Interview with Peter Criss
“The Catman is Peter Criss and Peter Criss will always be The Catman”
It’s a sentiment that Criss, founder member of New York rock band KISS, offers towards the end of my phone call and it’s one that rings true to this day. With the legendary drummer about to perform one exclusive farewell show in Melbourne in May, as well as an appearance at the Kiss Konvention as well, Criss is still an enthusiastic advocate of all things KISS in spite of the by now well documented events surrounding his departure from the band. I spoke with Peter ahead of his final Australian show, where he’ll be joined by long time guitarist Mike McLaughlin and Victorian glam-rockers Sisters Doll in what promises to be a night full of surprises.
Hi Peter how are you?
Hey mate how are you? It’s Monday night here and so I’m doing my interviews, and you’re nearly my last. But I’m so looking forward to doing this show where you guys are.
So you’re heading back to Australia for once last time. Are you looking forward to the show?
Absolutely. And you guys are so cool, there are so many other places I could have chosen to call it a day and do my last show but Australia has always been an amazing place for us. Back when we did the KISS Symphony show and I was the only drummer surrounded by 60 musicians I was shaking in my boots, it was such an amazing night. And you guys have always been so respectful and so cool. And you know I’m a breast cancer survivor, and I’m a huge activist for that world wide but also when I wrote my book and went out and did signings and meeting fans one on one, which you can’t do when you’re up in a million people’s faces, the love and the respect that I’ve gotten these last ten years from the fans, all the signings I’ve done and the stories they tell me, all the tattoos!!! I mean I’ve signed some major places on people’s bodies!!! But the loyalty from the fans, I mean we got into the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall Of Fame, and they didn’t let us in because of our good looks it was because of the fans, and to be honest there are no better fans than where you are in Australia. You guys have always loved us and I’ve gotten calls over the years from people saying everyone’s been there but me, and now at 71 I’m like “Ok now I think I’ll go over and have some fun and I’m really excited. Bruce (Kulick, former KISS guitarist) told me they (Sisters Doll) are a great band and I’ve been working over here with a band for five weeks so I’ve gone back to boot camp. I haven’t played this much drums for years!! But I feel wonderful and I haven’t been this excited for many years, and I’m kind of doing it my way. When I left the boys it wasn’t really in a good way and so I’ve wanted to do this for long, in a smaller venue with a respectful atmosphere, and I couldn’t have picked a better place than Australia.
Besides the tie-in with KISS Konvention was there a reason you chose Melbourne in particular for your final show?
Well we did the Melbourne Symphony show which was a huge thing in my life. That was really a major move for me because I’m a street kid – I don’t really come from much – and here I am surrounded by 60 pieces or real musicianship that blew me away and it was a really magical moment for me when I listen back to it. I never thought I’d be playing with that many people and get that much respect and love and so I thought about it and it just seemed like the right place you know? And I wanted to do it now before they put me in a box and I can’t do it! I mean we’re all around the same age now, Paul McCartney, Jagger, all those guys we’re all in our 70’s now (I hate that word!) but I still feel like a 15 year old kid. Sometimes my body tells me otherwise, like after I’ve rehearsed for five hours and I’ve gotta hit the couch, but the show we’ve put together I’m doing some dedicated KISS songs that I’ve always loved and that showcase my drumming, my signature as well. So you know from Rock ‘N’ Roll All Nite and Love Gun on down it’s Peter Criss on the drums, so I’ve got some cool stuff to do and I’m excited. Sisters Doll sound like really cool guys, whenever they call me they sound like really excitable kids, and so I think it’s gonna be a really memorable night for everyone in Melbourne.
These two farewell shows feel like they have a pretty personal significance for you as well. Do you feel like you have some unfinished business when it comes to the band that you want to put to rest?
Yes. I do. I mean we did the reunion tour and that was cool but it didn’t really end well. And being one of the biggest bands in the world that’s kind of sad but it does happen. We’re not the only ones, plenty of other bands have gone through this nonsense. But I left on my birthday in Fresno after doing a show in front of 60,000 people and I really wasn’t happy about it. I mean I’d put all those years into it and afterwards it was like “is that it?” So I really wanted to do this my way. I’ve been playing a long time and I’ve played all kinds of music and so this is kind of a criss cross between Peter Criss albums and KISS albums and what better place to do it that where you are. So I’ll be doing the show and hanging out and taking pictures with people and taking to fans, and so I’m doing this for some closure for myself as well.
And I understand that you’ve a final album in the works as well. Can you tell me a bit about how that’s been going?
I had it mostly done before I got cancer and then it got put on the back burner. And I recently played it for John 5 from Rob Zombie’s band and he just about fell over the back of the couch!! He said “this is absolutely genius you’ve got to get it out there”. So I’ll be putting the vocals down on it this summer and hopefully it’ll come out next year and it’ll be my last rock ‘n’ roll album, and it’s a really different Peter Criss album too. We had all kinds of great guys playing on it and it sounds cool so I’m really looking forward to getting it out there and getting on with my life. And you get to a point in your life when you have to know when to pull the plug, you what I mean? And I’m so glad that I get to do this my way, kinda like Sinatra [laughs]
You spent so many years hiding behind the persona of the Catman, is it a liberating feeling knowing you’re going out there and doing the shows without the mask?
I’ll always be The Catman, I can’t get out of that. And Peter Criss is The Catman and The Catman id Peter Criss. But I feel very liberated to do it. I mean I love the boys but I’m getting out there on my own and trying some stuff and really jumping in feet first [laughs] and going “oh my God I hope this works!]” and if it doesn’t then at 71 I think I’m allowed to make a few mistakes! But I put my heart into this and any time I did something that I didn’t put my heart into it didn’t come out so great. So I’ve really felt like a kid again these past five weeks; I’ve gotten the chance to try songs I never ever thought I’d get the chance to do in front of the public and now with the chance to do it I just think it’s so cool.
Peter I know that things didn’t end up so well with KISS, and I’m not going to go into that, but do you look back on the early days of the band with a more positive mind frame than the events of recent years?
Absolutely. I have total positivity in what we did back in the day and I’m extremely proud of it. I see all these bands that came about because of what we did, from Motley Crue to Rob Zombie and even Garth Brooks! (Brooks covered one of Criss’s signature songs Hard Luck Woman for a KISS tribute album). And our show, I see little bits of our stage show in everything from American Idol upwards. They just took little pieces of our show and now it’s a part of their show. And it came about because of our shows. I think we changed the world of music in a big way.
You must feel a sense of pride knowing that you were a major part of a band whose music is still so instantly recognisable the world over.
More so now my friend. Especially with the Internet now, you can’t get away from it it’s a whole new world out there, the 21st Century. And I’m still a 20th Century kid so I’m not totally happy about a lot of the technology that’s around today. I mean in our day you couldn’t bring a camcorder or anything like that into a theatre to record a show, nowadays all you have to do it point your phone and you can record and entire show.
And besides the album Peter have you got anything else planned for the future.
There’s a lot of things I want to do with my time. I’m working on a children’s book and I’ve got another book I want to write too as well as a comedy screenplay I’m writing. And I just want to enjoy my life. I’ve worked very hard over the last fifty years doing rock ‘n’ roll shows and so now I’m just looking forward to some of the projects I have on the go and spending time with my wife and also getting back into painting, which is what I originally went to school for. So I think I’m very much like a Renaissance Man. A modern Renaissance Man. And I think that’s a good thing; I think all men when they get to the crossroads of life should be able to decide what they want to do. And people these days can be very cynical, especially with the Internet, people say whatever they want and sometimes it’s hurtful stuff. But at least I know that when I go out there with all of you good people it’ll be a great night with great people and great music and I’ll do my very best to entertain you all.
Peter Criss “One Last Time”
Date: Friday 12th May 2017
Venue: The Sofitel On Melbourne, 25 Collins St, Melbourne
Tickets: Available for purchase through Ticketbud.com