Här kommer en lång och intressant intervju gjord av KISSFAQ.com Tim McPhate med Adam Mitchell, som var med och skrev låtar till Creatures Of The Night, Killers, Crazy Nights, Hot In The Shade och dessutom presenterade han Vinnie Vincent för Gene Simmons.
For Adam Mitchell, the music business essentially boils down to one thing, and one thing only. ”Everything is about the song,” he stresses. ”Everything is a multiplication of the power of the song.”
A BMI award-winning songwriter, Mitchell has worked with an array of artists over his long-standing career including Art Garfunkel, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, Nicolette Larson, and Linda Ronstadt, among others, and his compositions have been recorded more than 150 times across various genres of music. Of course, to KISS fans he is known for being a co-writer on songs that appear on albums such as ”Killers,” ”Creatures Of The Night,” ”Crazy Nights,” and ”Hot In The Shade.” As fate would have it, he is also essentially responsible for bringing Vinnie Vincent into the KISS camp. ”I introduced him to Gene when KISS was looking for a new guitar player,” says Mitchell.
Mitchell came onboard during a critical juncture in the band’s history. In 1982 KISS was essentially on life support after the dismal commercial reception of ”(Music From) The Elder.” In an attempt to resuscitate their career, they answered with ”Creatures Of The Night,” an album which Mitchell co-wrote three songs on, including the stomping title track. While ”Creatures” was not a platinum-selling commercial smash, it has become a fan-favorite over the years and was an important stepping stone for the second chapter in the band’s career.
Mitchell would go on to cultivate friendships with the various KISS members and a songwriting partnership that at times extended into outside projects with Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, and even Eric Carr and Bruce Kulick. His work has drawn high praise from his KISS collaborators. ”Adam Mitchell’s ability to write in a diversity of styles is only possible because of his solid grasp of the fundamentals of great songwriting,” said Paul Stanley. ”Adam Mitchell is a total professional. Some of my favorite KISS songs were co-written by Adam, and his contributions to many artists of fame are first class,” said Bruce Kulick.
KISSFAQ caught up with Mitchell in an attempt to gain insight into this interesting period in KISStory. Along the way, he shared impressions about the songs and albums in which he participated in, stories about various band members, and engaged in discussions on general KISS topics, his own career and current projects, and the subject he is most passionate about: songwriting.
KISSFAQ: Adam, thanks so much for taking time out to talk to us today.
Adam Mitchell: You’re welcome, Tim.
KF: Why don’t we get started with your musical background. Was there a moment you realized that you wanted to have a career in music?
AM: Well, actually there was no moment. I was a French major in college and to be honest, although I played in bands and was playing around Toronto as a singer/songwriter, there wasn’t any moment when I said, ”Well, I want to have a [music] career,” because it just didn’t seem feasible. I had been playing in a club in the Village in Toronto as a solo singer/songwriter and the guy who was actually the dishwasher in this club called The Mouse Hole had become the manager for a group named the Paupers, who were playing at another club down the street. And when they replaced their lead singer, he had heard me play every night at this club where he was the dishwasher, and he said, ”You have to get Adam Mitchell to be your new lead singer because he writes.” Because they were basically doing covers at the time. I was writing original stuff and so they got me in the band, and we had the right chemistry. It was a great band. We ended up very quickly becoming the best band in Toronto and we went to New York and we opened up for Jefferson Airplane. We did fantastically well. Albert Grossman — who at the time was managing Bob Dylan and Peter, Paul & Mary and other big acts — wanted to be our manager. One thing led to another and suddenly I had a career in the music business. And it’s been that way ever since.
KF: What was the makeup of the Paupers?
AM: It was a four-piece band. Two guitars, bass and a drums. We had a fantastic bass player, Danny Gerrard, who won the Playboy Jazz poll. He wasn’t even a jazzer but he was just the best bass player in the world at age 19. Denny was kind of the Jimi Hendrix of the bass. He was just unbelievable. And we had a sensational drummer [Skip Prokop] and we had good songs. The chemistry was right, and we were a great live act. I had played in drum corps in high school so I could play drums, so we would do these three-part drum things where I would play two high toms on a stand and Skip would play drums and Denny would play two low toms on a stand. It was absolutely fantastic. Pete Townshend said, ”You guys are one of the best bands in the world.”
KF: That’s pretty high praise.
AM: Gene and Paul were both fans of ours too.
Adam Mitchell (far right) and the Paupers
KF: Who are some of your favorite artists and influences?
AM: Well, it depends on what stage of my life I was in. Of course, the Beatles influenced everyone and changed the world. But the real person that changed the world and really changed my life and writing, and changed everyone — even bands today who probably never heard him — was Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan changed absolutely everything, because not only was he writing with just him and one guitar, he was writing fantastic songs that changed the world like ”Blowin’ In The Wind,” ”Times They Are A-Changin'” and ”With God On Our Side” — just stunning pieces of work.
He told the Beatles when he met them in 1965 at the Plaza Hotel in New York — the Beatles were huge by this time — he said, ”You know, you guys are a good band but you aren’t saying anything.” And because Dylan was saying something, the Beatles then started trying to say something and that led them into a whole other period of creativity, which influenced all of us. It influenced the Rolling Stones, it influenced every band out there, and it certainly changed my world. It made us all lyric-conscious; it made us all really want to say something.
Even if you look at bands like Led Zeppelin, who were a huge influence on KISS — I know personally how much Gene and Paul love Zeppelin. But Robert Plant was a folkie. John Paul Jones is a jazzer. John Bonham, well he was from some other planet obviously. (laughs) And if you look at the guitar tones and where Jimmy Page came from — they had what the Beatles had, which was remarkable chemistry. It’s just not possible, if you think about it, to have the four Beatles in the same band or to have the four guys in Led Zeppelin. But it happened!
So my influences back then in the 1960s were Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, who is also an astonishing talent. In the 1970s, Stevie Wonder. Stevie Wonder made brilliant, brilliant records. And Steely Dan…my own stuff that I do as a solo artist and as a writer is probably more influenced by Steely Dan in many respects than anyone else. Their lyric sense is so impeccable, the music is so interesting and the playing is just world-class.
So those are my big influences. I also love Randy Newman. The Police are terrific; Sting is an absolute genius. Elvis Costello made great records. I love Talking Heads, the Clash…
KF: You have some diverse tastes. As a songwriter, is it important to keep an open ear and listen to newer artists and different genres?
AM: Oh yeah, there are lots of great new artists. I think Jack Johnson is terrific. He does relatively lightweight stuff but I think he’s terrific. I get his records.
Merle Haggard was a huge influence on me for country. Huge. He did one of my songs, [”Out Among The Stars”] and I couldn’t believe it because he barely did outside songs. As a singer and a performer, Merle Haggard in a way — he and Hank Williams — changed country music profoundly. Willie Nelson I love. I like Dave Matthews. I love all kinds of music.
KF: You mentioned drums, what other instruments can you play?
AM: I actually started off as a harmonica player, that was my first instrument. I took to that very quickly. Up through the ’70s, I played on a lot of records. I played on Linda Ronstadt records and a whole bunch of other records, but I kind of stopped that for awhile. I started playing [harmonica] recently again live, so that was my first instrument.
Then I played drums when I was in drum corps. My uncle had been a drummer and when I was 16 or 17 I played drums in a couple of high school rock bands. But when the folk thing came along I wanted to play guitar and my friend Ian, who is still my best friend and lives in Canada, played lead guitar in rock bands. We wanted to play folk music because you could write your own songs. So I wanted to buy a guitar but I couldn’t afford to have the drums and the guitar, so I had to sell the drums to get a guitar (laughs), which was a very good thing because I wasn’t a particularly good drummer. Having a guitar led me to write my own songs.
I play keyboards a little bit, but I am not really a piano player. I also play mandolin. But basically I’m a guitar player.
KF: Moving forward into some KISS-related questions, can you describe the events that led to you meeting Vinnie Vincent, who was then Vinnie Cusano? And did meeting Vinnie pre-date your interaction with KISS?
AM: No, it was after. In fact, I was the one who introduced Vinnie to KISS.
KF: You introduced Vinnie to Gene, correct?
AM: Yes. I met Vinnie…I can’t remember exactly how that came about. But there was an ’80s band in Los Angeles, right around 1982-1983, it was a new wave band. By the way, I always thought new wave sucked.
KF: We’ll quote you on that. (laughs)
AM: And it did, that’s why it never lasted. I know this is an aside, but if you look at all the great music in the ’80s, it really was made mostly by pre-video bands like the Police and KISS…Prince, and Talking Heads, and so forth.
But there was this ’80s band in L.A. called Sue Saad And The Next, and somehow — I can’t remember how I hooked up with them. My friend Greg Penny, who produced k.d. lang and Elton John, might have introduced me. For some reason, I knew Sue Saad And The Next and through them — and I don’t remember the circumstances — I met Vinnie. He may have been playing with them briefly, and he and I got together and we only wrote two songs.
One of them was a song called ”Tears.”
KF: I love that song.
AM: John Waite later cut it. And then we wrote another song that didn’t get cut. My only involvement with Vinnie really was right around that time, and then I introduced him to Gene when KISS was looking for a new guitar player.
KF: What do you remember about the writing process for ”Tears”?
AM: I came up with the entire lyric. We did the demo at my house, and there’s a guitar riff I also came up with [sings guitar riff]. I came up with that, and I can’t remember honestly how much of the chord structure I came up with. Vinnie had some little musical ideas that he came up with. We got together and put the song together. John Waite cut it. Patty Smyth and Scandal cut it, but John Waite got his version out first. I actually liked [Smyth’s] version better, but they didn’t release their version. And then a few other people cut it.
KF: It was also featured on Peter Criss’ ”Let Me Rock You” album in 1982.
AM: That’s right, that’s right. I forgot about that.
The bass player in Cheap Trick [Tom Petersson] cut it. But John Waite had the big hit with it, but I must say his version was not my favorite.
KF: This being a KISS site, this will sound biased but I actually love Peter’s version, which was produced by Vini Poncia. I love that arrangement, and I never really liked Waite’s version.
AM: I tell you the problem with John Waite’s version, and my friend Frank LaRocca was playing drums in John’s band at the time, he really tried to rock it out too hard. And he really took the musicality out of the original piece, whereas everyone else who did it — Peter included — kept more of the musicality in it. And that’s why I liked those versions better.
KF: I’ve heard the demo for ”Tears” that you and Vinnie did, and I think it’s great. The essence of the song is right there. Another song you wrote with Vinnie — ”My Love Goes With You” — do you remember anything about that one?
AM: Yeah, but I didn’t write that with Vinnie, did I? I’m pretty sure I wrote that myself. It’s funny, I had forgotten all about that song. I also demoed it in the studio in that same house.
I was in a restaurant one night in Toronto and a friend of mine who sang in a Canadian opera company, she and I had been to see ”Amadeus” when it just came out — this is like 1985 or something. As we were talking and I am hearing this song on the Muzak, and it sounds really familiar. And I said to her, ”You know, I think a friend of mine wrote this song.” And then I listened to it a little bit more and I realized, ”Wait a second, I wrote that song!” It was some Swedish band that cut it.
KF: What were your initial impressions of Vinnie as a songwriter and musician?
AM: As a songwriter, Vinnie came up with good riffs. I mean ”Lick It Up” is great. But Vinnie is a player, I mean was, I haven’t heard him play in years. But Vinnie was one of the most musical players I’ve ever heard.
KF: That’s an interesting statement.
AM: You wouldn’t know it from listening to the Vinnie Vincent Invasion records because for reasons known only to himself he got into all of that [mimics fast guitar playing]. You know, ”Look how fast I can play!” I’ve heard Vinnie play versions of ”White Christmas” on guitar that were absolutely unbelievable.
KF: That brings me to a question I wanted to ask. As you intimated, Vinnie later became known for an eccentric lead guitar style, but back then do you recall him playing like that, or was his style more tempered?
AM: I am sure he could have played like that, but I never heard it. By the way Mark Slaughter is a very good friend of mine. Mark Slaughter is a fantastic guy, very, very talented.
But what Vinnie did on that Invasion record, when I heard it I went, ”What?!” It was absolutely nothing like the playing that I heard Vinnie do, and you know I sat around and played with him a lot. He was really a great musical talent, and why he got into that I have no idea.
KF: Obviously, the shred guitar style came into vogue in the mid-’80s, and Vinnie had plenty of chops. But you listen to some of his demo recordings and earlier work and his playing is more restrained, while his style on the Invasion material was over the top and in your face…
AM: It just wasn’t that it was in your face. To me, there was a certain insecurity about it. He was trying too hard to show that he could do that because a lot of guys shredded and I think it’s great. I mean, believe me Bruce Kulick can shred. Bruce’s new record ”BK3” is phenomenal, it’s unbelievable. Bruce can shred but he can also play with a fabulous musicality. And Vinnie also had that real musical ability and a great melodic sense, but none of that was appearing on that [first] Invasion record.
KF: Producer Michael James Jackson introduced you to the KISS fold during the ”Killers” sessions. Can you tell us about how this came about?
AM: It was through Michael. Michael and I had met back in the late ’60s, maybe early ’70s, in Toronto. I was producing a band called Fludd, and we had a couple of hits, and they were on A&M [Records]. And Michael, who was working at A&M in L.A., came up to Toronto for some reason and I happened to meet him in Fludd’s manager’s office, and he and I became friends. We’re still very close friends to this day.
When I moved to California, I got a deal as a solo artist on Warner Bros., which was quite a big deal at the time in the ’70s because they were such a great label. [Ed: Adam Mitchell released a solo album on Warner Bros. in 1979, ”Redhead In Trouble.”] And when I was in the studio at Sunset Sound doing my record, Michael was in the next-door studio producing a band called Pablo Cruise, who were big in the ’70s. And he came in and we reconnected and he heard my songs, and he really liked them.
So fast-forward a couple of years to 1980, 1981 or thereabouts, and he was now producing KISS and they were looking for people to write with and he suggested me. Paul Stanley came over to my house and he and I wrote a couple of songs, I guess we probably wrote more than a couple, but I don’t remember. Two of them were ”Partners In Crime” and…
KF: ”I’m A Legend Tonight”?
AM: Yes, ”I’m A Legend Tonight.” Both of which ended up on ”Killers.” And then Gene asked Paul what it was like writing with me, and Paul said he enjoyed it. And Gene came over to the house and we started writing also.
KF: What do you recall about that initial session with Paul?
AM: You know, if you’re going to sit down and write down with Paul Stanley of KISS, and he doesn’t know you…I don’t know if Michael had played him some of my other songs or not, he may have. But Paul wanted to see, ”Is this guy worth writing with?” As he should have, because they had a reputation to protect and they were a great band. I remember he was a little circumspect at first, but we got on well and we wrote well together.
I mean, all the songs that I have on KISS records, they are all songs I wrote with Paul. Most of the stuff that Gene and I wrote was for other bands he was doing like Black ’N Blue or that great Japanese band, EZO, or Wendy O. Williams of the Plasmatics. So Gene and I would write a lot, but it was usually for other bands. But Paul and I wrote primarily for KISS.
KF: Speaking of songs with Gene, what do you recall about ”Chrome Goes Into Motion”?
AM: That was the first song Gene and I wrote! How did you know about that?! Is there a tape of that? You know, Gene keeps everything…
KF: I haven’t heard it personally, but at our site we keep a record of this type of information.
AM: I can’t even remember…I think the title was Gene’s idea. And honestly I don’t remember much about the song, except it had a lot more to do with Steely Dan than it had to do with KISS. (laughs)
And we wrote another one that was weird too, I can’t remember what it was. They’re fun to write with. Both Gene and Paul were fun to write with. They’re just fun to hang out with.
KF: At the time you got together with Gene and Paul, KISS was coming off the commercial disappointment of ”(Music From) The Elder” and their popularity in the States had abated. What do you recall about Paul and Gene’s spirits at the time?
AM: Well, they were upbeat, but I don’t think it’s any secret they were seriously worried about their career because ”The Elder” was a bit of a disaster. Well, it was a disaster, compared to where they had been. It was a mistake, and I am sure they would be the first to tell you, to try and do a concept album. KISS is not about doing concept albums, and it really is in many respects thanks to ”The Elder” that I ended up writing with them, because they realized after that that they really needed to get back on the rails. And like everything else in this business, no matter who the artist is, it all starts with the song. And everything else — you do need great singing, great playing, great production — everything is a multiplication of the power of the song.
Any band in the world practically could have done ”Detroit Rock City” or ”Rock And Roll All Night” and it would still be great because they are great songs. But the fact that KISS did it, it was perfect for them, and they were a huge band, so it was so much the better. But great songs are the core of everything in this business. Everything. And they realized that.
”Killers” was released first as an overseas album and the first real KISS album we did was ”Creatures Of The Night,” which has a lot of great songs.
KF: Before we get to ”Creatures,” can you talk about how you introduced Vinnie to Gene?
AM: Well, I don’t know if I talked to Vinnie about it. Vinnie and I were still in contact. I lived up in the Hollywood hills and Gene was coming over to my house to write. I guess I mentioned this to Vinnie and he basically just showed up at the door and said, ”Oh, I was in the neighborhood.” Well, if you knew my neighborhood at the time it’s not a neighborhood you just happened to be in. It was way up in the hills and I had a real long driveway and so on.
Gene was in the kitchen making some granola, I think, and Vinnie knocked on the door and I went to the door and he came in and I introduced him to Gene. I honestly can’t remember if I had mentioned him to Gene or not before, because the one thing I knew for sure, and this may have been after I introduced them and Gene asked me about him, but the one thing I knew for sure was that Vinnie could play like Ace, except way better.
I mean Vinnie was a much better guitar player than Ace. But he had that same type of Ace feel, which Mark St. John did not have, for example. Vinnie was a New York guy and for whatever reason he had that feel. When Bruce joined the band, Bruce brought a whole other set of abilities to them, but Bruce doesn’t play like Ace. He plays like Bruce and he’s phenomenal. But Vinnie was more like an Ace player, and of course this was before Bruce was even in the picture. So I knew Vinnie could play like that, and as I say I can’t remember if I mentioned it to Gene before he met Vinnie or afterward, but that’s how they met.
KF: You ended up collaborating with Paul Stanley on three songs on ”Creatures”: the title track, ”Keep Me Comin'” and ”Danger.” Paul has been adamant that the title track was an attempt at ”reclaiming a focus” — do you recall a discussion with Paul regarding a specific direction for the album?
AM: I don’t remember literally word-for-word anything he said. I do remember distinctly talking with Paul and him making it perfectly clear that they wanted to make a KISS record, which they did not feel ”The Elder” was. That’s why I say that ”Creatures” — more than ”Killers” — was the next real KISS album. Paul wanted to get back to exactly what had made them successful and so big in the ’70s, and of course he would because that’s what they did best. This was a rock and roll band, this was not a concept album band.
I am pretty sure out of those three songs ”Creatures” was the first one we wrote. And we did the demos in my studio in my house and I had a blue Charvel [guitar] that I just bought and I came up with that lick that they play between the verse and that ends the song. [sings the lick] I played that on the demo and we just put the demo together with my LinnDrum machine that I had just gotten. Roger Linn by they way — who invented the LinnDrum machine and changed the world — Roger used to be the guitar player in my band when I had my deal on Warner Bros. Roger is a sensational guitar player.
So anyway, we did the demo at my house. The way we’d usually work, Paul would have an idea like ”Creatures Of The Night.” He had the title, he had the idea. And I am sure ”Danger” and I think every song that I wrote with Paul, pretty much he would have an idea or a title or some feeling he’d like to explore, and we’d sit down and thrash it up.
KF: A lot of fans consider that album to be a classic.
AM: Yes. I tell you some of the other things I remember about ”Creatures.” Eric Carr of course was in the band by that time. Eric and I were very, very good friends, and he died on my birthday, in fact, in 1991. We recorded most of ”Creatures” in L.A., but some of the tracks we recorded in New York. I think three or four of the tracks we recorded in New York. And one of them was ”Keep Me Comin’.” In fact, Paul and I didn’t write that one at my house, we wrote that one at his place in New York. Anyway, the thing I really remember about that track was the drum sound was phenomenal. And the studio that we were recording in had a back room — it was like a storage room, a big concrete room. And someone got the idea, probably Michael James Jackson, to put the drums back in there and see what they sound like. And we put the drums back in this concrete room and miced them up and it sounded unbelievable. It was fantastic. That’s why if you listen to that track, the drum sound is just huge.
KF: The drum sound on the entire album is big.
AM: To be my honest, my favorite part of the show — and I’ve seen many KISS concerts as you can imagine — was Eric’s drum solo. Because he not only had his regular toms, he had those synth drums….I loved it. Eric was a great showman, he was a great drummer and his drum solo was really one of the highlights of a KISS concert back in the ’80s. No question about it.
KF: My first concert was the Hot In The Shade tour, and Eric’s drum solo was definitely a highlight.
AM: He was great.
KISS with Ace Frehley circa ”Creatures Of The Night”
KF: Though he appeared on the album cover, Ace Frehley was for all intents and purposes out of the band during ”Creatures.” What do you remember, if anything, about Ace during this period and the lead guitarist carousel on the album?
AM: I never met Ace. He came over to Gene’s house one time when I was writing with Gene but I never met him. His face appeared on the first ”Creatures” cover, the original cover. Ace had nothing whatsoever to do with that record. Nothing. All lead guitars on that record were played by Paul, and I may miss a couple here. I played on ”Creatures.” The guy from Mr. Mister played that solo.
KF: Steve Farris.
AM: Yeah. And Bob Kulick played on some. And I am trying to remember if Vinnie by that point had played on something or not. I can’t remember.
KF: I believe he plays on ”Saint And Sinner”…
AM: Yeah. I have no memory of him being there and I was in the studio for almost all of the tracks. But as far as I know, Ace was never in the studio. I never saw him in the studio.
KF: I have to ask this. There’s this strange story in Gene’s autobiography around the time of ”Creatures”…. Do you remember anything about Eddie Van Halen considering joining KISS during this time?
AM: Nope. If that was indeed the case, it’s news to me.
KF: The story goes that Gene had lunch with Eddie circa 1982 and for a second there Eddie was considering leaving Van Halen to join KISS.
AM: That maybe the case, but let me put it this way, I seriously doubt it. No matter what Gene said in his book, I can’t see Eddie Van Halen leaving Van Halen even though they were having trouble at that time.
Paul and I went to a Van Halen rehearsal one time, and I’ll tell you a story I do remember. We were standing there talking to David Lee Roth, we were probably 50 feet away from the stage, and Eddie was up onstage just goofing around. And honestly, it sounded like two guitars. It was unbelievable.
KF: Van Halen is one of my favorite bands, and Eddie is one of my favorite guitarists.
AM: I’ll tell you another story. I was living out in Malibu — Linda Ronstadt and I lived at the beach — and [producer] Ted Templeman came out to the house one day and said, ”I want to play you this band that I just did four tracks on.” And he played me Van Halen. I mean, I had never heard of them. They didn’t even have a deal at that point, he hadn’t recorded the [debut] record. He played me ”D.O.A.” and three other tracks. I remember vividly the first time I heard Eddie Van Halen, I couldn’t believe it. He changed everything.
KF: I’ve heard similar stories with people hearing that first Van Halen album in 1978 and their jaws dropping.
AM: The whole band was great.
KF: You said you were around most of the sessions for ”Creatures.” Being in the studio, could you sense that the band felt they were on to something really good?
AM: Well, I knew it was really good. But I think in general, Gene and Paul were so concentrated on making sure that this was a KISS record that I think to some degree there was a certain amount of holding your breath, and I won’t say hoping this works, but because they had gotten such a scare with ”The Elder” they really wanted this to work so badly, which is one of the reasons it turned out so great.
But at the same time they just wanted to get this done and they wanted to get it done right and they wanted to make sure everything about it was exactly the way they wanted. There was no question there was a strong motivation to make sure this a KISS record. I remember many discussions, in fact, about ”Is this heavy enough?” Gene was the heavy police, as you might expect from the ”God Of Thunder.” (laughs)
There’s no question about it, they wanted to make sure this was a KISS record.
KISS with Vinnie Vincent in 1983
KF: KISS followed ”Creatures” with ”Lick It Up,” which Michael James Jackson also produced. The band wrote this album entirely in house. Do you remember being asked at any point to contribute any ideas and were you around for those sessions at all?
AM: No, I really had nothing to do with ”Lick It Up.” I had gotten into other things at that point, and was doing a lot of screenwriting and different things like that. No, I really didn’t have anything to do with ”Lick It Up.” I think there is some terrific stuff on that album. I remember they shot the video at a warehouse in downtown L.A., I remember going to the video shoot for ”Lick It Up.” I remember doing that, but the record itself I really had nothing to do with it.
KF: After ”Creatures,” you had a bit of a KISS hiatus up until ”Crazy Nights.” But before we move on, one other question on Vinnie. It’s been well documented that various circumstances led Vinnie Vincent and KISS to part ways by 1984. In hindsight, Paul and Gene have said Vinnie was brought in by default and that he never really fit the band. What’s your take?
AM: That was the case. He was chosen by default. And I will just say this, it had nothing to do with his playing. I was not at the tryouts, but as I remember Vinnie was the very first guy they tried and they knew he played great, and they loved the way he played. But they had some concerns about how he would fit in in other respects, and those concerns in the end turned out to be well-founded.
KF: Personality issues?
AM: Various other issues, business stuff as well. There was no question about Vinnie’s playing ability. But it’s not playing that ultimately determines what happens in a band and who is in and who is out, it’s always personality issues and business issues. Look, if business can break up the Beatles, it can break up anybody.
KF: You mentioned Bruce earlier. Aside from his playing ability, one of the reasons why Bruce had a successful tenure in the band was that he fit in so well, personality-wise.
AM: Bruce is one of the sweetest, nicest people you’ll ever meet. And he is just a phenomenal player.
When Bruce was in the band, the personal chemistry was just great. They were a fun bunch of guys to be around. Eric, as I said, was hysterically funny. Eric was one of the funniest people I ever met and he was a great drummer. And Eric Singer, who is also a friend of mine, is a terrific drummer, no question about it. Technically, Eric’s a phenomenal drummer. And so both he and Eric Carr were just great drummers, and certainly the best that KISS has ever had. They both played heavy, but Eric Carr was what I call, and I mean this in a good sense, a real basher. He was a lot closer, for example, to John Bonham than Eric Singer is, and Eric Singer as I said is a fantastic drummer. I knew Eric [Singer] long before he was in KISS.
KF: ”Crazy Nights” was produced by Ron Nevison and you would co-write the title track for this album as well. What do you recall about penning that song?
AM: I remember the lyric in that song is awfully good. I remember we really worked hard on the lyric on that particularly. Paul absolutely had the idea. ”Crazy Crazy Nights” was a big hit worldwide, but Paul and I were both disappointed to some degree with the record because the demo we did we felt was so much better. We demoed that in a studio on Sunset. But the difference between the demo and the record was in the chorus when the crowd comes in and sings along with Paul, ”Crazy crazy crazy crazy nights.” [chants] The crowd on the demo we did was much louder and it really sounded much more like an arena. It just sounded bigger to me compared to when I heard the record — and Ron is a great engineer who has done some terrific records.
Also to be fair, there is such a thing as demo love. It wasn’t just on that song, I’ve heard a hundred songs where everybody thinks the demo is better because you fall in love with the demo first, so that becomes your idea of what the song should sound like. And when you get in the studio, you know it’s impossible to recreate something exactly that way. So, we might have had a bit of demo love. I do remember that we really liked the demo of ”Crazy Crazy Nights” very much. But the record turned out great, and I am sitting here looking at several platinum records I’ve got for that record. Plus, it came out in Britain — every year they release the 10 or 20 biggest hits of the year on a Christmas edition — and ”Crazy Crazy Nights” was one of the songs of the year.
KF: The song features a bit of key change leap, up a minor third from G to Bb. Do you remember whose idea it was it to throw that in?
AM: No, I honestly don’t. Ron might have suggested that. I don’t remember if we did that on the demo or not. That’s more something that would have happened in the studio. I wasn’t there when they were actually cutting the track. By the time I got back, they were mixing. I remember it was a studio in the Valley they were mixing at. So I wasn’t there for the actual recording so I can’t really answer that, but it sounds like something someone might have suggested in the studio.
KF: Did you know that ”Crazy Crazy Nights” was recently played by KISS during their European tour?
AM: No, I didn’t know that.
KF: Since it was a big hit in Europe, the band dusted it off. It was the first time the song had been performed in 20 years.
Regarding some songs that didn’t make the cut on ”Crazy Nights,” ”Dial L For Love” was a song you co-wrote with Eric. Do you remember anything about this one?
AM: I remember the title. That was one I wrote with Eric. You have to remember, we wrote a lot of songs. (laughs)
KF: I’m throwing all these song titles out and you’re like, ”Yeah, I think I remember that…” (laughs)
AM: Plus Eric, Bruce and I wrote a lot of songs for Eric’s ”Rockheads” project. But we all wrote a lot of songs — Paul and I wrote a song called ”Nightmare” which was a really good song. I forget what happened to that. But yeah, I’ve forgotten all about that one.
KF: What about ”Are You Always This Hot,” the missing 12th song from ”Crazy Nights.” Was this based on a 1981 song you wrote?
AM: Yes, I had written another song entirely on my own, and demoed it on my own, and called it ”Are You Always This Hot.” And my demo actually ended up in a movie, ”The World According To Garp.”
KF: I remember that movie! With Robin Williams…
AM: Yes. It’s the scene where [Robin Williams] is driving the babysitter home, and she’s young. And she gets in his car and she flips on the radio right away, as a teenager would do, and the song that comes on when she flips on the radio is my original demo of ”Are You Always This Hot.”
If I remember, Gene liked the title — it’s exactly the type of title Gene would like — and we wanted to try and do something for KISS. But for whatever reason it didn’t work.
KF: I remember that scene in the movie so I am going to have to look that up.
AM: There have been a couple of times when I’ve gone to the movies and I had no idea that I had a song in the movie until I was sitting there watching the movie and all of the sudden the song came on. And that was one of them. I was with my girlfriend at the time, and I remember her turning to me and saying, ”That’s your song!”
KF: Obviously when putting ”Creatures” up against ”Crazy Nights,” there is a disparity in terms of both direction and sonics. How would you describe the direction and the band’s mindset for ”Crazy Nights” compared to ”Creatures”?
AM: Well, the reason the record was done that way, and the reason Ron was producing it, was music had changed a lot between when we did ”Creatures” in 1982 and 1987. It was the period of Diane Warren and the mid-’80s was a lot popier. The band obviously felt that they really had to go where that was and that’s ultimately why they ended up doing that song that Paul wrote with Michael Bolton.
KF: ”Forever.” AM: Right, ”Forever.” Which is not a KISS song at all, if you define KISS as what they did in ’70s and up through ”Creatures.” So yes, to some degree ”Crazy Nights” was definitely more of a pop record but it was a successful record, and again particularly around the world. It was really successful. Every artist who defines themselves — well, every artist except AC/DC (laughs) — as they try and go along…you have two choices: you either stay who you are and hope to ride it out as who you’ve always been; or you try and change with the times. And that’s a difficult thing for any artist in any situation but look, KISS is still here and they are still playing after all these years, and they are still packing the joint. It’s hard to argue with that.
KF: 37 years later, KISS is still alive. It’s pretty amazing actually.
AM: It’s beyond belief. You know, my banker who went to see KISS when he was 8 or something in the ’70s, he now takes his son and his daughters. They are like 7 and 8 [years-old]. And I see this all the time. KISS are playing here in Dallas on Sept. 18 so I am going to go see them. I didn’t see them the last time they were here because I happened to be playing that night myself. But I’ll go see them, and the place will be packed, and there will be all kinds of 8, 10, 12-year-olds all painted up like Paul and Gene.
KF: Around the late ’80s, Paul was writing some songs for possible placement outside of KISS. Is it correct that ”When Two Hearts Collide” was targeted for Cher’s use?
AM: That’s right, yes.
I never got to the bottom of that but I remember quite clearly writing the song. In fact, Paul had moved to a new apartment in New York and we wrote it there at that apartment. It was an idea that I had — the title was. Paul had been asked to produce some stuff for Cher and so we talked about it and I said, ”I’ve got an idea that might work.” And so I went to New York and we wrote it in his apartment and I am pretty sure he went in and cut it with her, but honestly I don’t know what happened to it after that because I never liked the way Cher sang and I couldn’t have cared less.
KF: After ”Crazy Nights,” you ended up writing a song titled ”Little Caesar” with Gene and Eric on ”Hot In The Shade.” What do your remember about that song?
AM: We wrote that song at Eric’s apartment in New York and Eric had the idea. The one thing I remember about writing with Eric on that song and some of the songs that we wrote for ”Rockheads” that Bruce also collaborated on, I remember Bruce and I had taken one of the songs and we programmed what we thought was a pretty good drum track for the song. And Bruce put the guitars on, which of course were great. But then Eric came over to Bruce’s apartment and just laughed at our drum track and said, ”Nah, nah, nah, I’ll show you how to program a drum track!” (laughs) And he sat down and by the time he programmed the drum track, it sounded like real drums. It was awesome. (laughs) ”You want a good drum track, have a drummer program it.” Bruce and I just sat there and laughed. The difference was so huge.
But I don’t remember anything specific about writing ”Little Caesar,” except that we did at his apartment in New York. I remember us hanging out there and laughing and talking.
KF: There are some other songs around this time that you wrote with Eric — ”Eyes Of Love” and ”Somebody’s Waiting,” as well additional songs that you wrote with him that ended up finally being released ”Rockology.” Do you recall Eric voicing any frustration with not getting his material on KISS albums?
AM: Well, I understood Eric’s frustrations. But at the same time, KISS is defined — was and is — by Gene and Paul. It’s only natural that they would want to have their songs for a number of reasons — they want to have their songs be the body of the album because apart from anything else, that was the KISS sound. You know, the KISS sound was Gene and Paul. The part of the KISS sound that Eric had become was the drums, it wasn’t his writing. It’s just natural that you gravitate toward what the fans want to hear as what Gene does and what Paul does in terms of writing. That was truest to their nature. So I understood that everyone would like to have more songs on a KISS record, and I understood Eric’s frustration. But I don’t blame Gene and Paul for choosing their songs to put on because that was the KISS sound.
KF: Sure. Obviously it’s all in hindsight at this point, but you take ”Hot In The Shade,” which has 15 songs, and there are some songs that some fans think missed the mark, ”Read My Body” for instance. Then you have something like ”Eyes Of Love,” which a lot of fans really like, and you think, ”Wouldn’t it have been cool if Eric had that track on the album in favor of something like ’Read My Body.'”
AM: Well, I would have to agree with that. Band dynamics are always very complicated. I’ve always said being in a band is like being married to four people at once. It’s enough being married to one person at a time, you know. Lots of situations in bands are like anything else, like sports, ”Why didn’t I pass the ball to him instead of him?”
KF: I am going to pull another song from the vault. You’re credited on a song with Eric and Bruce titled ”You Are The Wish I Am The Well.” Any recollections?
AM: (laughs) Yes. That particularly stupid title was mine. (laughs)
That’s another one I had completely forgotten about. That had to be around about 1986 or 1987. I don’t remember much about the song, I mean, I’d remember it if I heard it. But I think that was my title, it might have been Eric’s, but I am pretty sure it was mine.
KF: Do you have a catalog of demos from your work with KISS? AM: No, I have virtually nothing. You know, I still write so much and so frequently. I discovered a song today that I wrote about, I don’t know, only five or six weeks ago that I completely had forgotten about. But I still write at least two, three, four songs every week. And you know, I am teaching a lot so it’s not like I have all day to sit around just writing.
People will say to me, ”I want to be a songwriter.” Well, wanting to be a songwriter is not enough. You have to need to be a songwriter. Because writing songs is the way that songwriters look at the world and it’s how we express what we think of the world. So writers usually write a lot. For me personally, when stuff has passed it’s over with, and I am too busy doing what I am doing now to be looking back at some of these things.
Besides, when I look back at some of the stuff I did last year or 10, 20 years ago, I want to change it. I asked Mac Davis one time, we were writing a song and we took a break for lunch, and I said, ”Hey Mac, when you finish a song, do you ever want to rewrite it?” He said, ”Do I?! Every time I hear ’In The Ghetto’ on the radio, I say, ’Why didn’t I think of this!'” (laughs) And ”In The Ghetto,” that’s one of the most-played songs of all-time.
Gene’s got every demo we ever did. I know he does. But for me, I am a don’t look back kind of person. You know, when the song is done, it’s over with and I move on to something else.
KF: With songwriting, Paul Stanley has said many times that songwriting is about perspiration for him, sitting down and almost forcing a song out, rather than waiting for inspiration. Do you wait for inspiration, or is it a situation where you have to force yourself, and is it like a muscle you continually have to flex?
AM: Well, it’s a muscle I continually flex but not because I say I’ve got to sit down and write for three hours today to keep the muscle in shape. I don’t write that way. Luckily I am at a period now where in many ways I write some of the best songs I’ve ever wrote. Certainly some of the best songs I’ve written since I was in my thirties, because I really understand the process of writing. I don’t get stuck. Like most writers will get into the second verse and then they get stuck. Then they get tired, then they get worn out and then they think, ”Why did I start this stupid song in the first place?” (laughs)
I understand the craft well enough now that I don’t get stuck. So if I have an idea, I can write it very quickly. I mean very quickly. I wrote a song last night, almost as fast as I can write it down. In like 15 minutes. Because I know how to get in that zone where the song just comes out. And then what I’ll do is I’ll get that down very quickly and I’ll leave it alone for two or three days, get some perspective on it. And then I’ll go back and look at it, and anything that needs to be changed will jump out and say, ”Change me!” Most people do not write like that, I’ve just been doing this for a long time and I know how to do it. So for me, I write very quickly. I don’t sit around saying, ”Oh, what’s a good title?” I don’t do that anymore. When I was writing in Nashville, you’re writing every day, you’re writing one or two songs, you’ve got to come up with some kind of idea. But I don’t write that way anymore, I just kind of write my life, and in many ways that is the best.
So, yes I exercise my songwriting muscles all the time.
KF: It’s a fascinating topic. We could probably have an entire discussion about songwriting.
July 12 would have marked Eric Carr’s 60th birthday. You said you were great friends with Eric, any fun stories you can share?
AM: (laughs) Well, with Eric there is a million of them. Trust me. Well, here’s a couple…one of these, I have this on my website. I have a page of songwriter stories, ridiculous things that happen only when you’re in the music business. You couldn’t make them up in a million years. I’ve got stories on there about me and Mick Jagger and Jimi Hendrix, and I’ve got a couple of Eric stories on there and a few other KISS stories.
But one time, Eric and I were having lunch at the Old World Cafe on Sunset Blvd., right across from where Tower Records used to be. And Eric’s hair at the time was huge. Huge. So huge, in fact, that Gene and Paul used to give him grief about it all the time. His hair was huge. Gigantic. And he wouldn’t cut it.
So he and I were sitting out in the front patio right on Sunset outside of the restaurant, and we were having an early lunch. And these two girls fly by in a Camaro and they see Eric and they slam on the brakes and they do a U-turn right there on Sunset, which is really busy. And they pull up right in front of the restaurant and Eric looks at me, and he obviously thinks, ”They recognize me.” And sure enough, one of them gets out of the car and she comes over and she looks at Eric with this really weird look on her face and she’s looking at his hair and she goes, ”Guy, big hair!” (laughs) She had no idea who he was and the other girl in the car shouts, ”Come on, we got to get going.”
AM: And they got back in the car and left. Another time…Eric still had his place in New York but he was renting an apartment right off of Sunset, on Doheny or something. And I dropped him off one night, we had been doing something, and he got out of the car and he stepped right into the biggest pile of dog shit you’ve ever seen! (laughs) And we’ve all done it and it really sucks. I remember that, and it was terrible.
But Eric was hilarious, he was so, so funny. He was such a great guy. It was just heartbreaking when he died. Eric was a super guy. Always sweet-natured, always a joy to be around.
KF: Growing up a non-makeup era fan, I’ll never forget the day he died in November 1991. It was the same day Freddie Mercury died.
AM: That was my birthday, November 24.
KF: Eric Carr is held in high regard by a lot of KISS fans and sorely missed to this day.
AM: To that point, it just wasn’t that he was in KISS, but Eric was still accessible. He still was a Jersey guy and I think fans really related to Eric on a one-to-one basis. I saw Eric with fans. I mean Gene and Paul are always great with fans, they really are, they can be incredibly gracious. Gene and Paul are on a pedestal and always will be. But Eric was really down to earth and just a really nice guy, because I don’t think that Eric ever forgot that it wasn’t that long ago that, but for an accident of fate as it were, he was still a stove repairman and one of the guys looking up at KISS instead of being in KISS. So he was a super guy and super with the fans. I miss Eric a lot and think about him quite often.
KF: Out of all the songs you co-wrote that ended up on KISS albums, which is your favorite?
AM: I would say ”Creatures Of The Night.” The other song I really like a lot, because the sound on it is so good, is ”When Your Walls Come Down.” To me, that’s actually the best-sounding track. But, I like ”Creatures” a lot.
I’ll tell you a funny story about ”Creatures,” I’ve told this before, but it’s absolutely true. Not long after we wrote ”Creatures,” I was having lunch one day and was flipping through channels on the television. And I went right past this channel, there used to be this religious show where this woman sat there — blonde hair and huge fake eyeglasses. And there was a guy on the show who was a burn victim, and he was all scarred up and stuff. But as I went past this channel, I saw just for that instant, I saw he was holding up a copy of ”Creatures.” So I immediately went back to the channel and this guy was saying, ”This song was wrote by the devil!” [mimics Southern accent] (laughs)
And I am sitting there thinking, ”No dude. Me and Paul wrote that song in my kitchen.” (laughs)
AM: I have all kinds of friends. My great songwriting partner, a good friend of mine here in Texas, Jon Christopher Davis — great artist, great singer. Jon’s dad would find his KISS records and burn them! I’ve heard more than one person tell me that, you know.
KF: We’ve talked a lot about the various band members through various songs and albums, but what are the first things that come to mind when you think of Paul and Gene?
AM: Paul’s a gentleman. He really is. He’s incredibly talented. Paul’s a tremendous singer and a great showman obviously. Paul can sing louder, higher and longer than anybody I’ve ever heard without blowing his voice out. Anybody who can scream like Paul and rock out like Paul will blow their voice out. He’s got a bulletproof voice.
KF: On some of those albums during the non-makeup era, he really took his vocals up a notch.
AM: It was unbelievable. He still sings well.
But Paul’s a real gentleman. He knows when to be kind and generous. And when Paul and I were single, we went out a lot. We even dated roommates at one point, so I spent a lot of time with him. I still see Paul whenever I go out to L.A. He’s a great guy. Lots of fun to hang out with.
KF: What about Gene?
AM: The thing that always impressed me about Gene is, and I know this will sound funny but it’s absolutely true, his lack of ego. I mean Gene has a healthy ego, but unlike a lot of stars Gene would never hold it against you if you disagreed with him. Trust me, he and I have argued back and forth about lines in songs. But Gene’s just interested in the work and making it work. He really in many respects has less of an ego than almost anyone else I’ve worked with. He’s incredibly generous. He’s incredibly loyal. And very funny.
As strange as this sounds, Gene does not take himself seriously. I’ve spent many, many hours with both Gene and Paul — and considering the public image of Gene, people would be surprised to hear this — but Gene can laugh at himself.
I’ll tell you a story. Gene and I were writing one time for a band, I can’t remember who it was. And we started arguing about a lyric line. I wanted it my way, and he wanted it another way. And my daughter, who was about 14 at the time, was in the kitchen. We were over at Gene’s house, he was also in the kitchen with Shannon. And Gene called Shannon and my daughter Kirsten in and he said to them, ”Which way do you like this line? Adam’s way or my way?” Well, as it turns out, they picked my way. Well, that was it. It was in the song. No argument.
I’ve worked with a lot of stars and I can tell you if you come up with a good line, you better make them think they thought of it. Gene’s not like that at all. He has no ego. He’s just about making it work. And he can laugh at himself.
Honestly, if I had to come up with one word of all the time that I’ve spent with Gene, Paul, Eric, Bruce and all that, the first word that would come to mind would be fun. We laughed…I can’t tell you how much we would laugh.
KF: What song was that?
AM: I don’t remember. I think it was for EZO, that Japanese band. Great, great band.
I’ll tell you another thing that Gene would do. This is typically Gene. We used to go bowling a lot. We got bowling crazy at one point, and we’d go bowling almost every week. And Gene would invite — it could be anybody, Robert Downey Jr., Michael Bolton, you know movie stars, Brian May was there one night. The guys from Poison. And I think this was like the ”Lick It Up” period where I was doing a lot of screenwriting. And Gene had optioned some of the stuff I had written because he was trying to produce movies at the time. Well, one night at one of these bowling parties he invited James Cameron, who as we all know is absolutely huge. He’s done ”Titanic” and ”Avatar” and he’d done, at this point, ”Terminator,” and probably ”Aliens.” He was huge. Well Gene, knowing I was a screenwriter, introduced me to James Cameron and said to James Cameron, who doesn’t need writing help from anybody, but Gene said, ”Adam is a really great writer. You should use him.” (laughs) And I laughed because James Cameron does not need my writing help.
But that’s Gene. That’s Gene. He’s incredibly loyal and incredibly supportive of his friends. And I’ve seen it do it not only with me, but with many other people.
KF: One final Vinnie Vincent question. When is the last time you spoke to Vinnie and do you have any idea as to his current whereabouts?
AM: Well, [I don’t know] very much. The last time I talked to him was probably the last time I saw him, probably 1985 or 1986. He and I got together and wrote a song and I can’t even remember what it was called. But that was the last time I saw him.
Then I know he moved back to Connecticut and his wife — who I knew, she was very nice — was murdered. And then he moved to Nashville and I was living in Nashville when he was there and he would drop in occasionally to Peer Music, where I was writing. But I never was there when he came by. And my publisher — Rod Parkin, who is still a good friend of mine — told me Vinnie was, in his opinion, ”Very weird.”
I never saw Vinnie after 1985. I haven’t talked to him since. To be honest, I have absolutely no idea what he’s doing. But the last I heard he was in Nashville.
KF: It’s just the strangest of stories. A guy that has that type of talent to be missing in action for the better part of two decades. It’s puzzling, to say the least.
AM: Absolutely. But there’s a lot of things in the music business that are puzzling.
KF: We talked about Michael James Jackson earlier. What is he up to these days? Anything music-related?
AM: Michael and I are still very good friends. We talk all the time. What Michael is doing right now is screenwriting. I see him every time I am out in L.A. But basically he is screenwriting. He’s not doing anything much musically, and is more interested in writing screenplays.
KF: Interesting. I think that’s surprising in the sense that he was the producer behind two great KISS albums.
AM: Michael also produced another great record with Hurricane [1990’s ”Slave To The Thrill”]. Kelly Hansen was the lead singer, who now sings with Foreigner. And I had a song on there called ”10,000 Years,” which is actually…of all the cuts I’ve had, ”10,000 Years” is one of my four or five favorites. Michael just did an absolutely brilliant job on it. And it sounds huge. Just huge.
But you know, things change in life and you move on. You lose interest in one thing and get interested in others. Michael has always been interested in screenwriting. Even 10, 20 years ago, when I was writing, Michael was writing. And he and I used to talk about it a lot, and we still discuss it today. In fact, we recently talked about a new terrific screenplay that he’s written that I had read and had some observations on.
He’s always been interested in that but you know, I’m not the kind of person — nor is Michael or Gene and Paul, for example…. Gene’s always been interested in being involved in movies and other things. And Paul, you know Paul is painting now. He’s doing fantastically well. Paul’s stuff is terrific. He’s really a good artist. And he has showings all over the country.
So, if you’re the sort of person who has kind of a big picture view of things, you know you get bored doing just one thing. That’s why, particularly if you’ve been doing one thing for awhile, you want to expand your horizons and try something else.
KF: With regard to your career, you’ve written with a diverse stable of artists from Chicago, Olivia Newton-John and Waylon Jennings to Art Garfunkel, Merle Haggard and Paul Anka. What do you cite as your career highlights, and where does KISS rank?
AM: In some respects, I would say KISS ranks No. 1. Most of the other songs that I’ve had cut, and in fact I think practically all the other songs I’ve had cut, I wrote by myself. Because I actually don’t co-write very much, except in a situation like with KISS. But, in many respects, I’ve done very well career-wise writing with KISS. And personally, Gene and Paul became very good friends and it was terrific, even a little unexpected when I got the call to write with them. I was totally surprised. In that respect…well, let me put it this way, it stands alone. Because they’re KISS. And it was just a big chunk of my life, and it remains so.
But other career highlights…the fact that Merle Haggard did one of my songs. The song that Merle Haggard did was called ”Out Among The Stars” and it’s probably been cut now 50 times. Waylon Jennings cut it. If you go on YouTube and look up ”Out Among The Stars,” there’s so many different videos on there of different artists doing it. It’s unbelievable. I didn’t realize it until someone told me about it and I went on and looked. That was great.
I’ve had a long association with Linda Ronstadt, who remains one of my closest friends and is just an absolutely a marvelous person and of course a hugely important artist.
I had a song called ”French Waltz,” which has been done so many times in so many different languages. You know, I’m a song guy. Even though I was an artist myself, and I still play a lot and I really enjoy playing. But I really came at some point early in my career to understand that everything in music depends on the song. Unless you’re like a jazz player. But even then, the great jazz records are always based on great songs. The song is absolutely everything, so that’s really why I’ve devoted my time, energy and my interest to writing songs. Because if you have a great song, you know, anybody can play it, but if you have a bad song, it doesn’t matter how good the player or the singer is, it’s just a bad song.
KF: This reminds me of an interview I heard with Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora. He said the same thing, that everything in the music business starts with the song.
I mean, take any of their songs…”Livin’ On A Prayer.” They’ve got great songs. They’ve got accessible songs. Take away the great songs, it doesn’t matter how Richie plays or how Jon Bon Jovi sings or how cute he is or anything, nothing matters without the songs.
Van Halen were a great band. Great players. Great showmanship. But they had great songs. Take away the songs, you never would have heard of Van Halen.
KF: Were you more of a fan of the Roth era?
AM: Well, it’s really an apples and oranges situation. Sammy Hagar was a great frontman and did a great job. He was just different from David Lee Roth. And it’s always hard to replace somebody in a band because, and you certainly see this in KISS, people have a certain association with Ace and Peter. Even though the players who have came after them are much better players. And I think Sammy Hagar did a tremendous job in trying to replace a larger-than-life figure like David Lee Roth. And they made some great records with him.
KF: ”5150” is one of my favorite albums in the Van Halen catalog.
AM: No kidding, me too.
KF: I think the album just has tremendous songs and playing. ”Summer Nights,” ”Why Can’t This Be Love,” ”Dreams,” the title track. And the interesting thing is it was their first collaboration together. They really captured something right off the bat.
AM: Exactly. They did some good stuff.
You just have to accept it, that the David Lee Roth era was what this and the Sammy Hagar era was that. Most bands you just have to take it as, well this is the new version and that’s the old version. And, you know, nothing stands still.
KF: That certainly applies with KISS. You’re obviously associated with the non-makeup era primarily. As you acknowledged, there are fans that have the perspective that KISS is Paul, Gene, Ace and Peter.
KF: And now today, you have Paul, Gene, Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer. With all the permutations of the band, there is such a collection of differences in terms of preferences.
AM: It’s all good for KISS. It’s classic KISS…
I feel the same way about the Paupers. Denny [Gerrard] had to leave the band because he was getting crazy and we replaced him with Brad Campbell, who was a great bass player, but the chemistry was gone.
The band with Ace and Peter is the iconic band. And to a slightly lesser degree, the band with Eric Carr and Bruce is kind of the ’80s band, and iconic in its own way. But the classic iconic band is the ’70s KISS. But when I saw them playing Nashville with Eric and Tommy, they were phenomenal. Eric and Bruce were also fantastic as well. But this band, certainly as players, with Tommy and Eric Singer, they are way better than Ace and Peter.
KF: Adam, if you wrote that on the KISSFAQ message board, some fans would be all over you. By the same token, there are fans who would agree with you.
AM: You also have to remember, when the band was Gene, Paul, Ace and Peter, they were all like 28 years old. It’s a long time ago. It’s 35 years ago.
I am frankly astonished when I see the new show that there is still as much energy they are putting out at their age now because, as you know, they’re not 28 anymore. It’s a different show and it’s a different era. Remember when KISS came along in the ’70s, it was unheard of. It was completely a new thing. There wasn’t anything like KISS. That’s one of the reasons it’s iconic because they changed everything. There wasn’t another band like that.
You know, it’s like people say, ”Sting is not as good on his own as he was in the Police.” The Police were great. Sting is phenomenal. It’s just two different things.
Paul Stanley with Adam Mitchell
KF: We’ll wrap up with a final question about you. You mentioned that you are involved with teaching songwriting. Please fill us in more about this work and what else you are currently up to.
AM: I am teaching a lot. I teach both in groups and do talks with songwriter associations, and I do individual things. I’m also just putting together a CD/DVD series together on the art of writing songs and successful songs, successful both in terms of commercial and an artistic success. I am still writing and playing a lot, and really loving it.
It’s nice to be able to help because songs are so important. I really enjoy the teaching part, and I know that I can help writers learn how to be better writers without spending years trying to figure it out. (laughs) That’s the thing, because I just happened — through years of experience — to figure out why great songs work.
One of the things I do is that I’ll take six or seven songs which appear to be completely different one another. I’ll take [Metallica’s] ”Enter Sandman”; Taylor Swift’s ”You Belong With Me”; I’ll take a hymn like ”Amazing Grace”; I’ll take a Dave Matthews song; I’ll take a Demi Lovato song. And I’ll say, ”What do all these songs have in common?” Well, most people would say nothing. But the fact is they do have everything in common. And the things they have in common are what all great songs have in common, and why they’re great songs. And this is what I teach. What your songs have to have. What the elements are that make songs work. And if you understand these elements, then you don’t get stuck in your writing and you know what to look for. Then there is the actual craft of writing and how to not get stuck, and ”What do I do in the second verse” and all kinds of things like that.
But it’s fun to teach because I know I can really help people not only become better writers, but become better writers much more quickly and help them enjoy their writing a lot more.
KF: Adam, thank you so much for your time today.
AM: Thank you, Tim. It was great talking to you.
(KISSFAQ wishes to again thank Adam Mitchell. Adam’s new website, www.artofsuccessfulsongwriting.com, is scheduled to launch soon. In the meantime, you can visit www.adammitchellsos.com to learn more about his work.)