Paul Stanley of KISS: Winning and living on your own terms defines rock and roll
By Robin Leach / Las Vegas Sun
Fire breathing, spitting blood, guitars on fire, levitating drum kits and extraordinary pyrotechnics have always been hallmarks of KISS led by Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, and it all finally took them to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The rockersí worldwide record sales are more than 100 million, making them one of the bestselling bands of all time. Incredibly, the group that formed in 1973 is going stronger than ever, and its Army of fans grows larger, too.
Now KISS is celebrating its 40th anniversary with its first-ever residency ó at the Joint in the Hard Rock Hotel ó where Gene promises: ďWhat happens in Vegas will not stay in Vegas, not if we have anything to do with it. We intend to blow the roof off the Hard Rock.Ē
KISS will play nine shows Nov. 5-23 with guitarist Tommy Thayer and drummer Eric Singer rounding out the action. Beneath that bizarre makeup beats the hearts of two astute businessmen who are marketing marvels. We actually share the same Wall Street investment banker.
Iíve known Gene and Paul for many, many years, so itís always good to have a long chat with them. I caught up with Paul just before he left for Mexico City and his annual KISS Cruise.
Youíve just wrapped another one of those major tours?
We did 42 shows and played to 600,000 people, so right now Iím just catching my breath. Tomorrow I leave for Mexico City to headline a festival, then we have the KISS Cruise, which we do every year, and thatís sold out with 3,500 people from 33 countries. Then we come to Las Vegas, which is the icing on the cake.
Not just because itís the first time youíre playing a residency at the Hard Rock, but why is it the icing on the cake?
Well because itís new territory for us, and what KISS has always been about is going against the grain and really doing things in our time and when it feels right for us. There was a time where quite honestly everyone thought of Las Vegas as an elephant burial ground.
It was the more glittery branch in Missouri for some people, but itís so unique. There was also a time where the best food you could get was a $1.99 prime rib. Now if I want a great meal, I go to Las Vegas. You canít get a comparable meal in Los Angeles to what you can get in Las Vegas.
Everything has changed so much, and itís always seemed like a perfect fit for us to be in Las Vegas, but for a lot of reasons, it just wasnít meant to be. Now the planets have lined up, and everything is as it should be, and we will come in and do what we do.
We are doing a KISS show in Las Vegas, we are not doing a Las Vegas show with KISS. We are a rock and roll band, and we will do what we do ó better than any band at this point.
Are you changing the tour show?
Completely different stage. At this point, our influence is so widespread that virtually any rock band you go see live is doing the KISS show. The only thing they can never be is KISS. Anybody with money can buy pyro, can buy lasers, but you can never be us. So for us to come into Las Vegas, weíll set a different level honestly.
Itís an amazing thing for us to be able to go into a smaller venue and not downsize. Usually going into a smaller venue means doing a smaller show, but because this show isnít portable and because this show is a permanent installation, we can do things that we couldnít when you have to break the show down every night.
With 40 years as a group, do you ever sit and chat with Gene and try to dissect or wonder why you got this extraordinary four-decade life as a top rock group?
I think we understand why because we have a work ethic. We do something that we are passionate about and take a lot of pride in. We donít bow to anyone else other than to our own desires. Weíve never been a band who lived within the boundaries or other peopleís perceptions of who we should be or whatís credible or not credible or whatís rock and roll and whatís not rock and roll.
Winning and living on your own terms is rock and roll, and we are that and then some. Gene and I take a lot of pride in what we do. We respect the fans to the utmost. We started this band to be the band we never saw. A band that would respect an audience.
We understand that when you pay for a ticket, you deserve the best. You deserve to get something for your money in the same way as when you go to the market. If youíre going to pay, you donít want to walk out with an empty sack.
Weíve always been very clear that we are not only a musical band, but we are entertainers. In our case, weíre in a unique position of being more than any other band in the sense that one might see us as Superman with a guitar. Weíre superheroes.
Weíre four iconic images who are known around the world. People know KISS no matter where you take our photo, although they might not know the individual members. Weíve always been clear on what we are and what weíre not.
Itís meant, though, 40 years of putting on this extraordinary makeup. Do you still love doing it, or do you sometimes wish you could just go on and play without it?
Iíve done both, and honestly this is the uniform to my way of thinking the only band I would ever want to be in. I wear it with incredible pride. Forty years of doing this means 40 years of being victorious. Every time I step up onstage with the makeup on, itís a victory lap. I mean this is extraordinary. Weíre not a rock band; weíre a phenomenon. Rock bands make music; phenomenons impact society.
Does it change your persona under the makeup?
Itís only appropriate that my persona is magnified in order for me to communicate to 20,000 people. If I spoke the way you and I are speaking now, it would be lost to most. So I am 20,000 times this and then some. I want everybody at our arena gigs and our stadium gigs, and now at the Joint, I want everybody to feel that Iím talking to them because I am.
Everybody to the last seat in the last row is as important as the people in the front. My personality gets magnified, amplified and taken to a different level just so that the intensity and the intimacy that you and I might have is something that everybody in the venue will experience.
Your fans today must range from hardcore fans from 40 years ago and a whole new legion of youngsters, right?
Yeah, I think weíre three or four generations into this at this point, and itís gone beyond being a band. Coming to a KISS concert is like going to a tribal meeting. This is a tribe at this point. Most bands are very demographic specific and most bands have a select age group who come to see them.
Most rock bands, if you go to the show, you donít want your younger brother to show up, you donít want your parents there, you donít want your neighbor there. Itís yours and your contemporaries. With KISS, itís very different. Itís like the largest cult in the world, and everybody whoís there is in it together. We have parents bringing their kids. We have three generations showing up. Weíll have people holding their children up kind of like a rite of passage.
Parents want their kids to experience what they did. I take a tremendous amount of pride in that and see this as a huge responsibility. I take a lot of pride sometimes in addressing the children in the audience and saying we were there for your parents, and weíll be there for you. This is much bigger than Gene or I or anyone else. I take great pride in believing that the band will outlive me.
In terms of rock and roll, Motley Crew is calling it quits on its current world tour. Are you saying KISS will not call it quits and go on maybe with other musicians?
Oh, totally; absolutely. We are unlike any other band. We are closer to an army. We are closer to a sports team. Iím not foolish enough to think that Iím the only person to do what I do. The Yankees continued without Babe Ruth. Time marches on, and if youíre part of a movement or part of a commitment to a cause, then when youíre time is done Ö look, if you fall in battle, someone picks up your gun and runs.
Somebody has to carry the flag, and thatís what KISS is about. KISS is about a lifestyle and self-empowerment and going against the odds and believing in yourself. I guess enjoying the fruits of hard work. Thatís not singular to me. People who said that was not possible in terms of KISS are already 50 percent wrong. The lineup is now 40 years on, and two of the members are not the original members, but they are far better at this point than the original members.
Are you still a part-time Las Vegas resident?
I still have my place there, and I would say regardless of whether I have a residence in Las Vegas, I love Las Vegas. My wife and I go in just to see a show and have some great meals. My friend Julian Serrano is one of my favorite chefs arguably in the world. Between him and everybody else whoís there at this point, I have to go to Las Vegas to get a great meal. I canít get it in Los Angeles.
So walking in here to Vince Neilís hometown, and he has started the Las Vegas Outlaws, first tell me are you pleased that heís got an Arena Football League expansion team? And are you ready for the L.A. Kiss to whip the Las Vegas Outlaws?
I have to say a long time ago I stopped looking at competition. The only person I compete with is myself. I donít really see the idea that Las Vegas is Vinceís town; itís also Carrot Topís town.
I understand. The rivalry has started.
I wish Vince the best. We will see how things unfold.
You must be pleased, though, with the expansion of the Arena Football League coming to Las Vegas.
I think at this point the Arena Football League has so much to offer. Itís an experience unlike anything else. The intensity of the game and the intimacy of it that is played out so close to you that literally you can wind up with a player in your lap. There are no sidelines, and the game plays very quickly and aggressively.
I think people have a lot of misinformation about what these players are. These are not third-rate players; these are the upper 1 percent of players available. Thereís only so much room in the NFL, so these are great players, and itís a terrific sport. Iím proud to be a part of it. I won a championship in the AFL and love making it into what it should be.
How did the L.A. Kiss do this year?
Oh we did horrifically. Now mind you that was the teamís performance, but in terms of tickets, weíre the envy of everyone in the league. We had 8,000 season-ticket holders, and weíre already scheduled to have more than that for 2015. To be an expansion team and to be in the position that we were, we may have been a bit naive in believing that we could go from 0 to 60, so to speak.
We have some ground to make up, but in terms of delivering entertainment, everybody loved the games. Even with the games we lost, we had great dancers, we have live music, we have pyro. Itís just football, and what attracted us to the AFL was the potential that it could be so much more than it is.
If weíre raising the bar, so be it. Every team thatís coming in, whether itís Vinceís or anyone elseís, itís going to have to stand tall because weíre setting a standard that has not been seen yet in the AFL.
So who wins ultimately? The fans. And thatís true at the Hard Rock for November. Weíll deliver the win for the fans.