100% ROCK MAGAZINE INTERVIEWS TOMMY THAYER
By Shane Pinnegar / 100% ROCK MAGAZINE
Thereís two Tommy Thayers. Thereís the all-American chisel-jawed boy from Oregon who played in garage bands during high school and started the band Black ní Blue with best friend and classmate Jamie St James, before going on to work in video production and tour manage his ex-producerís band. And then, thereís Tommy Thayer, the successor to the role Ace Frehley created in KISS Ė The Spaceman.
That producer was Gene Simmons, KISS bass player and singer, and after the bottom fell out of the hard rock industry in the mid-90s, Thayer found ever-increasing work with Simmons and KISS, first as a session guitarist, then co-ordinating a lot of their video releases (including the KISStory series), road managing the band during the reunion tours with the original line-up, and finally, as part of the band. Since slapping on the greasepaint as an official member of KISS in 2002, Thayer has played countless shows as lead guitarist, made two albums with the band, and even made his singing debut.
Suffice to say, we have plenty of questionsÖ
100% ROCK: Hey Tommy, thanks for your time today Ė itís much appreciated.
Tommy: I sure appreciate your time as well, and I look forward to talking a little bit about whatís going on with me and KISS.
100% ROCK: Of course weíre always excited when KISS comes back to town, and youíve got the huge Spider stage set coming this time around, which just looks magnificent.
Tommy: Itís a fantastic stage. Before I did any interviews, I double checked with our management people and our production managers, just to make sure that we are, in fact, bringing the Spider stage to Australia Ė because I was doing some interviews before we went to Europe this summer, and I was saying, ďYeah, weíre bringing the Spider stage,Ē and then I found out later that we werenít even bringing the Spider stage to Europe!
Yes, the Spider stageÖ itís really very cool. You just have to see it Ė itís all-encompassing. Itís huge. We come down on it. It moves constantly through the show. Itís a great visual and itís probably one of the coolest stage sets that KISS has ever toured with.
100% ROCK: Iíve seen some of the photos, and it really does look magnificent, but between that thing moving around and all the pyro going off, is it dangerous to be up there? Do you have to really be careful youíre not in the wrong spot at the wrong time?
Tommy: Thereís no doubt about it, you have to absolutely be careful. We rehearse the show [so] we know where everythingís going off. We know where the pyro spots are and where theyíre placed. Itís well-rehearsed, and weíve got a very professional pyrotechnics team with us, so fortunately, weíve never had any mishaps in the long history of KISS and certainly while Iíve been around. Hopefully weíll keep it that way. Again, itís very professionally done. We know where everythingís going to be going off and where itís positioned and where itís placed. Thereís a lot of preparation and work that goes into it in advance, and itís, like I said, very professionally done [so] weíre in good shape.
100% ROCK: Looking forward to seeing it. KISS has got such a huge back catalogue, not only of hits, but of much beloved album tracks as well. How hard is it, when you start a tour, to sit down and pick a set list?
Tommy: When weíre getting ready to tour, itís very difficult to pick a set list. As you know, with forty-plus years of albums and songs, itís just difficult to decide what to do, especially when you have to keep in mind the classics. 99% of the people that are coming to the shows are expecting to hear certain songs, just like if you go see The Rolling Stones, you want to hear Satisfaction, you want to hear Jumpiní Jack Flash, etc. Itís the same with KISS, so we try to make sure that we please as many people as we can, but itís sometimes a no-win kind of situation, as well, because you have die-hard fans out there that are saying, ďWell, weíre tired of hearing this song. We want to hear something obscure.Ē We try to take that into consideration to a point, but the way you judge this is when you get on stage and the way the crowd reacts and the energy, and if you throw an obscure song in there, usually the crowd dies down and it gets very quiet out there. I think that affects the show, so youíve got to be careful with that sort of thing and stick to, really, what most of the people want to hear.
100% ROCK: That makes a lot of sense. Weíre taking our 8 year old daughter along to see the show, and she is beside-herself excited Ė itíll be her first time seeing KISS. Thereís just no generation gap at all with KISS, is there?
Tommy: Not anymore. I think when KISS started out in the early-to-mid í70s, it was about a teenage rock thing, but itís evolved over the years, and today, 40-some years later, like I said, itís not exact to a certain generation at all. Itís everybody. Itís all generations. Thereís multiple generations. I donít know how many generations, but many, and itís all ages. Itís like going to see the circus. Itís anybody from 5 to 65, and probably beyond that. We have all ages. Itís a communal gathering of everyone, and everybody, period. Itís interesting, because a lot of bands are more defined to a certain age group or a certain niche or a generation of fans, and KISS is all generations, all niches, all races, all creeds, everybody. Everybodyís at a KISS concert.
100% ROCK: When you had Gene produce your band Black Ďn Blue way back in í85, I think it was, you canít have had any idea that fast-forward thirty years, youíd be in the band, up there in the makeup and everything Ė so you must have made a good impression on him, I would imagine.
Tommy: That was a long time ago. Think about it, that was thirty years ago, really, because I met those guys in 1985, 30 years ago, when Black Ďn Blue was on tour with KISS during their Asylum tour. Itís interesting, thinking back now. Gene was interested in bands, and at the time, we had done our second record with Bruce Fairbairn. We wanted our third record to be more of a raw rock ní roll album. We thought Gene would be perfect to do that, so thatís why we basically hired him.