Mark Opitz: The KissFAQ Interview

By Tim McPhate

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Continued from Part 1

KF: I assume Tommy would have been around during this time as well. How about Peter Criss? Would he have been around during this stage?

MO: No, Peter wasn't around at all during post-production. Tommy was around a lot because he was our contact. In the end, we had to get involved in the video side as well, because the video guys were sending us pictures that weren't what we needed. They were sending us pictures with shots from Dallas and other shows like that, and we said, "No way. No way. We can't do that. We can only use pictures that we've got. It won't work." So in the end we took a big hand in how the video was put together as well. That's why we get such a big credit, if you watch the DVD, we come straight away after the band and Doc. In the end, we had to get involved in the vision as well. Because music is king and that's the thing that we had to keep putting across to the video people that video is very, very important and vision is very much part of a KISS show when you go to see it, very much part of the spectacular, but in the end the music has to be king. The vision has to follow the music. Again, we know what the KISS Army is like and their fan base, and there's no band in the world that treats their fans better than KISS. There is just not. The just really are so conscious of their fan base.

KF: I want to go back to Peter. Given he was struggling with carpal tunnel at the time, how do you rate his performance on the album?

MO: Well, I rate his performance really well. Because he was soft hitting, there was a bit of enhancement on the drum sound to get a bit more power into it. But it was his playing, I just had to use his good hits and when you had a really good hit, I would use that snare sound underneath his other softer hit. But I used all of his sounds to make [it] work. But it did mean I had to bring in when he was hitting harder, I'd use his soft hits, because it was hard for him to hit, so I'd have to enforce his own sounds by just doubling up on them and things like that.

KF: Was a click track at all considered, or would that have been too difficult given the symphony aspect and that there was a conductor?

MO: Too difficult, far too difficult, because of the symphony component. Just getting him to sing was hard. When he was doing "Beth" and stuff like that I had to help him out with that in the studio, just sticking him into time here and there, where he sort of fell out of time. I said, "Look, just let me do what I do." And then I played it back to him, and he started crying.

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KF: I believe that was a big moment for him. "Beth" was obviously a big hit for KISS and Peter always sang along with a tape at concerts. This was the first time he actually sang it with an orchestra.

MO: Yeah. Once I got in there and fixed any little technical difficulties he had, and played it back to him in the studio, he just started crying. That was a pretty big compliment. We got to know the boys really well and built up a huge respect for each other. It was one of the most interesting projects -- if not the most interesting project -- that I've ever been on. Not just the length of it, but because of the people. I was struck by the intelligence of people like Paul and Gene, they're just two of the smartest guys I've ever met. Particularly, Paul. I said to him, "Why did you take the makeup off?" And he said, "So we could put it back on." And I thought that's the smartest answer I've ever heard in the music business. To take [the makeup] off and then put it back on. It's genius. Just genius.

Also, the way that they grew up. Paul driving cabs in New York City, knowing that one day he was going to be in the biggest band in the land, and hooking up with Gene, freshly emigrated from Israel with his mom, living dirt poor and stuff like that -- all they had was this burning desire. I mean, I got all the stories, as you can imagine. In that position, I'm sure 1,000 fans would like to be where they can sit down with these guys, once you've got their respect, you can talk to them one-on-one, face-to-face. That was very interesting, just the conversations we had.

KF: Indeed. One other question on the drum front. Eric Singer had played drums for KISS' Farewell Tour shows in Australia. I think at that point, Paul and Gene likely would have favored Eric's playing, especially for such an intricate show. And there is a rumor that for this project KISS were required to have at least three original KISS members for this concert. Do you remember any discussion about Eric and Paul and Gene's preference to have him play the show?

MO: You know, I have no idea. To me, I thought that they would have tried to make it as original as possible. The fact that Ace wasn't there was probably Ace's decision, I imagine. Because Paul and Gene, as you know, they run the band, no question. But I know that they wanted it to be as original as possible. [But] they didn't lose anything by having Tommy Thayer there, that's for sure. I mean Tommy is an unbelievable guitar player. Not only that, he's a great organizer inside the band, keeping everyone on track, because of his tour managing experience beforehand, [and] he'd played in KISS cover bands. He's done all that. And to top it off, he's one of the nicest guys in the world. And, as you know, he does the annual golf charity event, which is just fantastic.

But Gene and Paul and Tommy, and so is Peter and Doc, they're really nice people. They're a really, really good team. And they're just so conscious of looking after their fans, it's ridiculous.

KF: Looking at the second act, with the smaller ensemble, is there a track that stands out as the gem of the bunch?

MO: Yeah, they pretty much all do. Rattle me off the set list. 

KF: There's "Beth," "Goin' Blind," "Sure Know Something," "Forever," and "Shandi."

MO: Well, they were all excellent. "Beth," because it was emotionally important. But "Shandi" (pauses) ... they were all good. Because we had a smaller orchestra, and we had an acoustic set up, it was easy to control it a lot better. I thought every song was bloody good. I really did. They just nailed it. It just showed you what all those years can do. Not only that, it showed you how much passion they still have for what they do.

KF: If I were forced to pick, I'd say that Act II is my favorite part of the concert. I really enjoy the performances and the added elements of the smaller ensemble.

MO: Yeah, I tend to agree with that because it was different for KISS, I mean that was the first taste of the orchestra, and it was the most controllable part, so they were able to hear each other a lot better and combine with the orchestra a lot better. The second act was absolutely brilliant. Like you, I'd have to say the second act is probably my favorite. But that's really hard to say because the finale was pretty good as well.

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KF: In terms of the third act, that's where everything but the kitchen sink came into the fold. Again, is there a particular song that stands out like, "Wow, that took the song to a whole new level"?

MO: Yeah, I thought "Black Diamond" was pretty good like that. What else? Obviously, "Rock And Roll All Night" being the big finish ... that worked really well. "Love Gun" was pretty good. Again, because you're working so hard on something, it's really hard to pick a favorite because I'm trying to make everything the same standard all the way through as much as possible. For instance, I'd be in L.A., and it'd be three o' clock in the morning, and I'd be saying, "Hmmm, I reckon we can make Paul's guitar sound a little bit better. I just think there's a bit of a tone missing from that." And my assistant would look at me and go, "Oh!" and start crying. (laughs) And the reason he'd start crying is because the sessions were so big it would take one and a half hours to open the session just so I could get to that guitar.

KF: That'd be in Pro Tools?

MO: Yeah, in Pro Tools. Exactly. It'd take him an hour and a half to open it just so I could get to that one guitar.

KF: About how many tracks are we talking about?

MO: Gee ... (laughs) we're running into the hundreds. We had to because it was a 64-piece orchestra, and then you have all the audience mics, and all the band mics, and all that sort of stuff, and then all the backup stuff. And then the effects and stuff like that. So they were very big files to open up and get into. The band wouldn't be around, it would just be me and my assistant, but we would still manage to have a belly laugh a day. Which is the important thing. And as I said, KISS' people were just fantastic to us. They were just amazing to us. You have to remember, we were dealing with 5.1 as well as stereo so it was a big job. In terms of technical application, it's the hugest technical job I've ever done. And to get the quality though, that's the thing. We could have easily just sat there and mixed it off as it was and gone, "Yeah, that's it. See you later. Goodbye." But we're not that kind of people.

KF: From your description, it seems it would be an understatement to say a lot care was put into this project.

MO: Absolutely. If you know all the work that had to go into it, and all the areas that we had to fix because the orchestra is not being able to hear, and the timing, and the fireworks are going off, and how do you keep the fireworks under control, without losing too much of the sound, and keeping the audience, when they're singing and clapping along, in time. There are so many aspects. It's a massive, massive job. Not only that, then prepare it for [the different formats]. And they all require different elements when you're doing that. At the same time, somehow we've got to keep our ears fresh. I can tell you that when we got to Los Angeles, I took my assistant up to Hamburger Hamlet the first night before we started working, and I bought him a beer and I said, "This is the last beer you'll have until we leave this place because we need to be on the ball."

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