Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Interview: Gene Simmons of KISS talks to Glacially Musical's Danny Nichols

The following is a transcript of Danny Nichols' telephone interview with KISS' bassist Gene Simmons conducted on February 20, 2017.  The audio of this interview was first published by St. Louis Magazine on February 23, 2017 at www.stlmag.com.  

Danny Nichols: Hi, Gene

Gene Simmons: Good morning.

DN: It's really an incredible honor talk to you. I have been obsessed with KISS since I was about twelve years old and I've been in a couple of bands, both of which covered KISS songs. So it's really exciting to be talking to somebody who's an actual architect of this great material. I want to start by asking you about your coming appearance in St Louis. I know you are going to be in St. Louis from April 7th to 9th for the Wizard World comic convention and you're going to be doing a musical performance while you're there. I was wondering about the band you're going to be performing with at the Pageant here in town. Who's going to be in this band, who  are the musicians that comprise this band?

GS: That there is a whole thing, boy that sounds like a paragraph, not a question. Usually it's do you like black or white, boom, then I go on and give the paragraph.

DN: I may have over thought this. I has been a long time waiting for this moment so...

GS: You are a powerful and attractive man! So this, Wizard World and getting up on stage and having some fun, combines two of my favorite things. KISS is in the middle of doing all kinds of wacky stuff, we're gonna be kings of the Mardi Gras in a few days in New Orleans, and we play the Superdome while we're there. So I'm sure there will be a lot of people in that stadium. And shortly thereafter, we'll play a few more casino shows, but then we'll move on to Europe, where we play the first show May 1st in Russia, on what they call May Day. That's when they bring out all the missiles and the tanks. I'm told Putin is going to attack and you'll see.

DN: It would be appropriate if KISS were the band to actually thwart World War III. You, of any band, have the power to do that.

GS: Trust me, nobody's going to war. Everybody's economy depends on everybody else's. KISS have appeared in many comic books, and I have my own line of comics with Dominatrix, Zipper and House of Horrors. And now the KISS Demon book, I have my own comic book there. So when Wizard World asked me if I would appear at five of their conventions, I said sure, you know I love that stuff and want to meet the fans and talk comic books and stuff. They asked me if I would get up on stage and, you know, and do a couple of tunes. I said, well, big cavernous convention centers don't sound good. You know, they can have a hundred thousand people there and it's just like a garage, it just doesn't... Actually a garage would sound better. So I said here, do me a favor, if you promise not to jack up the prices, keep prices at twenty or thirty bucks, something like that, we could take over a small hall. The Agora's, or some place like that, and have us a great time. I've got some cool guys that played on our Kiss Kruise, great musicians, who also back up Kid Rock and a few other guys. And we jam together and all that. We're just going to get up on stage and have a good old time.

DN: I know a lot of people are really looking forward to it.

GS: Me too. I love this stuff. I've never done any solo tours of any kind, so this is a chance to get up there and do some KISS tunes, but also some Wilson Pickett, and Roy Head and stuff that people may not know but it's gonna still rock the house.

DN: That was kind of my next question. So is the set list going to be similar to a typical KISS show, or is it going to be something half similar and half all together different.

GS: You'll find out.

DN: Excellent. I look forward to it.

GS: There's gonna be a Beatle tune, Roy Head, a little Otis Redding, maybe some Chuck Berry, Carl Perkins, it ranges. But basically roots music amped up, done with guitars. It's important at the outset to say that anybody who wants details at the beginning should just get on wizardworld.com. Yeah, Wizardworld.com gets you all the info; where, when, how, and all that.

DN: We'll be sure to put that into the written segment of this interview. One of the things I also wanted to ask you is, the imagery of KISS is terrific and does contribute greatly to my enjoyment of the band, but the primary reason I love KISS is actually because of the music and the songs you have created. I think there is a lot of substance and quality to these songs and you guys would not have sold the millions of albums you have, if the songs themselves weren't as good as the show. KISS is clearly one of the most legendary bands ever, especially when it comes to showmanship, but I was wondering how you view your musical legacy. The songs themselves and how they fit into rock history, because I happen to think they're just as good as the show.

GS: That's not for me to say. You know, you do the best you can and its clear we're not Lennon and McCartney, I don't think anybody is. That's a level of songwriting that just hasn't been equaled. I think there are some tunes which have stood the test of time, but where it stands in history... eh... I don't care. It doesn't matter to me. We happen to be America's number one gold record group champions. No other North American or South American band has more gold records.

DN: And that would not have happened if the songs weren't of supreme quality, that is my opinion.

GS: Well, yeah, okay. We just have a great time.

DN: And it is fun. I think the fans can observe how much fun the band is having and that helps the audience have fun as well. Another question I wanted to ask; KISS has gone through a few line-up changes and musical styles from 1973 until the present, and I was wondering how the songwriting process has evolved through the years. Do you approach each album with a specific plan of the sound you want or does it evolve organically depending on who is doing the song writing at the time?

GS: You know, it's all over the place. Sometimes it depends where we are in our head, what's happening around us, whose in the band. Tommy and Eric have brought a new honesty to the band where we don't have to pretend to be anything else, or look over our shoulders. KISS has always been at its best when we have never bothered with what's going on, you know, what fashion or style is happening. But every once in awhile we have gone over and done stuff we didn't totally believe in and just said oh maybe this is what's happening, maybe we should be doing this. But at the end of the day the great bands, and the great actors, and politicians, whoever; really have stood true to who and what they are. To thine own self be true. That's when KISS is at its best, when we just do what we do the best we can.  

DN: I think a lot of bands, when they are standing in the eye of their own hurricane, they don't realize how important and significant the band is to their fans. I don't think this has ever been the case with KISS. I think KISS has always realized, KISS is bigger than any of its individual members. 

GS: Right.

DN: I think that has played into decisions; like to keep the classic make-up designs even as you have added new members. Which as a fan of Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer, at first, I was kind of hoping they would get new characters, but I have come to understand and respect your decision, and realize what your saying is KISS is eternal. KISS is going to go on longer than any of its members.

GS: Well all those things, all those viewpoints really depends on... Imagine a train, and the train has a long ride. Your point of view about that ride depends on when you get on the train. So if you get on the train at the beginning, you have a different experience than somebody who gets on in the middle. So when I go to see the Rolling Stones, and I have many times, I am always emotionally missing the classical line-up. The original line-up with Brian Jones and Bill Wyman who are no longer in the band. But somebody who goes to see the Stones now whose in their 20s or 30s has no idea what I'm talking about.

DN: I talked to a younger KISS fan one day and he said to me, for his generation, Tommy Thayer is the definitive lead guitarist for KISS. I understand where he is coming from in saying this as a younger fan.

GS: Well, that's his perception. And likewise when you go to see the Yankees nobody talks about Mickey Mantle or Roger Maris.

DN: Right. Because the Yankees are bigger than who their players are, and KISS is the same way.

GS: Life moves on, and if you take a look at the bands that have stayed around the longest, such as AC/DC, or whomever you are talking about, have had many different members because very few people... you know this is a marathon and very few people can last decade after decade. We've been doing this for 43 years, and not everybody has the DNA to be straight, sober and continue to move on.

DN: So my question about that is, have you ever put any thought into who might become the Demon when you've moved on? Would it be a well known musician, an unknown newcomer, or maybe your son? Who will replace Gene Simmons?

GS: It's a good question. Mark Burnett, the guy that produced the Survivor and Apprentice shows, and lots of others; he and I were developing something called KISS: The Next Generation. And that was, you know, we pitched it around, we were gonna look for a TV show, and actually look for the next generation. Who that's gonna be, I have no idea. We have no plans, by the way, of going anywhere. We're gonna continue doing this. The band is strong, healthy. We look forward to touring, we love doing what we do. But one day, you know it'll have to end, and there's no reason why the band should end just because we decide to hang up our platform heels. It will continue.

DN: That's great. You've had the opportunity to perform with and write with many great musicians throughout your career. Are there any musicians you haven't had a chance to work with yet, but would still like to do so?

GS: Keith Richards.

DN: Your back catalogue is so extensive , KISS remains relevant without any new albums, but as a fan I have to ask, you've dropped hints you have material for a new album. Can we expect any new music from KISS? Or maybe even a Gene Simmons solo album?

GS: Yes. I'll be talking about it shortly. There'll be a huge Gene boxed set coming out this year.

DN: Excellent! That's exiting news, I look forward to that. A lot of bands have been destroyed or derailed by alcohol or drugs. I think one of the reasons for KISS' tremendous success and longevity is because of your and Paul's commitment to staying clean, which I feel like has probably been an inspiration to a lot of younger bands. You can really create this musical empire by avoiding some of the common pitfalls of rock-n-roll. How do you feel this has helped your career as a musician by not partying too much?

GS: I don't (party) at all. I have never knowingly been high or drunk in my life. I've never smoked cigarettes. You've gotta go to the dentist and every once in a while they knock you out, but other than that, the lifestyle just doesn't appeal to me. It doesn't work. I can understand if it makes you smarter, or faster, or it makes you run, but no... no, it doesn't have any of that. In fact, you'll be stupid. If you get drunk you'll probably throw up on the brand new shoes your girlfriend just bought. You're not going to say anything witty. It simply doesn't work. And it's not just with rock. How'd you like to be on a football team with your pal and you pass the ball, but he's too high to know what's going on. When that guy loses the whole team loses. It simply doesn't work. My suggestion to anyone who lives in a dysfunctional family, or has a drunken uncle, or his best friend gets high all the time, you gotta dump them, you gotta get rid of them. They are vampires and they will suck you of your life. And they'll do it with big smiling faces, and make excuses. It's never them it's the world. They're the victim, it's the world's fault. You gotta get rid of them, just move on.

DN: There is one final question I would like to ask you. Throughout the history of rock-n-roll the public's exposure to rock music could be largely dictated by one or two radio stations in each town, often at the direction of the record industry, deciding what to play and what people are hearing. With everybody listening to the same bands it helped create supergroups. Nowadays there are so many different platforms upon which people can receive music, not everybody's listening to the same thing. There's a lot of different outlets for music...

GS: I hate the word "platform". It is so stupid. I wear platform heels, you can stand on a platform, but no, you can't use that word, it's been taken.

DN: Okay

GS: I mean, modern day computers use the word "mouse". No, bitch. That word is taken. Come up with another word. Okay, that's cool. "Mouse", no...   
That was my attempt at humor. So what about platforms?

DN: I think there is a lot of positives from this for a small time musician, it gives them a way to get music out to the world and everything, but I kind of regret the demise of the arena rock band.

GS: Yeah, but that's not the problem. The problem is platforms, the problem is the internet, the problem is that people download and file share. Look, it doesn't effect me, I'm a rich bastard. It directly effects new bands, which is to say they will never have the chance that I had. I could quit my day job and I could devote all of my time to being in KISS. Nowadays, you have to give your music away for free and even if you think you can charge for it , as soon as the first guy gets a copy of it, he's gonna share it with his friends.

DN: I agree, and I always pay for my music (either with money or by the service of writing a review for this website).

GS: Remember Radiohead, great band, said people could pay whatever they want, or have their new album for free. They didn't do it again, did they?

DN: Right, exactly. So do you think there will be new rock bands able to fill arenas once the old guard has retired?

GS: No... No. And that's because without a record industry to support you... you know when anything is given away for free it's worthless. The plumber wants to get paid for fixing your plumbing, I want to get paid for doing what I do. I work hard, I sweat more than the plumber and KISS is not a charity. We give to charity. We're charitable, but you make a line, and I don't need some college kid saying 'eh, you're too rich, you don't need that money.' I don't need for him to tell me what I need and what I don't need. I'll decide that. So, anybody who works hard in doing what they do should get paid.

DN: I will continue paying for music because I agree with what you are saying there.

GS: Well, you know, people don't pay for their music, okay that's whats going on today. Tomorrow they won't pay for books. The next day they won't pay for food. The next day they won't pay for plumbing or anything else. The entire capitalist system, free market or otherwise, just goes down the drain, we have chaos. If nobody pays for anything, we'd be killing each other.

DN: Well, I am glad KISS came around in an era before this current situation, otherwise, as you said, we may have all been cheated of your existence.

GS: I appreciate the kind words, but the sad part again, it's not about us, it's about the new bands. There are some great new bands out there that will never have the chance we did. They have to go work for a living during the day time and keep living in their mother's basement because they can't make money off their music.

DN: I have found when putting a CD out and charging for it, many people seem insulted there is a price, because they have been conditioned to think music is free. 

GS: That's right.

DN: That's unfortunate.

GS: You can't blame anybody. You can't blame corporate America, or record companies, or foreign countries. The people you have to blame are your next door neighbor, the fans who actually love the music, killed it. We killed it. Not them.

DN: Well, I hope there's going to be a way moving forward, so the next KISS, wherever that band comes from, is able to make a go of it and fill arenas again.

GS: We'll see.

DN: I want to thank you for your time today.

GS: My pleasure.

DN: Again it is a tremendous honor to talk to you. I have been listening to your music on repeat for most of my life. It's one of the soundtracks to my life.

GS: Thank you.

DN: I have great respect for you, not only as a showman, but also as a musician. I think sometimes you don't get as much credit as you should for your musicianship.

GS: Oh, my ego is fully satiated, but I appreciate it. All I have to do is get up in the morning and look in the mirror and I'm happy.

DN: It's been a real privilege, you have a great day. We look forward to seeing you in April.

GS: Thank you.

Special thanks to Thomas Crone of St. Louis Magazine for making this interview possible. To hear the audio of this interview, and read commentary about the interview and the interview process please visit ST. LOUIS MAGAZINE GENE SIMMONS.   Photos from Official Gene Simmons Facebook