Q: Does your makeup run?

STANLEY: No. It stays fixed. It doesn’t move. But my boots weigh 30 pounds. The outfits, or uniforms, we wear kind of put us in the position of Marines in boot camp – we’re running around with a backpack and utility belts and artillery strapped to us, while we’re jumping fences.

Q: Do you miss the days of your makeup-free, "Unmasked" tour era?

STANLEY: No. I'm incredibly grateful every time I look out and see a packed house of fans. You don't win the lottery and complain about taxes.

Q: How different or similar is your impetus for making music now than 20 or 30 years ago?

STANLEY: Interesting question. You sure this is for the San Diego newspaper? I think it’s, well, it comes from a much more fertile place (now), because -- as you live -- in some way or another, your experience or perspective is enhanced and influenced by your life. So the danger is, as time goes on, you can find yourself a more adept songwriter, but not writing better songs. Because I don’t believe the key to writing great rock ‘n’ roll is honing your songwriting expertise. Sometimes, that can get in the way. You almost have to make an effort, on some level, to deprogram yourself and unlearn things. Because the beauty of some of the earlier material (you write) is its lack of restrictions, a lack of understanding of the so-called laws of writing. And, as you continue, you learn a craft that may get in the way of the essence of what rock ‘n’ roll is supposed to be.

Q: If my hearing is accurate, the lyrics to the song "Back to the Stone Age" on the upcoming new Kiss album start: In the beginning there was darkness and there was light / At the dawn of creation there was fear / In the dead of night there was thunder... Did you at any point think of Spinal Tap and "Stonhenge?"

STANLEY: Hah! I don’t think any rock band born of that period when we were can get away without, at some point, parallels being drawn (with Spinal Tap). I don’t see it there (in that song), but Spinal Tap had a lot of bands squirming in their seats when they saw it. We’ve all been there, to one degree. Every band can look at some scenes in that movie and say: ‘That was us.’ But (the song) “Stone Age: is really more a battle cry of getting back to basics.

Q: Is that a mantra for the new album?

STANLEY: I think so. I consider myself an Anglophile and the bands I grew up listening to are 99.9 percent British. But that music wouldn’t exist unless they had listened to (Delta blues pioneer) Robert Johnson and Blind Boy Fuller and Little Richard. What I loved about English music is it took the roots of great American music and put it on steroids and dressed it up, and interpreted it in a way that, to me, was very appealing. Going to the Fillmore and seeing all these bands, there was so much style to them, visually, and an incredible sexuality, to a lot of them. And they also, in their own way, took (Howlin’ Wolf lead guitarist) Hubert Sumlin and all things that were the foundation of American blues and took it somewhere else.

Q: Did seeing Humble Pie at the Fillmore and hearing Steve Marriott sing without a microphone, and project to the back of the building, have a big impact on you?

STANLEY: For sure. Let’s not forget that Tony Bennett does the same thing. With Marriott, there was a tremendous, not only passion in what he was doing, but joy, a sense of exhilaration of almost him being lost in the moment, not unlike what you see in holy rollers. There was something of a divine intervention, which I was blown away by. And his ability to capture an audience and pull them into his experience.

Q: Did Kiss ever open for Humble Pie?

STANLEY: No. Humble Pie was virtually over by then. I think Humble Pie reached a zenith after (the 1972 album) "Smokin’. " They kind of went awry, and we might want to chalk that up to drugs and alcohol. But they had a time when they were stellar.

Q; So many rockers have had substance abuse problems. Why is it that you and Gene Simmons never fell prey to drugs and alcohol? Do you credit your parents?

STANLEY: For me, the idea of self-preservation has always been key. We don’t even have to go to Jim Morrison or Hendrix. We can go back to Billie Holiday. Time and time again, the drugs will either kill you outright, or kill your spirit, your creativity, your joy in life. It becomes a life sentence, without bars. I never wanted to sign up for that. There’s nothing romantic about that. And the only people who see that as romantic are often the critics, who sit on the sidelines and like to romanticize while their heroes deteriorate, and somehow, that validates the art of the addict. I never bought into that.

Q: So you were a young guy into rock 'n' roll who never did drugs?

STANLEY: My very, very limited experience with drugs and, mind you, back then certainly the connection hadn't been made that clearly that drugs lead to other drugs, but it didn't seem like anything productive. It didn't seem to enhance anything. It may have made you think you were brilliant, but I never heard anybody play (stoned) who actually was brilliant. The (negative) impact it had on your life was nothing I wanted to be a part of... I never wanted to be a dead legend. I did this because I enjoy it and wanted to enjoy the fruits of my success. It seemed so clear to me that to sabotage what I love would be insane.

Q: Do you think the early failures of Kiss, the struggle for recognition, made you stronger?

STANLEY: Totally. You can't appreciate what you have if you're born with it. The struggles and the adverse situations only make you appreciate what you have more and will also give you a backbone. I remember whatever tough times we went through, I always found myself going these are times we'll look back on.

Q: I remember asking John McLaughlin what the oddest double-bill he ever played was, and he said it was when Shakti -- his acoustic Indian classical music band -- opened for Black Sabbath in the mid-1970s at a college in Long Island. Can you recall any especially unusual opening spots that Kiss did early on?

Q: I happen to love those eclectic bills, particularly in the late 1960. I was a kid, but the idea you could see The Who and have Buddy Guy open for them not only made the bil interesting, but -- all of a sudden -- I said: 'Wow, now I not only like Jimi Hendrix, but I see who he liked. So I was a fan of a lot of those bills, like Led Zeppelin with Woody Herman's Orchestra. That was what made it all so interesting. That being said, we had one show that probably contradicts what I was saying, but thankfully it got canceled -- us with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Roger McGuinn. But we also did a lot of shows with Savoy Brown, Rory Gallagher, Dr. John, Billy Preston.

Q: Your goal, presumably, was to win over audiences that did not come to see you?

Q: It was stimulating, it was fun. and did we win over those audiences, hell, yeah! One of my fond memories was playing an ice rink in Michigan. It was our first show opening for Savoy Brown and we came waking out of the dressing room (in costume) and these guys (in Savoy Brown) were just in hysterics, laughing at us. And I could understand it, coming from their (English working-class) backgrounds. When we left the stage and half the audience left, too, we had some new-found friends in a blues band called Savoy Brown. My philosophy has always been, as far as the bands we played with: "I love you, until I walk out on the stage, and then my job there is to win." That's ultimately what this is about. Bands (on tour) have a great time and may socialize, but it's not putting your arms around each other shoulders and singing "Cumbaya." When you get on stage, your only objective should be to be the best.