Interview: Eric SingerBy Sharon Benassuli
Revolution talks watches and music with the energetic and passionate drummer behind the rock band KISS, who was part of the jury at the 2015 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG).
Can you tell us how your passion for music began?
I started playing drums at ten years old, but I grew up with music at home. Both my father and mother played the violin; my dad was a bandleader in Cleveland and my mom is also a singer. I grew up listening to classical music and opera and started playing in my dad’s band at 14. Once I heard Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath in 1969, when I was in the sixth grade, I just knew I wanted to play in a rock band. My dad took me to see many big bands play live while I was growing up. Whenever I’d go to a concert, it wouldn’t be just to party with my friends; I always looked at it like going to school – I was eager to learn. I’d arrive at the concert very early and I’d walk down to be in front of the stage and watch. When I’m playing at concerts today and see kids in the front row, I tell people: “Hey, that was me when I was a kid!”
How did you turn your passion into a career?
I was working at an instrument factory and would go home every night and practise. After three-and-a-half years, I realised that I wasn’t going anywhere. My mom lived in California at the time, so I decided to move there when I was 25. I packed my car and drove across the country. I entered some drum contests when I was there and some girl saw me play and asked me to be in a video for Playboy. That video led to other gigs, and six weeks later, I was playing at Long Beach Arena in front of about 18,000 people. There I was doing what I always wanted to do.
Do you remember your first watch?
I have liked watches since I was a little kid. My dad used to play on the big cruise liners SS United States and SS America. He did 48 cross-Atlantic trips on them when we were kids and would always bring gifts back from England and Paris. He brought me a little mechanical watch when I was about five or six years old. That was my first timepiece, the one that got me into watches.
When did you start collecting watches?
I originally started with vintage watches. I used to go to a lot of antique stores just to look around and ask if they had any cool old watches. I once bought an old Longines flyback chronograph from the late 1940s for $350. That watch is probably worth $8,000-10,000 now. I also have an old Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Mariner in stainless steel, which I bought for $100 about 15 years ago. Those days are over; it’s very hard to find deals like that today unless you’re really lucky.
What has been your best find?
During the 1990s, I bought many great watches from a guy I knew at a small watchmaker’s shop. One of the watches was a vintage steel Rolex Submariner. I’m not well versed in vintage Rolexes; I thought the watch was from the early-1970s, but it turns out it was from 1964 and was a very special model. Some guy that worked for one of the bands I was playing with always wanted it and, as I didn’t wear it much, I sold it to him for $800 – the same price I had bought it for. The guy called me about six years ago and said, “Hey, remember that watch you sold me for $800? I just sold it to a guy for $25,000. It’s a rare model!” I had no idea how special it was back then.
How did you get involved with the GPHG?
Actually [Revolution contributor and GPHG juror] Elizabeth Doerr interviewed me and asked me if I’d be interested in being a juror. I was flattered and was, to be quite honest, a bit intimidated. Most of my friends think that I know so much about watches. I’m not trying to be humble but I only really know the tip of the iceberg; there’s so much to know. I think what makes the GPHG so special is that it brings together watch enthusiasts from all walks of life. At the end of the day, people buy watches for different reasons. It’s just like cars – some will want a simple car with a manual shift and others will want a Rolls Royce with all the opulence. Watches, to me, are exactly the same.
What watch are you wearing today and what do you like about it?
I’m wearing a Grand Seiko, which won the GPHG’s Men’s “Petite Aiguille” category in 2014. One of Seiko’s head guys came to our KISS show in Tokyo about two years ago and he was wearing this watch. That’s when I knew I wanted one, too!