Paul Stanley, founding member and lead vocalist for the classic rock group KISS, has an art show at Wentworth Gallery in Short Hills, NJ on April 28. I recently interviewed Paul about his artwork, KISS, and much more.
You may not know this, but I’m the reporter that gave your son, Evan, his first cover story in the U.S. Last year, when this landmark event took place, what was that moment like for you?
Yeah, I so appreciate that. He’s onto bigger and better things. He left The Dives because the band was, essentially, him. He’s writing some amazing songs. He just needs room to grow. It just reached a point where I heard his newer material and I was just like, “Don’t compromise what you’re doing.” He’s on to some really big stuff. He’s very thankful, as am I, for what you did. Evan is a terrific guy, and I’m a huge fan of his, as a person. He’s determined to do this his way, and I give him a lot of credit. He’s got a great, strong work ethic. I was thrilled for him. And he doesn’t take it lightly, nor do I.
With KISS taking the year off from having a full-fledged tour, you’ve been showcasing your beautiful artwork at events hosted by Wentworth Gallery. How do you approach creating your paintings? Do you know what you‘re striving to accomplish before you start, or do you just start painting and see what happens?
Interestingly, earlier on, I was basically painting as a cathartic means. It was really just something to deal with, kind of, a whole lot of emotional issues that were going on in my life — relationships. It was more a sense of purging, whereas now a lot of time goes into figuring out what I want to do before I do it. So, I find myself, probably, spending more time trying to figure out how I’m going to do something than actually doing it. I’m in the studio right now working, and last night was me saying to myself, “Ok, how am I going to pull this off?” I’m in the home stretch now. I’m really having a great time. I tend to define myself by the outlets I find, and I’ve found so many. I think people need to give themself more leeway. There are plenty of people around you who are going to hinder your creativity, so why not do your own? It’s crazy.
When people say to me, “I can’t paint, I can’t draw,” I say, “Nonsense.” Just because you paint a Coke bottle and it doesn’t look like a Coke bottle doesn’t mean it’s not great. Give yourself a chance. It’s amazing what you’ll find over time that you can do. It doesn’t mean you’ll do it all tomorrow, but you have to start somewhere.
When you paint, do you set goals for yourself? If so, what kind of goals?
My only criteria in painting is color, and my artwork is all over the place. I don’t want to limit myself. I’m having too much fun, and it’s too exciting to explore my creativity. The only parameters I have are bold colors. To me, bold colors I think very much affirm a love of life. It may seem corny to some people, but this attitude has gotten me to where I am. A positive attitude and an excitement with every day is what my life is all about. It doesn’t mean that every day is great. I’ve had my share of issues and things I’ve had to deal with in my life but life is a miracle, every day. You don’t dwell in where you are. You look forward, and that’s really my mantra.
On February 9, KISS filed an application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office to trademark “The End Of The Road” for the purposes of “live performances by a musical band.” Naturally, this resulted in many fans assuming that KISS, namely you and Gene, are about to embark on a final farewell tour. What are the details on why this trademark was filed?
It’s not the first trademark that’s been filed. I thought it was a terrific name, and I was surprised nobody had used it before. I wanted to make sure that when we used it, and there will be a time that we do, I imagine — I wanted to be sure that we own it and it’s ours. When we wanted to go out and do the “Hottest Show On Earth” tour, Ringling Bros. came to us and said, “You can’t do that.” It set off a light and bell for me. We’ve always had slogans or sayings that are synonymous with us, and this was another.
Everything does end, in one form or another. When it’s my time, I want to go out in style, and I want to go out guns blazing. So, when I came up with this idea, I thought let’s make sure we tie this up.
Gene Simmons is currently traveling the world to hand-deliver his mammoth box set, The Vault, to fans. Approximately, how many unreleased demos do you have? And would you ever consider releasing them?
I might have 20 or so. I’ve always worked very differently. I’ve never written as an exercise. I write with a goal and a purpose. I self-edit. If a song doesn’t sound great or if I’m not excited by it, I don’t finish it.
When you hear five or six songs on a KISS album, I wrote six or seven songs. I don’t write 30, 50, 100, 200, anything like that. It seems like a waste of time, if nothing else. I certainly have demos of songs that wound up on albums. I think on our box set, the demo for “Love Gun” was on there; and that’s virtually identical to the KISS version. There’s a different drummer and me playing bass, like I did on the KISS recording. They’re not that much different. The feel is very much the same.
Speaking of demos, “Sword and Stone” is a phenomenal song that was left off of Crazy Nights. Why didn’t it make the cut?
I can’t tell you. I probably had enough songs on a particular album and, quite honestly, we used to work on quotas, which I won’t do anymore and haven’t done for quite a while. The idea that anybody should have a particular amount of songs on an album, as though it’s a birthright, is ridiculous. At that point, I think we were still dealing with somewhat of a parity. I came to realize we compromised the band and we compromised the fans, when we have an obligatory amount of songs members have to have and how many songs people have to sing. That’s ridiculous. So, why wasn’t it on the album? It was probably the lesser of some songs.
Before he recorded his immensely popular Great American Songbook albums, Rod Stewart had to have surgery to remove cancer from his throat. As a result, he had to learn how to sing again. Thankfully, after a year or so, he regained that trademark sound we all know and love. You encountered voice issues of your own years ago and underwent vocal cord surgery. Considering you’re known for having a powerful and versatile voice, what kind of effect did these voice issues have on you psychologically?
It’s always interesting to me if somebody says, “You don’t sing like you used to.” That’s like saying to Kobe Bryant or to any athlete, “You don’t play like you used to.” That’s a natural progression of life and biomechanics. Beyond surgeries, over time your voice…your muscles, and your voice is a muscle — your muscles don’t respond the same as they did. Ask Robert Plant. Ask Coverdale. Ask Don Henley. It just, that’s the way it goes. You always go for being your best. You can’t compete against yourself. But you can compete against whatever the standard is at any given time. Regardless of surgeries, time is something that no doctor can alter. That’s just reality. You do things in your 20s that you don’t plan on doing in your 60s. I can count on one hand and a few fingers singers who don’t come to me when we’re in social situations and go, “Are you finding it impossible to do what you did?” We’re all in the same boat.
You have great style, and in 2015 it was announced that, through a licensing deal with Epic Rights, you were going to launch a lifestyle brand called Royals and Rebels. What’s the latest on this project?
It’s always easier to announce things than to see them to fruition. That’s why I’m always reluctant to constantly announce what I’m going to do because, most of the time, nothing comes of a lot of it. A lifestyle brand is a great thing but to really see it elevate to the level that one would want it to, is very very difficult because you need other people who are as excited as you and who are willing to put up money. So, that has really been an issue. I just designed some, just, killer shoes for Puma that come out in the fall. It’s great to think big, but I’ve learned not to get up to bat and point to the bleachers. You’re better off swinging and surprising everybody than telling them what you’re going to do and then it doesn’t happen.
You have a solo group called Paul Stanley’s Soul Station, where you perform Motown and Philly soul music. So, I have to ask you, when are you bringing the show to my hometown, Philly?
Good question. I am not only a fan of the music, but that’s music that I grew up with and was so important to me. Your Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. Your Thom Bell and your Philly soul. Soul Station really came about because of my love for the music and my wanting to hear it live. It’s such a tragedy that all that great music has been reduced to a sample on a rap song when those songs are brilliant and were really groundbreaking for me. I saw Otis Redding as a kid. Those are my roots just as much as hard rock and blues. Being able to get together with 12 really top-notch believers — much like me — people who’ve all played with Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Natalie Cole, and Whitney Houston, and on and on. We all want to deliver these songs as they were recorded, as opposed to some Vegas version of them.
Anyway, Soul Station has a lot of things in the works and we’ll see how it works out. I’m thrilled everybody in the band says that, “For everything else we do, we’d all rather be doing this.” Japan was awesome. We did 12 shows in six days. It’s a great thing. And we all want to come to the East Coast, and we certainly want to be in Detroit and we want to be in Philly. It’s just a matter of making it work financially because when you have 13 people on the road, there are a lot of mouths back home to feed for everybody and that’s a consideration.
Are there any plans for you to record a studio or live album with Soul Station?
Yes, that’s the plan. The plan is to record an album that combines some great standards and some new tracks from my friends who are some of the top writers and producers.
Fans go back and forth about who calls the shots in KISS, you or Gene. So, who has more influence on whether or not KISS decides to do something, you or Gene? I’m inclined to believe it’s you.
[Laughs] I’ll leave that to smart people like you to figure out.
Last year, on stage, you announced that KISS is going to record a new studio album. What’s the latest on this project?
I don’t think I said we were going to. It was more a possibility. I tend to, when we finish an album, at this point, not see much reason to do it again, as much as I enjoy it. I really don’t know at this point what our plans are. It’s clear that you don’t sell anywhere near what you once did. It’s a completely different climate, and on top of it, as much as people want you to do a new album, as soon as you go on tour, they want to hear the classics. It doesn’t matter if it’s us or the Stones or McCartney. If you watch a live concert video, I will tell you every time the band on stage is playing a new song because the audience sits down.
You may say why doesn’t this band or that band do a new album? Well, frankly, there is a certain amount of disappointment when songs, understandably, are not embraced the same way that songs that are 20 years old, 30 years old, 40 years old are. It’s not surprising to me. Now “Lick It Up” is a classic. That’s really interesting to me. Now we have songs like “Hell or Hallelujah” or “Modern Day Delilah” — those songs go over well but, understandably, they’re not emotionally connected to people like the songs that they listened to initially. There’s a part of me that goes, it’s fun to be in the studio. But, ultimately, I’m not sure if it’s not a letdown for everybody.
I’m friends with Neal Schon of Journey, and he famously got into a public spat with his bandmate Jonathan Cain about keeping their band free of political and religious affiliations. In December 2016, you posted on social media that KISS declined to play President Trump’s inauguration. Like Neal Schon, is it important to you that KISS be solely about music, not politics or religion?
I think that it’s best to separate yourself and your band from too many causes. I understand and see a reason to use fame as somewhat of a platform, but I find it embarrassing when people stand on soapboxes and talk about things they clearly know little about. Success and fame doesn’t give you knowledge. [Laughs] It just gives you the ability to open your mouth.
I think it may just get overused. I don’t know the dynamics of Neal and Jonathan but, thankfully, it seems to have worked out and life goes on. I don’t think that disagreements are cataclysmic, I think not resolving them is.
One of my favorite lines you ever said was during an interview. Someone asked you about the war in Iraq, I believe, and you said, “I’m just a rock star. I’m not qualified to discuss that.” I thought that was a fantastic response because you made it clear that you’re about your music and your art, not opining on hot-button social issues.
I’m fortunate enough to know people behind the scenes, in the armed forces in high-up positions. The little that I hear from them, and it is very little, because they can’t divulge much. However, what I do hear makes me realize that the general public, myself included, knows so little about what goes on behind the scenes. So, I’d rather not talk too much about things I have very little knowledge of.
Vinnie Vincent recently re-emerged from seclusion. What are your thoughts on Vinnie, and would you ever write songs with him again?
Right, I have no thoughts or comments.
Barry Manilow is my all-time favorite musician. What are your thoughts on Barry and his music?
I saw Barry in Las Vegas. I think it was, probably, about six years ago. I love going to Vegas often. Usually, one night is to go to a great dinner and one night is to go to a great show. At this point, everybody plays Vegas and there’s always something terrific to go and see. On this particular night, it was Barry Manilow. A friend of mine who was there said, “Don’t have any doubts. It’s the best show here.” That was true at that point. He’s terrific! For me, you either respect the performer or you don’t. It’s not a matter of taste. It’s not a matter of whether I like it any more than I believe who should be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, for example. What I like and who deserves to be put in can be two completely different things. Whether or not I embrace a certain type of music has nothing to do with whether or not it’s done well and people love it.
But in Barry Manilow’s case, I have no problem saying it was terrific and he’s got a bunch of terrific songs. I hope people embrace different kinds of music in the same way they should embrace different kinds of food. When I was growing up, the amazing thing about going to the Fillmore East to see a three-act bill was the diversity. It wasn’t seeing the same band three times. It was a meal. It was three different bands doing three different things but doing them great. I saw Humble Pie with Derek and the Dominos. I saw Traffic with Blue Cheer and Iron Butterfly. I saw Buddy Guy with The Who. I saw Jimi Hendrix with Sly & the Family Stone. I think the more people embrace other kinds of music, the more they can bring to their own — and the more happy they’ll be. The idea that someone would say, “I love metal” or “I love opera.” Open your ears and open your mind a little.
Yesterday, I interviewed Paul Anka and today I’m interviewing you, so you could say that’s pretty diverse.
I can say I did it my way, and he did it his way. [Laughs]
One more thing about Barry Manilow. I don’t know if you’ve had the opportunity to meet him, but he’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. Him, his husband and his daughter are all the nicest people.
Oh, totally. After the show was over, I went back to Barry and I said, “I’ve got to tell you, you sounded suspiciously good.” [Laughs] I don’t think he ever got a compliment quite like that. He was on point and he was great.
Michael Cavacini is an award-winning communications professional, and his arts and culture site, MichaelCavacini.com, features additional interviews with iconic artists.