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The bellman was at the door to pick up his luggage, his cell phone was ringing (the ringtone: Led Zeppelin's "Black Country Woman") and he had a hacking cough. None of those interruptions prevented singer Paul Stanley from talking about his favorite subject, Kiss.
As it celebrates its 35th anniversary, Stanley's band is hotter than an arena full of flamethrowers. The Kiss Alive 35 tour has filled stadiums in Europe and South America (it comes to Target Center Saturday). "Sonic Boom," Kiss' first album of new material in 11 years, debuted at No. 2 despite being available only at Wal-Mart. And after being shunted aside for 10 years, the band is finally on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ballot.
To top it all, "not only are we getting incredible response from the audience on tour, but it's odd to also get good reviews," Stanley said from Atlanta, with mock surprise.
Kiss' mouthpiece, who turns 58 in January, talked about "Sonic Boom," the status of former members Ace Frehley and Peter Criss, and the newest Kiss products -- M&Ms and a Mr. Potato Head.
QWhy did you decide to go with a Wal-Mart exclusive for "Sonic Boom"?
AThe reality is that the music retail store has pretty much dried up. The music industry is in a tumble, to say the least. And Wal-Mart offered us the opportunity to put out a package that kind of followed our philosophy of giving more than just an album. There was a time when we would include a Love Gun or a poster or a tattoo -- something to just take it over the top. We were able to put together a package that [also] has a CD of re-records of 15 songs and a DVD of excerpts from our most recent stadium show in Buenos Aires. To be able to do that for 12 bucks, it's a no-brainer. Plus, there are a lot more Wal-Marts at this point than there are record stores.
QThere had to be pent-up demand after not releasing an album since "Psycho Circus," your 1998 reunion project.
A There's pent-up curiosity, but there's also room for people to be weary or leery of a new album. There was a lot of anticipation for the last one, and it turned out to fizzle instead of sizzle. It's virtually impossible to make a band album when you're dealing more with members' attorneys than with members. The last time I checked, the attorneys don't play instruments too well. The days of entitlement and demanding songs on an album and how to be featured, those days are over, at least in this camp. The premise of this album was vastly different; you had four people very committed to making a statement, taking what we do live into the studio.
QFor the first time on tour, Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer are wearing the same makeup designs Ace Frehley and Peter Criss did. Why?
AIt's very simple. To do anything else would be to cheat the public. The four characters have grown into iconic status. To dilute that because somebody has left the band or was asked to leave the band is to compromise the band.
QHow do you feel about finally being nominated for the Rock Hall of Fame?
AIt means much more to the fans than it means to me. That being said, I would embrace the opportunity for them. I've always been ambivalent about it. The problem with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is there is no criteria for getting in. You don't have to sell X amount of albums, you don't have to play X amount of concerts. It's a vague concept based on some people's partisan feelings toward certain artists or certain kinds of music. But I am as proud to have the people fighting against us as I am of the people fighting for us. It's all part of Kiss. The fact that we can annoy or irritate people so much is kind of funny. I bask in it sometimes. But it's only music.
QIf Kiss gets elected, will Ace and Peter participate in the induction ceremony?
AThey would have to. The monument may have needed some renovation and redefining, but that's the foundation, the four of us. Absolutely. It would be as absurd as us not being in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
QWhat do you think is Kiss' contribution to music and culture?
AYou'd have to ask all the people influenced by us, and that doesn't necessarily mean rock bands. Country artists, doctors, policemen. ... I think people aspire to greater things and perhaps look to us for support when they're going on a lonely road where everyone else thought they would fail, and they succeed.
As a rock band, we became a wakeup call to fans of what they shouldn't take less than and what they should expect from bands. And the respect that fans should get. And the fact that the audience does the band a favor by showing up, not vice versa. Our obligation when we hit the stage is to give everyone their money's worth and to live up to everything they expect. If we raise the bar in that way, great.
QYou also redefined entertainment aspects of rock.
AWe're proud to be entertainers.
QYou also defined rock merchandising.
AWhen we first came on the scene, "fan club" were two forbidden words. It wasn't cool, it wasn't acceptable. Nobody joins a fan club that doesn't want to. Nobody buys a piece of merchandise that doesn't want to. This idea that we're brilliant because we've made this marketing empire, you can't do that unless people want what you're giving them.
QWho came up with the idea of Kiss M&Ms this year?
AM&Ms. They came up with it. You don't see Kiss cigarettes. You decide what's morally and ethically responsible.
QAnd who came up with the Kiss Mr. Potato Head?
AMr. Potato Head approached us. Look, he was good enough for me to play with when I was a kid. The fact that we are multigenerational shouldn't exclude anybody. It doesn't make it any less cool; it makes it cool.
Jon Bream • 612-673-1719