In this exclusive excerpt from Greg Prato’s upcoming book Take It Off: Kiss Truly Unmasked, video director Paul Rachman talks about how he convinced the band to change its performance style for the “Unholy” video.
The song and video would prove to be crucial in re-establishing Gene Simmons‘ demonic aura and the band’s overall standing among longtime fans who had grown disillusioned with Kiss’ ’80s work.
Take It Off is billed as “the first book to chronicle Kiss‘ non-makeup era,” a period that found the band rebounding from a nearly disastrous commercial slump by continually updating its image and sound to fit in better with current trends and tastes.
Curiously enough, for 1992’s Revenge that meant stripping away the glam-pop excess the band had adopted during the ’80s in order to sound like a harder-hitting version of its original ’70s self. With help from returning Destroyer producer Bob Ezrin, the album achieved that goal on the sonic front. The next job was to get the visual presentation right, a process Rachman says left Simmons and fellow founding member Paul Stanley “uncomfortable’ for a while.
“This was Gene’s song, so Gene was very involved. I went to meet with him at his house to talk about it. He wanted to talk about everything — he was very hands-on. I remember directing them was quite easy — they were very good listeners, and they liked what they saw. I do remember one moment on set — when you see them onstage a lot, they’re separate, but they have a habit to come together and go shoulder-to-shoulder. When I was doing some full band shots, they kind of went into that move, and I was trying to get a very designed shot, where I placed them under certain lights, and I didn’t want them to move around. I just wanted them to stand there. We did a couple of takes of that, and they were uncomfortable with it.
I remember Gene and Paul, they kind of huddled with the band, and they were like, ‘This doesn’t feel like us. We move around a lot.’ I understood that and respected it — and did some takes like that — but I really wanted the shot where they didn’t move around. Where they just stood there — like they were pillars of rock, that didn’t move around. I needed that shot. I wasn’t able to convince them, and the record company was there, and I just said, ‘Listen. You guys hired me for a reason. This is what I need you to do. It’s 1992 … it’s not 1984. I need you to do this — just trust me.’ It just came out — I didn’t think about it. When you’re a director of a band, and you’re trying to make your day, you just have to own the set.
They kind of huddled again, and I was like, ‘What the hell are they talking about?’ I remember kind of creeping up, and I heard Gene or Paul saying, ‘Well … maybe the kid’s right. Maybe we should listen.’ [Laughs] It was kind of charming, because it really gave me some confidence. When you’re working with big stars — and I was in maybe my late 20s — you kind of need that confidence. And I wasn’t snooping on them — we were losing time in the day, and I needed to shoot. We didn’t have time to have these kinds of meetings in the middle of the day on set. So I think they respected me for that, because when I finished the video, they really hardly had any notes. I remember they really liked it, and I really liked it. I think it worked for them. In the end, them coming out so boldly with a hard-rock song on that record really set the path for them putting the makeup back on and going back to hard rock.
Gene and Paul have a very special relationship. They’ve kept it together for a long time — through good and bad. But Paul had a really good note about Gene’s performance. There were a couple of takes I did of Gene alone, where he was just singing into the camera without his bass, and was using his hands. There was a moment in it that Paul caught and said, ‘Listen, lose that shot, because it’s Gene Simmons — it’s not Ozzy Osbourne.’ [Laughs] And he was right! I took that one shot out. This was at a time when Ozzy was going big just as Ozzy Osbourne, and in his videos he was featured alone a lot without the band.
But it was a great experience, that particular shoot. When you get a great song and you have a great idea and you can execute it and everybody is with you, it’s great. We shot late into the night — I had a lot of shots to get with these kids, and a lot of little cutaways and shots that didn’t involve the band in them — and Gene stayed until the very, very last shot. He just wanted to see everything I was getting, to make sure I was doing my job. I respected that. And that set a relationship up for the whole year, for that whole album — where I basically did [most of] the videos for that album.”
Take It Off: Kiss Truly Unmasked will be published by the Quatro Group on Nov. 19.
Watch Kiss’ ‘Unholy’ Video
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