He’s the first to acknowledge that KISS may not be the most artistically respected band in the land – and he took a few shots at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to make that point – but it didn’t sell 100 million albums for nothing. KISS did it, and still does everything, with passion.
Photo: Barry Brecheisen
Paul Stanley Keynote
Whether it’s branding everything from condoms to coffins (“We get ‘em coming and going”), sponsoring the L.A. KISS arena football team or having the most successful tour in its 40-year history, there’s no denying KISS is as successful as it gets. And the passion that fuels KISS can be applied to life and business as well.
“Drive, blind ambition, never letting anything get it your way,” Stanley said. “There were a lot of obstacles for me. I was born deaf on my right side. I was very unhappy. I was assessed as lazy and an underachiever. My family was dysfunctional – too immersed in their own problems to pay attention to me. Part of my motivation, and that of most entertainers, is a need for adulation and approval. I was blessed to achieve success and then was stunned to realize nothing has changed. When that happens, you can put a needle in your arm, or a gun in your mouth. I've had passion in my life and that’s led to a deep salvation,” he said.
As deep as that statement may be, Stanley peppered his talk with great humor. In discussing his relationship with Gene Simmons, Stanley noted that “we have a love/hate relationship – he loves me; I hate him” and “Gene lives down the street from me – I can see his ego from my house.” But he added that “we have a work ethic and can count on each other.”
Stanley takes pride in not only his band’s passion, but that of the KISS Army. “The KISS Army is 15 million strong and contrary to belief, it’s not a product of Madison Avenue. They were disgruntled fans that weren’t getting what they wanted,” he said, explaining the roots of the legendary fan base that started in the Midwest when a group of fans called a radio station to demand it play their favorite band.
“The DJs laughed. Until thousands surrounded the station.” Stanley said the band will perform its 2,500th concert this year. “We’ve always been the underdog. And we’ve always championed underdogs like us. The ones who say something is impossible are the ones who always fail,” he said. “There is no faking a performance. Passion is at the core of everything I’ve done.”
A big part of Stanley’s passion is giving back and championing other artists on their way up, including Bob Seger, Tom Petty, John Mellencamp, Judas Priest, Motley Crue, Cheap Trick, Iron Maiden and countless others that opened for KISS over the years. Stanley and KISS also have a passion for philanthropy and military veterans.
“For me, what’s been consistent is my sense of gratitude for the opportunity I’ve been given. It's possible to have a great time, make money, and give back to society. We've given a dollar from every ticket to wounded warrior groups. It’s totaled in the millions of dollars. We've given away homes. Not the ones from divorces, either.
“I have a responsibility to those people. And every time I see a member of the KISS Army or Navy, with star tattoos or the KISS logo, it’s humbling. They are lifers. The lengths the KISS Army and Navy have gone...seeing that tattoo is humbling. They given so much of themselves, opened up and made themselves vulnerable. I have to be worth it. It’s a belief in a standard I owe myself and the people who put me where I am, regardless of whether it’s my realm or yours.
“Becoming infamous was easy. Sustaining it is the hard part. There are a lot of things you have to stay on top of. Did the concert promoter deliver respect? The people you hire are representative of who you are, and what you believe. I believe the industry is better than ever. The live business is getting it right.”
But Stanley did lament changes in the music business since KISS was a baby band. “My continuing success has shown me there is no substitute for learning your craft and every area of the business. Rock bands that came on the scene in the 1970s – it was like vaudeville. You started on the bottom of a bill in a club. You worked your way to the top of the bill, and then you went to the auditoriums on the bottom of those bills. You worked your way to arenas, and started at the bottom of the bill all over again. By the time we headlined, we learned the craft.
“Now, they have not had the ability to hone their craft. When you win a TV talent contest, they send you on a tour, and you are expected to captivate an audience in an arena? A crappy band with a smoke machine – it’s asking too much to throw them in the deep end to swim.”
Sustaining initial success also takes passion, Stanley said. “When you come to spend your money on KISS you know what you are getting. Newer acts don’t build the fan base now. My rent is paid and it’s paid by the KISS Army. What makes a band or show great is passion. It’s more important than gimmicks or tech. Those go by the wayside. It’s passion. KISS has impacted the concert business. KISS is in the DNA of every concert.
"You can’t beat KISS. Behind the makeup is commitment, dedication, joy and passion in what we do. When I first saw Garth Brooks, I smiled and told him it was a great show. He said, ‘If you like anything we did, it’s because of you guys.’ We always refused to live within anyone else’s restrictions.”
Of course, one can’t ignore the KISS marketing juggernaut. Stanley laughs and says “I’m not a ham, I’m the whole pig! We perfected merchandizing when it wasn’t cool. Del and Dave Furano, Epic Rights. They are longtime partners. We’re establishing a chain of Rock & Brews restaurants. We listen to fans and we listen to consumers. There’s an assumption of commonality. If you address your needs, you fill the needs of others.
“We have Rock & Brews established at LAX, StubHub Center, AT&T Center, and we intend to move into many venues that you promote. We should have 50 in the next four years. As a parent, I learned that to have lunch you had to have cardboard pizza served by a rat. So why not quality food and beer that pays homage to the music we listen to?”
Rock & Brews is a way to give back to the community, according to Stanley. “Our first opening is an invitation to veterans, first responders and active duty servicepeople because they are the ones we owe everything to. Freedom isn’t free. We invite and honor all the people that make this possible. I am unabashedly patriotic. Love of country is overlooked all too often.”
Stanley explained that for all of its marketing endeavors, the band is scrupulous about how it is represented in its branding.
“Things that strike us as a bad influence or lifestyle or misrepresents us, we will turn down,” he said. “We don‘t want any part of it. If I can’t explain what I’m doing to my kids, I shouldn’t be doing it.. There are many things that are legal but are unethical or immoral. We have to look in the mirror and like what we see. Walking the walk is more important than talking the talk.”
Stanley also credits the band’s long association with manager Doc McGhee. “In 1996 we teamed with Doc McGhee and continue to this day. Doc’s been a great manager and also innately understands his artists. It’s another form of relationship or even a marriage. A smart artist knows management has expertise he’s lacking. It’s essential to surround yourself with people with that expertise, who can add what you don’t have.”
Stanley also talked about recent losses in the music world. “David Bowie, Glenn Frey have left us all reeling. The shock is not only seeing the people who inspired us leave this earth, but our contemporaries. It’s sobering and shocking. David followed his own vision. He enhanced music and took roads I didn’t understand. But that’s the beauty of a true artist. He was also an actor who was acclaimed. A painter. An artist.
“Glenn Frey. A stunning blow. I’ve always been inspired by people who raised the bar not only for themselves but others. He’s part of the Great American Songbook. “When people ask me who I like now, I say Foo Fighters. But even they are 20 years old. We’re still looking at the old guard. The only way to prove yourself is over time. The public decides everything.”
Which brought Stanley back to the contentious relationship with KISS and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – and the passion it takes to get there. “At some point, the public demanded we be inducted. Some choices leave me scratching my head. But I’m in there with Jimmy and Robert, Don and Glenn. It’s a blessing and a curse, and I will continue doing this as long as I can.”