TORONTO – When Kiss mainstays Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons helped found an Arena Football League franchise last August, the “Love Gun” rockers did so armed with their typical arsenal of bluster: they publicly predicted a first-year championship.
The expansion Los Angeles Kiss then went 3-15 in an inaugural season that’s being documented in the new reality series “4th and Loud,” premiering Tuesday on AMC.
And now, Simmons concedes that there’s some blush spreading under the band’s trademark facepaint.
“(It was) heartbreaking,” said Simmons in a telephone interview Monday, calling his pre-season prognostication “foolish.”
“When you care about something, you want to start screaming. The games we saw on TV, we were screaming at the TV. The games we were at physically … you’re screaming your head off, because you care. You have a connection.
“But guess what?” he added, shifting gears. “Any champon, singular or plural, wants to win. That’s what makes you a champion. So we don’t have anything different in our hearts than every other team does out there.
“Dream big or go home.”
Well, as the premiere illustrates, the arena-rock band’s characteristically flamboyant bluster didn’t necessarily endear them to the rest of the league’s owners.
In one of the first episode’s more amusing scenes, Simmons and Stanley — both wearing sunglasses indoors — introduce themselves to a mostly suit-clad cluster of AFL owners, ingratiating themselves with their usual humble charm.
“The AFL is so misunderstood and, in some places, it’s practically unknown,” Stanley announces. “We’re here to shake things up and take this league to another level, which shamefully, it hasn’t been to.”
In a talking-head interview segment, Simmons then confirmed the duo’s tactical approach: “You will only get the respect you demand. You’ve got to be able to pee on the ground like an animal claiming its territory and say: ‘We are the kings of the jungle.'”
On Monday, however, Simmons softened slightly, saying he understood the skepticism of the rest of the league.
“I believe the other owners always suspect outsiders and as well they should,” said the 64-year-old. “You look at big-time rock stars and ‘they’re just doing this for the money’ — all that stuff.
“It’s like: ‘Show us.'”
And, in Simmons’ estimation, he and Stanley did just that.
He says the L.A. Kiss led the league in season-ticket sales, and that the team’s unyielding sensory barrage — fireworks, rock bands, motorcycle daredevils and daring cheerleaders Simmons would prefer to simply call “athletes” — allowed football nuts and non-fans alike to appreciate the spectacle.
That said, Simmons and Stanley did occasionally exercise a rare element of restraint. Early on, co-owner Brett Bouchy suggested that perhaps the players should take the field wearing Kiss makeup — a brainwave Simmons refers to now as a “popcorn fart.”
“Uhhhh, no, we’re not going to do that,” Simmons said, recalling his thinking at the time. “It’s gotta be real football.”
And although the show benefits each time the Kiss rockers and their outsized egos strut into the frame, “4th and Loud” indeed wrings most of its dramatic gravitas out of the struggle of the players.
Since the average AFL player earns only $830 per week, many simultaneously juggle part-time jobs. The AFL might be something of a last resort for career pro footballers, but as a result it’s an opportunity many approach with a sort of dire desperation.
Chatty cornerback Jorrick Calvin strives to make the team despite a still-broken ankle. Quarterback Colt Brennan, a college star and erstwhile Heisman Trophy finalist who suffered a serious brain injury in a car wreck, targets a starting spot but is told by a neurologist that his next injury could be life-threatening.
“It’s not reality TV, it’s reality,” said Simmons, promising that the show would delve further into the athletes’ lives off the field.
Of course, “football executive” is only one element of Simmons’ resume, and he’s currently ensconced in his main gig: a North American tour Kiss is co-headlining with ’80s glam metal mainstays Def Leppard, set to wind through Toronto on Tuesday.
And it’s here, back in his comfort zone, that Simmons relocates his flair for take-no-prisoners trash-talk.
After calling his tourmates a “great bunch of guys,” he shares an anecdote about Def Leppard frontman Joe Elliott, who he says likes to introduce Kiss’s performance each night. But in Simmons’ estimation, Elliott’s last introduction to the hard-rockers was a “little mouthy.”
“So of course I slimed him when I got offstage — just rubbed my face all over him,” attested Simmons. “It ruined his $600 British handmade shirt.”
So, there’s a sense of competition between the two venerable bands?
“Actually, when you see the show, you’ll see there’s no competition whatsoever.
“There’s no contest.”