After chatting with the likes of “Prince,” “Freddie Mercury,” “Mick Jagger” and “Jon Bon Jovi,” I recently had the opportunity to have a conversation with “Peter Criss” of KISS, KISS Army, actually, and that four-piece tribute band will be making an appearance at The ELM in Waterville next Thursday, Nov. 14. Reached at his home in Louisville, Kentucky, Steve Clark (who performs as Peter Criss and is joined by Marc Shadows as Gene Simmons, Bryan Angel as Paul Stanley, and Rob Evans as Ace Frehley) was more than happy to talk about his band and what folks can expect with their Waterville debut appearance.

Q: How long have you been involved with the KISS Army project?
Clark: This is 27 years that I’ve been doing this.

Q: With the same line-up?
Clark: We have had changes — as in evolution — through trial and error over the many years. It’s been a growing project since day one and it’s a project of passion that always has focused on trying to exceed its last impression. So, we’re always going back to formula — day to day, year to year — trying to bring much more impact to that formula. It’s a very special project.

Q: And what years of KISS’ career does this span?
Clark: Well, we try to pay tribute to the Kiss phenomenon up until about the 1978 year — we pretty much stop around that point. We try to take people back to the original impact that the group had on the world. We kind of stop right when they were at their peak of 70’s shock rock impact.

Q: Having seen and interviewed the band several times over the years, I think it’s neat that you are honing in on the years when Gene, Paul, Ace and Peter were probably the most outrageous and dynamic, building the foundation for what was to follow.
Clark: Absolutely. I mean, we try to remind people that we’re there, try to take them back — as best as we’re capable of — to a time when the world was concerned about who shot J.R. and what Kiss looked like without make-up.

Q: Now, am I correct in assuming that you have been in this project since the beginning?
Clark: Oh, yeah, I’ve been a part of this project since its inception and been like the quality-control freak, as well. I’m the leader — the mother hen, if you will — but it’s a project of passion. Everything from the style of playing, of the instruments that we use, and the character portrayal to go with the musicianship … it’s a very well-rounded project. We like to think that we bring all of those elements to the forefront, things that are often overlooked and don’t seem to be equal all the way around — we try to make sure that we put that message together with as much of an exclamation point in favor of the original formula to the best of our abilities as musicians.

Q: How long have you guys been perfecting your skills?
Clark: We started playing instruments literally in the late 70s/early 80s, inspired by Kiss in the first place, so we grew up on this and it’s kind of like in our bloodstream. It’s very much second nature in our case to replicate their musical style and their approach.

Q: What has been the reaction of concert-goers to your efforts?
Clark: We have many fans come up to us all the time telling us how we remind them of KISS more than KISS themselves, as odd and crazy as that sounds. I think that probably comes from the amount of detail that we put into the members and our salute to the guys one by one. You really get a well-perfected impression from the band all around, I think, in this project.

Q: Now Kiss was pretty spectacular with their stage shows and presentation — you know: dripping blood, breathing fire, and pyro, lots of pyro! Do you get into some of that with your production?
Clark: Well, we do as much as is feasible in our world. I mean, we don’t have a million-dollar backing production company behind us, yet (chuckle) … it’s certainly possible that that may happen before we’re done. I mean, we utilize stage props and things of that nature in all kinds of different settings and different size setups everywhere, but our whole premise is to remind people — in costume, make-up and member to member — so much of Kiss that if we’re in whatever-size venue that can’t accommodate all these bells and whistles of background presentation, that people come up to us and still say — and mean it — that they felt we took them back to 1977. And we did that as a band and that’s something to be very proud of.

Q: Back in March, I interviewed Patrick Myers, who portrays Freddie Mercury in the tribute band, Killer Queen. I saw him in street clothes at soundcheck, but when he came out of his dressing room at meet-and-greet he was Freddie Mercury — it was an amazing transformation.
Clark: It’s truly amazing when you can have that, you know, that’s what makes the whole point of a tribute and a salute to an artist valid and invaluable for the purpose of going to see it. All of these artists that do this — even in our world with what we’re about — we know we’re not them, we’re just four lucky, fortunate fans that get to do something like this and entertain people.

Q: Have you ever performed in Maine before?
Clark: I believe so. But it’s been a good handful of years.

Q: Now for my traditional closing question. Is there anything, Steve, that you’d like me to pass on to the folks reading this article?
Clark: Sure, they could keep up with the group through Facebook, which is KISS ARMY: The Coolest Band In The World — that’s actually the title of the band. They can pull us up there, give us a “like,” and keep up with where we’re going and what we’re doing. … Also, we’re looking forward to this event in Waterville; I think it’s going to be a fantastic show.

Lucky Clark has spent 50 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.

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