If you want the best rock 'n' roll concert in Arizona this summer, you'll have to travel south. Rock legends Kiss kick off their 'Freedom To Rock" tour at AVA Amphitheater in Tucson on the same day we celebrate America's independence. Nothing says Fourth of July like a Kiss, right? Lame puns aside, the band has been very supportive of Wounded Warrior Project over the years, and has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the charity, which is surely in the spirit of the holiday. We recently caught up with guitarist Paul Stanley and discussed tour preparation, giving the photographers what they want, reconnecting with original lead guitarist Ace Frehley, and one of the best YouTube videos to ever exist.
New Times: You're starting your summer tour in Tucson on the Fourth of July; how do you prepare for a tour these days?
The same way I prepare for every week. You go and make sure you're in the best shape you can be. Once you suit up, you've got a lot more on the line. I not only have to be great, but I have to exceed people's memories of what Kiss is and what they remember. For me, it's not about competing against other bands; it's about competing with the legacy and the history of this band. To do that is something that is a part of my DNA. I'm not a fanatic, but I'm certainly working out every week regardless of a tour. But maybe I put the pedal down a little harder before a tour starts.
Do you guys have actual rehearsals at this point in your career, or or do you know the material pretty well by now?
Despite knowing the material, we would no more go out onstage without rehearsal than somebody would go into the ring to fight the fight of their life without training in the gym. You don't do that; it's not going to give the best results and for us. We have so much on the line. We have this history that people are so connected to, and I think it's always been our obligation and commitment to not only live up to what people will remember but to exceed it. That's a pretty big challenge. It's not to be taken lightly; it's always a matter of training and working with the band to make sure that we're at our best.
You've been in Kiss for 40 years and you've been playing these songs forever; how do you keep it exciting not only for yourself but also for the fans?
Life is exciting, and I hope that's contagious. I'm having a ball, and every time I hit the stage it's a victory lap. At this point, we've made our point and we won. For me, those songs are classics. For me, we've created something iconic, and I'm not only in the band but I'm a fan of the band, so for me to see the band and hear us playing and to see the fervor of the audience — how could I not be excited? It's an amazing position to be in, and one I don't take lightly, and one that I celebrate every time I hit the stage.
Visually, the image of the band made you guys larger-than-life characters. Your interaction with photographers during your shows is like no band I've ever shot before. Is that interaction something that's always been important to you?
I tend to say "I'm not a ham; I'm the whole pig." I enjoy it (as do all of us), making sure the photographers get what they want. Because when we give them what they want, the people get what they want. It's just a way to channel something to the fans. It's a source of getting our images and what we're all about to our fans. You can't fake that. What you see in those photos is real. It's psychical, it's sweaty, it's not necessarily easy, but it's joyous. To disregard the photographers is to disregard our audience because our audience wants those photos, our audience wants to see us, so to snub the photographers or to ignore them is to ignore an aspect of what our fans want, and we're about giving our fans what they desire.
The photo that I captured during your 2014 Phoenix show of you jumping in mid-air has been viewed more than a million times and will probably follow me for the rest of my life. What was your reaction the first time you saw it?
Honestly, I've seen other photos like that. And that's certainly one of the definitive ones. I go, "holy cow." I didn't invent the wheel; I took inspiration from a lot of people that I saw. I remember as a kid in the late '60s seeing The Who, and to me Pete Townsend was like Michael Jordan with a guitar. He just seemed to hover in the air. I just thought how great it would be to be able to play and have it transfer and translate into the physicality of it. Whether it was seeing people like Jimmy Page or people who made more of playing the guitar than just playing it. To see iconic photo of me up in the air — first, I'm damn high, and secondly, people don't realize those boots are about 30 pounds.
They're is a hilarious 20-minute video on YouTube of your best stage banter of the years. Have you had a chance to see it?
What are your thoughts on the clip?
It's great. I'm as much about entertaining myself as I am entertaining the audience. I have a ball onstage, whether it's finding out what I can do physically or verbally. I'm smiling as I'm talking to you because it's awesome.
The best part about the video is that even when you are speaking to the crowd you're still singing to them as you talk.
The great singer/performer I ever saw was Steve Marriott [of Small Faces and Humble Pie], and whether singers know it or not, and many do, he is an influence and has impacted so many singers. [He was] just a phenomenal voice when he was in Humble Pie, who I saw when I was a kid. He didn't talk to the audience. He spoke to them basically in singing and melody, and it was really preaching. I just thought he was the coolest, so what I developed and what I've always tried to do on stage was preach.
You recently reconnected and made a guest appearance on Ace Frehley's solo record Origins, Vol. 1. Did you have any hesitation being a part of the record since that will surely stir the pot with people asking if the original lineup will ever get back together?
Not at all, because I can't second-guess things. Ace asked me; he called me, and to miss out on an opportunity that could turn out to be a real plus would have been crazy. If it turned out to be a nightmare, at least I know I gave it a shot. Ace and I go so far back that honestly I believe that our differences are overshadowed and eclipsed by what we created together, so to be able to reconnect with him was really fun. I think we both had a ball, and then to be able to shoot a video with him was terrific. I had a great time, and to now have Ace back in the circle in terms of being in contact with him and texting with him, I'm better for it. For me, what's such a plus is that it doesn't have to go beyond that and that it really is about reconnecting and seeing somebody in great shape, sober, and focused, and sharing some time together. So I couldn't overthink it.