KISS drummer Eric Singer had several pieces of good advice for me about bands. And life. He was just full of pearls of wisdom when I spoke with him in late July about KISS' most recent tour. Gems like, "You've got to keep your head together, keep it on straight, keep your nose clean, stay out of trouble." "I always look at music just like life. It's like a roller coaster. Sometimes you get to ride the ride and sometimes you're chugging up the hill." Of course, tonight KISS and Def Leppard hit the stage at Klipsch where Singer won't be giving any advice, but instead just laying waste to his massive kit.
Here's my Q&A with Singer.
NUVO: You were last here with Motley Crue, I believe, two years ago. What are some memories of Indianapolis from previous shows here?
Eric Singer: I've been to Indianapolis many times. Because that's the heartland of America, but it's also one of the main heartlands of KISS. I always tell people, Indianapolis, Detroit and Cleveland are the three cities where KISS Alive I, II and III were recorded. All three of those albums return to those three cities and they use whatever individual performances from whichever night, which compiled those albums. It's always been one of the bases of our KISS Army fan base, big time. And as you know, there's always a KISS fan expo put on in Indianapolis. That is the premier and number one KISS fan expo. Like I said, we have a lot of connections to that city, personally, as well as professionally as a band.
NUVO: Whenever I interview a classic rock act, I ask to talk to the drummer. I love the drummers.
Singer: I don't know if you saw, but there's a study that claims that drummers are actually — now mind you, I'm paraphrasing — that drummers are usually of a high intellect. … People think drummers are stupid because they hit things and it shakes their brain up, but like I said, this study claims otherwise.
NUVO: Deen Castronovo of Journey told me that the band that made him want to be a drummer was KISS. He says KISS was his Beatles, the reason he became a musician. He saw you and thought, “That's what I want to do forever.” Who did that for you?
Singer: Well, it's hard to say just one individual person, but I would say that everybody of my generation was definitely influenced by the Beatles. I was 6 years old when they were on Ed Sullivan, and they definitely impacted everybody. It wasn't just Ringo, as the drummer; it was the whole Beatles phenomenon. Everybody wanted to look like them, they wanted to grow their hair, they wanted to play guitar, or drums or both. I remember picking up tennis rackets and mimicking it. We thought it was the coolest thing. I've have to say probably [in terms of specific drummer inspiration] Ringo Starr, and Dave Clark and the Dave Clark Five. He had this red sparkle Rogers drum set, and I thought that was really cool – and the band was named after him and he was the drummer. I liked a lot of big bands, like Buddy Rich and Louie Bellson, were definitely two major guys. … I could name a whole slew of guys who either, at different points, impacted or influenced me either because of their drumming or the band. I find myself more influenced by the music and the band than the drummer that is in that particular band. So a lot of times it's more about the music and the band than just the drummer, per se.
NUVO: Who are some modern drummers that you follow?
Singer: I'll tell you, with YouTube, there's a lot of little kids that are out there, like 7 or 8 or 9. There's a kid named Avery Molek. I think he's 7 and that kid is amazing. There's a little girl, a Filipino girl named Alexey. She's amazing. There's a kid who goes by the name Jonah Rocks, he's from Canada and he's amazing. Those are just three little kids that I'm totally impressed by. I mean, these kids are at a level that is so frightening at a young age. Most of them have only played like three or four years, some of them five years maybe. They're better than most … I'm not exaggerating. If you go watch them, you're going to go, “Oh, my god.”
Thomas Pridgen (The Memorials, Suicidal Tendencies), he's a great drummer. Of course everybody is going to say, the Foo Fighters and Dave Grohl, but Taylor Hawkins or Dave Grohl, both those guys who played on the (Foo Fighters) records. I like the band Muse and the drummer of Muse (Dominic Howard). I'm thinking of more. The Foo Fighters, they're not a new band, but they're a newer generation of [guys] than what I grew up on. Those are just a handful of guys. To me, like I said, I'm always more impacted by music more so than the individual player. I've always been more of a guitar freak … not just the guitar as an instrument, but also as art. I love the way that the instruments look. There's a beauty just in the instrument. I've always been attracted to bands that are guitar-driven. If you look at my career, most of the bands that I've played with … those bands were definitely guitar-based and guitar-driven. But they all write good songs. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter how great you play, initially; if you can't write a song, you're going to have a tough time.
NUVO: KISS just announced a Las Vegas residency. Tell me about that.
Singer: I don't know much about it, really. We just know we're going to be there for three weeks. Basically, you do three shows a week for three weeks, and they call that a residency. I'm not going to stay there and live there during that time. [People say], “Oh, so you're going to be here for three weeks,” and I'm like, no! We got there and play and go home, because I live in LA and it's an hour flight. But I don't know what our plans are, regarding that with production, what the setlist is going to be. I'm already in the works about getting a drum kit built so I can have something, a different look, something unique or special for that particular run. I was just on the phone with the drum company an hour ago expressing that very stuff.
I actually asked our management to talk to Paul and Gene about a week ago to see what ideas they might have. They hadn't gotten to that point yet. When you're in the middle of a big tour, you're trying to stay focused on what you're doing. It's pretty much – I'm like, what am I doing today? Tomorrow? The next day? The best survival tactic, especially when you're on tours, is to stay in the moment. To keep thinking about what you did do or didn't do too far down the line; stay kind of more in the immediate next couple days of what's going on.
NUVO: I read that Joe Elliot from Def Leppard has been introducing you guys on stage, at least once – maybe twice. Is this a tour-long thing?
Singer: He only did it once, and that was last Saturday. Everybody took a break this week for five days. We're going to be based out of New York for a couple of weeks. There's a mutual respect for each other's bands, individually. Those guys, especially Joe, he's just a great guy. He's just a regular guy. I said in a previous interview: he reminds me of the guy that you grew up with at school that was just really passionate music and the bands that they love and he just happens to be in a band himself. Ironically, he ended up in a pretty damn successful one. Those guys, you know every song that they're playing. They have so many great songs and so many hits, it's like working through a Top 40 radio station, looking at their catalog.
NUVO: 2014 has been pretty good to KISS. The band (albeit the original lineup) was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the band was on the cover of Rolling Stone, you have this new arena football team. Is this a particular moment for the band?
Singer: There's no formula for success, because if there was people would bottle it and sell it, and we'd all be doing it. I do think there are some practical applications of certain kind of business tactics and mindsets if you want to be successful at any kind of business. You've got to keep your head together, keep it on straight, keep your nose clean, stay out of trouble. Don't get involved with other crap like that, because you're not going to survive in life, if you do that. And Gene and Paul, they're the main face of the band, the ones who started and always kept it going. I always look at music just like life. It's like a roller coaster. Sometimes you get to ride the ride and sometimes you're chugging up the hill, if you know what I mean. I use that as a figurative example. It's peaks and valleys. You go up and down, up and down, and that's the way it is. For KISS' whole career, it's been peaks and valleys.
The version of KISS that exists now, with Tommy Thayer, myself, Gene and Paul, has been the most consistent, longest-tenured lineup for over ten years now. And mind you, we know what started it. The original band started it all. If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't be drumming with them now and we wouldn't be talking about KISS. They created that special, unique thing that is KISS. But sometimes, you just can't survive the same way. It's just like a marriage; it's not going to always last. Sometimes people get divorced and they find another person, and they get remarried. And then they end up [with] happiness. And that's kind of how it is for KISS. I think it's pretty incredible what they built, what they created with those original guys. And I'm thankful for that and I totally respect it. I think sometimes people think that somehow [we're] trying to forget what started or what created it. And believe me, nobody is trying to forget that. … Unfortunately, in many cases, with most bands, it doesn't last forever. And sometimes you have to move on. It's called survival. And sometimes one of your survival tactics is to make changes so you can survive at the end of the day. And that's kind of the story of KISS when you look at it.
I think we found a consistent lineup and situation between the four of us now that exists. We did it. Everybody knows what their job is, what their gig is with this band. And everybody's a pro about it. We get along, we have fun on our tours, and that's what it's all about. Our manager always says to everybody, on every different level, “Stay in your lane.” In other words, everybody knows what their gig is, what their job is. Just do that, and don't worry about what everybody else is or isn't doing. Is everybody holds their own, together, the sum becomes greater than its parts.