My main focus for those solo albums was I wanted them to have a timeless quality. If possible, I wanted to make sure they never looked dated. It would have been very easy to take each guy, in his full costume, in some sort of a setting that complemented his stage character. That would have been the easiest thing to do. Here’s the demon guy and let’s put some demon stuff around him. (laughs) I thought about it, but I was feeling the creative challenge, the pressure, to come up with something that was great – not just good. I pushed myself mentally quite a bit. It’s hard. I don’t know that anybody can put themselves in a designer or art director’s shoes when he has to come up with – especially for a big, important client like KISS. You can’t just put anything out there. So, I said, “Well, they have to be portraits. To hell with that full-body stuff. A big face. And I think the band will like that better anyway.” I was trying to imagine it in my head as a photograph, but it just wasn’t working for me. Even if it was beautifully lit and done by one of the best photographers, it just wasn’t clicking for me. I said, “I think this has to be a painting. That gives it a timeless quality. Like the President of the United States. You have your portrait painted.”
It hit me what to do. A few years prior I had this crappy little job where the band members had their signatures made into metal pins that fans could buy. And they were stuck on a piece of cardboard that would say something like, “Gene Simmons is the demon and when you wear this pin you will act like a demon,” or something like that. I don’t remember what it said. (laughs) Each guy’s piece of cardboard had something like that, with messaging that was appropriate for his respective character. Bill Aucoin said, “It’s a cheap job so make the cardboard one color for all of the pins. They hang these up in the supermarket.” But then I got this idea so I said, “Can I make each one a different color?” He said, “OK. Yeah, yeah.” Then I realized I had to come up with a unique color for each of the guys. I figured I’d make Gene red because he pukes blood and blows fire. That’s easy, right? Prior to this, none of them had colors in KISS. Their costumes didn’t have color, so this was a first for the band. I made Ace blue for space, I guess. Space isn’t blue, but it’s the best I could do. Ya know, like the sky. Green for the jungle cat. And I didn’t know what to do for Paul. I had no idea because I didn’t know what he was. I was thinking, “What the hell is this guy?” He’s got the star on his face. He’s the starchild. He represents passion or some shit like that. Well, passion is purple. That’s a great color. I like purple anyway. So, now I have their four colors. That was several years prior to the paintings for the solo albums.
That’s when I first did that double-outline KISS logo. I didn’t want to have a big solid color logo up there. I thought that would crap up the covers. I was trying to keep them as low-key, subtle, sophisticated, and timeless as I could. I did their names in an outline typeface. That’s filled in solid. That makes them light and airy. And I did the logo the same way. I think that really was the right solution for those solo albums.
Yeah, I did. It’s made of mylar, which is a thin material so we had to mount it to cardboard before we could do any printing or embossing on it. It was so expensive. It was just crazy expensive. Mylar is very shiny and reflective. It’s great. It was my boss’ idea to do something like that – Howard Marks. So, I said, “Fine,” not realizing the technical difficulties of it. We got some of the printer guys in and they told us that it was a difficult material to work with. They told us that trying to emboss the band’s images in it or their logo wouldn’t stay. Mylar is like plastic or rubber, almost. It has a memory. If you make a dimple in it, it’s going to eventually shrink down until it returns to its original state. It won’t hold the embossing. My boss was adamant about it, because he’s a stubborn prick. He said, “We have to use mylar. I want it to be shiny, shiny, shiny.” Meanwhile, they’re bringing him all these samples of other materials to use, like silver paper and silver cardboard. They’re not as shiny as the mylar, but they’re silver so they look nice. Most importantly, they hold the embossing – like Mount Rushmore. Just beautiful. You could really make a deep, heavy embossing that would have been spectacular. I loved the way that looked. It wasn’t as shiny, but it still had a luster to it. The embossing was rich and deep. But Howard wouldn’t have it. He’d say, “No, no, no. Not shiny enough.” So, we go with the mylar. If you have a Double Platinum album now and you look at the embossing, it’s barely there. Very subtle. It’s shrunk back to its original state. It’s probably still shrinking to this day. (laughs) That album won some awards for technical achievement, in the printing industry. I never told that to anybody. It just occurred to me. I just remembered it.
Yeah, that’s sort of a nothing cover. But some people love it. It’s simple. The reason for that one is Bill Aucoin wanted to use a famous photographer. I guess he was trying to attach the celebrity of KISS to the celebrity of a famous photographer, something like that. They wanted to use Francesco Scavullo, who, at that point, was one of the most famous photographers in the world. He was very well known, but he mostly did fashion magazine covers. Cosmopolitan, Vogue, Harper’s, all the big ones. That was his career. He photographed all of the most famous models and movie starlets. He was so famous that even his makeup artist was famous. They wanted to use him, even though I didn’t particularly see the point.
I implemented it as an art director, but it wasn’t my concept. Honestly, I don’t know where it came from. But they wanted to tell a little story. Peggy, our writer at the agency, wrote that comic strip. We hired Victor Stabin to do the artwork for that. We liked his work and I loved the illustrations of his that I had seen. We called him in and asked him if he was interested. He said he was. He gave us a price, which was a real healthy price. It was a lot. Victor did a fine job, in the end, but he was a pain in the ass to work with. I think he bit off more than he could chew. He didn’t realize how difficult and time-consuming the job was going to be. He kept missing deadlines and asking for more money as he went along. “Not only am I not going to make the deadline, I want more money.” He did that more than once. He did it twice. It was aggravating, to say the least. Finally, we were up against it and we had a deadline and he said, again, “I’m not quite done.” I said, “Victor, I’m coming down to your studio at 10 o’clock tonight and I’m taking that job, done or not.” (laughs) He had assistants working with him. At the time, at our office, we had a limo and a limo driver. Howard, my boss, told me I could use the car anytime I wanted, as long as he wasn’t using it. A company car kind of thing. So, I needed to go down to Victor’s studio and it was late at night. Very often, we worked late. 10 o’clock at night was nothing. I got the driver, Tony, and asked him to take down to blah blah street and to wait outside for me. I got out and went up to Victor’s studio and he’s still painting. “What color do you think this should be, Dennis?” I said, “Look, make it that color there and then give it to me because I’m gone.” I took the job. It was done. It was done enough. I had to send it to be photographed for big 8×10 transparencies. Then, when we got the transparencies, they’d go to the separator, blah, blah, blah, so on and so forth. But it had to be shot. It had to be photographed.
I hated the idea for the album. I thought it was stupid. But it’s not for me to say, I guess. I’m just a designer. However, it seemed to me like they were trying to be viewed as an important band and not to be taken lightly. They were trying to be taken more seriously as a rock band. Somebody said they were trying to do something similar to what The Who did with Tommy, something like that. But the whole story was cliche, to me. First of all, it wasn’t a well thought out story. It was very vague. I didn’t know too much about the story, and I don’t think they did either.
When it came to designing the album, I thought about having a medieval castle door, or something like that, on the cover. With a lot of age to it and a lot of character. And I wanted a little boy on the cover too – the chosen one. I wanted it to appear like a storyboard illustration so when you looked at it you would imagine to yourself what the story might be. The idea was to have the little boy approaching the door and reaching for the knocker – so he could go meet with The Elder. I did a little layout with the kid looking back over his shoulder, toward the camera, while reaching for the knocker with a look on his face like “Uh oh. What am I getting myself into? What’s behind this door?” A little bit of that trepidation. It was a nice layout and I thought it fit the bill. The reason there’s no KISS on it is because of its name Music From The Elder and because they talked about making a movie out of this. To me, this was the soundtrack to that movie. It was the music from The Elder. Therefore, KISS shouldn’t be on it. If you’re designing a soundtrack album, you don’t put a picture of the orchestra on it. You do something else. In other words, I’m illustrating the story of the film through the artwork on the album.
KISS saw my album cover layout with the little boy and they said, “How about just the door and the knocker and not the little boy?” I don’t know if it’s ego or what, but they just didn’t want to have another recognizable human being on their album cover. It’s a KISS album cover. They didn’t want people going, “Who’s this kid?” I get that. But, at the same time, a photograph like that can illustrate a story. It’s done every day. But I told them, “OK, guys. I’ll do the door, the knocker and a hand.”
Somebody else created the knocker. A photographer friend of ours. The guy made a terrible looking thing. It was horrible. It looked like a piece of crap. We couldn’t use that, so I went back to the guy who created the door and I said, “Bill, we need a knocker.” (laughs) He made a nice knocker and that was that. It was only half a door. We didn’t need a whole door made because it was just going to be a close-up of that area. He sent it to us at the agency and I had to wind up sending it back. No matter how good you describe something, sometimes you realize that you could have described it better. (laughs) They didn’t give me exactly what I thought I was going to get. I got this door and it was too red, probably because the photo I gave him had a reddish quality to it. It had a varnish on it and it looked a little red. I didn’t think he was going to make it look red. I thought he was going to make it a brownish wooden color. He copied it a little too exact. So, I said, “No, no, no. That red color’s got to go. It’s kind of ugly.” Also, the door was too new looking. It didn’t have any age to it. I said, “Bill, you’ve gotta’ distress it. It’s gotta be distressed.” He said, “Oh, well. I’m distressed.” (laughs) He knew we had to do it. It was made out of a soft wood. All we had to do was take out his little sandblaster and it ate away at the wood very easily and gave it a lot of age. So, the second time around the door looked good.
Yeah, those are throwaway designs. There was no big concept behind any of that stuff. It was just making an album cover and doing my best to make it look as good as I could. They sent me a photo to use from a photo session the band did with Barry Levine. That’s what we did. There was no big deal about that one, I don’t think.
Oh yeah, I love Creatures. It’s simple. But it’s a good, simple concept. Creatures of the night are nocturnal. Very often, when you shine the light in their eyes – like your little kitty-cat – their eyes glow. They really do glow. They reflect right back at you.
I was doing lots of layouts of the band showing their entire bodies. These layouts were in swamps, forests and things like that. Murky, dark areas. I had other creatures in these layouts, like snakes and bats, so the band was surrounded by these other creatures of the night. None of that got approved. We even had some sketch artists do some really nice sketches of that but they didn’t approve any of those.
I went back to my old standby when I’m in trouble coming up with a concept for these guys. I said, “I’m going to make their faces big.” And anytime I say I’m going to make their faces big they say, “I love it!” (laughs) But I wanted it to have a blue cast to it and have their eyes glow, to make it more powerful. These four big faces in blue, monochromatic, connoting nighttime. And then the glowing eyes. I thought that should be a good looking cover.
I did a nice layout using photos of the guys I had laying around. I blew up their faces, in negative Photostat form. And I cut them out and pasted them up on a piece of black cardboard that we had and I put them close to each other. I played around with them until I got them exactly how I liked them. Then I sent that out for a one-piece Photostat in positive. And the positive came back and we had something called Spray Mark, which was like magic marker in a can, and I sprayed the whole thing blue so all the white areas went blue and all of the black areas stayed black. I masked off their eyes and I did a little frisket with this masking material. I had an airbrush and I blew some white paint there and I made it bleed under the mask so it would have that fuzzy edge, like it’s glowing. It was a nice looking layout.
Michael James Jackson, the album’s producer, came by to look at my layout. I had never had a producer come by and look at my artwork before. I may have met Bob Ezrin before. I don’t remember. But I do remember Michael Jackson coming by the art department. They all loved this layout. The band loved it. Michael loved it. They were all complimenting me on it saying, “Great job!” Michael said to me, “So, when you do the real one, is it going to be rough like this?” I said, “No, it’s going to be a photograph. It’s going to be a really nice, perfect photo.” He said, “Oh, no, no. You should keep it rough.” I said, “Why? It doesn’t go with the concept.” I didn’t know how to do it anyway. Why would I do that?
Back then there were no computers or Photoshop. So, I had to think of a way to shoot this layout. I said, “How are we going to get this to look blue like this?” Then I realized that there are different kinds of film for cameras. For example, if you use daylight film indoors it’ll give you a blue cast or vice versa. I can’t remember. We tried that. I went to a photographer and asked him if he’d sample picture for me so we could see what would work. He said, “Sure.” I put white makeup on and sat there for this trial. None of it looked right. Then I talked to Bernard Vidal because he was going to be the photographer for this. He said, “We should just use blue gels.” I said, “Is that going to make it blue enough? I can see it casting a blue light, but will it be enough?” He guaranteed it would work. I don’t remember, but he must have done a sample for me. We weren’t going to set up a big photo session with the band and not have this work. Whatever he did, it was good.
Yeah, I barely remember doing it. It wasn’t much of an event. Once again, I did a double-outline of the KISS logo. Here they are without their makeup, which was a stripped-down look. Therefore, I stripped-down the logo again. Gene has his tongue out, which is basically the only nod to the fact that they’re still KISS.
Were you there for the Lick It Up photo session?
I don’t think I was. Not that one. They just handed me that photo. It’s a good thing because there’s not much to it. I wasn’t there because I would’ve remember Vinnie Vincent.
By then it wasn’t such a novelty to be doing things for them. We had already done a bunch, and they weren’t my only client. I was the creative director of an ad agency. I was a busy guy. (laughs) So, I couldn’t not give them 100% of my time. Sometimes I did because it was exciting. KISS was the biggest band in the world. It was showbiz. I did give them a lot of my time and effort. There were also times when they couldn’t give a shit what their album covers looked like.
That brings us to Animalize.
That’s probably my least favorite one. There was no input from anybody. There were no photo sessions lined up for it. I knew they were wearing costumes with little animal skin things, and that’s all I knew. So, I asked the costume designer to give me some pieces of this animal skin fabric stuff they were using, and I did what I did.
The best part of that cover is the lettering I used for the word Animalize. I took a paper towel out of the men’s room, got some India ink and a brush and dipped the word Animalize so it has that rough edge because it was done on a paper towel. I like my little lettering.
I know some people hate that. I don’t hate it. I hate Animalize more. Paul wanted me to try and do an album cover like The Motels had done with All Four One: high contrast black and white face on it, with a lot of paint splattered on it. I’m not sure if I saw the album cover when I did Asylum or if I just listened to him tell me what it was. I don’t quite remember.
Finally, I got a girlfriend – an absolutely gorgeous woman. A friend of ours had a place in The Hamptons that he said we could use for the week. I knew I couldn’t pass this up. The beautiful girl, The Hamptons. A week. So, I took a vacation. One week. Big deal. Everybody at the office panicked, “Where are you going? What are we gonna do?” (laughs) I said, “If you need me, give me a call.”
Of course, they gave me a call. We had to do the Asylum cover and I believe I had already done a layout for it. I said, “Get the guys in the studio. Use black and white film. I want front shots, like mug shots. A three-quarter left and a three-quarter right. That’s all I need from every guy. Front, side, three-quarter left, three-quarter right, send them home. Just shoot it black and white.” They did that. They followed my instructions and I got the pictures. I blew them up, I cut them out and I stuck them down, just like I did with Creatures. I made a composition and made it high-contrast Photostat. Once I got it how I liked it, I used an acetate overlay and I did the paint. I tried different variations of the final cover, but that’s what we wound up with.
That was it. It was me trying to do Paul’s concept, but I wanted to make it look a little different. I didn’t want to do the same thing. That’s why it is what it is.
Yeah, we got there pictures. We did the same thing. We got Photostat and did the high contrast to lose all the tones. They’re not beautiful gorgeous photos. Making them high contrast made them look more graphic. I had to cut it up and put it together to make that little arrangement. If you look at Eric’s legs, you can see that they’re way longer than they are supposed to be. It’s because I added some leg in there. (laughs) Eric was short, so we made him a little taller. Between his knee and his feet, it’s ridiculous. It’s not proportionate at all. But if you didn’t point it out to somebody, they really wouldn’t know.
I put that together and Paul was hanging around. I said, “Paul, I’ve got a brush and I’m going to tint these by doing a little hand coloring.” He said, “Oh, yeah. Let me help you.” (laughs) I said, “Sure.” I gave him a brush and Paul and I sat there and colored it together. I was doing it upside-down because I was on the other side of the drawing table and he was doing it right-side up. We had a nice little time there together. We were chatting, and I really got closer to Paul that day. All that handwriting – the song titles – that’s mine.
Paul brought the concept to me of doing broken mirrors. I said, “I don’t mind that idea.” But I wasn’t in love with it. I said, “Let me try it.” Very often, I would think an idea was shit but then I’d try it and realize it came out better than I expected. By then I was growing up, mentally speaking. I was more mature. I figured I should at least give it a shot before I shoot it down.
I called Walter Wick, who had created images for I Spy and Can You See What I See? children’s books. I explained the concept to him and told him that the cover would be all broken mirrors and have the band’s faces reflected in them. That’s it. So, he went out and bought a bunch of mirrors and had them cut to 12 inches square. He put them on the floor of the studio, one by one. He had a big ladder there, sort of straddling the mirrors. He was on top of the ladder, and he had this sort of contraption to hold the view camera. This was a huge 8×10 camera, pointing down. So, you could stand on the ladder and look down through the camera’s view finder. He dropped a big weight from up there and, boom, it hit right in the middle of the mirror and it shattered. We broke a lot of mirrors. I have a thousand year’s bad luck now. (laughs)
The way we got the guys in it was we used photographs of them. Walter propped them up around the mirror and they reflected in the mirror. We used color photo prints. It would have been impossible to do that with live guys. It would have been murder on everybody. The solution was using the photographs, and it worked out.
The layouts I was showing the band I was starting to love because the mirrors were absolutely shattered. They were shattered from the middle out. It had a radiating effect, and there were very sharp shards. There were a thousand of them, in some cases. Really small little piece, and then bigger pieces and then really tiny, tiny pieces. And they’d all be reflecting. There were, like, 38 Pauls and 42 Genes. That was the way it would be reflecting because of all of those pieces. I thought it was absolutely off the hook exciting. I said, “Man, this looks great!” And it looked dangerous too. Very violent almost. Crazy Nights, all right! Paul was going, “Nah, my face isn’t big enough because these pieces are too small.” For whatever reason, he didn’t like it. I said, “You’re crazy, man. This is excitement here you’re lookin’ at.”
It got all watered down to the point where the pieces are bigger and there aren’t as many of them. And we had to be careful to get the same amount of Gene and the same amount of Paul. What could have been an exciting job, got watered down. If you didn’t see all the stuff they rejected, it looks OK, I guess. They rejected stuff that looked pretty damn good.
Do you still have the original versions of this album cover?
Nah. I don’t have anything anymore, none of the old layouts. When KISS sued our agency, they took all the artwork. That was a mistake on the agency’s part. I was young and naive at the time. The law says that the creator owns the work. The agency always owns the artwork they create for the client. Not the client. The agency owns it. Yeah, the client pays for it because the agency charges them for it. But the agency owns it, unless they specifically sign it over and say, “We hereby give this work to you.” But that never happens. It’s in the agency’s files. That’s where it’s kept, and it’s owned by the agency. The automatic copyright goes to the creator. I didn’t know that and I don’t think my boss even knew that. So, when they sued us they said, “So, we want all of our artwork.” And my boss just gave it to them. It was a mistake. Big mistake.
On the back cover of Crazy Nights Paul is showing off that he’s wearing a thong. This is something many KISS fans always joke about when this album is discussed.
Ha. I wasn’t at the photo session, but it’s a narcissistic picture. That’s what it is. He doesn’t have his shirt on and his hairy chest is exposed. Paul likes his body. (laughs) Never walked past a mirror and didn’t stop for a second. That’s Paul loving Paul, right there.