Paul Stanley

Photo by: Neil Zlozower

KISS frontman Paul Stanley ditches the makeup and platform boots to reimagine the R&B sounds of Motown and Philly that he grew on, with for his new solo band Soul Station.

2020 is off to a big start for you. First, there was the Dubai concert. Now your first single is out from the new album and the new album just got released this month. So, it sounds like 2021 is going to be a lot busier.
It seems so and that is what makes life exciting – finding new challenges and finding new mountains to climb. That’s really what I think life is about. So, in the midst of a pandemic, where, let’s face it, for most of us, has been an inconvenience, but for half a million people, if not more, it’s been devastating. So, with all that being the case, I tried to reaffirm how great life can be and that you need to live it.


And you have been Tweeting and Facebooking a lot of pictures of you outside being very active. So, you’re trying to live the best life?
Well, the world is still open. So, if you’re smart enough to take the precautions that are necessary, you can go about your business within reason. And for me, there’s just nothing better than having some time to myself outdoors. So, I’ve been doing that as frequently as possible.

On an album bursting with a giant Motown R&B and Soul vibe, you chose “Ooh Child” which is sung by a Chicago group as the first single. So why not something maybe Motown and why did you choose that one specifically?
I’d like to say it’s possibly because it’s such a timeless song. But really, at the moment, it’s a song that reflects optimism and hope. And when it first came out, and I heard The Five Stairsteps and Cubie – who was the actual group that did it and at that time – they had an additional member. But when I heard that song, it was poignant.

It sang about things getting better for people. And that one of these days, we’ll walk in the rays of a beautiful sun, and it was put so eloquently and yet simply. It’s a song that interestingly doesn’t come to everybody’s mind when they think of that era. And yet as soon as it starts, people go, “Oh, I love that song.”

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Motown and the early R&B/Soul sound must be very important to you. Where and how did that find you?
Well, when I think the music of the Motor City and Tamla Motown – although it came from an urban area, and miraculously from a lot of projects – you’ve got the Four Tops, Martha and the Vandellas, The Temptations, The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Smokey and The Miracles. It was music that everybody could relate to. Certainly, with me, it resonated really clearly.

I remember hearing “Dancing in the Streets” and to me if you want to talk about a rock anthem, that’s an anthem everybody got. “Dancing in the Streets” was such a great image. The imagery of it was amazing.

And I was lucky enough when I was in my early teens to see Otis Redding live. I saw Solomon Burke, and that music has always been a part of my wheelhouse, that’s been a part of the foundation of what I do.

I think that no matter what kind of music you make, your music is always better for having been influenced, even in ways that may be subtle by other types of music. If it just becomes incestuous, if you’re just replicating something that you heard and you’re doing the same thing, well, I think it tends to become mimicry.

You must have a Detroit Soul because Detroit is important to KISS and now you’ve chosen something that’s very based in Motown/Detroit.
Well, the phenomenon of Detroit, whether it’s rock history and it’s embracing of us – or the beginnings of Motown where you had Barry Gordy really grooming us – it was a star system of grooming, not unlike Hollywood, but it was revolutionary.

You had a guy, Paul Riser, who was in his mid-20s, orchestrating everything from “Papa was a Rolling Stone” to “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and I mean crazy, crazy talent from this area. I think there’s something about Detroit and about blue-collar workers and I think there’s something about a commonality that Detroit has that I relate to.

Are there any KISS songs that you’ve written that were inspired by that Motown/Philly sound?
I think there’s some Motown or Philly Soul, but certainly Motown was an influence in certain songs. There’s a song on the album Unmasked, which may not be one of my favorite albums. But there’s a song called “What Makes the World Go Round” and that really is a Spinners song.

The only difference is we did it with guitars instead of piano voicing and veered away from really what that song was written as. (sings) “Shout It, Shout It, Shout It Out Loud” – that’s the Four Tops. That’s Levi singing lead and the Tops answering him. So, there are some pretty unmistakable things. (sings – I was Made for Loving You). So, it’s in there – it’s in the DNA.

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Paul Stanley's Soul Station - Now and Then Album Cover

We can now add R&B/Soul to your vocal catalogue. Explain the differences between Soul Station compared to something like Phantom of the Opera and then KISS?
Well interestingly, the one thing that connects the three at some point or another is falsetto, I Was Made For Loving You, the mid-section of that is falsetto. There are a few scenes in Phantom of the Opera, which are falsetto. A lot of the lead singers in the genre we’re talking about whether it’s The Delfonics, or The Stylistics, or Eddie Kendricks and the Temps – falsetto plays a big part in it.

It’s like a masculinity without relying upon chest pounding or machismo and I relate to that. I relate to the idea of strength having nothing to do with flexing muscles.

Is Soul Station harder to sing?
It takes some discipline. When I’m writing the songs, I hear it in my head, and I know what I’m going for. When your singing somebody else’s songs, it’s a different process.

And I remembered the same thing when I did Phantom. When “Music of the Night” starts, you better nail it, because everybody knows it and you’re walking in some pretty big shadows. So when we do songs that are iconic, I don’t think that impersonating is the answer because that’s surface.

I think what you have to bring to it is an understanding of the emotion, you have to understand where it’s coming from and the passion of it. Otherwise, you might as well be Rich Little, you might as well be somebody mimicking and that wasn’t what this was about. And I think what comes across with Soul Station is this incredible reverence and love for what we do.

Everybody in the band has played with everybody from Smokey to Stevie to Natalie Cole, Whitney Houston and on and on. I think there’s such a joy in doing the Delfonics, doing Blue Magic, doing all these iconic songs and doing them the way they’re meant to be done.

In other words, not a Las Vegas version where it’s played twice as fast; we do them the way I remember them being recorded. And again, it’s not about copying it note for note, as much as it’s about understanding the song. We all find our way into it and that’s what makes a great actor; that’s what makes a great song stylist – knowing the intention of what you’re doing.

How authentic did you go when making the album? Some of the magic in those original records were about capturing a live sound in that moment in glorious mono.
Yes, well, we were never going to confuse perfection with passion. And honestly, I’ve heard some versions of the songs done where, to me, it just missed the mark. It’s not about perfection, it’s not about showing off your chops as much as celebrating the music. To that end, this wasn’t done with a microscope. This was, as I said, a celebration of the music. And the last thing that I wanted it to be was sterile.

Soul Station Paul StanleyDid this take longer to record than the KISS album?
Not at all! I think we cut nine or 10 basics in a day and a half. So that’s, again, what I’m talking about, it’s the feel, and having people who listen to the music and “get it”. We just powered through the songs. Then we added the horns and the strings, but the band of six people at least, we were in there live. I was in there when I was actually sick, doing guide vocals, it didn’t matter. But everybody was there to preach, to really to get it right and to celebrate the music.

How did you select some of the band members, and were there a couple that were hard to get?
I don’t want to say I was lucky. I could say it’s either the planets lined up, or it’s God’s work, or it was meant to be, everybody fell into place and it was just crazy. Most of the people had never worked together. And yet, at this point, it’s so much that they call it a family.

People come over to my house. We are over here having fun and when we’re in the studio, we have just a great time. It’s such a melting pot of influences and ethnicities and it really came about organically. There’s nobody who’s in it because we couldn’t get somebody else.

There were no auditions, it just fell together and it’s just weird how familiar everybody feels to each other. If you watch the videos, it’s clear, the chemistry and the fun we’re having.

Paul Stanley - Soul StationIn some senses, you’re the musical director of KISS, so it must be strange handing over the reins to somebody else with this project.
Interestingly, Alex Alessandroni, who was musical director for Whitney Houston, P!nk, Christina Aguilera and Natalie Cole, is the musical director. He and I very much work together. I would almost say that he is the conduit. He’s the liaison because there are certain things that he can interpret for me. For example, the string arrangements and the horn arrangements on five of the tracks are all mine, I can’t chart them, so I have to sing them.

And the trumpet is going to do this, and piano is doing this. So, Alex and I work hand-in-hand. I couldn’t imagine surrendering it quite honestly, because I know this music so well.

This seems like a great new challenge for you. On the opposite end of that, are there still challenges left for KISS?
The challenge for KISS is to remain at the standard that we set and to not disappoint anybody until it’s over. And that’s a challenge. If we were just in our T shirts and jeans and running shoes, we could do this into our 90s, but when you’re wearing eight-inch heels, and carrying 30 or 40 pounds of gear, and running around the stage, you play beat the clock. You can win for a while, but the clock ultimately wins.

So that’s the challenge. And that’s why we all looked at each other and said, the clock is ticking and let’s go out there and give everybody the biggest and best show we’ve ever done, so that we take a victory lap, and that we validate people’s allegiance to us and why they championed us, sometimes in the face of odds.

The Dubai concert was as classic as you can get. Was that concert planned as part of the End of the Road tour originally, or did it just happen because of the pandemic?
It literally happened because of the pandemic. We were asked if we were interested in doing a show in Dubai. And as it evolved, we wanted to break some Guinness World Records, and it would be a worldwide telecast, and all the shows that people usually watch on New Year’s Eve are not going to be live and they were repeats, and it was a massive outdoor stage and it just kept going. We went “Yeah, It sounded like fun”, but in the midst of the pandemic, how are we going to keep everybody safe?

So we made all kinds of arrangements and the crew, which at the time was about 500 people and they were tested daily. We were tested, if not daily, every other day.

When we rehearsed in Los Angeles, we were in a closed studio. So all things being said, it was a really unique situation. And having not played in almost a year, it was daunting – it was a challenge. But we rehearsed; we were determined to make it as good as we could.

At some point the pandemic is going to be over and you will be able to continue the tour. But what if the pandemic goes on? Do you think there will still be an End of the Road last leg?
Well, I do believe the pandemic is going to wind down. I don’t think that’s going to happen tomorrow and I think it’s going to be quite a while before there are live shows of the magnitude and attendance of what we do and what we need to do.

Beyond us, you have to think a promoter has to get insurance. And people have to be safe in showing up and yes, there’s a vaccine, but the vaccine means nothing unless it’s in your arm. So there are a lot of variables right now and we absolutely will pick up where we left off.

I don’t see that being in the near future at all. And anybody who believes they’re going to be seeing massive shows or arena stadium shows anytime in the foreseeable future is kidding themselves. And so in the interim, I plan on doing Soul Station and Soul Station gigs, I think those are much more possible and controllable.

Soul Station Roxy Los AngeleThey’re also more intimate. My personal favorite KISS experiences have to be the intimate shows when you did your first Solo Tour or the Revenge club tour, as well. Those were my favorite shows because they were so intimate. That’s one of the things I think fans are going to get out of this show.
I think so. Soul Station and KISS are in some ways polar opposites, but the thing that they share in common is that they’re contagious – and that’s not a good word to use right now – but a feel-good atmosphere. People just have a ball at both. At Soul Station shows, people are singing along and when a new song begins, it immediately sets off an emotional response.

So, there’s nothing like live music. And I don’t really think that there are enough people out there making the kind of music Soul Station makes, which is big band with kick ass music.

It’s not mushy, even on songs that we’re doing that might tend towards ballads. The horns and the strings will blow your head off.

There is a different demographic market for this than KISS. Were you aiming for a different market for this band and album?
I wasn’t aiming for anything except to selfishly be a part of a band making music that I missed hearing.

But I also believe that when I please myself, ultimately, I please some other people, because we’re all similar and I think if you do something really well, it will find its audience.

I never thought about demographics or crossover and if somebody doesn’t want to allow themselves to listen to this because they love rock and roll, that makes no sense to me.
But I’m not here to make converts, because converts involve convincing, I don’t want to convince anybody of anything.

If you don’t give it a chance, then it’s your loss, and if you give it a chance and you do like it, great. It’s like food; you can’t not like something until you try it.

And if you don’t want to try it, C’est la vie!

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