By Brian Ives
KISS is in the midst of their latest U.S. trek, dubbed the “Freedom to Rock” tour. The marketing and message of the tour proudly displays the patriotism that has become increasingly prevalent in the band’s branding over the past few years. Many of the tour materials see the band draped in the American flag, and the band’s iconic logo is often decorated in red, white and blue.
Frontman Paul Stanley says that this has been an active choice by the band in recent years. “Absolutely,” he tells Radio.com. “Perhaps it’s happened as we’ve become more enlightened to the world, and to the plight of others.”
He, and the band, feels particularly passionate about supporting the military, which they have done actively over the years; on this tour, they hire veterans to work on their crew on every show. “So many Americans think that freedom is free,” he says. “It’s only free for those who don’t have to sacrifice to make it possible. People risk life and limb and come back damaged in all kinds of ways, and hardly receive the recognition, let alone the treatment and necessary services that are needed. And the people who serve on our behalf, when they are impacted by their service, we sometimes forget that their families are impacted too.”
“Saying that you love the country means that you love the diversity of people here,” he continues. “And caring about the plight of the military. I would feel that I’m short-changing myself to not do that.”
These days Stanley and his bandmate and partner Gene Simmons share a few other business interests outside of KISS. One of those is the restaurant chain, Rock and Brews. He explains his philosophy for the business. “I’ve always found that if I address my own needs, I address the needs of other people. It’s a great restaurant that pays tribute to the music that we all love—classic rock—and you can bring your kids, it has an indoor/outdoor design. We have food that, if you could serve it at home, you’d have guests all the time, and anywhere from fifty to a hundred craft beers.”
He notes that Rock and Brews works to have a more positive impact on the communities that it enters. “We serve local craft beers, we try to bring in local produce, we try to support the neighborhood. It’s very easy for an establishment or business to come into a neighborhood and plunder it. We see our place as being members of the community and being good neighbors. Whether that means having an opening day event supporting local military support groups, or making sure that we’re serving the best fresh food, it’s something that feels great to do. It’s not a ploy to sell t-shirts on the way out—although we do sell t-shirts—it’s really a great, great restaurant. We have great pretzels; we bring our dough in from Germany. We are determined not only to have a great place to socialize, but a great place to eat and drink.”
Another business concern is the arena football team, the L.A. KISS. When news broke that Simmons and Stanley bought a football team, it was a bit of a surprise in both the music and sports worlds. “Well people sometimes say, ‘Why?’ I say, ‘Why not?’ I don’t live within the boundaries or restrictions that other people do. I like to challenge myself, and I define myself by those challenges. Whether it’s having an arena football team or starring in Phantom of the Opera or having a career as a painter… for me, it’s all about seeing who I am. I never know what’s coming in the next chapter, but I’m open!”
Like Simmons, Stanley concedes that he isn’t a huge football fan: “I’m a fan of competitive sports, and I’m a fan of people pushing themselves to find their limit. Although I certainly never spent a lot of time going to football games, to see these people out on the field, is breathtaking and exhilarating. To see players who are in the upper 1% of the top players… sometimes arena football gets a bad rap because people think that they’re second stringers. The fact is, there’s only so many positions in the NFL, and there are many, many fabulous players. To watch these guys up close, is, for me, amazing, it’s a huge adrenaline rush, and to have a vested interest in our name being on it, makes it that much more exciting.”
Of course, the outside interests never keep Stanley and Simmons away from KISS for too long, and touring is still at the core of KISS’s business. They record less and less frequently these days, though. Are they planning a new album? “Well, it’s a very conflicted subject,” he says. “In one sense, there’s no reason to put out any new music. Because the delivery systems that are available don’t pay. We’re in a situation now where artists have to take what they can get, as opposed to what they deserve. For me, it’s more of a moral issue than anything else, because I don’t have to worry about paying the rent, but what about new bands?”
The other issue, of course, is that fans don’t always like to hear new music. Stanley notes that it can take a few years (or more) for a song to become a fan favorite.
“A classic song can only become classic as it gains patina, so to speak, as it gains age,” he notes. “Not to get too highbrow, but fine wine has to age, and what makes a song classic is that it endures and that you have a time period or an event that’s associated with it, and that doesn’t just happen overnight. ‘Psycho Circus’ has become a classic, ‘Lick It Up’ has become a classic. Do I think ‘Hell or Hallelujah’ [from the band’s 2012 album, Monster] will? Absolutely.”
One album that has been regarded as a classic for decades is Rock and Roll Over, which turns 40 later this year. The album contained a very unusual song, by KISS’s standards: the country-tinged “Hard Luck Woman.” As legend has it, Stanley wrote the song with Rod Stewart in mind, which he confirms. “Yeah, I was a big fan of the ‘Gasoline Alley,’ ‘Mandolin Wind,’ ‘You Wear It Well,’ ‘ ‘Maggie Mae’ era of Rod. So I thought, ‘ I could write one of those songs!’ And I did, and it was ‘Hard Luck Woman.'”
He adds that he often wrote in different genres, just to see if he could do it: “I wrote a whole lot of songs, almost as exercises. I would hear something on the radio, and would try to write a song in that style. Just a few days ago, I was playing [KISS guitarist] Tommy [Thayer] a song that I wrote in the ’80s with Chicago in mind. It sounds like a Chicago song! I love that. It’s like, working on a puzzle.”
“I’ve got a little treasure trove of all these songs that really are very clearly for other people,” he adds.
But he says he isn’t going to release his demo recordings. “I doubt it, I don’t want to put out a grab bag of odds and ends, that’s not really my style.”
Two years ago, Stanley grabbed headlines when he vocally criticized the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the weeks leading up to KISS’s induction; he even criticized the organization from their own stage. That was a drama that played out again this year, during Steve Miller’s speech.
“I sent him a message to Steve: ‘Go get ’em!’ But things are changing, because the credibility of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has been on such shaky ground that it’s almost become meaningless. So, once the floodgates opened, all of the sudden you’re getting Deep Purple, you’re getting Cheap Trick. Deep Purple should have been in twenty years ago! And the old guard at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is slowly being shown the door. Just as a matter of survival, they have to change their policies, because it’s back door politics as opposed to listening to the people. So, when you scratch your head about why Patti Smith is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, that casts a shadow of doubt on the organization. I think what Steve was talking about was also the robbery of artists by an organization where you’re limited to a ticket or two [ to the induction ceremony], and if you want to bring anyone else, it costs as much as buying a car! And then you have to ask, ‘Where’s that money going?’ Not to dwell on Steve Miller, but that’s what he wants to find out.”
KISS has always prided themselves in being a band “of the people, and for the people.” It’s probably why they have taken such exception to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame passing over more popular groups for more critically hailed ones. It’s probably that “everyman” quality that inspired him to tweet John Cena’s recent viral video “We Are America/Love Has No Labels” and tag both official Democratic and Republican accounts in his tweet.
Paul Stanley (@PaulStanleyLive) July 06, 2016
“John said it so eloquently, and beautifully, and I give him a huge amount of credit for standing up for some beliefs that perhaps some people don’t share, or would be surprised or annoyed that he would advocate for. It was eloquent and to the point, and it’s something for all Americans to think about. This country is made up of an incredible amount of diversity, and many of the people we think are at the forefront, aren’t. Everybody who is here deserves respect and the freedom to be who they are. I tweeted out a few weeks ago, ‘Let’s forget about tolerance. Let’s start teaching acceptance.’ That is what freedom, and freedom of choice, is about. And if I get to live the way I want, then I need to support the way you live.”
FATHERS. Let's forget about teaching TOLERANCE & start teaching ACCEPTANCE. Race, religion, sexual orientation. Amen https://t.co/g4Xwc59tUb—
Paul Stanley (@PaulStanleyLive) June 19, 2016
KISS’s tour continues tonight in Independence, MO. Find their tour dates at Eventful.