Casual fans who mainly know Paul Stanley as the star-eyed co-frontman of fire-breathing, wire-flying rock titans KISS might be surprised to hear his 15-piece all-star ensemble, Soul Station, whose debut album Now and Then features covers of nine R&B classics as well as five retro-soul originals. While such material might not seem in the hard-rocker’s comfort zone, he clarifies to Yahoo Entertainment, “It’s very much my comfort zone.” Stanley actually grew up on Motown and Philly R&B (some the earliest concerts he attended were Otis Redding and Solomon Burke), and decades later, he still finds comfort in this music — especially in Now and Then’s lead single, the Five Stairsteps’ “O-O-H Child,” a sonic balm during trying times.
“When I first heard the song, it just had this faith: singing to somebody that one day we're going to get this right, and we're going to make it the way it's supposed to be, and we'll walk in the rays of a beautiful sun. … And I found that when I played it for other people, they said, ‘Wow, this is a song that really applies now.’ And I have to agree,” Stanley explains.
Many songs of the ‘60s and ‘70s still resonate with Stanley, and he occasionally takes that protest spirit to his social media, especially when the famously masked KISS man is espousing the importance of wearing actual masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19. And he occasionally catches flak from trolls for this outspokenness.
“It's unfortunate that some people are vehemently against [wearing masks], mainly because of it being politicized. There's so much strange backlash,” Stanley laments. “And when somebody says, ‘Well, the experts at first said don't wear a mask, and then they said wear a mask’ … This is a work in progress. We're learning about this virus. Is the information going to change? Of course it's going to change. But unequivocally what's been shown, as far as I can see, is that masks are a great deterrent. And depending upon what masks you wear, you're either protecting the people around you, or you're protecting yourself. … I would like to think that I'm doing my part to spread the information I have. And if some people are angered by it, that's something they should think about, because it's nothing to get angry about.”
Stanley’s longtime KISS bandmate, Gene Simmons, has also been vocal when it comes to his own pro-mask stance — recently telling Yahoo Entertainment it’s “so asinine” that masking has become “a political issue” among this nation's “lemmings,” and blaming “the lack of leadership, starting at the top” for the pandemic. (“I don't care about you. I care about me. I'm not concerned that you're going to catch anything. All of the masks protects me. And also you from getting it much better than not having anything. So even if you don't believe it, at least put it on as a courtesy for everybody around you,” he quipped in his typical Simmons manner.) As for those detractors who think musicians like KISS should just “shut up and sing” and not share such opinions, Stanley has some candid words.
“Times have changed, because there was a time where I thought entertainers should just entertain,” Stanley admits. “But the fact is that, quite frankly, I see myself as a citizen. And I think that my voice is at least as important as anyone else's. And to not be able to voice my opinion actually seems un-American! It’s not surprising to me at this point that the people who say ‘shut up’ are the people who don't agree, you know? If I was on your side, you’d go, ‘Yeah, keep talking!’ It's not a surprise that the people who would like people like me to not voice an opinion are the people who are on the other side of the fence. And that's too bad. That's sad, because, again, I don't want to politicize anything. I'm trying to help. I'm trying to make people aware that perhaps we can end this pandemic a little bit sooner and with some less fatality. It’s not a matter of who you vote for, or conspiracies, or anything like that. I just want to help.”
As for other Soul Station tracks that Stanley recorded because of their relevance in 2021, he says, “I tended to go towards songs that really weren't overtly muscle-flexing masculinity. I like the idea of somebody singing softly, whether it's Smokey [Robinson], or Russell Thompkins in the Stylistics, or Eddie Kendricks. I think there's a place for a masculinity that doesn't rely on testosterone in an overt sense. So, I tended towards songs like ‘Just My Imagination’ or ‘Ooh, Baby, Baby’ or ‘You Are Everything.’ I didn't want an album of shouters, quite honestly. What I wanted to capture on the album was the band is a steamroller, but we're wrapped in velvet.”
The same listeners who weren't previously aware of Stanley’s obsession with classic soul music might also be surprised by his willingness to showcase his softer side. After all, KISS are legendarily hyper-masculine, with their comic-book superhero image, pyro explosions, dragon-faced platform boots, and of course, Simmons’s blood-spitting and demonic tongue-wagging. “Well, I think that the yin and yang has always been Gene and I and our look onstage. I guess the word sometimes that comes up [to describe me] is ‘flamboyant,’” Stanley chuckles. “I'm very comfortable in who I am, my sexual orientation and anything that goes with that, so I don't think that contradicts. … Just being up there flexing my muscles, it doesn't make you more machismo. It kind of, at some point, gets a little old. So, I think I've always demonstrated onstage a real comfort with just a freedom.
“Our audience is so diversified,” Stanley continues, in line with the sentiment that permeates his Soul Station project. “We're proud of everybody who comes to see us. And the most important thing that I think transfers and translates into life is being comfortable with who you are, and being proud of who you are. So whether it's gay pride or Black pride, whatever it is, you have every right to be proud of who you are. And we are welcoming to everybody. We're not here to judge. There's nothing to judge.”
Check out Paul Stanley’s extended Yahoo Entertainment interview below for a conversation about Soul Station, the proto-KISS early-'70s band Wicked Lester, and how Stanley comes up with his famous stage banter:
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