MONSTER MAKEOVER
November 19, 2012
By Russell Hall

For a long time, beginning in 1999, Paul Stanley wasn’t sure Kiss would make another studio album. Worse, he wasn’t sure he wanted to. Ironically, it was the making of the previous year’s Psycho Circus—the much-ballyhooed record that featured original members Peter Criss and Ace Frehley reunited with Kiss founders Stanley and Gene Simmons—that put Stanley in that frame of mind. As he tells it, Criss and Frehley were recalcitrant participants, at best.

“What we learned is that you can’t make a great Kiss album without Kiss,” he says. “When there are two people in the studio working, and two who are refusing to come in, or who have their attorneys on the phone all the time, that’s not a good situation. Psycho Circus was interesting in the sense that it made me never want to go back into the studio, and at the same time, I felt I’ll be damned if that was going to be the last album we made. The band, during the reunion period, went south pretty quickly. It was something we managed to keep alive in much the same way a paramedic might keep a stroke victim from dying.”

To say Stanley and Simmons have kept Kiss alive is an understatement. Since the group’s 1974 self-titled debut, Kiss has released 20 studio albums, 10 live records and 13 compilation discs. Including solo records, they’ve been awarded 28 gold albums, more than any American rock group. Worldwide album sales are colossal—more than 100 million.

There’s another facet to that success—the group’s merchandising empire, and it’s unrivalled in rock. The Kiss brand offers everything from baby bibs to action figures to caskets (spelled Kaskets, of course). There’s also a miniature golf course, a coffeehouse and even a Kiss Kruise. The vast array of goods is served up without apology. “It all begins with the songs, no question about that,” says Simmons. “But there were never any rules for being in a rock band. People just thought there were. For us, it’s not enough to just be a Radiohead or a U2. That’s why we have 3,000 licensed products.”

Kiss continued to tour after Psycho Circus, albeit in ever-changing configurations. Criss left in 2001, replaced by Eric Singer, who had previously served as the band’s drummer in the early ’90s. Frehley departed the following year, and longtime Kiss associate Tommy Thayer stepped in as replacement on lead guitar. Thayer’s position was made permanent, but in 2003 Criss returned for KISS Symphony: Alive IV, a concert album with Australia’s Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. A year later, Criss was out, Singer was back.

Since then, the lineup of Stanley, Simmons, Thayer and Singer has coalesced into a finely tuned rock machine that has achieved its greatest success on the road. World tours in 2008 and 2009 solidified the group’s status as a premier live act, as the band’s chemistry rose to a level commensurate with the group’s spectacular stage show. In 2010—following a decade of resistance to the idea—Kiss released Sonic Boom, a no-frills studio album that captured the band’s sound from their mid-’70s heyday.

Kiss’ latest, Monster—produced by Stanley and production vet Greg Collins—fully embraces a stripped-down, back-to-basics approach. “No boys’ choirs, no symphony orchestras, just meat and potatoes,” says Simmons, alluding to the adherence to two guitars, bass and drums. The goal? Raise the bar while keeping things simple. “We sat facing each other as we recorded,” he says. “The idea was to get things in the first, second or third take. I didn’t want to lose any of the urgency and passion of what we were doing.”

Simmons and Stanley emphasize that no other Kiss configuration could have made Monster. The spirit of camaraderie is evident in the song credits. Thayer wrote or co-wrote nine of the 12 songs, and Singer co-wrote one tune and takes lead vocals on the Stanley-penned anthem, “All for the Love of Rock and Roll.” “This lineup is the embodiment of everything the band wanted to be,” says Stanley. “To think any other lineup could have made this album would be enough to get you committed. I’ve been there from the beginning, and I know.” Stanley and Simmons discussed the music behind the theater, their creative partnership and the Kiss legacy.



Was there a goal with Monster?

STANLEY: To hark back to the music and artists who influenced us and capture that spirit. That doesn’t mean copying anybody. It means finding that spot they touched. I grew up hearing bands at the Fillmore East nearly every weekend. Those bands played like their lives depended on it. There was also a joy. It almost felt like being in church, like gospel. James Brown didn’t go for perfection—he went for passion. Same was true for Motown, the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, the Who, the Stones, early Elvis and on and on. Sonic Boom stayed close to our past, to things we had done previously. But for Monster, I wanted to make the album we never made.



What was your role as producer?

STANLEY: To set ground rules. It’s important that everyone know what the expectations are. One rule was no outside co-writes, just like the last album. I wanted to make sure everyone was totally committed to making this album—and that we all understood there were no quotas, no entitlements. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been in the band 10 years or 30 years—if the songs aren’t good enough, they don’t go on. Once those parameters are made clear, everyone is willing to work harder. That said, we never had more fun making an album.



Tell us about the songwriting process.

SIMMONS: We used to do demos on our own and bring them to the band. This time, we got together as a band and started tossing riffs and chord patterns and melodies at one another. That’s why the songwriting credits are all over the place. “Back to the Stone Age” is a good example. It started with Eric talking about how much he loved the MC5 and their energy but the masses just didn’t get it. We talked about where that energy came from, and out of that we started to jam. Within two hours we had a bed track. I had this back-to-the-stone-age lyric idea—a battle cry against technology robbing your soul—and we added that. That song was written and recorded in one day.

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