Interview ~ Tommy Thayer Of KISS
Tommy Thayer laced up his platform boots as a full-time member of KISS back in 2002 and is a key reason why the band is still forging ahead today. Tommy Thayer, along with Eric Singer, helped to bring new life and energy to the band in a way that the late Eric Carr did when he joined the band back in 1980. The groupís in its 43rd year and kicked off its Freedom to Rock Tour last month on July 4 in Tucson, Arizona. The band is hitting smaller, secondary markets that often get looked over when a band is booking a major tour. These smaller cities love their rock and roll and they love KISS as well and itís been quite a while since the kabuki clad members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame have visited them. Former American Idol contestant Caleb Johnson is serving as the opener up through August 8 with The Dead Daisies taking over that coveted slot on August 10. If you thought these guys were going to slow down, then you are sadly mistaken. Along with the Freedom to Rock Tour, they have a new CD/DVD/Blu-ray entitled KISS Rocks Vegas coming out on August 26, then thereís the KISS Kruise in November and who knows what else! We had the extreme privilege if sitting down with lead guitarist Tommy Thayer to talk about the tour, the military and about internet trolls.
Youíre about a month into the tour and weíve all seen the pictures online; tell us what itís been like so far.
Tommy Thayer/KISS: The tour is really exciting and it always blows us away when we get out here and realize that they are still so many crazy fans out there clamoring to see KISS. I think the thing thatís most interesting, itís astonishing actually, is how many news fans are coming to the shows. Every night Paul says Ďhow many people have never seen KISS before?í and itís astounding how many hands that go up. Itís really inspiring to see that and literally half of the people there havenít seen KISS before. It just shows you that there are that many people coming up that are interested in checking it out. By the time we finish the show, and itís an amazing show if I do say so myself, youíve made a lot of new fans.
This tour is a bit similar to the Lost Cities Tour back in 1997 when some of the smaller, overlooked cities were visited. What made you guys decide to do that again this time around?
The Freedom to Rock tour is based on doing the secondary market cities and itís important to us to play these cities. In some cases, we havenít been there in ten or twelve years or more and theyíre great markets. In a lot of ways, the fans and the crowds that are coming to these shows are even more excited than most regular tours because they havenít had the opportunity. They get a lot more hyped up and itís exciting; itís like the people canít believe that KISS is there. Theyíre great markets with a lot of energy and a lot of excitement; these are places that you canít get to every time, but this time we are.
Those secondary markets are just as hungry and appreciative of a big rock show and some times more than some of the bigger cities.
It almost plays into the theme of the tour also because thereís a healthy sense of Americana and home town feel which is a big part of the spirit and vibe of this tour.
I have to give major props to you guys again this year, as with the last several years, for putting a lot of emphasis on giving back to the military.
Itís not just for show; this is something that we believe in our hearts. I come from a military background because my father was a retired Brigadier General in the Army. Iíve been around this a lot and I know Paul and Gene are very adamant about supporting these types of things, so it really does come from the heart. Weíre hiring vets to be roadies for the day in each city and weíre honoring our service men and women every night. Itís exciting and something that we believe in and I know that the crowd really loves it as well.
I know you must hear the cries from some fans who want a new studio album. It has to be a tough spot for you guys because they cry for a new album and then they donít buy it. I donít mean that as a slam against you or the band, but I think you know what I mean.
As you know, thatís the unfortunate state of the record business these days. Itís harder to make the decision to record a new record these days because with all the time and effort and resources that go into doing it, in almost all cases, it doesnít pay off anymore. Like you said, people arenít buying music in a general sense anymore and it becomes kind of a waste of time in a sense. Creatively, itís nice to have an outlet sometimes, but itís almost like there are more important things to spend your precious hours of the day doing. Maybe thereís more touring and other things that make more sense than recording a record. In this day and age, there are a lot of different platforms and ways to get your music out there besides just the conventional recording business. We did this crazy KISS and Scooby Doo thing last year and I know itís a kidís thing, but in terms of attracting new, young fans itís astounding what things like that can do for your career. Itís more about thinking outside of the box and doing more unconventional type things that promote the band and get the word out there. Itís such a different world today and you have to look at different platforms to get your music out there and get people to know about the band.
Speaking of different worlds, do you think that social media has killed the mystique that used to exist surrounding music and bands? I remember having to wait for the new issue of Creem or Metal Edge to get my news and now some bands share way too much personal info on social media.
I completely agree with you even though I am on social media; I donít tweet twenty times a day, but I may send one out every day or two which I think is a nice pace. I completely agree with you that the mystique is gone in a lot of ways and it all started with MTV and videos on television all the time. I remember, like you did, I had to wait for that new issue of Creem or Circus Magazine to come out or potentially see a band like KISS on The Midnight Special once every six months to see them actually play live. If the band came to your town once a year, that was an exciting event because you would wonder what they were going to look like, what were they going to play and do? Now, with YouTube and social media, everything is just completely saturated and thatís unfortunate. I think thatís the world that we live in today and unfortunately thereís just too much information out there and too readily available. Now, you can see anything on YouTube anytime you want and it just takes away the mystique. Even if you go back to the history of releasing records, nowadays itís subscription services, Spotify and Pandora. Even when we were buying stuff off of iTunes, thereís nothing interesting, or sexy I should say, about buying an MP3 file on iTunes. One of the reasons that we collected music in the first place was to get these albums with great artwork and liner notes. You could sit there for days looking at it and reading the liner notes and now itís all gone. There was a real mystique with that and it created this great thing that we donít have any more and I really miss that.
Itís hard to believe that youíve been in the band for fourteen years now and I feel a need to address the elephant in the room. Do you steer clear of social media as much as possible because of the trolls who love to hate on you? You must have incredibly thick skin not to let some of their comments get to you.
(Laughs) First of all, Iíve come to realize that it doesnít matter if itís Tommy Thayer, KISS or whatever subject it may be, there are going to be trolls there with their negative comments and negativity. I donít take that personally because itís just a condition of internet blogging and people feeling the need to say whatever they want. As far as the KISS stuff, I know for a fact because I do pay attention to this stuff, that those people are a minute percentage of a percentage. Even though you see this stuff online, if you go to our shows then you really get a sense to whatís really going on. Itís just out there and it doesnít bother any of us to be honest with you; if anything, I get a laugh out of it.
Hereís a curve ball for you; whatís the most unusual non-music related job that you had growing up?
I did all kinds of things because I was never afraid to work, so there were paper routes and stuff. I grew up in Beaverton, Oregon and I worked for this company called Petronix. I worked part time because I was playing in a band at night and in the afternoon I would help assemble circuit boards and soldering. Iím actually a proficient solderer and I know my way around circuit boards and electronics and resistors. Iím not an expert, but I have some good experience at it. Thereís your interesting Tommy Thayer fact of the day (laughs).
Thatís pretty cool! Are you free to say what KISS will be up to when the Freedom to Rock Tour ends?
Weíre adding a few dates in the fall and of course weíre doing the KISS Kruise in November; thatís been a great success and itís a great franchise now in its sixth year. As far next year goes, there will be more touring, but to what extent I canít tell you just yet. KISS lives on and weíre going to keep rocking as long as we can! Being on this tour this year has really been exciting because the enthusiasm from the people is definitely still there.
(Tommy Thayer photo courtesy of Keith Leroux)