Gene Simmons: "Consider This The First of a Series of Encores"
Saturday, August 2, 2003 @ 11:58 AM
Simmons and Paul Stanley Expla
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KISS’ Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley explain to Billboard Magazine why they are still touring after their “Farewell Tour,” and how “more than one person can play on a team, wear a certain uniform and help win the game.”
NEW YORK (Billboard) - Critics have despised them for three decades, and they've never had a No. 1 single or album on the Billboard charts. Yet no American band has earned as many gold records (24 and counting), and any rock fan on the planet can sing along to the group's signature hit, "Rock and Roll All Nite."
So how has Kiss, a band many initially dismissed as a novelty act, endured for so long? According to former schoolteacher Gene Simmons and one-time taxi driver Paul Stanley, the answer is simple: by ignoring their detractors and listening to their fans.
Kiss has had a total of 10 members during the course of its career; only Simmons and Stanley have been aboard for every second of the group's 30-year journey. With a new album, new label and new tour on the horizon, the band is preparing for its biggest year since its original lineup reunited for the top-grossing tour of 1996.
Thirty years in, how do you keep it fresh?
Paul Stanley: I think the key is that it continues to be a challenge for us. As long as there are mountains to climb and we decide to climb them, there's no reason that this can't continue.
Two years ago, we finished a farewell tour and at that point felt we weren't sure that we had anything more to do as a live entity. But when certain things come your way--be it the Kiss Symphony or the Kiss/Aerosmith tour--you realize that there are still challenges ahead. And when those challenges are fun for you, the results are going to be fun for other people.
Gene Simmons: It's about getting up there and showing whether or not you're worth your mettle. It's one thing to have a 30-year career, but after all the verbiage is done, you're only as good as your last fight. You can be yesterday's champion, but when you get in the ring, you've got to prove it--which is why we continue to introduce ourselves with, "You wanted the best, you got the best--the hottest band in the world." That's not so much wind and bluster as a challenge to ourselves. If you care about what you do, then you rise to the occasion.
Before you get up onstage, the idea is, "Are you as good as you say you are? Let's see what you've got." Because the people sitting in those seats, who jump to their feet and on top of those seats when we get up onstage, are expecting the very best.
Stanley: Our touring schedule took us to areas that other bands wouldn't go. You don't choose where you're born, and you don't have to make an apology for living where you do. It's our job, and it always has been, to come visit you.
We used to show up in towns where people would say, "What are you doing here?" And we would say, "You're here, and that's why we're here. We're here to play." It really comes down to loving what we do. We're not only members of this band, but we're huge fans. This band is the embodiment for us of everything that we never saw--and wanted to see--in a rock band. We've always been the fans in the audience who got up onstage and said, "Let us show you how it's supposed to be done."
How did this year's co-headlining tour with Aerosmith come about? Are you comfortable taking the stage before another act, no matter who it is?
Stanley: Regardless of when we go on, our job remains the same: to not only live up to people's expectations, but to surpass them. We can only be who we are, and the fact that somebody has to go on before somebody else is a moot point to us.
We've worked with Aerosmith to come up with a revolving stage that basically is for the fans, so there's no down time between the bands coming on. You have arguably the two biggest bands in America for the last 25 years, and somebody's got to go on first. For us, it was a no-brainer. This is about the event and about the two bands playing together.
Simmons: This is not Holyfield-Tyson. Nobody's here to fight and bite off anybody's ear. It's a mutual admiration society. The bands are friends; we've known each other 30 years.
Certainly, Aerosmith is the best of its kind. No one does what they do better. And we tend to think that there's nobody that does what we do better. Neither I nor Paul nor anybody in the band is going to run around, trying to do what Steven does. Likewise, nobody in that band is going to try to jump up in the air the way Paul does or stick out their tongue. The idea is that both bands are going to stay true to what they do best, which is to rock . . . in their own way.
I think the only real winners are going to be the fans. It's going to be great.
Stanley: The fact is that most bands, although very different, come from very similar roots. We all grew up with a passion for British music, for blues, for the first wave of the English Invasion, for early rock'n'roll. It's two different takes on the same influences. There is no rivalry here. This is allied forces, the best of the best getting together--and again, the winners are the fans. We're just thrilled to be a part of making this happen.
Simmons: There used to be a community of rock'n'roll. It wasn't about rivalry--you'd get up onstage and do your best. But then it became sour; maybe it's time to change that. This is going to be a great time. Best of all, it's going to be a great time for the fans.
There's already talk of extending the tour into 2004.
Stanley: The demand is so high, and rightfully so. I know Joe wanted to see this go as long as it could, and we're all of the same mind. There are a lot of people who see this as the tour of the year, and a lot of people want to see it. As long as everybody's enjoying themselves, that's the key to it--we always wind up going full-circle to "this has to be enjoyable." Fans know when you're having a great time, so as long as this is fun, we'll continue to do it. If it truly turned into the battle of the bands, we'd go home.
You decided not to go home after the end of your so-called Farewell tour.
Simmons: We always had a five-year plan once Peter and Ace rejoined the band, and then we were going to see what our options were and perhaps call it quits. We had every intention of finishing the show: "Thank you very much, and good night." But if the fans go nuts, you've got to come back and do encores. Consider this the first of a series of encores.
You both have solo records in the works, but will there ever be another Kiss studio album?
Simmons: We've all planted our seeds for the future, but we've got so much in front of us that it's difficult to think or talk about other stuff. It's unfair to what we've got on our plate. We've got the double-CD, "Kiss Symphony: Alive IV," the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra--all 70 pieces, in Kiss war paint--coming out, plus a big tour. For any band, that would be enough for a few years. It's true there are other projects in the works--there always are--and when it's time, we'll talk about them.
Stanley: When we did the reunion tour--putting the makeup back on and the original members--it was intimidating in the sense that we not only had to live up to what people saw and heard, but we had to live up to what people thought they saw and heard. We had to create the show that people remembered, which wasn't necessarily what happened. As with most legends, as time goes on, the fish gets bigger, the story gets larger. The legend of Kiss is daunting, and it casts a huge shadow. This is bigger than we are. At this point, there's no end in sight. But certainly, if we were going to go into the studio to do a Kiss album, the legacy is huge, and we'd want to be comfortable knowing that we would live up to it.
You recently signed a new deal with Sanctuary, which created two imprints for you--Kiss Records, for band releases, and Simmons Records, which Gene will oversee. Does it feel like a new beginning?
Stanley: It's a new beginning that's familiar, in that it's built on a great past. We've had some wonderful experiences over the last 30 years with record companies and with the people associated with them, but we found over the long haul that nobody really understands Kiss better than Kiss. That being said, the opportunity arose for us to part company on good terms with people that perhaps we had become too comfortable with, and vice versa, and find a chemistry with Merck and everybody at Sanctuary . . . the kind of chemistry that we remember at record companies 30 years ago.
You've always been very media-savvy. In the '70s, you worked closely with photographers to preserve the Kiss mystique, and you later used MTV very effectively, first to unmask in very public fashion and then as a catalyst for the 1996 reunion. How conscious was that?
Stanley: It goes back to us being fans of rock'n'roll, and particularly Kiss. I think that if you think as a fan and what a fan would like, we can hit 'em out of the park quite a few times. Some people talk about "using the media" in negative terms, but to us, the media is the conduit, the messenger and the direct line between us and the public, and it needs to be utilized as much as possible. Any time we can find a way to get our message across, what better way than the media? The fact that we may be more savvy at doing it is probably two-sided, but the most important part of it is that not only are we a band, but we also think like fans.
Simmons: If over the years we've been accused and/or lauded for our grand master marketing scheme, the only thing we know is that we do what feels right. I know that seems to be too simplistic an answer, but honestly, there is no master plan in front of us. Imagine yourself with one of those hammers in a freakhouse, and you know that game where the groundhogs keep popping their heads up? The only thing you can do is to keep swinging away, and sooner or later, you'll hit a few. Truth is, you'll miss lots of them, but the idea is to keep swinging. That's about as much of a master plan as we have. We just keep swinging.
Stanley: People say, "You're marketing geniuses," but if we can take credit for anything, it's that we listen to our fans. When you give somebody a T-shirt or a belt buckle that they wanted and it sells, it's odd to have people say, "My God, you're such a genius." Well, they told us they wanted it. All we had to do was listen and not pass judgment. We're not here to tell the fans what they should or shouldn't like, what is within the realm of being an "artist." We've never bought that line of thinking.
When we first took the Kiss Army nationwide and then worldwide as a fan club, it was very uncool, and we certainly received our share of negative press and hostile responses from journalists who believed that it was un-rock'n'roll to do something like that. We think just the opposite: We are here to serve the masses and to give them what they want; we're not here to tell them what is cool and what isn't. We'll leave that to them.
Simmons: When people talk about fans, they always talk about the Kiss Army. When one of our fans gets pissed off, they get pissed off royally: "How dare you change that lick!" But anybody who gets pissed off at you, from the right place--their heart. If somebody doesn't care about you, what do you care what they think?
You were initially criticized when you decided to continue the Farewell Tour with drummer Eric Singer wearing Peter Criss' Cat makeup. But when Tommy Thayer assumed the Spaceman role earlier this year, it didn't create as much of a stir.
Stanley: More than one person can play on a team, wear a certain uniform and help win the game. At this point, we've shown that more than one person can wear a persona. Every rule we've ever set for ourselves has been examined and questioned over time, and sometimes the answer has changed. Life teaches us that times change, and opinions and ideas go through changes. The concept that we started with is not the concept that will continue. That's why the dinosaur became extinct: It couldn't adapt. We are about always evolving and always reassessing who and what we are.
Simmons: Kiss has a working-man's ethic. is not a birthright. I don't deserve to be Kiss; Paul doesn't deserve to be Kiss; nobody deserves to be Kiss. This is something you work for, and you should work for it every night you get up onstage and prove it to people. Otherwise, you shouldn't be in the band. This is a privilege.
Stanley: When we first got together as a band, we were the Four Musketeers. We were going to live and die together, and it start with us and end with us. When it became clear that that wasn't to be--that people in the band had issues or agendas that were not in keeping with the band--we had to sit down and reassess and go, "Do we go home because someone doesn't want to play ball anymore, or do we get another member on the team?" At that point, we realized that the team was more important than the individual players.
We now see that people want the iconic version of Kiss more than they necessarily want who's under it. They want the Kiss image and what Kiss stands for, and that's not based solely upon who is wearing the uniform. Some of us are bigger mouthpieces than others, but the truth of the matter is that Kiss is a team, and the team is only as strong as its weakest member. We tend to make sure that we keep the level quite high.
Do you ever worry that the larger-than-life image of Kiss overshadows your recorded body of work?
Stanley: When people us, "Does it bother you that you might not be remembered for this, that or the other thing?" my rote response is, "When you win the lottery, you don't complain about taxes." We're blessed people. There's always the talk of whether your glass is half-empty or half-full, but ours is always overflowing. It's all in how you see things, and we are damn lucky guys.
Ultimately, people are buying music. If you ask our fans, that's what they will tell you also. Again, we're not that concerned with people who don't share that view. It's hard enough to give quality time to your friends; why waste time with people who don't like you?
Is success its own reward?
Simmons: We're not shy about being proud of our accomplishments because it's as much as a shock to us perhaps as it is to people. But here we are--perhaps not the darlings of critics, yet if you check with the, the No. 1 gold record champion, group category, in American history is Kiss. It blows us away. It would certainly be a medal that anybody would be proud to wear.
Stanley: The rewards are great, but as much fun as we have doing this, it's still something that takes a tremendous amount of work and time to shape and pick a direction. It doesn't happen on its own. Most of the things that we do . . . we believe in them 100%.
Simmons: Not all of us are right all the time. I'm certainly wrong a lot of the time, and there's a kind of chemistry within the band--a no-bullshit attitude. I'm often drilled a new asshole by Paul in particular, who'll say, "What are you doing?" That's important to have, and it's important to keep your eyes and ears and heart open, because you know what? Maybe I'm wrong. goes everybody in the band; you've got have that kind of attitude.
Looking back, what would you name as the high point in Kiss' career?
Simmons: We rehearsed in a loft at 10 East 23rd St. It was only 10 blocks to 33rd Street and Madison Square Garden, and it took us about a year-and-a-half to go 10 blocks. That's how we thought of it. I walked through the front door of Madison Square Garden when we first played there, and I walked through the empty seats and just stood in the middle and soaked it all in. Then I went backstage with the guys, put the makeup on and went back and got up onstage. It's kind of a mythic rite of passage, because I think we all are--and clearly, I am--the fans that became the band.
Stanley: I remember as a cab driver dropping people off at Madison Square Garden to see Elvis Presley, assuming that one day a cab driver would be dropping someone off to see me.
In part, your quick rise can be credited to your vigorous recording schedule, as your first three studio albums were released within a 13-month span.
Stanley: We've always been extremely driven. Critics may see that ambition as contrary to what rock'n'roll is. We wanted to be the biggest band in the world; if you didn't like the first album, we'll write you a second one.
After our second album was out and we were playing Santa Monica Civic with Jo Jo Gunne as the headliner, Neil Bogart came backstage and surprised us with, "The album is finished. It's not selling anymore. I need you to go back to New York and record another album." Your first album is usually your easiest, because you had your whole life to write it. Your second is difficult, though, because you either have a few leftover tunes or you start from scratch.
What do you feel is the best song you've ever written?
Stanley: I could look at "What's the smartest song I've written?" or "Which has the best changes?" But I think that, at the end of the day, to write a rock anthem like "Rock and Roll All Nite," which really became the template for rock'n'roll anthems . . .
When I came up with the chorus for "rock and roll all night, and party every day," I knocked on Gene's door and said, "I think I've got it, this so-called anthem we need." Gene came and said, "Well, I have this song, 'Drive Us Wild.' " We put them together and lo and behold had a song that spawned a whole viewpoint, which was writing a song that embodied the philosophy of the band and the people who love the band. That's heady stuff.
Are there better-written songs? It depends on your definition. But "Rock and Roll All Nite" is the fans' anthem and the song that we'll always be most remembered for--and rightfully so.
Kiss has never had a No. 1 record, but you've sold some 80 million albums worldwide.
Stanley: We've never pandered to the critics. If we've ever made that mistake, we've paid for that dearly. We've constantly reminded ourselves, through our successes and our mistakes, that we are about pleasing our fans and pleasing ourselves. Our legacy will be written by the fans, not by the critics.