There’s not much left to say about KISS that hasn’t already been screamed, picketed or printed by generations of militant fans, close-minded religious fanatics or gore-hungry press over the course of about four decades. But that’s not to say there’s no new ground left to cover for this larger-than-life hard rock juggernaut.
The next-level pioneers of shock rock, the wholesale manufacturers of early American Heavy Metal and the single greatest thing to happen to the face-paint industry since the death of mime; KISS are as relevant today as you let them. Ignoring that painful Costa Coffee ad for a moment - or as long as humanly possible - their music still holds up pretty well, even for those averse to KISS’s occult gimmickry of pyro, blood-spitting and trapeze-aided guitar solos – which makes the quality of their latest record, Monster, unsurprising for the most part.
But if ever there was a case to let the artist explain themselves it would be our recent conversation with Gene Simmons. So, here’s the God of Thunder himself in a hasty phone interview conducted in a Glasgow back-alley as he talks Monster, Mount Olympus and Meat and Two Veg. Enjoy.
Hi Gene, how are you?
I’m deliriously happy.
That’s quite possibly the best response to that question in the history of speech.
Write that one down.
Don’t worry, I’m taping it. Actually, you’re going to have to excuse me, I’m a little out of breath, I’m doing a show tonight and have had to rush around dropping off gear and am now interviewing you in an alley behind the venue.
Oh, I thought you were out of breath because you’re talking to me.
Well, I am panting a little bit with nervous excitement at the thought of interviewing you Gene, but we can just say it’s all you if it’ll make you feel better?
Please, don’t hurt my feelings.
Of course not! With that in mind, I’ll batter on. First of all, I’d like to talk to you about your new album, Monster. This far down the line in your collective career, how do you write a new Kiss record; one that taps into what made you who you are in the first place but still sounds like a modern progression?
You know, it’s not easy, because when you know too much, in a sense, it’s harder to tap into. In the art world they say the child is the most honest artist there is, because they dip their hands in paint and then they just go; it’s emotion over substance. It’s pure expression. And from there on, as we get to know things, we start to edit ourselves. One of the hardest things to do is to shed all of the posturing and worrying about what your magazine or the media has to say and just be who you are. So to take the point of view that a wild animal does when it pees on the ground and says ‘this is my territory, the rest of the world can go fuck itself’, is actually profoundly, not only primal, but it’s proud. And a band has to do that and a writer has to do that within a band, which is to say, ‘this is who I am, I don’t do the other stuff’. My favourite bands – The Stones, etc. - you know, they’re heroes. But I think it’s fair to say that the later records toward the end of a band’s long career just don’t hold up to the early records, and we don’t want that to happen to us. I’d like the fans, and everybody to think that Monster is an even better record than Sonic Boom, and perhaps holds up to some of best records we’ve done.
Were you consciously trying to hark back to the past?
No. It simply was a conscious effort to not be pretentious or worry about fads or fashion or any other thing except do what we do, because intrinsically, at the core and in the DNA of the band, we are devout Anglophiles. Yes, America created it, this thing called Rock ‘n’ Roll, and Blues and Hip-Hop and Country – all that music that the world worships was made in America. But what the English did with Rock is what connected to us. Not just The Beatles, not just The Stones, but The Pretty Things and Humble Pie and just all kinds of things, to the obscure – evening Suckling Pig had some moments. Some of the songs were glorious; they were God-given, pure, simple, straight, four or five chords with a rousing chorus; like football anthems. ‘Mama We’re All Crazy Now’ holds a direct line to what I wrote, which is ‘you drive us wild, we’ll drive you crazy’. They are tied at the hip. They come from the same DNA and that’s called Rock ‘n’ Roll. I’m 63, you should see how spectacular I am on stage - if you haven’t seen the stage costume. It’s something to be witnessed, because I welcome any 20-year-old little punk to get up on that stage and I’ll show you how the big boys do it. But in the real world, when the audience is gone and there’s nobody there, and you’re just there with your little ol’ bandmates, you’ve gotta be hard task masters. Because when you’re rich and you’re famous and you’ve got a lot of stuff, the pressure’s gone. Your rent is paid. The hardest thing to do is get rid of those extra flabby pounds on you, because when you’re rich and famous, it’s like… you know what it’s like? It’s like being on a strict diet and living in a bakery. You’re always being tempted. ‘Hey, you don’t have to be on a diet, you’ve got all the money in the world, you can buy all this shit and get big and fat, so fat you can’t go out the doorway to the outside.’ So the hardest thing to do is to just fucking cut it out, roll up your sleeves and give me a meat and two veg. Don’t pretend to do anything else. And without being apologetic or hat in hand, we gloriously succeeded. I’m very proud of Monster. And Monster, by the way, feels very connected, not only in the title but in the graphics and the music - something about it connects to who we are and what we always have been. It would certainly not be a good title for Justin Bieber.
Well, some folk might describe him as a Monster, if not quite fitting with that aesthetic.
No, I think he’s terrific for his age group. Y’know, if you’re a girl and you’re 12, that’s great. Great for them, and they’ll move on to something else.
You actually brought up a good point earlier. I suppose you could look at being in a band like KISS and go ‘we don’t really NEED to make another record’, because you’ve had such enormous success that you could feasibly do whatever or as little as you want. So to see you actually working and not just dining out on the own stuff is interesting – has it ever crossed your mind to just leave it be?
No. I’ll tell you why, and a lot of the credit has to go, obviously, to Paul (Stanley, guitarist and co-founder), who’s had the focus to say, ‘hey, we should really try to test ourselves a little’. So did Tommy (Thayer, Guitar) and Eric (Singer, Drums). Paul and I have been at the top of Mount Olympus for a long time and you look around and go ‘boy, the view’s pretty good, ok, let’s go back to being Gods’ – in my case, God of Thunder, bitch. And they (Tommy and Eric) are the new guys who come up the mountain and go, ‘(pants) wow, this is breath-taking! The view goes on forever!’ And we look at each other and go ‘yeah, you know, they’re right, this is breath-taking! For fucksake, we’re on top of Mount Olympus!’ When you’ve been there for a while, you tend to forget and through the eyes and ears of Tommy and Eric, it reinvigorates the band. You go: look, what we’re doing is important, and you have to take pride in what you do. And let’s not just do it by the numbers. Yes, we’ll get paid just as well as all the other records but let’s go out and be proud of what we do. And if it says on your ticket Kiss is gonna be on stage at 9.30, you can bet your mother’s life we’re gonna be on stage at 9.30. If you’re going to go to a Kiss show, that’s what you’re gonna get. No Axl Rose bullshit - you’re father molested you, you forgot to tie your shoelaces, that’s why you’re three hours late - fuck that. There’s too much pride in the band to do anything but be thankful and buckle our knees in front of the fans. That’s why Monster had to come out. It feels honest, it wasn’t easy to do, but when it came out, you sort of go – yeah, that’s ours. There’s no boys choir, there’s no symphony orchestra, there’s no glockenspiel or accordion on this record – just your meat and two veg.
Monster is out now.