on “Samurai Son,” the band’s first # 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…. Witness their latest “Freedom To
Rock” tour, which is drawing in a significant generation of younger fans
eager and excited to be baptized KISS-style.
We sat down with the band’s resident “God of Thunder,”
Gene Simmons, who offered a primer in all things KISS, past, present and
The new KISS tour is labeled
the “Freedom to Rock” tour. When did you first feel the freedom that
music provided as a creative outlet?
That’s a very good question.
When you’re a pimple-faced little kid, we’re all trying to figure out
where we fit on the chess board of life. We try to hang to or latch on
to that thing that makes us acceptable. It’s usually not mathematics
unfortunately or sciences. The kid that excels at math and science, for
the rest of the kids at school don’t just go, “Oh yeah, I need to hang
out with that guy.” The pivotal moment for me – and I think lots of
people – was watching The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. It was
a very clear vision; here are four guys who look alien. They were very
small, had a very small physical stature. They were a little feminine
with crazy haircuts – the rest of us had very short hair. They were
singing and playing in ways I hadn’t heard before and the girls were
going absolutely crazy! Because I wasn’t from America (ed. note:
he was born in Israel and moved to America at age eight) and I always
felt like an outsider, I connected to them because they also didn’t feel
like they came from here. They talked strange, that British and
Liverpudlian accent I’d never heard before, not in movies, or anywhere
else. I thought, “Gee if I did that, maybe I can be accepted too?”
Going to KISS shows today,
there is a multi-generational appeal; young, middle aged and old, all
united in their love of the band. For this new tour, you’re encountering
audience demos that are getting younger. How do you account for that?
we’re showing up in car commercials. Every Halloween everybody dresses
up like us. Our cartoon, KISS and Scooby-Doo!, was very big and
successful. The KISS Rocks Vegas show played in movie theaters
and just came out on DVD, and had special editions that come with vinyl,
too. We have a very, very long history; this is our 43rd year, believe
it not. So I think it’s a combination of parents wanting to share that
thing that got them as kids. It’s difficult for parents to say, “Let’s
go see a Lawrence Welk show” because that doesn’t connect with younger
generations. But something about KISS, I don’t want to say it’s
timeless, but it connected with a five-year-old back in the ‘70s and it
sure connects with a five-year-old now. You can’t help but have a good
time at one of our shows, when everybody is going nuts onstage. That
kind of a good time is infectious. You can’t fake it. You can’t fool the
audience. The people will see right through you if you put on a fake
smile or you’re not putting out your best. The band are alive and well,
and I think we’re playing better than we ever have.
up, who were your personal heroes?
When I was a kid in Israel I
didn’t have any heroes. We didn’t have TV and we didn’t have radio. I
didn’t know about heroes. All I knew was the bible that our people
wrote, but I didn’t want to be Moses. There were just no heroes until I
came to America and started going to movies and saw television. I saw
Superman, read comic books and all that. Then you start to have
notions of being a hero without restriction, no limitation.
Today, who do you count as
That’s a good one, that’s a good question. I will tell you, it may be a
cornball answer but it’s the truth: my mother. Above and beyond the
horrific early life she had, being in a concentration camp, she always
worked and never complained. On her own terms she succeeded, despite any
adversity. That’s where I got my work ethic.
Speaking of heroes, tell us
about KISS’s involvement with the “U.S. Chamber of Commerce Hiring Our
We take lots of things for
granted in America. Let me remind everybody; if you lived in many Asian
countries or South African countries you could find your head in a
garbage pail. Or in Africa where you could starve to death, or have
disease and in Iran and North Korea. The freedom you have here people
just take for granted. You have every opportunity in America; the sky’s
the limit. You cannot fail. Literally, you can declare chapter 7 or
chapter 11 bankruptcy and then do it again. It’s even difficult to
convict criminals. People can be killers, unfortunately, and then get
sent to a really cushy psychiatric place where they feed you and they’ve
got television. It’s a very lenient area with all the opportunities in
the world; you can’t fail.
So the “Hiring Our Heroes”
program honors America. While we have all these freedoms and all this
opportunity, the people who protect this country and sometimes give the
ultimate sacrifice, their life for a belief, come back to America and
our military just says, “Well, good luck, thanks very much, see you
later….” They’re physically battered and mentally battered. It’s
difficult for them to get jobs. We have contributed cash to Wounded
Warriors and lots of organizations. We do that as well on this tour.
Nice big fat checks. We do it at our Rock & Brews restaurants; the
opening day is always just for vets, it’s closed to the general public.
We give them a big check and we honor them and we feed them. It’s the
least we can do. On tour we hire local vets; we pay them and they help
our road crew put on the greatest show on earth. The US Chamber of
Commerce got wind of what we were doing for the vets and wanted to
connect with us and we wanted to connect with them. Every once in a
while the government gets it right, I’m happy to say.
The band is also spearheading
the Wounded Warriors Support foundation and the home giveaway program.
We connected with Dr. Pepper
and a few corporate entities. A few shows ago, one of our proud vets,
three tours in Afghanistan, came onstage. He was honored and he helped
the road crew and he made some money putting up the stage. Then onstage
Kiss and the Mayor of the city turned around and said, “We have a brand
new home with a fully paid mortgage. Thank you for your service.” The
emotional part of being able to do that is huge. You look out in the
audience and you can see people crying. Giving away a brand new home is
a really rewarding thing to be able to do to honor our servicemen.
KISS is throwing a major KISS
Expo in Japan in October. What can fans expect?
KISS Expo is a lot of the
stuff from my collection but also virtual, you can stick on glasses and
hop up onstage and play with us. It’s quite an amazing thing with the
technology but that’s no surprise, the Japanese are very advanced in
that field. It’s almost sold out. The big Japanese artists are
attending. There’s a guy named Yoshiki who is in a group called X Japan
but there it’s just X. We recorded the song “Samurai Son,” with Momoiro
Clover Z, who are little, little girls, sort of pop space girls and have
an enormous fan base there. It turned out to be our first # 1 single in
Japan, so they’re coming to the KISS Expo. Everyone will be descending
on that because a lot of those artists grew up worshipping KISS.
I’m flying over solo to the
KISS Expo in October. I’m going to stay for a week, meet the press and
play nice and all of that, and then Yoshiki is going to come down and
open the KISS Expo with me. KISS is why he decided to get into music. So
I’ll be at the KISS Expo, hosting people and meeting them and doing all
of that. Then the day after the expo I’ll be joining Yoshiki, who’s
doing a three day X Japan festival. There will be 100,000 people there,
so I’ll be going there and joining him onstage to do a few songs.
There is talk that the
long-awaited KISS documentary,
You Wanted The Best, You Got
The Best will be showcased at the KISS Expo for
the first time, is that correct?
Yes, the documentary will be
premiered at the KISS Expo.
Will you be bringing the KISS
Expo to the States?
Yes, it’s going around the
Speaking of Momoiro Clover Z,
what’s the story behind “Samurai Son,” KISS’ first # 1 single in Japan?
Sometimes it’s the right time
and the right place. In that case, it was an idea pitched to us that
sounded like fun and it worked out great. We’ve never chased singles as
such. We’d stick a few out; “I Was Made For Loving You” did well around
the world and “Beth” did well in some countries. But when you think
about it, there have been lots of bands that have had lots of hits that
didn’t get anywhere we’ve been. And there are some bands like Zeppelin,
AC/DC and a few others that have done very well with no hit singles.
Come to think of it, I think AC/DC might have had one hit single.
Anyhow, it’s tough to stay true to who and what you are and play the
singles game. The best of them I suppose were The Beatles and The
Stones, who continued to have hit singles and somehow it all sounded
like authentic Stones and Beatles. Other than those bands it was always
a case of giving up their identity to try and get a hit single.
KISS Rocks Vegas
DVD/CD has just been issued, which chronicles a KISS residency in
Sin City, Las Vegas. What made that event a must see for the fans?
It probably became what it
became because we didn’t plan it. We were trying out new gags, a flying
saucer routine, a new stage show and some different video screens. We
played that one venue day after day and finally realized, ‘Well, why
don’t we open the doors and get the fans in?” and it just naturally
became what it became.
Are there any plans for a
We probably will go back but
it’s got to be right. You don’t want it to be one of those: “Okay,
here’s Rod Stewart, here’s Santana and now KISS.” It has to be right and
something special. You don’t want it to be just another concert in
Vegas, you want it to be an event.
The reservations were that it
was uncharted territory. The reservations were that everybody attending
were KISS fans who expect to be treated a certain way. One of the things
that we pride ourselves with, and I don’t say this lightly, the fans are
the most important thing. We know some of them by name; some of the fans
we keep in touch with personally. We don’t advertise it but these are
really important people in our lives. Once you get on the cruise you’ve
got a few variables that are completely out of your control. You’ve got
a ship full of personnel, and they’re used to doing business a certain
Since we didn’t know them and
hadn’t worked with them in the past, we didn’t know how they were going
to treat people. You can check into a hotel and hate the way people
treat you and you can check into a hotel and find that the personnel are
terrific; cordial and smiling and all of that. So you had two variables;
you had Sixthman who was the promoter of it and their crew and then
you’ve got the ship’s personnel. Then you’ve got food issues. We’ve all
heard horror stories. You don’t want a ship full of people getting sick;
none of which we control. So the reservations were not having the
control. We entered into it slowly and because of that you find the fans
don’t just enjoy it but absolutely love going on the KISS Kruises. I’ve
got to hand it to Sixthman who do an excellent job.
Beyond financial remuneration,
it seems the band truly enjoys being on these cruises.
That’s right. Hey, I bring my
family and my friends. We do things there that we don’t do anywhere else
without security guards and barricades and all that kind of stuff, and
really get up close and personal with the fans.
What have been the highlights
for you on the KISS Kruises?
It’s the young kids. You
really appreciate fans who have been with you since the beginning and
who have tattooed their bodies and name their kids after the songs;
that’s always amazing. But when you see the lights go on in a five-year-old’s
mind and eyes is great. We point this out and we talk about it. Look, I
wasn’t even born in America. When I first came to America I was one of
those kids. The difference between you and anybody else, there’s no
class at school that teaches you how to do that.
You decided to roll up your
sleeves and put in the time and the effort and the work to get where you
are. That’s for me too, and the Pope, and the President. When you look
down at the kids and look in their eyes and they’re looking at Mom and
Dad and then this five-year-old little putz steps in front of their
parents, usually they’ll hide behind, and put their hand out and say,
“Hi! I’m Jimmy, nice to meet you.” You think, there you go, there’s that
first big step, that mom and dad gave me birth but the rest is up to me
kind of thing. So the best part of it is that the kids come on the
cruise along with the grown up, who can flirt and gamble, and the kids
have all the fun stuff, the pools and the games and all the other stuff.
Tell us about the Gene Simmons
Master Class happening on the KISS Kruise.
It happened sort of naturally.
I was invited to take part in one of those Rock & Roll Fantasy Camps.
Basically, you get a chance to get up there and jam with, I don’t know,
Chubby Checker, and Ginger Baker, or whoever is there. I saw some of the
younger fans there and they were about 15 and had their own band. I
think they were called Rebel. They wanted to jam up there and then use
the Gene Simmons association and smartly spread it on social media.
Because they could already play a few riffs on guitars and drums, I
said, “We’re going to try an experiment. You’re going to write a song in
under an hour. It’s going to be your song; you’re the writers and the
publishers and all that and I’ll take you through all the steps. I’m not
going to put words in your mouth or chords; you’re going to come up with
them. You’re going to come with the feel, the melody and the lyrics.”
Then it occurred to me that it
is in point of fact very easy to learn to write your own songs. In the
rap world you can certainly write your own rhymes. Anybody can do it. It
doesn’t mean that it’s going to be good; that has something to do with
whether you have talent and whether you can recognize your own creation.
There’s something called the 10,000 hour principle. If you really want
to do this well, you’ve got to put in 10,000 hours, because while
practice might not make you perfect, it certainly makes you better. So
for those who take my master class on the KISS Kruise, they’re going to
learn all kinds of stuff.
This idea also reminded me
that I did exactly the same thing when I did that English TV show seen
around the world called Rock School. What I did was show with
these troubled kids who had drugs and alcohol issues – the fathers
weren’t at home, it was a small town and nobody cared about it, so they
were aimless, directionless and didn’t care about anything. These kids
are truants and didn’t go into school. As a curiosity all of a sudden
the attendance was close to full because this weird guy from this group
called KISS was going to be coming in with TV cameras, so of course they
came in. I found out which in the bunch had a voice, which in the bunch
had never played an instrument and literally assigned instruments to
them. “You’re going to play drums, you’re going to play guitar…”
See everybody, whether it’s
McCartney, or Hendrix, started off not playing an instrument.
We’re limiting the number of people that can take part in the master
class because of the amount of time. We may have 50 to 100 people taking
part, but even if you’re watching me show somebody how to come up with
their own thing, it unlocks the thing in your mind. At any point you may
have ten bass players and ten guitar players and I’m going to show them
that there’s not much difference between bass or guitar. The Queen song,
“Another One Bites the Dust,” once you come up with that lick you can
write the song. (Imitates bass riff for
“Another One Bites the Dust.”)
sounds like a cliché but it’s true, we owe it all to our fans. Without
them we would be nothing. We hear and we obey. We continue to be
dedicated to the notion that our fans deserve the best, which is why our
shows are always jam packed with more. We always believed that you have
to have substance. People thought we were selling records because we
had a great show. That’s stupid because when you buy a KISS record all
you get are ten songs. You never got a flash pot. People that bought
those records liked the songs. KISS are absolutely some of the most
stubborn people on the planet. I won't get off the stage until I'm
goddamn ready. No one else can tell me what to do, I will decide my own
KISS “FREEDOM TO ROCK” TOUR
Rochester, NY (Blue Cross Arena)
Aug. 30: State College, PA (Bryce Jordan
Sept. 1: Allentown, PA (Great Allentown
Sept. 3: Worcester, MA (DCU Center)
Sept. 4: Portland, ME (Cross Insurance
Sept. 7: Bridgeport, CT (Webster Bank
Sept. 9: Richmond, VA (Richmond
Huntington, WV (Big Sandy Arena)
Uncasville, CT (Mohegan Sun Arena)
Monterrey, Mexico (Northside Festival-Parque Fundidora)