One-On-One With KISS Lead Guitarist Tommy Thayer

From November 4-9 I was on KISS Kruise VI, and a few days prior to this trip I interviewed KISS’ lead guitarist, Tommy Thayer.

KISSology 4 was supposed to be released in November 2011, yet it still hasn’t seen the light of day. Why?

I don’t know if it was officially slated to be released then. It’s still on hold. It’s about 85% done. I put it together and produced what we’ve done so far. KISSology 4, like the other KISSologies, will chronicle a certain era of the band. It will chronicle the band from early 2001/2002 up until the current date. It will also include vintage footage from the KISS archives that people haven’t seen.

Getting back to your question, I don’t know if I have a good reason why it hasn’t come out yet. There’s just been so many other things going on, and something as important as that, has to have its own window of time where it’s focused and committed to, so it gets the right attention. Sometimes that kind of stuff happens.

A project like that is timeless so you have more flexibility where it doesn’t have to come out at a certain time. We’re waiting to find the right time to put it out so it gets the attention that it deserves.
Speaking of unreleased material, when can fans expect another deluxe edition similar to what you did with Love Gun?

I think the intention was to do a series of deluxe editions, like the Love Gun Deluxe Edition. Before that Destroyer Resurrected was released. We had the idea of doing one for Creatures of the Night. But when I looked into supplementary material, like bonus tracks and demos, things that we could beef it up with, I didn’t really find anything in our archives to do it properly, so that was set aside. It’s not to say it won’t happen again. But, sometimes, certain eras and certain records we don’t have enough supplementary material to do it, and that was the case with the Creatures idea.

At the Mohegan Sun concert on October 29, Paul said to the audience that KISS is going to release a new studio album. When will you guys start writing material for it and recording it?

I think it’s still in the idea phase. I don’t believe anything definitive has been decided yet for that. Within the band, we’ve talked and thrown some ideas around. It would be nice to do another record.

Eric has said he doesn’t want to be in KISS if Gene and Paul aren’t in the band. When Gene and Paul eventually retire, what would you do?

To make a proclamation about whether or not I’d continue to be in the band after Gene and Paul retire, to me, personally, doesn’t make sense. That’s why I’m not saying, “Here’s what I’m gonna be doing in five years.” How can you possibly say what you’re going to be doing because we just don’t know. I like to take things day by day, and we’ll see where it all goes. I’ve been around KISS and the organization for a long time, and I hope to continue that. Regarding what happens with Gene and Paul and the band in the future, I don’t think anybody knows for sure.

A small segment of KISS fans can’t accept you performing in the “Spaceman” makeup and attire, even though you’ve been working with the band for decades and been KISS’ lead guitarist for nearly 15 years. How do you deal with this relentless onslaught of hate from narrow-minded fans?

It really doesn’t bother me. You can’t be fooled by a handful people that go on websites and complain. Some people complain about everything, really, not just who’s the guitar player. In that context, it doesn’t really mean anything to me. If anything, I chuckle and smile when I hear things like that. It really has nothing to do with what’s happening in reality. Put it this way: KISS continues to go out and play big shows and be the phenomenon that it is. I give more merit to that fact, than what a few oddballs say online. I don’t really care.

Why don’t you and Eric sing more songs live?

KISS has been playing and recording for more than 40 years, and Gene and Paul sing most of the songs on the albums. That’s what KISS is known for. So when we play live, Gene and Paul sing the majority of the songs. I’ve only sung a couple songs on record and a couple others live. It’s a huge catalog of albums with hundreds of songs. When you look at it that way, it’s pretty easy to understand why they sing the majority of the songs we play live. Eric and I sing a few songs live and a lot of backup vocals, and we love it. Like I said, that’s why those guys sing most of the stuff, because they wrote and recorded most of it. That’s what people expect.

If you could sing more songs live, which ones would you choose?

If a song was written, recorded and sung by one of the guys in the band, and that’s what fans have heard for years, then that’s what people are expecting to hear live. But if that guy isn’t in the band anymore, and it’s a popular live song, then someone else has to do it. “Shock Me” is a KISS song that’s always been popular, so it makes sense for me to do that one. The same case with “Black Diamond” or “Beth” with Eric. The problem with the new songs like “When Lightning Strikes” and “Outta This World,” new songs off new records, frankly a lot of people don’t know them. When you’re playing live there’s a dynamic and energy to the show, and when you play new songs that nobody knows you lose the energy. (laughs) It’s that plain and simple. When you have a career as long as KISS, you have to play what people expect and what gets fans excited, and that’s where the energy comes from. You see the same thing if you go and see Paul McCartney or the Rolling Stones. It’s just the way it is.

Prior to the Reunion Tour, you helped Peter and Ace relearn their parts in classic KISS songs. What was that experience like?

It was interesting. I was asked to come in and help them out. Quite frankly, they weren’t up to speed on the songs and playing them properly. They’d get off track and start playing different versions or different parts than what was originally done. The idea was to get them back on track, and that’s what I did. It was interesting, and it was fun and enjoyable to do with both of them. It was like jamming on KISS songs—nothing tough about that. A couple times Peter got upset and at first and he pushed back a bit. Ace was cool. We sat down and went through the songs and, for the most part, they were appreciative of the fact that somebody was willing to go through this stuff and help them out.

Since you’ve been in KISS, what’s been your happiest moment as a member of the band?

It’s hard to come up with one particular moment. I’ve been in the band for almost 15 years now. I’d say it’s been such a great thing to do and that I hope things continue to be as good as they’ve been. Nobody can complain about playing lead guitar in one of the biggest rock bands ever. It’s a great place to be.

Since you’ve been in KISS, what’s been your most difficult experience as a member of the band?

It’s never been difficult. It was a challenge coming into the band and fill the shoes of somebody that was that popular to begin with and played such an important role in the band. A lot of eyes were on me. There’s really never the perfect scenario, it’s kind of like damned if you do and damned if you don’t. You should be more original; you should play it more like the other guy. Then the moment you cop the parts or the style of the previous guy, people start to say, “Oh, he’s just a copycat.” With some people you just can’t win. The counter to that is that 99% of the people enjoy it and they let you know that. The guys in the band have been nothing but positive and supportive from day one. That’s never a question. Sometimes it’s a challenge to deal with people’s multiple points of view, but it doesn’t make a difference. You just go out there and kick some ass.


Michael Cavacini is an award-winning communications professional, and his arts and culture site,, features additional interviews with iconic artists.