Interview with Dennis Woloch

The design wizard

Ever since I since I discovered Kiss in the 70′s, the design and packaging of the albums and merchandise have always fascinated me. And the ‘magic world’ of illustrations and typography It showed me had a lot to do with my own choices later in my working life. So It’s a real pleasure to be able to publish this interview I have done with the Kiss design ‘mastermind’ in the 70′s and 80′s, Dennis Woloch. It’s a dream I have had since I read the great interview he did with the ‘Kiss This’ fanzine in the beginning of the 90′s. And thank you very much Dennis for being to willing to answer these questions. You have made my day.

Q. Tell us a little about your background and what kind of work you did for you did for Howard Marks before you started working with Kiss.

I was the Art Director at Howard Marks Advertising in New York for 22 years. Eventually I became the VP/ Creative Director.
As an art director, my job is to come up with concepts for the project at hand, then design it and do the layout. If the job calls for an illustration or photograph, it’s the art director’s job to select the right person for that particular project. You bring it to life.

Some of our clients were Wall Street firms, Women’s shampoo, Cosmetics and Diaper Services (they competed with disposable diapers) So my experience and challenges were all over the place. We also had a greeting card Company (American Greetings) for a client. We did a large project which used pop star music celebrities, their photos and lyrics to some of their music on posters and greeting cards. I was getting experience in showbiz. We had so many projects and clients that I could not remember 5 percent of what we did in those days. We were busy.

Q. You saw Kiss before you started working with them. What was your first impression of the band and how did you end up working with them?

We were an advertising agency. I was art director/ creative director for lots of years and we became involved with KISS because my boss knew Bill Aucoin through the advertising business because Bill Aucoin was a director. He used to do commercials.

So we used to go down to this place where Bill Aucoin worked and we would edit and shoot various commercials for various clients for the agency. And then Bill got involved with KISS. Bill sublet some office space from Howard. So he was up there, you know, down the hall in the office right next to my boss’s. So he was there all the time. Before KISS he branched out and he wanted to be a freelance director and not be tied to the company he had worked for. So he Partnered with my boss and they formed a company called Direction Plus to do TV-commercials and advertising. Then he got involved with KISS and of course we were right there at the beginning. We saw the guys. They used to hang around the office. And when I saw one of their their very first rehearsals, which was in some little room somewhere… I thought they were very outrageous, kinda scary.. they went out and did their first three album covers without us. They just went out and did them because, you know, we were an advertising agency and you don’t usually associate that with the record business at all. It’s kind of a separate kind of thing. So they did their first three albums the usual way, however that’s done, through the record company.

Bill walked into the art department one day and said…I’m managing a new band and they wear this make-up but they put it on in a amateurish manner. Will you come to their first album photo shoot and help put the make-up on in a more professional way.

I thought for a second and then I suggested a better person (as an art director that is the way I think.. the correct person or talent for the job). I suggested David Byrd who is a great illustrator and I knew him because I had used him on other jobs. So David and a couple of assistants went to the photos shoot and did the make- up. He invented Peter’s silver nose. I was there and watched.

I did some small design jobs for the band after that but when It was time for their fourth album Bill asked me to design it. And I did every album in a row after that until 1988 “Crazy Nights”.

Q. How was the process when you made the Kiss covers? Who came up with the ideas etc.?

It’s the Art Director or Creative Director’s job to come up with concepts for whatever the project. If it is an advertising job, then the art director and writer would usually work on it together as a team. But album covers are visual pieces so it came down to me, the art director (I was made the Creative Director at some point during my time working with KISS)

I had to do lots of sketches (comps) we called them comps… Short for comprehensive – to show the band and my boss. I showed the work of the photographer or the illustrator that I was planning on using. Sometimes the band had an idea or my boss had one and I had to sketch that up. Mostly these were not done. But it was a lot of extra work for me.

Q. You seem to have been involved with a lot of other things than just working with Kiss than just the artwork for the album covers. What other work did you do with and for them?

I designed all of their tour books. I worked with the merchandise people to design the t-shirts and other KISS merchandise. The first job I ever did for the band I think was a little item. They made pins out of their signatures and it came on a piece of cardboard that hung on a rack in the stores. This had to be designed a bit so I made Gene’s in red, Paul’s in purple, Peter’s in green and Ace’s in blue. This was the first time I assigned colours to each band member. It went completely unnoticed because it was such small job and KISS was not a big band at that time. Years later when I did the Solo albums for them, I remembered the colours and did it again with the back lighting effect on their hair. They used the colour scheme elsewhere too like in the costumes for photo shoots.

Q. Ken Kelly has said; ‘I had some input into the Love Gun cover but not the Destroyer cover. Dennis Woloch, the art director for KISS knew just what he wanted for that one. I was the mechanic who put his thoughts to paper.’ Was the idea for the Destroyer cover entirely yours, or did anybody Kiss/the management have any preferences for what they wanted?

Sean Delaney, had some creative input on the Destroyer cover. I think he was telling me how he would like them posed. I added my own thoughts and gave the job to Ken Kelly. I remember standing on a table with my fists in the air trying to convey the idea to Ken.

Q. Ken Kelly has a first version of the Destroyer album painting that he calls ‘Kiss brown’ on his site. Could you tell us a little about why the first version was rejected?

Ken tells the story better than I ever could on his site…

Q. Tell us a little about working with these artists.

  • Ken Kelly
  • Michael Doret
  • Victor Stabin

Ken and Michael were total professionals and a pleasure to work with.

Q. The stories of the behind the Destroyer, Rock and Roll Over, Love Gun and Unmasked covers are quite well known. But Eraldo Carugatis work on the solo albums seem like the ‘forgotten artwork’. There hasn’t been much written or told about the process making those covers. Sadly he died so he can’t tell the story himself. What are you memories about him and making the solo covers?

When this project came to me to design, I knew it had to be extra special and timeless in it’s look. I thought painted portraits would achieve that. Better than photos, these paintings should be iconic I thought. i kept the album design simple as can be so it would not ever look “dated”. I changed the KISS logo to a double outline -thought it had a bit more sophistication. It is also “lighter” in feeling.

My partner in many of these projects Vinnie DiGerlando, (we worked side-by side for 15 years) found some work done by illustrator Eraldo Carugati in one of our Illustrator’s annual books that showed the best work of the year. I was not sure he was right for the job, but we gave him a chance and asked for some rough paintings to see if he could do it. He did very well, but I was still skeptical. We gave him the job anyway. We went out to Chicago to check on the progress of the paintings (Eraldo lived in Chicago)

They were spectacular. One thing. He didn’t know how to do the lower neck area on the portraits…they just kind of abruptly ended. So I suggested a fade-to-black and he walked the portraits down the hall to another room where the air brush artist was. He did the fade out. Eraldo worked in a large graphics company where they did everything – retouching, illustration of all kinds, etc. A big place.

We left him to finish and went back to New York. Eraldo came to NY a week later with the finished work.

They were perfect except Gene needed a little something more. So we thought a little drop of blood coming down from the lip would be just the touch it needed. And Eraldo came with little palette, his painter’s palette, took it out of an envelope, got his little brush and asked for a glass of water. And he dipped his brush and he’s mixing up this red stuff and he just starts painting like right on the beautiful perfect painting of Gene. I held my breath as he did it hoping he would not mess it up. But he rendered the most perfect little drop of blood complete with shadow and highlight in about 3 minutes.

I loved Eraldo. He was a first class gentleman. And a genius.

Q. Did you ever have a concept that were more or less finsihed before It was scrapped?

I guess the two that Ken Kelly did… We had almost finished paintings on both Destroyer and Love Gun . These were scrapped for the versions we finally did. I did a lot of layouts for Creatures of the Night that never went any further. They were too complex with the band standing around in a swamp or something at night and animals all around etc. These ideas did have a nice fantasy feeling but we went with the simple glowing eyes and I think we made the right decision.

Q. It’s often difficult to see how much work and money that goes into a cover. What was the most expensive cover you made with Kiss?

On most covers, I did a lot of layouts and put in a lot of hours. The cost of a photographer or illustrator could vary, but most were not cheap. If it was a photo we spent a small fortune getting the best colour prints, (dye transfer) and then using the best retouchers. Remember, all of the work I did for KISS was pre-computer. Everything done by hand. If I did a layout and someone wanted to see the title of the album in a different colour, I had to go back to the drawing board and do it all over again by hand – hours of work. Once I had the final mechanical done (this is the paste-up of all art and typography-ready for the printer) we had press proofs made. This is never done. It’s way too expensive. It is actually printing the job before it gets printed if you know what I mean. But we were very quality conscious (the agency) It’s a way to troubleshoot before the job gets on the press and you’re running 250,000 copies.

This proved to be a good idea when we did Rock and Roll Over. Micheal Doret had done the art in such a way so that you could not really see what it looked like until it was printed. He did everything on clear acetate with many overlays and each sheet represented a colour or a percentage of a colour. We thought we’d get a really “clean” printing job with the art prepared this way. So we did a press proof and it looked great. When I had to go on the press check (when they are printing the album cover) and watch it run and give it my “OK”. The job was not looking a good as it should have. The printers wanted me sign offf on it saying that it fell within the boundaries of acceptability. I said no, and they walked away from me to let me make a decision. This was 3 o’clock in the morning – two hours away from Manhattan where I lived. They always seemed to put the KISS job on press in the middle of the night. Well, it’s a good thing i know something about the printing process because by process of elimination I pinpointed the reason the job was not going well. The Master pressman looked at me and shook my hand. He knew I was right. I went away for two hours while they changed the film and plate on one of the colours. It looked beautiful after that.

The most we spent was on “Unmasked” I think Victor Stabin under estimated how long it would take him to do it. He changed his price at least twice during the painting of the cover and missed a bunch of deadlines, too. But I really liked the final art. Especially the last panel (Gasp!) from which we made a poster.

Q. How involved was Sean Delaney on the covers/artwork and how were your relationship with him? He seems like a person that was more or less involved with most Kiss related stuff during the 70’s without being credited for his work.

Sean and I had a good relationship. He was KISS’s first road manager. He also put in a lot of KISS”s signature stage moves. Like rocking back and forth in unison. KISS hated and fought that, but Sean and Bill Aucoin won the argument. And you know it’s one of the coolest things they do on stage. Sean “discovered” Toby Beau the western rock band from Austin Texas. And they had that big hit “Angel Baby”.

As mentioned before, he had some ideas for the “Destroyer” cover…like how the band should appear to be super heroes. It sounds like nothing now, but before this who else did it?

Q. Did the image make It easier or more difficult to come up with concepts for the band? And did the removal of the make-up in in 1983 do anything with the focus on the covers?

Good question. The image made it more exciting. I’m a visual person that’s why I became a artist/designer. So KISS’s image was very exciting to work with. Maybe not easier just more inspirational. I wanted to do their concept and image justice so I worked hard and threw away the obvious solutions.

Q. The photo sessions we have seen very few photos from are the Dynasty and Creatures Of The Night album sessions. The picture used for the Dynasty poster was recently on eBay. and The only picture I have ever seen from the Creatures Of The Night «swamp session» are the one that were used for the promo poster. Do there exist a lot of outtakes from those two sessions? If they exist do you have some of this stuff yourself or does the record company still own It all?

I have no outtakes from these sessions. But there were not many..I mean to say we didn’t try other set ups or shots. Kind of went in with a idea and just shot it. Dynasty was shot by famous photographer Francesco Scavul- lo. We spent a long time just getting their four heasds together and making everyone look good. As it turned out, we had to use different guys from different shots and put it all together with retouching. The only experiemnt we tried was the straightjacket picture which became the poster inside the record jacket with black turtlenecks.
The “Creatures” shoot was similar in that we had a concept and worked for a time just getting that right but we did set up a fake “stage” with the sky and moon behind them. This was to become a poster. (The loudest band in the world?) I can’t remember what it said.

Q. Did you try out any other concepts for the The Elder cover?

I was going to commission a painting with a little boy in front of the castle door. And we made props that never got used. the knocker on the door for instance was made at least twice. The door was built and sent back to the prop man for a more distressed look. And we shot it with a models hand that Paul did not like so his hand posed for the shot.

Q. What are your favourite Kiss cover and what is the one you like the least?

I like Rock and Roll Over, Destroyer and Creatures of the Night the best. Lick It Up and Animalize are my least favourites only because I think l could have done so much more with them. I like my hand lettering for Animalize however. India ink on paper towel.

Q. Most if not all Kiss fans seem to think that the work you did with Kiss is just incredible. The odd one out seems to be the Asylum. People either seem to love It or hate It. Could you tell us a little about the how the cover came about?

Paul liked an album cover l he saw by the Motels. It was a high contrast photo of a face with painting done on it in primary colors. It was a mistake for me to try to emulate someone elses idea. Although I didn’t really copy it it was influenced by it obviously. I still don’t think it’s that bad. It is strong graphically anyway.

Q. In 2009 Kiss worked with Michael Doret again. Have you seen It and if what do you think of the Sonic Boom cover?

I think it’s a good cover by Michael. I don’t think it’s the best thing he’s ever done. I read where he said it was the best thing he’s ever done but that sounded like Gene or Paul telling him to say that. I could be wrong but I know those two guys. The best think Michael ever did as far as I am concerned is Rock and Roll Over.
The lettering is great.

Q. Have you have any involvement or talked to any of the Kiss members after you stopped working for them in 1987? Would you like to work with them again if they approached you?

1988 Was the last time i worked for them. “Crazy Nights” was the album. Paul came down to the photo studio to watch us shoot. Walter Wick was the photographer who was great with tricky stuff.
I have had no contact whatsoever with the band since then. Of course I’d work with them again-anytime.

Q. As a collector of Kiss artwork I have the amazing signed Dynasty outtake poster. Do you plan to sell more signed stuff like that in the future like Ken, Michael and Victor has done?

I’m assuming you mean the straitjackets picture of them with me in it? I really don’t have any plans to sell any other signed stuff. What would I sign? Maybe you can give me some ideas.

Q. Could you give some short comments about.

  • Gene Simmons
  • Paul Stanley
  • Ace Frehley
  • Peter Criss
  • Bill Aucoin
  • Neil Bogart
  • Howard Marks
  • Carl Glickman

Gene was sometimes hard to like because of his ego and superior attitude. But when he let his guard down, he was OK and I had some nice conversations and laughs with him.

Paul was cool but a bit distant..also had a nice moment with him painting the back of the “Asylum” cover together.

Ace and Peter were more like me in that they both came from similar backgrounds as me –working class..and I was a big drinker in those days too. Both good guys on a one-on-one basis.

Bill was great – although a different life style than me – and we worked very well together.. knew him from before the KISS days.

I met Neil only maybe four times but once he invited me and some others out to his house in Bel Air or Beverly Hills. I happened to be out in California at that time doing something or other for KISS. He had quite a place – a big game room with pinball machines – we all had a fun time.

Howard Marks was my boss at the advertising agency for 22 years. We drank together, had successes and failures together and fought with each other. I was his right hand man.

Carl Glickman was Howards friend from back in Cleveland where they both came from. He was the money man – handled KISS money- was on the board of the big stock brokerage house Bear Stearns. Didn’t know him well, but he gave a me a stock tip once and it worked out for me. Essentially, I told him of A stock that I owned and with his great memory a year or so later, he came into the art department and told me now was the time to sell it. I was reluctant because the stock was doing well but I took his advice. The stock immediately went down and I got out just in time. Thanks, Carl.

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