STILL ROCKING AFTER 35 YEARS
October 14, 2009
By Emma Jones

Rock band Kiss are celebrating their 35th year in the music charts with the release of their first studio album in nearly a decade, Sonic Boom.

The band, who formed in New York in 1973, have sold more than 80 million albums worldwide.

"Kiss started as a dream of ours," explains Gene Simmons, the band's bassist.

"All the bands we ever saw on stage played the hits we wanted to hear, but were devastatingly poor in their visual live performance."

That is definitely an indictment from a man wearing full armour and the trademark black- and-white warpaint, which has given Kiss their unique identity.

At 60 years old, Simmons's stage persona is still The Demon.

To some TV viewers, he is known as the reality star of Rock School and Gene Simmons Family Jewels. To others, he is best known as "the man with the longest tongue in music".

New line-up

"We made Kiss, with our look, all the pyrotechnics of our live show, the epitome of everything we wanted from a band," Simmons adds.

"And now here we are 35 years later and I think we've released one of the best records of our career."

During the past three and a half decades, the band has survived numerous line-up changes from the original foursome of Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss.

Currently, Simmons and Stanley have drummer Eric Singer and guitarist Tommy Thayer on board - but they have adopted Frehley and Criss's stage personas (and make-up) of Spaceman and Catman.

They also survived their career nose-diving at the end of the glam rock era of the 70s, and a make-up free period during the 80s - which actually coincided with their biggest ever UK hit, 1988's Crazy Crazy Nights.

A wave of Kiss nostalgia in the 1990s saw the band return to the face paint, and their 1996 Alive! Tour was the highest-grossing in the world that year.

They are now on tour again in the US, and according to Tommy Thayer, it was the presence of younger fans swelling the so-called Kiss Army which finally got the band back to the recording studio.

'Pure rock and roll'

"Gene and Paul were a little ambivalent about doing a record," he says, "but the live shows were going great, and we thought it would be cool to do something to acknowledge our growing resurgence of fans."

"We've got so many teenagers coming to our gigs now," adds Simmons, "as well as people in their 40s and 50s and we wanted to give them all some classic Kiss."

That appears to have been accomplished - many critics have commented on Sonic Boom's "classic 70s feel", which may have something to do with it being produced by Paul Stanley and recorded originally on analogue tape.

"This is about four guys playing and writing their own songs, and not worrying about fads or fashion or what's hip, " Simmons comments. " This is about pure rock and roll."

'We didn't listen'

"There was no pressure of outside influences, "says Thayer.

"We wrote songs we felt great about, we didn't listen to management or agents, and no one was trying to write a hit single or a ballad."

It has paid off, with Sonic Boom becoming their most successful record for 20 years.

It is currently doing battle with Michael Buble for number one in the Billboard album charts in the US, as well as going Top 20 in the UK.

It was the same story with AC/DC's Black Ice a year ago - neither band receive mainstream airplay, but their legions of devoted fans propel a long-awaited studio album straight to the top of the charts.

Kiss have now been around long enough to receive that ubiquitous "legend" status.

'The hunt and the kill'

They have finally been nominated for the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame - but their make-up may give them an excuse to pretend they are younger than Simmons and Stanley actually are.

The first single from Sonic Boom, Modern Day Delilah is, in the words of Simmons, all about the chase, the hunt and then finally the kill. We're still after you girls".

The reviews for Sonic Boom are generally good - but it has not been always the case with Kiss albums.

Simmons has some harsh words for the music critics.

"We own some very big houses that critics have bought us with their bad reviews," he says.

"Critics are an unnecessary life form. There's a large Kiss cemetery at the back of our houses where we bury them."

He pauses. With his Demon warpaint on, you cannot be sure if he is joking or not.

Sonic Boom by Kiss is on release in the UK now.