There will come a time, and it won't be too far away, when Kiss's End Of The Road tour will actually reach the end of the road. And then? No more pyro. No more costumes. No more platforms that hoist the band up into the rafters. No more fire-breathing, no more spouting blood, no more zip-lining from one end of the arena to the other.
For Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley it'll be more than half a century since the first Kiss show. And while the impending emotional impact of that closing show isn't lost on Stanley, he's not one for allowing the fireworks fizzle.
"These shows become that more precious and meaningful as they dwindle down," he tells us. "But while they’re dwindling, we’re going to kick as much ass and blow up as much stuff as possible."
The first dates of the End Of The Road tour were announced on October 30, 2018: did you ever imagine you’d still be talking about upcoming Kiss shows four-and-a-half years later?
Well, no, but then I also didn’t imagine I'd be talking about the tour being put on hold due to a global pandemic that claimed millions of lives. There are still places to go, and it’d be unfair, not only to the fans, but also to us, to not get to fulfil what we set out to do, which was basically to play for all our fans all around the world one last time.
The end is clearly in sight, I know that this is finite, and I know that we have more shows behind us than in front of us, but nonetheless, there were some places where the demand was overwhelming and we returned to some of those places. And it’s interesting, because the only people that that bothers, are the people that don’t like us, and I couldn’t give a rat’s ass about those people.
As the tour progresses, and you get closer to The End, does the emotional impact of that weigh more heavily on you?
Very much so, and that’s a great question: my thoughts about it are different and growing more so as the tour reaches its late stages. To talk about the end conceptually is one thing, to see the end imminent is another. It’s daunting, and it goes from being an intellectual choice, and the emotional impact is not lost on me. I think about it more all the time, and these shows become that more precious and meaningful as they dwindle down. But while they’re dwindling, we’re going to kick as much ass and blow up as much stuff as possible.
A lot of musicians have spoken about how the Covid-19 pandemic sparked an existential crisis for them on a personal level, in the sense that having dedicated their lives to bringing music to others, they found it mentally challenging when touring became an impossibility. Are you concerned at all about how you might feel when this part of your life comes to a halt?
Well, I think that maybe musicians who felt an identity crisis in those circumstances maybe need to flesh out their lives a bit more. Yes, this is a significant part of who I am, but it’s not all that I am, and I was equally impacted at that time by being isolated from friends and other people. The thought that contact with other people could kill you was frightening, and the isolation was devastating. There are people who tour incessantly because they have no lives other than that, but I think that a great life enhances your ability to give back to an audience.
When the pandemic hit we had to pull the plug one night before a show, and it got pretty dark after that. But I hope that in that time, people came to realise how much we need each other, whether in a live music context, or just in day-to-day contact.
There’s increasing conversation now about musicians’ mental health, and how the rigours and demands of touring can have a negative impact on mental health. Kiss are a band that made its reputation on the road, so I wondered if there was ever a point where you felt it was becoming difficult to keep control of who you are and what you are when there were so many demands upon you?
That’s a great question, and it’s very multi-faceted. I remember at a point in the ‘70s I got really mad at our manager Bill Aucoin because we were touring non-stop, and I got angry and he said, ‘Paul, my job is to book you, and it’s up to you to tell me when to stop.’ That was an epiphany for me. Because it’s truly up to the musician to decide how much, and when, is enough. So when Kiss tour it’s because we choose to, not because we’re told to.
Musicians need to remember that the manager works for them, they don’t work for their manager or their booking agent. It’s unfortunate when there are situations where artists are taken advantage of, particularly when they are compromised because of alcohol or drugs, and when they are worked beyond what is healthy. Unfortunately, some musicians aren’t healthy to begin with and that unending cycle can end in tragedy as we’ve all seen.
What do you love about Gene Simmons?
Hmmm. [Pauses]. Well…. Gene is a team player, and he loves the band, and wants what’s best for it, even if it’s not always what’s best for him. I love that Gene’s ability to put his own advantages and possibilities within the band by the side to do whatever is best for the collective. I admire that quality, because it’s you don’t find it that often in people.
And also, underneath all the bravado and all the ‘Gene Simmons’ schtick is a very caring, and very kind and giving person, who takes care of a lot of people, far outside and beyond his family. I respect that very much.
And what do you think he admires about you?
Hmmm, that’s a tough one for me to answer, you’d need to ask him. But I would hope that he appreciates my intolerance of bullshit, and the fact that I work to a certain standard, a bar I set high, and that that always comes first and foremost.
Could you envisage a scenario where, at any given point over the past 50 years, Kiss could have existed without Gene?
Yes, but then it would have been just my band, and it’s not, it’s our band, and that makes a huge difference. It’s what we both bring to the party which makes Kiss special, and the band would suffer for it. Maybe I might excel in that situation, but the band wouldn’t be the best it can be. For the band to be the best it can be, you have to have Gene.
Gene has taken a certain amount of flak in recent years over his repeated assertion that ‘Rock Is Dead’: is rock dead in 2023 from Paul Stanley’s perspective?
It’s a great soundbite, but that’s about all it is. My son Evan is playing all around Los Angeles with a rock band that kicks ass and is getting great crowds, with beautiful models coming, and that’s proof to me that rock’s not dead. The music that is most popular to mainstream tastes changes over time, and it ebbs and flows.
There’s a lot of rock music being made right now, and some of it may be too derivative to really stake a claim and take it to the next level, but it will happen, it will happen. But the next big rock band won’t be huge because it sounds like a band from the past, it will have its own voice.
Would Kiss still be making music if there was no commercial market for that music, and no major audience? If no-one had ever heard of Paul Stanley, would you still be writing and performing in neighbourhood bars?
That’s such a hypothetical question. I make music for the joy of it, but certainly I wanted to take it to another level. Once you leave the bedroom or the garage and start playing your music for people you crave some sort of acknowledgement, and some sort of success.
Is there one Kiss show that stands out for you as the absolute pinnacle of what the band is about?
I mean, when you’ve been doing something for 50 years… my God, the amount of high points are almost impossible to catalogue. But I will say that there was a huge excitement around us going forward in 1995/1996 when we regrouped with the original members. The idea of suiting up again after 10 years of non-make-up, the idea of circling back to see if we could reignite that fire, and perhaps be wiser in how we chose to move forward, that was very exciting to me, because it was something I had never pondered or considered. But in that moment, it felt right, and the first show at Tiger Stadium [in Detroit] was a turning point: the launch of that rocket is still propelling us today.
But at some point, too early on, it became clear that some lessons had not been learned, and that we couldn’t continue with the original members. And our first thought then was that it was time to go home, and we set out on what we considered a farewell tour. But it was clear to me that I didn’t want to say farewell to the band, I just wanted to say farewell to two of the members.
And the last 20 years or so with Tommy and Eric have been just a joy, and the band is everything that I ever dreamed it would be. We couldn’t have been Kiss without Peter and Ace, but there couldn’t be Kiss with them. Tommy and Eric have the dedication and selflessness that was missing when we regrouped with the original members, so that reunion allowed us to see what Kiss can be at its best.
There are plenty of people who’ll cite Kiss as the greatest love rock band they’ve ever seen, but if we take Kiss out of the equation, who is the best live rock band that you’ve ever seen?
I saw Led Zeppelin in 1969 and that night the bar was set at a level that no-one else has reached as far as I‘m concerned. That was God’s hand making that happen. The interplay, the synergy, the chemistry on all levels, the music, the presentation… it was just on a level that you don’t see., and we will never see again.
I saw Jim Hendrix twice with Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell, I saw Derek and the Dominos, I saw Humble Pie, The Who… so many of the greats, but Led Zeppelin was mind-boggling. I remember leaving the show with a friend of mine, and when we walked out I said, Let’s not even talk about this, because anything we say will cheapen what we just experienced.
Everyone knows that Kiss are a great live band, so did the recent ‘controversy’ about your use of backing tapes annoy you, given that you’re still out there giving it your all for a hundred nights a year? People seemed to react as if they’d outed Kiss as the Milli Vanilla of rock!
Ha. Well, that’s just nonsense, of course. And the idea that we need to explain or clarify what we do is nonsense. I sing every song. Any band that’s out there with a big show knows that you have to be co-ordinated and there has to be syncing with the technology, the lights and the pyro and everything, so the idea that you’d go out there without a click [track] to lock you in is just ridiculous.
And does it really matter? I’ve seen bands that are considered the greatest in the world and I’m saying to my wife, ‘Who’s playing that beat on then drums?’ As long as what’s going on is honest, why gives a fuck? Things evolve over time, and it’s a different world now than it was 30 or 40 years ago. Do we really need to put everything under a microscope when people are having the best night of their lives? I won’t do it.
If there’s one piece of advice that you could give to a musician or band who’s aspiring to a 50 year career in the music business, like Kiss, what would it be?
Well, unfortunately, bands who aspire to have a career and pay their rent are going to find it difficult, and I feel for them, because the modern music industry takes so much of what is rightfully theirs, with royalties and merch percentages, etc,.
Basically if you want to be a musician you have to be compelled to do it, it has to be your passion: if seeking a job in music is an intellectual choice you’ve made, choose again. I didn’t choose to do this, I had no choice but to follow my dreams. If you have an alternative, by all means take that alternative, because the person who is compelled to create isn’t going to ask any advice from me.