Paul Stanley on the Last Days of Kiss
Soon after Kiss announced their End of the Road tour, frontman Paul Stanley called into the Rolling Stone Music Now podcast for an in-depth interview, in which he explained why the band is retiring from the road, and much more. To hear the entire conversation, press play below or download and subscribe on iTunes or Spotify. An edited and condensed transcript follows.
I’m sure you’ve noticed that Kiss is one of many acts of your generation announcing some form of retirement.
It’s not a coincidence that there are so many people and so many bands, performers announcing their retirement or farewell. As much as you want to believe an icon is ageless and timeless, time will prove that not to be so. For a band like us – and there is no other band like us, you don’t have other people running around onstage with 30 or 40 pounds of gear… if I was just up there prancing around singing, that would be fine, if I was on a Persian rug sitting on a stool playing a Martin guitar, yeah I could do it forever. But that’s not the case, there aren’t basketball players, football players, or athletes my age out there doing it so…I want to make sure that we go out there and fully represent and celebrate everything that we are, everything that we have been, and it’s bittersweet but it seems very much the right thing to do.
Are former members going to be joining on this tour in some form?
I really can’t say.This will be a celebration of Kiss and not any individual lineup or any individual members… I wouldn’t rule anything out but it’s not the crux of what we’re doing. It really isn’t at the heart or at the center of what we’re doing. We’re going out proudly as Kiss, a few months ago we were in Portugal and Spain playing for anywhere from 20 to 50,000 people so we’re doing this in all our glory and we’re doing it unapologetically. And we’re gonna do it bigger than we’ve ever done it. This show will really dwarf some of the things we’ve done before.
The Rolling Stones had Bill Wyman and Mick Taylor come out for a couple songs each night on a recent tour. Are you ruling out any scenario like that?
No, but I’m not…and I’m not being coy either. I don’t want to mislead anybody. Really, that’s not something that’s been given a lot of thought at this point, the majority of our time has gone into what is the stage going to be, what is the show going to be, and we’re actually in the midst of toying with setlists now.
Are you going to bring some songs back into the setlist?
That’s an interesting question always, because when somebody who’s a rabid fan says, “are you going to bring in some deep cuts,” the majority of the people who come to see the band want to hear those songs that are best known. I always say rarities are rarities for a reason, ’cause they’re not as good. If they were that good they wouldn’t be rarities. So I understand when somebody comes to ten shows in the course of a tour but the majority of people show up once every x amount of years and they want to hear what a band like us has in multitudes which is classic songs, what do we drop, “Detroit Rock City,” “Love Gun,” “Shout It Out Loud,” “Rock and Roll All Nite,” “Firehouse,” “Black Diamond”? I always maintain that if you put on a live video concert of any classic band I will tell you…turn off the sound and I will tell you every time they’re playing a new song because the audience sits down. I don’t want the majority of the people to have to tolerate something they don’t know and it doesn’t benefit the show to start throwing in things that most people are going “what’s that?”
Is Kiss also done recording albums at this point?
II reached a point where I had to acknowledge that nothing you do now is ever going to measure up to what you once did, because the older songs are tied to a time in your life, they’re a snapshot of a time in your life and that grows over time. We’ve done songs on the last couple of albums that I will argue are every bit as good as anything we ever did, but somebody hears “Modern Day Delilah” and goes “that’s great, play ‘Love Gun.'” And I get it, I get it, but interestingly also a song like “Psycho Circus” which is now 20 years old has kind of, at this point, become a classic. That doesn’t happen overnight. For whatever reason songs grow a patina over time and they grow a weight and a gravitas that they don’t have when they first come out – so yeah, you’re up against that.
Gene made a mildly rude remark onstage about you, which made me wonder whether there was some kind of problem between the two of you after all this time.
No, look, Gene and I have been together I think 47 years or something around that, so look, he say…he’s out having a great time. He’s doing these, most of them are free concerts, and when he charges tickets they don’t sell a lot of tickets and I’m sure he’s trying to keep it light for the couple hundred people or whatever and, you know, and that’s great. I was just with Gene, obviously, day before yesterday and we have a bond that is enviable and I’ll always maintain that, I mean Gene lives down the street from me, he’s literally a neighbor… I think we both long ago came to terms with who we are and what we can expect from each other and look, our families have grown up…I just saw a photo of me, an old photo of me holding [Gene’s son] Nick when Nick was less than a year old, I just saw Sophie [Simmons] a couple of days ago and she’s going to be playing in Los Angeles and I’ll be there. This is family. So we can snit all we want and we can, you know, take little potshots but at the end of the day nobody would stick up for him more than me and vice versa.
What he specifically said was, “my voice always works, I don’t lose my voice,” and then he said your name.
That’s ’cause he doesn’t sing!
You do have the challenge of trying to sing very high parts that you wrote as a much younger man.
Well, you do come to terms over time with your own mortality, and every singer that I know, probably the first thing we all say to each other is, “is this becoming tougher for you” or, “did you ever think you’d be singing this at this point in your life?” Well, that’s what happens and more and more time goes into whatever kind of care and preparation you have to put into it. I’ve been doing a lot recently to make sure that my voice is in great form. I mean, if you want to hear me sound like I did on Kiss Alive! than put on Kiss Alive! You know? There’s a reason why Robert Plant isn’t out there doing what he once did and there’s a lot of other singers that I know and speak to and everybody’s in the same boat. If you expect things to be unchanged than you’re not dealing with human beings. We’re not machines, but I will tell you that rather than comparing me or anyone else to who they once were, I think I’m standing up pretty well and whatever times have been low points or tough points in terms of voice, stuff like that happens when you’ve been doing it this long but I will tell you this tour will kick serious ass and anybody who saw America’s Got Talent I think has a pretty renewed, I guess confidence.
Was that actually a live performance or did you guys track it earlier?
What you tend to do is record it live and that way you know that everything is as it should be. It’s not like going into the studio or anything like that, it’s…with all its imperfections it’s live.
What specifically are you doing with your voice to prepare for the tour?
I’m shutting up and not talking to guys like you too often.
You know, you can warm up, you can… I’m doing heat therapies and all kinds of ultrasound and light therapies and stuff, just to keep the chords… over time they swell, they get irritated, all kinds of things and for me to go out and embark on what we’re going to do I want to make sure that things stay on an even keel. We’re not a band that does one show or two shows a week, we’re not a band that has some guy on keyboard doubling what I’m sing. There are certainly some singers out there now who you go “hey, he sounds really good,” well, look at the keyboard player! He sounds really good too!
What does “multi-year” mean for this tour? How many years are we talking about here?
I’m laughing…I really can’t say. We want to play everywhere that we’ve played in the past, and that’s a lot of places. It’s a big world. We plan on going everywhere that we’ve been, so it’s certainly more than a year. It could be two, could be three. Nobody wanted to spend seven days a week on the road. Nobody can. It’s a big mountain to climb, but we’re going to have a lot of fun climbing it.
Paul Simon just finished a farewell tour, but he also said there might be a show here or there after the end of it. In your mind, is the last show of this tour sort of the last Kiss show ever?
You know, I can’t even look that far. I really can’t. There’s so much before we reach that point. The thing that was most important was for us to look at each other and go, “Guys, let’s see the end of this, and let’s know that we’re gonna do it in full glory, and as best we can with the most memorable show we can.”
You sing in an R&B cover band called Soul Station. Would your post-Kiss career be focused on something like that?
Right now, I have two gallery shows this weekend, so my art takes up quite a bit of time, and it’s amazingly successful, so I’ll continue doing that, but Soul Station – everybody in the band, all 13 of us, we just have a ball. These are people who have played with Stevie Wonder, and Smokey, and Natalie Cole, and Whitney Houston, and the Temps, and on, and on, and on, and what we love so much is being able to recreate it and reproduce with respect and reverence a lot of great material that isn’t done. Most of it, you get to hear a clip of in a rap song, but sadly, it’s not around the way it once was, so for us to be able to do that is a gift to us. We were in Japan last year, and did, I think, twelve shows in six days, and just had a ball. I’m in touch with everybody all the time. That’s all we talk about, is doing more, so that’s really my roots as much as Led Zeppelin and bands like that. I was lucky enough to see Otis Redding, I saw the Temps, I saw Solomon Burke. So yeah, do I want to continue with Soul Station? Absolutely. There’s loads of things to do.
Was there an actual discussion where you and Gene sat down and said, “Listen, it’s time to talk about how to close the book. It’s time to talk about a farewell tour. How did it go down?
Just like that. [Laughs] Just like that. At some point, maybe you want to address the elephant in the room, you know? It only makes sense because of the nature of what we are. We’re not a band of guys in jeans and sneakers, standing on stage, playing. We’re athletes. We’re Superman playing a guitar. So, yeah, at some point you look at each other and go, “How long can we do this the way we want to do it, and how long can we do it, and love it. If you’re smart, you plan so that you can make the most of something, rather than just kind of say it off into the sunset. I didn’t want that to happen. I don’t want to suddenly, after a tour, go “.Let’s call it a day,” or have a year go by and we go, “Nah,” and another year goes by and we go, “Nah.” No, I’d rather take the victory lap. We beat the odds. We kicked everybody’s ass. We outlived the naysayers. want to go around and high five everybody around the world. And that’ll take a while.
What would you like the last song that you play on stage with Kiss to be?
I’d like it to be really long. I would imagine the last song we’ll play is “Rock and Roll All Nite.” That is so anthemic, and it connected to us in that it really became a rallying cry and a battle cry, so I will imagine that will be it, and one minute I’ll be smiling, and the next minute I’ll be crying, and that’s the meaning of bittersweet. It will touch all the emotions and press all the buttons.
Maybe Gene will cry. Is that imaginable? Have you ever seen that happen?
He likes to cry in interviews now. Look, we’ve all had our moments when we really take a look at what we’ve done, and even recently we’ve spoken about it, and it’s not uncommon to get a little misty eyed looking back at what we’ve done. When I met Gene, I lived at home. So did he. We started this with a dream, and against all kinds of odds, and with a determination, and a work ethic that wouldn’t take no for an answer, and I continue to live by that in everything I do, and I urge everyone else to.
Finally, Gene has said over the years that he could imagine a future where there’s a version of Kiss that actually has no original members, that it kind of clones itself and goes off into the future. Can you, at this point, picture that?
I can imagine a Kiss show, because I think at some point, Kiss transcends its members, and already has, so could I see that happening at some point? I could, but nothing that I can foresee in the near future. But why deny the world something that’s that awesome?