THAYER SAYS IS BETTER THAN EVER
November 28, 2009
Here's an interview Tommy did to promote the Staples Center Show.

Westlake Village native lives the Kiss dream

By Bill Locey
Lead guitarist Tommy Thayer, an 805 native and "the new guy," discussed the latest, including this impending home game gig.

So evidently, you have the duty. How many phoners do you have to do a day?

Not that many, maybe one or two here and there because everyone in the band does interviews.

So they're not just torturing the new guy?

Naw. Gene and Paul like to talk too much, so they’re not going to let that happen.

How's the Kiss biz treating you?

Well, without sounding typical, it's going better than we could even imagine. You know, "Sonic Boom" was just released three or four weeks ago - I'll get to that in a minute - but the tour has just been spectacular. We've just come across Canada, and now we're coming down the West Coast, as you probably know. The shows have been packed out, and we've got a huge stage set out with us: bigger, more and better of everything. It couldn't be better, because to be quite frank with you, a lot of tours are kind of struggling in this day and age because of the economy, but the Kiss tour continues on and it's very strong.

Who goes to a Kiss show these days?

Well, that's changed and that's part of the success. You've always had the die-hard fans, the ones that’ve been with the band forever, and those people are still there, which is great, but now they're bringing their kids. The face of the Kiss crowd has completely changed: a lot of younger kids, a lot more girls these days.

That's a good thing.

Yeah, it's more diverse, and you know, multigenerational, I would say. You've got a whole new resurgence of young kids coming and joining the Kiss Army. We didn't really notice until last summer in Europe - we did a big tour over there - and then we were in South America this spring, and the whole face of the crowd was changing and just getting bigger and growing. It had to do with all kinds of things. We were on "American Idol" this year, and we have songs on the "Rock Band" video games, Dr Pepper commercials. There's just all kinds of stuff where the shows are really packing out.

So where does "Sonic Boom" fit into all the rest that came before?

Well, "Sonic Boom" is the first Kiss studio album that I've been actively involved with as a member of the band, and if I do say so, it's a great record. We're really proud, and the critics and the fans alike have been exemplary. We did this record with the idea that we weren't going to do it like most bands do it anymore. We went back and did it on analog tape. Actually to begin with, we wrote and rehearsed songs with the band. There wasn't anybody from the outside, record labels or management saying you should try to do this or that, and we just did something from the gut, really. And we wrote 11 rock 'n' roll songs that are sort of in your face, from the gut songs, no outside writers. We didn't try to write a radio song, a power ballad or anything like that, and it just came really pure and for real, you know, and more so than any Kiss record in a long time. I didn’t realize it until near the end of the recording that this thing is really good, and it feels right, and I think it's because we didn’t have outside influences and politics playing a role. Usually, you have A&R people telling you what they think because they have money invested, but we did this all ourselves and put it out on Kiss Records.

Most bands fall prey to the dreaded "creative differences," which often means "need a bass player, man" or "need a drummer, man" but in Kiss the guitar player seems to be the rotating position. Do you ever feel like the extra crewman that beams down to uncharted planet with Kirk and Spock?

You know, Kiss has been going for 35 or 40 years now and there have been several guitar players, but a couple of the guys were just in there for a year or two. But it's kind of a hallowed spot to be filling. You know, Ace Frehley was the original lead guitarist, and I grew up as a fan.

Did you go see them as a kid?

Oh, yeah. I was a huge Kiss fan. I got their first record for Christmas in 1974. I went to their shows in Portland, where I grew up, and I put on makeup when I was 15 and - lo and behold - you never know where things will take you.

How’d you get this job? I know you were in a Kiss tribute band as well as Black 'n' Blue before that, but did you have to go through some crazy, intense audition scenario or what?

Not at all. It kind of happened organically. I used to be in Black 'n' Blue, which had several records out on Geffen, and before that, we had an opening slot on a Kiss tour in 1985. That's where I met these guys. We hired Gene to produce a couple of records, so we got more involved, and I started writing with them and so on and so forth. Eventually after Black 'n' Blue had run its course, they asked me to just come and work for them because they needed someone to understand, which I always did. I got Kiss and I understood, so they had me spearheading a number of projects. They did the reunion in '96. Ace and Peter came back, and they put the makeup back on, and it was a big, successful tour and at that point, I was working behind the scenes just doing whatever needed to be done. I was looking more to a music career at that point. I had my band and we took our shot. We did good, but it wasn't a career for life, so I was thinking more music career. So when they were having problems and Ace and Peter left, I happened to be there. I had done sound checks, rehearsals, even some recording behind the scenes, so it was just kind of natural, and about seven or eight years ago they said, "Tommy, you're the guy!"

How many thousands of songs did you have to learn overnight?

Already knew 'em, you know? Like I said, I'd done sound checks and rehearsals and when Ace re-entered the band, I actually had to help him relearn his parts. The other cool thing is that my wife and I actually live out in Ventura County out in the Westlake area. I love it out there. We've been out there 11 or 12 years. I used to live in town, but all the traffic and the craziness, I just got tired of it.

Black 'n' Blue had quite a run. You’re too humble. How did all that prepare you for all this?

Well, they say Tommy is the new guy, but I've been doing this professionally for over 25 years. I've been at this for a long time, and I know what's going on.

How did you end being a guitar player?

When you're a kid in fifth grade and they say, "Hey, you wanna join the band?" I ended up picking up the saxophone, and I played it all through high school. But when I was in junior high, I wanted an electric guitar, and the main reason I wanted to do that was because I thought it looked cool. Finally, I got one, and that completely took over, and I lost interest in the concert band. Even though saxophone is very cool, I was just overcome with the electric guitar and being in garage bands and all that.

So your first gig with Kiss then was an easy transition?

Yeah, it really wasn't as extraordinary as some people might think. Just the fact I was officially in the band was amazing, but as far as actually doing it, it wasn't a big challenge.

Was there any discussion of any sort of Plan B or were you always going to be the Spaceman?

Paul and Gene didn't want to change and have new characters. It's so established - 35 years and going on from there - they don't want to start reinventing the wheel at this point. They did that 20 or so years ago when Ace and Peter left, and they changed it, and it didn't really work out very well. There's a few diehard fans out there who think it's blasphemous that I'm wearing Ace Frehley's Spaceman makeup. There's still a few people saying that, but we've got 15,000 people out there every night and they're not complaining. You know how the Internet is. It just gives people something to bitch about, but they still come to the shows.