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  • Writer's pictureJim Bessman

Paul Stanley surprises with 'Now and Then' soul-infused album

Paul Stanley's Soul Station featurette

Ask Paul Stanley why he’s recorded a solo album and he’ll quickly correct you.

“Ask why it’s a soul album and not a solo album, because it’s really a band album!” says the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame KISS co-founder, speaking with by phone a week before the March 19 release of Now and Then via Ume. Credited to Paul Stanley’s Soul Station, the album features nine classic soul covers (including Five Stairsteps’ “O-O-H Child” and The Spinners’ “Could It Be I’m Falling In Love”) along with five Stanley originals.

It’s the debut album for Stanley’s other group, Soul Station consisting of heavyweight musicians like Rafael “Hoffa” Moreira (guitar & backing vocals), Sean Hurley (bass), musical director Alex Alessandroni (keyboards), Ely Rise (keyboards), Eric Singer (drums & backing vocals), Ray Yslas (percussion), Gavyn Rhone (backing vocals), Crystal Starr and Laurhan Beato (backing vocals), and Jon Pappenbrook (lead trumpet).

The group is buttressed by three string players and two horn players, and they’ve toured the U.S. and Japan prior to recording together.

“I’d be kidding myself if I said they were my backup band!” says Stanley. Rather, “It’s very much a band of people who share my passions for music--for music that now seems relegated to samples and rap tunes, and deserves so much more. To be able to go out and do [‘La-La (Means I Love You),’ Now and Then’s lead track by the great Philadelphia Soul group] The Delfonics, the Four Tops [their 1964 hit ‘Baby I Need Your Loving’ is included] and The Temptations [their 1971 hit ‘Just Their Imagination’], and do them accurately and not paint-by-numbers, is thrilling!”

Everybody in Soul Station, Stanley continues, “comes to this form with amazing backgrounds and pedigrees. We’re not a band that started in the studio and then played live, but a live band that then went into the studio.”

The album title Now and Then derives from Stanley’s desire that the band “not live totally in the past.”

“Our roots are in the past,” he acknowledges, “but this music deserves to be in the present. Yes, there are nine classic tunes, but five new ones that quite honestly fit together seamlessly: It’s hard to tell which is which—and that speaks to the fact that the music is timeless.”

Still, backup vocalist Rhone indicates in a promotional featurette that the new songs came as a surprise.

“What Gavyn was saying is that the album initially started as a pure Motown and Philly Soul project, with a set list that was purely that,” explains Stanley, who realizes that KISS fans might likely be surprised by his immersion in soul music.

“But if you’re around my house, I always do these songs,” he says. “I grew up with this music, although I was influenced by a diverse group of genres. But there are really only two kinds of music: good, and bad—and I’ve always loved this music from the days of Sam Cooke and Jackie Wilson, and getting to see Otis Redding and Solomon Burke, and the rise of Motown and Philly Soul.”

And Stanley points out that musically astute KISS fans won’t be surprised.

“I believe a great recipe has various ingredients,” he says, then to demonstrate, sings the “Do you think you’re gonna find it” response in KISS’s 1976 anthem “Shout It Out Loud.”

“That’s like the Four Tops’ ‘I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)’,” Stanley declares, singing the Tops’ similar vocal repetition “answer” to lead singer Levi Stubbs’ “Sugar pie, honey bunch” statement.

“We knew we were writing the Four Tops! It’s in the music: We’re not necessarily arranging songs in that way, but the bones of the songs are clearly R&B.”

The repertoire in Soul Project’s set list, meanwhile, is “purely that,” states Stanley, “and what this band is really about.”

“It’s about human beings making this music—flesh and blood,” he says. “A computer can never do what we’re doing: It can create perfection, but it can’t create passion. Give me passion any day!”

And it’s passion fueled by a 15-piece band—make that “17, at full throttle!”

“It’s glorious,” says Stanley. “Between the joy that everybody’s having on stage and the symphonic sound, it’s all-consuming.”

And at times, Paul Stanley’s Soul Station evokes a cross between the Four Tops and the smooth falsetto lead singing of The Temptations’ Eddie Kendricks. Stanley notes that he was a fan of both the Kendricks vocal style and his fellow Motown hitmaker Edwin Starr’s intensely virile voice, “but I wanted to do an album where the masculinity is based more on vulnerability as opposed to testosterone. There’s something to be said showing strength by showing sensitivity, whether it’s Smokey [Robinson] or Eddie Kendricks. There’s a poignance to that, as opposed to being a shouter.”

Stanley’s reflections on the album jibe with another solo outlet that he has likewise mastered—Twitter.

“It’s not the ego that I enjoy, but the gratification that comes from sharing,” he says of his inclusive but often outspoken tweets to 575,000 followers. “We all are so much better for sharing with each other. Not to be corny, but it makes the world a better place.”

“You see the world differently when you share your joy and fears, and let everybody know how alike we are--and that’s comforting,” he concludes. “I’m a big believer that when you give, the gift is in the giving. That might seem old school, but it changes your outlook.”

"I, Oh I"




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