KISS co-founder Gene Simmons looks ahead to band’s next generation
“IT’S not all about me.”
They’re five words you’d never expect to hear from the not insubstantial tongue of the ego-driven, larger-than-life co-founder and money man of KISS, the band that’s as much marketing exercise as music maker.
But as Gene Simmons – blood-spitting, fire-breathing god of thunder and lord of the wasteland – confronts his own human mortality, he admits this beast he built called KISS is bigger than even him.
Fourteen years after the so-called Farewell Tour, Simmons and co-founder Paul Stanley can see permanent retirement on the horizon.
“In terms of the physical wear and tear, we can’t do this into our 70s – it’s just not gonna work,” Simmons, who has just turned 66, admits.
“The bass player in this band – that’s me – has to wear 50 pounds (23kg) of armour, eight-inch platform heels, spit fire, fly through the air, put on two hours of make-up – even before he hits the stage.
“Sometimes when I felt tired I’d go, ‘Goddamn why couldn’t I be the bass player in the Stones?’ You put on a T-shirt, a pair of sneakers, stand still, you don’t have to break a sweat, and just remember the right chords. And that’s it!”
Simmons is man and myth, with comic books and action figures in his image. Recently, he rubbed shoulders (and compared tongues) with another comic icon, Scooby Doo, in an animated movie.
“When we started KISS, the fact that we actually fought Doctor Doom and met Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four in the very first issue of our own comic book, I said, ‘what the hell!’.
“It’s beyond beyond. We’re not only real people, we became Marvel superheroes – wow!”
And it’s that overarching mythology that will allow KISS to continue, without its founding members.
“The wish is that after me this great thing called KISS could continue with somebody else, like a relay race,” Simmons says.
“As long as the integrity and commitment to what we do lays intact, why can’t it be like a football team where somebody else worthy gets the ball tossed to them or kicked to them so they can go for the goal?”
And, of course, the quest for replacement members would be carried out in the full glare of a reality TV show.
“A few years ago Mark Burnett, who created The Apprentice and Survivor and a few other things – and he and I did a show together called Jingles – we went around town and pitched KISS: The Next Generation,” Simmons says.
“In other words, we have no problem whatsoever actually doing it publicly, getting four unknown guys who would be willing to devote their identity, their heart and souls to this thing.”
Simmons and Stanley leave quite a legacy, in music and marketing.
“It’s gone way beyond anything we ever imagined,” Simmons says. “You can go to Las Vegas and see rehearsals for the KISS Vegas show that’s coming up, and during the day or night you can visit the KISS golf course right across from the Hard Rock Hotel. And, of course, ride around town in the KISS limo service. And when you’re in Los Angeles you can go watch football and go see LA KISS play …”
A KISS theme park has been considered (as seen in the Scooby Doo movie), “and for a while there was talk about a ‘KISSino’,” Simmons says.
“Hey, it’s endless: 5000 licensed products. I mean, the only thing left is KISStianity, isn’t it?”
On their last tour of Australia in 2013, KISS played the unlikely venue of Mackay in north Queensland. This time around it’s the almost-as-unlikely Newcastle, which could be Australia’s answer to Detroit Rock City.
“We’ve always had the point of view that where you’re born is an accident of birth,” Simmons says. “To use the American analogy of always playing New York City, well, some people don’t live there, some people live up in the mountains some place.
“So we’ve gone to cities and played places we’ve never heard of before, especially in Canada where there were more people at the concerts than actually live in the cities.”
With KISS releasing albums Sonic Boom and Monster in quick succession, Simmons says the demands of touring have delayed the recording of more new material.
“There’s more material coming up, but it’s all about time,” he says. “I started writing a song called Your Wish is My Command, which has that ‘fire in the belly’ thing, it feels like a fresh KISS song. I’m very excited about it, because the hardest thing to do is to write something valid that has the same kind of hunger and innocence as when you first wrote a song.”
Also in the works are a KISS movie, a television series and a video game.
Ever the straight shooter, Simmons doesn’t shy away from the police investigation into child porn that was downloaded via his home internet connection.
Neither Simmons nor his family are suspects and it is not known if the offence happened on the premises or via infiltration of his wi-fi network.
“They (the offender) have to be in the area, either inside the home or one of the people coming to clean. We have people coming into the house all the time – food deliveries, workmen – or they were nearby,” Simmons says.
Despite, or perhaps because of, his lack of tech savvy, he’s beefed up his internet security.
“Oh, sure. The FBI came and helped us put in a firewall, whatever the hell that is.”
KISS play Brisbane Entertainment Centre on October 13