In 1990 I was writing and editing for a Bay Area music magazine, The Informant, for my old friend Andy Hernandez. It was a heady time for me getting to write about what I loved and interview those I admired, and there was no bigger moment for me at the time than talking with my lifetime heroes, Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons of KISS. As a new year begins it always seems to lead us to reflection. So here we are some 23 years later, and I have decided to reprint one of my very first interviews. It is interesting to look back now and see how much things changed in the following years. Call it nostalgia or re-living the glory days, it still puts a smile on my face. I hope you enjoy it too.
Four score and some two-dozen gold and platinum albums ago, Gene Simmons, (bass, vocals) and Paul Stanley (guitar, vocals) created KISS and rock and roll has never been the same! It’s been nearly two full decades now since Paul and Gene created the concept that made them as legendary as The Beatles. KISS released a total of 15 albums from 1974 through the end of the decade. Two albums a year including their two iconic live albums, plus their mass release of four solo albums in 1978.
Since the end of their first 10 years , fellow originators Peter Criss (drums) and Ace Frehley (guitar) have moved on to pursue other endeavors–though none quite so successfully as their rock and roll birthright. The 80s saw eleven more records and the removal of their trademark make-up and wild costumes. It also saw Peter’s throne filled by Eric Carr who, after auditioning for the gig, asked the guys for autographs thus sealing his fate as the newest KISS skin pounder. Ace’s shoes, however, were not so glamorously filled.
First came Vinnie Vincent who lasted two tours and one album before being replaced for not being a team player. Next came Mark St. John who lasted one album and no tours. Mark was stricken by a malady, Reiter’s Syndrome, a form of arthritis, which made his arms and hands swell, making it impossible for him to play. He performed half of a concert before being replaced by Bruce Kulick. Bruce is the brother of guitarist Bob Kulick who played incognito on certain KISS productions as well as Paul’s ’89 solo tour, and also auditioned for KISS before the band selected Ace. Bruce fit the bill and has been around for four albums now. KISS and their label Polygram have just signed for seven albums. I’d say it’s likely Bruce ain’t going anywhere.
The latter 80s showed us that Gene makes an awfully good bad guy, a part he played to perfection in several movies, most notably “Runaway” and “Wanted Dead of Alive”. As well, Paul took time out last year to do a small solo tour in several clubs on the east and west coasts.
This brings us forward to 1990 and the release of their newest studio album, “Hot In The Shade” which has already spawned three hit singles; “Hide Your Heart”, “Forever”. and the most recent, “Rise To It”. The latter has a matching video where Paul and gene recreate their made-up pasts, if only momentarily. These are just three of the fifteen songs on the new album which currently has the band on a national tour with Slaughter and Winger. I caught up with Paul and gene in Hunstville, Alabama to get the lowdown from two of rock’s most articulate and prolific legends.
Paul Stanley & Gene Simmons August 16, 1990 Interview
It’s been two dozen albums for KISS. Did you think it would go this far?
Gene Simmons: “You know, you just put it in a way that I’ve never heard before. It’s interesting: You’re right, two dozen. You know when you first start out and you’re doing things and you’re full of confidence you think ‘oh yeah, it’ll last forever.’ The fact that in our case it happens to be so I guess is just one of those things. I thought when we were doing our first album, ‘That’s it, just Earth and KISS and they’re gonna last as long as each other.'”
Paul Stanley: “You know the truth is when we first started the band there were no bands that had been together 17 years. It wasn’t a concept that anybody had thought about. When we first got together The Beatles were gone and the Stones hand been together 10 years maybe. So that seemed like an eternity. But i didn’t think anybody could comprehend the idea of being together 17 years. This has turned into a way of life as opposed to a band.”
Gene: “KISS is KISS, and KISS is like air. It’s not something I have a choice in. It’s something I need.”
Gene: “No, it’s not the same. It’s the same pleasure but it can never be the same because whenever you do something for the first time it’s going to be unique. And it’s never going to be as unique as the first time. So certainly that first album, that first tour, that first girl–you know, losing your virginity and so on, is unique. But that doesn’t mean you don’t enjoy it afterwards.”
Paul: “As long as the challenge is there, the rush is there. You’re constantly competing, but you’re not competing against other people. You’re competing against yourself. The rush is always there. I quite honestly spend a lot of time every day thinking about the next album.”
KISS has just signed on to do seven more albums…
Paul: “Something like that. Who’s counting? We take it a step at a time. We never look that far into the future, but it’s nice to know that somebody else does.”
Gene: “We intend to make that very first critic that said KISS won’t last a week, choke on his own words. Right before he dies, when he’s ninety years old, we hope of old age, he’s gonna go, ‘Oh my God, did I blow it.’ And then he dies.”
If KISS had stayed the pattern, with three studio albums, then a live album, you’d be recording “Alive 5” now. Where’s ‘Alive III’?
Paul: What happened is , to make sure we didn’t fall into that situation where every sequel becomes worse than the sequel before it, which is usually what happens with films, we’ve been reluctant just to release ‘Alive III‘ unless we felt it was going to be everything ‘Alive II‘ and ‘Alive!‘ were. That’s a lot to live up to.We want to make sure that it’s more than just another live album. We’re certainly going to do it, but I don’t see it coming until after the next studio album.”
Gene: “We don’t like to do patterns. As soon as we start seeing a pattern happening we break it. KISS wasn’t supposed to do ballads so at the very beginning of our career we did a ballad. We weren’t supposed to use symphony orchestras, so we did, right away. We were supposed to wear make-up, so we took it off. And we were supposed to do a third live album at a certain point, so we didn’t do it. But we will in the future at some point. Everything will come, but not when people expect it. Otherwise, where’s the surprise? If you know what you’re going to be getting for your birthday present, then what’s the big deal?
Paul: Sure. I mean there’s so many. Beating the odds, and beating the system, and continuing on has been not so much a goal as a commitment. That just keeps going. We keep moving forward. Before this tour we felt real strongly that we wanted to do a ‘KISS SHOW’. And I mean that all in capital letters. Nowadays it’s easy to see a KISS show. The only thing missing is KISS. We just figured ‘hell,why not do what no one else can do?’ That was the goal and this show, every time I see it, and every time I’m out there, it feels like home. It feels like your favorite pair of cowboy boots. It just feels like it fits right. I really have a tremendous drive and commitment to seeing KISS achieve some thing that we haven’t yet. This is by far and away the best KISS show in the past decade. We’re doing twenty some odd songs and we’re onstage for over two hours. There’s enough pyro, lasers and smoke to cause most people’s circuits to overload. It’s pretty high intensity stuff.
There are certain things that we haven’t done yet. I still want to do an album I think tops ‘Destroyer‘. That’s really what I want to do next.
Do you ever get melancholy of miss the original line-up, or the make-up and the boots?
Gene: “Honestly, no. That was then and this is now. I’m sure we can ask caterpillars how they feel about being butterflies now. Do they miss being caterpillars? Evolution is a normal process and if you don’t accept the process of evolving, then you become boring. It’s just the same old song and dance and I didn’t want to do that. Besides, a moving target is harder to hit.”
Paul: “Things change for a reason. Things, to my way of thinking, always change for the better. And if things were so good they would remain as they were. So no, I never get melancholy at all. I can’t imagine, nor would I want to go back.
The boots, and the outfits and the make-up–that’s something real, real special. It’s almost mystical and magic. It was a very, very powerful and special time. I look back on it with incredible respect and fondness. Putting on the outfit and make-up for that piece in ‘Rise To It‘ was pretty amazing. It was really the closest thing to getting in a time machine and getting to relive a bit of the past. Some of those clothes I hadn’t put on in 15 years. So there’s something real magical about putting something on that has history. It was fabulous and I’m real proud to have been a part of that. But I certainly have no desire nor would I ever be a part of a nostalgia show.
Rumors have it that the originals will do a reunion tour…
Paul: “Yeah, and Mickey Mantle’s gonna play for the Yankees.”
You’ve done a lot of speaking out on censorship and the PMRC.
Gene: “The thing with the PMRC is, women get it once a month and you just have to get out of their way…(pause)…get it? PMS-it’s a joke. (laughs) Unfortunately these people, I think, are well-meaning. but anybody with a silly name like Tipper Gore oughta be ashamed of themselves. That’s like being grown up and calling yourself Bubba. You see a 50-year-old man walking around saying, ‘Hi, my name is Bubba’. Here’s a woman who’s grown up with kids going, ‘Hi, my name is Tipper.’ So I don’t question anybody’s motives in bringing crosses to our concerts and telling me I can’t sing lyrics like ‘Lick it Up’. The motive is good. The motive is, ‘Gee I’m concerned about my kids or the American way of life’ or whatever. But actually going through with these motives is dangerous because in America it limits my rights to express myself any way I want. It’s just un-American. You’re not allowed in this country to tell anyone who to pray to, what to say or anything. We’re allowed free speech. There are a lot of records that I think are in horrible, but I don’t have the right to stop them. I see a lot of religious programs on television that I think are an abomination to God, to mankind, to anybody you pray to or don’t. But I don’t have the right to tell them not to talk. It’s real dangerous stuff.
If people want to label rock albums and lyrics as being too sexy, then I think you ought to start with the bible. There’s some pretty sexy stuff there, and it’s a very violent book. If people are willing to give the bible an X rating, then I’ll take it.
Is there a song on the new album that is particularly close to your heart?
Gene: “I like ‘Betrayed‘ because it started off as a straight ahead rock song and I was complaining one day about how you grow up believing that lawyers, policemen and firemen are supposed to be above graft and greed and all this stuff, and then I read some stuff about some of my ‘heroes’ and found they weren’t as squeaky clean as I thought, and I was just kind of like, ‘Wow, I’ve been betrayed by my heroes and stuff.’ And the song really took a turn. I figured out, look what have I got to complain about? I’m not the only one. The same laws of nature apply to everybody. Everybody’s gotta figure it out for themselves. So the story became a bout a guy who felt that life had betrayed him and the point of the song was really that, when you look at things in perspective, you haven’t been crucified, so what’s so bad? You’re betrayed but you’re not the only one. In other words, things aren’t so bad.
Paul: “I like ’em all. I like ‘Silver Spoon‘ a lot. I also like ‘Forever’ a lot. ‘Forever‘, obviously when you have a hit it means a lot of other people connect with the song, and if they do, obviously that makes you feel that you hit the nail on the head….or with your head.”
Speaking of ‘Forever’, Paul, how did you end up writing with Michael Bolton, and what’s the story behind the acoustic guitar solo?
Paul: “I’ve known Michael for a long, long time. Despite what Michael is doing now, he used to be a real rock ‘n’ roller. (Trivia fans take note: Bruce Kulick used to play with Michael in a band called Blackjack some years ago). And there’s no denying the guy can sing. We always stayed at the same hotel in L.A., and we would always sit around, and we would spend a lot of time sitting outside and talking and joking around. And in between that we’d say, ‘Hey, we’ve gotta write sometime.’ And I said, ‘Sometime, is now.’ So we went inside and grabbed two guitars and wrote ‘Forever‘.
(The solo)— Bruce had an electric solo worked out and he usually prepares ahead of time and really works out his solos, which is great. But he came in and he played this solo which was good but it wasn’t unique and I said, ‘How about trying an acoustic solo?’ And he laughed. And I said, ‘I’m serious.” And then he got furious. I looked at him and I said, here’s the acoustic guitar’ and I put it down and walked out of the room. And it didn’t take him long. I was thinking somewhere along the lines of ‘Thank You‘ from the second Zeppelin album. It’s really a pivotal thing in the song. It makes the song more unique and special.”
What’s the next step for KISS?
Gene: “I don’t have a clue. This is like a tornado. The purpose of a tornado is to spin around and have a lot of fun and raise hell pretty much. It goes every which way and everything better get out of its way. All I know is that we’re having a good time and what it all means, I don’t know. I’m not sure it needs to mean anything more than we’re enjoying life to its fullest. We’re gonna continue forward doing what we’re doing: Too put on the best shows we can and make the best records we van. The overall battle plan? I don’t have a clue. It’s going to be as much a surprise to me as it is to you. It’s all about whims dreams and whatever it is I want to do. I’m gonna roll up my sleeves and go do it. Even if that means I want to hang up my rock and roll shoes and go climb Mt. Everest.”