Kiss Guitarist Paul Stanley Talks Ace Frehley, Peter Criss and Being Ignored by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Maybe it’s the makeup. Maybe it’s the merchandising. Maybe, at the end of the day, it’s just the music itself.
Whatever the source, it is safe to say that few bands have inspired as much fervent devotion—and also rabid derision—as the self-proclaimed “Hottest Band in the World,” Kiss.
But love them or hate them (and really, is there any area in between?), Kiss—and in particular its stalwart co-founders, visionaries and greatest proponents and protectors, Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons—continue to not only exist but also scale greater heights.
Here we are in 2014, and the band, now roughly 10 lineups in with current guitarist Tommy Thayer and drummer Eric Singer, are experiencing yet another renaissance.
Their most recent (and 20th) studio album, Monster, was an unusually strong effort, more energetic and enjoyable than should reasonably be expected from any band at this stage of its career. Meanwhile, on the live front, Kiss continue to push the limits of just how much of an over-the-top spectacle a rock and roll show can truly be (for evidence, check out videos of recent performances that feature their newly designed Spider stage).
But 2014 is also offering up another nice pair of victories for the band. This year marks Kiss’ 40th anniversary (their self-titled debut was released in February 1974), and in April, Stanley and Simmons, along with former, and now estranged, original members Ace Frehley and Peter Criss, will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
To celebrate these dual milestones, Guitar World met separately with Stanley and Simmons at their Los Angeles homes to discuss just a few of the many triumphs and tribulations that led the band here.
Additionally, they were asked to examine the inner workings of their unique partnership as well as to offer a few candid thoughts on the many guitarists that have passed through Kiss’ ranks, from Frehley to Thayer and everyone in between. (As for the ones that almost made it? That list includes Eddie Van Halen…depending on who you ask.)
Which is not to say that Stanley and Simmons, now 62 and 64, respectively, have much time these days for reflection. A week before meeting with Guitar World, both, along with Thayer and Singer, were in Milan for Fashion Week, walking the runway in full makeup with designer John Varvatos.
A few days after our talks they were back in their gear, playing “Rock and Roll All Nite” in front of more than 50,000 people at Dodger Stadium for the NHL’s first-ever outdoor hockey game in California. The next week brought a trip to Maui to open the newest location of the Simmons/Stanley restaurant chain, Rock & Brews. And in April, Stanley will release his excellent, and refreshingly candid, autobiography, Face the Music: A Life Exposed (HarperCollins).
Finally, come the summer, Kiss will likely be back out on the road, once again playing to sheds packed full of several generations of screaming fans—the very same ones that Stanley and Simmons have always publicly credited with keeping the band going through their many ups and downs. And, just maybe, Stanley reasons, those fans had more than a little to do with Kiss finally becoming Hall of Famers. “At some point,” he says, perhaps also summing up the band’s raison d’être, “you just can’t ignore the roar of the crowd.”
GUITAR WORLD: Congratulations on your long-awaited Hall of Fame induction. Along with Rush, who were inducted last year, there is possibly no other band that has been both as successful in music and as ignored by the Hall as Kiss.
But to ignore somebody with the kind of fervor that we’ve been ignored, that’s clearly a conscious decision. For better or worse, that’s not being ignored at all. When it happens year after year, that’s a choice. But on the other side of it, to me rock and roll has always been about doing what you want to do and ignoring not only your critics but also your peers.
For 40 years, we’ve rarely wavered from that. So I would have to say that the same criteria that has kept us out of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is the same criteria that now has gotten us inducted into it.
The debate over whether or not Kiss deserved to be in the Hall of Fame was in a way a microcosm of a larger and much longer-running argument about Kiss’ artistic merits in general. The classic “Kiss Army vs. the Critics” battle, if you will.
But ultimately, who gives a shit about the critics? To pontificate or pass judgment on what’s good or bad, I leave that to the audience. And let me say this: the makeup and the stage show have never been there to cover anything up; it’s there to embellish and enhance what we do. I’ve seen us onstage without any makeup, I’ve seen us play in a club setting. We’ve got the goods. If some people are turned off by the way we look, that’s their prerogative.
One thing that has always struck me is that, for how flamboyant and over-the-top the Kiss image was right from the start, it was also incredibly focused and direct.
Even though the characters were diverse, the fact is that the image was always cohesive. One guy isn’t wearing red leather and the next guy is in a silk suit. There’s a color scheme. There’s a unity. Growing up, what I loved about all the British bands was that group unity.
For the most part, the guys in one band would have never looked right in another band—you couldn’t take one of the Stones and put him in the Beatles. I also think that what made it ring true for a lot of people is that it was deeper than paint. We’ve always worn what we feel as a second skin, whereas other bands might have thought, Get a silly outfit and a big logo and you can be Kiss.
Even before Kiss, you and Gene were playing around with the concept of having alter egos. Back when you both were in Wicked Lester, you considered dressing up as a cowboy, and Gene was going to be a caveman. Not quite as compelling, character-wise, as the Starchild and the Demon.
Well, I don’t think anybody hits a homerun the first time they’re at bat. If they do it’s luck, and then they don’t hit another. Gene and I knew where we wanted to go, but we weren’t quite sure how to get there. We were groping in the dark. At the beginning of Kiss, for one show I think I had a red face and Gene was in a sailor suit. So there was an evolution, only in hyper speed. It didn’t take years—it took months, weeks.