Interview: Gene Simmons keeps KISS classic

By Ken Sharp / GOLDMINE

Outspoken and brash, arrogant and opinionated, profane and vulgar, supremely narcissistic and sexist, are among the colorful descriptions both the public and media foist at KISS founding member Gene Simmons. Acutely aware of how he is perceived, Simmons even named his last solo album, “Asshole.”

When meeting with the “God of Thunder,” he’s polite and gracious proving there’s much more behind the self-proclaimed “Man of 1000 Faces.” The band, or brand, as Simmons often likes to describe the Roll and Roll Hall of Famers, are not content to rest on their laurels and count their mountainous pile of greenbacks, but continue to press the envelope with a keen understanding of the transformative power of how a rock ‘n’ roll band can be marketed in the 21st Century. Yet as Simmons attests, his aspirations for KISS have far exceeded his expectations.

“It is really weird that KISS, which never really started out as anything, but this bizarre dream of four knuckleheads off the streets of New York just wanting to do one record, that four decades later, the RIAA crowned us as the No. 1 gold record award-winning group of all time in America. It’s amazing especially since we’ve only had three hit singles, ‘Beth,’ ‘I Was Made For Lovin’ You’ and ‘Forever.’”

For a group routinely dismissed by short-sighted critics as a flash in the pan, a joke band comprised of talentless cretinous musical goons soon to be forgotten and quickly discarded on the junk heap of failed rock bands past, KISS are having the last laugh. Detractors be damned, 43 years since the original band — Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss — first came together, KISS continue to transcend the parameters of what a rock band can do; whether starring in their own Scooby Doo cartoon (“Scooby Doo & KISS: Rock & Roll Mystery”), teaming up with menswear designer/clothier John Varvatos or collaborating with Japanese teen sensations Momoiro Clover Z on “Samurai Son,” the band’s first No. 1 single in the “Land of the Rising Sun,” yesterday and today KISS stubbornly follow the beat of their new drum and continue to thrive, loudly.

We sat down with the band’s resident “God of Thunder,” Gene Simmons, who offered a primer in all things KISS, past, present and future.

Goldmine: The act of songwriting was something you worked hard to master.

GENE SIMMONS: Well, initially I just sang in bands. We did cover songs; everything from Otis Redding to Wilson Pickett to The Ventures and, of course, Beatles songs, whatever was happening at the time. Listening to The Everly Brothers helped me learn how to sing harmony, too. Then my mother bought me a Gibson SG Standard and I didn’t know what to do with my fingers so initially I was just pressing single notes. Then I noticed the way people were holding C chords and G chords and all that and started to fool around.

GM: How would you describe the early songs you wrote?

GS: The first songs, in retrospect, were the kind of things Lennon and McCartney wrote but I don’t mean anywhere near as good. People would ask them what their words mean and both of them would say, “We have no idea, we just put words on there that sounded good.” And initially, the kinds of songs that I wrote as a kid didn’t really mean a hell of a lot. I had a song called “My Uncle is a Raft.” One of the lyrics was “My uncle is a raft and he always keeps me floating.” I had fond feelings about my uncle George and I’m sure all that McCartney stuff like “Uncle Albert” and the lyrics “hands across the water” really don’t mean anything. It’s not like “Penny Lane,” which really meant something about his childhood memories. But a lot of the words in Beatles songs like “I Am The Walrus” don’t mean a lot; they’re just interesting words that are stuck against the melody and the meter. So those first few songs of mine were very simple. Stylistically, they were vaguely Beatlesque or Everly Brothers-ish, “Wake Up Little Susie,” that kind of stuff.

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