KissFAQ: Adam, you initially came into the fold in 1982 for the Killers/Creatures albums, and then don't really have anything on KISS albums, such as "Lick It Up," "Animalize," and "Asylum." You're brought back into the fold for "Crazy Nights," though by that time you'd been writing for Gene projects such as E-Z-O and Black 'N Blue. What was your contact like with the members of the band in the intervening years?
Adam Mitchell: In the intervening years, I still was doing a lot of stuff with Gene, but I was also busy doing other things. I was screen writing, and it wasn't like I didn't want to anything with the guys after "Creatures of the Night," or anything like that. Paul and I had always remained friends and we used to go out almost every night. At one point we even double-dated roommates. So, we wrote all the time and we'd go bowling, the whole band or whoever else Gene or Paul would invite. So socially they were still very much in my life. Gene and I were still writing for bands he was working with like Black 'N Blue and E-Z-O, what a great record that was we did with that Japanese band!
That one was with Val Garay as well, right? I always found them to be a Japanese version of Living Colour. There's some great music on the album.
Yeah, that's right. It was a great record, and a number of people have come up to me over the years, even other musicians, and said how much they liked that record. So Gene and I had been doing that, and we wrote something for Silent Rage [Ed. Adam wrote "All Night Long" with Bruce Kulick for the "Don't Touch Me There" album], so we still were doing a lot of things -- so KISS was still very much part of my life. I was more involved in doing other stuff, and I wasn't even writing songs that much. I was really focusing more on screen writing at the time. So, at some point, I guess they were going to do a new record and Bruce was in the band by then. Bruce and I hit it off right away.
"Crazy Nights," where does the base idea for the song come from, you, Paul, or Bruce? What's the seed, a riff, or are you coming in at a more developed stage to refine?
By this point it was the mid to late '80s and they were taking a different approach -- a slightly more pop '80s' approach. In any case, Paul and I always wrote, but he came over one day and he said, "I want to write something about ... like that feeling that you get in the the arena when you're on stage and how it's like really magic. And the whole thing really starts to take on a life of its own." He says something like, "Crazy, Crazy Nights." That's what he was describing and I thought, "Well that's a good title," so we just took it from there.
How does a writing session with Paul go?
Well, it depends ... I mean first of all, I mean I'm a huge believer -- and this is one of the things when I'm teaching songwriting I really try to emphasize -- that all great songs, not great records, but all great songs are ideas which are set to appropriate music. "Detroit Rock City" is not about the guitar riff, it's an idea which is set to music. "Crazy Crazy Nights" and every other song that I ever wrote with Paul or with Gene is first an idea set to music. Sometimes, occasionally, you'll get a record where the music or the great riff somehow makes it works as a record. For example, when Paul and I finished "Crazy Crazy Nights" we had to go and play it for Gene. Gene naturally has to agree it should be on the record ... So, Paul and I went and played it for him. We'd done a demo at my house we, as we'd usually done, but if it didn't work as a song first it wasn't going to work as a full-blown record.
Do you both have guitars? Are you sitting down across from one another and saying, "Okay, what about this chord progression," or, "Hey, I've got this idea." Where does it come from, a root melody or lyrics?
You know, I can't remember exactly who started playing what, but we always worked at my place and with two guitars. There was one other song we wrote, which just never made it a record, called "Nightmare" we wrote at a place Paul had when he was first moving to L.A. But yeah, otherwise we always wrote in my studio at my house, and we just sat down with two guitars and a plugged-in and just start throwing ideas around. Paul was very good with lyrics. Paul's a big Bob Dylan fan, as we all are -- I mean all Bob Dylan did was change the entire world -- so, Paul has a very, very keen sense of lyrics as do I. We would just start throwing ideas around. One of the interesting things about "Crazy Crazy Nights," is that it's an unusual song in one sense. Absolutely all of it is written in the present tense, and most present-tense songs are really hard to write because they tend to just lie there. There's no dynamic tension that you get in most songs from the change between the past and the present -- or the present and the future -- as there is in most songs. But this song, in particular, had to be a present-tense song because it was really all about that feeling of being in the arena and the vibe in the arena. So, it is all in present tense except the very last line where Paul says, right at the end, "Nobody's gonna change me because that's who I am."
That's right. I've never noted that before.
Yeah, seems like a small thing but that line is very important because it brings a lot of dynamic tension, just that one line. I know that's a hard concept to grasp, but that one line being in the future. "Nobody's gonna change" me has a huge contextual frame around the rest of that song. But anyway, because the rest of the song's in the present tense, we had to come up with huge images. "This is my people, this is my crowd, this is our music. We love it loud." You know, "a million strong." You know, all the images in that song are really big, and I've talked about this before but one of the really interesting things has happened, even over the last, however many years it's been since I talked to Tim McPhate, is the number of other versions of this song that there are. Paul and I wrote it as this big up-tempo "arena" vibe song. But the number of other slow versions, beautiful versions, of "Crazy Crazy Nights" that I've heard, that have come along are fantastic. It's a testimony to the strength of this song.
Oh, without a doubt. A good song that can be translated between genres and styles is a great song. It's certainly not one-dimensional.
For sure. There's even a version done by Gregorian monks! I think Bruce Kulick told me about it and I thought he was kidding! But he wasn't. Also Kurt Nilsen did a version. And there was a version used in a vodka [Ed. Smirnoff, 2011] commercial that played throughout Europe which was beautiful. Even though Paul and I wrote it to be one thing, I never dreamed it would be something else. So we actually wrote a really good song.
It stood the test of time, obviously to be reinterpreted in different ways and be used in ways that were probably never originally envisaged.
It's one of KISS' biggest hits and in Europe you hear it all the time. It's still one of the most popular songs in Europe. They always play it when they go over there. I was in London about a year ago and you just hear it all the time. So, we wrote a really good song. We wrote a really good song because it accurately reflects the feeling that Paul walked in the door with.
You totally nailed it because it's a massive song. I remember in Britain in '87/'88, you couldn't escape it. I never got to experience that sort of reaction to KISS when living in America, so that makes the song one of my big KISS anthems.
Yeah. I remember they put it on the Christmas hits collection that they put out at the end of the year, "Now That's What I Call Music" [Ed. #10, Released on Nov. 23, 1987], and that sold another 2 or 3 million records.
You went into HMV or any record store and it was all over the place. Picture discs, CD-singles, poster sleeves. It was absolutely mental.
Oh, yeah, yeah. I don't know if it'd be, you know, the top 100 British songs of all time, but in Britain it's still huge. But the thing that really impressed and surprised me, and still does, is just how many other beautiful, slow version of it there are. That I never dreamed would happen and it works. It's a really good song.
I went to a KISS show in April this year and they brought that back into the set list. They had started doing that in 2010 when Tim spoke with you. It was actually an experience to see 2017 KISS still doing the song. 30 years later, the song it's now a "classic" in their catalog.
It's a classic, yeah.
Who would have thought that in 1987, '88, when the album doesn't quite meet expectations, in the U.S., at least?
That's for other reasons. The album actually sold several million in the U.S. as well and the album actually did really well. I think it was that period and KISS, when they were between kind of getting away from the heavy rock of "Creatures in the Night" and "Lick It Up," and getting into consciously being more commercial for whatever was going on in the '80s.
Oh, without a doubt. You had very polished acts. Bon Jovi is obviously the keystone with which to measure what was going on.
Their 1986 album, "Slippery When Wet," was highly polished. Same had been the case with Def Leppard's "Pyromania." And, of course, Ron Nevison had done "Ultimate Sin" which took a somewhat similar approach.
The chorus is massive on the demo, very much the sort of anthemic nature you expect from KISS with the bigger drums and I love it without the overt keyboards. A different beast completely that made me reappraise my opinion of Nevison's version. Were you involved in demoing material for the album?
Yeah, and Paul and I were both disappointed in that. I'd love to hear the original demo. We didn't do the demo in my studio; we did it at some studio on Sunset Boulevard. But, the chorus in the demo was fantastic because we wanted to sound like an arena.
And it does.
It does, and when I heard the record I was somewhat disappointed, but I thought, "Ron's made a lot of hit records, so wait and see." You know, when Paul came in it's not like he said, "We have to write a classic." We were just trying to write a good song and follow the feeling that he had when he came in the door with his idea.
He's got a very clear vision with his songwriting. I've always found, that whatever songs make the records and become classics, Paul's gone into their writing with a very definitive idea about what he wants to accomplish.
Oh, absolutely. I mean, Paul's a songwriter's songwriter. He's a real songwriter, you know. That's not to say Gene isn't, but what Gene cares about is what works.
Yeah, they're coming from different angles. There's something impeccable about Paul's lyrics most of the time. They don't often come across as throwaways. But those differences are what make them such a dynamic partnership. The contrasts...
Yeah, really. Well, I mean, Gene's the God of Thunder! (Laughs)
You can't argue with that, can you?
(Laughs) How subtle can you be?
Let's talk a little about "I'll Fight Hell to Hold You." I think Bruce had a little bit in that one as well. I was surfing YouTube today, and found a disco version of the song from 2001. I don't know if you've ever heard it?
Oh, my God, no. You've got to be kidding me.
Rod Gonzales from Die Artze. It's even got a Barry Gibbs-esque falsetto going on with the vocal and electronica throughout. "Saturday Night Fever" dance moves in the video. It's insane. The problem is, everything in the song that you just said about "Crazy Crazy Nights" being covered, in a sick and twisted kind of way it works. I had a big problem with Paul going so high in his vocal range on the song, that it becomes a little bit too high for my personal taste. I mean, obviously he knows what he's doing, but how do you recall that one coming together?
Well, again, it was probably the same with all of the songs that Paul and I wrote. We wrote nine or ten songs for different KISS albums. If I'm sitting down with Paul to write a song or for a KISS record, it's got to be a KISS song, not an Adam Mitchell song. I'm there to help Paul or Gene, in that case particularly Paul. I'm there to help Paul write a KISS song and bring whatever skill I can to help him write a KISS song. So in virtually every occasion, Paul would come in with an idea, often just a title.
In the case of "I'll Fight Hell to Hold You," he'd have a title, and then he would usually start singing, trying to turn that title into music that made emotional sense. Again, this goes back to the idea that songs are ideas set to music. Good songs, are not just music looking for some words. Occasionally records are written that way, but most, 99.9 percent of great songs, no matter whether it's country, pop, young modern pop, or whatever; it's an idea first. He had the idea that "I'll Fight Hell to Hold You" was expressing: "The strength of my love," you know, a common them in a million other songs.
So, a seed of an idea and two guitars and you're bouncing ideas off one another?
You know, it's in that whole genre, so once again we just sit down and start plunking away on the guitar and then try to craft a lyric that expressed and supported that idea. Offhand, I couldn't tell you the lyric for "I'll Fight Hell to Hold You" because it's been a long time since I wrote it. Once it started I could probably sing along, but (laughs) I've written an awful lot of songs in the years since! Anyway, that was my writing process with Paul. He, almost always, had some title or an idea that he would want to express, and we would work it out together a way to express it.
This was one of the songs from the album that always stood out for me. It's the heaviest of the keyboard songs of the three that you wrote with him. Was Paul ever using a keyboard during any of these sessions, or was it strictly guitars? Did you ever just tinker around?
We'd always write on guitar. I think there were a couple of things when we first started -- and I know I did with Gene -- where I would play keyboard. But basically, no. KISS is a rock band and rock means guitars. Whatever keyboard in the song came in was probably more Ron Nevison's influence. The third song we did on that record is "When Your Walls Come Down."
Right, there's a dynamic difference with that song, to the other two. It was one of the rarely performed tracks during the tour. It's much more of a traditional kind of rock song and doesn't really stretch into the anthemic "Crazy Crazy Nights" declaration.
Well, at least just "sound" wise, that's my favorite song on that record. I mean the engineering. I just like the sound of it. That one, to me, doesn't sound thin. It sounds really full. And again it was an idea that Paul had, and I can't remember precisely who he was singing about. And if I could remember, I wouldn't tell you! (Laughs). But, there is undoubtedly a person behind that song. That's the one, when I listen to the record that I really like. I think the sound on it is great.
One of the things I notice with the whole of the album, and I don't wanna get into a critique of Ron Nevison's production, because it's so subjective and really doesn't serve any purpose in hindsight, is the sound of the drums. On the several demos of songs that were recorded for the album, I don't know if they're programmed or if Eric was around, but they sound richer. They sound more like a traditional drum kit than the album versions which are very thin to my ears. They're lacking the sorts of dynamics and bombast we'd become used to on the previous three albums.
Yeah, that's my problem honestly and I've spoken frankly about this before. The album, you know, I think, was recorded on a SSL digital board. I'm not a fan of the digital boards, particularly at that time when they hadn't been around very long yet. I never liked SSL boards in particular and the album to me sounds thin. That was my initial misgiving right from "Crazy Crazy Nights" onwards. The drums... well, normally what we would do in all the other demos, like for "Creatures," and certainly for the ones on "KISS Killers," and then some of the later songs was... I had a drum machine and would program them. Like, for example, on "Creatures of the Night," for "Danger" and all those other songs, I would just program the drums and then poor Eric would have to try and copy what I had programmed -- (Laughs) which, in the case of "Danger" was not easy to do because the tempo was just so, you know, super up-tempo da, da, da, da, da!!!
Yeah, that sounds like a drummer's nightmare, to try and replicate naturally something that might have sounded good, but not necessarily have been realistic in reality.
But I think in the case of "Crazy Crazy Nights" we demoed it live at the studio. I don't remember what the drums were, but I'm pretty sure they were Eric's old drum kit.
I think Gene at times sampled Eric's drums anyway, from reels he had of takes on various songs, to put together some his demos. Just take a little bit at the right tempo, and loop it, and then chuck his stuff on top.
Yeah, that's right, he did. But, you can over-polish records some times. We had some friends over here the other night and I was just looking through some music channels on cable, to put some music on. And inadvertently a '60s music channel came up and they were playing stuff like Dylan's, "Like a Rolling Stone," what an incredible record. A lot of those '60s records were made under the most primitive conditions, but the energy is there and the drums are great but yeah, if you're not careful, you really can over-polish songs, and a lot of records in the '80s were simply over-polished.
Right, in many cases, they used electronic kits, or the sound became synthetic and over-processed in the mid '80s. And for the right sort of material it worked, but for other styles it could get dodgy.
Yes, it became synthetic. I mean, Bon Jovi's records were polished, but they were really well done, felt natural, and again Bon Jovi had great songs. Really great, and that's part of why they're still huge to this day. They have fantastic songs and their records "sound" pretty good. I think they might have been all done at the Power Station in New York -- or most of them -- which is a great big drum sound studio anyway. But, it's easy overpolish records and that was my problem with "Crazy Crazy Nights." To me, it was just was too thin sounding in the end.
Another big difference is that a band like Bon Jovi always had a keyboard player integrated in the band from day one. It was a part of what defined their sound, even if it took a couple of albums to really put all of the pieces together.
And that was really a different sound for a hard rock band. You know, they were more a pop rock band.
Bruce Fairbairn, who did "Slippery When Wet," did a fantastic job with the scope of sound he captured. Okay, perhaps that's more down to the engineering, the separation there between the instruments and the overall balances. It's near perfection. But, for KISS, the balance is a bit off. It's too much of a dynamic change from what "Asylum" had sounded like, or "Animalize or ... It's like a sonic speed bump in the middle of the road.
Here I think, they're in a difficult position because Bon Jovi had just come along. They were new then. They were all young. This is their sound and Bon Jovi is not faced with the problem of the way their music is changing like KISS is. "How do we transition here?" All things considered, I think KISS managed that transition incredibly well and the truth is they came out of it bigger than ever.
Yeah, KISS was fighting and grinding all through the '80s from one album to the next they kept working and trying and Paul was steering the ship alone. I think that's without any doubt at this time with Gene working on side projects. That's not to denigrate his contributions in any way. But Paul was really fighting to keep Kiss relevant. And "Crazy Nights" is a massive statement of, "Here we are. We're still relevant. We're not dead yet, and we can do the same thing everything Bon Jovi's done as young whipper snappers!"
Yeah, exactly, and if you think about how it's really not easy. KISS came along and it would be easy to say, "Oh well, it was just the makeup that made them a big band." And then that's all over -- and as soon as they took off the makeup it was over -- but they did take off the makeup, and they still survived, and they still sold records. As I said, "Crazy Nights" sold a lot of records and they did make that transition. So that's pretty amazing. And you think how long they've been around now, since 1973, or whatever it is.
Yes, 45 years strong at this point and still going.
And they are bigger than ever.
"Are You Always This Hot" was the twelfth song recorded for the album, but was apparently deemed superfluous. This song always comes up when you're asked about the album, so go ahead and roll your eyes now! Let's talk about it in "The World According To Garp," which I watched that yesterday.
Haha! I got a check for that just the other day!
Wow, you did?
Yeah, I actually did get a very small check, yes.
What's the context of your original demo for that song being in the movie? Because, when I was watching the babysitter scene yesterday, it was an Alice Cooper song that come on when she turns on the radio in that scene.
Well, the thing is, when it went to video, I don't know why they changed it. Maybe they had to pay too much. In the original movie in the theater release it was in there. But in the later video release all of a sudden it's not in there. I hadn't seen the movie in the theater, or maybe I had, I can't remember. But I didn't even know my song was in the movie until I was watching the video one night. And that scene came on where the babysitter turns up the radio as Garp gets in the car to take her home. That was definitely my original demo of my original song - to be clear, not the later one of the same title I wrote with Gene. The one in the movie is my original demo, that I wrote all myself with me singing and me playing. That's what's in "The World According To Garp." A couple of years later, Gene heard it said, "I'd like to write another song with this title, I just love this title so much." So, he and I wrote another song called "Are You Always This Hot." Same title, different song.
Was there any resemblance between the two apart from the title?
So KISS fans probably shouldn't go searching for really old copies of the "Garp" video, to find yours?
Mine was more like a Chuck Berry, sort of rock and roll thing. And like I said, it's me singing, me playing bass, me playing drums, guitar, everything. But it's a totally different song.
Right, it's certainly not on the current iTunes version. That features "A Long Way Home" by Alice Cooper in the scene.
I can't remember what the original was if it was Alice Cooper or not. I can't remember what the theatrical release was because they may have changed it again, you know, depending on how much they have to pay to license the song. I did get a huge check the other day for, like, (laughs) $80.00.
You're still getting at least some money out of it at least. So, that's a good thing.
A demo of "Dial L For Love" was released on Eric Carr's "Unfinished Business" several years ago. You co-wrote that with Gene and Eric. What do you recall of that one, and working with Eric on song ideas? How did the process work with him? Did it ever get lyrics?
You're asking the wrong guy, it's so long ago! We did finish it and we did do another demo of it. I think it might've been Eric's original title which Gene loved. It fit right in with "They Call Me Doctor Love," "God of Thunder," and stuff. Gene likes that kind of title, you know, big. I remember being over at Gene's house at the time; before he built the mega mansion he had a smaller house on the same property. I remember being over there with the two of them working on it. But what we actually did I have no idea.
Well, that's fair enough. The last few questions I have are just some quick comments on a few other songs that you did with band members. One is "Street Legal," that surfaced a few years ago. That's a song you wrote with Gene, apparently (according to publishing documentation). I could play you a little bit of it if it'll jog your memory.
Yes, please ...
No idea! You could tell me somebody else wrote it, and I'd believe you.
I won't torture you with any more of that: "I don't care how old you are, you're old enough for me!" It's like an attempt at a 1988 version of "Christine Sixteen."
Yeah. Honestly, you could've told me somebody else wrote that and I'd believe you. It vaguely rings a bell. I'll have to ask Gene if he actually remembers that one. Where did you get the demo?
That came from a studio reel sold on eBay that had that had a couple of takes of that song and "Something Wicked This Way Comes," which Gene gave to Doro a couple years later, and had nothing to do with you.
I completely forgot about that one.
You can see why they didn't use it. But, musically it's decent enough for the period.
Yeah. That wouldn't have been one of my ideas. It sounds like one of Gene's titles, you know. His titles are usually big and, and edgy like that.
That's one that's gonna grab your attention when you hear it! Maybe it's going be on his box set. Phil Ashley recalled a demo for "When Two Hearts Collide." That was a song that Paul was writing for Cher, I believe...
Paul and I wrote that. "When Two Hearts Collide" was my idea. Yeah, I remember Phil. I hadn't thought about Phil in a long time. Nice guy! But no, that was my idea. That was an exception in that we wrote it at Paul's apartment in New York when he was still living there. No, I remember that very well. He was, he was trying to do something with Cher at the time, which I don't think ever came to fruition, but yeah, we did write it with Cher in mind.
There's so much stuff in this period. He was writing with Vini Poncia as well. Do you remember Paul coming to you and saying, "I'm writing for other people, I want you to work with me on this idea for someone else?"
Not specifically him saying those words. But Paul and I had always stayed in touch and I did go to New York specifically to work with him on that song. I was still living in LA at the time. There were a couple of other ideas too but those weren't songs I particularly enjoyed writing. I never liked writing songs for artists unless you're actually in the room with the artist. Because whenever you come up with an idea that you think might work, or your publisher say, "Oh, I hear they're looking for this or they're looking for that," trust me, they almost always end up looking for something else and the whole thing will have been a waste of time. It's like writing for movies -- my least favorite thing in the world to do. There are too many people involved with too many different opinions, so it's better when you just sit down and try to write a good song. And then, if somebody else wants to do it, fine. Let it find its own home.
I guess if the artist's in the room with you they could put their fingerprints on it and become a part of the process or the song in some ethereal way?
Exactly. I'm trying to think if I've written with any other artists other than KISS. I never expected KISS was gonna be more than two days work anyway. It just so happens that we clicked and it turned out to be all those years. But no, with some exceptions -- Tommy Conners and Willie Mack in Nashville are great guys I always liked writing with -- but normally, no I don't I enjoy co-writing. It's like having somebody else inside your head. Again, with exceptions. Paul and I wrote some great songs. And Gene and I wrote a lot of good songs. But generally I prefer to write myself. With KISS, it was easy because they knew what they wanted. So for me, "Okay, I totally get this and then get on with it." You're right there with the artist and they can say yes or no right there. But when you're sitting in the room trying to write and the artist isn't there, who knows what they want?
You might as well be herding cats to a certain extent.
Oh yeah. Totally.
Indecisive in that sense. I have one more question; before I ask you about what you're up to currently, and that's obviously Gene is working on his box set. Has he been in touch with you about any material that may appear on it?
Are we finally going to get to hear "Chrome Goes Into Motion?"
I don't think that one's on there, but there are several others that he and I had written. Including the very first song I ever played for him when he came over to my house. It's called "Something Seems To Happen At Night." He really liked it and so we took my original track and put his vocal on it. There's at least five other songs on there that I was a cowriter on.
Very cool. Like what?
"Are You Always This Hot," our version of that I think is one of them...
Okay, don't give me anymore! I don't want to ruin any surprise or suspense for the fans! We're so far away from the '70s and '80s when new things in music were a surprise. We'll keep that all secret. So what are you working on these days? You have a new album out?
Yeah, a new album came out a couple of months ago and it's doing really well. It's an Americana album called "Back When We Were Cool." On iTunes, search for Adam Mitchell, "Back When We Were Cool," and please download the whole album from iTunes. Don't use Spotify because the truth is all songwriters get ripped off unmercifully by Spotify. We get paid something like a thousandths of a cent per play. It's criminal. So please, download from Itunes. It's a really good album. (Laughs) Ask Gene. He loves it. On the sales chart that it's on, the Americana chart, it took a jump from number 98 to number 45 in the first week. Life is good and I'm excited to see what lies ahead!
The KissFAQ thanks Adam for participating in the Danger Zone, celebrating the 30th anniversary of KISS' "Crazy Nights" album. Adam can be found at http://www.adammitchellmusic.com.
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