Kiss: "English bands gave us our chance... You have to give back"
He may be larger than life and richer and mouthier than most, but ‘The Demon’ is still trying to do the right thing. Honest...
For a man renowned for his verbose tirades, Gene Simmons is softly spoken for once. An extensive summer tour across America with Mötley Crüe and The Treatment has taken its toll on his vocal cords.
Also, while that night’s show at the Alpine Valley Music Theatre, Wisconsin might be followed by a few days off for the rest of the band, after the show Gene is flying back down to California to sing the US national anthem at the Oakland Raiders stadium for their opening game of the season. “So I have to save my voice,” he says by way of an apology. But while his register might be lower, he’s still resolutely and familiarly outspoken on all things Kiss and the band’s latest album, Monster.
On the current tour you’ve got young British band The Treatment opening for you and Mötley Crüe. How are they holding up?
We’ve always taken great pride in giving new bands a chance. When we first started, English bands gave us our chance: Savoy Brown, Manfred Mann and Argent. You have to give back. And the list of bands we have given their first tours to is quite remarkable, actually: AC/DC, Bon Jovi, Mötley Crüe, the first time around, Maiden, Rush – the list is too long to mention. And The Treatment, though still in its infancy, struck us as having the melodic and lyrical integrity of a real rock band. They’re committed to giving it their all. And that was a reminder to us when we were starting out, that this is an opportunity few people on earth ever get.
Kiss sound renewed with the new album, Monster. You said that Tommy and Eric have “revitalised Kiss with their work ethic”.
Sometimes it takes new people in your life to make you realise what you’ve got. Often we take it all for granted. Paul and I have been through the wars. Members who succumbed to the pathetic clichés – drugs and alcohol – and all the misery it caused within the band and the damage done in front of the fans, decade after decade, tended to wear our nerves down. To have four members who can write and sing and perform as one is something we all talk about, because it reads well in interviews. But with Tommy and Eric it’s a real, living and breathing animal.
Paul produced this record. Is it easy to take orders from him?
Of course. Who else would I trust? The strength of Paul at the helm is that he was willing to focus everything during that time frame. Even if the band wanted me involved in production, I can no longer stay trapped in a studio for three months. And I don’t have the focus.
Were you always confident that you could one day replace Ace and Peter so comfortably?
Yes. Survival is a strong motivator. I used to be a lifeguard, and in training you’re taught that if someone is drowning, swim out there and save them. If they are drunk or high and they wrap their arms around your throat in panic, you are to punch them in the face to prevent them from drowning you both. And if it looks like they’re too far gone, you are to do what you can to survive so that you can live to save someone else on another day.
As part of the Hiring Our Heroes programme in the US, you’ve had an army vet, Paul Jordan, working with you on this tour. Is he pulling his weight?
This is not a PR hustle, this is real. And Jordan is a real hero. He has been in the US Army for 20 years; deployed [voluntarily] three times, been shot at and came home to no jobs. It’s the least we can do. He’s doing great. And a source of pride for me is he’s got my ugly face tattooed on his chest.
Destroyer: Resurrected, has just been released. Is it fair to say that the Destroyer album changed your life?
Destroyer was the first album that taught us success wasn’t everything, and that the studio was a different place to the concert stage. Bob Ezrin taught us that we could be Kiss and have arrangement and drama in our music. Destroyer was also the first time we used outside musicians. Simply because a member didn’t have the time to show up in the studio: “I have a card game.” I’ll never forget that. Pathetic.
What were you like in 1976? Insatiable?
Yes. I was a nobody but I always dreamed big. I still do. But before Kiss, I dreamed but didn’t know how to make my dreams real. Kiss was the magical winged horse that took me to the top of Mount Olympus. And yes, to some we were and are gods. By 1976 I was bedding anything that moved. Before the band, I had a girlfriend or two. But when the band hit, I had a tsunami of girls I could wake up to and never bother to learn their names.
I saw fans tattooing their bodies with our faces, way before this became the thing to do, and naming their kids after our song titles. It still goes on. Yesterday we played in East Troy, in the middle of America. It was raining cats and dogs. And in front of me was a young man of about seven years old, with his father – a real Kiss fan. He introduced his son to me: “Deuce, meet Gene Simmons.” I will always remember that.
After the band were broke for so many years, can you remember when Kiss first made real money?
We made $75 dollars a week when we started recording our first album. When we started touring we made $85 dollars a week. We didn’t care, we were living our dream. We never thought of ourselves as being broke. And within a year-and- a-half of starting out we were playing Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California. It was all very heady stuff – pre-MTV and the internet and CDs or DVDs or cable TV, there was nothing for us to gauge how huge Kiss had become, without the aid of anything other than plain sweat, and playing every city we’d never heard of.
You’ve always talked a good game, but would it be fair to say that with Monster you’ve followed it up this time?
Yes. End of story.
This article first appeared in Classic Rock #177.
Gene Simmons is the first of a series of stars set to appear at the inaugural HeavyCon, which takes place at London's Excel from September 30 to October 2. The Kiss bassist will appear at the convention on October 1 and 2.
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