Interview with KISS Guitarist Tommy Thayer
INTERVIEW AND PHOTO BY MARKO SYRJALA COURTESY OF THIS IS ROCK -MAGAZINE
The legendary KISS arrived in Europe in June after a two year break. The bands tour, The 40íth Anniversary tour, did not come to Scandinavia at all, so I traveled to the Netherlands, where the band played a sold-out gig in the Ziggo Dome arena in Amsterdam. Before the show I had the opportunity to sit down with the bandís long-term guitarist, Tommy Thayer. The good-humored man told not only all the latest KISS news, but also about what it is like to have been in the band for more than 12 years, and what the future might hold for the band. Read on!
KISS TOUR 2015 AND MORE
The current European tour seems to be very successful, and the band is getting excellent reviews. It seems that KISS is now stronger than in years. What do you think about it?
I think itís true; it astonishes me that year after year we keep going out and it gets better every time. I appreciate the fact that year after year the crowds are still there, bigger than ever. You canít take that for granted. Itís something thatís exceptional and only happens to so few bands. Weíre very fortunate and donít take it lightly, it makes us even stronger. The band as it is has been together now 11 to 12 years, and thereís a strong camaraderie and spirit with us. We get excited to go out on stage, we love being together and we love playing on stage together. That feeling grows and perpetuates more and more as time goes on.
The ongoing 40th Anniversary Tour, as the name suggests, celebrates the long career of the band. This time you donít have a new album out. Is it different to tour without the pressure imposed by a new album?
Having a new album out makes less difference these days because the record industry has gone down the tubes. Even with a band like KISS, doing a record in the traditional sense doesnít mean much anymore. If we had a new record out that would be cool and interesting. These days itís more about an iconic band that people must see. Who knows if weíll come back again, that sort of thing?
You donít have a new album, but you just recently released a new song, ďSamurai Son.Ē Tell me something more about that project and the song itself?
KISS as a band still needs to do new things. We always need different, fresh and interesting ideas. Thinking outside the box is really what I mean. Thereís a Japanese idol group called Momoiro Clover Z who are huge in Japan. Iím not exactly sure how it came together, but Paul and our producer Greg Collins wrote a song, and then got together with MCZ and finished it. We shot a killer video in Las Vegas last November. MCZ came over from Japan and we spent the whole day shooting. It was really cool, very interesting and different for us. We hadnít done a music video in years. The girls were funny and had great personalities. It became clear why these girls were in the band and why theyíre so popular. It was a cool and different thing to do. Most people loved it of course, but some skeptics said what the hell are you doing? We obviously donít do things based on what those people think.
I think it was a great idea, and I love seeing KISS do things that people donít expect.
We will always try to think of new ideas and different ways to do things. It doesnít work to just release a new album anymore, it doesnít make business sense. Not to say that we wonít do another record sometime, I could see it happening.
But stillÖ even like you said, itís important for the band to come up with new ideas and different things, but címonÖthat Scooby Doo thing? Many fans do think that now KISS went too far. How do you see it? Is there really anything that the band canít do? ďLaughsĒ
Are you serious? Doing a feature animated film with KISS and something as iconic as Scooby Doo is cool. What other band could possibly do that? We love it.
How did the Scooby Doo thing came about and whatís the story behind the ďDonít Touch My AscotĒ?
Warner Bros Animation approached KISS and made the offer and KISS accepted. The writer Kevin Shinick and director Tony Cervone are KISS fans. The ascot song was an extra special thing that came about at the end.
Gene is a big fan of animations, comics etc. but how about you? Is Scooby Doo one of your favorites?
Yes. Iíve always loved Hanna Barbera cartoons. I grew up watching The Flintstones, The Jetsons and Scooby Doo.
The band made headlines when you performed ďSamurai SonĒ in Japan with some backing tracks. Do you want to comment?
One night we tried it because the song had all these parts and sounds on the recording. We always play as a band with just the four of us. We donít go out there like many bands and artists others do with backing tapes or extra singers or keyboards and things. We just donít do it.
Like you said, there are many bands doing those things, and KISS has toured with bands that use a lot of backing tracks, but now you received all that negativity because of that one try?
Like I said, itís not what we do. Some bands, they make great records, but itís almost impossible to reproduce it live and thatís the quandary. Thatís the challenge, I understand it.
Iím sure youíll have an answer for this next question which is about KISSOLOGY IV. Is it coming out someday or not?
I can completely answer that. Iíve worked on KISSOLOGY IV for the last several years. Itís about 80% done, but we still need to update and add some more things to it. I know that it eventually will come out but I donít know what the date is.
And which year? ďLaughsĒ
I canít say, I just donít know. Everybody is going to have to wait a little bit longer, but it will be worth it. There is some great stuff thatís already done.
Can you give any details about it, what stuff will be included on next KISSOLOGY?
I think itís important for the KISSOLOGY DVDís to cover a wide range, obviously itís somewhat chronological. So KISSOLOGY IV would generally be based on the last 10 or 12 years. When did KISSOLOGY III end?
I think it would have been up to 1999.
Yeah, so this is going be post that period to current day. You can also count on some great vintage and rare stuff included that people havenít seen as much as well.
Will we ever see full high-quality gigs from the years 1982-1987?
Thatís a good question. I know thereís an Asylum tour concert thatís on film in the can, Iíve seen it. So Iím just wetting your appetite a little bit. Do you remember the Asylum tour?
Of course, it was an amazing tour.
Do you remember the killer opening act on that tour?
Yeah, it was called Black ĎN Blue or something? ďLaughsĒ
Those guys were incredible, I donít know what happened to them now. You have to go to VH1 and watch, What Ever Happened ToÖ ďLaughsĒ Thereís also a lot of footage that was shot at the start of Hot in The Shade tour. Maybe thatís a little later than what you were asking about.
But do you have any usable material for 1983 tour?
í83 would be Lick It Up really, or are you thinking Creatures tour also?
I worked on the LOVE GUN deluxe edition that included some cool bonus material, demos and different things like that. We talked about doing a CREATURES OF THE NIGHT deluxe edition, but had a problem finding enough extra material. Sometimes thereís holes in eras where you just donít have stuff. I donít know why, but I couldnít find enough good stuff that was of decent quality or just enough material to do it. So that idea was shelved. The early Ď80s was a real transitional period for KISS, an interesting period of KISStory.
I agree that it was a really interesting time in the history of KISS. Itís not a secret that you have been a big KISS fan. When did you first hear of the band and which are your favorite albums?
Itís funny, I loved the first three albums and KISS ALIVE. I remember when DESTROYER came out, I thought it was cool but something about it didnít have the same feel as the first three albums, which were raw, straight ahead rock and roll. DESTROYER was quite different than the first four albums because it was more produced. There were great songs, no doubt about it. But by the time they did ROCK AND ROLL OVER, and I know people are going to say what the hell are you talking about, but I felt that it just didnít quite measure up in my opinion, but everybody has a different perspective. Thereís always that special period of time when you first get into a band and that was the moment for me.
Thatís really interesting to hear. Can you guess whatís my favorite KISS album?
Iím going to guess probably something like HOT IN THE SHADE, I donít know.
WellÖ Itís ASYLUM
ASYLUM. Okay, I was close. Because you then were probably a 12 or 13 year old kid then ďLaughsĒ.
I found KISS when I was six years old back in 1980. I remember when THE ELDER album came out and I went to buy a cassette. I also remember when CREATURES and LICK IT UP came out and those both were great, but still ASYLUM was the best album they did in the 80ís for me. As you probably know, KISS was a big deal in Scandinavia in the 80ís.
I know, thatís interesting. For me you then had LOVE GUN, ALIVE II, DYNASTY and UNMASKED. I was getting into other bands, to be honest with you. I always kept an eye on KISS, but I didnít feel the same way. By the time THE ELDER was released I probably didnít even hear it. But I saw them on a TV show called ĎFridays.í They came out and they ripped through ďThe OathĒ and it was really stripped down, Marshall Amps, very raw and live. I thought it was great, I remember thinking, this is what I want in KISS again. Then CREATURES came out not long after that, and I thought yeah Iím digging this. KISS is back on track, Iím back on board. I think everybody has a different perspective of being a KISS fan, through all the different eras. Itís interesting. I talk to different people like Keith (Leroux) and itís the same thingÖ He was big fan of the í80s stuff and REVENGE. That was the golden era for him.
NEW KISS ALBUM?
You mentioned earlier about a possibility of the new KISS album. Have you already talked about it within the band?
Yeah. A few months ago Paul said he said that he doesnít see any reason to make a new KISS album. A week later Gene said, of course thereís going to be a new KISS album next year.
Is the truth somewhere in between?
Everybody has the right to speak their mind and give their point of view, and itís all valid really. Itís not that one guy is wrong. Itís not something thatís planned right now, but with KISS things kind of change quickly sometimes. All of the sudden Paul might say, Iím feeling it now, letís go in the studio in four weeks from now and record. Letís write some songs. Itís interesting how things happen quickly and spontaneously sometimes. So itís almost impossible to sit here and say this is whatís going to happen next year or the year afterwards. Things take a natural flow, we will see.
Gene also said, last fall, that you have already recorded a couple of new songs.
He said we recorded a couple of songs? I donít remember ďLaughsĒ.
Did you do that or not?
I donít, maybe he recorded a song, I donít know. Sometimes people go record things on their own too. You have interesting questions ďLaughsĒ.
BEING IN KISS
Tommy, you have been a member of KISS over 10 years already butÖ
Actually about 12 to 13 years. February 2003, thatís over 12 years right now, was officially my first concert with KISS. It was at the Telstra Dome in Melbourne, Australia for the KISS Symphony spectacle. I actually did gigs with the band a whole year before that.
Youíve recorded two studio albums and youíve done hundreds of gigs with the band, how does it feel?
People donít have any idea what goes on behind the scenes with a band like KISS, itís not easy. People say, you should be this and more personality in there and you should have done this. No, I think I did it right. You walk into a situation like this, you have to be very resilient and you need to be flexible. You need to be patient; you need to be a lot of things. Itís not as simple as some people think. So yes, at the beginning youíre just trying to do it. Make things work, play the parts the right way. The evolution of a band is important to consider too. When thereís a new person thereís lots of things for the band to keep in mind. Do you want somebody to come in and to completely recreate the part? Do you want new makeup? Do you want them to sound completely different guitar playing wise? Not necessarily. Itís a touchy thing and most people donít understand that there is a very fine line you go down. The good thing is by the time we did SONIC BOOM and MONSTER, you can tell on MONSTER, Iím playing more open, a little more Tommy there, itís more of my thing. When we did SONIC BOOM we wanted to make a record that sounds like classic KISS, and thatís exactly what we did. On MONSTER we took another step, expanded the boundaries. Thatís a good analogy for me as guitar player in KISS, to continue to broaden my approach, get more comfortable, stretch out a little bit more. And so it goes.
There are a lot of bands that have replaced the original members with new guys without any major problems, but it seems that in your case a few fans will never get over it.
What are you going to do? I think the fact that KISS has done very, very well for the last 12 years is a real testament and validation of what weíve done and how weíve done it. We did it the right way. If anybody thinks its crap and itís all wrong, then fuck off and start your own band. Weíve done very, very well. Iím very pleased.
Iím pretty sure that without you and Eric the band would no longer exist.
I donít know about that. On the other hand, keeping bands together is very difficult over the long run. Unless you have people that get along and respect each other, things can really go wrong and thank God that hasnít happened in the last 12 years. There have been points in KISSís career, as an observer, where you can see things have really gone off track. Late í70s, early í80s was a weird time.
Was the mid í90s was difficult time as well?
The mid í90s saw a lot of big changes. The reunion tour was a rollercoaster ride. In the early Ď80s there were new makeup designs. Iíve heard some fans say that was cool, the fox and all that. The reality was it was time for major overhaul. If youíre not careful and you make the wrong move, you could be fucked and your band could be fucked, and your career could be fucked. Iím not blowing smoke. But youíve got to give Paul and Gene credit, for over 40 years, look at their track record. That stands on its own and it doesnít matter what anybody says.
This brings me cleverly to the next questionÖ
Nice transition ďLaughsĒ