KISS fans know Eric Singer is a talented drummer. But perhaps more notably, Eric Singer is full of passion. And, as he is apt to point out, he can sometimes go on tangents.
“I will try to speak slowly, clearly and concisely because I tend to talk a hundred miles an hour,” he prefaces. “But when you catch me early in the day like this, I am usually more mellow.”
Over the course of two and a half hours with Eric, we span many topics over coffee for him and energy drinks for me. At times it feels like more of a conversation than an interview. During our discussion he is interrupted by business calls as KISS is getting ready to head for Europe, starting with a promotional tour next week. When asked about future band plans, Eric jokes, “I look at KISS Online — that’s where I usually find out what we’re doing and where I’m going.”
It’s all business as usual for Eric Singer. “At the end of the day, whether people like it or not, this is what I do for a living,” he says. “I play drums for a living. When I go on tour, that’s like somebody going to their job. It’s not your typical job, it’s very unique and different. But it’s my workplace and I’ve always tried to treat it seriously. I can only attribute part of me having any longevity and any amount of success in the business probably more to me understanding how things work and what it takes to be in a band.”
Eric speaks candidly when it comes to his career and he is happy to share his philosophy on how he has been able to stick around in a business where the odds are stacked against success. When the conversation turns to Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons, there is a reverent tone in his voice.
“Gene and Paul at the end of the day are my bosses. But it’s not like a typical boss situation. Most people don’t hang around with their boss and travel with them and do anything socially with them. Like I called Paul yesterday to talk about watches because we both like watches. We talk about stuff that has nothing to do with music. And most people’s relationship with their boss wouldn’t probably be that way. It’s a unique situation we have, the relationship between all of the members of the band. I look at Gene like an uncle. I know it’s kind of funny because he’s only like 8 years older than me. But he’s almost like a father figure.”
As the calendar reads 2010, it’s hard to imagine Eric’s history with KISS dates back 19 years now. For him, KISS is more than just business. “When I play in KISS, my family is Gene, Paul and Tommy, and Doc and the guys in the crew. That becomes your world. That’s who you are around all the time and interacting with on a daily basis.”
So strap in as we cover with Eric, among other topics, many things KISS, drums, his father the bandleader, the reunion, the music business, Olivia Newton-John (yes, Olivia Newton-John), and the other albums and projects in which he’s participated over a successful career that has now spanned more than a quarter century.
KissFAQ: Eric, thanks for taking time out today to talk with KissFAQ.
Eric Singer: No problem, Tim.
KF: The Sonic Boom Over Europe Tour is scheduled to kick off in May and run through late June. Can you share with us any details about what’s been discussed in regard to the set list?
ES: We haven’t gotten to that point yet. We talked about it at the end of the U.S. tour. Everybody starts thinking ahead, but we don’t think too far ahead because you tend to live in the moment and the task at hand. If you are on tour playing shows now, that’s what you are focusing and concentrating on.
We’re going to Europe to do some promotional stuff, including the television show in Germany called “Wetten, Dass …?” (“Wanna Bet …?). It’s a really big show. 80 percent of Germany, Switzerland and Austria watch the show and they claim 50 million people watch it. They do it six times a year. It’s almost like “American Idol” in a way where it’s a really big event.
Once we start rehearsals in another month or so, and now that we’ve had a break from each other, we’ll get to it. We’re leaving on Wednesday and once we’re traveling together and hanging out, all those conversations will come up and it will get discussed. Usually Paul tends to be the ring leader when it comes to the set list. But he’ll usually run it by all of us and ask us what we think and what songs we want to do. I always try to get in some cool or older obscure song and Paul will be like, “Nah.” Usually Tommy and I are trying to convince him to try and do something obscure.
KF: You’ve got to twist his arm a bit harder.
ES: You know, I love the first three KISS records. So if we play anything from those first three records, as far as I’m concerned, I’m happy. We’ve thrown around ideas, you know like how Cheap Trick played the whole “In Color” album, and that kind of thing.
We did actually do that with “Alive!” At one point, we did it verbatim and we had to drop a few songs because of the show times. People sometimes don’t understand that there are a lot of logistics involved with being on tour. Like when we’re in Europe on a big bill with a festival, and you get a time slot and you get X amount of time to play. Well you have to cut something, you can’t just go play as long as you want. Sometimes you can, but sometimes you have curfews. For example, when you play Madison Square Garden, you can’t go a minute past 11:00 p.m. or they charge you overtime for an hour. Every employee in the building gets an hour of overtime paid.
That’s what happens with these union gigs sometimes. And I’m not talking down against unions but the reality is sometimes there are a lot of logistics and things going on behind the scenes. When a fan goes to the show and says, “They only did this and this but not this,” they don’t understand that maybe the band had to stop at a certain time and that’s all they are allowed to play.
Anyway, I went on a tangent (laughs).
I just asked Tommy the other day, we talked about working in some different songs from “Sonic Boom.” And he said he talked to Paul about getting that discussion going. Next week we’ll talk about it and figure out what’s going on.
I mean I’d like to do some different songs. But you have to remember, bands are very funny. If they don’t get a reaction within the first one or two times playing it, or they feel the reaction isn’t any good, a lot of times your manager will go, “Guys, that song’s not really working. You’ve got to get rid of it.” And then people will go, “Why did they take that song out? They only played it a couple of times.”
It’s a bit of a double-edged sword. As much as you want to make the fans happy, you also have to make yourself happy. It’s very tough when a lot of people coming to shows want to hear the songs they are familiar with. Let’s face it, so many times you go see a band and they have a new record and you’re hearing all the old hits, let’s say Elton John or the Who, and all of the sudden they get to a new song and they’re going, “I don’t know this song.” And they just kind of sit there and it goes over like a lull and the energy goes down. A band picks up on that very sensitively.
KF: That said, how do you think the new “Sonic Boom” material went over on the U.S. portion of the Alive 35 Tour?
ES: I think okay. What really helps, for example with “Say Yeah,” is at the beginning of the song Paul would invite the audience to participate and sing. That’s why Paul is one of the greatest frontmen in rock and is a ringleader. That’s why they call them “lead singers.” Because they take the lead. Paul is really great at working the crowd and making people feel included and wanted when they’re there. I’ve got to say, when it comes to performing and entertaining, Gene and Paul are as good as it gets. They’re master entertainers.
Think of all the great frontmen that have come and gone, and I mean come and gone. To me, Mick Jagger sets the bar and still does, even at his age. I was playing with Alice Cooper a few years ago and we opened for the Stones and I learned a lot just from the three gigs we did opening for them. Not only did I learn a lot, I had a newfound respect for Mick Jagger and the Stones, mainly Mick. Mick still performs at a level that’s unbelievable, not just for his age, and he kills most younger guys.
That to me is what Paul Stanley has done. Paul has been able to maintain this high level of being an entertainer and a great frontman. There’s only a handful of guys in that class in my opinion. Freddie Mercury, Mick Jagger, Paul Stanley, Steven Tyler, David Lee Roth.
KF: You don’t see that type of frontman anymore.
ES: No, you don’t. Going back a bit I liked Scott Weiland. Axl Rose was a good frontman. I think Josh Todd from Buckcherry is a good frontman. He knows how to work the crowd. He’s got the right look, the right vibe.
I was just thinking about that yesterday, it will be interesting to see how much longevity a band like that will have. To me, they’re just a good rock band. That’s what I like about them — I like good rock and hard rock bands. I think they know how to write some cool and catchy songs. Now, whether they are going to have some legs to last like a KISS, an Aerosmith or a Motley Crue? it remains to be seen.
KF: After the European tour, can you share any plans about a KISS U.S. tour this summer?
ES: I don’t really know yet. There’s been talk and some proposals, but like all things KISS there’s always a lot of talk about a lot things on the table.
If you ask Gene, Gene will always say, “We’ve got a lot of things in the works,” and some people will tease him or make jokes. But you know something? Gene has a lot of passion for KISS. He loves KISS. KISS is his life. He’s a very driven, hard-working guy. Everything he does is always about KISS. Even when he’s doing these other things people think have nothing to do with KISS, they all kind of do have something to do with KISS. It’s because of KISS that he’s able to do these other things. That’s why Gene does work hard at KISS. He does really care about what the band does.
KF: Hard to believe this thing that started in 1973 is still going.
ES: KISS is Gene and Paul’s baby and they are not going to let everybody else tell them what they should and shouldn’t do, or can and can’t do. The best analogy is a household. If you run a family, you have a right to raise your children and run your household the way you want because it’s yours and you’re entitled to do that. Your next-door neighbor or your sister or brother can say, “You’re too strict with your kids” or “You’re too lenient with your kids.” Well you know something, that’s your choice as a parent.
I think it’s the same way with a band. Basically when you have a band and it becomes successful, it becomes a mini-company of sorts. You have the right to run it the way you want. Other people may not like it but guess what, that’s the beauty of it.
KF: Going into “Sonic Boom.” Given Paul and Gene’s comments a few years back, a new KISS album just didn’t seem like it would become a reality. I want to go back to 2007 when the band entered the studio to re-record the collection of songs that make up “Jigoku Retsuden” and disc 2 on the album. Do you recall how long you were in the studio?
ES: We did 15 songs. I did the drums in not even a day and a half. I remember I did 12 songs the first day and the other three the next afternoon in a few hours. It wasn’t even a full day and a half.
KF: Were the songs tracked in a similar live fashion to the new “Sonic Boom” material and how would you characterize the band’s approach?
ES: Most of it was. Some of that stuff was done live when we played together. And then for some of it we all tried to learn the arrangement of the song, and tried to learn the parts fairly accurately because we tried to be faithful. We tried to be in the spirit of it.
But I am not going to play it exactly the same because the bottom line is I don’t play like Peter Criss. At the same time, Peter Criss doesn’t play like me. So if you ask Peter to go and emulate a drum track from “Revenge,” it’s not going to sound like that. That’d be like me trying to emulate him, it’s not going to sound exactly the same because everybody has their own style and feel. The way they hit the drum or strum a guitar.
I have to say Tommy captures Ace’s guitar style really well because Tommy really grew up being heavily influenced by KISS. Ace was one of his guitar heroes, along with Jimmy Page and Ronnie Montrose. When you’re influenced by somebody, that’s why you end up sounding like them, because it’s only natural.
You’ve got a lot of drummers that will always say John Bonham is the greatest rock drummer and they’ll play a lot like John Bonham. And nobody bags on them. They’ll think it’s cool, “Wow that’s great, that guy can play like Bonham.” With Tommy, on one hand he gets a lot of accolades for being able to replicate the Ace style very well. I think it’s great that he’s able to do that. Where other people go, “He sounds too much like Ace.” And I’m like, “Well, wait a minute, which is it? You can’t have it both ways.” If he didn’t play the songs faithfully like Ace, people would say, “Well he doesn’t play the Ace stuff right.”
KF: That reminds me of what fans used to say about Vinnie Vincent and Bruce Kulick. With Vinnie, I’ve heard fans say, “He butchered the classics.”
ES: You’re right. When you had Bruce and Vinnie playing in the band and playing the old KISS songs, people would say, “Oh, they don’t play the songs the right way.” Can you hold on a second? I just want to get some more coffee so I can get more hyper.
KF: (laughs) Eric, I would never have guessed that you were a coffee drinker.
ES: Are you kidding? I’m a coffeeaholic (laughs).
KF: I’ve never been a coffee drinker. I’m more an energy drink guy myself.
ES: You know the 5-hour energy stuff?
KF: That stuff gets me flying off the walls.
ES: I drink one of those a couple hours before every show. I make sure I take a lot of vitamins on tour and I also drink Pedialyte to keep all the minerals in my system so I don’t get fatigued and get crampy.
KF: I think we’ve uncovered your secret tour regimen.
ES: I’m telling you. It works for me. Give me a second, I’m using Skype and my laptop.
KF: Are you a Mac guy? Or PC?
ES: No, I’ve got a Mac. Actually I just hooked up a new one last weekend. I got a MacBook Pro.
KF: I’m a Mac addict myself. iPhone, MacBook, iPod.
ES: I’ve got an iPhone too.
KF: Back to the re-recordings. Some fans are of the opinion that the re-recordings may have reignited the band’s creative fuse. Would you say that the re-recordings were a turning point as far as Paul and Gene’s decision to record a new KISS studio album, or was it more of a business decision?
ES: I don’t think so, not from my perspective. This is just my point of view. I think the reason they did the re-records originally was for licensing for commercials and stuff like that.
All those master recordings of old songs are owned by the label. For any band, if you re-record it, you own it. This is very common practice. I think it’s so funny when so many bands who know nothing about how the business side of music works, they forget that it’s a business and that a lot of these labels make most of the money.
KF: The re-recording of “Calling Dr. Love” is featured in the new Dr. Pepper Cherry ad so that is the licensing example right there.
You know I remember Edgar Winter’s “Free Ride” was used for a Buick commercial. One of my friends was playing in his band at the time. He was one of the guys who went in and re-recorded it because the original guy who sang it, Dan Hartman, was dead. Obviously, Edgar didn’t own the master tapes but he was smart and shrewd enough to say, “I own this song. I am going to go in and re-record it.” And he got different guys to do it. And if you listen, it’s in the background of a commercial and most people aren’t going to necessarily know it’s a different singer. Actually the guy that sang “Free Ride” for that was Robin McAuley from McAuley Schenker Group.
You’ve got to remember that a lot of these guys didn’t make so much money in those early days of touring. The deals weren’t so good, you had a lot of crooked managers and men in the record business. So musicians just wanted to play, they’d say, “I don’t care. I just want to play my guitar.” Well the problem is, and I understand that point of view, because it is a bunch of bullshit. But the problem is that if you don’t care, then everybody else does. Lawyers, managers, agents — they do care because they know how much money is there. If you don’t care, they’re going to care and guess what, they’re going to take all the money.
KF: Back to “Sonic Boom.” I remember reading that the 11 tracks that ended up on the album were the only ones tracked. Is it true that there weren’t any leftover tracks?
ES: Actually there was. There was one song that Gene had brought in that he really liked a lot. For some reason, there was mixed opinions on whether it fit in, continuity-wise.
KF: Remember the title?
ES: I don’t remember the name of it. Gene kept changing it and tried to rewrite the lyrics and rewrite the whole melody. He liked the music and the melody he had and was trying to rewrite the lyrics and subject matter to try and get it to fit.
The song had a pretty cool musical riff. And I know Gene really liked it and he really wanted to try and get it included. And I liked it. But I remember Tommy and Paul didn’t think that it fit in with the other songs, style-wise and continuity-wise, so it ended up getting nixed. That’s the only thing I can think of as far as anything else that was recorded. And we only did a rough version of the song, we never did a final master. We recorded a version and nobody was really sold on it so we never pursued it more. Gene took that basic demo idea and kept trying to rewrite lyrics and melody but it didn’t get developed past that.
KF: Any truth to you using your first set of drums in the studio for the recording of Sonic Boom?
ES: No, no, no. I have a bunch of older kits. I use different stuff all the time for recording. I did use one of my older kits. The first kit I ever had I don’t even have anymore, which was some blue sparkle drum set called Dixie, which I think actually was an offshoot of Pearl ironically, because that’s what I’ve been playing for 25 years. And I did use one of my older kits — my first good kit, my first true professional kit — I did use that on some of the recordings.
If you look on the cover of “Carnival Of Souls,” that’s an old kit I used to use in my dad’s band. That’s a 1964 Rogers White Marine Pearl drum kit that was made in Cleveland, Ohio. Rogers Drums used to be originally made in Cleveland, Ohio. Drummers know that when you say a Cleveland Rogers kit, they know that it’s the ones that were made in the early days in Cleveland. Those are generally considered the most desirable and collectible for people that are collectors. That was actually a very unique kit. I bought that at a garage sale for like nothing back in 1979 or 1980. Honestly I paid $150 for that kit.
That is a kit that I used in my dad’s band, I had a couple of others that I used, but that one I used for the last four or five years that I was playing in my dad’s band. I used that drum kit all the time. That’s a very rare kit, not because it’s a KISS kit or my kit, it’s rare because of the configuration of the drum set. A person who is a Rogers Drums collector would salivate over that kit. That’s like a holy grail of Rogers Drums because it has what they call a wood shell dyna-sonic snare drum, which are very rare, in white marine pearl and it has the drum sizes, which are kind of 14 inch by 14 inch floor toms. And that’s very rare evidently for Rogers Drums from that era. So the drum kit has unique stuff about it and it’s very desirable for a collector. Like I said, I bought it at a garage sale when I was a kid for nothing. There’s lots of stories out there of people going to yard sales and finding some rare guitar or some rare vintage drum set.
KF: So you played that on “Carnival Of Souls”?
ES: I actually played it on one song. On “Carnival Of Souls” I used a bunch of different drum kits. I used a couple of different Pearl drum kits, I used a kit I was playing on tour at the time, which was the silver sparkle one I was playing on tour in like 1994 when we went to Australia, Japan and South America. That’s the kit I used on “Carnival Of Souls,” as well as another old Rogers drum set that I used.
And then on one song, I used that little kit because that little kit I had been using on the demos for “Carnival Of Souls.” Every time I’d go in the studio with Gene and Bruce to do demos, we would do it at some little demo studio. And to make it easier, instead of dealing with cartage, the drum set is really small. It has a really little bass drum. It’s only a 20-inch bass drum. It was easier for me to throw in my car and take it down to the demo studio because it was so easy to move around and set up. So I didn’t have to deal with having crew guys schlep around a bunch of big drums. It was my demo kit, and it turned out to be a great-sounding kit. And so I brought it to the studio for the recording sessions for “Carnival Of Souls” because I had been using it all year for demos and I thought maybe it might work for something. And it turned out I used it on one song, it was the ballad…
KF “I Will Be There.”
ES: Yeah. I was playing like brushes. I think there’s a drum part later on in the song, I think I used it on that song and that was it. But it happened to be set up in the studio the day we were doing a photo session. The photographer came in — I don’t remember who it was [Ed. William Hames] — and that kit was set up with mics on it so we took pictures with the gear around it. And it just happened to be there on that day and it ended up on the cover of the record.
KF: You talked about Paul Stanley the frontman earlier, how would you describe Paul Stanley, the producer, and his role?
ES: I’ve got to say Paul was very cool and gracious with everybody during the recording process. If he didn’t like something or didn’t think it fit, somebody had to make the final decision. We would work on a riff and two guys would really like it, and two guys wouldn’t. At some point, somebody has to make the final decision on a particular take, on a solo, on a melody. And that was Paul, and that’s what the producer’s job is.
KF: The track you sing on, “All For The Glory,” was written by Paul. Was the song originally penned for Paul to sing it himself, or with you specifically in mind?
ES: Well, there was originally a different song. Before we did any recording or any rehearsals, when we sat down to talk about some ideas Paul had a song that he played that originally he wanted to use for me. And it was more like a “Hard Luck Woman”-type song. It had that Rod Stewart-style if you will, similar to “Hard Luck Woman.” Peter had a really cool voice, you know that raspy-type voice. And I love Rod Stewart’s voice, he’s one of my favorite singers.
So this original song is a song that Paul had written a long time ago and he brought the song in, and I had played on the original demo ironically. I wasn’t even in the band and I had played on the demo from years ago. And Paul goes, “Remember this song?” I’m like, “Yeah.”
And Greg Collins, who co-produced the record with Paul and was the engineer, loved the song and thought it was perfect for my voice. I thought it was perfect for my voice too. But when it came down to it, Paul was very adamant about this record having all the songs only written by the band members and that’s it. This song was co-written with somebody else, a friend of his. I am guessing that’s one of the reasons, well two reasons. He wanted all rock and roll songs. No mellow, middle of the road, or in between…because “Hard Luck Woman” isn’t a hard rock song. I think he wanted it be a hard rock record, straight ahead, and he wanted all the songs written by the band members only, no outside writers. And because of that, those were the two determining factors. Personally, I really liked the song and thought it would have been great for me.
KF: Do you remember what this one was called?
ES: No, I don’t remember. When Paul played the track, I remembered going into the studio and I remember recording the track. I was on Paul’s solo tour when I did it.
KF: So this was in 1989?
ES: Yeah, we did it in a demo studio in Manhattan. I am trying to remember who else even played on it. It was Paul and I and a couple of Paul’s friends playing guitar. I forgot who the other guys were but one of them was the other co-writer who Paul had written some other stuff with. So I think that was the main reason, and it didn’t really fit in style-wise.
KF: I want to stay in 1989. You mentioned Paul’s solo tour and recording some demos with him. There is this omnipresent KISS rumor mill that houses all of the rumors in KISS’ history and one of the rumors is that you played on “Hot In The Shade.” Did anything you played with Paul at that time end up on “Hot In The Shade”? And was one of those tracks “Forever”?
ES: No. I did do a bunch of demos for “Hot In The Shade” but they told me that all that stuff was re-recorded by Eric Carr. I mean there was another rumor that Kevin Valentine played on “Forever” because he did some of those demos for “Hot In The Shade” as well.
KF: Yes, his name is in the rumor mill too.
ES: The way Kevin Valentine got involved with anything to do with KISS was because of me. I grew up with Kevin and we went to high school together back in Ohio. He was a couple of years older than me. I used to go watch him play in one of the local bands when I was like 15 years old. He played my high school dance when I was like 16 (laughs).
Anyway, I’ve known Kevin forever and I was doing demos for “Hot In The Shade” because Eric Carr lived in New York. Everybody else, Bruce, Gene and Paul were living in Los Angeles. To make a long story longer, Paul asked me to play on some demos because at that point everybody would do their own individual demos and bring them into KISS. It was just at a little studio with electronic drum pads. I played on like “King Of Hearts.” What else did I play on? I played on like four things, “King Of Hearts” was one of them and I can’t remember the names of the other ones and what they turned out to be.
I’m usually pretty good about remembering when I hear a track and knowing if it’s me or not by the certain kind of fills that I do. Although, a lot of times when I play with a particular band I will try to fit in with their style and not necessarily emulate the drummer but try to emulate the style of the band. For example, when I played with Brian May and we would play Queen songs I was trying to learn the drum parts from the Queen record the way Roger Taylor played them, though I don’t have Roger’s feel. But I definitely tried to play the drum parts reasonably correct so they would sound like the proper arrangement of a Queen song.
It was the same thing at that time, I just tried to play the way KISS sounded at the time. But Kevin Valentine had told me he had done the demo for “Forever.” He thought it was his drum track that they had used on the record and I asked Paul, and Paul said no and that Eric came in and re-did all the drums on all of those songs.
But that record ironically, a lot of that was done with an electronic drum pad kit. It was like a V-Drums, a Roland V-Drums kit, I don’t remember exactly. I remember it was an electronic pad kit that they used.
KF: So it’s Eric Carr on “Hot In The Shade”?
ES: They told me Eric replaced all the stuff. I asked about the stuff I played on and “Forever” because Kevin Valentine thought that he had played on it. And I asked Paul, “Whose track is that? Because Kevin thought that you used his demo track.” And Paul said, “No, Eric replaced it.” And I know Eric replaced all the tracks that I played on because when I listened back to the record when it came out, I didn’t recognize anything on those songs and say, “Yeah, I think that’s my drumming part.”
KF: This is the type of minutia we KISS fans are into.
One not so obvious “Revenge” question. Do you remember the song called “Do You Want To Touch Me Now,” written by Paul and Skid Row’s Dave “Snake” Sabo, that was to be featured on “Revenge” but didn’t make the final cut?
ES: Yeah, it didn’t get finished. It was actually a cool riff. The reason I remember the riff is because there was a breakdown section in the middle of the song. I remember that I went into a Cream “Sunshine Of Your Love” kind of drumbeat.
Musically it was a very cool song. It had a lot of great parts to it but I remember that Bob Ezrin just felt like it didn’t make the grade. We tried to put the best songs on the record and again a producer makes the executive decision about what makes it and what doesn’t. And Bob just felt the song was cool and the music was great, but didn’t feel the melody was quite developed enough. And then we had to finish the record because we were at the end of the road and ready to move on. I think we were already mixing some of the tracks at that time.
To Bob, the song wasn’t good enough. I thought we might end up using it later on. I thought maybe at some point Paul might want to go revisit it and use it as a bonus track on a live album or a KISSology or find some way to use it, but it never happened.
KF: So is there a recording of this song?
ES: Oh yeah, there is.
KF: Eric, send it on over (laughs).
ES: (laughs) Bruce Kulick is the one whose got all that stuff.
KF: We’ll go ahead and hit Bruce up then.
ES: I know he has a copy of the music at least. I don’t have anything because at the time I wasn’t even officially in the band. They didn’t give me copies of any of the demos or any of that stuff. I had some work tapes that they gave me when I had to first start working on the material to learn it. Bruce had all the copies of the basic tracks because he had to take that stuff home and work on building second guitar parts and solos. So he would take those home as work tapes.
KF: One of the great things about KISSology is the opportunity to look back at the band’s entire history. As such, the concert footage on KISSology III of the “Revenge” lineup shows a confident and musically tight unit that could do justice to anything in the KISS catalog. With a little bit of hindsight, what are your thoughts on the “Revenge” lineup and its place in KISStory?
ES: Well, I can just say this. I went back and listened to the “Revenge” stuff recently. (pauses) Look I am probably a bit biased because I am involved with the band and I played on that record. I think that’s a really, really, really good record. I think it still holds up. I know it’s different. I don’t like to compare the original band and that style of music with what the band did later. The band did a lot of cool stuff even without Ace or Peter, regardless of whether the purists or hardcore diehard fans want to say it.
KF: I’m a big fan of albums like “Lick It Up, “Creatures” and “Revenge.”
ES: Yeah, it’s like saying, “I only like the Rolling Stones when they had Brian Jones in the band and that’s it.” Or, “I only like Mick Taylor on guitar when they did ‘Sticky Fingers’ and ‘Exile On Main Street.’” To me, those are my favorite Stones records because I like those songs and I like the sound of the band. But that’s not the original version of the Stones. But you know something, it’s the version of the Stones that to me has the most impact because that’s my era of the Rolling Stones. I saw them in the ’60s on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and all that, but when I really became more aware of them and really liked their music, it’s “Goats Head Soup,” “Exile On Main Street” and “Sticky Fingers.” Those are my favorites and what I think are the best Stones records. Hey that’s just me.
You have to remember there are people that grew up on KISS and their version of KISS is like “Crazy Nights.”
KF: Let’s talk again about “Carnival Of Souls.” Like “Music From The Elder,” it elicits a reaction from KISS fans, one way or the other. Paul and Gene are on record as not being particularly complimentary, while Bruce says he stands by the album. How do you view the album?
ES: Well, let’s put this in perspective. Bruce is a dear friend and I respect everybody’s opinion. But, think about it, why does Bruce like it so much?
KF: He co-wrote nearly the entire album.
ES: So, of course, he’s going to be biased. He’s not going to say, “I worked really hard, I co-wrote all these songs and I don’t like it.”
But if I am going to be really honest, do I think it’s a bad record? No. There’s a lot of cool riffs and some great stuff. I mean I listen to it once in a while and go, “Hey, there’s some pretty interesting things.”
I don’t like the final mix of it. If only that record would have been mixed bigger and heavier sounding. When we recorded those original basic tracks, we had a fucking monstrous sound on that record. And for some reason when Toby Wright went to mix it, Toby decided to go into a left-of-center point of view of mixing it. But you let the producer do his thing.
Looking back in hindsight, I wish he would have mixed a bit more straighter ahead like a more traditional KISS record, just making it big and bombastic. I think the record would have had more impact in the sense, I think I would enjoy listening it more. I think people would like it more because it would have more heaviness. If he had gone for more like something closer to “Revenge” — I’m talking more the sonics and EQ of the mix. If he would have made it a little bit more bombastic and more closer to “Revenge” or “Creatures Of The Night,” I think that the record would have been monstrous sounding and I think people might have a different opinion of it.
In other words, if you’re going to make a record heavy, make it fucking sound heavy. Make it sound thunderous. That’s my point view.
Back to your original question, remember that Gene and Paul have been there for every KISS record. They were there from the beginning and had the vision of what they wanted KISS to sound like, what they think KISS should sound like, and how they want KISS to sound like. So, whose got the best perspective there?
KF: I happen to really like the record.
ES: It’s all opinion and we’re all entitled to it and all the opinions are valid. But if you really want to be fair to it, the reality is Gene and Paul created the KISS sound along with Ace and Peter in the beginning. But if you listen to any record, even without Ace or Peter it always has a KISS-sounding flavor because of Paul and Gene. The driving point behind things having a KISS style and feel is those guys playing and singing on those records. I think they have the best barometer of what they really feel is a good KISS record.
Doesn’t mean it’s not a good record, just not a good KISS record. Is “Carnival Of Souls” a good KISS record? No. Is it a good record? Yeah.
KF: Some fans who don’t like it are quick to tag it as the “grunge” album.
ES: Look, I loved what was going on at that time in the ’90s. I loved Alice In Chains, Stone Temple Pilots. I still think Alice In Chains was one of the most underrated bands.
Let’s face it, it became a bit convoluted. You as a band influence a generation of bands that come along and next thing you know you are becoming re-influenced by them. That whole style of music was very popular and I am not saying Gene and Paul were trying to jump on the bandwagon but everybody was listening to what was on the radio and on MTV and what was happening and a lot of that stuff was very cool. When you let the good stuff of those bands float to the top, it was great stuff. And I think everybody was listening to that style of music and digging it and getting influenced by it.
The great thing about going and doing “Sonic Boom” is that you go, “You know who we were influenced by? We’re influenced by ourselves.” KISS is influenced by KISS. This is what KISS does. No apologies, no excuses. This is what we do. We are a rock and roll band and it’s about good times and fun. It’s got a bit of pop sensibility to it. This is what KISS is about. And we went in and just made a KISS record, not trying to be anybody but KISS. I think that’s the beauty of it. To me, that’s kind of where the band is at and that’s where the band should be. You’re not in competition with anybody. The only one you’re in competition with is yourself, to make better records than what you did before. You’re not in competition with other bands. KISS stands on its own. The history and legacy proves that.
KF: You went back to “Sonic Boom.” Can you expand more on what the band tried to capture with this album?
ES: I think the most important thing, no matter who plays in the band, is to remember there is a sound and a style of what has been created with KISS. And adhering to that — that’s the blueprint for what KISS is about. So going more for that style is what we tried to do. Nobody was trying to make a retro record. The whole idea when we were talking about more like making records from the ’70s, it was more like, “Let’s go back to the way records were made in the ’70s and when the band started.”
That’s what Gene and Paul were really more referring to. The band got together in those early days in a room and would hash out ideas and work the riffs up and go in the studio and record them. There weren’t any other outside people writing songs. It was the band who wrote those songs. They’d rehearse the songs and work them up and record them. And guess what, that’s the basic blueprint and overall point of view of making “Sonic Boom.” It was really more about that, not, “Let’s go and try and remake ‘Love Gun’ again.” It was like, “No, let’s go back. How was ‘Love Gun’ made? How was ‘Hotter Than Hell’ made? How were those records recorded? What was the band vibe back then?”
It was about a bunch of guys getting together in a room working on riffs and playing it live and playing it real. Two-inch tape was the old style of recording. That to me was the thing that was more, if you want to call it, retro. That to me was the retro thing about it. It was really more about the style and approach of making records.
Of course, we used the technology of Pro Tools for mixing and stuff like that. You can’t do it exclusively the old way. It would take you forever to make a record. The beauty of doing a record with modern technology is that you can do a rough pass of a mix and save it on the computer and when you go and play it again, you go, “I want to readjust the guitar solo and make it come up a little bit louder there.” Instead of having to go redo all the moves manually by hand, the beauty of computers is that the technology makes it easier and it expedites everything.
But nothing beats the performance of human beings playing their instruments themselves and playing it live.
KF: You didn’t use a click track, correct?
ES: Yes, all those drum tracks were built without click tracks and they were all done live in two or three takes. Maybe two songs were done on like the fourth take. Nothing past that.
And you know something, that’s the way everybody made records. The first records I ever made, that’s how I did it. I went in and rehearsed and played the songs and you took the best performance and sometimes you would cut a couple of performances together on tape. That was the old days of having to sit through tape edits and some of those guys were real good at it — they were like masters at editing tape. Which was tricky when people weren’t using click tracks and stuff. That’s kind of a lost art form.
KF: Going back to 1995, what are your thoughts on the Convention Tour?
ES: I’ve got to say, looking back, doing that whole Convention Tour that we did that year. Gene is the one who really believed that it would work. I remember thinking that we were charging $100, and that it was way too much money.
Now when I think about it, that was unbelievably a great deal. Are you kidding? But nobody knew. You’ve got to remember, that was them trying to find a different way of doing things and trying something different. And I think it was very unique. It turned out to be, for me and I think for all of us, a really fantastic experience. It was a lot of hard work and long days, but I have to tell you, the rewards were there. Because once we’d get out there and play at the end of the night and sometimes just loosely jam on parts of songs — the looseness of the whole thing and the interaction of having the fans right there and the autograph signing and hanging out afterwards. That was a real true fan experience.
It’s too bad that more fans didn’t really get to participate in that because I think they would have probably shared the same point of view. I don’t know many people that attended any of those that were disappointed. I’d be surprised if they were because I thought that was a great experience for the fans.
KF: That segues us into “Unplugged.”
ES: To me, it was kind of bittersweet at the end of it. Once we got to do “MTV Unplugged,” I knew it was cool. We played with the original guys. It was cool getting to play double drums onstage with the original band and to be part of that.
But it was also kind of awkward because I knew all the rumors were flying around. And look, it was very obvious that Peter and Ace and their managers were definitely jockeying position to try to get Gene and Paul to do a reunion tour. Look, it wasn’t just Gene and Paul trying to MacGyver the whole thing. Absolutely not. That was something that was going on from Ace and Peter’s camp. There’s no doubt about it.
I have to say in looking back that I didn’t think that they would do a reunion tour. I thought it couldn’t happen. You have to remember we rehearsed for a week in New York before we taped the show and just from what I saw from the interaction and from other facets, I just didn’t think it would happen. And when it did, I was kind of surprised. Was I surprised at the success of it? Yes and no. I didn’t know that it would be that big. Honestly, they didn’t know it was going to be that big. I don’t think they had any idea that that thing would blow up and be so huge that year.
You know, I don’t blame Gene and Paul for doing it. I know I would have done the same thing. But personally at the time, I didn’t think it would happen and I didn’t think it could happen. But you know, everybody rose to the occasion and stepped up the plate. And they made it work and it was a huge success.
KF: You kind of went into my next question, which was about “MTV Unplugged” being a big factor in leading to the reunion. So you did have a sense that was the destiny for KISS at the time?
ES: Bruce told me that he always thought that at some point they would probably come back and do a reunion. He thought it was probably inevitable. But you have to remember at the point I had only been around for maybe four years and Bruce had been around for 11 years. He’d been around a lot longer. He really knew more about the inner workings of how Gene and Paul worked and what went on with KISS.
But at the end of the day, it’s all a business. And it’s about survival. Some people don’t like when musicians start talking about music and business because to them it’s very emotional. They don’t like when it’s talked about as an item, or a product. But at the end of the day, that’s what you are, you are in business and you create a product. Your product is your music. That’s what you’re promoting, that’s what you’re selling. And that’s how you make a living. If somebody is not selling TVs in the style that they make then they have to find a way to make a different style that consumers will buy or they go out of business.
Same thing with a band. If people don’t want to come to your shows or if they don’t like the music you make or don’t like what you’re doing, they really do vote through participation. If people aren’t buying what you’re doing or aren’t liking it and supporting it, eventually you see change.
KF: The early ’90s were a difficult period for a lot of rock bands.
ES: Yeah, let’s face it, in the ’90s — not just KISS — but a lot of bands had a problem selling tickets and albums.
I was playing with Alice Cooper before I played with KISS and I did Alice’s tour in 1990. Now mind you that was the beginning of the ’90s and grunge was just about starting to take off and getting a real buzz. But it hadn’t taken a foothold yet. In 1990 Alice had a hit record, “Poison,” a Top 10 record, and “Trash,” a platinum record. I did the tour and that record and tour were a big success all around the world.
The next year in 1991 he came out with “Hey Stoopid” and he hired Desmond Child again and put this big production together thinking that the previous record was a platinum record and it was like, “Okay, we’re poised now to go back to the next level. We can go to do a bigger production and bigger shows because we just had this hit record, and this next one should take off as well.”
Well, guess what? By the time it came out in 1991, there was the Gulf War, and music had really started to change. I remember I was on tour in 1989 with Badlands and could see things starting to change. But fast forward two years ahead, that Hey Stoopid Tour was a bomb. And that record didn’t sell for Alice.
And we did a tour in America called Operation Rock ‘N’ Roll in 1991. It was with Judas Priest, Alice Cooper, Motorhead, Dangerous Toys, and Metal Church. It was five bands doing the sheds. It was a good package when you think about it. Let me tell you, that tour was a fucking bomb. That tour was such a bloodbath. I’ll give you a good example. I remember playing the Chicago World Amphitheater, which holds like 35,000, and there were like 2,500-3,000 people at the show. That’s it.
Music had really changed a lot. All of the sudden, that style of music was dead. All the bands like Alice Cooper, KISS, Judas Priest — any of those hard rock or even metal bands. I mean I remember Iron Maiden when they switched singers they could barely play even small venues. People sometimes have short-term memories, it wasn’t just KISS that was affected by this.
For me it was kind of tough, I joined the band at the end of 1991 so in 1992 “Revenge” comes out and by that point, people didn’t care for that kind of music. And here we had made this great record that got really good reviews and seemed to energize the band. The band tried to take on a tougher look, a tougher sound. We got away from all the colorful clothes. All of the sudden, everyone is wearing more black leather — it was almost like an older KISS vibe in some ways without it being in makeup. But guess what? Wrong timing. The music scene had changed. And people weren’t interested in that kind of music then.
And so we did a few tours — South America, Asia, Australia, the U.S. But we didn’t do that much touring. You could see that it was tough for bands to go on tour. And Gene and Paul still wanted to work and be creative. They had to ask, “What can we do different to mix this up and get some interest?” [We did] the whole convention thing, which ended up turning into “MTV Unplugged,” and that whole thing ended up spawning the reunion tour. So in a lot of ways, it created a ground swell and a renewed interest in KISS.
In a way, it’s a very cool story. Unfortunately for Bruce and I it turned out to not be a good thing. But it’s still great because the bottom line is we are still part of the KISS “family” whether we’re in the band or not. I’ve been in and out of the band a few different times because of politics or because or business decisions. And that’s okay. That’s just the way it works. As much as you try not to take it personally, because it’s what I do for a living and it does affect my personal life, but I also understand that there is a bigger picture here. People make tough choices. Sometimes they really like you and they don’t want to make those choices but they realize that it’s for the survival of their business.
At this point in the conversation Eric has to take a brief call regarding getting his equipment arrangements ready for the upcoming European tour.
ES: Tim, I’m sorry.
KF: You’re just a busy guy, Eric (laughs).
ES: I have to take care of this stuff. When you go to do a tour in Europe or overseas, even though it seems far away, you got to start doing all this stuff way early. Because if you wait to the last minute, sometimes you run into problems and then you realize it ends up costing you a lot of money if you wait too long. If you do stuff way in advance, you don’t get hit with cartage and shipping. Let me tell you, you can cut your costs in half by just doing things early.
KF: You said something in your last answer that I wanted to hit upon. In 2004, you had been out of the band a second time and Paul and Gene asked you to come back. Was this an easy decision for you?
ES: Well, Tim, I look at it this way. Sometimes some of those things — to me they are personal. I don’t necessarily need to share all of my emotions or sentiments about every little thing I do.
Think of it like an ex-wife or ex-girlfriend that you decide to get back together with. Are you going to want to tell everybody if you have an on-and-off again relationship with somebody? Do you want to tell everybody what you went through? Not necessarily. Maybe your personal friends or your family. But for everybody else…to me, the bottom line is that I play drums for a living and that’s what I want to do. That’s what I’ve always wanted to do from the time I was a kid. And that’s what I’ve been blessed and fortunate enough to be able to do.
One of the hard things to learn to do is to understand the politics that go along with being in a band. It’s not easy. It sucks sometimes. The politics and business side of things is what makes it very difficult. It’s what eats a lot of people up and chews them up and spits them out, because they can’t deal with the emotional roller coaster and all the business side of things. It’s a very tough business.
And you know, think about this. A band — you can take something from nothing, creating songs and an entity, if you will, and all of the sudden turn that from nothing in a garage into a multimillion dollar business. That’s the potential of a band. Four young kids starting off in their basement and all of the sudden they come up in the right time, right place with the right music, and all of the sudden it blows up and becomes huge. And now there’s a multimillion dollar corporation or business, if you will. Of course, if you’re fortunate enough to have success. Those are the exceptions rather than the rules. Most bands don’t reach that success and most musicians don’t really make much money, or very few do.
KF: KISS is certainly an exception.
ES: I’ve been at this for a long time now. People that are like established rock stars that are the guys from the original band, say the guys from Queen or Gene and Paul or an Alice Cooper — these guys have been around and created their band and have been there for the long haul. They’ve been fortunate enough not to make too many bad missteps with their business or they didn’t get involved with drugs or drinking. There’s a chance that some of them have held on to some money and/or have been able to have enough longevity and ride out the bumps and the ups and downs and they have been able to have real financial success. But most, I’ve got to say, 99 percent of the people I know have not made any money in this business.
They just don’t. If you are fortunate enough to either have your own band have success or you’re smart enough to make the right decisions to hang on to the money you have from your success, you’re pretty fortunate. If you are fortunate enough to be a journeyman or a guy that has been able to make a living working with other bands or for other bands like myself…believe me, the older I get, the longer I’ve been doing it, I realize how fortunate and blessed I have been.
I also believe that it’s not just luck. It’s just not good fortune. I’ve worked hard for the things I’ve done. I’ve made some good choices, I’ve kept my noise clean by not getting involved with drugs and drinking. Those are big important things. Sometimes people don’t like to talk about that stuff because it doesn’t sound cool. But the reality is, what’s cool about being a fucking drug addict? Or what’s cool about being an alcoholic? There’s nothing cool about it.
But sometimes the problem is you think it’s cool when you’re a kid because you don’t know any better. But when you get older and you see what happens to people that lived that lifestyle for many years, then you see all of the sudden, “Wow.” The casualty of it — that’s the wake-up call that tells you…it’s too bad.
Part of growing up is you’re supposed to be rebellious. That’s the beauty of rock and roll. Rock and roll is supposed to be about rebellion. It’s always considered a young thing. But guess what, that was because rock and roll was a new thing. Nobody knew where rock and roll was going to end up. Nobody knew in the ’50s or the ’60s that now you fast forward 50 and 60 years, and guess what? Who would have thought that the Rolling Stones would still be playing that many years later and be in their 60s? Or bands like Alice Cooper, KISS and Aerosmith? Because there were no rules before us. Nobody ever set any rules or guidelines saying, “Okay, you have to stop once you turn 40 or once you turn 50. Rock and roll is not cool anymore after a certain age.” There were no rules. So everybody is kind of still defining the rules, or I should say, making and breaking the rules as we go along.
My father was a musician and he played up until his late 80s. He was a musician for his whole life, that’s how he made a living.
KF: What instrument did he play?
ES: He played violin and saxophone. He was a society bandleader in the Cleveland area. When he was younger he used to play in bands touring around the country and he was a bandleader on some of the cruise ships back in the early ’50s, the SS United States and the SS America. The ships that used to go from New York to London and then onto Paris. Before there was rock and roll, there was a kind of music that was popular that people did.
The point I am making is that I saw my father made a living as a musician his whole life. Nobody said, “Okay once you get to be 65 you have to stop playing.” That’s what he did, that’s what he knew. There were no rules. I think bands should play as long as they feel like it or as long as they want to, whether it’s individually as a musician or collectively as a band.
And I think KISS…as long as people want to see us and KISS still wants to play for people, we should do it.
KF: Who do you cite as your top drum influence?
ES: That’s a tough one because I like so many. Although I never try to emulate or go down that style of music or drumming, to me Buddy Rich was the greatest drummer that ever lived.
When I grew up Buddy Rich was on TV all the time and I got to see him live a couple of times. So I was exposed to a lot of the big band style of music and I really appreciate those type of drummers.
And I would say that I was influenced by the drummer’s role in the band and even though I play rock, I tried to always approach my role in a band as a rock drummer kind of like a big band drummer in the sense that the drummer in big bands — he would really drive the band. The great big band drummers were the guys that really had power and could drive the band. And I always felt that that’s the job of the drummer in a rock band. To take that kind of approach and do the same thing. Really lead the band and drive it in a live sense and really kick the band in the ass.
KF: Who would ever draw the parallel between big band music and Eric Singer?
ES: Well, it’s a philosophy that I have always tried to crossover from one style of music to another.
Sometimes the way I approach the drums, even in a rock sense, is similar to that. I try to listen to the vocals and listen to the melody lines and accentuate parts of those things — be melodic with it and support some of those vocal lines and solo lines. And that’s what a big band drummer would do in that music. So I try to take that approach and apply it to what I do in KISS or what I’ve done in other rock bands.
KF: That’s an interesting approach for a rock drummer.
ES: I think it comes from my upbringing and from me being influenced by those kind of bands. I played some of that style of music in my father’s band growing up but I would never say that I’m a jazz or big band kind of drummer. But I did play some big band stuff and did that kind of music starting at 14 years old so I definitely have that as a background.
Most people don’t even know that about me. They just know me from playing in rock bands and when I started with Lita Ford. And that’s all they know. They don’t realize my roots were really from a different kind of music, even though I listened to rock music from the time I was a little kid in the ’60s. That’s what I’ve always wanted to play and aspired to do but playing in my dad’s band gave me a totally different style of music to be brought up under and to be influenced by. And I have to say I see the value of it because I was able to apply what I learned, and what I learned really works for all music, in my opinion.
KF: Take me back to the first time you recorded professionally in a studio. What was that experience like?
ES: Well my first studio experience was probably doing demos back in Ohio with friends in local bands that I played in. But my first record I ever did was that Black Sabbath record, “Seventh Star” — that’s the first record I ever did and that was in 1985 when we recorded it. It came out in, I think 1986.
My first record was done back then, 25 years ago. Even though I had done some demos and recording with people before, I never had anything that was officially released as a record until then.
For me it was pretty heavy to have no experience and all of the sudden your first record is a Black Sabbath record (laughs). It was very cool though. The one thing I have to say, every step of the way, I always kept my eyes and ears open because I realized that you better have a very, very fast learning curve because you may not get another opportunity. In other words, if you don’t take advantage of these opportunities that are presented to you right now you may not get other opportunities down the line. I kind of grasped those moments and had a very good work ethic and was very focused on everything I did at all times.
I always tried to keep my energy level very, very high because I think that’s important. People recognize when you come in and you’re upbeat, you’re energetic and you don’t get burnt out. You have plenty of gas in the tank, if you will. People notice those kinds of things and they see your work ethic and your attitude and they go, “Oh, this guy has a good ethic, he’s willing to work hard and he’s not watching the clock.” Those little things, you kind of don’t realize that people notice that and that’s sometimes what will be the difference between you and the next guy and why they may want to use you or continuing working with you. Because they see that you bring those things to the table.
We all know there are a lot of talented musicians out there — a lot of great drummers, guitar players, bass players. But just because you’re good doesn’t mean that you’re right for a particular situation. And that’s the trick, learning to be the right guy for the situation.
KF: You mentioned 1985 so I have to stay in that time period for this question. A person who looks like you appears in Olivia Newton-John’s “Culture Shock” video. Was that you, and if so, what can you tell us about that gig?
ES: Yeah, that’s me. Actually that was filmed in 1984. It was recorded at the old Starwood Club in Hollywood. And that was done because I was playing with Lita Ford at the time.
I’ll give you a couple of fun tidbits. Olivia Newton-John was pregnant at the time so that’s why you never see a lot of good body shots and her clothes are kind of looser. She was like five or six months pregnant during the taping of that. And her nephew played bass in the video, I remember he was Australian and he told me he was her nephew. And I was just hired to be in the video and the way it happened was, David Mallet — I think he did some stuff with KISS actually…
KF: Yes, he did “Tears Are Falling” and some stuff with Def Leppard.
ES: Yeah, he did a lot of big video stuff back then. He had done a couple of Lita Ford videos and when he went to do the video they wanted to use a more rock-looking band for Olivia Newton-John’s video. So he called up one of the guys in Lita’s band and said, “Hey, I want to use the band guys for this video.” Well, I had done Lita’s videos. Randy Castillo was the drummer before me in Lita Ford. The other two guys, Gordon Copley and Bobby Donati, were also in Lita’s band. And I think David Mallet called Gordon, the bass player, and said he wanted to use us for Olivia’s video. So Gordon called me up and that’s how I got hired.
I was always spinning the sticks a lot. So I remember David Mallet saying, “Let’s get some shots of the drummer because he’s doing that cool stick thing.” (laughs)
KF: Another obscure 1980s question. When Mark St. John died you were quoted as saying he’d approached you for the drum spot in his band White Tiger. What’s the story behind that?
ES: Well what came up with that, I had just done the Gary Moore tour in 1987 and after the tour was over Ray Gillen and I, we worked together in Black Sabbath and we had talked about maybe doing something on our own one day. This was back in the beginning of 1986. As it turned out I ended up leaving Black Sabbath to go play with Gary Moore and Ray ended up leaving also and he started working with John Sykes in one of the early versions of Blue Murder. And that didn’t work out, the Gary Moore tour finished and Ray and I kept in touch. We heard that Jake E. Lee was fired by Ozzy so we both thought that Jake was a really great guitar player and we heard that he was going to try and put together a band at some time. We thought he’d be a really cool guy to work with.
We ended up contacting him. Ray came out to L.A. to stay with me, I was living in an apartment with some friends. We finally got a hold of Jake and started jamming with him. Well, at the time Ray was staying at my house, other people were trying to put bands together. So I remember Mark St. John called around that time and he was looking for a drummer and wanted to know if I was interested, but I told him I was already trying to work on this potential band with Jake. We didn’t even know if it was even going to happen.
In fact, at the same time I remember Lanny Cordola and Greg Giuffria asking Ray Gillen and I if we would want to try and get together. They were trying to put together what became…
KF: House Of Lords.
ES: Right. I remember Lanny coming over and talking to Ray and I and he was trying to put a band together. I had known Lanny for a few years before when he was in another local band in L.A. and we became friends. Lanny was a really great guy and a great player. You know, everybody was trying to put together new bands then. Ray and I really had our focus on seeing if we could get something happen with Jake because Jake was a guitar god. He had a big name and everybody thought he was great. We saw what we thought was a lot of potential for a group situation. And that ended up becoming Badlands.
The funny thing is that I remember when Mark St. John called me, by that point I was already involved trying to do the Badlands thing. I remember later on Fred Coury from Cinderella had called me. Wait, did he call me then? I think Mark actually called me earlier about that because I remember Fred Coury, I had met him a year or two before that. I met Fred around 1985. He was looking to see if I knew of any drummer gigs and I told him that Mark St. John was looking for a drummer for White Tiger and I told him there was a band called…this had to be 1986, because I remember telling him that there was this band — because I was asked to play drums in Cinderella…
KF: Really? I didn’t know that?
ES: I was playing with Lita at the time. The record company A&R guy asked me if I wanted to play drums in this new band that he had signed from Philadelphia. But I was already planning on going in and playing with Black Sabbath so I didn’t even know what they sounded like or anything about them. I remember I told Fred Coury when he asked me if I knew of any drum gigs, “Mark St. John from KISS is putting a new band together and there is this band from Philadelphia called Cinderella. You should check them out.” And I told him to call Derek Shulman, who was the A&R guy at Polygram. And he called them up and went down and auditioned and got the gig.
KF: I love Cinderella, and by the way that Badlands debut has some great stuff on it. “Dreams In The Dark,” “High Wire,” Winter’s Call,” “Seasons”…
ES: Cool, thank you. It’s hard to believe that that record came out 21 years ago. And somebody just re-released it now. Somebody just sent me a link two days ago and said it’s coming out on Rock Candy Records and there’s like a 16-page booklet.
KF: That album has been out of print for quite some time.
ES: It usually goes for like $30 to $40 on eBay. It was available in Japan for a longer period of time. But this Rock Candy Records just released that and the second album, “Voodoo Highway.”
KF: The Cinderella gig is something I never knew about. With that in mind, is there one project or gig that you most regret passing on in your career?
ES: Well, Tim, I could go down the list of the shoulda-woulda-couldas.
There was a chance where I was asked to be in this band, I had no idea who they were. And it turned out to be Cinderella and they ended up having a double-platinum record and opening up for Bon Jovi and having huge success as a new band. At the time, I thought, “No, I am going to play with Black Sabbath.” So I went and played with Black Sabbath.
There was a lot of turmoil and problems in the band, and I remember recording “The Eternal Idol” album in 1986. We were at Air Studios in Montserrat and I remember our producer, Jeff Glixman, telling me that the Cinderella record had just gone gold. And while we were recording it also went platinum. And I was thinking, “Fuck, I was asked to be in that band.” And here I am in a situation…look I loved playing with Tony Iommi, the guy wrote the best metal riffs in the history of metal, period. And it was a great experience to get to play with a guy like that. But unfortunately I was in the band at the wrong time. I was there when the band was having a lot of difficulties with management changes and lineup changes and it was just a very unstable time for the band. Unfortunately, what I thought was going to be a great experience turned out to be a not-so great experience, although getting to play with Tony was great. That was just the wrong time to be in the band. And I think I did what everybody would have done. That situation kind of fell part and I ended up leaving to go with Gary Moore, which ended up being a great experience.
One thing led to another…put it this way, at the end of the day, you can’t talk about regret because everything you do leads you to the next thing. Even if it’s a bad experience it leads you to the next thing. If you don’t do what you do now, you may not meet some of people that you meet. Even though the situation you’re in now may not be the ideal or best situation, the people you meet is what shapes your future.
I’ll give you a good example. I did the Badlands thing — that turned out to not be a good situation for me. I had a falling out with the guys and to me it ended up being from what started out as potentially great, it turned out for me to really not be a great thing. And it left a bad taste in my mouth. I’ll be very blunt and honest and won’t try to pretend like it didn’t. But had I not been in Badlands, I would have never met Paul Stanley. We recorded some of the record in New York and had I not been in New York, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to meet Paul and get recommended for his solo tour. Because of doing that, that’s how I ended up in KISS.
KF: Everything happens for a reason?
ES: Absolutely. Same thing with Black Sabbath. Had I not been in Black Sabbath…we talked Bob Daisley into playing bass on “The Eternal Idol” album — Bob is the one who was playing with Gary Moore and said, “Gary Moore needs a drummer and I think you’d be good.” And he recommended me for the gig and I auditioned and got the gig because of meeting Bob. So I went from a situation that wasn’t working for me that had led me to a situation that did work for me.
And you know, that’s how life works. Sometimes you have to suffer through some bad things or not-so great things to help you do better or greater things. You’ve got to take the good with the bad. Some of my greatest experiences I’ve had have been because of KISS and some of the not-so great things have been because of KISS. But all things in life are that way. Nothing is always great or all positive. It’s a balance. I’ve had some ups and downs, I’ve been in and out of bands a few times as we all know. But those things happen because of business decisions. And those business decisions were about survival.
I’ve got to say, I give Gene and Paul credit. They’ve had to make tough choices many times in their career. And they’ve been able to make those tough choices even when they probably deep down knew it was very difficult and probably didn’t like having to do it. But it’s called survival of the fittest. And they want to keep this big machine KISS somehow always moving forward or always surviving. And guess what, you’ve got to make tough choices.
I know a lot of the fans don’t understand that and they don’t like some of the choices the band has made. But you want to know something, let’s look at it. 37 years later we still have KISS to talk about because they’re still here and they’re still relevant. And the band still does great business and it still means a lot to a lot of people.
You’ve got to give Gene and Paul credit for surviving through it all. I know a lot of people don’t see it that way, but they don’t really understand what it’s like to be in a band. We all have a romantic view of being in a rock band. We thinks it’s the Three Musketeers. And you know, sometimes it starts off that way. Sometimes it is a bunch of guys that are just best friends — they’re young, they’re hungry and they experience all these great things together. They create something from nothing and turn it into a multimillion dollar successful business. And that’s the great success story part of it. But unfortunately some people don’t realize how rare that is and how unique and beautiful it is. You have to cherish that.
And Gene and Paul, because they know that they’ve worked hard for it and it doesn’t happen for everybody, that’s why they take it so serious. Unfortunately some people don’t take those things serious in music and that’s why they don’t survive and they fall by the wayside. And I’m not trying to preach what people should and shouldn’t do. You can only do what works for you. At the end of the day, we all make our choices. They say you make your bed and you have to sleep in it. Everybody that’s ever been in the band, that applies. That applies to me and everybody that’s been before me. If you make bad choices, guess what? Sometimes you get bad results from those bad choices and you’ve got to live with those choices.
KF: You really seem to still be at the top of your game musically these days. Do you maintain a practice regimen? How do you keep your chops up?
ES: The last couple of years I’ve been playing a lot so when you’re out there doing it…and I also go to the gym, which I’ll be starting soon. You know, we’re going to Europe to do that TV show and some press, and once I get back I’ll start going to the gym all the time and doing cardio and light weight training just to get my body strength up and get my regimen going for a tour.
I’ll be 52 this year, and the reality is I’m not a kid (laughs). Believe me, it’s even hard to believe for me. We all know that you start feeling your age in certain ways, your eyesight — all the sudden you’re holding the book further away from your eyes to read once you get in your mid-40s. There are things I notice, your joints start to ache a little bit more and your recovery time maybe isn’t as good day to day. My energy level is always high, as you can tell (laughs). I’ve always had a lot of energy. I am pretty mellow in the morning, but once I get going and drink coffee, then forget it (laughs).
When it comes to drums, cars, and watches — you know, the things that I have passion for — I think you can probably hear in my voice the way I talk about things and the way I articulate subjects, you can tell when I like something or when I have passion for it because I’ll obviously talk about it and my energy level goes up. When it comes to drums, KISS — basically music and the bands I’ve played with — I have passion about it all. I am passionate about the things I do and the things I’ve done. Even the things that didn’t work out for me as we talked about, you have to take the good with the bad and roll with it. But a lot of times because you’re passionate it makes you sometimes volatile to your emotions, so I do get sensitive emotionally about certain situations when they don’t go the right way or work out. But that’s kind of what fuels you, you have to be emotional and passionate about the things that you like and do. That’s what makes you good at something, I believe.
KF: If you’re a betting man…
ES: Is this about Bruce Kulick?
KF: (laughs) No, not about Bruce. If you’re a betting man, does this KISS lineup record another studio album?
ES: (pauses) I wouldn’t rule it out, put it that way. Do I know for sure if anything like that is going to happen? No. I don’t know anything for sure with KISS. Nothing is for sure with KISS. Everybody always wants to know about what the future holds. But I always tell everybody to try and just enjoy what’s going on now rather than worrying about what may or may not happen.
I find it very interesting. Everybody will sit there, “Is KISS ever going to do a new record?” So we finally did a record. Once the record comes out, everybody starts asking, “Okay, so are you guys thinking about maybe doing another record?”
KF: Well, you know how KISS fans are.
ES: I’m like, “Wait a minute.” (laughs) Everybody talked forever about KISS doing a new record, and we do a new record. Now instead of talking about the record and enjoying the record we just did, and enjoying the moment now — everybody talks about what the band did in the past or what they may or may not do in the future. Instead of just living in the here and now and going, “Hey you know something, KISS is out now. They’re a viable entity. The band sounds great. The band gets along great. The band is just about to do a European tour again.”
Maybe there will be more stuff in the future, more American stuff or more stuff in all parts of the world. I hope so. I hope the band keeps going as long — as long as the band is able and capable of touring and recording, I hope that’s what we do.
KF: You hit on an interesting point. Some of my favorite rock bands are bands like KISS, Def Leppard, Van Halen, Journey, and Heart. As much as I want my favorite bands to be around forever, it’s just not the reality. Recently, I’ve really been trying to take the attitude of, “It’s not going to be around forever, I am going to try my best to enjoy it while it’s still here.”
ES: Let me ask you this, what do you think of how Heart is now?
KF: Well they have Ann and Nancy Wilson obviously — who are like the Paul and Gene of Heart, in essence — and they have a relatively new lineup. I saw them live three times last year and Ann and Nancy still sound amazing. I am glad they are continuing and they are actually finishing up a new studio album now.
ES: Look at them, look at how they really morphed and at their very early days, when they were really Zeppelin-y.
KF: Yes, I got into them in the 1980s with the stuff like “These Dreams” and “Alone.” And then I went back to the older records. I love albums like “Dog & Butterfly,” “Little Queen” and “Dreamboat Annie.”
ES: That’s the stuff that I like. I love that early stuff. I love that drummer, Michael Derosier. That guy is a great drummer. And I love Denny Carmassi, who took his place. Denny is one of my favorite drummers. But that original band, with that Fisher guy…
KF: Roger Fisher, Howard Leese and Steve Fossen…
ES: That original band, that was a great band. Those songs are killer. The sound, they were really Zeppelin-y back then. To me, there’s another band that goes to show you. You can’t live in the past because it’s not 1978 anymore. They’re not going to stay like that.
KF: Well, I guess it’s similar to KISS and what you were just saying.
ES: That’s exactly it. Every band, you know — look at Def Leppard. They’ve had how many different guitar players? Any band that’s been around a long time, you’re pretty much going to end up seeing at some point they’re going to have to make a change because someone’s either going to become ill or they’re going to end up having personal issues where they can’t continue on, whether it’s drugs or alcohol or otherwise, or they just don’t want to do it anymore and the rest of the guys do.
I mean, nobody should tell a band that they shouldn’t tour or can’t tour. You know who decides that? When nobody buys the tickets. Most people want to see the music. Look at Alice Cooper. Alice has been touring since, I don’t know 1998, like 12 years and now he’s touring this year. It will be like 13 straight years where he hasn’t taken a year off or any break. He tours every year. And sometimes it’s a little tough when you want to keep touring all the time and keep going to the well.
The point I’m making, there’s a guy — he still tours, the band changes all the time. It seems like every year that somebody comes and goes in his band. The bottom line is the music lives on. They go to see Alice and they want to hear those songs. The thing is Alice didn’t create that music on his own. He did it with those original guys from the original band. But that’s not going to happen. He’s not going to play with those original guys again. One, he doesn’t need to do it and it’s not going to happen for business reasons as well. Yet people still want to hear those songs.
I think you see that with a lot of bands. Whether it’s Styx…
ES: Journey. All those bands. I mean the bottom line is, if you like the music and you like the songs, go and see it and enjoy it. To me, as long as the band at least does a good job and does it reasonably well. That’s what counts. If you see a band and they’re really horrible, then I can understand it. I’m talking about when they start getting replacement singers. To me, the hardest thing is replacing the singer.
You’ve got to find a guy that can sing your material and do it justice. Look at Foreigner.
KF: I saw them with Kelly Hansen a couple of months ago and you could close your eyes and it almost sounded like Lou Gramm.
ES: I think Kelly does a great job. Is he as good as Lou Gramm was in his heyday? No. But not many people are. Lou Gramm in his heyday is as good as it gets. He’s like Paul Rodgers — those guys are like world-class singers. Kelly is a great singer. No one is going to be Lou Gramm but that’s okay. You know something that is great? If you love their songs — and God knows they’ve got a lot of great songs — and you want to go hear them, that’s as good as it’s going to get.
Same with Styx. Styx is really great. I think Styx is a better band now than they ever were with the original band.
ES: It’s a whole different band except for Tommy Shaw and J.Y. Young and let me tell you, I go and see Styx every chance I can whenever they come around. I saw them a bunch in the ’70s — the original band — and the band they have now is the best band to me.
See I have no problem when people change members as long as they do it justice and it’s good. It’s just I have a problem when it’s not good. I think we’re good. Some people go, “Oh, I don’t care if a band technically plays better, it’s not the same.” Then you’re getting hung up on the past because you want it to be 1978 all over again. They want Journey to be the same Journey, they want Foreigner to the same Foreigner and KISS to be the same KISS. They want all these bands to be the same. But it can’t be. It’s not 1978 anymore. It’s 2010.
You know, thank God for YouTube and things like that. You can sit there and watch all this cool stuff and reminisce and relive your memories.
KF: I don’t know about you, but I spend too much time watching old videos, concert footage and interviews on YouTube.
ES: That’s the beauty of it.
KF: Every incarnation of KISS had recorded a studio album, save for this one. That has now changed with “Sonic Boom.” What does this album do for this lineup?
ES: Well, I think all it does is it solidifies and cements KISS, period. KISS survives. KISS is like a chameleon. It’s learned to change colors and adapt to its environment, and it’s still a chameleon at the end of the day. And it adapts to its environment to protect itself and survive.
Maybe it’s not the best analogy, but I think it’s a reasonably fair one. To me it’s a survival game. The fact is KISS already won many years ago by just having longevity and the success they’ve enjoyed.
Ultimately, the proof is in the pudding. The band went in because the band had the right energy, the right focus and the right direction and basically no pressure of trying to compete against anything, except maybe it’s own self. And going in and doing it in a very comfortable, relaxed, but focused, way with a purpose…I think that’s why we were able to make a really good record and kind of return to some of the roots of, like I said, the way records were made in the past and making a KISS record the way KISS records were made. Keeping it more like a KISS style, just straight ahead fun rock and roll.
That’s what KISS is about. KISS isn’t trying to solve the problems of the world. KISS is trying to make you forget about those things, even if it’s temporarily, to have an escape and a release. Going to the show, you just go and enjoy the whole experience. It’s almost like a religious experience to a lot of people. It brings people from all ends of the world together — it doesn’t matter what culture or language, it’s the common language of KISS and enjoying the spirit of just having a good time and having fun. And it’s hard to believe that now it’s become so multigenerational — kids from 3 to 73 are liking KISS.
It’s definitely part of Americana. It’s a recognizable band and recognizable brand. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. That’s what gives KISS part of its legacy, because it is such a well-known band and brand. Coca-Cola or Pepsi are part of Americana. Everybody thinks about Coke, McDonald’s, Burger King, Budweiser and all these kind of things — to me, KISS has become part of what we recognize as part of the Americana landscape, in a good way.
KF: Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and KISS…
ES: (laughs) You can’t take it too seriously. The bottom line is this. KISS is just a band, they just make music. I know it has a big impact on some people’s lives, sometimes in a very profound or very important way. And that’s great. I respect that people look at it from that serious point of a view. But we just make music. We’re not politicians, we’re not solving problems of the world, we’re not finding cures for diseases. God knows, I wish that we did. But I do know that it brings a lot of joy to many people’s lives and it has helped people through some rough times.
KF: I’m a big believer in the power of music and the positive effect it can have on people.
ES: Music is definitely a cure for many people’s problems. It gives people hope, it gives people something to divert their attention away from when they are not happy. Music can be very medicinal. If we’re able to bring any joy into people’s life because of that, I think that’s a good thing.
And if people don’t like something, that’s fine. You don’t have to like it. Guess what, don’t go to the concerts or don’t buy the records. The only thing that I find very annoying or irritating — or I shouldn’t even say that — the thing I find completely ridiculous or ludicrous is that somebody that will sit there, “Oh, I hate KISS.” Okay, that’s fine. But they still will keep going on chat rooms and boards and continually bash and bash and bash and bash everything the band does. I’m thinking, “Wait a minute. Let’s back up to the beginning. If you hate the band, why do you care about what they do? Why do you spend time going on a Web site complaining and bashing the band over and over again if you don’t like it?”
If I am watching TV and I see something on TV that I don’t like, guess what? I change the channel. And I put on something that I do like or that I do want to watch. If I don’t like a band, I don’t go to a concert. I don’t give them my money. I don’t buy their ticket or I don’t buy their records. And I don’t support it. I don’t waste energy sitting there going, “I hate this because they’re not doing what I want. They’re not doing things the way I think they should do it and I am going to keep complaining and stomping my feet.”
Now people might go, “Woah, woah…the fans are what keep you alive and without us, you have nothing.” Well, that’s true, if you don’t have fans you don’t have a band, you have no career. But majority rules. If enough people are happy with what you do and they want to come to the shows and support the concerts, and buy the records and enjoy it, then let those people enjoy it. And if you don’t like it, then you have to say “Okay, I don’t like it. I’m not going to support it.” That’s okay. But don’t sit there and get mad because you don’t like it and also get mad because some people do. I don’t understand that mentality. It’s just music, guys. It’s just music.
KF: You know, I’m on message boards and I know what you’re talking about. A lot of fans are extreme and have opinions, and I’m no different. We were talking about passion earlier and obviously for a lot of KISS fans, they have a passion and a lot of history with the band…
ES: I understand.
You know something Tim, I look at this way. KISS is what it is. If you’re a KISS fan, you should enjoy the fact that KISS still exists and wants to make records, wants to tour, wants to do shows and wants to do things. Be glad that they still do it. You may not like everything they do, but that’s okay. Celebrate the fact that the band is still an entity that exists on some level. Even if it’s not the level or the way you want it to be. Because, guess what? If it’s not this way, there may be no KISS. Is that better? I don’t think so.
KF: Eric, I know you’ve got to run. On behalf of KissFAQ, thanks so much for all of your time.
ES: You’re welcome. Honestly, I don’t do this that often. I mean we do press and stuff but we’re usually on a quick timeline and moving onto the next interview. And once in a while, I don’t mind doing this when I know it’s for a dedicated fan site. I think those are the times when we should do it because people dedicate a lot of time and energy to a site. We owe it to try to give something back to show we support that you support us.