The latest stars to grace AMC aren’t dramatic anti-heroes like Don Draper or Walter White. Instead, it’s KISS bassist Gene Simmons and guitarist Paul Stanley. The two rockers star in the network’s new reality series “4th and Loud,” which follows the trials and tribulations of the Arena Football League’s newest expansion team, the L.A. Kiss.
Simmons and Stanley are co-owners and like everything that exists in the KISS world, they’re trying to take the band’s iconic brand into uncharted territory. And while it would be easy to imagine a show that follows B-level football players running around in KISS makeup, it’s not that at all. Simmons and Stanley strut their swaggering selves around, but “4th and Loud” is more about football hopefuls trying to make it at the professional level, even if the NFL doesn’t want them.
Unlike the KISS philosophy, which seeks to brand the band as wide and far as possible (after all, they have their own line of condoms and caskets), the players aren’t in it for the money – they love the sport and are holding on to the dreams of their youth before choosing different career paths. Speakeasy recently talked with Simmons about “4th and Loud,” the ups and downs of life as a football team owner, the Washington Redskins name controversy, and Donald Sterling. An edited transcript follows.
Los Angeles hasn’t had a football team in a long time. What was game plan to survive?
Lean and mean works. The NFL means well and they have a terrific product, but it takes billions to launch something. You have to buy buildings, accouterments and other big words. We don’t have to do squat. We can get Navy Seals and sink a destroyer all by ourselves. We bring new fans, [the league] has their fans, we can access their fans, one and one equals three in this case. But we were delusional. Of course that’s our self-imposed mandate, to be delusional and reach for the stars. You’re not gonna touch the stars, but you have to reach for them nonetheless. And we hit the ground with hiring our coach, who had never lost a single season in his entire career. Well, he just lost his first one, OK. But he didn’t have a fair pick of the players – all the best guys were picked up by the other teams. Our point of view with this show was to just show it all.
Sometimes it gets personal. Remember you’re up close. And we made sure that any of our fans … look, they threw caution into the wind, they bought tickets, they came to see a team that had never played before. That’s the loyalty based on the pop culture sugarcoating, I understand that. But it was our responsibility to give a no-holds barred experience. That meant, when the ball was on the ground, huddling for the next play – we’d give them entertainment. We had dancers hanging from the ceilings in cages, we had fireworks, we had extreme biking guys ..anything and everything that a KISS show has, we stick in there.
It’s apparent in the first episode that the KISS brand was not going to infiltrate in an over the top way.
It’s gotta be real football. Initially, there was some comments from the peanut gallery like “Oh, it’s called LA Kiss, we know exactly what it’s going to be.” No you don’t. We know what to do, when less is more. When food is in front of you and it’s plenty spicy, the last thing you want to do is add salt and pepper.
Are KISS fans sports fans?
We want new fans. Sports fans will take care of themselves. This is family entertainment. We want you to bring your kids to their first sports experience. As soon as the season ended, 40% of our season ticket holders re-upped right away. They love it. “4th and Loud” was not my take for the title of the show; I wanted to call it “L.A. Kiss.” A brand is a brand is a brand. But “4th and Loud” is the point of view that AMC had, and perhaps rightfully so, is lets skew it as football. And perhaps they’re right. When you tune in, you’re going to see real stuff. Some of it gets ugly, some of it heartwarming.
KISS sold a lot of records and played huge shows. But in a lot of ways, the band members have been underdogs and so are the players in the AFL. Can you talk about that connection?
This is the thing: They have nothing to lose and everything to win. They have a lot to prove, to themselves, to the team and the fans. The tragedy of losing that first season…guys were crying. They don’t look at this as a job. [Pauses.] That means something. I paused a bit because it affects me too. Guys are crying like they’re a 12-year-old kid. It breaks your heart. It says this means more than my salary, it means more than my branding [deal] for some shaving cream – they want to win.
When you met the other AFL owners in the pitch meeting, did they immediately take you seriously?
Yeah. We immediately got up, gave a speech, and said “Look, we never lose. We’re gonna make you proud, we’re gonna be your Tiger Woods. If you let us be a member of your family, we’re going to take AFL to heights it’s never seen before, immediately.” So the AFL is thrilled. They’re getting more attention than ever. Whenever a team plays us, boom! They get that extra lift. On their own, respectfully, they wouldn’t get the time of day.
How much does it cost to get a team up and running?
It sounds like a few hundred thousand dollars and it winds up being a few million.
Did you make back what you put into it on the first season?
Oh, I own the money bag logo – the dollar sign with the bag. Does that answer your question?
Yeah. Ultimately, the team struggled in the first season, going 3-15. What happened?
We don’t have the best players. We don’t. They’re just not the top of the pop. But they have the heart of a lion. In the middle of the season, we had to get rid of our quarterback. It’s like the Olympics – you do your best and if you don’t make it, you’re out.
What do you think of the Washington Redskins name-change controversy?
Well, look. There’s sports, there’s business and then there are people. As a Jew, I wouldn’t be thrilled as “The Kikes.” And if you’re black, you wouldn’t be thrilled with a football team called “The Blacks.” I could use a worse word. Because “Redskins” was what the white man called them. So I understand if you’re a sports fan and if you’re white, you go “Hey, what’s the problem? We have a long history.” But if you’re an Indian, think about it. White dudes don’t have to worry about that stuff because [they] were always the majority in imperialist countries of the world. “Cracker” means nothing to white people. They had all the money and the power.
If people are talking about your brand as being racist, is that bad for business?
Bad for business? I don’t know. But whether or not it’s bad for business or not, you’ve got to make the change. It was launched at a time when white people weren’t sensitive to the idea that you’re actually insulting an entire race of people.
Did you follow the Don Sterling story?
I’m on the side of Don Sterling.
You’re on the side of him?
I’m on Mel Gibson’s side, Don Sterling’s side and anybody who has a racist or an expletive rant privately. The difference between this guy, who’s heinous of course, or anybody else is that they were caught. Everybody [says] jokes that are off- color, or when they’re drunk. The difference between Sterling and everyone else is that he was caught on camera, by the way, without his approval. He was ambushed. I think he should have done penance and paid a fine. Here’s what’s going to happen. They’re going to go after Sterling and he’s going to put a few million dollars out there, because he can afford it – and he’s going to ask the paparazzi out there to find videos of all the other team members talking trash and racist rants. And then it’s open season. And if, because you say an off color joke or make a racist rant privately, that causes you to lose a job – nobody would have a job! Black people do it, Jews do it, Christians do it – everybody does it! It’s called America. Free speech. Even if free speech insults other people. Privately. Publicly, that’s different. I’m on the side of free speech in the privacy of your own home or privacy of the situation. Big brother has finally crawled in bed with us.
Social media has made people unaware of boundaries.
Well, laws have to catch up. This stuff has to catch up with technology. By the way, I don’t wait. When some of these kids shut down my site, I call my F.B.I. friends and they’re spending time, 15 years in jail. I go after them.
You have hackers hitting KISS sites?
Everybody has hackers. You may not know it, but you have it. And it’s not just hackers, people trying to get your ID numbers and your bank accounts – it’s lawless. There’s no laws about that.
But you take care of that?
Oh, yeah. Visit Langley. Make friends.
Has KISS thought about a follow-up to [2012’s] “Monster”?
Oh sure. We just need time. We have a restaurant chain called Rock & Brews, which is opening all over the world. We got the football team. We got the KISS Golf course, the KISS limo service. KISS World is around the corner – I don’t want to tell you what that is yet.
“4th and Loud” premieres on August 12 at 9 pm on AMC.