Dean Goodman of Reuters recently conducted an interview with KISS guitarist/vocalist Paul Stanley. A few excerpts from the chat follow below.
Reuters: For years and years, you were adamant about not doing a follow-up to "Psycho Circus". what changed?
Stanley: I think the band has become so, so strong live, with the lineup that's been stable for quite a while. I thought we had a great album in us. The only road block was my producing it. I wasn't interested in making another KISS album that was going to be confused, diffused or unfocused. It's very hard to be in the studio with four guys who have their own sense of what we should be doing and oftentimes unfortunately in the past we've had situations where people were more concerned with having their songs on the album rather than having the best songs on the album. Or dealing with lawyers when we should have been dealing with band members. It was not productive. There have been times in the past where outside songwriters have been involved, which allows some people to do less work, and perhaps for the band to lose part of its own identity and take on someone else's interpretation of who you are. First and foremost, I had to produce the album and that was agreed to pretty much immediately. Everyone was very gung-ho for that. It was very smooth sailing from there. I started thinking during the big run we did through Europe — I think we did 30 shows in 7 weeks and played to about 400,000 people — I began thinking we have a great album in us but somebody has to harness it.
Reuters: Are there diplomatic skills involved in telling Gene [Simmons] to move over so that you can take control?
Stanley: No. Gene and I have a terrific relationship and have for 40 years. The length of time speaks for itself. Whenever we've disagreed it's always been with the best interest of the band usually at the center. He certainly went along with it because he saw that I felt strongly about it. As time moved on quite quickly, I think he was a bit surprised at how productive a decision it was. I don't think we've ever had more fun, according to everybody in the band, working together making an album. Everybody was focused on making a great album, and somebody just had to be there to, every once in a while, remind everybody who we are and what we are, and not stray from that. I think in the studio democracy is very over-rated.
Reuters: I think in a band situation democracy is over-rated.
Stanley: It's certainly over-rated when you're dealing with people who are delusional in terms of what their contributions or abilities are. Thankfully we have a band where everybody is very focused on what's best for the band. But somebody needs to have final say, somebody needs to corral everything. It worked terrifically. That's why there's 11 songs on the album and there's no filler. Filler usually means somebody twisted your arm into putting something on the album that didn't belong there. There were no quotas on this album for songwriting, and it worked terrifically. So far, universally, the critics' take on the album is pretty spectacular.
Reuters: Which begs the question why didn't you do this a long time ago?
Stanley: I always believe that things happen when the time is right. Again, you can't underemphasize the lineup. The four of us made this album, and no one else could have made this album. We certainly couldn't have made it years ago. And "Psycho Circus", honestly, was a valiant attempt to make an album where there was pretty much no band. There was Gene and myself and attorneys phoning in, and people making demands with what they wanted, to come to the studio. It was like going into the ring with one arm tied behind your back. We did the best we could, but that was probably part of what soured us all on the idea of doing it again. But with this lineup, it was just a matter of direction and ground rules. It was effortless. All of us would agree it was the most fun and easiest time we've either had. We were either writing, rehearsing or recording. The whole recording process took us I think 6 weeks.
Reuters: This is the first record with five Simmons-Stanley co-writes (including 2 with the other guys) plus no outside songwriters?
Stanley: It was terrific. I was very adamant that for this album to be what it needed to be, Gene and I had to write together. He was hesitant, and I think it's because we both have had such a long time of basically doing things our way, which means doing things apart, and that doesn't necessarily yield the best results. What it yields is what the individual may want, but it's not necessarily for the better of the band. As soon as we started writing together that magic is there. But again it was about making a great album, not about furthering your ambition as an individual.
Reuters: When you say writing together, you mean sitting across from each other like we are now, holding guitars?
Stanley: Totally, totally, absolutely. Sitting like this. And it seemed like yesterday we had done it. It was either Gene and myself, Gene, Tommy [Thayer, guitar] and me, me and Tommy, Tommy and Gene. It was done like this, sitting with guitars. That's also why the music itself has such honesty because it's not a studio creation. Once we wrote it and rehearsed it we went in and recorded it, virtually live, all of us just like this looking at each other playing. That's been lacking and lacks with a lot of bands for a long time.
Reuters: As a producer, were you too deferential to Gene?
Stanley: That's funny, because Eric [Singer, drums] became worried when on a few tracks we had to do a third take. Almost the whole album was two takes, between first and second take. And the few songs that worried Eric were because we had to do a third and it was just kind of like as a safety. One has to remember that music we grew up loving was not made under a microscope. The music we grew up loving was made by people sweating and facing each other and playing. And not always perfectly. What made some of that Stax/Volt or Motown or James Brown or LED ZEPPELIN or BEATLES music so brilliant is the vitality and the fact that it's not perfect. The idea of creating music that you look at on a computer screen to see if it's good is insane. That's what we avoided on the album. The tenth take wouldn't be better than the second. If anything, it might be worse. Technically could it be better? Possibly. Would it be what we captured? No, we would have lost it.
Reuters: How has your relationship evolved over the years? Have there been times where you haven't spoken for long periods?
Stanley: Sure. And always knowing that neither one of us was going to go away. We get pissed off at each for all kinds of reasons, and nobody ever had the thought of not staying together. But I think the key to a good friendship is knowing the limitations and knowing what you can expect and not. Gene and I trust each other. I think we always know that anything we believe or any point of view is heartfelt. It's sincere and comes from the right place, even if it's misguided — like his sometimes his!
Reuters: If you look at people in other bands, like THE WHO, Daltrey and Townshend are not friends. they don't hang out .
Stanley: One of the things we have in common is a sense of work ethic. Hard work. And honesty with each other. We want very different things from life, I think that's fairly apparent. Gene literally lives two minutes from here. I've probably been to Gene's house four times in the last 10 years. Just because, just because.
Reuters: Do you watch his TV show?
Stanley: I've seen it a few times. It's good entertainment. If you're asking me if it's "reality" — it's fun to watch, and people enjoy it. More importantly, he enjoys it. He's blessed, as both of us are, that we can do what we love doing. The fact that outside of KISS it's completely different what we both pursue, is fine.
Reuters: He is in the limelight more than you are. did you ever feel at points that he's getting too much and you should be getting some more?
Stanley: Oh yeah. And at some point I just said, That's more draining than anything else. It's a drain on me to wrestle for a spotlight. Find your own spotlight. Maybe because he's an only child he's much more apt to use "I" or "me" than "we." I tend not to be that way. As I said, I threw his birthday party last week. We're very close as family, You can love your brother and not want to see him all the time.
Reuters: Why has KISS never really touched on socio-economic or political issues?
Stanley: There's nothing more embarrassing than seeing a celebrity who thinks that they got an IQ transplant with their fame. There's nothing more embarrassing than somebody standing on a soap box talking about things they know very little about. I don't want any part of that, and I don't want the band to have any part of that.
Reuters: But you're not stupid. you could write something fairly eloquent.
Stanley: Yeah, I think I've shown myself to be not stupid. But I'm smart enough to know where to draw the line. There's an old Chinese saying, "It's better to keep one's mouth closed and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt." I don't want to speak about things that I don't really think I'm qualified to. I don't want to be the guy that I see on TV who makes me uncomfortable. The actor or the musician, there are very, very few of them who really are qualified or know enough to be talking about the things they do. I've always shied away from that, and don't want the band to do things like that. Everybody needs to find their own way.
Reuters: Have you heard any feedback from Ace [Frehley] or Peter [Criss]?
Stanley: I haven't called to ask ... I spoke to Ace about 2 years ago, a year and a half ago. Peter, I haven't spoken to since I told him that he wouldn't be rejoining us (in 2004). That's quite a while ago.
Reuters: Have either of those guys expressed any regrets?
Stanley: The problem has always been that if you don't learn from your mistakes, you repeat them. It's interesting to have someone come back into the band and say. "I'm so thankful for a second chance. I'll never do that again." And then do it again. I guess that's human nature, You can tell that person, you can remind them of what they said, and it falls on deaf ears. In Ace's case, I'm just glad he's alive. He's celebrating sobriety. That's way more important than music. He's alive, and supposedly healthy and happy.
Reuters: Do you resent that they were millstones around KISS' neck?
Stanley: The band never could have been what it was without them.
Reuters: But they outlived their usefulness?
Stanley: I don't think they outlived their usefulness as much as I think people became delusional about what their contribution was or should be. Or what it entitled them to. This band couldn't be here today had it not been for the four original guys. That was the template and the foundation for everything that came after it. The problem was a cancer that just continued to grow from the very beginning.
Reuters: Will Tommy and Eric be there until the bitter end?
Stanley: I sure hope so. It's so great to have a band of guys who all love the band, and all want to do what's best for the band, as opposed to further themselves at the band's expense. The bigger the band is the bigger you are. And the better you are the bigger the band is. I want those guys to get as much spotlight, as much attention, as possible. It makes the band bigger and they deserve it. There's a real healthy relationship in the band, refreshingly so, and anybody who would kid themselves into believing that "Sonic Boom" could have been made by any four other members is out of their mind.
Read the entire interview at KissOnline.com.