Kiss's Paul Stanley embraces love of vintage R&B with new band
Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Paul Stanley, artistically reborn as a vintage soul-music crooner?
The guitar-playing front man of the hard-rocking Kiss — minus his trademark makeup, glittery stage garb and eye-popping pyrotechnics — earnestly performing classics by Smokey Robinson, The Temptations, Al Green and others, plus some new blue-eyed soul ballads of his own?
“It’s liberating anytime you allow yourself out of the boundaries that other people set for you,” said Stanley, whose debut album with his 10-piece band, Soul Station, was released Friday, after being pushed back from its March 5 release date.
"It doesn't have to please everybody — that's not the point at all," he stressed. "When I starred in (a 1999 touring Broadway production of) 'Phantom of the Opera,' some people asked me if I was reinventing myself. And I say the same thing now: 'I'm not a rock singer. I'm a singer who loves rock.' That's a choice. I love doing it. But it's not all I am or want to be."
Stanley makes that point abundantly clear on "Now and Then," his first album with Soul Station. It's an unabashedly rock-free album that may have casual and die-hard Kiss fans alike doing double-takes upon first — and second — listen. The band teams him with veteran Kiss drummer Eric Singer and seasoned musicians whose previous credits range from Whitney Houston and Natalie Cole to Stevie Wonder and Pink.
Released by UMe, "Now and Then" features four new ballads, including "I Do" and "I, Oh I," that Stanley wrote for the album. All four were inspired by his love for many of the timeless records released during the 1960s and '70s heyday of Motown, Stax-Volt and Philadelphia International Records.
Records like, specifically, The Stylistics' "You Are Everything," The Delfonics' "La-La Means I Love You," The Spinners' "Could It Be I'm Falling in Love," Al Green's "Let's Stay Together," and The Temptations "Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)" — to cite five numbers devotedly performed by Stanley on his band's new album.
Each of these songs are silky, joyous odes to the power of love.
Each was a hit for venerated Black American soul artists, whose meticulously constructed and lushly orchestrated music embodied a suave elegance.
And each featured sonorous lead singers and lush vocal harmonies, performed with deeply felt ardor and delicate nuance by artists who strived for a sense of earthly rapture that sounded almost angelic.
Music, in short, that seemed to exist in an altogether different sonic and emotional universe than Kiss in general, let alone such pile-driving, fist-pumping, proudly nuance-free Kiss songs as "Hotter Than Hell," "God of Thunder" and "Rock and Roll All Nite."
Given such obvious differences, is Soul Station a lark? A sound vehicle for Stanley to deliver a musical valentine? Or something else?
"Projects like Soul Station might be lumped in with what gets called 'vanity projects,'" Stanley noted. "But mine is a passion project. It's (spotlighting) the music I grew up with that was really fundamental and foundational, in terms of where I came from. That music is at the core of my music.
"Although sometimes it might not seem obvious, there are even songs on earlier Kiss albums that demonstrated that. 'Kiss Unmasked' has a song called 'What Makes the World Go 'Round,' which is basically like a stone-cold Spinners song; we just arranged it differently.
"And 'Shout It Out Loud' — that's The Four Tops! Although Kiss very much avoided the (soul) genre, that music has always been in my wheelhouse. Long before I listened to all the English rock bands in the 1960s, I was listening to Smokey Robinson, The Temptations, The Marvelettes, The Supremes — the list goes on and on."
Speaking of The Supremes, the ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh vocal parts near the conclusion of Stanley's new Soul Station song "Save Me" sound like a note-for-note homage to The Supremes' 1968 hit, "Love Child."
"Ah, you're good!" he said. "Yes. Whether it's a musical valentine, it is indeed very much that part of 'Love Child' at the end of 'Save Me.' I think that acknowledging your roots and incorporating them into what you do is almost essential.
"I don't think you can write any song in one of those genres — Motown, Philly Soul or Stax-Volt — if it doesn't invoke certain memories or comparisons. You've gotta be on the mark. You can't continue the tradition without it being the foundation."
There is no doubt Stanley is devoted to capturing the specific sounds, textures and moods of the '60s and '70s soul he salutes on "Then and Now." Witness his version of The Stylistics' "You Are Everything," which — like the 1971 original — features an electric sitar for just the right instrumental flavor.
"Well, they say god is in the details," Stanley said. "Quite frankly, I've heard people try to record or try to recreate some of those songs. And they miss the mark, because it becomes scientific and too cerebral, instead of emotional.
"I wanted to capture the passion of it. And each one of those classic songs on 'Then and Now' certainly has things in it I think are intrinsic. Rather than mimic the songs overall, it was more of an effort to capture the emotion of those songs.
Paul Stanley at a glance
Born: Bert Stanley Eisen in Manhattan, New York
Early challenge: Stanley was born without most of his external left ear, due to a congenital deformity called Grade 3 Microtia. In 1982, a surgeon constructed a left ear for him using one of Stanley's ribs. He is still deaf on his left side.
First record he bought: The Everly Brothers' "All I Have to Do is Dream."
Academia: Attended New York's High School of Music & Art
Early pivotal concerts: The Yardbirds, Jimi Hendrix, Otis Redding, Led Zeppelin, Humble Pie
Other key influences: Alice Cooper, Slade (the title of Kiss' 1975 album, "Alive!," was inspired by the 1972 Slade live album, "Alive!")
Early day job: New York city taxi driver.
Kiss persona: Starchild.
Did you know? Stanley designed the Kiss logo.
Record sales with Kiss: At least 14 platinum albums (for sales of a million copies each), three of which have gone multiplatinum; 30 gold albums (for sales of 500,000 each).
Famous Kiss fans: Garth Brooks, Toby Keith, Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, Matt Cameron and Mike McCready of Pearl Jam.
Quote of note: "I consider myself an Anglophile and the bands I grew up listening to are 99.9% British. But that music wouldn't exist unless they had listened to (Delta blues pioneer) Robert Johnson and Blind Boy Fuller and Little Richard. What I loved about English music is it took the roots of great American music and put it on steroids and dressed it up, and interpreted it in a way that, to me, was very appealing."
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