Sunday, July 26, 2009

Interview with Sprio Papdatos

SPIRO PAPADATOS (KISS’ graphic designer/head of merchandising) Spiro, when did you start listening to KISS and which was the first KISS album that you purchased?

Spiro Papadatos: The first time I saw KISS was on an American TV show on Halloween in 1976. They played three songs on The Paul Lynde Halloween Special and I was hooked. They were the coolest thing I had ever seen. I immediately asked my parents to buy me the new Destroyer album for Christmas. It was and still is my favourite KISS record. You were once a member of “Alive”, a very successful KISS tribute band that actually gathered much attention by the press in the early 90s. What do you remember from those days?

Spiro Papadatos: Those were fun times. We toured all over Canada and the United States. We even did a couple of Japanese tours. That’s how I met Tommy and the guys in KISS. Being in Alive! and Cold Gin helped open a lot of doors. Why do you think that nowadays there are fewer KISS tribute bands in the world?

Spiro Papadatos: Probably because KISS is still playing live in full makeup and costume. Why would anyone want to see a KISS tribute band when you can go see the real thing today? Nothing compares to the real KISS. You started working for KISS in the mid-90s. Which were your duties at first?

Spiro Papadatos: I started working for KISS in 1995 on the Official KISS Convention Tour. I was responsible for setting up the KISS Museum that included original KISS costumes, guitars, drums, artwork and memorabilia from the band’s personal collections. I filmed the rehearsals and behind the scenes footage that was used on KISS MTV Unplugged, KISS: The Second Coming and KISSOLOGY 3. I also played in the opening band at 10 shows on the tour. You went on from the merchandise department to being a graphic designer for the band. When did you start designing merchandise for KISS? Did you ever expect that someday you will be working for your idols?

Spiro Papadatos: Anything is possible. We were on tour in America back in 1996 and I was wearing a bootleg KISS shirt when I ran into Gene backstage. Gene was not impressed. He said, “Of course you wouldn’t wear one of our shirts.” I said that I didn’t really like our shirts, to which he replied, “Why don’t you come up with something then?” So I did. Always up for a challenge, I submitted a couple of designs to the band for their approval and then sent the approved designs to Sony Signatures. Those designs became the best selling t-shirts on the tour. Signatures then asked me to come up with more ideas. Merchandise sales increased dramatically and suddenly I was designing entire product lines for the KISS tours that followed. Having said that, I don’t necessarily create designs that I would wear. I try to focus on what appeals to the majority of the fans and what sells as opposed to what I like personally. If it sells, it’s a good design. You were there in the historic years of the KISS reunion. Apart from the obvious great moments (Tiger Stadium, Madison Square Garden, Donington Park etc.), which were the low points of the reunion? Were there any conflicts among the band members?

Spiro Papadatos: I don’t remember any low points during the Reunion Tour. It was the highest grossing tour of that year and arguably the most successful era in the band’s history. I want you to be frank with me…I know that you are a fan –like all of us out there- and care for the KISS legacy. In your opinion, do you think that the first decade of the 21st century was in fact a “wasted period” for the band? I mean, there were all these Farewell shows and no brand new music at all. The band seemed to rest in the past glory days. Any comment…?

Spiro Papadatos: After 35 years of recording and touring, KISS has earned the right to do what ever they want to do. KISS has always done what they want. That’s what makes them KISS. Just because they didn’t record new KISS material doesn’t mean it was a wasted period. Maybe they wanted to take the time to do other things like record solo albums. I thought Live To Win was a great album. Gene just relaunched Simmons Records and Gene Simmons Family Jewels is a hit show in its fourth season. Paul did Phantom Of The Opera and has recently started a very lucrative career as a painter. It makes him happy and a lot of money. How is that a waste of time? For whatever reason, they didn’t feel it was the right time. Maybe now is the right time for a new KISS album. When you put on the make-up, you have a strong resemblance with Gene. Was there ever a time that you were close to replace him for a concert?

Spiro Papadatos: No. Gene has never missed a show. But, there was this one time in 2000 when Ace thought it was going to happen. We were in Binghamton, New York for a show on the Farewell Tour. Paul, Ace and Peter were already at the gig and in the dressing room. Gene, who often travels separately, hadn’t arrived yet because his flight out of New York City was delayed due to bad weather. At the time, I was KISS’ merchandise manager and was working on the main concourse level of the arena when I got a call on my radio from someone who sounded a lot like Ace. The voice on the other end said, “Hey Spiro, get down here, you’re playing tonight… I’m not getting ready until you start putting on makeup.” I said, “Who is this?” It was hard to hear because of all the noise in the arena but it sounded like Ace or someone just trying to screw with me. “It’s Ace, come down to the dressing room, you’re playing tonight!” I love Ace. I think he’s a great guy, but the truth is, he was really spiraling out of control on his last KISS tour. Without getting into detail, it seemed that every day on that tour, he was getting into trouble or new “adventures”. You really didn’t know what to expect with Ace and this just seemed like another one of his pranks. So, I went down to the band’s dressing room to find out what was going on. When I got there, Paul and Peter were sitting in front of their mirrors putting on their makeup. Ace was lying down on a couch. Gene wasn’t around. I asked Ace if he called me on my radio. He said, “Yeah, Gene’s not here, you’re playing with us tonight.” I remember thinking this had to be a joke so I just looked at him and kinda laughed and said, “What? Says who?” He said, “Me. Gene’s not here so you need to start getting ready… you know all the songs, right?” I said, “Yeah, but… where’s Doc?” That’s when I found out that Doc wasn’t there either and Tommy, who was the band’s road manager back then, was in LA editing “The Last KISS” video. Suddenly, Peter walked over to our side of the room and said, “Hey Ace, are you crazy? Paul is sitting right over there, he can hear everything you’re saying.” I looked over at Paul, hoping he would shed some light on the situation but he wasn’t paying any attention. He was getting ready for the show, business as usual. For a moment, the thought of actually playing with KISS entered my mind. I mean, doing a commercial or a TV show just wasn’t the same as playing with the band in an actual live show. Was this really going to happen? I knew I could do it, I knew all the songs… then I gave my head a shake and said, “This is crazy. As much as I’d love to do this, I can’t do anything unless I hear it from Doc, Paul or Gene. I have to go back to work” and I left the room. As I was walking down the hall, Gene, who had just arrived, was walking towards me making his way to the band’s dressing room. He walked into the room, didn’t say a word to anyone, sat down beside Paul and started putting on his makeup. Later that night, KISS was on stage, on time, as usual. You are of Greek origin. Were you born in Greece (if yes, where) or did you grow up in Canada? When was the last time that you visited our country?

Spiro Papadatos: I was born in Montreal, Canada but both of my parents are originally from Greece. My mom is a Spartan and my father was from the island of Zakynthos. I own a house in Zakynthos. The last time I was there was just over a year ago. I always love going back home to Greece, the most beautiful country in the world!