Gary James' Interview With Tom Pressano Of
If you've ever wondered what it's like to be in a Kiss Tribute Band, look no further! Tom "The Demon" Pressano is here to tell you. Tom portrays Gene Simmons in the band Kiss Alive!, which has been called The Ultimate Kiss Tribute Band.
Q - You've always been a fan of Kiss, haven't you?
A - Oh, yeah. Those memories of staring at the album covers for hours and hours, particularly that grin Gene has on the "Dressed To Kill" album, how you gonna shake that from your consciousness? It's fantastic, that grin. Then the "Alive" album of course was just, as a kid, your super heroes have to come to life, looking at them and the pictures. It was great and it was definitely fresh and new. There was no one out that looked like that or had that whole persona. Not even Alice Cooper. He didn't have that at that time either. This was explosive stuff. I was always drawn to theatrical Rock. Kiss was theatrical. Cooper was theatrical. I liked anything that was larger than life onstage in Rock 'n' Roll. How you gonna get any larger than Kiss? (laughs) I'm still trying to convince people out there, this was it, guys. This is where it started. I'm still pushing it all the time. There are clowns who come up to me when we do gigs when we're out there, I think they're under the impression that Kiss is all smoke and mirrors and there's no substance with the songs. My God! That's absolute nonsense. You can turn on light FM (radio) and "Beth" is playing. And you can turn on maybe a Country station and you're gonna hear "Hard Luck Woman". Whether it's Kiss' version or Garth Brooks' version. They already have all the Hard Rock anthems. The disco stations were playing "I Was Made For Lovin' You". So I mean, look what they're covering. These guys are covering a lot of ground. They're not just a band that has one genre of music. I know they had trepidation, Gene and Paul, and I think Ace does too, about that album "The Elder", but it's a concept album and they did that too. So, musically they covered the gamut as far as I'm concerned. I have them up there with The Stones when it comes to that kind of diversity. Ballads, Pop-Rock, Hard-Rock. "God Of Thunder" is as heavy as any Heavy Metal song. So to me, they covered the gamut. But they don't get the credit for it, which I always find a bit surprising.
Q - Your first group was called Abdulla And The Gang.
A - Yeah, that's true.
Q - Were you putting a show on in that group?
A -It was very Kiss influenced. We were dressed as prisoners. It was the shtick. So the shtick was we were dressed as prisoners and all the songs were about prisoners. One of the more popular tunes was called "Alcatrazz". We had everybody in the schools we were playing singing it. So it was kind of comic to see these young, adolescent kids dressed as prisoners, singing songs about prisons. It was a lot of fun. That influence of Kiss is there whenever I go back to those old tapes. It's hard to listen to that stuff now. Oh, my God, it's so horrible. But when I do, I hear the early influence of Kiss in there...Black Sabbath.
Q - Where then, did this idea come from to put a Kiss tribute band together?
A - It's hard to say 'cause it was always a part of my life. I think actually putting on make-up with fellow musicians, it started in a friend's house. We were joking around and said "Let's do this and maybe have a barbeque or a party." It started like that. It took off very quick(ly). The next thing you know, we were out doing gigs, making costumes. Here I am, ten years later, and I'm still making costumes. I'm still making that "Love Gun" costume for Heaven's sake. It's a work that's been going on for years and years, perfecting it.
Q - Was it expensive launching this band?
A - Oh, yeah. People have friends and colleagues that do wedding bands, DJs, and they make more individually than what we would be able to make. So it is a labor of love. I hope that Gene (Simmons) can understand that. I know some years back he was curious about what the Tribute bands were doing and making and using the name and the logo. It's not really that. We're not after cashing in. I can't really speak for the other Kiss Tributes, but it's really a labor of love. You're doing a lot of work. I'm putting a lot of money in. That costume and the upkeep, a lot of my time, a lot of my money. I know the wedding bands do well. DJs do well. I can't really say we're doing well, but it is extra money. It's fine. It's enough to keep my wife off my back. It's enough where she says "OK, you were gone for two days, but the money in the drawer is alright." We all know it's the hardest thing we've ever done. Musically, it's the hardest thing I've ever done.
Q - How many bands would you say are doing what you're doing?
A - They're all over the world. I just got a MySpace response from a Kiss band in Italy. I don't know what it said. It's written in Italian. It's like a comment on one of the photos. We've got people calling us at home asking "I'm interested in starting a Kiss Tribute. Can you give me some tips?" I'm like, man, do I give the secrets of the trade away that I've learned in the last ten years?
Q - The answer has to be no!
A - (laughs) I know, you're right. I just kind of steer them in a certain direction. Sometimes I don't answer directly, but I help steer them and sometimes I give them a secret or two. There are more tributes than any other band, that's for sure.
Q - You just have to wonder if there's enough work out there for everyone.
A - I think Kiss Army does well. I think those guys are out all the time. Me, I'm a New York City teacher, so I'm not giving up my day job.
Q - A teacher? Just like Gene Simmons.
A - That's right. I think he was a science teacher for a spell there. Sixth grade if I have that correct.
Q - I knew that answer once. Could be.
A - I went the same route. I love touring. I love doing this. But I have like three small children. Married. I couldn't just be out all the time. But I like the weekends doing it. If it's local enough, we can get to it. We're busy enough. New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Long Island, Upstate New York. We're going as far as Maine. This is keeping us busy enough.
Q - How do you travel?
A - Sometimes we'll rent a mini-van. Sometimes we just go in our cars. We load 'em up. I have a small car and I still get around and do the stuff.
Q - Besides bars, do you also perform in theatres?
A - Oh, yeah. I wouldn't say like arenas, but there are clubs that have like 1,000 capacity. We had one right here, 900 capacity. A place called The Haunt, in Yonkers. It just closed. That was a gig we did three or four times a year. This happens a lot too. We lose a lot of clubs. They close down.
Alcohol problems...Cabaret license runs out or they didn't have one. Stuff like this happens to us every year. We lose a room, but then gain a room. Pennsylvania has been the spot for us. It's been really hot. Nice size arenas. Hundreds of people. It's great. We've been having a great time. They like their Rock 'n' Roll in Pennsylvania, whereas in New York it can be very stand-offish. We'll play here in our home town and people will be by the bar. Then we go to Pennsylvania and they'll be at the stage, singing every song with us, rooting us on, giving us strength. It's a whole different experience.
Q - How many times have you seen Kiss perform?
A - I have to admit, I don't have too many notches on my belt. Just three.
Q - You bill this group, or somebody bills this group as "The Ultimate Kiss Tribute Band".
A - Yes. We keep getting that. So we threw it in. I mean, it's probably a clichéd Kiss title, but people keep saying it to us. The fans know that we're locked into the music. We're not just dressing up in fancy costumes like a lot of the tributes do. We're distinguishable from them because we're really trying to get that music down, note for note...harmonies. Some tributes do the gang vocals. They think that's it. No, that's not it. That's three part harmonies they're doing. You gotta get it. You gotta lock it in. It's not always easy to lock in that harmony.
Q - With a band like this, you not only have to have guys who can play, but also have to look the part. That must be doubly difficult.
A - Yeah, right. I know. That's why I'm a bit stunned that the guitar player, Pat and I were together ten years ago when we started it. He plays Ace. We have Paul and Peter, who joined us, are relatively new. A few years now. That is the best line-up. It's great to have everybody who can carry a tune. Everybody can sing, which is great. I see some Kiss Tributes and they're not cutting it at all. I think these guys think you can put on a costume and you can do it. No way. Friends I have who criticized me over the years - "You used to write music. What are you doing today? You used to do originals. What are you doing today? Why are you wasting your time?" I tell 'em "Put these boots on and you go up there. You wouldn't be able to do it." It's the hardest thing ever.
Q - Have you ever met Gene Simmons or any of the guys in Kiss?
A - Luke, our singer, our Paul Stanley, has met them at Meet And Greets. He's bought a few of Paul's paintings and they're fantastic. My singer's got 'em in his office. So, he's met Paul on a few occasions. I think my guitar player, who plays Ace, had a brush with Ace at a bar - "How you doing?" One of those things. Me, all those opportunities at Meet And Greets I didn't take advantage of. I have some trepidation about meeting my heroes. I try not to watch Family Jewels either, 'cause it's not the Gene I remember. The Gene I remember is a whole different Gene Simmons. Family Jewels is like a whole other persona of Gene Simmons. It's great. I'm glad he's successful at it. I love to know it's out there and Kiss is still with us, but there's just something about him as the bumbling dad, doesn't quite work for me anymore. But I'm glad he's successful at it. I'd love to do a project with them (Kiss) instead of meeting them and saying "Oh, I love you guys. You're great. I play you n a Tribute band. You have no idea what you mean to me." I would hate to do that. And that's what it would come to.
Q - Have you ever thought what it must be like to be Gene Simmons?
A - Yeah. I think it's touched all of us in Kiss Alive! I think we've had moment where we knew, maybe not on the same magnitude, where we felt, wow! This is what it must've been like, a taste of it. People do lose it up there. It can get pretty crazy. It's like people go back to their childhood right away when they see us and they're stunned. What they do - they're the hardest working Rock band.
Q - Is Kiss Alive! a stepping stone for you? Do you want to perform your own material in a group someday?
A - That's a good question. I don't see anything else. This (band) seems to be carrying us. We're having fun and the work is there. Of course you get the itch to want to write again and record your own music. But doing the original music circuit was such a drag when I did it back in the 80s and 90s. Now it's changed. You can sell your own songs for 99 cents. You can have websites, Pro tools to create your own music. Record and produce yourself. It's so difficult. I wish that was available when I started off. This is so great. We're so into it. It just comes so natural for us to do this ten years later. So yeah, this is gonna carry me a little further there.