For me, 2014 was the year of KISS. I was lucky enough to meet all of the current and original members of the band, and I was in Brooklyn when Paul, Gene, Peter, and Ace were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. I also interviewed Paul Stanley and received one of his autographed signature guitars as part of a meet and greet. And I closed out the year with two Ace Frehley concerts and meet and greets, not to mention my seabound voyage on KISS Kruise IV, where the band and I were “Dressed to Kill.”
My biggest KISS highlight of this year so far? Interviewing KISS’ current – and best – drummer: Eric Singer. As you can see from the interview below, we covered a lot of ground. Having the opportunity to speak with my favorite drummer for an extended period of time was an absolute joy, and I hope you enjoy the conversation as much as I did.
Earlier this year I interviewed Deen Castronovo, best known for being Journey’s drummer. And when I spoke with Deen he mentioned that you two are friends and that you helped him out earlier on in his career.
I’ve known Deen a long time. I first became aware of him when he was in Wild Dogs. I like the way he played on that record. I remember telling Pearl, “You guys should really sign this guy. He’s really great.”
When I spoke with Deen he told me that when he was a kid he wanted to be in either Journey or KISS, and he wound up being in Journey. Did you have a similar dream growing up?
Oh yeah. I was a big KISS fan. And I don’t know if Deen told you this but at the time they were looking to replace Eric Carr, Deen was one of the drummers they considered. Deen told me that he spoke with Gene Simmons on the phone several times and that he sent Gene videotapes. Then Deen told me, “I never heard from Gene again and I found out that you, Eric, got the gig.” That’s what Deen told me.
But Deen is great and went on to be in Hardline, Bad English, and of course, Journey. And he has a phenomenal voice. It’s a natural gift from god. I show people videos of him and say, “You’ve gotta’ check this guy out. He’ll blow you away.” He should be the lead singer of Journey because he’s the closest you’re gonna’ get to Steve Perry, in my opinion.
You’re a great singer as well. However, you didn’t get a studio lead vocal on a KISS album until Sonic Boom. When you came in to do Revenge, did you think you’d get a chance to sing on the album? Was it even a consideration at the time?
No. When they first asked me to be in the band, they didn’t know I could sing at all. I did a little bit of singing backgrounds for the Revenge album in the studio, but they didn’t know I could be a lead singer on a tune. That they didn’t know. And to be honest, I didn’t really know either.
When I first started playing with them, I remember going to rehearsal and saying to them, “What parts do you want me to sing?” And they didn’t even realize I could sing. I told them, “Well, I can sing a little bit, but I’m not sure which parts.” So, Gene would say, “OK. Can you sing this part?” And I would go, “No, that’s too low for me.” And he said, “OK, you sing this part and I’ll sing that part.” And that’s the way it developed. Song-by-song I started to see what I was capable of singing and what I was comfortable doing.
Now it’s gotten to the point where I sing a lot. I sing all the high harmonies in the band. But that’s not something that was intentional or known, in the beginning, that this was something I was going to be doing. They didn’t know I could do it, and neither did I. I knew I could sing a little bit. I just didn’t know how much. The first time I remember hearing your vocals was MTV Unplugged, where you and Peter were trading vocals and drumming together, which was awesome. What was that experience like?
It was cool. The irony of it is I sang the Gene part of the song. And Peter would come in with (sings) “Ya got nothin’ to lose” and all the throwaway stuff. But the main body of the song was Gene’s vocals, which I did. Now when we do it, I do both parts. Sometimes we do it at our meet and greets.
There’s lots of songs we do during those meet and greets that fans wouldn’t otherwise see us perform live. Put it this way: everything we do during that meet and greet performance, we don’t do during the regular show that night. This way people who do the meet and greet get two concerts. They get an acoustic concert of material they’re not going to hear later. And they get the electric show later.
Doing the meet and greet package is supposed to be a special event and should be different, and it is.
What’s it like for you doing these meet and greet experiences? You’re a KISS fan yourself. So, what’s it like having the opportunity to spend time with other fans?
From my perspective, it’s a cool thing. I know it’s not for everybody. There’s people that, sometimes, want to be negative about it. Some people have this attitude that they don’t think it’s fair that a band charges fans money to meet them. But that’s not the premise behind it. The whole idea is it’s a special package.
Nobody does a meet and greet like what we do. Nobody does it like us, where we play acoustically for half-an-hour, autograph items, then go get in makeup and come back for photos. No band does a meet and greet experience like we do. Not that I know of – where the band is that involved and you get so much more.
It’s not for everybody. If you can’t afford to do it, don’t complain. Just because you go to a concert, it doesn’t automatically mean you get to meet the band as part of purchasing your ticket. No band does that automatically. “Yeah, we’re gonna’ hang around and meet everyone that wants to meet us.” That’s not how it works.
Sometimes you’ll meet a band by happenstance, if you’re walking down the street or at a mall. Or maybe people try to go to the hotel to try and meet them. But I never tried to meet any band. So, to me, I don’t see what the problem is. It’s a special package for those people that want to do it.
You shouldn’t be mad if you can’t afford to do it. It’s a choice. You’re not obligated to do it. You either do it or you don’t. And if you can afford it, I think that’s great. I will say this: I do think people get a good value for their money. I think they get a great value.
The band, we have to change our whole schedule to accommodate the situation. And we put a lot of work and effort into making sure it’s a good experience. We want to make sure everybody’s into it and that it’s a lot of fun. If you ask anyone that’s ever done it, I’m sure you’ll get mostly positive responses and that they’ll talk about what a cool experience it is.
Speaking of unique experiences KISS creates for its fans, I went on KISS Kruise III and KISS Kruise IV. How did the idea for the KISS Kruise develop?
I don’t know. There are cruises for almost any interest or hobby nowadays. All I remember is somebody from Sixthman asked us to do it. The first one was done on a Carnival cruise ship, but then Sixthman struck a deal with Norwegian and we’ve been doing it on the Norwegian Pearl ever since. This year we’re doing the fifth one and we’re going to Jamaica, which will be different.
You gotta’ remember, once you’re in a band and you’re on the road doing what you do, you’re kind of like a car manufacturer. You’re trying to find another way to keep repackaging what it is that you do. And I think that’s the way it is for all bands. That’s why bands come up with a new stage set or some kind of theme. You’re trying to come up with some kind of reason to tour, at the end of the day.
Earlier this year in interviews with the media, Paul and Gene had conflicting comments about whether or not KISS will record a new album. What’s your take on this? Will KISS go back into the studio to record a new album?
Ya know, I always say, “Never say never.” Currently, there are no plans to make a record. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be at some point. One thing I do know is that we’ll be touring more next year. As any KISS fan knows, you guys are phenomenal live. And you’ve recently been touring overseas. What’s the difference for you when it comes to touring in the U.S. versus touring internationally?
Well, we had some amazing shows this year in Europe. The crowd in Madrid, Spain was amazing, just amazing. The crowds in South America are also fantastic. They’re some of the most passionate fans we have. In some places people tend to wear their hearts on their sleeves. They express themselves much more readily and openly. And the Latin countries are known for being much more outwardly vocal and passionate.
But Spain, when we walked out the door after the show, there had to be at least 500 people in the streets waiting for us. It was insane. A lot of little kids. I remember, I had a bunch of photos signed by the band, so I gave them to the kids. And the look in their eyes showed that they were stunned; they didn’t know what to make of it. They were definitely affected by it, which was cool.
People of all generations get to experience KISS. It’s a multi-generational thing at this point, and I think that’s great.
You’ve had multiple stints with the band, the second time being when you stepped in for Peter during The Farewell Tour. What was it like coming back to the band at that time?
At that point, I was still playing with Alice Cooper. When they did the Reunion Tour, I didn’t have much contact with anyone in the band for a while. It was hugely successful, and I was back playing with Alice Cooper. Then Paul called me up and told me that they wanted me to come tour with them in Australia and Japan. He told me they were making a change because things weren’t working out with Peter.
I was actually out of the country when I got the call. My lawyer contacted me saying KISS reached out to him and that they wanted me in the band. I didn’t know what was going on at the time regarding the makeup. My lawyer said, “They’re going to have you wear makeup, but they’re not sure what they’re going to do yet.” By the time I got back, they decided they wanted me to wear the Catman makeup.
I was back in the band for a little over a year, and then Ace decided he didn’t want to be in the band. He was becoming less and less reliable. Every time we tried to do something, it would become difficult because we wouldn’t know if he’d make it or not. One minute he’d say, “Yes.” Then the next minute he’d say, “No.”
I remember that summer, the summer of 2001, when I first came back, our manager booked a European tour three times and had to cancel it each time. The reason why is because Ace would commit to it and then change his mind.
Just so I’m clear, the band did everything in their power to keep Ace in KISS. But he’s the one that made it more and more difficult. And eventually, we did a show, a private party, and Ace didn’t want to show up in LA to do rehearsals. We had already committed to doing the show, so we had Tommy Thayer step in and do the show. And that was it. From that point on Tommy was the guitar player.
To me, KISS was firing on all cylinders during the Revenge and Unplugged era. So, when the band decided to completely shift gears and do the Reunion Tour, was that a hard thing for you to handle at the time?
I was a little disappointed and upset, but I didn’t start slinging shit. I was actually surprised that the Reunion Tour even happened. The reason why I say that is because during the rehearsals for the Unplugged show it was clear to me that Ace and Peter weren’t at the level they needed to be for it to happen. Gene and Paul, by comparison, were much more polished and advanced than Ace and Peter at that point in time. It was blatantly obvious. But Gene and Paul saw the potential in a Reunion Tour.
Even Bruce used to tell me, “Eric, at some point I think they’ll do a Reunion Tour in makeup.” I guess I just didn’t want to believe it was possible. But I think Bruce was less surprised than I was.
Gene and Paul were cool about it. They sat us down and said, “We’re going to do a Reunion Tour. We don’t know what’s going to happen. We don’t know how it’s going to go over.” Bottom line is they had a record done. It was in the can: Carnival of Souls. And they had Bruce and I on retainer. So if it didn’t work out, plan B was already in place. They had Carnival of Souls and Eric and Bruce in place as a plan B if the Reunion Tour didn’t work out.
They had a choice to go in either direction, but the success of the Reunion Tour dictated that they should continue in that direction. It’s business, and I fully understand what they did and why they did it. If I were Gene and Paul, I would have done the exact same thing. The bottom line is you want to be successful. You’ve gotta’ give people what they want, and the Reunion Tour was just that. It was hugely successful. I find it annoying that a small group of fans can’t accept you and Tommy as members of the band. For some of them it’s because you guys are wearing the classic makeup that Ace and Peter used to wear. How do you deal with these narrow-minded individuals?
If a band can’t continue on because somebody quits, can’t play anymore, whatever the reason is, that shouldn’t prevent the remaining members from continuing on if that’s what they want to do. Styx is a good example. I’m really good friends with Ricky Phillips, their bass player. I saw Styx in their heyday back in the 70s, but I think they’re every bit as good now, if not better. The same thing applies to Foreigner. They’re another great band that no longer features all of the classic or original members, but they sound fantastic.
To me, that’s what it’s all about. As long as the members of the band are doing the music justice and paying respect to its origins, then I’m fine with it. That’s what it’s all about. If a band gets new members and they aren’t very good, then you have the right to complain.
The way people look at the makeup situation is interesting to me. I don’t play any different in makeup than I do out of makeup, yet people perceive that their is a difference. I do have a more toned-down approach than I did when I first joined the band, but that’s because I believe that’s what the music dictates and needs.
I’ve heard people say that I was told to sing, play and act like Peter Criss. That’s completely ridiculous. I’ve never once been told to do that. Never. So, when people say that, it’s totally ridiculous. Look at any of the shows I’ve done since being in the band after Peter. I don’t play anything like Peter Criss.
Sonic Boom and Monster are two of my favorite KISS albums. Although, I think Sonic Boom is significantly better. What was it like going into the studio to record those two albums?
There was no pressure. It was just fun. The chemistry and interactions between the four of us during those sessions was always good and positive. I love recording. I like that environment. You have to be very intense and focused on what you’re doing. But I like that. It’s a chance to be creative.
Monster, I think, people would like it more if it sounded better. I don’t think the mix turned out the way it could have. I’m not happy with the way it sounds. Like Creatures of the Night, which had an iconic sound, the songs on Monster would have had a completely different impact if there was a different mix and sound. I just think Sonic Boom is a better sounding record. And it was the same group of people in the same studio both times. Same engineer, same everything. But sometimes people’s points of view are different than the end result. And my point of view on what it should have sounded like was different than what it ended up sounding like. You mentioned Alice Cooper earlier. What was it like working with him?
I did 13 tours with Alice. And he’s one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. He’s a real character and a legend, of course. Billion Dollar Babies had a big influence on me as a kid. The same thing with KISS. I was a huge fan of them growing up. So, being able to play with music icons who I grew up admiring is a real thrill.