Eric Singer is one of the most honest, straight forward interview subjects that one could have the pleasure of speaking to. Never shying away from any question, Singer tells it like it is, not sparing any details. Being the drummer for KISS (on and off) for over 15 years, over the span of three decades, Eric knows what it takes to get the job done, and has never lost the appreciation of being part of one of the biggest bands in the history of music. When RockMusicStar recently spoke with Eric Singer, he reflected on “The Tour” with Motley Crue, the writing and recording process of “Monster” (Singer’s fourth studio record with KISS), the misconception people have about his approach to drumming in KISS, and also responds to the comments Peter Criss made about him in Criss’ autobiography, “Makeup to Breakup.”
RockMusicStar: Could you tell us what “The Tour” was like for the band, and did it exceed your personal expectations?
Eric Singer: Well, it was a very successful tour, and for me, I think it was a great package. I can only speak for my own point of view, but I think most people would have to concede that it was a good pairing. If I was a fan, I would want to see that tour. Even if I wasn’t in KISS, I’m a fan of both bands, I’d wanna see KISS and Motley Crue together. People had been saying for years that it would be a good package (to see happen again), and I think it turned out to be. Of course, you’re gonna have people say, “Oh, I’d rather see KISS do their own show, or Motley Crue do their own show,” because they want to see a band play longer. But for me, if I was going as a fan, to see each band play at my age now, seeing each band play for 75-80 minutes, that would be just the right amount for me. Just enough, without being too short or too long.
RMS: That being said, in the future, will KISS’ headlining shows be shorter than what they have been in the recent past?
ES: It’s not that we don’t wanna play longer, it’s just that you realize playing 2 hours and 20 minutes, like we did on some tours, is too much. However, on the recent shows we just played, which were not with Motley Crue, we went back to playing a longer set. So, instead of playing an hour and 20 minutes, we had to play an hour and 45 minutes, and we added a few more songs. And that seemed to be enough.
RMS: What may fall in the category of ‘musical minutia,’ starting with “The Tour,” KISS lowered it’s guitar tuning a half step (from E flat to D), which is the first time KISS has ever tuned that low in concert. Did it take some getting used to, or did it just make it easier to sing in a lower key?
ES: All the parts that I sing on the choruses, it’s always the high part. So for me, (the lower tuning) it actually helps. Because some of those parts are high, like in “Love Gun” and “Lick It Up” and certain other songs. When I’m singing up there, I’m not going to deny it, it can be a little tough some times. And I take my singing very seriously. It’s very important to me, and I know it’s very important to the band, that I’m able to sing those parts and sing them well. So, if it’s going to help me, and it does, then I’m all for that. But, to me, I don’t notice it that much. If anything, it just makes the music sound a little thicker, or a little heavier, maybe. It gives it a little more weight if the songs sound darker or heavier. I don’t think that most people noticed that we changed the key. I don’t think most people (non-musicians) understand subtleties of music, or the technical things of music. They just know if they like something or they don’t.
RMS: Moving on to the “Monster” CD, one of the things that I like about it, perhaps a little more than “Sonic Boom,” is that there are subtle differences in the production values from song to song, as opposed to every song sounding sonically identical. Were those differences done deliberately, or are they present due to multiple recording sessions?
ES: I think you look at the whole record as a body of work and say, “OK, what direction, or vibe are we going for sonically on the record, or what are we trying to achieve?” But then when you get into individual songs, for example, on “Out of This World,” at the end of the song, it goes into a phase/flanger thing, and that was a suggestion that I had made. I basically got that idea from the Beatles song, “All Too Much,” where at the end of the song, it goes into a flanging thing. On one of the early Journey records – before they had Steve Perry – they did a version of “All Too Much,” and on the outro, they elaborated further on the whole flanging thing, and I thought it was a cool effect. When they (Journey) go into the outro of the song, they go into double time on the drums, and it goes into this flanging effect on the whole mix. So what we did was based on a production thing that I heard when I was a kid, that I thought was cool. I thought it would really suit the song, because the outro section (from “Out of This World”) reminded me of that Beatles song. Not that we sound like the Beatles, but I’m just using that as a point of reference, of an arrangement of a song.
I think we always take our influences from different things. It could be a style of a song, it could be a particular band, or it could be a production idea or an arrangement idea, that we remember that we like. Like the beginning of “Eat Your Heart Out,” that’s definitely a direct influence of all of us liking (the group) Humble Pie. I know Paul (Stanley) and myself are especially really big fans of Humble Pie. If you ever listen to Humble Pie “Rockin’ the Filmore,” listen to the raps in between the songs, the way Steve Marriott talks to the crowd, and then listen to “KISS Alive!” and listen to Paul Stanley. And although they don’t sound the same, you can definitely see he (Paul) was definitely influenced by Humble Pie and Steve Marriott.
“Watchin’ You” is a great example of a song that’s influenced by Humble Pie as well. So those influences have been there since the beginning of the band. Sometimes you wear your influences on your sleeve, where it’s very obvious. You’ll hear a particular drumming, guitar or vocal style, that you can directly relate to some other band. We always want to use references, and it’s not like we’re trying to copy anybody, or be something else. It’s just that you have influences, and sometimes you wear them directly on your sleeve. When you can directly hear them you’ll go, “That reminds me of THAT band.” Like some people have said that they think certain riffs on “Monster” reminded them of Mountain. Especially on some of the Gene (Simmons) riffs on “Monster,” you can hear the influence from Mountain. Gene was absolutely influenced by Mountain when he was growing up.
RMS: When I spoke with you after “Sonic Boom” came out, although you were proud of your singing debut on a new/original KISS song with “All For the Glory,” you told me that you actually preferred the original demo version of the song, with Paul on lead vocals. Do you feel “All For the Love of Rock and Roll” was a better suit for you, vocally?
ES: Absolutely! Obviously, that song’s a little different than the rest of the songs on the record. Stylistically, it’s more in the family of like a Rod Stewart “Hot Legs” or something. It’s got more of a straight ahead “rock and roll” feel to it, as opposed to being heavier. I liken it to Rod Stewart, as my approach to singing has always been more in that vein. I’m not saying that I sound like Rod Stewart, because I absolutely don’t, but my influence of vocal style, tonality and approach lends itself better to that style of music. I thought “All For the Glory” was a cool song, but I never felt 100% comfortable with that vocal style. Because I listened to it, and I heard myself singing it and I’m going, “This is a really cool song, but this isn’t really the way I would sing it, if I wrote the vocal melody.” It’s more the way Paul would sing, which makes sense, since Paul wrote the song. I remember when Paul put the guide vocal down, I just thought it sounded better with him singing it. Mind you, I’m always hypercritical or too hard on myself, as I’ve never really gotten used to hearing my own self singing, where I hear it and go, “Oh yeah. I really like that.” But I would say, on “All For the Love of Rock and Roll,” that’s much more in line with the way I would sing a song, and the way I DO sing.
We also took more time to cut my vocals this time around. When I went in to cut it, I’d go in to sing it many times, and then Paul would go, “Go in and sing your song again.” And I’d go, “Really?” I had already sang it like 5 times the day before, or 5 times three days before that. And then I realized what he was doing. Without saying it, he was trying to get me more comfortable with the song. He really wanted me to get comfortable with the song and live with it. So he had me sing it multiple times, for that purpose. I could tell from when I first started singing it a few times, to the final version, I did get more comfortable with it. I was able to do a little bit more with this or that line. After a while, I really knew what I was singing, I knew how I wanted to sing it, and then it was just about going for the performance.
RMS: How do you respond to those who say that “All For the Love of Rock and Roll” is just an attempt at mimicking or copying a Peter Criss song?
ES: Here’s the thing John, I’m 54 years old and this is the way that I sing. Those type of comments seem to come from the same people who question why I play (the drums) a certain way. You know somethin’? I play for the song, and I play for the band. That’s what I play for first. Not for myself, not to appeal to a drummer in the audience. I play to appeal to the song and the band, and what the band does in that format. I always point back to people, listen to “MTV Unplugged.” That’s the best example that shows where I’m coming from, as a drummer and singer in KISS. I played very simple, very straight ahead, more closer to an earlier KISS approach, to the arrangements and the style of the songs. I made the conscience effort, from that point on, I made the concerted effort to play more simple. So I find it interesting that when I come back to play in the band in 2001, all of a sudden, just because I have makeup on, people are asking, “Why is Eric playing more simple? They’re telling him to imitate Peter Criss.” Gene and Paul, for the record, NEVER ONCE…EVER…(told me) to ever play anything like Peter Criss. NEVER!!!
RMS: While we’re on the subject of Peter Criss, Peter recently released his book, “Makeup to Breakup.” He pretty much makes negative comments about every member of KISS, past or present, with the exception of Bruce Kulick. I wanted to give you the opportunity to respond to the comments that he made towards you, as he calls you a “schlep” and claims the story of you suggesting for Peter to play at the 1995 Los Angeles KISS Konvention was disingenuous.
ES: That’s funny because it wasn’t disingenuous. At the time when that happened in 95, Gene asked me, saying “Eric, Peter Criss wants to come down to the expo and bring his daughter. Do you have a problem with that?” I am the one that actually said, “You should have him come up to play.” Let’s just put it this way, Peter doesn’t know me. Peter’s met me a couple of times, through all the years that I’ve been around. It was literally like, “Hi. How ya doin’?” Other than when we did “MTV Unplugged,” where we were at rehearsals on and off together, that one week. Other than that, Peter does not know me. He doesn’t know my character. He doesn’t know what type of person I am. If he wants to take it that way, then that’s fine. That’s his prerogative. I don’t have nothing against the guy, he’s done nothing to me personally. I may have my own personal opinions of how I feel about him as a drummer, or how he’s conducted himself, that I may or may not agree with everything, but that’s really their (Peter and Gene & Paul’s) beef.
For some reason, Peter really hates Tommy Thayer. Why? I don’t know? All that Tommy ever did was try to help the guy. When Peter came back to the band in the very beginning, for the Reunion, Tommy’s the one who that sat in a room with him and Ace, teaching them the songs, and working them through the routines, before they even got together with Gene and Paul. He put the time into helping the guy, and now for some reason, he’s got some real venom towards Tommy, and I don’t know what that’s about.
The sad thing is that the fans who like a particular person, or a particular band member, they’re going to believe everything the person says, whether it’s true or not. You gotta remember, this is Peter’s chance to get some more attention for himself. Because, he really hasn’t done much since he’s been out of KISS. Obviously, Peter has his point of view on his time and his experiences, on what he feels and how he feels about his time in KISS, and all of the players that are all part of it.
I think the ultimate good way is to take the high road in life. We’ve all had good and bad things happen in our lives. A lot of times, when things don’t go our way, it’s understandable why people become negative, or bitter, or cynical about something, but hopefully, they say that “time heals,” and I do believe that’s true. Hopefully, we all get to that place in our lives when we look back at our experiences, and we try to remember the positive and the better things about them, rather than the negative and bad things about them. We do get affected by what happens in a given situation, but we make the conscience choice about how we wanna deal with those experiences. If we want to turn them into a learning experience, and be able to look back on the accomplishments and things we’ve done in our lives, and maybe crack a smile, that’s hopefully what we should ALL be able to do. We’re supposed to learn from life and learn from our experiences. I think everyone who’s been involved with KISS has done some pretty remarkable experiences that they should be able to be proud of, and look back and smile on.