lick your lips it's kiss
The Starchild, aka Paul Stanley, has been donning platforms, painting his face and creating the legend that is Kiss for 43 years. We spoke to him about why the Kiss Army is still as big as ever and how his ego stayed in check – plus we got the recipe...
Paul Stanley, Kiss, © 2017 KISS Catalog, Ltd. Under License to Epic Rights
The make-up, the seriously high platforms, the leather and flesh and tongues — the Kiss look is iconic, their Heavy Metal sound anthemic and theatrics unapologetic. The band first took the stage in typically epic fashion in 1973, and haven't stopped making Kisstory since. Loved and loathed — by critics who diss their power chord party rock, and thanks to the always divisive Gene Simmons and his controversy courting statements — they care as much about giving their audience a show as they do about creating classic albums. Paul Stanley, The Starchild, has been there since the beginning, playing rhythm guitar, singing and writing some of the band's biggest hits. He's also, despite major fame and fortune, a really nice guy who can cook a mean pasta meal. We spoke to the music legend before he heads off for Kiss' 2017 European tour.
What are your earliest memories of rock 'n' roll — what LPs were you after when you were a teenager?
I remember probably being five or six years old, and in the States we had some rock 'n' roll shows that were on daily. One was Alan Freed, and Dick Clark had a show, American Bandstand, and I just remember seeing what we would call Doo-wop bands, like The Elegants and The Impalas, I remember seeing Eddie Cochran, who I thought was amazing. My first record was a 78rpm by the Everly Brothers that I probably got as a five year old. It was quite a while before I had another album, the next one I had probably was the Four Seasons, the album with their first hits. I was always hugely impacted by music and rock 'n' roll, and while others kids were outside playing I was inside watching Dick Clark or Alan Freed and just fantasising of a day when I would be a teenager, because the music was really a reflection of this idealised version of teen life - romance and heartbreak and all kinds of things that seemed fascinating to me as a young kid.
What does someone like David Bowie mean to you?
I was a fan of Bowie in the early days and onward towards Ziggy Stardust. You know, I've always been an Anglophile. My pilgrimage weekly was to go to an international newsstand down in Greenwich Village to buy Sounds and NME and Melody Maker and to read about this mythical place called England where all this music was being made and all these bands looked so terrific. I was very influenced by the British musicians and bands, they were much more appealing and seemed to understand the totality of being a musician and a performer, as opposed to just being a musician - their fashion style was something I was innately drawn to.
I was at a Sabbath show recently and there was a kid there - must have been 16 or 17 - and he was wearing a denim vest covered entirely in Kiss patches, and on his arm was a big Kiss tattoo. How does it feel to still to still be racking up such die-hard fans from new generations? Did you ever imagine you would be a part of such an enduring legacy?
It's incredibly humbling and gratifying to see that what we do and have done is really timeless, nobody could have foreseen that in the beginning, because there was no precedent for bands lasting more than five years, so all I really hoped for was a five year run. As songwriters and musicians continue to write and reflect the common interests and life that they share with their fans it allowed bands and solo performers to continue on, so the lifespan of bands was greatly increased. If somebody had told me that Kiss would be around in 43 years, 43 years ago that was absurd, but I think that ultimately what we do and have done is timeless, we have always sung about self-empowerment, we've always sung about the possibilities of the individual, finding your own path despite the odds and working hard to succeed and celebrating life. I think there's a place for messages in music but quite honestly I don't want to sing about saving the whales, I'd rather celebrate life. We're well aware of the bad but everyone could use a little respite and a little holiday from it. At this point any band with money can put on a Kiss show. There are countless bands out there with our DNA in their show, any band with cash can buy an elaborate stage show, but no other band can ever be Kiss.
Why is that? What sets Kiss apart?
History, time. You can't replicate our story with one album. You can't replicate our success with anything less than decades. We went against the grain, quite honestly when we first came out on the scene, the whole idea of platform boots and makeup and big shows was thought to be a thing of the past. We came out at a time when singer-songwriters with a single guitar were the norm. But we felt cheated by other bands and in essence wanted to be the band we never saw. We came out of the audience and said let's show you how it's meant to be done. There was an era when entertainers felt they were doing the audience a favour by being there. I think we were a wake up call. The group owe the audience everything, starting with respect, and when you're paying hard-earned money you should expect more than rudeness or complacency.
You seem like one of the nice guys, you don't have the notorious ego that a fellow Kiss band member has displayed over the years.
Hah! Well I can't speak for other people, I can only say that at the end of the day I have to face myself. And if I don't like who I am, and if I don't think I've been genuine, if I don't think I've been kind, if I don't think I've been honest then I'm not going to like the person I see in the mirror. Certainly with time we should find that giving to others is the ultimate reward to us. Some of the things that I say or believe may come across as... corny. But I would like to hope that success gives you the opportunity to become the best you can be. I think people who initially seek success and attention are doing it because of their own sense of... questions about their own self-worth, and issues surrounding that, and when you become successful you're faced with the reality that nothing really changes inside of you, all those doubts still persist so at that point you reach a crossroads - you either put a needle in your arm, a gun in your mouth or you roll up your sleeves and figure out what truly is important. And for me that was becoming a person who's content and realises that the core of happiness is your family and your friends. The reason so many bands spend so much time on tour is because they have no life to go home to. I reached a point early on where I thought that success gave me an opportunity to have a life, not to be relegated to being on tour all the time. Touring is amazing and connecting with the fans is amazing and it enhances my music. But there's so much more to life than being on stage - that's amazing but it becomes hollow if you have nothing when you walk down off that stage.
Is there any particular memory of your early days with Kiss that stands out for you?
We went virtually overnight from playing a club to playing a 4000-seat arena as the opening act on a four act bill. And my recollections are that the stage seemed enormous and that I busted the button on my trousers and I had to hold the guitar in front to stop my trousers from falling down. I was a little bit more chunky at that point and as much as I wanted to run around I was more concerned that I didn't give the audience more than they bargained for.
Have you ever listened to that YouTube compilation of your stage banter?
Of course! I'm smiling. I kind of just... I'm unfiltered and uncensored and unpremeditated when I'm on stage, so for me to hear those things back is a kick. It's amusing and fascinating. Look, part of what I love about this band is not only am I in Kiss, I'm a fan of Kiss. And when I'm on stage I'm up there trying to entertain myself and amuse myself. I'm having the time of my life up there.
On another topic... I've seen you on a cooking show - you're a bit of a chef?
I wouldn't call myself amazing but there's something to be said for going into the kitchen and creating something that tastes great. You know, I think the joy of any artist is taking the intangible and making it tangible. That's why so many musicians are also artists or chefs or they find other outlets because they understand taking a concept and turning it into something real. So yes, I do like cooking.
What's your fave meal to make?
I love pasta, it's very hard to go wrong with it. You can throw a whole lot of things into a pan - you throw some olive oil, some shallots, some basil and fresh red pepper and some chicken, some wine and toss it around a bit and cook it down and add a little butter and mix it with pasta, grate some parmesan on top and life doesn't get much better than that.
Text Clementine de Pressigny