The guys from KISS Forever recently sat down for a quick interview about the band, its history, and what to expect for the future...
How & When did the band come about?
JOHN: I answered an ad on craig's list back in 2009. At that time the band was called SIKK. The ad was placed by our lead guitar player, our "ace" at the time. Soon after we found our first drummer and first rhythm guitar player.
MIKE: I joined the band in January 2014. The guys reached out to me through a Bandmix profile ad I had while I was looking to start playing with a band again. I wasn't looking for tribute bands specifically, just wanted to start playing drums live again, whether that was in a top 40 band, country band, or rock group. I had spent the better part of 15 years as a National Guard military musician and had not played in a working band outside of that in years.
I spoke to both Ara and John over the phone, the next week met them and auditioned, our personalities clicked, they said the job was mine, I met Rob, and over 70 shows later I'm still here!
What is a typical day like for the band when you play a show?
MIKE: We work our asses off. They are long hard days but worth every minute of it. The days leading up to shows I usually take time at night to go through my gear and costumes, make sure everything is in working order, run through any songs that need refreshing, make sure my drums and gear are cleaned and tuned up and I have everything I need - to include anything from extra drumheads, to drumsticks, drumming sneakers (I don't wear KISS boots to drum!), baby wipes and deodorant, to 5 hour energies, cases of water (which I supply at every show) snacks and gum. I sweat A LOT on stage so I try to make sure I'm staying hydrated and eating right in the week leading up to shows (I know I should be doing this all the time !) I typically pack fresh fruit, nuts, peanut butter, Gatorade or Pedialyte and cases of water to bring to venues. The night before a show I try to bring all of my drums and gear down to my basement or get it all into my SUV in the garage if it's not too hot or cold. The day of a show it depends on how far the club is from where we live as to what time I leave. Typically I'm out the door between 12 and 2pm. Once we arrive it takes a few hours to unload, set up the stage, set up all of our gear, amps, drums, banners and signs, lighting and effects, and then usually about an hour for soundcheck. We then have some downtime to eat or warm up and get into the right frame of mind and by 7pm we start makeup and costumes - this takes almost 2 hours as most of our shows begin at 9 or 930pm. We play until 12 or 1230am, do meet and greets during and after shows, and then it's half an hour to get out of make up and costumes, an hour or so to break down the stage, pack it all up and drive home or to a hotel for the night. If I drive home I almost always unload my gear right away and throw sweaty clothes right into the laundry! Drum cleaning is left for another day...bedtime for me after a show is usually 4-5am.
JOHN: We actually start the night before. We pack our musical gear and our costumes mostly the night before. I always practice a bit and make up a batch of blood the night before a show. Show day I typically leave my house around 1PM and arrive at the venue by 3PM. We set up our stage and get it done by 6PM for a sound check. We aim to be done with sound check by 7PM and then start our makeup process which takes close to two hours. Our show starts at 9PM and we play till midnight. By the time we break down our stage and drive home, its about 3AM. Its a long day, but we love it!
How are you different from other KISS tributes?
ACE: We care about each other... We're not just a band... We're like brothers... And all of our families are intertwined... So we are one huge KISS Forever family...we each bring passion to what we do...we are never on autopilot... We never go thru the motions...We always give 110% of ourselves as a band and musicians... Thru our history...we have played thru sickness.. Surgeries... Injuries...And we never give less then 110%..And whether we're playing for 50 people or 500... Youre going to get a high energy..kick ass show and rock experience you will not forget...our band promises to deliver the closest experience you can get to an actual KISS concert.. And we never let you down
JOHN: Many KISS tributes aim to replicate a specific era, usually Love Gun, Destroyer or Alive. That is OK, but we have never had a specific rule about that. Normally Rob and I will try to match our costumes to one era, just to give a general theme. But we have often mixed and matched different eras. I have often thought that a perfect KISS tribute would incorporate all different eras at the same time, say a Dynasty Gene with a Love Gun Ace and a Destroyer Paul. That way everyone's favorite era is represented. This is also true of our stage show. For the past few years we have used our replica of the 'Creatures of the night' era tank drum riser. Nobody in the band wears a Creatures era costume, but we love the tank drum riser look, so we use it. I've spoken to many die hard KISS fans who come to our shows, and they really don't care what costumes you wear or what your stage looks like, they just want to hear some rare KISS songs and have a great night out. Yeah a few want absolute replication of one specific point in time in KISS' career, but they are a very small minority. For me, nothing is sadder than watching a KISS tribute try to replicate a specific KISS tour - with a replica stage and costumes from that tour. Your not KISS, never gonna be, so bring some of yourself into it and have some fun with it, rather than just regurgitating something. Just because your a cover band doesn't mean you cant be a little creative.
MIKE: I would say we are in it for the long haul, we understand we won't always play huge venues or outdoor shows, but also that we won't always play small rock clubs or bars. It's an up and down cycle. Sometimes we make decent money, sometimes we don't, other times we use shows as fundraisers or benefits for causes we believe in. We are a family of brothers on and off stage and take it in stride. No one takes it too seriously or thinks we are really KISS, while at the same time taking our commitment to our audience and each other as well as the legacy of KISS extremely seriously. We never take for granted how lucky we are to portray the Hottest Band in the World or have the opportunity to play some of the cool shows that we have!
What were some of the early days like in the band?
ACE : When i first joined KISS Forever in 2013.. We had a 26 song set list ... And with a 3 hour show to fill... Back in those days..it was tough to stretch 26 into 3 hours...and often we would repeat songs...as a band and unit...we all gave input into what songs we would like to add into the list...Modern day.. We now have an arsenal of 46 songs... And we have upgraded our show to a 32 song setlist and we have a 14 song 'Bullpen' that we can pick songs from if we want to extend the show...or fulfill a request...Best of all... The 46 songs in our arsenal...range from 1973 to the 2000's. Our setlist can accommodate everyone to casual KISS fans who only know the hits...To the deepest cuts for the diehard fans
JOHN:Back when we first started everything had to be figured out, literally everything from our costumes, to how we would setup for a show, props and effects...it all needed to be created for the first time. Back then the band was also volatile...some members were in it for money, some were in it for the chance to play. This of course caused some initial problems. But it also got us to where we are today, with 4 members who all simply enjoy playing KISS music and also enjoy what each other brings to the band.
MIKE: When I first joined the band I asked the other members if it would be ok if I portrayed Eric Carr as the Fox. He was one of my biggest influences and I figured it would be a cool fresh start for KISS Forever to have a different character when I joined. There weren't many KISS tributes with The Fox character so it was something else that made us unique. I did this for about a year and a half, but as much as I love Eric Carr and was excited to honor his memory by bringing the Fox to life on stage, the truth is most casual fans just had no idea who I was or what I was. I was constantly being asked what character I was, if I was Peter Criss, or just generally "what are you supposed to be?" Someone even thought I was a dog at one show. I took a cue from the real KISS and realized that to the general public and 99% of fans, KISS is the Demon, Starchild, Spaceman, and Catman. Since June 2015 I have portrayed the Catman and strive every time I'm on stage to do justice and honor to all 3 KISS drummers while also bringing my own style and personality to the band. I have a Creatures of the Night tank drum riser that we use when possible, however I don't dress in any one style or era of costume. I would say my costume is most similar to what Eric Singer has worn since the Sonic Boom and Monster eras with various Catman themed leather vests over the traditional black bejeweled or studded jumpsuits.
What are some of the bigger changes to the band over the years?
ACE : Thru the 7 years ive been in the band...we have continuously upgraded our costumes...our look... Our sound...our gear...our setlist... Our stage show... Our special effects.... One thing NO ONE can say about KISS Forever is that we rest on our reputation.. Or that we have not evolved thru the years...And i think this serves two purposes...
For us... We always want to be our best and push the envelope to improve..as individuals and a unit
For fans.. So that if you see us once or 100 times... Its never a case of..its never the same show twice
JOHN: Of course we have had some member changes. You rarely keep an original lineup, especially in a band like this. A lot of live music venues have also closed down. Its a shame but a lot people just dont head out and see live music like they used to. Often times we see clubs only allow bands to play on certain nights, and have DJ's play instead of bands.
MIKE: Since the lineup has stayed constant since I joined 6 years ago, I would say rather that we are blessed to have 4 members who although have completely different personalities, have stayed true to what KISS and KISS Forever are all about - bringing the best show possible to our fans and having the dedication and commitment to each other to always give 110%. We not only work together on stage but talk nearly every day through our famous ongoing group text thread. Someone has sent at least one text nearly every day of the 6 years I've been in KISS Forever!
What is your favorite song to play live?
ACE: This is easy...for me
Detroit Rock City...
MIKE: TEARS ARE FALLING! I LOVE 80'S KISS!
Starchild: The song I most look forward to playing live each and every show is ‘Let Me Go Rock And Roll’ because it’s fast, got a great breakdown and choreography too. Super fun chorus to sing and play!
What is your most memorable show?
ACE: I would have to say...for me...Its a tie...August 2015 we performed at Mohegan Sun Casino ..Cabaret Theatre Uncasville CT As part of the Annual Comic con and 2017 NASCAR Summer races in Louden NH.
Starchild: The show that instantly came to mind was our first show with WXLX at LeLacheur Park after a Lowell Spinners game. It was amazing! Fireworks, Rock and Roll and I was asked to throw out the first pitch, which was a perfect strike! :)
3 stand out -
1. NASCAR main stage at NH Motor Speedway in Loudon NH. Big stage, big crowd, BIG TIME fun and adrenaline rush.
2. Jenkins Auditorium in Malden where we helped raise over $5000 for Malden youth programs. Felt good to help out the local community and meet so many good people.
3. WZLX event/Lowell Spinners game where we played on a flatbed truck at Lalacheur Park under a fireworks display!
With KISS retiring, how will that affect KISS Forever?
ACE: I think and hope the demand for KISS Forever will increase ..when KISS hangs up their costumes for the last time... I truly believe that 1977-1978 and 1996-1997 were the zenith high points for KISS..the time when they were at their best in sight and sound and energy...And I believe.. KISS Forever captures that energy... That excitement... That level with every show
MIKE: Hopefully once KISS retires and people realize they can't see them live anymore it will help increase demand for tributes like KISS Forever...NO ONE can match the energy and work we put into this band and our shows. Watch some YouTube videos of KISS in the 70s and 80s. That raw power and energy is what you get at a KISS Forever show!
Starchild: When KISS retires it will be hard to imagine a world without Gene and Paul on stage ever again, I hope we can quench that thirst people have to see The Hottest Band In The World....and that they continue to listen and love their music with us Forever.