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Q&A: Gene Simmons

With a second reality TV series and a comic-book line under his belt, the lizard-tongued bassist reflects on the expanding Kiss empire.

Kiss bassist/vocalist Gene Simmons’s ever-expanding business empire has a new addition: Gene Simmons' Family Jewels, a reality TV series currently being shown on the Biography Channel. Classic Rock caught up with The Demon at London’s plush Four Seasons Hotel where, over a toasted chicken panini or several, we discussed such things as the dangers of being portrayed as a bumbling Ozzy Osbourne-type figure. Gene, meanwhile, was keen to unveil his new idea: Kiss Air! Take a deep breath, we’re going in.

Have you found your true vocation at last in reality TV?                                         

No. As ever, I’m working on several major ventures. I like big ideas and big people with voracious appetites. Because any businessman will tell you that it takes the same amount of effort, and the same amount of time, to earn pennies as it does dollars. So the big ideas are always better. 

Family Jewels, as the name suggests, features you and your family: long-time partner Shannon Tweed, son Nick and daughter Sophie. Were you conscious of holding yourself up to Ozzy-style ridicule? 

Ozzy was ridiculed? By whom? By people who have achieved what, exactly?

By long-time Black Sabbath fans.

No, no. That doesn’t count. Criticism has to come from someone who is qualified to make it. Everybody can sit in the peanut gallery and have something to throw. But that’s not valid, that’s one vote. It’s only valid if someone has achieved something. Then he or she can say: “From my position and from my experience, that’s not very good.”

You did two series of another reality TV programme, Gene Simmons' Rock School._ _   

In both series I had two-and-a-half weeks to put together a band from a bunch of English schoolkids. And that’s exactly what I did. I approached it like a drill sergeant. It’s only later that the kids realised that the asshole who kept screaming in their faces was actually their best friend. And was the one who enabled them to succeed. Li’l Chris [singer with the band in series two] is a big new star. His first single came in at No.3. Because of me.                     

You and Shannon have never married.

I don’t believe in the institution. It’s archaic. The only thing wrong with marriage is that one of the two tends to be a man. Men aren’t designed for marriage. We produce billions of sperm every month, hundreds of millions every day, so even the notion that monogamy – which is a big word, like gymnasium – comes into it is an insult to nature. I urge all men never to get married. Because I’ve discovered the secret: the biggest cause of divorce is marriage.

Let’s talk about Kiss. We at Classic Rock have always been big fans of Ace Frehley [Kiss’s original guitarist].                            

I love him dearly, he’s a sweetheart, but he’s his own worst enemy. He’s great with lots of people around but when he’s alone he doesn’t like himself. And he numbs himself. He’s been numbing himself for 34 years that I know of. I don’t know how often I’ve seen him straight, but it’s almost never. 

You’ve replaced both Ace and drummer Peter Criss in Kiss with lookalikes [Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer respectively]. 

I used to think you could never replace people in bands. Lead singers in particular. But Bon Scott died, they replaced him with Brian Johnson, and AC/DC got bigger. And Van Halen – the band I discovered – replaced David Lee Roth with Sammy Hagar. We took Iron Maiden out on their first big European tour. But it wasn’t with Bruce Dickinson, it was with Paul Di’Anno. So it seems that if you break the rules of the purists, you get bigger.

Can Kiss replace Gene Simmons?

You’re goddamn right they can. It just depends who you replace him with. If I’m not carrying the load, then get rid of me.

Does it gall you that Van Halen are being inducted into the US Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, while Kiss have been ignored? 

The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, with all due respect, is backroom politics. Fifteen people who decide for the rest of us. Am I worried about Kiss not being in the Hall Of Fame? I’m worried about whether or not we can put a 33rd floor in the Kiss Casino in Las Vegas that’ll open in three weeks. Much more worried. 

You’ve heard Live To Win, the new solo album by [Kiss vocalist/guitarist] Paul Stanley, presumably? 

Loved it.

There was an unfortunate advertisement in Classic Rock recently that misspelled Paul’s track Bulletproof _as Bulletpoof_. 

That’s okay. Are you saying Paul pitches for the other side? It happens not to be the case, but I don’t think there’d be any problems if he did. Some of your biggest heroes are on the other side. Halford and Freddie and Elton, for example. You English make more of that than any country in the world. In fact, the preconceived notion of the English male is gay. You know that. It’s based on the public schoolboy system. Sir Richard Branson told me all about it. The bullying often turns sexual. It’s rampant.

What would it take to get the classic Kiss line-up back together one last time?              

I personally don’t want to. I love Ace and Peter, always have, and because of my tough love thing I’ve never been shy about saying they’ve been drug addicts and alcoholics, and they’ve destroyed themselves.

*Is Kiss now more of a heritage centre than an actual band? *                                      

You can ask the Stones or Elton or anybody who’s been around for 30 years or more the same question. It’s valid to say it is; it’s valid to say it isn’t. You want to know when we’re going to do a new Kiss record? The answer is: when we feel like it. And by the way, no matter what I said earlier, I reserve the right to change my mind about Ace and Peter any time I choose. ‘Never say never’ is true. How much did you say you want to pay us to get back together? How many hundreds of millions? People say you can’t be bought. Fucking-A right you can. Even God passes the hat around at the end of the sermon.

How big can the Kiss empire become?

The ground you walk on should be hallowed Kiss ground. Every breath you take should be Kiss Air... and I want to charge you for every breath you take. I honestly do. I see nothing wrong with that. I’d see it as a privilege for you to breathe Kiss Air. I have never hidden the fact that I want to be rich and famous. In that order. Fuck famous. It doesn’t get you anything. Not even a good seat in a restaurant.             

KISS IN COMIC BOOK COMEBACK             

Kiss made their first appearance in comic book form in 1977 when a Marvel Comics Super Special went on sale – printed with real Kiss blood, no less! Now, 30 years on, the Kiss Comics Group is about to be introduced.

“We’re going to launch with the biggest comic book of all time,” reveals Gene Simmons. “It’s called Kiss 4K. It’s amazing; it folds out into a comic that’s five feet long. It’ll cost $50. In addition to that, I’m creating the Simmons Comics Group as a separate company.”

More info at www. kisscomicsgroup.com

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