KISS Monster

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Are you The Ultimate Fan?  Do you not only have every album ever released, but can recite–from memory–the tracking order and personnel lineup of each album, in the chronological order of their release date?  If so, the Monster Book is for you!  What is the Monster Book, you ask?  (Actually, if you’re The Ultimate KISS Fan, you more than likely already know about the book, but for those of us who aren’t Ultimate KISS Fans, read on.)

The KISS Monster Book is big.  Very big.  As Gene Simmons is fond of saying when speaking of the book, “Size does matter.”  Paul Stanley likes to add his own quip:  “This isn’t a coffee table book, it is the coffee table.” Weighing in at nearly 40 pounds, each book is hand-made in Italy, and when its open, it’s approximately four feet by three feet.  It’s an art book, featuring photographs shot by the world’s top rock music photographers.  There will only be 1000 copies printed, and each book will be signed by Simmons, Stanley, Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer.  You can choose the cover art from the flags of ten different nations: USA,  Canada, Australia, Germany, Japan, The United Kingdom, Sweden, Norway, Brazil and Russia, which are the ten nations where the band is most popular.  All of which can be yours for a mere (hold your breath) $4250–which, by the way, includes “FREE DELIVERY!” a fact the website proudly proclaims.  (Personally, if I was spending that much money on a book, I’d want one of the band members to come to my house and place the damn thing in my hands.)

About the cost, the band members are absolutely unapologetic.  Says Stanley, “We understand it’s not for everybody, but it wouldn’t be fair to the people who can afford it and appreciate it to not put it out.  It’s something for a select few.  One size doesn’t fit all with KISS.  Just like those people who have the front row seats, this is a book for people who can afford it.  It’s an art book, limited edition, and we’re very, very proud of it.”

“The quality was important to us.  If we didn’t make it so high-end, we would be compromising it.  Part of what makes this book so special is the quality, and the size.  There was no way to do that without excluding some people.  This is like a celebration and a victory lap.  This is something that means a lot to us.”  When pressed further about the book, Simmons chimes in.  “Well look: There are car dealerships everywhere in this city.  There’s a Rolls Royce dealership.  Not everybody can afford to buy one.  Life gives you the opportunity to buy what you can afford.  Monster, the book, is not for everyone.  It’s a quality product, it costs a lot, and the price is what we set it to be.  You can argue all you want.  If you’re asking to buy a Rolls Royce for $3000, you’re in the wrong car dealership.”

Simmons explains that there was discussion at one point of adding captions to the photos, but that idea was eventually rejected.  “We were toying with the idea of actually having something to read in the book, but in the end we just decided on visuals. It’s an art book. When you go to a museum and see a painting on a wall there’s no commentary from the artist such as ‘This is what I thought while I was painting.’ It’s just the visual imagery.”

Thayer was the one who–at least, unofficially–was in charge of the project.  “I did spearhead it to a certain extent, but it was really a band project.  Everyone was there, throwing their two cents in, picking the greatest photos we could find that would look great in the book.  We not only wanted to capture the excitement of the band onstage, but also the KISS Army, the fans.  There’s a lot of pictures that feature our fans there, too, and that’s a very important element.  We’re fortunate, because we own an amazing catalog of photos.  The photos that we have in our archives are unbelievable.  This is only a fragment of what’s available.” Given the long history of KISS, and the huge amount of photos to sort through, the process must have been very time-consuming.  “We took a lot of time, actually.  We have thousands of photos in our archive–tens of thousands–so it took a lot of time to find those special moments; those special photos that people haven’t seen before.  We all sat down and looked at photos and the very best of them are featured in the book.”  Singer has his personal favorites.  “I prefer black and white, because we see and dream in color, but black and white affects people in a different way, so I’m biased.  I just love black and white photography.  If you asked me to pick the photos, some of them would be the same ones that Gene, Paul and Tommy selected, and some would be different, but I think that’s true for all of us.  It’s not all one photographer, one style, one look.  It’s a broad section of all points of view, because that’s what photography really is at the end of the day. It’s the eye of the photographer–how they interpret something. Some people just have a better eye for it than others.”

To Singer, his enthusiasm for the book ties in with his love of making music.  He elaborates on what keeps the band going.  “Most people go through life not really liking what they do.  We’re blessed with doing something we love, and making a great living doing it.  That, to me, is the fuel and the inspiration to keep doing this, and there’s no rules in the rock world.  There’s no law that says at a certain age you have to stop.  Rock n’ roll was formed when we were all kids, and it’s still an ongoing process.”

The career of KISS has spanned many decades, and has been anchored by Stanley and Simmons.  The drummer and lead guitar slots, however, are a much different story.  Did Stanley and Simmons seek any input from past members on the book?  “We haven’t been in touch with them,” Stanley says.  “It’s like you have great memories of former girlfriends, but it doesn’t mean you want to spend time with them,” a remark that elicits laughter from everyone.  “The trouble with getting back together with certain people is you remember why you separated from them.  We wouldn’t be here today without them, and we couldn’t be here today with them.”  Simmons adds, “Everyone was important in the formation of the band, but that’s the past.  That was then, and this is now.  I would not be onstage with anyone except for these three guys sitting next to me.  We actually have a lot of fun.  We have the time of our lives, and we take great pride in getting up on stage and living up to our motto. Before we get up on stage, we say ‘You wanted the best, you got the best.'”

Monster the book is being released to roughly coincide with Monster the album, KISS’s latest, which is slated to be out this fall.  The band is as enthusiastic about the record as they are the book.  “I’ve lost track of how many albums we’ve done,” says Stanley.  “But I think we’re more proud of this one than most of the others we’ve done.  We spent some of the best months of our careers making this album.  We tried this time not to make a just great KISS album, we tried to make a great rock album that would stand up to all the albums that inspired us.  It was done analog, and it’s a series of first and second takes. The trouble with technology is that you wind up trying to get perfection in place of passion.  Motown didn’t record that way, James Brown didn’t record that way, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, The Stones, all our heroes didn’t record that way.  We spent some of the best months of our careers doing this album, and we’re very proud of it.”  Thayer adds “It’s got a great feel, it’s produced by Paul Stanley, with all the songs written by the four of us.  There were no outside writers, no agenda with power ballads or radio songs, just rock n’ roll, pure and simple, from start to finish.  It’s a classic album–not just a classic KISS album.  It’s one of those albums I’d listen to if it was a band’s first album.”

Naturally, where there’s a new album, there’s a tour.  “The tour for Monster will go through the end of the year, and then continue on,” Stanley explains.  “Right now there are plans in the works for Australia, and Europe.  Everything hasn’t been mapped out, but this is what we love doing, and we love doing it now more than ever.  We try to play the most popular songs. Some of our diehard fans will say to us ‘why don’t you play some of the more obscure songs.’  Well, there’s a reason they’re obscure.  There’s a reason people don’t want to hear them.  To subject people to hearing songs they don’t want to hear…I went to see a very famous band about ten years ago, and it was a special show where they were playing songs they didn’t usually play.  As soon as they started playing, I knew why they never played them!  Because they weren’t good songs.  We don’t do that.  We go out there every night to give people something that is worth their money and that they’ll enjoy.”

The conversation flows from the book and the album to the music industry in general.  Asked what advice they would give a local band who are trying to make it, Stanley has a succinct, one-word answer.  “Quit,” a comment which again provokes hearty laughter.  “The industry is in such shambles that if you’re doing it for any reason other than it’s your life’s passion, and that’s what you’re driven to do, then great.  But if you have any second thoughts, or if you’re doing it to succeed, or make money, give it up, because the chances of that are slimmer than ever.  Most of the record companies–except for Universal, who we recently signed with” (more laughter) “…most of the companies are in shambles, where Universal is ascending, a phoenix rising from the ashes of the music industry.”  Simmons interrupts.  “Here’s how it really happened.”  To which Stanley, with a superb sense of comedic timing responds, “In other words, ignore what I just said.”  Simmons, without missing a beat, continues.  “When we met with Universal, we sat them down and said ‘We have nothing to say–listen to the music.’  This is exactly what happened. They listened to four or five songs, and that’s how it really happened.  Look–people often think we’re geniuses at licensing and merchandising.  It starts with songs–it really does.  It started with the music, which is the way it started in the beginning, and continues today. Universal loves the songs, and that’s why we’re in business again.”

The band is asked if there are any current musicians that they enjoy listening to.  “What we think of specific bands is irrelevant,” Stanley says.  “The public ultimately decides, as they did with us, what is good and what isn’t good.  As far as the music goes…the only person out there who’s really spectacular and making a statement and will stand the test of time as an artist is Gaga.”  Given Stanley’s penchant for witty, humorous remarks, there is surprised, even nervous laughter in the room, people unsure if he is joking or not.  He isn’t.  “Gaga leads the parade, and everyone is following her.  Outside of that, Dave Grohl, from Nirvana forward, he’s really set the bar.  And then there’s a lot of bands who look like the delivery boys from Domino’s.  If that’s what turns you on, God bless you.  We believe in entertainment, we believe in great music.  Great music is the core of everything, but when people come to a concert they should also see something–otherwise, you could just stay home and listen to the album.  The reason we’re still going strong, particularly in this economy where so many people are suffering, is that more than ever people need to know they’re getting a great value for their money.  And with us, absolutely.  When we tour, there’s a no-fly above the arenas because I’ve never seen so many fireworks and bombs going off.  We’re very proud of our legacy.”

“We’re very proud of being KISS, and although we’re very proud of the past, in some ways we’re more excited for the future.  The highlight for me is to just look at the book.  I can almost remove myself and say ‘That’s one hell of a band’.”

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