Kiss: still rocking hard

By Emma Jones
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

Image caption,
Fans of Kiss are known as the Kiss Army

It's difficult finding a chink in the armour of US hard rock band Kiss.

It's not just the physical armour, which along with platform boots makes bassist Gene Simmons around seven feet tall. Their self-confidence hubris is almost impossible to dent.

"You can be three or 73 and a Kiss fan," declares guitarist Paul Stanley, who along with guitarist Tommy Thayer and drummer Eric Singer make up the rest of the band.

"Our fans are celebrating our jubilant approach to life and the fact we don't take rubbish from anybody and you can come out a winner.

"So they're an army, they're a team, they're a tribe, and as time goes on we become more iconic.

"Even with a change of member the band become stronger and it shows that nothing can stop Kiss. "

Since the band have been going for 36 years, maybe they've earned their right to their hubris.

Since their formation in New York during the glam rock era, they've sold a hundred million albums.

The original line up of Simmons, Stanley, Ace Frehley and drummer Peter Criss put on face paint to create four characters - Demon, Starchild, Spaceman and Catman. It's endured and become a trademark.

This year they released their first studio album for 11 years, Sonic Boom. It's been acclaimed for its "original and youthful" 70s sound - possibly something to do with the band using analogue tapes for the recording.

"We did such a successful tour two years ago and the band never felt better," explains Stanley.

"And there came a time when we looked at each other and thought it shouldn't just be about celebrating our past, and it was time to write another chapter.

"Sonic Boom is arguably the best thing we've done in 25 years. It's four people going into the studio and committing to making a great album.

"You can't make a great record when you're going, 'How can this band make me more famous?' You've got to think: 'How can I pay tribute to this great institution? And I believe Sonic Boom is a classic album - it's not a retro album at all."

Endurance test

Self-deprecation isn't in the band vocabulary - but fans don't mind at all. The group have attracted a devoted following known as the Kiss Army.

"Without our fans we're nothing," says Simmons. "There is a relationship and love and respect between fan and band that is unequalled.

Image caption,
Paul Stanley is full of appreciation for the British music scene

"On the other hand they have the highest expectation. If you think you can go out there, sit on a rug and strum a few songs on an acoustic guitar, good luck to you."

The fans may love it, but gigs can be an endurance test for the band. Running round in armour and stacked heels is hard at any age - but Simmons is now 60 years old.

"Try walking around in these for two and a half hours," he says, pointing to his enormous boots.

"This is not a sympathy ploy, by the way. We're proud of our energy, we welcome any band that has the courage to get on stage with us. U2, Rolling Stones - we like you very much. Come play with us."

Simmons may also be a reality TV star - his family are in the Gene Simmons Family Jewels series on US TV - but by far the most lucrative part of Kiss's career has been their merchandising.

They are the number one merchandise band in the world - selling everything from dolls of themselves, to snooker cues, rubber ducks and even branded coffee.

They also helpfully sell fridges which can double up as a coffin for devoted members of the Kiss Army. As Simmons once remarked: "Planet Kiss sounds a lot better than Planet Earth."

"Our job is to give the fans what they want," argues Stanley. "It would be selfish of us not to.

"When other bands complain about what we do, it's because they're so damn boring that nobody wants one of their T-shirts or a doll or a Mr Potato Head, whatever. We work in a way that if you don't like the merch, don't get it."

Surprisingly for a band so focused on their own product, they confess they see the UK as "the holy land" because it's produced so many of their musical heroes.

"We are dyed in the wool Anglophiles," maintains Stanley. "Growing up - we wanted to be in The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, The Kinks, The Yardbirds, The Pretty Things."

"Don't forget Slade," adds Simmons, with a completely deadpan face.

"For a small country - there must be something in the water," Stanley continues. "It's frightening how many great acts come out of the UK."

Simmons agrees: "Song writing is alive and well over here. Keane write terrific songs, Arctic Monkeys are great.

"But we're waiting for stars. We want to see the new Marc Bolan, the new David Bowie before he went all disco - when he was Ziggy, he ruled the world. We're looking for people like a rock'n'roll Lady Gaga - get out there and make a spectacle of yourself.

"We ourselves are proudly entertainers. Yes, we made it this far with our music, but on stage we pummel you, we deafen you, we blind you - and we leave you smiling."

Kiss play Birmingham NEC on May 11 and Wembley Arena on May 12 and 13th.

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