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Interview:
Kiss is still a "Monster" nearly 40 years on
 

By GARY GRAFF
for Journal Register Newspapers

» See more SOUND CHECK

Gene Simmons, he of the long tongue and lascivious persona, is generally not one to wax nostalgic or sentimental.

But with Kiss eyeballing its 40th anniversary in 2013 -- and a new album coming later this year -- the self-styled, fire-breathing, blood-spewing rock 'n' roll demon allows himself a moment of unapologetic mistiness.

"We really come with love and admiration and appreciation for this thing called rock 'n' roll, because it's not just music," explains Simmons, 63, who co-founded Kiss as Wicked Lester during 1971 in New York, adopting the Kiss moniker in 1973 and selling more than 100 million albums globally since then, as well as enjoying a stature as one of the world's most popular live bands as well as a merchandising juggernaut.

"Rock 'n' roll is self-empowerment," he says. "It's the ability to get up on stage. You can be as fat as Meat Loaf for from another country (Israel) like Gene Simmons, speaking a language where the most popular sound is like a cat throwing up a hairball. We were all made fun of when we were kids -- 'You look stupid! You don't walk right or talk right! or look right!'

"But then you get in a band and you get up on stage and you're on Mount Olympus. You're one of the gods. There's no other job that gives you that, so we never take for granted that it's the job we're fortunate enough to do."

The job has been keeping Simmons, Stanley and their current Kiss bandmates -- guitarist Tommy Thayer and drummer Eric Singer -- plenty busy of late. Job One has been "Monster," Kiss' 20th solo album, which is due out Oct. 16. Produced by Stanley, who also helmed 2009's "Sonic Boom," the 12-track set is what Simmons calls "classic Kiss." It's also, he says, "one of the best or the top three albums we've ever done," ranking with Simmons' personal favorites. "It's like 'Revenge' meets 'Destroyer -- just guitar and drums, nothing else. No keyboards, no little boys' choir, no strings, no nothing. Band-written; literally we'd get in and strum guitars like the old days."

While the Kiss Army waits with baited breath, it's at least getting to hear the first single, "Hell or Hallelujah." "Paul came in with a guitar chordal pattern, and it was originally called something else," Simmons recalls. "Then a few days later he came back in and said, 'What do you think of 'Hell or Hallelujah?' and we all just sparked to it and went, 'Yeah, that's right.' " Some of "Monster's" other songs, meanwhile, have a bit more history. For instance, Simmons says he wrote "Eat Your Heart Out" during the 70s but made some significant changes for the version that appears on the album, while "Are You Ready?" is another "old song that was torn apart and re-written."

Kiss has dug into its vaults as well this year. It's issued a new photo book, also called "Monster," that costs $4,250 and weighs in at three feet high and two and a half feet wide. "You don't need the coffee table," Simmons quips. "It IS the coffee table." And the group has released a new version of its landmark "Destroyer," the 1976 album that declared the group's love for "Detroit Rock City." "Destroyer: Resurrected" restores the landmark 1976 album's original cover -- which was deemed too violent at the time ("The buildings lay in ruins, which was too much for the mom and dad and kids-friendly places," Simmons recalls) -- and featuring an alternate version of "Sweet Pain" with a different guitar solo.

The double-platinum "Destroyer" was "a breakthrough, because we were able to move on to the next level," according to Simmons. But he recalls that it wasn't an easy sell at the time. "When it first came out, the fans didn't understand it," he says. "It went up to about 890,000 copies sold, whereas the previous record, "Alive!," did millions.

"But then we came out with 'Detroit Rock City' as a single, and the B-side was 'Beth,' and Kiss was growing bigger and bigger and bigger. By that point we were doing stadiums...and the merchandising was just exploding and it grew so fast that for the next three years we were the Gallup-polled number one band in the world. Led Zeppelin and the Beatles were below us.

"It was a phenomenon and we were caught up in the middle of it, so you're not aware of how big the storm is because you're in the ye of it. But we did now that we couldn't leave our homes or go anywhere without paparazzi hounding us and trying to get photos without the makeup. So it was a very peculiar time."

Simmons and company are happy to just have a busy time now -- so busy that he claims he brought the curtain down on "Gene Simmons Family Values," his popular A&E reality TV show, in order to concentrate on the band. A fourth volume of its "Kissology" DVD series is coming with, Simmons says, "everything you haven't seen before -- archival stuff, backstage (footage), going all the way back to 1973."

And the group's current road trek with Motley Crue is the beginning of "a two-year long tour" that includes the Kiss Cruise on the high seas starting on Halloween and then will take the band to Africa, Israel, Asia, Europe and, Simmons promises, "everywhere."

"You know, I've always thought this was a wonderful world," Simmons says. "It's the world that enabled me to buy my mom a house, all that stuff. I don't shy away from it at all.

"And the more you're cognizant, the more you're aware of that world, my contention is the better your music will be and the more you'll do and the happier you'll make your fans. And in the end, that's really what we're here to do, and I mean that."

Kiss, Motley Crue and The Treatment perform at 7 .m. Wednesday, Sept. 5, at the DTE Energy Music Theatre, Sashabaw Road east of I-75, Independence Township. Tickets are $90.50 and $50.50 pavilion, $36 lawn with a $108 lawn four-pack. Call 248-377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.

Web Site: www.palacenet.com

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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