Mitch Weissman (2013)
Background vocalist/original "Beatlemania" cast member recalls his contributions to Gene Simmons' 1978 solo album and his work with Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons on albums such as "Animalize" and "Crazy Nights," plus a potpourri of KISS stories and tangents.
David Snowden (2013)
Longtime KISS fan and former head of the Vinnie Vincent Invasion fan club talks "All Systems Go" and various KISS-related topics
John Storyk (2013)
Renowned studio designer recalls his work on Ace Frehley's Ace in the Hole Studios in Wilton, CT
Mark Opitz (2013)
Producer details his work on "KISS Symphony: Alive IV"
Bruce Foster (2012)
Grammy-nominated musician discusses working with KISS and playing piano on "Nothin' To Lose"
David Wolfert (2012)
Grammy- and Emmy-nominated producer recalls working with Peter Criss on his first post-KISS solo album, 1980's "Out Of Control"
Bob Ezrin (2012)
Legendary producer details "Destroyer: Resurrected" and the making of the album
Lydia Criss (2012)
Author discusses the second printing of "Sealed With A KISS" and various Peter Criss- and KISS-related topics
Ron Nevison (2012)
A celebration of the 25th anniversary of "Crazy Nights" featuring an in-depth discussion with renowned producer/engineer
Jean Beauvoir (2010)
Songwriter/recording artist recalls collaborations with KISS on "Animalize," "Asylum" and more
Kenny Kerner (2010)
Recalling KISS' early days with the co-producer of "KISS" and "Hotter Than Hell"
Eric Singer (2010)
Exclusive interview with KISS' current drummer regarding a variety of topics
Ace Frehley (2009)
KISS' original Spaceman details his first studio album in 20 years, "Anomaly"
Bruce Kulick (2009)
Non-makeup-era axeman discusses KISS tenure and latest album, "BK3"
Mike Japp (2005)
A discussion with KISS collaborator on the "Killers" and "Creatures Of The Night" albums
Dick Wagner (2004)
KISS' favorite "ghost" guitarist discusses his guitar playing on "Destroyer" and "Revenge"
Jesse Damon (2003)
Former member of Silent Rage on his collaborations with Gene Simmons
Stan Penridge (2000)
Peter Criss' right-hand man talks Chelsea, Lips and working with the Catman
Bruce Kulick (1999)
Guitarist talks Union project with John Corabi, Eric Carr and ESP
Sean Delaney (1998)
A brief encounter with the "fifth" member of KISS
Bob Ezrin (1998)
Former KOL webmaster Michael Brandvold grills the legendary producer regarding his work with KISS
Non-KISS Band Members
Derrek Hawkins (2011)
KISS fan and former rhythm guitarist in Ace Frehley's band recalls his stint with the Spaceman on tour and recording "Anomaly"
Art Lindauer (2011)
Guitarist/vocalist discusses working with a pre-KISS Eric Carr in the cover band trio Flasher.
Adam Mitchell (2010)
Songwriter/collaborator recalls working with KISS, Vinnie Vincent and writing songs on "Killers," "Creatures Of The Night," "Crazy Nights," and more.
Bobby Rock (2010)
Powerhouse drummer recalls his wild ride with the Vinnie Vincent Invasion.
Rich Circell (2008)
Lead singer discusses working with Ace Frehley in pre-KISS band Honey.
Mike McLaughlin (2006)
Guitarist on his personal musical path and work with Peter Criss, Criss' "One For All" album, and much more
John Henderson (2004)
Musician shares his memories of collaborating with a young Paul Caravellos (Eric Carr) and his memories of Carr's pre-KISS bands
Neal Teeman (2003)
Uncle Joe drummer discusses working with Paul Stanley in pre-KISS band formed in 1966 and assistant engineering "Alive!"
Victor Cohen (2002)
Rhythm guitarist/keyboard player discusses working with Eric Carr in the Cellarmen
David Bartky (2002)
Bassist recalls his musical beginnings and collaborating with Eric Carr in the Cellarmen
Phil Naro (2002)
First lead vocalist of Criss recalls work with Peter Criss and ex-KISS guitarist Mark St. John
Jason Ebs (2002)
Final lead vocalist of Criss discusses his musical background and working with Peter Criss just before KISS' reunion in 1996
Robert "Bob" Pryor (2001)
Guitarist discusses his musical influences and working with Eric Carr in the Cellarmen
Ron Leejack (2000)
Wicked Lester guitarist recalls collaborating with Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley prior to KISS
Ross Berg (2012)
A detailed conversation with the author of "Gene Simmons: A Rock 'N Roll Journey In The Shadow Of The Holocaust."
Paul Grein (2012)
Yahoo Chart Watch blogger and certified chart expert provides a current breakdown and analysis of KISS' Nielsen SoundScan totals.
Larry Harris (2009)
Former Casablanca executive dishes on his must-read book, "And Party Every Day: The Inside Story Of Casablanca Records."
Todd Schorr (2004)
Artist discusses designing the album cover for Peter Criss' first post-KISS solo effort, 1980's "Out Of Control."
Charles Frehley (2001)
Brother of Ace Frehley discusses his sibling and his own musical career.
More than a year after concluding their Farewell Tour, in fall 2002 KISS made an announcement that they were coming back for a spectacular one-off extravaganza. And this wasn't going to be your typical KISS concert: KISS announced they were teaming with the 60-piece Melbourne Symphony Orchestra for "KISS Symphony" at the Telstra Dome in Melbourne, Australia, on Feb. 28, 2003. "What we are going to do is a concert in three parts," said Paul Stanley. "You will see a lot of violins and a lot of violence." While Stanley, Gene Simmons and Peter Criss were present at the press announcement, there was one individual notably absent: Ace Frehley.
A KISS Symphony Encore With Producer Mark Opitz
By Tim McPhate
"Ace isn't here," Stanley later said. "We are hoping he will be here at this spectacular concert." Ultimately, Frehley would not return to the KISS fold, which left the door open for Tommy Thayer, who had risen through the KISS ranks and had made a handful of appearances as KISS' Spaceman in 2002. With the lineup set, Academy Award-winning arranger/composer David Campbell was contracted to complement KISS' songs with symphonic arrangements, adding sonic heft to classics such as "Black Diamond" and "Detroit Rock City" and colorful embellishments to nuggets such as "Sure Know Something," "Forever" and "Goin' Blind." The concert performance, comprising three acts, was a trip through KISS' evergreen catalog, full of twist and turns, peaks and valleys and, of course, pyrotechnics. And the show was recorded for posterity as "Alive IV," the latest chapter of the band's famed "Alive!" series.
Australia's own Mark Opitz, the album's producer/chief mixer, recalls "KISS Symphony" as a fairly challenging project. "I've never worked on a job as far-reaching and as wide as this," says Opitz. "And as technically demanding." Following the concert, Opitz and his team retreated to the studio to assess what had been captured. Immediately, Opitz was aware that there were technical issues that would need to be addressed. "The challenges were the fact that KISS are a very active band onstage, and not only active in the way they play but in the audio aspect," he says. All throughout the post-production process, however, Opitz was adamant about keeping the integrity of the performance intact.
"I was making sure that I wasn't going to go too far in terms of correction because I know that the KISS Army is very keen to see [and hear] KISS as good as possible," he says. In celebration of the impending 10th anniversary of "KISS Symphony," KissFAQ tracked down Opitz for a detailed conversation about this unlikely marriage of "black tie and black leather" and his recollections of working on the project.
KissFAQ: Mark, let's start with the obvious question. How did you come to be involved with KISS on "KISS Symphony"?
Mark Opitz: Doc McGhee, the manager, asked a friend of mine, Michael Gudinski in Australia, for the names of three people he thought could get involved. And at this stage it was only [at] the mix level. Michael Gudinski said there was only one [person], and it was me. But once I got involved and I started to speak to a few people, I realized it was a lot bigger. I was living in Sydney at the time, so I flew myself and two of my crew down to oversee the operation of the recording aspect of the whole thing.
KF: Can you describe some of the preliminary work that went into the project?
MO: I came down and went to all the rehearsals with David Campbell and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and the band, and basically kept a fairly low profile with the band, [and] just let them get on with the orchestral stuff. I had a recording truck there recording the rehearsals and was wandering around and looking at everything and seeing how it all worked, looking at the body language between the orchestra and KISS to see how that was going to work and all that sort of stuff. Obviously, I dealt with Doc McGhee a lot at that point, and a little bit with David Campbell, but I wanted to keep out of the band's face just so they could concentrate on what they had to do. Then, the next step was the rigging of the concert hall, which is a massive arena. I was using I think three audio tracks, just alone for that. One to record the orchestra, one to record the band, and then a master track to oversee the lot. It was very complex.
KF: On paper, the marriage of KISS' music with a symphony orchestra seems like an incongruous mix. Upon learning about "KISS Symphony," which was touted as a marriage of "black tie and black leather," what was your initial reaction?
MO: It was pretty good, because it served me right. Obviously, I never worked with KISS before but when I was recommended to work with them it was a great honor for me. And I'd worked with orchestras before and I had obviously worked with rock bands before. So I thought it was a pretty good mix. I was quite excited about [the project]. But I knew it was going to be a lot bigger than initially was stated to me. So I was already doing my research through people with the production companies in America and production companies in Australia.
KF: Backing up a bit, as you may be aware, KISS had come off a Farewell Tour. Do you recall being aware that KISS was "coming back"?
MO: Yeah, I was aware of the Farewell Tour. But I was also aware that later on they wanted to do a symphony [project]. And that could have happened anywhere in the world, it just so happened the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra was very experienced in this sort of stuff having worked with Elton John and lots of other people. They were going to be a natural fit. It didn't worry me that they'd already done a Farewell Tour because that was a totally different project.
KF: Mark, original KISS guitarist Ace Frehley chose not to participate in "KISS Symphony." The lineup for the concert may have been hashed out prior to your involvement, but do you remember talk about Ace coming onboard?
MO: No, Ace wasn't involved in anything. Obviously Peter Criss was involved. And you gotta remember that Peter had carpal tunnel syndrome at the time so he wasn't in what I call the best condition, but we helped him out as much as possible. But Tommy was actually more my point guy because Tommy had been the tour manager before Ace had left and also Tommy's one hell of a guy. They're all nice people but Tommy had sort of come up through the firm, so to speak, and was the main go-to guy for any questions in terms of what I might need, and particularly in post-production.
KF: This concert marked the proper debut of Tommy Thayer on a KISS album. Given this, plus the magnitude of the show and the fact it was being recorded, was there any sense of added pressure?
MO: I don't think so, Tommy did a great job playing as well as organizing a lot of the technical stuff.
KF: Mark, live albums present a multitude of challenges. And even then, "KISS Symphony" isn't your typical live album. What were the main challenges in capturing KISS alongside a symphony orchestra?
MO: The challenges were the fact that KISS are a very active band onstage, and not only active in the way they play but in the audio aspect. I mean you have things like Paul flying off the stage to the middle of the audience at one point. You have Peter Criss going 50 feet up in the air on a drum riser. And not only that, you have massive fireworks going off all the time. Those present a lot of challenges, not just for me but for David Campbell, in particular, when he can't see the drummer. It's very hard to keep time as an orchestra, and particularly because I think they had a lot of problems with their headphones early on with the orchestra people. And then when you add to that we had to have 64 microphones on the orchestra as well as everything that we would normally have on KISS. Then I had to design an audience microphone situation where we could make sure [we] didn't get that latency with the audience. Because the sound hits the audience later than the band plays. So there was a lot of those issues to overcome which, in post-production, we were able to overcome.
Two days after the show, I was in the studio in Melbourne listening to everything and mixing everything and trying to make sense of it all. And it was very funny because I was [saying], "How can I do this? You know, it's just a mess at the minute." Then I got "Lick It Up" up, straight, without any vocals, and I just did a mix of that. And I was working and I got it to sound really, really good without any vocals, just bass, drums [and] guitar. And in the control room, in front of me there's glass as you can imagine, and in the glass I can see standing behind me were four tall figures. The band had snuck in and I had my back to them but I could see their reflections in the glass.
KF: A little nerve-wracking? (laughs)
MO: (laughs) Yeah, I said, "Uh oh. This is gonna be interesting." But I just turned around and they said, "That sounds fucking great. Fucking great." And we really got on really well from that point. The whole band and I got on really well, and my team with them. And then I went back to Sydney to do a lot of the "putting together" but the big problem I had was a lot of the orchestral stuff was slightly out of time, here or there, with the band because of the headphone problems and things like that, and the fireworks were going off. I spent a few weeks with my team in Sydney, putting stuff together. Then I flew to L.A. and I stayed in L.A., myself and my main assistant Tony Wall. We were at A&M, it's now called Henson, and we were there for 52 days.
KF: 52 days?
MO: Straight. 52 days straight. We were working a minimum of 12 hours a day.
KF: In terms of the timeline, the concert was in February. When did you come to L.A.?
MO: About a month after the show.
KF: And how long did the initial post-production in Australia last?
MO: I worked in Australia for about a month after the show, and then [we] went straight to America. Because we had a lot of technical problems. Little things that were big things. But the whole time I was working in Australia I'd get the president of KISS Army Australia to come in every night to have a listen to make sure that not only was I fitting the band's bill, but the KISS Army would have representation in there as well.
KF: Getting input from the KISS Army is always a good idea.
MO: I was making sure that I wasn't going to go too far in terms of correction because I know that the KISS Army is very keen to see [and hear] KISS as good as possible, but you can't fake it. So with the orchestra, I couldn't really [re-]record any of the orchestra, I just had to put it into time. And bits that were missing I had to go to other songs. For instance, if there's a violin playing in A from another song, then [I'd] substitute back into a song where it was missing in the other song, things like that. And then on top of that, I've got to get the audience into phase. That's why when you watch the video, everyone claps in time and the audience sings along in time because I spent a lot of time getting what we call the latency effect between the PA and the audience and the band in time.
KF: So no overdubs for the orchestra were recorded after the fact?
MO: No, not one. I had to basically fix everything. That's what took the time -- that took three weeks, just fixing the orchestra, before I even approached the mixing.
KF: How did you go about capturing each symphony member and the members of KISS onstage?
MO: Well, it went very well. Preparation is everything. I took a long time to do that, to have preparation beforehand. That's why I was in Melbourne days before with rehearsal and also at the setup at the venue, making sure I had the right equipment, making sure I had interaction between all the right technical people. Again, I didn't want to bother the band too much. I just wanted to make sure that I knew about everything I was going to be capturing. And it wasn't until I had captured the whole show, at that point then I started talking to the band and saying, "That guy needs to be here. We've lost a bit of a vocal mic here. We're going to have to look at how we're going to replace that little bit here. Or that guitar there has got all this cross talk and distortion on it. I might have to replace that." So I'm trying to keep it as real as possible.
KF: You're going in a direction that I wanted to broach. KISS have quite the legacy in terms of live albums. That said, their live albums are well-known to have been touched up in the studio. Mark, in terms of the band, how much sweetening was done on "KISS Symphony"?
MO: Only technically. Only stuff that if I left it on there, it would have been a real technical failure and it would have been ripping off the fans. That's why I said at every stage I had someone from the KISS Army, let alone KISS, listening to what I was doing. In Melbourne, for example, when I was working I'd play stuff to them every night. I'd have them come in about midnight and play stuff back to them to say, "Well, what do you reckon?" And they're going, "Sounds great. Sounds great!" I had vision as well, so I was playing it against [the visual] and doing all that at the same time. And it's a similar thing when we did, what was it shortly after, we did another KISS thing?
KF: The "Rock The Nation" DVD.
MO: Yeah, "Rock The Nation." On that there is not one -- not one -- fix-up.
MO: Well, we didn't have an orchestra. (laughs) It was a lot easier. I remember Tommy sent me out for two shows and asked me to pick one -- I think it was South Carolina and Washington. And we picked a show and then just [made it work.] I thought the video on that was just amazing. And basically, I was able to work everything in. The problems are little problems. They're not musical problems. They're more phase problems and technical problems because the band have done the songs so many times and they're so aware of their fans that you know the band is not going to make mistakes. The only mistakes are going to come from technical areas and I feel it's very legitimate to fix up anything technical that goes wrong. If it's an artistic thing, you've really got to think twice about doing that sort of stuff. I remember I got a couple of really good comments from Paul. One was that he said, "Eddie Kramer's the luckiest man in show business." Because we do things in depth, you know we just don't just listen to it and mix it. We get in there real deep and make sure it's all technically correct and then we use our creative powers from that point on. And I guess when Eddie was doing it, all that stuff wasn't available to him. But the difference that we can make in guitar sounds -- for instance, with their guitar sounds, the way they do their guitars I have two different guitar sources to make one sound. And most people don't look at the fact that you've got those sources. Paul's guitar sound, for example. One microphone is going to be slightly different than the other microphone. So what you've got to do is blow up the waveform in Pro Tools and drag one so it's in phase with the other one. And all of the sudden, the guitar sound just goes huge. Know what I mean? And that's stuff that probably wasn't available to Eddie with the first ["Alive!"] albums.
So we were very conscious of doing all that sort of stuff, what we call "going in deep" and getting all that preparation. And that's where all that preparation starts. So once you've fixed the orchestra, then you go on in and look at all the guitar sounds, all the drum sounds, got all the phase right on those, take out all the ugly frequencies, which takes a long time. And then put everything back together. Then add the audience. And put the audience so they're in phase as well, not 8 milliseconds later. All that takes time. And particularly when it's such a long [concert] -- you've got to remember there were two parts to that show. So we put all that together so it all works. And by that stage, we were in Los Angeles and then we bring it back up on the mix board at A&M/Henson. It sort of tends -- the band mixes itself basically and then you bring in the orchestra to that. And obviously, David Campbell, the conductor, had various wishes about how the orchestra sounded. So we sort of had to do that as well.
KF: Can you provide one example of a "technical failure" and how you fixed it?
MO: For instance, David Campbell had headphone problems and also when Peter Criss is 50 feet in the air there are timing problems that we would fix because of line of sight problems. The same with Gene when he is up in the lighting rig during "God Of Thunder" Mostly timing problems with the odd technical failure of headphone circuits and certain microphones because we were using about 60-70 microphones. For the most part the band was great although we did reinforce Peter's drum kit a bit because his arthritis made his hitting a little light at times but his timing was pretty good.
KF: Regarding Paul's quote, "Eddie Kramer's the luckiest man in show business," can you explain what he meant by this?
MO: I think he was referring to the fact that these days we have a lot more technology at our disposal than he had and he was lucky to be able to pull off what he did without it.
KF: Understood. Mark, Act I is simply a straight-ahead KISS. I assume that would have been the easiest portion of the concert to tackle?
MO: Correct. And then you've got the mini orchestra and the large orchestra. And then of course, the last song [was] pretty huge. Everything is going off there. To keep that tight and in time is really difficult. And fireworks going off through it all. All different things that make it really hard. And on top of that, once we finish, then we have to [mix] it for the TV network special, the DVD, the CD, all the different formats as well. But we worked very, very, very hard.
KF: I would say. I'm still amazed by the 52 days straight in L.A. Sounds like a lot of long hours.
MO: It was, and that was only the last section. We'd already done two or three weeks before that. But in L.A., we worked 52 days straight. I remember on the way to the airport, finishing at about nine o'clock at night and my flight to Australia leaves at 10:30. And the band had a limo to take myself and my assistant to the airport. We're half-way to the airport and the phone rings and it was Gene Simmons. And he said to me, "Mark, if I ever go to jail, you're coming with me." (laughs) And I said, "Why is that Gene?" He said, "Because I know you'll figure a way to get me out." (laughs) I thought that was pretty cool.
The whole time they were great. We were going up to Paul Stanley's house for dinner and stuff. And in the end, for the last few weeks, because they trusted us so much, Paul would usually come in at lunch time and we'd go off and have lunch in a private room and just chat about life in general. And Gene would come in around dinner time and we'd go up and have dinner in the private studio lounge. Because they trusted us so much, they didn't even sit down a lot and listen to the stuff. They wanted to listen to it at the end.
KF: I assume Tommy would have been around during this time as well. How about Peter Criss? Would he have been around during this stage?
MO: No, Peter wasn't around at all during post-production. Tommy was around a lot because he was our contact. In the end, we had to get involved in the video side as well, because the video guys were sending us pictures that weren't what we needed. They were sending us pictures with shots from Dallas and other shows like that, and we said, "No way. No way. We can't do that. We can only use pictures that we've got. It won't work." So in the end we took a big hand in how the video was put together as well. That's why we get such a big credit, if you watch the DVD, we come straight away after the band and Doc. In the end, we had to get involved in the vision as well. Because music is king and that's the thing that we had to keep putting across to the video people that video is very, very important and vision is very much part of a KISS show when you go to see it, very much part of the spectacular, but in the end the music has to be king. The vision has to follow the music. Again, we know what the KISS Army is like and their fan base, and there's no band in the world that treats their fans better than KISS. There is just not. The just really are so conscious of their fan base.
KF: I want to go back to Peter. Given he was struggling with carpal tunnel at the time, how do you rate his performance on the album?
MO: Well, I rate his performance really well. Because he was soft hitting, there was a bit of enhancement on the drum sound to get a bit more power into it. But it was his playing, I just had to use his good hits and when you had a really good hit, I would use that snare sound underneath his other softer hit. But I used all of his sounds to make [it] work. But it did mean I had to bring in when he was hitting harder, I'd use his soft hits, because it was hard for him to hit, so I'd have to enforce his own sounds by just doubling up on them and things like that.
KF: Was a click track at all considered, or would that have been too difficult given the symphony aspect and that there was a conductor?
MO: Too difficult, far too difficult, because of the symphony component. Just getting him to sing was hard. When he was doing "Beth" and stuff like that I had to help him out with that in the studio, just sticking him into time here and there, where he sort of fell out of time. I said, "Look, just let me do what I do." And then I played it back to him, and he started crying.
KF: I believe that was a big moment for him. "Beth" was obviously a big hit for KISS and Peter always sang along with a tape at concerts. This was the first time he actually sang it with an orchestra.
MO: Yeah. Once I got in there and fixed any little technical difficulties he had, and played it back to him in the studio, he just started crying. That was a pretty big compliment. We got to know the boys really well and built up a huge respect for each other. It was one of the most interesting projects -- if not the most interesting project -- that I've ever been on. Not just the length of it, but because of the people. I was struck by the intelligence of people like Paul and Gene, they're just two of the smartest guys I've ever met. Particularly, Paul. I said to him, "Why did you take the makeup off?" And he said, "So we could put it back on." And I thought that's the smartest answer I've ever heard in the music business. To take [the makeup] off and then put it back on. It's genius. Just genius.
Also, the way that they grew up. Paul driving cabs in New York City, knowing that one day he was going to be in the biggest band in the land, and hooking up with Gene, freshly emigrated from Israel with his mom, living dirt poor and stuff like that -- all they had was this burning desire. I mean, I got all the stories, as you can imagine. In that position, I'm sure 1,000 fans would like to be where they can sit down with these guys, once you've got their respect, you can talk to them one-on-one, face-to-face. That was very interesting, just the conversations we had.
KF: Indeed. One other question on the drum front. Eric Singer had played drums for KISS' Farewell Tour shows in Australia. I think at that point, Paul and Gene likely would have favored Eric's playing, especially for such an intricate show. And there is a rumor that for this project KISS were required to have at least three original KISS members for this concert. Do you remember any discussion about Eric and Paul and Gene's preference to have him play the show?
MO: You know, I have no idea. To me, I thought that they would have tried to make it as original as possible. The fact that Ace wasn't there was probably Ace's decision, I imagine. Because Paul and Gene, as you know, they run the band, no question. But I know that they wanted it to be as original as possible. [But] they didn't lose anything by having Tommy Thayer there, that's for sure. I mean Tommy is an unbelievable guitar player. Not only that, he's a great organizer inside the band, keeping everyone on track, because of his tour managing experience beforehand, [and] he'd played in KISS cover bands. He's done all that. And to top it off, he's one of the nicest guys in the world. And, as you know, he does the annual golf charity event, which is just fantastic.
But Gene and Paul and Tommy, and so is Peter and Doc, they're really nice people. They're a really, really good team. And they're just so conscious of looking after their fans, it's ridiculous.
KF: Looking at the second act, with the smaller ensemble, is there a track that stands out as the gem of the bunch?
MO: Yeah, they pretty much all do. Rattle me off the set list...
KF: There's "Beth," "Goin' Blind," "Sure Know Something," "Forever," and "Shandi."
MO: Well, they were all excellent. "Beth," because it was emotionally important. But "Shandi" (pauses) ... they were all good. Because we had a smaller orchestra, and we had an acoustic set up, it was easy to control it a lot better. I thought every song was bloody good. I really did. They just nailed it. It just showed you what all those years can do. Not only that, it showed you how much passion they still have for what they do.
KF: If I were forced to pick, I'd say that Act II is my favorite part of the concert. I really enjoy the performances and the added elements of the smaller ensemble.
MO: Yeah, I tend to agree with that because it was different for KISS, I mean that was the first taste of the orchestra, and it was the most controllable part, so they were able to hear each other a lot better and combine with the orchestra a lot better. The second act was absolutely brilliant. Like you, I'd have to say the second act is probably my favorite. But that's really hard to say because the finale was pretty good as well.
KF: In terms of the third act, that's where everything but the kitchen sink came into the fold. Again, is there a particular song that stands out like, "Wow, that took the song to a whole new level"?
MO: Yeah, I thought "Black Diamond" was pretty good like that. What else? Obviously, "Rock And Roll All Night" being the big finish ... that worked really well. "Love Gun" was pretty good. Again, because you're working so hard on something, it's really hard to pick a favorite because I'm trying to make everything the same standard all the way through as much as possible. For instance, I'd be in L.A., and it'd be three o' clock in the morning, and I'd be saying, "Hmmm, I reckon we can make Paul's guitar sound a little bit better. I just think there's a bit of a tone missing from that." And my assistant would look at me and go, "Oh!" and start crying. (laughs) And the reason he'd start crying is because the sessions were so big it would take one and a half hours to open the session just so I could get to that guitar.
KF: That'd be in Pro Tools?
MO: Yeah, in Pro Tools. Exactly. It'd take him an hour and a half to open it just so I could get to that one guitar.
KF: About how many tracks are we talking about?
MO: Gee ... (laughs) we're running into the hundreds. We had to because it was a 64-piece orchestra, and then you have all the audience mics, and all the band mics, and all that sort of stuff, and then all the backup stuff. And then the effects and stuff like that. So they were very big files to open up and get into. The band wouldn't be around, it would just be me and my assistant, but we would still manage to have a belly laugh a day. Which is the important thing. And as I said, KISS' people were just fantastic to us. They were just amazing to us. You have to remember, we were dealing with 5.1 as well as stereo so it was a big job. In terms of technical application, it's the hugest technical job I've ever done. And to get the quality though, that's the thing. We could have easily just sat there and mixed it off as it was and gone, "Yeah, that's it. See you later. Goodbye." But we're not that kind of people.
KF: From your description, it seems it would be an understatement to say a lot care was put into this project.
MO: Absolutely. If you know all the work that had to go into it, and all the areas that we had to fix because the orchestra is not being able to hear, and the timing, and the fireworks are going off, and how do you keep the fireworks under control, without losing too much of the sound, and keeping the audience, when they're singing and clapping along, in time. There are so many aspects. It's a massive, massive job. Not only that, then prepare it for [the different formats]. And they all require different elements when you're doing that. At the same time, somehow we've got to keep our ears fresh. I can tell you that when we got to Los Angeles, I took my assistant up to Hamburger Hamlet the first night before we started working, and I bought him a beer and I said, "This is the last beer you'll have until we leave this place because we need to be on the ball."
KF: So we can say that you run a tight ship, Mark?
MO: Well, it's more of running a professional ship because these people are paying us to do a good job and these people are charging people to buy their record [and] DVD. We have a responsibility to the fans -- if you're charging people something -- you have a responsibility to the people that are buying it to make it as good as fucking possible. And that's one of our mantras. A lot of people might say, "Oh it's too hard. This will do." But that's not how we work. It won't do until it's as good as we can get it.
KF: Can you provide a specific technical example of something that was done differently for one of the formats? For example, what did you do differently on the album as opposed to the DVD?
MO: TV and CDs are mostly stereo with the TV stuff slightly less wide and the DVD is 5.1 and stereo.
KF: "KISS Symphony" was also released on vinyl. I assume you also oversaw this component as well?
MO: Yeah, I went to the mastering. We did the mastering ... I'm trying to remember ... with ...
KF: Bernie Grundman.
MO: Yeah, Bernie Grundman. We sat with him a lot because also when we were doing the 5.1 [mix] he was one of the few people -- you know, we have our own theories about 5.1, how to do 5.1. And reading all of our research on it, we thought, "Well, hang on. Our theory is different than everyone else's theory. How can ours be right?" And I was reading something that Bernie had written about 5.1 and he hinted at something that we already did and so I went and had a long chat with him about it. And I said, "This is the way we do it." And he said, "You know what. That's exactly what I think too." It's a process in the mixing area, and again it takes time. It sounds like the opposite way. But when we spoke to him and his theory related to our theory, technically, we knew we were on the right track. So we used him in an advisory capacity, not just mastering, but in other things as well.
KF: In some ways, David Campbell could be considered the MVP of the album, given he was the one who constructed the arrangements and conducted the orchestra. What was your experience like working with him?
MO: David was great. Obviously, I worked with him very early on to make sure everything was OK. I did just orchestra mixes only, no band, originally -- this was even before we left Australia. I did a whole bunch of orchestra mixes for him so he could hear what was wrong with the orchestra, the timing areas and all that stuff. And I'd say, "This is what I'm gonna do to fix it." So we got on really well. Then when I got to L.A., I was still sending him stuff. After a while, he just trusted me so much. He was great, he just let me get on with what I was doing. Which is pretty good, coming from an Academy Award winner. And I think that if you ever talk to Paul and Gene about our contribution, they're very happy with it [too].
KF: So once you got the mix in tip-yop shape, what was the process in terms of the final approval? Do Paul, Gene and Tommy come in and take a listen and give the final green light?
MO: Only after I've done it. They didn't come in while I was doing it. They trusted me, pretty much in that 52-day period, for the last two or three weeks of that they knew that my team [was] going to nail it. They knew that. By the time I did finish the mixes, they approved them straight away. They came in and listened to the whole lot. Well, they listened to them at home, they didn't come to the control room, because that's not the place to listen to them. The best place is to go and listen in your car, what you're used to, at home on your own system. So I made copies for everyone in the band and the management. They all listened to them separately, and they all came back and said, "This is fantastic." But again, I think that we had their trust surely locked up, and their respect. Which you have to do, you have to get their respect. And it's all in that initial preparation period that goes on, getting everything right in the first place. And not taking any chances and just having respect for what they do. As I say, good luck is where preparation meets opportunity. You know, we were lucky but we put a lot of preparation into that opportunity.
KF: Mark, we touched upon KISS' live album legacy. How do you feel "KISS Symphony" measures up?
MO: Well, I think "Alive!," technically it was as good as it could have been in those days. And today, well 10 years ago, we were at a whole different technical level. Sure, it might not be the old vinyl, scratchy sound of like a black-and-white film. But the way this one turned out was like a really good color film. So I would say, "Alive!" was a great black-and-white film. If you look at that way, this one was in Technicolor. As I love to say, if Edison, when he invented the wax cylinder, could have put video on it, he would have. Do you know what I mean?
MO: So in today's terms, we used today's technology as good as we could. When you get a band like KISS, they've crossed all technologies, from the LP to the CD to iTunes. It was a big job, but a throughly enjoyable job to do and satisfying.
KF: You had an intimate view into the inner circle of KISS. Given your unique perspective, what did you notice in terms of the hierarchy of KISS? Did Paul and Gene have equal input? Or did Paul have more of a say?
MO: No, it was an equal partnership. This is just my opinion, and I have to qualify that. And that is that Paul looks after the musical side of the band and Gene looks after the big picture side of the band. And it's an equality. And they both cross over. Sometimes, Gene crosses over into the musical side, big time, and Paul will cross over into the big picture side, big time. It's a blend between both. But I find that Paul usually initiates the musical side. And Gene very much initiates the big picture side. But they both cross over. I'm not going to say one does one and one does the other. But iI there was that sort of a balance, that's where it would be. Make sense?
KF: Absolutely. I think you hit the nail on the head. Case in point, the band has released two studio albums in the past three years and Paul has been adamant that he was going to produce the albums and have creative control. On the other side, Gene stays active on more business-minded projects. There's the dichotomy.
MO: Yeah, yeah. I'd like them to ring me up and say, "Can you do one of our normal albums as well?" (laughs)
KF: Who knows, you may get that call. Mark, you've worked with bands like AC/DC, Divinyls and INXS, among others. It seems your KISS experience was a very favorable one, but where does it rank in terms of your career?
MO: Well, the only similar project I've done is INXS live at Wembley, which was a stadium, it was massive. I've worked with Ray Charles, I worked with Bob Dylan on the Academy Awards. I've worked with lots of people. But I've never worked on a job as far-reaching and as wide as this. And as technically demanding. So, it's right up there. Every job I work on, I try and give it my best shot always. When you're working with KISS on a project like this, they certainly ask a lot of you, and so they should. And you give as much you can because of the kind of people they are. It's something that, in my lifetime, I'll be lucky enough to say, "I did that."
January 27, 2013