“I’ve always considered myself, not a rock singer, but a singer who sings rock,” Paul Stanley shares during a conversation with UCR. Though he might be the Starchild, surrounded for so many years by endless amounts of pyro and smoke, the legendary Kiss vocalist, guitarist and songwriter is at heart, a music fan who has long been influenced by and had a love for many different genres.
Some of the earliest music that he loved came from the world of R&B and soul. Paul Stanley’s Soul Station — a 15 piece juggernaut — took shape as a way to not only pay tribute, but keep the songs themselves vital and current. “That music and its storytelling gave me strength and hope even in some tough days,” he writes on his official site. “The great classics of that era are magical medicine for most and I felt myself drawn back to that era for some sorcery I think we could all use.”
And how. Classics from the Five Stairsteps (“O-o-h Child”), the Spinners (“Could It Be I’m Falling In Love”) and The Four Tops (“Baby I Need Your Loving”) fall in perfectly alongside originals that Stanley wrote specifically for Now and Then, which was released on March 19.
We recently had the chance to ask Stanley a few questions about the experience of working on the new album.
Have you had the chance to put any of your versions in front of folks who were connected to the originals?
Yeah, and the response has been more than I could have hoped for. Just amazing compliments and quite honestly, whether or not it’s somebody’s taste or whether or not somebody has their own preconceived ideas of what I should or shouldn’t do, it’s pretty obvious that the magnitude of the album, it is a great reflection of the past and it also brings that music into the present seamlessly. I’m not hyping it, I’m basically saying what others have said.
The soul records from the classic era have a certain sound in the way they were captured, partly because of the musical style of the time, but also the technology that they had on hand to record. How did you go about finding a similar space with the songs that you were making? Because you can hear that right from moment one, with “Could It Be I’m Falling in Love.” You were able to capture that essence.
I think what you’re hearing is honesty. I think what you’re hearing is flesh and blood, real people making music joyously. If you play the original next to it, the sound quality is a major leap forward in terms of the fidelity of it, but what is apparent in both is I think, a love and an appreciation of simplicity. The simplicity I’m talking about is real people making real music.
That’s what binds Soul Station with that music is that it’s a bunch of people who love being together and love the music that they’re making. I think that’s at the root of it. Because technology has gone exponentially beyond those early recordings. We weren’t looking to replicate the sound of those records, because quite honestly, the sound of those records — not the performances, but the sound — is pretty obsolete when you A/B them. So that wasn’t what we wanted to capture. We wanted to capture the integrity.
You’ve got a long history as a songwriter, building worlds and the characters that lyrically live inside of them. Still, it seems like it would have been a really interesting experience, writing original songs for this album that felt like they could stand tall next to the classics. How did you approach that part of things with the originals you wrote for this record?
It couldn’t be paint by numbers and it couldn’t be using templates or patterns. Because I was immersed in the music with the band, being in the studio or doing live shows, it was just a natural extension of it. I can’t say that writing those songs was difficult. It felt right and it felt familiar. I’m kind of standing on the shoulders of giants, but I’m keeping my balance. [Laughs]
Building off of the previous question, tell me about putting together “Lorelei.” Because that song feels very authentic to the late ‘60s, early ’70s sound. What were you channeling on that one?
“Lorelei” was actually the last track that we cut. I wanted some of that power and emotion that I related to with Little Anthony and the Imperials and what they did with songs like “Hurt So Bad” or “On the Outside Looking In.” I also wanted something that veered towards Jimmy Ruffin, like “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted.” Now, that was in my head, that doesn’t mean that’s what came out. But it’s kind of like they say about certain food, they go, “It’s in there.”
In other words, it’s the ingredients and whatever degree you put things in that makes it what it is. I wanted drama and I wanted a song that ended on drama, to go in a different direction. On my first solo album, “Tonight, You Belong To Me,” ends on a peak. Roy Orbison, “Running Scared,” ends on a peak. That’s what inspired me, as opposed to imitating it, because I don’t know that it has much to do with any of those.
How difficult was it for you to keep your head in the right place and not get too precious about the vocal elements? Because there’s a chameleon nature to your vocals on the songs on this record. “Baby, I Need Your Loving,” there’s a vocal grit in the right spots that would make the Four Tops proud. You mentioned Jimmy Ruffin previously. There’s a lot of different singers and they all kind of bring their own thing to the party. So that had to be interesting approaching that part of it.
Not to overanalyze, but look, I’m not Levi Stubbs, by any stretch of the imagination. Or Eddie Kendricks or Smokey [Robinson]. But as a singer, if I can grasp the intent and grasp what’s behind the song, I can deliver the song. I didn’t want to replicate note for note, but I wanted to stay true to the original while not mimicking it. That was my goal.
What was the most difficult one for you to accomplish the way you were hearing it in your head?
Interestingly, I know all of these songs in pretty minute details. I did find myself sometimes….we cut, I think nine basic tracks in a day and a half or something like that. But when I would listen back, when we added strings or horns, I might hear something and go, “No, that’s not right.” We’d go back in the studio and redo a part. I can say it would be impossible, [but] the last thing Soul Station could be is a wedding band. It’s just not that. Whether you see the videos or whether you’ve seen the band live or listened to it. It’s way deeper than that. It’s kind of a commitment to a crusade. So with a lot of the classics, there were elements of the originals that in listening back, I might hear something missing and just add it in. So I didn’t really find it difficult. Everybody in the band is a first rate player and this is what they love doing. So it was sometimes a matter of finessing it or polishing it a bit. But nobody was out of their wheelhouse.
It had to be a lot of fun working up the arrangements on these songs and hearing them come to life.
It’s crazy. Being on stage and hearing these songs, it feels like basking in glory. The songs are so lush and heroic even. To be in the midst of it was almost something that came about selfishly. I wanted to hear these songs. It’s all well and good that a lot of these classic songs are samples in rap tunes and that’s fine, but these songs deserve a life on their own. I wanted to hear them. So when we rehearsed or when we’re in the studio, it’s friggin’ heaven. It’s great. When somebody says, “Stay in your lane,” well, it’s called the freeway and I don’t stay in any lane, nor do I want to. If you have to, because of your own limitations, that’s something for you to deal with. I’m free and I can’t always please everybody, but that’s not my intent. My intent is to please myself and it will find its audience.
This has been developing for a few years now, with live shows and that kind of thing. But before that, was there a time where you tried to put this in play? How far back do the seeds of this go?
I was a lucky kid. I saw Solomon Burke, I saw Otis Redding. This is a key part of my foundation, the music. I’ve always loved it and I can remember about 15 years ago thinking about putting together a band for one night to do a lot of these tunes. But it wasn’t until about six years ago that I thought seriously about doing it. When the core members came together, I just wanted to build on it and see this through. I won by having this band together. I won by having the album done. I’m winning by the response to it. Anything beyond that is just sprinkles on the icing on the cake. I’m thrilled with everything and the way it’s happened. Look, I understand some people going, “The guy in Kiss is singing Motown and Philly soul” and what have you. But I’ve always considered myself, not a rock singer, but a singer who sings rock. It’s a choice and I don’t feel that I want to be limited or I’ll limit myself.
A funny story, when he’s in town, I’ll spend some time with Rod Stewart. We’ll grab coffee or whatever. In passing, when we were both doing shows in Vegas, I said, “Yeah, my 15-piece soul band” and he goes, “You have a 15-piece soul band?” I go, “Yeah!” And in the best of no insult meant, he goes, “Well, who sings?” And I said, “Me!” And again, not insulting at all, he goes, “You can handle those songs?” So I pulled out my iPhone and played him a bunch of tracks. He talked about it to his daughter, to my wife. So, I get it. I get some people’s questioning or doubting of it. But I’m not one for doing things that I don’t succeed at. Because I do things that I love doing. I’ll work hard to make it happen.