Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley: A CSQ&A with the KISS Legends

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Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons at Rock & Brews in El Segundo
Photos courtesy of LA KISS, Rock & Brews

Forty years is a long time for any partnership to survive, but in the music industry, when you think about artists from four decades ago, it’s nearly always in the past tense. Not so with Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley. The founders and remaining original members of KISS are forging full-steam ahead on the heels of the band’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with this summer’s 40-year anniversary, 42-city U.S. tour, with a stop at The Forum in Los Angeles on July 8. Although the output of new material has ebbed, the pair have been plenty busy – together and separately – with multiple projects, including reality television, memoirs, musical theatre, films, a music label, a new line of restaurants, and bringing football back to Los Angeles. 
CSQ What was the impetus for not only putting your energy behind an Arena Football League team in Los Angeles but branding it LA KISS?

Gene Simmons It happened quite naturally. We were asked to play the AFL Arena Bowl. And then we became enamored with the AFL and found that there was no football team of any kind in Los Angeles. Opportunity knocked. We answered.

CSQ What will people see at an LA KISS game that they can’t see at any other sporting event?

Paul Stanley We try to fill the evening with a variety of entertainment so that you’re not waiting for half time that consists of somebody running around the field dressed like a hamster. We’ve got great dancers and I don’t mean cheer ones. We’ve got BMX stunt bike riders. We’ve got a live band. We’ve got dancers suspended from the ceiling. And we’ve got a football team that looks like Marvel superheroes. And all at a price that won’t make you mortgage your house.

CSQ How involved are you in decisions related to the team (i.e., uniforms, personnel, in-game entertainment)?

Gene We are involved in all the facets, without crossing the lines into certain managerial and coaching areas, which is best left to the professionals. Having said that, Paul designed the helmets and LA KISS Girls outfits.

CSQ How would you compare the lifestyle of professional athletes and professional musicians? Did either of you ever have aspirations to pursue sports?

Paul Most musicians are wimps. To do what I do takes discipline, hard work, and constant training. My injuries, including torn rotator cuffs, torn knees, and a hip that had to be replaced with titanium, says it all. I am a warrior, not a wimp.

CSQ Who were your sports idols growing up?

Gene I come from the dinosaur era. Mickey Mantle. Joe Namath. I always wanted sports figures that were stars on and off the field.

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Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons in the spotlight

CSQ What initially attracted you to each other musically?

Gene I was immediately taken by Paul’s talent. He was not necessarily taken by mine, at least initially. But when we started the band 40 years ago, once we marched forward, we marched forward as one.

CSQ What is particularly special about still being able to perform these songs after 40 years?

Gene The astonishing thing is how generation after generation of new fans keeps coming to our shows. From five years old to 55.

CSQ What do you feel has been the band’s biggest contribution to the music industry?

Gene We raised the bar and expectations of anyone attending any kind of live music event. Country, rap, and especially rock. When you see any band, from Garth Brooks to Paul McCartney, using pyrotechnics live, where do you think they got that from? Air Supply?

CSQ Paul mentioned in a recent interview that the KISS brand supersedes any individual members of the band. How do you think you’ll be celebrating the band’s 50-year anniversary?

Gene Hopefully, onstage somewhere in the world, knocking the pants off of our fans.

Unified by their distinctive face paint, “The Demon” (Simmons) and “Starchild” (Stanley), prowled arenas around the globe throughout the ’70s and early ’80s before washing off the makeup for good in 1985. The band went through various iterations and reunions with original members “Space” Ace Frehley and Peter “The Cat” Criss. Yet plenty of other opportunities beckoned: In 1999, Stanley proved his considerable range by playing the lead in a Toronto production of The Phantom of the Opera; Simmons expanded his pop culture cult of personality on reality TV. 

In May, CSQ crossed paths with Simmons in a unique circumstance: The 64-year-old rocker was officiating a wedding at the El Segundo location of Rock & Brews, the craft-brewery and dining chain that he and Stanley launched in 2010 with Michael Zislis and Dave and Dell Furano. His face wrapped in dark shades and his body cloaked in a sable robe with the restaurant’s logo embroidered on the back, Simmons performed his first legal union ceremony, after which he admitted he was “nervous as hell.”

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President & co-owner Schuyler Hoversten, Managing Partner Brett Bouchy and Paul Stanley with LA KISS Girls

CSQ What caused you to re-evaluate your feelings about marriage?

Gene I have always been confident – some would call it arrogant – with a delusional sense of belief in myself. Over time, and I’m talking 30 years on, I learned that the mother of our children is a spectacular woman. And I need to be with her.

CSQ Gene Simmons’ Family Jewels ran for 7 seasons and 167 episodes. Why do you think the show was so successful?

Gene Well, if you could list the 10 reasons why our show outlasted I Love Lucy, then everyone would do those 10 steps and succeed. Either viewers like who they are watching, or they don’t. I guess they liked us. In 84 countries.

CSQ Paul, you wrote your book, “Face the Music: A Life Exposed,” to, in your words, ‘give an honest account of your life experience.’ What would you like people to take away from your story?

Paul We are never given the choice of the cards we are dealt. We only choose how we play with them. In life you can either be a victim and use the past as an excuse for the present and future or you can roll up your sleeves and make the life that hard work will give you. It’s up to you.

CSQ Who do you consider your mentors?

Paul There’s a difference between mentors and someone who serves as an inspiration. A mentor is a hands-on teacher. I have been inspired by many, but mentored by none.

Gene My mother is the most inspirational person I have ever met. Not the most educated person, not the world traveled, but the wisest by far.

CSQ Gene, you have multiple interests and facets of business that demand your attention. What’s the next step for you in terms of your entrepreneurial goals?

Gene The Gene Simmons Company has just entered into a partnership to enable it to finance motion pictures. [We plan] to start the first movie [this] summer and within 12 months have five or six movies under our belts.

CSQ What career would you have pursued if music hadn’t worked out?

Gene I would have succeeded – and continue to – in any area I choose. Invariably, it always comes down to hard work and perseverance. I never quit.

Paul I’ve found that staying committed and steadfast leaves little room for compromise or failure. I succeeded because I had to.