Did you have a glut of unused songs waiting for Live to Win?
Not at all. I don’t believe in using old songs or recycling material. From the very beginning of Kiss, I always wrote for the record that we were working on, and came in with exactly the number of tunes I knew would be on the album—no more, no less. If a tune was good five years ago, it should have been used then. And if there is a tune that isn’t used, there’s a reason for it. That’s why you never see unreleased Kiss songs. Besides, I don’t want to put the time, thought, or effort into something that’s not going to be used.
You cowrote much of Live to Win with songwriters Desmond Child and Andreas Carlsson. What do you look for in a cowriter?
Chemistry and comfort. If I don’t have those two things with the person, it’s not going to happen. Anyone I work with has to know that, at the heart of everything I’ve ever written, it’s all about the melody and the chorus. That’s the school I’m from. Thankfully, Desmond and Andreas are from the same school.
In the early days of Kiss, you and Gene used to cowrite, but after 1976’s Destroyer, you guys stopped. Why?
In the beginning, Gene and I truly cowrote—meaning we sat together and banged out tunes. But as time went on, we didn’t do that, as much as occasionally add parts, or make slight tweaks to each other’s songs. The reason being, we both grew stronger as personalities, and stronger in our views of what we wanted our individual songs to be, and we each felt we were compromising too much of our vision writing together.
You produced Live to Win. In your view, what is a producer’s job?
The term “producer” is one of those sadly abused and misused terms. The way I see it, if you can’t tell me what’s wrong with my song, and come up with a remedy or a suggestion, then you’re not a producer. If you’re just going to twiddle knobs, and you happen to get a hit album, then you’re a lucky engineer. And God knows I’ve seen producers build careers on being lucky engineers. Success breeds more success—and everyone wants to have the guy who produced a big hit album—but he may have been nothing more than a knob twiddler. Producers are a dime a dozen, but a good producer is hard to find.
What are you playing these days?
I’ve been working with Washburn on a few Paul Stanley models, and I’m playing a prototype right now. For me, you’re either from the Gibson school or the Fender school. And I’ve always been a Gibson guy in the sense that the guitar didn’t have to be a Gibson per se, it needed the Gibson point-of-view with appointments such as scale length, two humbuckers, and a Tune-o-matic-style bridge.
In the ’70s, you were slinging Gibsons live, and you guys would always thank Gibson on your albums. Why did you never get a deal with them?
I tried. There are some great folks at Gibson, but they are such a huge company that it was hard to get anything done, and a lot of my ideas tended to get lost in the translation. Back in the ’80s, it made more sense for me to work with a company like Ibanez, because they were hungry for input from artists, and they wanted to know why you liked something. Then, they would turn out tons of prototypes, then sit down with you in a boardroom to figure what you liked, and didn’t like, about the guitars.
It’s no secret that, back in the ’70s and ’80s, a lot of the Japanese companies were murdering the American companies in terms of quality. God knows those Tokai Love Rock Les Paul copies blew away a lot of the guitars they were emulating. And the best Strat I ever owned was a Greco! I did my first solo album on an Ibanez Les Paul.
How do you view your role as a guitarist these days?
I look at my playing as something to build everything around. A foundation. I see myself as a guitarist who can handle whatever is necessary—solos or anything else. That being said, soloing isn’t something I find fun. Working on a solo is just that for me—it’s work.
You always seemed to enjoy the rhythm-guitar tag.
I love it. For me, rhythm guitar wasn’t a step to becoming a lead player—it was the basis for being a guitar player. I remember seeing Richie Havens back in the ’60s, and he was incredibly inspiring with how many textures and sounds he could get just from strumming and slapping the guitar. And then seeing Pete Townshend back then—or even now—that is some rhythm guitar that will blow you away. It’s amazing that, over the years, I’ve met and played with so many guys who are flashy soloists, but when it came time for them to play a rhythm under me, they couldn’t hold it down. It’s shocking. They can make a soufflé, but they can’t make meat and potatoes!