During the ’70s, KISS captured the attention of teenagers worldwide, appearing on lunchboxes and as action figures—all while selling millions upon millions of records.
After longer than four decades, the band remains a big deal. KISS will be performing at Morongo Casino Resort and Spa on Sunday, Oct. 30.
KISS was truly innovative, with four distinct and powerful personalities in its early days. In fact, all four members recorded their own solo albums in 1978. During a recent phone interview, frontman and guitarist Paul Stanley said that when KISS first started out, those strong and different personalities led to some difficult times—which in turn led to the departure of both Ace Frehley and Peter Criss. Original member Gene Simmons, of course, remains in the band.
“I think initially what propelled the band in the beginning was the combustibility of the band,” Stanley said. “The four of us were all so different, but that caused the danger of imploding or exploding. At some point, the chemistry had to change to have the band continue. The thought ‘all for one and one for all’ is great—until it’s not ‘all for one.’ When priorities and egos get out of hand, then, unfortunately, you have to pick a side, and for me, that side is always KISS. If something is a risk to the band, then there needs to be a change.”
KISS has become a huge business and has gone beyond the lunchboxes, pinball machines and action figures. Over the years, the band’s image and name have graced credit cards lottery cards, slot machines and even caskets: Yes, there’s an official KISS casket, in which Dimebag Darrell of Pantera was buried.
When I asked Stanley whether the business side of things takes away from the art side, he was clearly annoyed by the query.
“Maybe a journalist would think so,” Stanley said. “I don’t think so, and the fans don’t. Speaking as objectively as I can, there are people who perhaps like the merchandise, and that’s terrific. There are also people who like the music and don’t like the merchandise.
“A band ultimately can only survive on being a band. If your music isn’t any good, the engine isn’t there. What we do is propelled by being an incredible live band. When people come to see us, I have to say that it, in many ways, is a drive. The people coming to see us are not about demographics. This is the world’s largest cult. It’s really about the people who believe in the same thing, and KISS as a band is life-affirming, and believes in self-empowerment and celebrating life. This is much more timeless than some bands who have fallen by the wayside singing about saving the whales. Everything has its place, but there is a lot of truth in simplicity. What we were once lambasted for in terms of subject matter has stood the test of time, while other things have fallen by the wayside. Merchandising getting in the way of what we do? No! If it ever did, it would be pushed aside. But the two can co-exist very easily.”
Stanley noted that many of KISS’ critics have fallen by the wayside, too.
“I remember early on when some critics would talk about … sliding across the stage or dancing on the piano,” he said. “For us to do it, (that showmanship) was something that was lacking. Those journalists have been recruited into other jobs at this point, if they were lucky, or they’ve fallen off the map. Our success speaks for itself. You can’t thrive for 40 years unless you have something valid to offer.”
Paul Stanley is 64 years old and has had hip-replacement surgery; he’s hinted that a second surgery may be in his future. When I asked how much longer he thinks he can continue his over-the-top stage performances, he implied that he has no plans to slow down.
“It’s far less challenging after a hip replacement. When we’re injured, that’s the issue,” Stanley said. “When we are lucky enough to have medical science or medicine heal us, we’re that much better for it. Twenty-five years ago, I did shows with cracked ribs. That’s just par for the course. I’m Superman with an electric guitar. I’m a superhero; I’m an athlete; and I’m all of those things. I’m in uncharted territory. What I do is unlike anything else. You don’t see basketball players at my age or football players at my age. The rock musicians you see at my age are ready for the rocking chair—and not the rocking music.”
Stanley said his short run as the Phantom in Phantom of the Opera in 1999 in Toronto as an example of his work ethic.
“It was one of the most gratifying and satisfying things I’ve ever done creatively,” he said. “It took enormous discipline and was a completely different technique of singing. In theater, you don’t get to complain about your pinky hurting or showing up late. Rock musicians are a bunch of wusses. You need to go into the theater to see the discipline of being consistent and working toward a high bar, which is a great lesson for everyone. Honestly, for me, it was exactly what I expected, and to attain that was an incredible amount of work. I was getting standing ovations every night.”
I asked what non-original members Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer bring to the table and the creative process.
“They are as much a part of this as Gene (Simmons) and I,” he said. “They are part of the heart and soul of this band. They are part of the passion of this band and the integrity of what we do. Every night, I just look around the stage and think this is the band I wanted us to be: Four people who take incredible pride in what they do and want the band to be better. If you make the band bigger, you make yourself bigger. Creatively, Eric is one of the great drummers in rock ’n’ roll. He’s played with everyone from Brian May to Bono to Gary Moore to Tony Iommi. He’s phenomenal. Tommy just blows people away from other bands when they see them. To have these guys ride in this band and in its history is worth its weight in gold. There’s nobody in this band who is a sideman. Everybody in this band pulls their weight and makes everyone work harder.”
Stanley said fans who have been hoping for another KISS reunion with Frehley and Criss—hopes buoyed by Stanley’s appearance on Frehley’s 2016 album, Origins, Vol. 1—need to know it’s not going to happen.
“No, and I find myself at a loss for words there,” he said. “Ace and Peter were part of what made this band possible, and they’re also part of the reason that they couldn’t remain in the band. The band couldn’t survive with them. At this point, I’ve been playing with Eric Singer for over 20 years, and Tommy has been in the band for 13 years. There’s no reason to go backward. I played on Ace’s last album and shot a video with him, and it’s been great to have him in my life. That is more than good enough, and that is a terrific thing in itself.”
The band starts off its live shows with an announcement saying, “You wanted the best; you got the best,” and Stanley promises nothing short of greatness for the upcoming show at Morongo.
“We just did 40 shows in 10 weeks, which is pretty mind-boggling and would be a challenge for anyone to do,” he said. “The band has never sounded better. The band is phenomenal; the setlist is great, and we are everything that you’ve heard and more. We hit the stage every night, not to live up to expectations, but to blow them out of the water, and that’s what we do.”
KISS will perform at 8 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 30, at Morongo Casino Resort and Spa, 49500 Seminole Drive, in Cabazon. Tickets are $100 to $150. For more information, call 800-252-4499, or visit www.morongocasinoresort.com.