Gary James' Interview With Anthony De Lucia Jr. Of
There are quite a few KISS tribute groups, but none like Alive! '75. You see, their entire show is based on the show you would've seen KISS do in 1975. That's right, 1975. Anthony De Lucia Jr. who portrays Gene Simmons in Alive! '75 spoke with us about his group.
Q - Anthony, you're wearing quite a few hats in this group. You portray Gene Simmons.
A - Correct.
Q - You're the group's manager, so you're Bill Aucoin.
A - (laughs)
Q - And you're the producer. You're "Toronto" Bob Ezrin. You've got your hands full, don't you?
A - I do. It keeps me busy, but it's a passion that I enjoy quite a bit so that's what kind of drives it all.
Q - You're playing a club in Syracuse, New York called The Lost Horizon. Let me give you a brief history of KISS in Syracuse, at least in the early days of the band. Back in 1975, May of 1975 to be exact, there was a poster hanging on the wall that said, "Coming Soon", and there was a picture of KISS. They never did play there. I suspect because they were getting "Hotter Than Hell". In October of 1975 they headlined the Syracuse War Memorial, a 10,000 seat auditorium. They drew 1,200 people. The James Montgomery Band opened for them. Two months later, in December of 1975, at the same venue, KISS opened for Black Sabbath and blew them right off the stage. Then, if we fast forward to to December, 1976, KISS headlined at the Syracuse War Memorial to an S.R.O. (Standing Room Only). In early 1982 KISS returns to the Syracuse War Memorial with Eric Carr as their new drummer and Nightranger opened the show. KISS would go on to perform at the War Memorial again down the road and play The Turning Stone Casino in Verona, New York, but that is the history, or should I say "Kisstory" of KISS in Syracuse, New York.
A - Very cool.
Q - I should also mention that Ace Frehley performed at The Lost Horizon. This concept for your group, Alive! '75, is really unique. While most of the KISS groups I've interviewed will do material from that KISS era, no one devotes their entire show around it. How did you decide to make this your version of KISS?
A - It's exactly how you described. I saw that it wasn't there myself and other members of the band are and have been semi-professional, lifetime musicians and also lifetime KISS fans except for some experimental 13, 14, 15 year old KISS fantasies and haven't done any kind of that stuff. I was out with my wife seeing a Doors tribute act that I thought was an excellent musical act. I found myself wondering why I didn't experience more of the time period and the overall scene if you will. I started thinking about KISS tribute acts and there's a lot going on and there's a lot of excitement and there's a lot to see and feel besides just hearing the music. Then catapult from that to the environment around the concert itself. It was in a matter of a day or two that the whole thing came together in my head. I made a couple of phone calls and our very first shows that we did were completely centered around not just doing a KISS tribute show. That was the core element of the experience but to as best as we could re-create 1975 and so we did that in a number of ways. We had a complete poster art gallery of all 1975 art and culture, sports figures, news, political personalities, music, fashion, etc. We pulled together audio video reels and created a TV clip reel and a movie trailer reel of all 1975 video. So we had iconic commercials and clips of TV shows at the time. Then the movie trailer was just that. Things like Jaws, Rollerball, all those movies of the time. So that was the auditorium gallery, if you will, before you got into the actual hall. When you get into the hall the first thing you noticed was the smell of pot. We had 'live' actors in the audience. We had streakers running through. All creating experimental elements to get people back into that 1975 mindset. And then we had an emcee who spent fifteen to twenty minutes doing a quasi comedy but a lot of back and forth dialogue reminding people Captain And Tennille had the number one song on the radio in 1975. Things like that. The curtain opens and people are sitting there completely reminding of what was going on, what the world was like, what was happening, and boom! This is what you saw, much like it might've been in 1975 when KISS burst onto the scene. So, that's the time element, the music. "Alive!" for many of us is the critical album. That's what catapulted them into fame. There's a lot of passion in that time. People who remembered it feel very strongly about it. It connects with a lot of people and so we built the show to bring the "Alive!" album to life, the stage set, the costumes, the mannerisms, the characters. We focus on that period. We didn't just want to dress up and play KISS songs. We wanted to do something new. More than any other band you've got KISS tributes out there in the dozens or hundreds, right? We didn't want to do another one of that. We wanted to do something a little bit unique.
Q - And you've done that! What is the difference between a KISS-a-mania and a KISS tribute group?
A - I don't know that I'm of any authority or expert in that space. For us, we're paying tribute specifically to a time and an era and we kind of focus around that. We take that into consideration of what we do, what choices we make. So I couldn't begin to kind of start to split hairs on the different styles and the different types. For us specifically, we're paying tribute to that. We targeted and started with the "Alive!" album and 1975. Over the course of this year we're beginning to expand a little bit and essentially grow with the time. For example, we've got a couple of shows coming up where we're going to start to interject some of the earlier "Destroyer" cuts that saw their way into the European tour in the first half of '76 before the full blown "Destroyer" tour. And then maybe by the end of this year, (2016) into to early next (2017) we'll move into a '75, '76 era and start to pull some of that stuff in. These are things we're talking about, but with everything we talk about we don't want to become just the "Greatest Hits" version of the band. We want to really try to continue to bring something unique so that costumes, the stage set, the music you're hearing kind of all belong together so the KISS fan can get that full experience.
Q - This group was put together in 2012?
A - The concept came together right around, maybe 2013. Our first show was November, 2014. So it was a little over a year, a year and a half in the making.
Q - How expensive was it to recreate this Kiss Alive! stage show? The details you had to go into.
A - There's probably somewhere in the neighborhood of $25,000 to $30,000 invested in the production. There are a couple of high ticket items. The sign is a significant expense. It's LED driven, but you see it from the first row back and it looks exactly like you'd expect it to look from that era. It's DMX controlled and does a bunch of exciting things. The lift for the drum riser is custom built and goes from 18 to 29 inches to just about 6 feet high during "Black Diamond". The backline obviously on both sides. The Marshall stacks on one side, the Ampeg stacks on the other are all a significant investment and then the infrastructure to support it, to move it around. All the road cases, the truck, inside the trailer. There's a significant amount of money that was spent to be very real on stage. The other thing we talked about when we started putting it together is we didn't want to go with anything that wasn't going to completely provide that experience. We didn't want to go half a stage set. We didn't want to go with small amps. We didn't want to go with any prop stuff, cardboard box stuff, etc. We wanted to make sure when people saw it, when people see some of the pictures, you do a double-take. We really wanted to provide the complete experience. The candelabra is an example of where we spared no detail, not that that was a very expensive investment. I think it was $150 to build it, but Len De Lessio, who we had friended over the years and is a friend of mine and big fan and supporter of the show, actually went and dug through some old photographs and provided me with a particular photo of the candelabra. It was specifically of the candelabra sitting in front of one of Gene's 8 x 10 Ampeg SVT cabinets. So I had a really good sense of proportion and height and size. I took that from Len and created a detailed spec right there, putting the protractor on the picture and measuring the angles of the candelabra and then brought that spec design sheet to a local artisan iron welder who built the candelabra to that spec. I had J.R. Smalling standing in front of that candelabra with his hands in his pocket, speechless. Just kind of eyeballing it up and down as well as the rest of the set. That's another reason why '75 for us was a draw, because it was reasonably within our grasp, right? If we were going to go out and do a "Live III" there is absolutely no way that four guys with day jobs were going to be able to build that set, right? You're talking about a stadium size, an arena size experience , where in '74, '75, early '76, small clubs, smaller stage. Just a lot of fire power, a couple of key elements and you can recreate and reasonably deliver a very realistic experience and that's what we were going for.
Q - That's all your investment, correct? You don't have a financial backer?
A - No. It's all me.
Q - That's why you're the manager.
A - (laughs) I offered the guys to come along and have a great time. Everybody's been really supportive. We're making our money back a little at a time. It's not a money making activity at all. This is a very expensive hobby, but the guys that do it are doing it because they enjoy doing it. We are really, truly having a great time performing and most importantly we have a great time when we come off the stage and we spend time with fans and take pictures and talk. We've met some really great people over the past year and a half, some of which have seen more than half of our shows and have traveled hours upon hours. We're looking pretty much to hit most of the Northeast region and a lot of folks have driven around with us. There are many shows we don't even break even on. Some shows we come close to because we pour a lot of it into the show. Most of the guys are happy if they can get their auto expenses covered. That was a good weekend. So, we're doing it because we enjoy it. We're dong it because we like to do it and we do it because no one else is.
Q - How much work is there for your group?
A - Work in terms of opportunity to play?
Q - Sure. How many gigs a year can you play?
A - We personally are capable, without getting too much into stressing ourselves, we do one to two gigs a month. So essentially I work to get at one gig a month. When I've got that one gig a month I'm kind of satisfied and done. If a couple of other things come along or along the way we end up doubling up a month because of a particular date type of thing, we'll do that. For example, we have our March gig. We have two gigs in April. We have our June gig. We have our July gig. We have a September. We have an October. We have a November. We just landed on December. So, I work to get the one a month. We'll do two, but that's really been the appetite for us. We all have day jobs. We all have wives and children. We all have regular jobs. This is a fun thing for us to do, get out and play Rock 'n' Roll stuff for one or two nights for a particular weekend.
Q - Are you thinking of taking Alive! 75 to bigger venues, say an arena gig if the opportunity presents itself?
A - We haven't necessarily planned that far. Something like a Led Zeppelin (tribute) and another act we watch closely, Almost Queen, there's a bigger commercial draw I think in terms of audience, people who are interested. Things like Tusk, the (Fleetwood) Mac group, they cut across a different demographic. What we've been finding is just fans that come out and absolutely love what we're doing and have a great time. They're totally into it. But we're not seeing the numbers of people we thought we would see in terms of how many of these fans are out there. We're not sure if it's there are so many KISS tribute acts that they don't know why they should see this one as opposed to some other one, or maybe they've seen one or two of them they don't feel they need to see any more. We're not sure if they're just not around anymore. We're not sure if it's the 1975 era that we're dong is not as appealing as maybe if we were playing "Greatest Hits". We haven't figured that part out. The first show was in 2014. We've learned a lot through 2015. We're finding that through this year, 2016, we're able to book better places. We've been asked back to just about every place and we've been able to pick and choose who we want to go back to in terms of the facility and the logistics and how we've been treated. So, booking the gigs has been better. The places have been very happy with what we do. It's a top notch production. Getting the fans out and getting the fans aware of what we do and to what level we do it has been the challenge and that's what we're still trying to figure out. So, long answer to your question, but just to reiterate, we haven't thought about, hey, we can play to 5,000 people. It's been more of a one step at a time for us and we've only been looking towards the next few gigs and how to promote properly and how to get the word out so that people come out to see us.
Q - Does KISS know about Alive ! 75? Have you heard anything? Seen anything?
A - I haven't seen or heard anything. On Instagram we've had Sophie Simmons (Gene Simmons daughter) like one of our pictures, which was pretty cool. That may be the closest we've gotten to someone in KISS actually being aware. (laughs) I have no idea how close the band follows their tribute acts. I've got to imagine on some level there's some awareness out there, but I really have no idea. We've never been contacted. We've not seen or heard of anything specifically from anyone in the organization or affiliated with the organization.
Q - With that makeup on, you really do look like Gene Simmons.
A - Yeah. Gene is one of the easier ones I think between the makeup especially and the design. It's very forgiving. It's much harder to look like some of the other guys. But I do what I can in terms of physical. I'm shorter than Gene. I'm only 5 foot, 10 inches, but I've lost some weight and I've gotten myself to the right proportions for the costume. I tell my wife all the time I'm supposed to be portraying a 24, 26 year old guy. So there's some work to do there to make it all come together the right way.
Q - In some of these Beatle tribute acts you have guys n the 50s trying to play the role of guys in their 20s.
A - Right. One of the inside jokes we have in the band more often than not when we're doing our Meet And Greets, especially when me and my drummer are in close proximity with one another, I will ask fans, "How old do you think I am?" We have some fun with it, but he will blow up about it. "C'mon. We're gonna start that again?" Invariably the high number comes back in the 35 range. The low number comes back in the 28, 29 range. I'll just smile. So, in the makeup and the costume, so far it's working.