INTERVIEW WITH KLASSIK ’78
Date: April 3, 2018
NOT BEING A FAN OF DIGITALLY RELEASED MUSIC IN GENERAL, IT TOOK ME AWHILE TO REALLY LISTEN TO KLASSIK ’78’S TWO EPS ‘SIDE ONE’ AND ‘SIDE TWO’ BUT WHEN THE GROUP RELEASED BOTH EPS AS ‘THE UNORIGINALS’ IN PHYSICAL FORMAT, I COULDN’T RESIST PURCHASING THE LIMITED EDITION CD. I WAS FLOORED BY HOW KLASSIK ’78 SOUNDED SO MUCH LIKE VINTAGE KISS FROM THEIR 1973 TO 1978 ERA. IF YOU LIKE ANY KISS ALBUMS BETWEEN THE SELF-TITLED DEBUT UP TO ‘DOUBLE PLATINUM’, YOU SIMPLY OWE IT TO YOURSELF TO CHECK OUT KLASSIK ’78 AS THE GROUP’S TWO EPS WILL FIT PERFECTLY ALONGSIDE THOSE CLASSIC KISS ALBUMS. I RECENTLY HAD THE CHANCE TO INTERVIEW THE RATHER MYSTERIOUS BAND MEMBERS BEHIND KLASSIK ’78 — TOM (ALL GUITARS, BASS, AND GENE SIMMONS AND ACE FREHLEY STYLED VOCALS), RORY (DRUMS) AND JOE (ALL PAUL STANLEY STYLED VOCALS) — TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THEIR BAND.
Sleaze Roxx: Let’s start from the beginning. How did Klassik ’78 come about?
Tom: Being a fan of 70’s KISS since 1976 and a lead guitarist, I wanted to see if I could write a legitimate 70’s KISS song for fun. I wrote a song that I thought could be on the ‘Rock And Roll Over’ album. The song was “Rock And Roll You.” It’s a very Gene-like song. I had never tried to sing like Gene and was a little surprised at the result. I could do a decent Ace-like vocal too. I wrote a few more songs and played them for friends and they thought they were unreleased KISS demos [laughs]. In 2016, I was thinking that if I could find a strong Paul-like vocalist, it would be fun to record five or six songs and release them online as kind of an imaginary lost 1978 KISS studio album. I then spoke to Rory, my fellow KISS fan, drummer and friend of 30+ years, and told him what I had in mind. He was into the idea and then we started to record the songs. I handled all of the guitars, bass, Gene vocals and Ace vocals. Rory did all of the drumming.
Originally, a friend of ours was going to take a shot at singing the “Paul-style” vocals, but he got a nasty cold and it messed up his voice for a few months. So on a whim, I searched online and found some audio clips of Joe [vocalist, guitarist and major KISS fan] online and he had the singing voice of 70’s era Paul Stanley that was needed. I emailed Joe, sent him a few tunes and he jumped on board. We’re all based in the Northeast part of the USA. Joe recorded and produced all of his own vocals for the Paul-styled songs. Joe plays guitar too and could easily handle all of the Paul-styled rhythm guitar parts live or in the studio, but I had the guitars covered already. Logistically, it just worked out that way.
Rory: Tom and I have been friends since Jr. High School. As musicians, we’ve been in and out of various musical projects since then, both related and unrelated to KISS. When Tom brought up this idea about writing original material in the manner of a lost 70’s KISS record, I was all for it. Shortly thereafter, we starting piecing things together down in my rehearsal studio and thus Klassik ’78 was born.
Joe: Tom discovered some KISS cover songs I had put on YouTube a few years prior. He told me about the Klassik ’78 project. All original music produced in the style of 70’s KISS. He said he thought I would be the right guy for the job. He sent me some demos and I gave a listen. I loved the concept and thought the songs were undeniably KISS. Later, we talked on the phone and discussed the details. We hit it off instantly. It’s really crazy how strangers at the time made something cohesive in a very short time. It’s safe to say we all are very passionate about what we do.
Sleaze Roxx: I am sure that you’ve heard this a million times but you sound so much like classic KISS from the ’78 era. How are you able to do that?
Tom: The rules were clear, try to write really strong 70’s KISS styled songs that sound and feel exactly like 70’s KISS lyrically and musically. Any lyrical or musical part that did not fit that criteria was tossed aside. More KISS and less us. The songs had to be solid with good hooks. Recording wise, we made sure the drums sounded like drums and that the guitar and bass tones were similar to the tones on ‘Rock And Roll Over’, ‘Dressed To Kill’ and side 4 of ‘Alive II’. We also did our best to make sure the vocals were as close to Paul, Gene, Ace and Peter as we could get them. We had to capture the overall personality of the original KISS line-up. We weren’t just slapping riffs, lyrics and parts together. We worked hard on making sure the songs and the performances were strong and convincing. It was challenging, but whenever we listened back to a track and smiled, we knew we had the right stuff.
Joe: Whenever I have a Klassik ’78 recording session coming up, I prepare a little by listening to some of the core albums like ‘Love Gun’, ‘Rock And Roll Over’, etc and make note of Paul’s vocal habits. However, for the most part, it comes pretty naturally. I’ve always loved singing Paul’s tunes and now it’s pretty awesome that I’m able to pay tribute to him in my own way.
Rory: To me, Peter’s drumming was like capturing lightning in a bottle. One minute, he’s tossing a big band vibe at you. Then the next minute, he’s going balls to the wall such as the case on ‘Alive!’. Tom and I were both in the same KISS tribute band a few years prior to this project. We developed a lot of our [respective] character’s styles and actions rehearsing for those gigs. I actually met Peter for the first time last June at his final live performance. It was the equivalent of meeting my “musical Pope.” I tried very hard not to go “fanboy” but I told him I was also a drummer and about 20 years his junior and that his playing put me to shame that night. His response? “Aww bullshit” to which we both smiled and laughed. Without Peter in my life, my playing would have been vastly different I feel.
Sleaze Roxx: Did you end up focusing on the sound of side four of ‘Alive II’?
Tom: Songs like “Standing Tall” and “American Made” were definitely inspired by side 4 of ‘Alive II’ but Klassik ’78 is equally rooted in ‘Dressed To Kill’, ‘Rock And Roll Over’, ‘Love Gun’ and some of the 1978 solo albums. For instance, “Please N’ Tease” is very ‘Rock And Roll Over’. “World On Fire” has some ‘Destroyer’ and ‘Love Gun’ album vibes to it. “Streetwise” is very Ace 1978 solo album. So we actually draw from all of the KISS albums from 1974 through 1978.
Rory: “Standing Tall” — from the minute the guitar track kicks in — it screams “All American Man” from side 4 of KISS’ ‘Alive II’. “Passion And Love” has a sexy rock riff that takes me back to ‘Rock And Roll Over’ and “Mr Speed” in 1976. “Jendell” is probably my favorite off of ‘Side Two’. Its quintessential Ace. I firmly believe it’s a song Ace wishes he came up with. Musically, it’s a mixture of “Shock Me” sprinkled with pieces from Ace’s ’78 solo album.
Joe: For me, “Hot On Her Heels” reminds me of something off of ‘Rock And Roll Over’. “Ain’t No Fool” has a ‘Dressed To Kill’ feel to it. I think the production is just as important as the songwriting. We listen objectively as we record our parts and if something doesn’t feel like 70’s KISS, we get rid of it.
Klassik ’78‘s “Hot On Her Heels” lyric video:
KLASSIK ’78 – “Hot On Her Heels” Lyric Video 2018. Hot On Her Heels (words & music by KLASSIK ’78) from the KLASSIK ’78 album “SIDE TWO”. www.klassik78.com
Sleaze Roxx: Why did you decide to release two EPs titled ‘Side One’ and “Side Two’ rather than one full-length album?
Tom: Initially, we were just going to release the first six songs, call it ‘Side One’ and just see what happens. We had no expectations of any kind. The response to ‘Side One’ from all over the world was way beyond what we could’ve have imagined. So, we decided to give doing ‘Side Two’ a shot and as long as the material was good and it didn’t repeat anything we had already done on ‘Side One’, we’d release it. Which we did and people loved that too.
Sleaze Roxx: Back in February, you released a limited edition CD combining both EPs titled ‘The Unoriginals’ that sold out. That’s a funny title [laughs]. Why did you end up calling it ‘The Unoriginals’ and will there be another run of the CD in the future?
Tom: The idea of making a limited edition CD of ‘Side One’ and ‘Side Two’ on one disc came about for two reasons. Firstly, we were planning to attend the Atlanta KISS Expo and thought it would be good to make a limited edition CD for the Expo. Secondly, there were fans who bought both EP downloads who also wanted a physical copy, so we made the CD available online. Surprisingly, the CDs sold out in four days. Calling the CD ‘The Unoriginals’ was a little tongue-in-cheek. KISS re-released their first three albums on ‘The Originals’ album set in 1976, so we figured since we’re re-releasing our first two albums on CD, let’s call it ‘The Unoriginals’. Our songs are all originals, but the sound and style of our songs is not original at all [laughs], so that title is just fun and old school 70’s KISS. At this point, we have no plans to do a second pressing of ‘The Unoriginals’. The songs on the CD are still available via the ‘Side One’ and ‘Side Two’ EP downloads on CDBaby, iTunes and Amazon.
Sleaze Roxx: When can we expect some new music from Klassik ’78?
Tom: As far as new material goes, I’ve written and demoed six new songs already. No one has heard the songs yet but me. I’ve got two really powerful Paul-style songs called “Show Me Your Love” and “Queen Of Hearts” that I’m excited about. There’s a really cool Gene-style song called “Fever Dream” that is very 1977-78. I’ve got a cool Ace-style song called “Smoke & Mirrors” that reflects his 1978 stuff. I want to tell you about the rest of the songs, but I don’t want to give it all away [laughs]. The song ideas keep popping up in my head. If there is a third release, it will be done a little differently, but with the same exact musical goal as before. It’s just a matter of the timing and situation being right for me first.
Sleaze Roxx: Well, that sounds very exciting and I hope that Klassik ’78 will release another album. Have you guys had any contact with any of the original KISS members about your music and if so, what did they have to say?
Tom: Yes. Indirectly, we got word that Paul and Gene heard us and both of them got a kick out of it. Paul told a mutual friend that we captured the song style and sound of the early records. He was surprised at how much our vocalist Joe sounded like he did when he was younger. The guys from Gene’s band played him our stuff and they told us he loved it. They said his jaw dropped when he heard the first vocal line of “Please N’ Tease” and let out a “WOW!” [laughs]. What we do is a unique tribute to them, so for them to hear it, recognize themselves in it and then respond positively to it, is a great feeling.
Joe: This still doesn’t seem real sometimes. If you would’ve told me when I was a kid that someday I would be part of this and would have my hero’s acknowledgment and compliments, I wouldn’t have believed it.
Rory: We all have role models AND heroes we look up to in our life — be it a teacher, a parent, a sibling or all of the above. It’s more than fair to say KISS were the musical role models of our childhood, so to have both Gene and Paul give us a “thumb’s up” in any way was incredibly gratifying. That, coupled with the overwhelmingly positive response from the KISS Army, you simply couldn’t ask for more.
Sleaze Roxx: It’s been said that Klassik ’78 create classic KISS songs better than the actual KISS these days. What are your thoughts in that regard?
Tom: We’ve heard that from fans and it’s a great compliment. I think it has more to do with the fact that we’re making a sound that they loved that KISS used to make, but don’t make anymore. KISS today is carrying on a legacy of four decades of different musical styles and line-ups for all fans. Klassik ’78 is for fans who like and want more of that 70’s KISS sound they grew up with. It’s not for everyone. If you don’t like 70’s KISS, you’re not going to like Klassik ’78.
Joe: We are always flattered to hear this. KISS has had such a long career that it would be really hard to keep doing the same exact thing over and over. Therefore, they grow over time. Things change, people change and I think that’s part of life in general. Us as fans know exactly what a “Klassik” KISS album should sound like. We feel fortunate to have a great group of guys in Klassik ’78 that have a passion and are able to recreate the vibe we grew up on and love.
Rory: It’s very humbling indeed. It’s undeniably a very cool feeling when you make people happy with your music. I think we’ve basically developed a time machine of sorts. We’ve been able to take a lot of KISS fans back to a piece of their childhood where we all spent countless hours after (or instead of sometimes) school, staring at our poster covered walls spinning our KISS albums. Let’s face it, we all want to fit into that pair of jeans we wore in high school or comb that head of hair we once had back then [laughs]. It’s no different with music. It seems many of us want our musical heroes to take us back to an age where we first fell in love with them. It’s nostalgic obviously, but I don’t think it will ever happen with KISS and I certainly can respect why. As human beings, we’re constantly evolving and so is KISS. It doesn’t mean we’ll ever stop longing for it. However, it does mean that Tom, Joe and I can scratch that itch for ourselves and others by recreating the wheel KISS designed.
Klassik ’78‘s “Victims” lyric video:
KLASSIK ’78 – “Victims” Lyric Video 2017. Victims (words & music by KLASSIK ’78) from the KLASSIK ’78 album “SIDE TWO”. www.klassik78.com *Nosferatu …
Sleaze Roxx: From a marketing standpoint, you really don’t showcase the actual Klassik ’78 members as there are hardly any pictures of the band members. Why is that?
Tom: We were so pleased with our attempt to capture that 70’s KISS sound and style, that we decided to add that little extra 70’s KISS mystique by not divulging our full names and identities. The whole point of Klassik ’78 is for people to imagine whatever they want while listening to our songs. I don’t necessarily want the listener thinking about Tom, Rory and Joe [laughs]. I want people thinking about 70’s KISS and their memories of that time when they listen to our music.
Joe: Personally, I love it. As fans ourselves, we realize the impact KISS and their mysterious image had on the fans in the 70’s. We like to think that we are a little more than just music, but a nostalgic experience as well.
Rory: You know it’s funny, at first, I was indifferent to whether we did or didn’t reveal our true identities. Then after we met fan after fan at the Atlanta KISS Expo emphatically telling us “No! Keep yourselves anonymous!”, I thought ”That works for me.”
Sleaze Roxx: Klassik ’78 participated at the Atlanta KISS Expo where Vinnie Vincent made his first public appearance in over 20 years. What did you think of the event and Vinnie Vincent’s appearance?
Tom: The Atlanta KISS Expo was a fun way to meet KISS fans and thank some of them for all of the positive support we received from them in 2017. Rory and I attended the Expo wearing white face and colored aviator sunglasses. Again, just a cool way to keep our identities hidden and still make a nod to the KISS makeup without actually wearing the KISS makeup. The Expo itself was chaotic, but it didn’t harm our experience like it did for some vendors and fans. We were meeting people the whole day. It was fun. Vinnie going back into the public eye was a big deal. The fans were very respectful of Vinnie and I think people were just glad to see that he was healthy and happy.
Rory: The Expo was amazing. It was my first and I certainly wasn’t disappointed in the least. I hope to participate in another again someday soon. Although I did not get a chance to meet Vinnie, I’m incredibly happy for him. From various viewpoints, it sounds like he traveled a rough road for a while. He’s an incredible songwriter and without a doubt was a major contributor to KISS’ fame and resurgence during their non-makeup era.
Sleaze Roxx: Are there any thoughts of Klassik ’78 covering other KISS music eras or will the band stay focused on that early era?
Tom: Klassik ’78 will always stay in that 1974 to 1978 era. 70’s KISS is what we do best and that’s what we’ll stick to.
Sleaze Roxx: Do you have any touring plans for the future?
Tom: There are no plans for any touring or shows at this point. However, if the opportunity arises to perform at a significant event like the KISS Kruise, a KISS Expo or a major festival, we’ll be prepared to do it. With that being said, we do plan to get together in a rehearsal room in the coming weeks, to play Klassik ’78 material. For fun and just in case.
Sleaze Roxx: Any other plans for the future?
Tom: The possibility of more recording is always there. Anything beyond that would have to be really special. We don’t want to do too much. We don’t want to get comfortable and do anything that could ruin this cool thing that each one of us has been lucky enough to be a part of so far. So it’s important that whatever Klassik ’78 does next feels right. We’ll see what 2018 brings. We just may surprise you all again [laughs].
Klassik ’78‘s ‘Side One’ and ‘Side Two’ Commercial:
KLASSIK ’78 – “Side One” & “Side Two” TV CommercialTo purchase the “Side One” & “Side Two” album downloads, go to: www.klassik78.com