Kiss: Behind the band and brand
By now, most folks have probably heard that legendary Kiss rockers Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley are opening a Rock & Brews restaurant in Paia.
The new venture is just another element in a phenomenally successful business empire by an iconic band that has sold more gold records than any other American group in history.
Massively popular, they’ve created probably the best-ever marketed rock ‘n’ roll brand, with their ubiquitous logo emblazoning more than 5,000 licensed products, including everything from comic books and credit cards to condoms and funeral caskets.
“We’ll get you coming, and we’ll sure get you going,” says Simmons at a press conference in The Fairmont Kea Lani, Maui to promote the Paia establishment. “It (their brand) outsells the Beatles and Elvis combined. We have a Kiss limo service in Las Vegas and a Kiss golf course – literally anything you could imagine.”
And their ever-expanding brand now includes football. Both Simmons and Stanley are among the owners of a professional football team, called the LA Kiss, which sports the band’s famous logo on their helmets. The team will have its own AMC reality show and be covered on ESPN.
At this point in the interview, Simmons opens up his iPhone to proudly regale me with pictures of all-things Kiss. “We have Kiss Hello Kitty, which is now 2,000 licenses deep,” he continues. “It has its own kids’ cartoon show. There isn’t anything that we can’t do, because we refuse to follow anybody else’s rules about who and what we are. We march to the beat of our own drummer. At the end of the day, we’re like a wild animal that feeds on the ground and says, ‘This is my territory and f*** all of you.'”
A savvy entrepreneur who has been profiled in Forbes magazine (it bestowed him with a lifetime achievement award) and by Bloomberg, Simmons realized early in Kiss’ career that there was profit in aligning with their fan’s longing for connection. “When we started, words like brand and marketing weren’t in the common lexicon,” he explains. “We just knew we wanted to go where no band had gone before. We were disappointed in rock bands, so why don’t we put together the band that we never saw live onstage. We were clear the live concert was the be all and end all. Like a champion boxer, you get there by knocking everyone else in the way out. As soon as we started, we noticed fans started painting their faces like us and they would make homemade T-shirts. It was like the football thing in England, where it’s not just a game, it’s a gathering of tribes. You feel like you belong, and you want to wear your colors on the street and proclaim your allegiance. So the fans told us what they wanted.”
Right from Kiss’ inception, Simmons and Stanley had an ingenious concept for their band – to perform in full theatrical regalia, including white pancake makeup with elaborate facial markings, platform boots and outrageous black and silver outfits. Fully costumed, each member assumed an archetypal identity. Simmons was the tongue-flicking, blood-spitting Bat Lizard; Stanley portrayed the Star Child; Peter Criss was the Cat; and Ace Frehley was the Spaceman.
It was Stanley who came up with both their distinctive name and logo.
“It seemed like a name that would be familiar worldwide,” he recalls. “The logo has a medallionlike look to it that has thankfully become imprinted in people’s brains.”
Their signature makeup, which takes up to a couple of hours to put on, is actually applied by each member themselves. “It always has been,” Stanley reveals. “It’s a ritual and a tradition and a time to suit up for battle. It’s not something to sit in a chair and have someone else do. It’s self-empowerment.”
After 40 years with all the makeup and the heavy costumes, the monster platforms and explosive performances, one wonders, does it ever get a bit exhausting?
“No; it’s exhilarating,” says Stanley. “A great workout can be exhilarating, and if it’s exhausting, it’s exhausting in a great way.”
Fifteen years after they first became eligible, Kiss in April will finally be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Both band founders are a little blas about their entry.
“I’m thrilled for the fans because it means a lot to them,” says Stanley. “It’s interesting that the criteria that kept us out all these years suddenly got us in. We’ve never played the game. The spirit of rock and roll, to me, means following your own path in terms of ignoring the critics and your peers. To be acknowledged at this point is great, but there’s still vast inconsistencies in the choosing of who goes in. That being said, if there’s a club that includes the Beatles and The Who and Zeppelin and the Stones, I’m happy to be there.”
Also in April, Stanley will publish his autobiography, “Face the Music: A Life Exposed.” “Most autobiographies are gratuitous,” he says. “It’s like writing a love letter to yourself. It wasn’t until I thought I could write something that my children would appreciate when they grew up and something that might inspire other people, who had obstacles and issues in their life, that I thought it might be worthwhile. I don’t have the meaning of life, but I can certainly tell my story. It had to have more purpose than to be self-congratulatory.”
Over the course of their lengthy career, the members of Kiss have sold more than 100 million albums worldwide and earned more than 55 gold, platinum and multiplatinum awards. And they hold the record for the most albums charting simultaneously in the Top 100.
To close their spectacular shows, Kiss typically perform their classic anthem, “Rock and Roll All Nite.” It’s long been an opportunity for Stanley to smash his guitar (which fans can later purchase online for around $4,000).
“It’s a ritual, one that I love and the audience loves,” Stanley says. “It’s a singular moment that’s part of the Kiss spectacle. It’s a powerful and profound statement.”
Ukulele wizard Jake Shimabukuro returns to the Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s Castle Theater at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. He has been touring in support of his latest album, “Grand Ukulele.”
Excelling at crafting novel interpretations of popular songs, Jake includes a lush arrangement of “Over the Rainbow,” Sting’s “Fields of Gold” and a lovely orchestrated version of the Hawaiian classic, “Akaka Falls.”
In December, Jake released a “Live in Boulder” DVD, which features performances from “Grand Ukulele,” as well as songs like Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and his tour de force on George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”
* Jake Shimabukuro. Tickets are $12, $35 and $45, and half price for kids 12 and younger. For details, call the MACC at 242-7469 or visit www.mauiarts.org.
With the help of a successful Kickstarter campaign, Oahu’s hottest rockers, Kings of Spade, completed their second studio album and will debut it at a CD release party at 9 p.m. Friday at Charley’s Restaurant & Saloon in Paia.
Recorded in Nashville by Grammy-nominated producer Dave Cobb (Shooter Jennings, Rival Sons), their new self-titled album will be available online Feb. 14. They will promote the recording with a 30-city Mainland tour in March.
Opening with the fiery, Zeppelin-flavored “The Child,” charismatic lead singer Kasi Nunes powers the band through a massively rocking collection of edgy tales that could likely elevate Kings of Spade to a national level. One day we might reminisce about catching them in a little club on Maui.
* Kings of Spade. The Freeradicals Projekt will open. Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door. Advance tickets are available from koscd.eventbrite.com.