SPEAKING WITH GENE SIMMONS
August 03, 2010
Speaking with Gene Simmons: KISS still Alive after 35, and 'better than ever'

Posted by John J. Moser

Four years ago, when Kiss frontman and co-founder Paul Stanley was promoting his first solo disc in 28 years and first solo tour ever, he said in an interview that slipping sales and flagging interest in any Kiss music besides the hits made him doubt the band would ever again record a new album.

It had already been eight years since Kiss recorded "Psycho Circus," the first disc featuring the band's original members in nearly 20 years, amid a five-year reunion tour that brought Stanley and co-founder Gene Simmons back together with former members Ace Frehley and Peter Criss.

Fast-forward to today.

Kiss not only recorded a new album, "Sonic Boom," in 2009, but it became the group's highest-charting disc ever, reaching No. 2 on Billboard's albums chart.

And now the group is two years into a tour to celebrate the 35th anniversary of its breakthrough disc, 1975's "Alive," which gave the band its first Top 10 album, as well as its first hit, "Rock and Roll All Night."

They play at Hersheypark Stadium tonight.

In a recent telephone calling from Los Angeles, where the band was appearing on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," bassist Gene Simmons talked about the band, its future and KISS's legacy.

Here's a transcript of the interview:

Lehigh Valley Music: Hey Gene, how are you?

Simmons: "I'm deliriously happy."

Ha! Are you at the Leno show?

"Yes,"

You're on there solo?

"No, KISS was playing tonight."

How's the tour going?

"Fantastic. It really is amazing. Except our crew talks when we do interviews [loud voices heard in the background] so we're going to shut them out. We are having a ball, as you can imagine. How'd you like to get up on stage, wear more make-up and high heels than your mommy does? "

Ha, ha. OK, but this many years into it - still fresh for you? Still exciting?

"Just absolutely love it. Better than ever, no drug addicts or alcoholics in the band, no excuses. No dark clouds. It's just great to have a four-wheel-drive vehicle again. No excuses, no nothing. I mean, after all, we introduced ourselves with 'You wanted the best, you got the best. The hottest band in the world.' We're calling this the hottest show on earth.' So you've gotta have some king-sized nuts to go out there with two of the guys just dragging their sorry butts around. This has been an ongoing tour now for approaching two years. We started almost two years ago in Australia to 80,000 or 90,000 people and continued on, went through Europe twice. We just came back to American and this is our second time through America. But this time we're playing all the cities but only single nights. We're trying to hit as many places as possible. And we just added three stadiums in Mexico and we're going to Central American and South America. We have a ball."

No offense, but you guys - you and Paul [Stanley, KISS's songer/front man] are not kids.

"You can't offend me. You can offend Paul, though."

Ha. Is it more difficult to do?

"No. No, I think if you see us, you'll see that it's actually gotten more convincing. Because it's like a kid having sex for the first time - you blow your wad in five seconds. The more you do it, the longer you can go, because you know how to pace yourself. It's like nervous fighters who get in the ring the first time, they get knocked out right away; they don't know how to jab and stay in there and go for the knockout when it's ready."

Well, right - you know when to push yourself to the limit and when not to, I guess.

"Yeah, because if the spotlight's on [guitarist] Tommy [Thayer] taking a solo, and I'm jumping up and down killing myself and you can't see me on the screens, or people are looking the other way, it’s a wasted energy."

Along with that, the new album, "Sonic Boom," comes out, -- your highest chart debut ever. How much validation is that for you?

"Not much. It really hasn't ever been an issue. Most important, although it sounds cornball, is the fans. The fact that we can - here we are doing 'Modern Day Delilah' on Leno and not, I don't know, 'Duece' or 'Dr. Love' or something. But you know, the old stuff holds up. There's a Dr. Pepper commercial , 'Calling Dr. Love.' There are any number of other products that use 'Rock and Roll All Night,' and stuff like that. So the old stuff is going great. And we're playing, I don't know, about half the record live. And going into the '80s and doing that stuff. In fact, this tour takes bits and pieces from every decade. I'm proud to say I'm the voice of the new Guitar Hero."

I read that. Congratulations.

"I read that, too, as a matter of fact."

I interviewed Paul back in '06, when he did his solo disc, and at that time he was saying he envisioned no future new KISS albums. What changed your minds?

"Well, I think every day you wake up and you make assessment of life on earth as you see it on that day. The thing that changed is Tommy and Eric. You want to go forward when you feel there's a real team committed to doing everything. And, you know, if you're in a soccer game or a football game or any kind of team situation, you don't feel like getting out on the field if not everybody’s holding up their end. So with Tommy and Eric as part of the team felt - I don't know - convincing and easy to do. In fact, 'Sonic Boom' was one of the easiest records we’ve ever done."

And obviously you like it more than you liked 'Psycho Circus'?

"I like them both for different reasons. 'Psycho Circus,' though, was torture. Ace and Peter were going through their thing again of last-minute sending lawyers in to do all kinds of stuff. And you know what? We just said, 'Stay home,' you don't need to be in the band. And you don't need to torture everybody. You're happier at home and everybody should respect you because you were pivotal members of one of the most enduring bands in rock and roll history. KISS couldn't have done it without Ace and Peter then, and Kiss cannot do it with Ace and Peter now.

"So I think it's best for them - and bless them both. We love them and stuff. It's best for them to rest on their laurels. But we don't have time for the past. We're too busy having a good time right now. We're looking forward to the future."

Your participation in the reality shows - "Family Jewels"...

"Oh, you mean, you mean the oldest, the longest-running reality show of them all. It's the 100th episode tomorrow, as a matter of fact."

Congratulations on that as well. I was not aware of that. Your participation in that and "Celebrity Apprentice," how does that compare to the thrill you get from being on stage?

"Completely different. You know, you get kudos when you write a great article and then when you mow the lawn and your friends come over and say, 'Boy, your house looks spic and span,' they're different pleasures, and they don't compete with each other. They're completely validated by themselves, if you see what I mean. Being on stage with KISS is unequaled for that thing. On the other hand, making a great business deal that throws off millions of dollars, that's pretty satisfying, too."

The reality stuff - is there satisfaction for you in sort of the appearances or is it...

"I don't care. It doesn't matter to me at all. My life's an open book and take it or leave it. Not everybody liked Jesus, either."

The future of Kiss: Obviously you're going to be playing a lot of shows. But from here one out, do you envision another album somewhere down the line? Do you envision a stop to your touring?

"No, no end in sight that we can see. Another record? Sure, why not?"

Physical limitations at all?

"I don't think so. There's going to be a certain point where they're going to have to bury us in the ground. We're all going to get our turn. But so far, so good. If you take a look at the biggest bands on earth, none of them are 20 years old. None. And, in fact, a few of them are quite a bit older. Jagger's got to be 64, 65. And McCartney's even a little older than that."

Do you have any thoughts on the Rock and Roll Hall of fame's snub at this point?

"It's not a snub to us. We've gotten everything we've ever dreamed of and more. There's nobody in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame -- in fact, if you took all of them and put them together - they couldn't match all the licensing and merchandising we've done and the legacy we've left. I mean, yes, Madonna's important. I have no [darned] idea what she's doing in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Or Grandmaster Flash or any other disco or rap artist. I think it's an insult to them to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I don't want to be in the Rap Hall of Fame. And likewise, rappers shouldn't be in there. It's the wrong place.

"But what band would I rather be? There's not a band in there that has as much fun as we have. None of them are super heroes. We are. We have comic books and all this kind of stuff. So would I rather be in Crosby, Stills and Nash or Kiss? I think I'll take Kiss.”

Yeah, it was particularly galling to me when ABBA got in. I just didn't see that at all.

"Oh. I mean, I see that a lot easier than L.L. Cool J."

Yeah, I guess.

"I'd rather go pop than rap."

Last question and sort of all-encompassing: Why do you think Kiss has lasted so long? And what's the secret?

"There are no secrets. Nothing beats hard work and teamwork. There just isn't. I mean, you've got to be born at the right place at the right time with the right thing. But having said that, nothing takes the place of a great team. People support each other. And nothing takes the place of getting up there and making sure that every single show you ever play in your entire career may be the only thing people will ever remember you by. Which is to say, you must have truckloads of pride. Remember how we introduce ourselves. And I really hope to God the very last show we ever play we will live up to the legend of Kiss."

Listen Gene, I love you, man. You're a great interview, a great musician.

"Don't forget good looking!"