KISS: 'Alive!' Photographer FIN COSTELLO Interviewed

September 11, 2005

In celebration of the 30th anniversary of the first KISS live album, "Alive!", Kiss Kollector Online has posted portions of an exclusive interview with "Alive!" photographer Fin Costello, which will appear in its entirety in the November issue of KISS Kollector magazine, along with some of Fin Costello's photos (including a never-before-seen behind-the-scenes shot of Ace Frehley). An excerpt from the Costello interview follows:

Kiss Kollector Online: The first time you photographed KISS was on March 21, 1975 at the Beacon Theatre in New York. What did you think of them wearing all that make up and outlandish costumes and why did you decide on photographing an unknown band?

Fin Costello: "I had only moved to the U.S. a few weeks before that show and was in at AGI with Peter Corriston [who designed KISS' 'Dressed to Kill' album sleeve] working on the design ideas for the first RAINBOW cover when he asked me if I wanted to see KISS — who were virtually unknown then outside the New York area — at the Beacon just around the corner. I had been shooting the Brecker Bros at Todd Rundgren's studio that afternoon so I had the cameras with me. I have often described it as being akin to the Gates of Hell or Dante's Inferno. They were doing the first number when we came into the back of the theatre and I had never seen anything like it. Smoke, flames, etc. and the audience going ballistic. See the first tour programme for the pictures from that gig. The costume and makeup were perfect for the scary theatrical show they had conceived."

Kiss Kollector Online: How did you end up shooting KISS for their first live album back in '75?

Fin Costello: "They day after I had shot them at the Beacon Theatre gig, I showed Joyce Biawitz and Bill Aucoin the shots. They liked them and brought the band in to see them. At that point I showed them some other work I had done, such as DEEP PURPLE's 'Made In Japan', and of course the HEEP album."

Kiss Kollector Online: Did the band ever thank you for the inspiration and everything, or perhaps award you with a gold record?

Fin Costello: "Yes, they did, and I had a gold disc, but it was stolen from my studio at a party there in the '80s along with a Michael Jackson one."

Kiss Kollector Online: Who decided not to take the photo at the actual live show at the Cobo Hall, but at the empty Michigan Palace instead?

Fin Costello: "Michigan Palace was a rehearsal place then (a Victorian music hall and home gig of the STOOGES and the MC5, now a car park) where we shot a promo film and did the publicity shots for the album which was to be recorded the next day at Cobo. I got them to do the 'STATUS QUO' pose (Gene's words) a few times, which is where the shot came from. At that time we were just shooting every idea that came to mind. I was still thinking we would get the cover shot at the actual gig."

Kiss Kollector Online: What can you tell me about the photo on the album's back cover? Fuelled by comments from the late Sean Delaney, fans have wondered for quite some years now whether that photo was really taken at a big KISS show or not. Sean once told me that he took you along with the big banner to a sold-out STYX show to get some good shots for the back cover. As Sean claimed, there's not a single person in a KISS t-shirt or in KISS make-up on that photo. Before someone starts believing in a conspiracy theory, please set the record straight for once and for all… Did you take the photo at the Cobo Hall (or any other KISS show)?

Fin Costello: "The shot is taken at Cobo — on the contact sheets I have other shots of the kids and some taken from the top of the hall looking down on the stage. I saw the two kids with the banner and asked them down to the front to get a shot with the big crowd behind them so that we could show how big a draw the band were by then. It was intended for press and magazines but was used on the cover. I think Sean — great guy, by the way — is mixing up another story where a RUSH photo was used for a 'guide dummy' on a RAINBOW cover and the record company used it on the final sleeve, airbrushing out the RUSH t-shirts. Remember, this was before the KISS Army was launched and there were not many KISS t-shirt's about then. Incidentally, sitting on the right of the two kids with the banner are Chad Smith (RED HOT CHILLI PEPPERS) and his brother Richard who were then at one of their first gigs."

Kiss Kollector Online: Judging from the many KISS photos you shot that year, you must have had a good relationship with band and management. What was working, and interacting, with them like?

Fin Costello: "With all the bands I have worked with, I was always more of a crew member than an outside photographer. I would travel with them and always let them see the pictures before they went out. I also did a lot of pictures of family/kids/girlfriends, etc. but never let those out so a trust built up and I have always had a reputation for that. Also I would always get them involved in the ideas and concepts and take on board their ideas (see the Ozzy covers). It was collaborative. Bill and Gene were fantastic to work with and full of ideas. The bike shoot was my idea for Poster magazine in Sweden and Bill organized the Fire House Studio in New York ('Ghost Busters 1') because he knew the potential of the shot and also that I didn't have that kind of budget for a magazine shoot."

Kiss Kollector Online: This year it's 30 years ago that KISS released "Alive!" What's the difference between those days and nowadays? I guess it's not so much a community anymore as back then in the early '70s?

Fin Costello: "Yes, back then the bands were closer to the audience and related to them more. I had often stood at a bar with the musicians and the fans having a drink. That doesn't happen anymore. Also back then they wanted to be in a band and be musicians in the first place, and that explains why there were so many great records during that period. Nowadays a lot of them just want to be stars first and musicians later. The other thing is that we were all the same age group and had grown up on ELVIS, LITTLE RICHARD, etc. and were in fact writing the story for the first time then. I grew up in the London clubs of the '60s with people like Mick Jagger, Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce, etc. where we were all fans of the blues and shared the same influences. It was a very small community of music fans back then. Bands like MÖTLEY CRÜE and GUNS N' ROSES were trying to copy their heros, like ZEP and the STONES, and that is never the same as doing it for the first time. Now the major record companies treat the music like any other marketable commodity and often the staff could just as well be selling soap powder rather than music."

Kiss Kollector Online: When you lived in Connecticut and they were all still living in New York, did you ever party or hang out with KISS? Or on the road, while on tour?

Fin Costello: "No, I have only hung out with a few of the bands I've worked with and that more on a family level. Peter Criss and his wife came up to the house in Connecticut a couple of times for dinner and to do the 'car' shot for Creem."

Kiss Kollector Online: I believe you're planning a coffee table book. how many KISS photos will be in there?

Fin Costello: "There is a lifetime retrospective exhibition and a book in the planning but no fixed date yet. Yes, KISS will feature along with comments from many musicians who grew up with KISS 'Alive!'Jon Bon Jovi, Dani Filth, Ozzy, etc. etc. It was one of the most influential albums of the '70s and I am immensely proud to have been involved."

Kiss Kollector Online: Is there anything else you'd like to share with the KISS fans worldwide?

Fin Costello: "Only that it's nice to be part of what is now a worldwide community which seems to be growing rather than diminishing. Also thanks to everybody who comments so favorably about the shots."

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