May 09, 2010
Let's KISS and make up at the arena: A dip in the Gene pool

by David Dunn

AS KISS arrive, all flamethrowers blazing tomorrow, don't expect any modesty from the mighty Gene Simmons.

"I love the sound of my own voice," he admits at the start of our face to (make-up-free) face chat in a swanky London hotel.

But for the all the bravado and bombastic stage shows, the KISS bassist and lead singer is a big man with a big heart, not least when it comes to seeing the influx of new young fans in the crowd having caught the KISS bug, thanks partly to their long overdue album Sonic Boom.

"It's the kick of a lifetime and sometimes very emotional on stage," says Gene. "I know this sounds likes a soundbite, and I accept that criticism, but when I'm on stage I have a Jekyll and Hyde kind of thing.

"When I get up on stage it's full-on who I am at that time. I'm sweating like a pig even though I'm not out of breath, you're adrenaline kicks in, your heart's pumping, your chest cavity gets bigger.

"And when I look out into the audience and I see a five year-old kid in KISS make-up on the shoulders of his dad in the same make-up, it really affects me emotionally. I have cried on stage and when they
see it, they cry.

"There's this band-fan connection. There is a KISS nation, a KISS Army."

Some of Gene's softer side has been witnessed by the 84 countries that broadcast the at-home show Gene Simmons Family Jewels.

"I am that person at home and I am who I am on stage. We thought T-Rex was just a predator. It was discovered recently it was not, it was a very loving parent and took care of its young."

Back in eight-inch heels, Sonic Boom has restored the sense of excitement about KISS, but it was a long time coming.

"A car doesn't go very far,no matter how good it is,without a highway. You need a road and without Walmart, our retail partner, I'll be damned if I'll be involved in a record that somebody gets to download free.

"It's ridiculous and is an insult to people who work hard writing songs, recording, only at the end to have somebody not pay you for it.

"How would you like to be a plumber working on somebody's house and then they say 'I'm sorry, you didn't expect to get paid for that, did
you?' Last time I checked, KISS is not a charity and we don't pretend to be."

Money aside, certainly there is a sense of KISS seeking to restore some of the values that have been lost amid the internet boom.

"The sad part is the next Beatles or the next KISS, the next new band that comes out of a small town, without a record company as a support system, couldn't go anywhere.

"A record company has distribution, marketing and sales people, posters and records going to record shops.

"It's very sad deserving new bands will not get the chance because some college kid some place believes he doesn't have to pay for music.

"But we're changing all that with our relationship with Walmart and we'll find retailers who are willing to sell the records and with that
you can have an internet conduit.

It's not often the frontman of one of the world's biggest rock acts asks you to squeeze his thigh. Then there are probably few blokes at Gene Simmons' time of life that have rock hard limbs to boast about.

One thing the make-up and costumes have helped do for KISS is make them timeless. "But I'm also stunning," quips Gene as Hear & Now cops a feel.

"I'm 60 and I'm beautiful and we are in great shape because you get up every day and you work at it. Get rid of stress, get rid of anybody in the band who's a drug addict, an alcoholic.

"You sleep good, you eat good: life is good. And the thing that'll eat away at you are those a**holes around your life who will use you or anything as an excuse, vampires, the dregs of the earth."

It may come as a surprise to many that KISS have never been an act to drink bars dry or smash up hotel rooms. They prefer to keep the hellraising on stage... While that sense of clarity has seen KISS clock up many rock landmarks in their 37 years, Gene admits some
of their story has been by chance.

"The truth is, you fly by the seat of your pants and you have a good time. The shrewd person has a general sense of a direction and place and within that you've got to have leeway. You're acting in a movie, this is the script, these are the lines but while you're doing it you play with it so you get a better performance. When something is too rigid, it cracks. So while it's good to have a plan, life is what actually happens."

The night before we speak, the band play an exclusive 800-capacity club in north London. It's a massive contrast to their explosive headlining of Download Festival in 2008.

"Without exaggeration my living room is bigger than that place," says Gene, who denies any nerves whatever the size of the stage.

"I never did. There are performers who really get under the skin of it and you claim the stage like an animal p***ing on the ground. This is my territory. There's no fear involved."

And that kind of attitude is partly what has kept KISS alive, as well as never giving themselves a lifespan.

"It's akin to being at a party and having the time of your life; great looking girls, good times, and somebody comes up and asks 'How long are you staying at the party?' The only honest answer is 'I don't know, as long as it's a party.'

"You've got to make your own rules, sleep when you want, get up when you want. There's no template. You get to make it up, you are the governor. What job in the world gets you that.

"And how about this - they introduce you to the idea of a record company who I always thought were our best friends and they're going to give you a stack of money, an advance, and you never have to pay it back."

Of course, KISS have repaid their sponsors many times over since Gene and Paul Stanley began playing garages in Detroit. While some will be hard-pressed to name many of their singles everyone is aware of the fantasy make-up and escapism their stage-show represents.

"I'm reminded of during World War One when the British and Germans were lined up in trenches, it was Christmas Eve, they stopped shooting and they met. And you know what they did together, they sang.

"So whether you go to a church and sing a hymn or whether you do an Irish jig, sing. Birds do it, animals do it, they sing. Don't go throughthe day without a melody in your mind."

And with the likes of Rock n' Roll All Night and Crazy Nights, KISS have certainly supplied a few down the years.

"By some estimates KISS are the most well-known human faces on planet earth," adds Gene. "Not everybody knows what your prime minister looks like; everybody knows what KISS looks like. And we're fans of your prime minister, by the way." And right now, Gordon probably needs that.