I’ve been a KISS fan since September 4, 1996, when I saw the band perform under the Brooklyn Bridge on MTV’s Video Music Awards. Having the opportunity to speak with Gene Simmons, who is performing at the Trocadero Theatre on June 2 and appearing at Wizard World June 2-3 in Philadelphia, was an honor and a pleasure.
In January you announced a partnership with Wizard World to launch your first-ever solo tour. This is a unique deal where you perform a concert in a particular city, followed by a weekend-long appearance at Wizard World in said city. How did this idea come about?
People that know me think of KISS and some business stuff. But underneath all that—the soft, white underbelly—is I’ve been a comic book geek all my life. KISS has had a long and proud history with comic books, going all the way back to the mid-’70s, starting with Marvel comics. Our KISS comics were the biggest sellers they had. And through the years we’ve had other comic book companies put out different comics. In the last year or so, Dynamic comics has started putting out KISS comics, as well as the Demon comics—my own comic. Of course, I’ve got the Simmons Comics Group, which puts out my characters: Gene Simmons’ House of Horrors, Zipper and Dominatrix.
So, Wizard World wanted me to come by and do a deal for five conventions. They wanted me to do a Q&A and stuff like that, for comic book fans. Then, when we started talking with each other, we said, “Hey, why don’t we make this a two-day event?” Take over a local concert hall, put together a band of rockers and go do some obscure KISS stuff. That’s exactly what we’ve done, and we’ve done about two or three of them so far. They’ve been loads of fun and everybody’s been having a great time. If you go to WizardWorld.com, you’ll get the lowdown there.
You’ve been performing some deep cuts live with your solo band, such as “Charisma” and “Got Love For Sale.” What made you want to dust off these album tracks and play them live?
When the masses show up at our concerts, they’re the diehards who’ve been with me since day one. If you’re five years old, 15 years old or even 20 years old, you still don’t scratch the surface because we’ve been around for 43 years. Doing these smaller concert halls, which hold 1,000 to 3,000 people, means they get filled up by real diehard fans. They don’t want to hear the same-old, same-old. They want to hear nuggets, as they say. It’s a hoot for me because I’ve never really had a chance to do this stuff live. It’s been a lot of fun. There’s nothing like playing “Charisma” and seeing a few thousand fans mouth every single word. Lot of fun.
Paul publicly announced on stage that KISS is going to record a new album. You’ve said that you don’t want to record a new KISS album. Which is it? Is KISS going to record another studio album or not? And, if so, when?
There’s some writing going on. Not too long ago I wrote a song called “Your Wish Is My Command.” It sounds anthemic, like something that might have come off Love Gun, maybe. But I’m not incentivized. The idea that you work your ass off and then someone with freckles on their face decides they want to download your music and file share—that’s not what I work for.
Many people complain about the audio quality of Hotter Than Hell. Do the original multitrack master tapes still exist? If so, what’s the likelihood of KISS remastering or remixing the album to dramatically improve the way it sounds?
That’s a good point. In those days we were making two records a year and touring at the same time, and doing media and all of that stuff. So, we, obviously, didn’t have the time nor did we have the expertise or the experience on our second record to know what good sound was.
You’re right, sonically it doesn’t live up to it. At any rate, I get it that audiophiles want something a little more fidelic. But I think it’s worth noting that the songs on Hotter Than Hell are, ya know, it’s not symphony. It’s not even close to Destroyer. The songs are pretty much straight ahead: two guitars, bass, drums, boom. But I have to say that, maybe, the way it was recorded was more in keeping with the kind of songs they were.
Finally, the last answer is, yeah, we should go back and remaster Hotter Than Hell and do something. And, yeah, we do own all those tapes.
Before you and Paul hang up your boots, would you like to have one more concert or project featuring all living members of the band, including Eric, Tommy, Ace, Peter, Vinnie, and Bruce? If so, what would that event or project look like?
I don’t know. Good god, anything is possible. But it’s worth noting that both Tommy and Eric have been in KISS longer than Ace or Peter. A train ride and the experience of that train ride depends on when you get on the train. If you get on the train in the middle of that trip, then that’s your perspective. There are plenty, maybe a few million, of KISS fans around the world—there are no signs being held up saying “Where’s Ace?” or “Where’s Peter?” believe it or not. Never, ever anywhere. And that doesn’t mean that Ace and Peter weren’t as equally important as anyone else in the band—they were…then. But the perspective now is it’s not at the forefront of people’s minds.
Frank Zappa sold a box set of the most popular Zappa bootlegs. He called it Beating The Bootleggers and it was available through his own label. Why doesn’t KISS do the same thing? You are one of, if not the biggest, bootlegged band of all time. The fans would love it and you’d make money by essentially taking the money out of the bootlegging community.
But you don’t make a dime. Everybody steals everything. Those days are gone. Unless, and if, an entity steps up and puts the cash on the table, there’s no incentive. Why would you give away your stuff for free, especially if you consider it valuable? Beat the bootleggers. Well, let an entity like a distributor—a record company, basically—or retailer pay for it. Somebody’s got to pay for it. There’s plenty of stuff in the vaults. On the day we figure out the business model, then great.
KISS’ catalog of music, released and unreleased, is currently under the complete control of Universal. When does this contract end, and when do those rights revert back to you and Paul?
Not too long from now. Pretty soon. Rights and rights reversal, those are gray areas. People are suing each other all the time. The answer is soon.
When I interviewed Tommy Thayer in November 2016 he said that KISSology 4 is 85% done. When will it be 100% done and released?
It’s been done for a while, and we’re trying to do a release of KISSology 4 and a box set of one, two, three, and four. We own all of them. It takes a long time. In the early days, before Napster and all that, there was a real business model. You had video companies and record companies and they’d pay you money and you could pinpoint which month something was coming out. Again, the incentive for us is we’re going to put stuff together but we’re not going to give it away for free. There’s a difference between commerce and charity. But I’m not interested in KISS becoming a charity. We work, we get paid. You don’t pay us, you don’t get something.
A year or two ago KISS was promoting the upcoming release of the You Wanted The Best, You Got The Best documentary. And you guys even shot a video backstage saying it would be shown at the recent Japan Expo, but it wasn’t. Why hasn’t this documentary been released yet?
It is complete and it’s done. It’s been done for over a year. But there seems to be some litigation involved and we’re staying away from it. Filmmakers and people who worked on it are going at each other and we want nothing to do with it. We own the content. But they have to get their house in order, and there’s always time.
Michael Cavacini is an award-winning communications professional, and his arts and culture site, MichaelCavacini.com, features additional interviews with iconic artists.
Gene Simmons will be performing at the Trocadero Theatre on June 2 and appearing at Wizard World June 2-3 in Philadelphia. For more information, go to genesimmons.com.