Tim McPhate | KissFAQ
In conjunction with KissFAQ’s month-long NovElder retrospective, “Music For The Elder” songwriter/key contributor Tony Powers discussed how he came to meet Paul Stanley and get involved on the project, his contributions to the album: “Odyssey” and “The Oath,” why KISS making a musical departure was a positive move for the band, and shared his message for KISS fans regarding “The Elder,” among other topics.
The following are excerpts from Powers’ interview with KissFAQ’s Tim McPhate:
On the song “Odyssey,” which he wrote:
KF: “Odyssey” is very sophisticated musically — there are interesting chord changes and musical twists. The lyrics also have a cinematic quality. Tony, I’ve always wanted to ask you: What was your inspiration for writing this song?
TP: I have always been fascinated by the concept of time. To me, physics and time are very interesting things, very interesting topics. I’m writing a script right now that’s got a lot to do with that. As far as “Odyssey” is concerned, it was just the thought that there are many times that exist in the same time. And everything — past, present, future — happens at the same time. And what we consider to be time is an illusion. I guess I was just dwelling and thinking on that. I’m pretty sure it just started with the very first line of the song, “From a far off galaxy I hear you calling me.” It just came quickly after that. And the lyrics to the chorus always knock me out. I just loved it.
KF: “Once upon not yet/Long ago someday.” That’s such a lovely play on words.
TP: It is, I think. I will accept that. (laughs) I’m usually not one to toot my horn about those things, but yeah, that’s it. Past, present, future — all at once at the same time. Right now it’s an illusion that there’s a past, present and future. You know, scientists think there are 10 dimensions. We only live in three of them. There’s a lot that we can’t see that’s happening so …
KF: Personally, in listening to the song, I can see how it fits in with the concept of “The Elder.” But independently, the references to “I” and “you” in the opening lyrics have also made me think it could be a personal message to someone special.
TP: I’d like to say yes, but it wasn’t. It was just my personal thought about the nature of life and time.
KF: The song is beautiful and extremely odd at the same time.
TP: I thank you very much for that. I remember playing it once for a Russian concert pianist who flipped at the chord changes. He couldn’t get over how different they were.
On Paul Stanley’s vocal performance on “Odyssey”:
KF: Paul has said, “Me singing it was just tragic.
TP: He doesn’t think the vocal suited him, I understand that. I feel for him. A person wants to feel like he did his best work and put his best effort into it. I thought he did terrific. I really did. I think he wasn’t as loose as he wanted to be, maybe. I don’t know what it was. I know that he didn’t think it suited him upon hearing it later on.
His reaction to Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons’ recent criticisms of the album:
KF: Recently, Paul and Gene discussed “The Elder” in a piece in “The Guardian.” Paul shared a story about when the album was done and how he got together with some friends to play it. I want to read it to you. He said, “I remember playing that album for people at my house and you weren’t allowed to talk. ‘Sshhh, This is so brilliant. This is my statement.’ I was sitting there completely enamored at what we had done.”
So it seems Paul was really into the album but …
TP: Of course he was.
You’re asking me, I don’t know. I’m sorry he feels that way. He should be proud of [the album]. I thought it was a really adventurous project. I think, in hindsight, it was something they needed to do. I mean you can only do the same three chords over and over and whatever. And this, I thought was courageous. And I was listening to some of the cuts you sent me, and I thought they were quite good.
I think they should be proud of [the album]. I really think they took a shot. They took a chance. They did something quite out of their comfort zone and I think they succeeded. It’s really too bad that they disavow it.
On criticisms of the album’s concept not being realized:
KF: In terms of the album’s concept, some have criticized that it’s vague and not fully realized. Tony, what’s your take?
TP: Well, to be frank, I really haven’t thought much about that. You know, Picasso painted the same picture for 20 years. Nothing’s ever realized, let’s put it that way. You can work on something forever. You can always change things. I think critics have to have something to say. That’s too bad sometimes. They can’t just say “I hate it” or “I love it.” They have to give you reasons. And the reasons are often really stupid. That’s the way I look at it. Like you walk in and play a song for someone and they say,”Well I really like it but why don’t you make it that word?” For no reason, they feel they have to give you some kind of input whether it makes sense or not. So critics to me (pauses), anybody who reads their reviews is crazy.
On KISS stepping outside of their comfort zone, and why some fans may have been left behind:
KF: That’s a sentiment you alluded to previously with regard to KISS. “The Elder” was a bid to do something different, something artistic, something that broke the rules for KISS.
TP: That’s right. Someone’s always going to bash you. I mean, van Gogh never sold a painting in his entire lifetime. Why? Because he was a terrible artist, right? When Gershwin first played “Rhapsody In Blue,” everybody said it was terrible. You can’t listen to people. If Paul and Gene let people’s opinions sway them, I’m sorry. Again you can’t [listen to] the critics. People should have kept them from reading anything about [that album].
They might have gone on to make another great album or two, in that vein. Something different, a departure — who knows where they could have gone instead of doing the same thing over and over?
KF: And interestingly at some point there was talk about there being an “Elder” album sequel. Any future plans for the project were quickly aborted.
TP: Yeah, you know (pauses). I guess a lot of their fans don’t have the sophisticated musical ear to appreciate it, too.
Tony Powers’ final message to KISS fans regarding “The Elder”:
Full Tony Powers interview:
Through a series of brand-new KissFAQ interviews, original features and related special content, NovElder will shine a spotlight on “Music From The Elder” like never before throughout the month of November. More than 10 hours of interviews were conducted with various individuals who either worked on the project or have a connection of sorts, including professionals who have never told their “Elder story.” These interviews will provide interesting insights and unique perspectives regarding the album’s creative process and this fascinating period in KISStory, in addition to fun anecdotes and personal recollections. A series of topical features will shed more light on KISS’ activity in 1981 and early 1982 and dissect the album further with in-depth musical analysis, biographical information on the album’s participants, a revised KissFAQ Album Focus, and much more. NovElder will also take a look at the climate of the rock genre in 1981 and look at the bloodline of rock concept albums.