by Liz Ramanand/Ultimate Classic Rock
photo by: Rahav Segev, Sirius XM
The legends of Kiss graced the Sirius XM studios in New York City last week for a two-hour intimate question and answer session with a few lucky Sirius subscribers. Kiss spoke candidly about their 20th studio record, ‘Monster,’ their Halloween-themed Kiss Cruise and they gave a piece of their mind about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Check out some of the highlights of the Q&A below:
’Monster’ seems to be one of the most personal collection of songs on any Kiss album. Was that a conscious decision or was it just material that was brought into the sessions?
Tommy Thayer: That’s a great question. ‘Monster’ is a great band album – it’s something that just the four of us created without any outside input or influence from management, record labels, nobody. We wrote the songs, we rehearsed them, then recorded them. It was very organic, very in your face. Paul [Stanley] produced it; he did a phenomenal job and was great about choosing the right songs — not only the very best songs that should be on a record by Kiss but also the songs that were cohesive, that fit together and made a statement as a group of songs. That’s a very important thing that people don’t think about because often you get records where it isn’t cohesive and it’s confusing to listen to records like that sometimes you think, “That song doesn’t seem to fit.” All these songs are of the same nature, they fit together like a puzzle, Paul did a great job as a producer in making that happen. That’s what ‘Monster’ is about. It’s a very cohesive, strong, bold statement.
Paul Stanley: I think when you talk about it being personal, where that comes from is a passion that the band has. This lineup has been together for ten years and once we found our footing as a live band, it was only a matter of time before we said, “Let’s go into the studio.” We know what we’ve been, we know what we’re celebrating in terms of the past but let’s put our boots down and say, “This is who we are today and in the future.”
‘Monster’ is a whole different thing. ‘Monster’ is four guys coming together with a real passion and passion is the key to it. We didn’t want perfection. Too much music nowadays or what gets passed off as music is made on computers. People are in the studio looking at computer screens to see whether the music is good. If music is good, by God, you’ll tap your foot and you’ll sweat. All the stuff we listen to that made an impression on us, whether it was Motown, James Brown, Led Zeppelin, Beatles on and on it was about passion, it was about doing something that was true to the heart and that’s what we wanted to get back to. So personal, yeah it’s the four of us and we couldn’t be more proud of it. We stand by this one and make no apologies and want to bask in it’s success.
TT: We’ve all been involved in bands and having an experience with everybody and really enjoying it and interacting and collaborating and people throwing ideas – it’s a comfortable situation, a very productive situation. It’s rare and we’ve got something here that we really enjoy a lot.
Gene Simmons: Maybe the standout vocal, by some people’s standards, is the powerful track of Eric Singer singing ‘All For the Love of Rock & Roll.’ You should hear this song. It’s the single in Europe and people fall in love with this guy when he sings. He sings to me in the bathtub.
Question:Frank Hagan/Kiss Mask
How many songs were brought to ‘Monster’ and what is the process you take of sifting through material and decide what’s on the final recording?
PS: Interesting, one of the ground rules and I think everybody operates better when you have certain expectations and certain limitations. One of them that we setup was no old songs because if a song wasn’t good enough for the last album it’s not like wine, it doesn’t get better with time, it doesn’t age well. The idea with the album was to come up with new songs and the criteria was to make a cohesive album that really from start to finish reflected who this band is at its best. There weren’t that many songs.
TT: We didn’t really bring songs in. It was a thing where let’s meet over at your house and start writing songs.
PS: If the song’s not good, why finish it? It’s much better to self-edit, I think than to just keep writing and writing. So on this album there are 13 songs counting the bonus song – I don’t think there were more than 15 or 16 that were even thrown around.
GS: Half-finished, we didn’t even finish them.
PS: We’re pretty good at listening and going, “This isn’t the one, next,” and we move on. It wasn’t a matter of we have all of these extra songs sitting in the can. We’ve never been like that and now more than ever we’re really focused and tuned into who we are.
TT: We didn’t do demos either which is important because people write songs and then they demo it and you make these great demos and you go to record the record trying to beat the demo – people in bands know what I’m talking about – so we didn’t have any of that kind of thing going on. We wrote a song, we knew it was good, we rehearsed it to get the arrangement and then we go right into the studio and record it so it was very fresh and that was it. We didn’t have any demos or things happening before that which kind of can screw things up sometimes so we kept it spontaneous and for real.
GS: This is important to say because you guys are here, media and all this stuff and the record comes out and the accolades and the attention usually falls on us two knuckleheads but with Eric and Tommy in the band Kiss is revitalized and reborn and re-energized. You can’t know what it’s like to be onstage and have a solid band where you can just lean back and the power of Eric’s drumming – you can never get lost. First of all he’s a triple threat, he’s not only cute and young but the guy can sing any one of us under the rug. He plays drums with his hands tied behind his bag, shackled upside down, all kinds of things. Tommy, likewise, can write songs, sing lead, this band is unstoppable. Any band out there that wants to dare step onstage with us, come get it. Now get out.
PS: When Tommy first came on the scene, we’ve known him a long time, I really considered him a good guitar player and that’s honest. Tommy’s become just a ferociously spectacular guitar player and what makes the band so great at this point is when you have four people in the band who are all saying, “How can I make the band better?” instead of “How can the band make me more famous?” You accomplish everything. If everybody is working toward bettering the band everybody will get in the spotlight. We make get a lot of attention over here but we couldn’t make an album like ‘Sonic Boom’ or an album like ‘Monster’ with any other lineup, I want to know what you’re smokin’ ‘cause it’s just not true.
Honestly especially with the original lineup which people always love to talk about, those guys and us laid the foundation for what is Kiss today — we couldn’t be here today without them and we couldn’t be here today with them. The band carries on and we’re better than ever, we couldn’t be happier. We’re blessed. We get onstage every night and it’s a treat to be up here with those guys.
What was the name behind Wicked Lester and how did you come up with the name Kiss?
Jose Mangin: Wicked Lester was name of Paul and Gene’s group before Kiss was formed as some background.
PS: I think we were just looking for something cool. I think we could have been the Crimson Harpoon. I don’t know, it [Wicked Lester] didn’t have a meaning although we kind of envisioned a cartoon type character and once the band did an album – we actually did an album for Epic Records over a year’s time. We would sit around all day and when a band would leave, we would run in sometimes 24 hours at a time and we did this awful album. We were kids, we were lucky to be in a studio. We did this album and by the time we finished the album Gene and I both looked at each other and said, “This isn’t something we’re comfortable with, it’s not something that represents us.” As though out of our minds – here’s a bunch of guys without a pot to piss in and we said, “We don’t want to be in this band” and we basically let the other guys go and the other guys said, “We’re going to hold out contract” and we said “Fine” and we quit.
So Epic had this album and Gene and I decided to write songs that are much more cohesive, that sound like they’re the same band and we quickly started writing. It couldn’t have been two months and every week we just had three or four songs and we knew Wicked Lester was not the name of this band anymore. We thought about it a while and one night we were driving on the Long Island Expressway right near the Woodhaven Boulevard exit and I said, “What about Kiss” and I was thinking “Dear God I hope nobody says no.” It just felt so right and everybody went “Yeah” and it really embodies so much of what we are – it’s heavy, it’s passionate and it’s a name, no matter where you go in the world, people know that word. In the beginning when we were nobody, nobody knew who we were, people would go “Oh Kiss, I’ve heard of you” because it’s just a word you hear all the time. Long answer to a short question.
GS: I want to tell you something that I don’t think we’ve ever told anybody. We were looking for a name Wicked Lester at the time, we settled on. Right before that for a short time we were thinking of The Norman Watch Company.
PS: What about Sid Cup Kent?
GS: Sid Cup Kent, I was reading an English music magazine and there was a place called Sid Cup in Kent England and to me it just sounded like Sid Cup Kent, Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin – of course I was out of my mind. There was a sign on the street and I thought, “Yeah that’s a cool name Norman Watch Company.”
Can you guys talk about the Kiss Cruise that’s coming up for some people listening who may not know about it?
PS: The Kiss Cruise is something uniquely Kiss. It brings 3,000 fans around the world on a cruise with us that lasts four days. It’s sold out and last year was phenomenal. It has the sense, at least when we go down the halls, it’s kind of like a dorm. People are putting stuff on their doors and we’ll go around and sign it. It’s Kiss fans from around the world getting together. We get a chance to play acoustically – then we do two shows in full gear in and we pull out a lot of those obscure classics and just have a lot of fun with the die-hards, this really is for them. It’s unique and then we have a lot of extra activities. Last year we were all kind of trepidatious – wondering what’s this going to be like for us, we had a ball. Probably the second or third day in we were all looking at each other saying, “We got to do this again next year.” It comes up at the end of October.
Kiss doesn’t need any validation from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame but another year goes by and there’s other guys that are being nominated and it probably doesn’t matter too much to you but how does it make you feel when the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame comes and goes another year and Kiss is not mentioned?
PS: I think it bothers you and that’s why it bothers us, it’s not about us. We don’t need the validation – I think most people realize that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a scam. It’s a bunch of faceless people that none of us know who get together in this club and pick singers and a lot of the people who they nominate and put through aren’t even people who sell a lot. The fact of the matter is, there are people in there that it’s ridiculous to have in there. There are plenty of bands who belong in there – I think this year they’re reaching a point where they realize that they’ve realized that they’re running out of their hip and happening artist of choice or people who we all know don’t belong in there.
Now they seem to be opening up the doors somewhat and letting in the bands who belong in their but they’re not doing it by choice – they’re doing it because they have no choice. When you put in someone like Patti Smith, God bless Patti Smith or Laura Nyro who most of you don’t even know who I’m a big fan of but those people have nothing to do with rock and roll. The people who run the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame have nothing to do with rock and roll either.
GS: How about Madonna, how about Grandmaster Flash, those artists belong in the hip-hop hall of fame and the disco hall of fame – there ain’t no rock in there, nobody play guitar, get out of here. In one of my angrier moments somebody asked me about it and I said, “I’m thinking of buying it and firing everybody.” We are so lucky to be in this position we have nothing to complain about. A long time ago people asked us about this stuff and we get plenty of awards just stepping up onstage. It’s a sham and they should be ashamed of themselves.
PS: If we ever did get inducted or indicted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, we would accept on your behalf. I think it means a lot to you people, the validation that you think is missing and by all means if it were to happen – we would go as your champions because you make us.