Kiss In Drivers Seat

Alice Cooper, who frightened parents with his female name and the violent images in the stage show which went along with his rock concerts, now can take a back seat to Kiss. For one thing there are four members of Kiss. And they are enormously popular. The producer of their fifth record album, "Destroyer," Bob Ezrin, said the album conveys the group's image as "symbols of just unfettered evil and sexuality." Members of Kiss their ages are 24 to 30 don't make statements like that, preferring to present themselves as mysterious. They don't want to say that they're evil and sexy or that they're really nice, normal guys offstage. Alice Cooper recently has been saying the latter about himself. Kiss members don't permit photographs of themselves out of stage makeup. Bassist Gene Simmons explains, "It would blow the magic." Guitarist Paul Stanley adds, "There's a lot more mystique and glamor to the stage image than the four of us being normal looking."

They want audience members to be free to build whatever fantasies they want to around one or all members of Kiss. An interview with Simmons and Stanley begins with Simmons, wearing jeans, shirt, no makeup, platform boots, silver spider bracelet, necklace of silver skulls and brown spider belt buckle, offering cake made by his mother. Kiss got together'in 1973. Makeup, smoke bombs, flash pots and flying sparks were part of the show from the start. Simmons says, "We didn't want to be another boring band. We wanted to be the greatest show on earth." Simmons, born in the borough of Queens, and Stanley, born in Manhattan, got together, added drummer Peter Criss, from Brooklyn, from an ad he ran in Rolling Stone and added lead guitarist Ace Frehley, from the Bronx, from an ad they ran in the Village Voice. Being New Yorkers, their hero band was the New York Dolls, which was the No. 1 draw in the city at that time.

Kiss started with female makeup, then tried clown makeup, before evolving the present black and silver faces and costumes. They noted that the Dolls were very New Yorkish and audiences elsewhere felt they were left out of an inside joke. So Kiss relied on hard rock and magic tricks. Manager Bill Aucoin, a TV director formerly, took on the group because he thought Alice Cooper had built up an audience for flamboyant stage shows which he soon would leave to become an actor, he thought hard rock was very commercial and he thought the group wanted to become superstars.

He got them signed to Casablanca Records, a new company, as its first group. At first, Stanley says, "We had day jobs as cab drivers; from 6 to 10" we were stars, and from 10 to midnight we were going around putting up posters we'd designed ourselves saying we were stars." From the beginning they performed 200 to 250 days a year. A vacation was time spent in one city, making a record. The group was a theatrical stage band but they knew the music had to be good or audiences would quit coming. The music has improved, Stanley and Simmons believe, from playing together so much. Most people date the good albums from the fourth one, "Alive." The sixth one, "Rock and Roll Over," was produced by Eddie Kramer, who produced "Alive." It is a return to hard rock from the variety of "Destroyer," the fifth album. "Alive" and "Destroyer" are gold albums. "Rock and Roll Over," which is new, hit No. 93 on Nov. 20, its first week on the best-selling charts. The single, "Beth," from "Destroyer," was No. 7 on the best-selling chart of Nov 20. It is the fastest selling single so far. "Rock 'n' Roll All Night" made it to No. 10 about nine months ago and sold a million copies, making it a gold record.

Kiss will tour from Nov. 24 to Feb. 8, then go to Japan, Australia, Europe and, they add, to Mars. The interview is full of witticisms, from Stanley and Simmons, who explain that they're funny offstage because they're never funny on stage. Stanley says, "I consider us THE American band, the band that relates most to the audience." Ringo Starr's son, Zack, is a member of the fan club, the Kiss Army.