July 09, 2011
KISS 'changed the live concert experience,' Gene Simmons says

by John J. Moser

KISS, with Gene Simmons in front, plays Mountain Laurel Performing Arts Center on July 13

With the rock band KISS coming to Mountain Laurel Performing Arts Center in Bushkill, Pike County, on July 13, fans have quite a show to look forward to, the band’s demon-faced bassist, Gene Simmons, says.

“What you have to look forward to is KISS,” Simmons said in a recent telephone interview. ”And if that doesn’t say it all. I mean, we’re the ones who changed the live concert experience, period.”

There’s little argument that, with the emergence of KISS in the mid 1970s, concerts expanded from exclusively musical to a show experience. With its members wearing painted faces and costumes, fire breathing and shooting, Simmons spitting blood and more, KISS clearly changed the concert paradigm.

“Absolutely,” Simmons says. “Basically we strapped our boot heels down — our platform boot heels down — and said, ‘You paid a lot of money for this concert, you deserve more than me sitting with an acoustic guitar on a Persian carpet and lighting incense.’

“So whether you see Gaga or McCartney or anybody else live, and they’re using pyro and effects, where do you think that comes from – The Oak Ridge Boys?”

Simmons promises a similar experience when KISS hits the stage at Mountain Laurel.

For someone who has spent most of his 38-year musical career covered in a demon costume and Kabuki makeup, Gene Simmons is exposing his innermost self an awful lot these days.

Not only is Simmons, the bassist for the rock group KISS, starring in a reality TV show chronicling his struggling relationship with longtime live-in Shannon Tweed and his coming to terms of the death of his father, but KISS is working on what will be its second studio album in two years, after an 11-year recording hiatus.

And after completing a 2 1/2-year world tour just last year, KISS is back out on a summer jaunt that brings it to Mountain Laurel Performing Arts Center in Bushkill on July 13. The band kicks off a summer concert season for the venue that has been dormant for four years.

So why is rock's God of Thunder suddenly putting himself out there in so many ways?

"Why do it? Why do anything?" Simmons, now approaching 61, says in a telephone call from the road. "I mean, if you have enough money and enough anything, what are you going to do? Just sit on your thumb and wait to die?"

Perhaps the most surprising of Simmons' activities this summer is the sixth season of "Family Jewels," the A&E Networkl reality show that stars Simmons, Tweed and their children, Nick and Sophie.

The season premiered last month with an episode in which Tweed, after seeing a photo of the famously womanizing Simmons with two women on his arms, becomes fed up and leaves him. In later episodes (six of the eight have now aired), they reconcile and go through counseling.

Simmons swears the story wasn't created or enhanced for television— despite the fact that, with the added promotion of Tweed angrily walking out of an interview on CNN's "Joy Behar Show," it had one of its largest viewing audiences.

"Yeah, I don't care," Simmons says. "I mean, that's fine, but if you're gonna ruin your life to get ratings, that's not a good idea. I don't care about that."

He says his relationship with Tweed remains "touch and go."

"What happens when you cut yourself and it bleeds? Does it heal right away, or does it sometimes get infected and get worse?" Simmons says.

"Women are basically living with Jekyll and Hyde when it comes to men. Men are always on their best behavior for women, and they don't really get to see what's under the skin. 'Cause what's under the skin is testosterone. And the tendency of guys is to do all kinds of stuff that [ticks] off women. And so when they really peel off the outer skin of the snake, they get the snake. And that's not easy to take."

Asked how, now that he's back on tour, he deals with women approaching him sexually (Simmons has often claimed he's had sex with 5,000 women), he replies with a sign, "I try to be a good boy."

"It ain't easy," he says. "How about if you're on a strict diet, no sugar, no carbs, and every time you go to sleep, you go to sleep in a bakery? And you smell the cinnamon and the sugar and the chocolate – you smell it; it's all around you. Yeah – it's really tough. You're not even going out to clubs looking for it. It knocks on your door and scratches outside your door throughout the night."

The reality show this season also showed Simmons break down into tears at the grave of his father, whom Simmons hadn't seen since he left the family 54 years ago, when Simmons was a boy.

"It was actually good for me because, you know, guys aren't introspective," Simmons says of the episode. "You know, we get up, we're hungry, we eat. You don't really confront issues that are still with you. I mean, my father ran out on us when I was about 7 and I never looked back – never went back to Israel or anything. … But that doesn't mean it's not in there and it was good to confront that."

Easier these days is confronting work with KISS, Simmons says.

The band went through an unsettled decade that saw its fortunes wane. In 1997, Simmons and group co-founder/vocalist Paul Stanley reunited with original guitarist Ace Frehley and drummer Peter Criss and had a successful reunion tour. But then Frehley and Criss left again.

The current lineup that includes drummer Eric Singer and guitarist Tommy Thayer has now been together seven years — the longest continuous lineup of KISS ever.

In 2009 KISS released "Sonic Boom," which gave the band its highest-charting disc ever (No. 2 on Billboard).

Now the band is eight songs — about halfway — into a follow-up to "Sonic Boom," Simmons says.

"Very exciting, real meat-and-potatoes rock album," Simmons says. "No ballads, no outside writers." He says the record should be done by the end of August, but won't be released until KISS does another full tour.

Rather than renewed creativity, Simmons says the recent burst of recording can be attributed to simple hard work.

Rock and Roll (genre) "The creative element, it says, basically, 'Shut up, turn off the TV and sit down and work,' " Simmons says. "The idea that you're sitting around waiting for inspiration to hit you is the lazy man's way out. You know, people who write books do it like a 9-to-5. They get in front of their computer or their typewriter, whatever they use, and they sit there — put in the time."

In addition to the new record, KISS has another compilation video album, "KISSology IV," due out next year — "We're almost done with that," Simmons says — and what he says will be a 52-pound hardcover "art" book.

In addition, The Hub channel has a KISS TV show for children coming up, Archie and IDW comic companies each has a series of KISS books coming out, and a KISS golf course is opening in Las Vegas, Simmons says. "More stuff than you can imagine."

And two weeks after the Mountain Laurel show, Simmons will bare even more of his family jewels when he, Tweed and their children do a full-family stage show in Vancouver, Canada.

"I do speaking engagements, usually for corporate entities and entrepreneurs, and there's a lot of demand to meet Shannon, Nick and Sophie," he says. "So we're going to be doing at least one."

With so much public attention and so many projects, if it seems that Simmons is speeding up rather than slowing down — well, he says that's as it should be.

"That's what you should do in a race," he says. "Life is a marathon. Cruise, and then as you see the finish line, speed up. You don't want to slow down.

"I'm in really good shape; we work hard. You know, it would be easier to be in The Stones, respectfully, or U2 – both very successful bands – 'cause all you have to do is strum your guitar. Try to be on 8-inch platform heels for two hours and fly through the air and spit fire and do all that stuff. It's physically exhausting."