Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Elder Revisited - Bob Ezrin Interview

Originally published by KISS: MONSTER - The Official Album and Tour Magazine # 2

"Destroyer" producer Bob Ezrin flashes back to the darkest horse in the KISS catalog.

Ah, the concept album ... the ambitious extension of every pop artist who gets tired of his job and dreams of a bigger fish. In the 70s, as music and mass media leaned toward bloat with bands like Queen, The Who and Pink Floyd conquering the charts and grand-scale cinema like Stars Wars owning the box-office, KISS decided to give the rock and roll pulp that made their name a rest and pursue loftier creative heights.

The result their semi-delusional dream was 1981's The Elder, a baroque, full blown concept platter charting the story of a Luke Skywalker-esque boy who is called upon to battle the evil Mr. Blackwell and restore order and balance to the land. The album was the work of legendary producer Destroyer (and Destroyer: Resurrected), Bob Ezrin, who at that time, had worked with Pink Floyd in its double-disc rock opera juggernaut The Wall.

Both Ezrin and the band (well, Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley anyway) were convinced that The Elder would be the record that would forge their new and "mature" path, a bounce back after their lightweight pop fluff 1980's Unmasked. KISS trimmed their hair, stripped down costumes, and the cover was the first in their history not to feature the freak four, however, was an abstract image Stanley's hand on the cusp of banging a baroque door-knocker.

The entire enterprise was, as we all know now, a gross miscalculation. Fans recoiled, the album failed and The Elder drove a stake in the first wave of KISS history. But time heals well, and over the years, many KISS devotees have come now and have expressed their love for the album (including this writer). Lush, evocative, frightening, beautiful and very cinematic, The Elder is such a breathlessly odd piece, so different from anything else in the KISS lexicon, which demands respect.

We tracked down Ezrin to talk about The Elder and share some memories of that pivotal point in the saga of the band ...

KISS MAGAZINE: To say that you love The Elder is, even now, not a popular sentiment.

Bob Ezrin: True. Not even amongst those who created it.

KISS: What can you tell us about the genesis of the album?

EZRIN: Well, the boys came to me at with a handful of really heavy demos. They wanted to make a record to combat the criticism of the last couple of records. I had just done The Wall, and convinced them to get rid of these demos and do something different. So The Elder was a victim of the Wall and our mutual desire was to do something "different", it was antithetical to what KISS was about. KISS was never pretentious or precious, and never took themselves seriously. They were always about fun, sex and power, and always were, in effect, horror cartoon characters, so to suddenly make a concept album, which had something of "consequence", was an idea anti-KISS. It was a flawed concept from the beginning.

KISS: Who was the driving force of the album?

EZRIN: At the time we were all looking for bigger and better things, and Gene - more so than Paul, jumped on the concept of making The Elder. I'm not really sure if it came with it or if they develop together, but both developed a script for a short film to accompany it. We thought it would be the beginning of many projects to come out under the name Elder. Of course, we were wrong. But Paul and Gene were very into it, and put everything in it. They both had to step out of their personas, and was really daring for them to do that. They were attracted to the classic rock, almost Beatle-esque style of the album - they were seduced by that. It was a big mistake.

KISS: It is well known that the lead guitarist Ace Frehley was not happy with this direction, failed to show up for sessions and left the band soon after. But you also had similar problems when recording with Frehley on Destroyer, right?

EZRIN: People dwell on that, but its not entirely true. I loved Ace. It's just that Destroyer was a big project. It was ambitious and grandiose and had to be delivered on a finite budget in a limited time frame. Gene and Paul were, as always, totally disciplined, but Ace was a free spirit and, like his persona suggests, a real space cadet. Sometimes we could not find him when we were in the studio and had to record, so we had to go ahead with Biff Wagner playing his parts. But when he did play on the album, he was fantastic.

KISS: Destroyer was huge, a landmark album, but it too was met with fan disent. Do you remember the backlash when the Elder was released?

EZRIN: I do. Here was this larger than life fantasy / rock record, full of myth and violence and passion, and I think some fans liked. Some critics also liked it, which rarely happened with KISS. But most fans could not grasp it, and they felt left behind, isolated.

KISS: How about The Elder now?

EZRIN: There are some truly great moments in there, of course, and some classics buried in the mix. But overall, it's way too self-indulgent and too over produced. its also not fully realized. There is not enough material, and the story is not fleshed out. It's an interesting failure.

(Translated by KISSopolis)