Interview: Sure, KISS play the DCU Center this weekend, but KISS Forever play Malden High in 3 weeks

 
 

This Saturday, KISS bring their “Freedom to Rock” tour to the DCU Center in Worcester. On one hand, it’s tempting to venture there to catch one of the more iconic ’70s acts still going at it, but the other, more hesitant hand is like, “Hold on…”

It’s a holiday weekend, traffic is going to be terrible, and the current lineup of KISS is two co-founders in Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley and two other guys parading around in the makeup made famous by Ace Frehley and Peter Criss. Basically it’s half a tribute band at this point, so why not wait a few weeks and catch a full-on tribute outfit, with proceeds going to a great cause.

On September 24 at Malden High School’s Jenkins Auditorium, KISS tribute band KISS Forever will perform a benefit show for the Malden Teen Enrichment Center, which focuses on getting teens prepared for entering the real world by providing a safe place for them to grow and learn through a variety of activities. Beyond that, and according to KISS Forever’s own Ace Frehley, you’re in for a better show than the alleged “real thing” presently puts on.

Vanyaland caught up with the Spaceman to get the skinny on the KISS Forever’s roots, the difference between them and the DCU Center imitators and why one-time KISS guitarist Vinnie Vincent gets no love.

Michael Christopher: How long has KISS Forever been together?

Rob Smith (Ace Frehley): KISS Forever was founded by John Saner, our Demon, in 2009. Not long after the band was formed, John called on his best friend of 26 years and roadie Ara Asadoorian to take the role of Starchild. Just like Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, John and Ara formed the band on their rock solid friendship. Different drummers and lead guitarists came and went, but John and Ara kept the KISS Forever ship upright and moving forward.

And you joined…

In August 2013, I got the call that changed my life; Ara and John contacted me, asking me to audition for the band. Two weeks later, audition day, the three of us played “Detroit Rock City,” and by the end we just all looked at each other and knew this was magic. Then luckily for us, four months later we found and were blessed with the last missing piece of this amazing puzzle when Michael Grillo joined the band in January 2014. We took off from there and have never looked back. The greatest compliment is when John says to us, “This band has never been stronger or better then it is with the people we have in it.” Hearing that coming from the man who created the band doesn’t get any better!!

Personally, what are your favorite songs to play?

My favorite songs we play are “Detroit Rock City” —  there’s no better song to start a show with — and “Shock Me,” I get to smoke my guitar and show off… I’m a ham!

How do you devise the setlist; do you take it from a particular tour, base it on what KISS is currently playing or come up with one unique to you?

The one thing that sets us apart from all other KISS tributes is that were not bound by one era or one look or one tour. For example, our costumes — which are mostly handmade and customized — we all pick and choose our favorite looks and or stage personas of our characters and make them our own. We currently have a 39-song setlist, but we keep our live shows to 32 songs and seven “bullpen songs.”

I write the setlists for the shows about two weeks out ahead of a show. I change up the order and rotate songs in and out of the bullpen. Once done, I send it off to the guys and everyone comments on it. Sometimes a request to move a song or solo will happen and I’m always happy to accommodate. Having a back up of songs in reserve — the bullpen songs — has proven really helpful, because many times through a show, we’ll call an audible and pick a song from the pen.

KISS Forever is a tribute to the original lineup, but your drummer is credited as being “The Fox” as well. Does he don the Eric Carr makeup often?

When Michael first joined he said he wanted to pay tribute to Eric Carr… and so immediately his nickname became “Foxxy.” He played of role of Eric Carr brilliantly for over a year and a half, but after time Foxxy could see that whether it be nostalgia or just diehard fans, people would ask him constantly, “What about the Cat?” One day he announced to the band he was becoming “The Cat,” and so we changed his nickname to “Cat.” The Fox will reappear at some shows when he feels its right.

Why no love for the Ankh Warrior?

Wasn’t that a wrestler in the ’80s? Nah… not really to much to say about him. I’ve been asked by fans if I’d ever play him, and after I stop laughing, give a resounding “NO.”

Since KISS is half a tribute band these days as it is, do you look at them as direct competition?

This is going to sound so pompous, but it’s not meant as such, and this is my personal opinion — I’m not speaking for the band — I don’t see KISS as direct competition, because I think we are a better band and unit of today then they are.

What do you see as the main differences between you and Kiss?

Let me elaborate. The cheapest seat for KISS …say $70? To see KISS Forever? No more then $10. KISS will play one hour 20 minutes tops — and there’s a lot of banter and drum and guitar solos to eat the time. With KISS Forever you get an almost three hour show and all substance and no filler; in your face from the first note to the last. We capture the energy, the spirit, the chemistry and the raw power that KISS had at its pinnacle — we deliver that at every show. I wish I had a dime for every time a fan came up to me at our show when the last notes of “Rock and Roll All Nite” rang out and would say, “I want to thank you. Tonight, watching you guys and the show you delivered made me feel like I was 17 again. You guys brought me back to my youth when I saw KISS for the first time.” When a fan says that, it’s so humbling… it leaves me speechless.

When you come to see KISS Forever, you’re not gonna get a band or show of guys going through the motions. We truly love what we do. We love each other and the smiles and laughter and closeness you see between the four of us is genuine and its the same offstage or on. John, our Demon, is truly one of the funniest people I’ve ever met and he is so without trying; so many times I flub up a solo because John made me laugh mid-show with just a look. I believe we are the best, because we truly believe in each other and what we do.

Does your Gene fly to the rafters? Does your guitar shoot fireworks? Does Paul fly out over the audience?

Sadly the venues and bars and clubs don’t have the room for us to replicate the bigger stage antics, but when and where fire laws allow, our Demon breathes fire, our Starchild will go out into the crowd and sing Love Gun from a platform suspended above the crowd, and Cat has two different drum risers, one that is literally built as a tank, with a working gun turret we affectionately call “The War Machine,” and the second riser is based on a hydraulic lift, so the entire drum kit rises eight feet in the air. My guitar smokes and shoots out LEDs. There’s no shortage of toys or ideas for us to always keep the show fresh, new and surprising.

KISS Forever’s Paul Stanley looks like a monster. Would it be fair to say he could beat up the real Paul Stanley in a fight?

Our Starchild would make the Incredible Hulk run for the hills. Ara is amazing; he spends hours a day in the gym to have and keep the fantastic shape he’s in. When I met Paul Stanley in New York City, I showed him Ara’s picture and said, “Here is my Paul Stanley…” Paul looked, gasped and said, “Damn…I never looked that good. Have him send me his workout plan.”

Hypothetically, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss join KISS Forever. Now who’s the real KISS?

Impossible… KISS Forever has the magic and bonds it does because of the four people in it. We each carry the banner and pride of the band equally and fully and theres no one better then us. For me, it’s just that simple!

KISS FOREVER :: Saturday, September 24 at the Jenkins Auditorium, 77 Salem St. in Malden, MA :: 7 p.m., all-ages, $10 students / $15 adults :: Advance tickets :: Facebook event page

KISS Forever Malden