35 YEARS: COMMANDING AN ARMY
October 06, 2009
By Tim Louie

Everyone has a childhood hero or at least someone that they idolized growing up. For some, it's a sports figure; some might even say a movie star or a relative. For me, I had my sports figure idols but mainly worshipped rock stars. As a child, I wanted to be Nikki Sixx from Motley Crue, Duff McKagan from Guns 'N Roses, or Gene Simmons from KISS, which would only make sense for me to become a bass player. Now, it's not every day that you get to meet or speak to your childhood idols, but I've been lucky enough to have that day happen a few times, already meeting Nikki and Duff.

Today, I would get the chance to speak to the idol of all idols, the hero of all heroes - I wanted the best and I got it! Today, I was getting a chance to speak to Gene Simmons, the marketing genius, bass-playing reality show TV star Demon of KISS!

Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Eric Singer, and Tommy Thayer, collectively known to the rest of us as the legendary KISS, recently released their first studio recording since Psycho Circus 11 years ago. Sonic Boom, a three-disc set performed by the current line-up contains studio recordings on the first, featuring the new single "Modern Day Delilah," while the other two discs include recordings from earlier this year. Sonic Boom is actually a Wal-Mart exclusive, which is something that AC/DC successfully accomplished back in June.

KISS also recently kicked off a North American tour to celebrate the 35th Anniversary of their innovative album, KISS: Alive. The tour started with two sold out nights at Detroit's Cobo Hall Arena, the very same place KISS: Alive was recorded.

Right before KISS went on the road, they received news that they were finally being nominated for the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame along with Genesis, The Stooges, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Unfortunately, they'll have to wait until January to see if they are among the inductees.

While they wait, KISS will be bringing their Alive/35 tour home to New York City's Madison Square Garden on Oct. 10. Gene Simmons was able to call me between cities to talk about his favorite topics - KISS and Gene Simmons! KISSmas came early for me this year! Here's what the Demon had to say:

Hey, Gene! I have to start this off with congratulations on your Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame nomination! KISS is finally nominated! How does this feel?

G: It's appreciated, but we don't take it too seriously. Our fans are everything to us. The KISS Army is legendary and has become iconic. It's become its own thing. Every other band in the world knows about the KISS Army, and they'd give their left nut to have it. So, nice to be nominated, but it'd be nice to win. It's not the end all or be all. We do our talking onstage!

I think you guys will get it. KISS is the main influence for many bands out there today. You're the pioneers to what we see today in live performances.

G: Well, we don't spend a lot of time thinking about it. All we know is that when we go to see wrestling and we see fireworks or we go and see McCartney or any other band live and you see spectacle and fireworks and all that, where'd that come from? The stampeders? If the only thing we've done is raise the bar substantially for live performances, that's good! Then we've left our mark! It's no longer enough to just get onstage with a tie-dyed t-shirt and sneakers and look at your shoes and think that your giving people a show.

Sonic Boom is your first studio album in 11 years. Can you tell me a little bit more about it?

G: Eleven brand new songs; it's a three-disc special package. The second disc has 15 songs by this lineup re-recorded. The third disc is of us in South America at Buenos Aires Stadium in April, just a few months back. And what Sonic Boom is, is this is who we are now. No keyboard players, no children's choirs, no synthesizers, none of that. Meat and potatoes straight down the line, and it all goes back to a spirit of innocence that we had when we first started, when we first strapped guitars on our shoulders. Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer sing their own songs.The band is back to being full octane.

Now, how are the KISS fans receiving Eric Singer as Peter Criss and Tommy Thayer as Ace Frehley?

G: It's not "as" anything. In football teams there's a number. If one of the players gets kicked out of the band three times for not being a team player and for using drugs and alcohol, "your ass is grass," as they say in New York! You may have been worthy of the team once. Why the hell would you continue to keep somebody on the team if they're not carrying their load?

The reason why I ask is because the first time you replaced Peter Criss and Ace Frehley with the late Eric Carr and Vinnie Vincent, Eric Carr wore the face paint of a fox and Vinnie Vincent wore an ankh on his face...

G: We tried different personas and it was okay, but we said why do we have to? This is iconic. When I go to see Batman at the movies, there have been different people as Batman, but it's still Batman. Why would we change it?

KISS recently kicked off this 35th Anniversary of KISS: Alive over at Cobo Hall Arena in Detroit. How did it feel to go back there after 35 years?

G: It felt really amazing! On one hand, it's sad because Cobo is being torn down, but we also met on the back cover of the double live album. You have to remember in those days, it was lunacy to release a live record, much less a double live record. KISS has always been like that - nuts! So, the back cover shows two fans in the middle of a sold out hall, three nights I might add, and they're holding a KISS banner that they made. Well, those two guys showed up all these many years later with the same banner. One's a successful real estate agent and the other is a doctor. The KISS Army, that's right!

So, you're coming back to New York City to play Madison Square Garden once again. How does it feel to come home and play The Garden?

G: I will tell you a story that is near and dear to my heart. The band was put together at 10 East 23rd Street. It was a loft, and The Garden was 10 blocks away. I would walk up there and see basketball or The Stones or whomever else was playing. We all have dreams! And when KISS played there for the first time, I walked in through the front door because in those days people didn't know what we looked like without the makeup. They were just aware of KISS. They thought that we looked like that 24 hours a day. So, I walked in through the front door, walked through the crowd, went backstage, put on makeup, got up onstage and rocked the house! The rock 'n roll rites of passage, if you will. It was like climbing Mount Olympus, when you get to the top, the view is amazing!

G: I will tell you this, I mean you couldn't see under the makeup or anything, but when I was onstage the first time at The Garden, they didn't see it, but the Demon cried. Oh yeah! It says something about the American Dream; that it is alive, it is well, and I'm living proof of it. I wasn't born here. The first thing that I ever heard was, "What are you, stupid? Can't you speak English?" If you work your tail off, and to have the doors open, anything is possible!

With the music industry constantly changing partly due to the economy and partly due to technology, what advice can you give struggling musicians who can't seem to attract label attention?

G: Well, it's really tough. I have a label, Simmons Records, through Universal, but it's really tough because the industry is in disarray. It's not dead! Sonic Boom we put out ourselves through Wal-Mart, but we come with our own fan base so we can do that. It's really tough out there because of the downloading thing. Pandora's box has been opened and the record industry has suffered because of it. It's almost dead, but it's not. I suggest that new bands go out there and make your own CDs and distribute them as best you can. The days of big advances and record companies - that's over!

I see that you're also in Mike Judge's new movie, Extract?

G: Yes! I play an asshole L.A. lawyer, of course! I have a good time with anything that I do. I do my best, have a great time and don't take it seriously and let the cards fall where they may. It seems anything that I try to do turns out okay.

It's no secret that Gene Simmons, the businessman, is a marketing genius, too!

G: Well, the word genius is highly overused. It's interesting. I have a different philosophy about stuff. Most people want a job. I just like working. There's a difference. I've never taken a vacation, but that's not because there's anything wrong with that. It's just that I don't want to go away from doing stuff every day - working.

Gene, is there any truth to the rumor that you're creating this reality show based on developing a new version of KISS?

Mark Burnett and I have been talking about it, and of course, Paul. It's a conversation. I mean everything is a conversation until it's real.