Classic Rock

Gene Simmons

Kiss bassist Gene Simmons looks back on a year of booming business and ahead to the eventual Kiss retirement, and explains why Lady Gaga “is the only new rock star in the last twenty years”.

- Words: Henry Yates

Somewhere off the Florida coast, Gene Simmons is reclining on the deck of a cruise ship, watching the hordes of Kiss Kruise attendees and contemplat­ing his lifelong status as “the luckiest guy in the world”. After another year of razzmatazz and royalties, it would appear to be business as usual for the planet’s most openly commercial band. But with Kiss set to bid farewell with their End Of The Road Tour from January, Simmons’s world is about to change in a big way.

Aren’t you going to miss all this when Kiss call it a day?

Well, the touring band will stop, certainly. But Kiss will continue in other ways. Let’s just cut through all the bullshit. I’m sixty-nine now and this is a great time to go. I’m in great shape, I’m strong, singing better than ever. By the end of the tour I’ll be seventy-two, maybe even older. In terms of pride and self-respect and admiration for the fans – and our legacy – why the fuck would I want to be there running around in a rocket-powered wheelchair? If I was doing what Sir Paul [McCartney] – who I greatly admire – is doing I could do it into my mid-seventies. Jagger, I have to say, works his ass off. That’s a tip of the hat. But if you’re wearing sneakers and a T-shirt, you can do this into your mid-seventies or later. We’re the hardest-working band, and that means I carry around forty pounds of armour. And if Jagger, God bless him, got into my outfit he’d pass out in the first half-hour.

So you want to go out on a high?

Remember, we introduce ourselves: “You wanted the best, you got the best, the hottest band in the world.” Why would we want to stay on stage a day longer than what we feel is legitimate? Those words have to mean something. We’ve all seen pathetic examples of bands who have come up and do sets and sit on chairs, because they can’t stand up. I understand the need, the hunger, but [have some] self-respect and dignity, at least for the fans. When you’re heavyweigh­t champion of the world and you’ve knocked everybody out, go out on top, for God’s sakes. Don’t leave it until some young punk knocks you out, embarrassi­ngly.

What about Kiss continuing as a studio band, though?

The cancer has pervaded and invaded the business. So everybody downloads and fileshares. Kiss is not a charity. I refuse to do something for free. There’s private philanthro­py. You get paid for doing what you’re doing. I want to get paid too.

But don’t you want to continue making records for artistic reasons?

No. I’d rather amass demos and do that kind of stuff, and every once in a while bring out the largest box set of all time.

Have you been impressed by any new bands this year?

No, I haven’t seen anybody. Y’know, there are young bands that sound like Led Zeppelin. Years ago it was Black Keys. But nothing that makes you stand up and say: “Hold on there.” The magic thing, especially in England, that happened is that Queen sounded different than Yes, who sounded different from Sabbath, and Zeppelin sounded like their own thing. They all sounded different and marched to the beat of their own drummer. They didn’t look over their shoulder to find out what else was going on. I do like pop music a lot. ABBA is perhaps my favourite. When you look at Taylor Swift and all the other wonderful pop princesses, there’s a formula. It is interchang­eable songs, interchang­eable stars. That goes for writing as well. It’s interchang­eable. But it wouldn’t be a good idea for ABBA to do Roundabout by Yes, would it?

And that goes to what Mother Nature figured out a long time ago. Which is there’s no other person on Earth like you. Your fingerprin­ts make you completely individual. And what’s missing is many new bands have the same fingerprin­t as the other bands. It’s interchang­eable.

By extension, are you saying you don’t think it’s been a good year for rock’n’roll?

Oh, it’s horrific. And we’ve played this game before, perhaps. But it has to do with Napster and all the other ones that have just destroyed everything. Because they gave crack for free to young fans. They’ve trained them to download and file-share for free, without paying the artist who created it. 1958 until 1988 is thirty years. During that time, in all the genres of the music, you had The Beatles and Hendrix and the Stones and you can go on and on. Bowie and Prince and U2 and the heavy stuff, Iron Maiden and Metallica and all that. On and on. From 1988 until today – also thirty years – who’s the new Beatles?

“Why the f**k would I want to be running around in a rocketpowe­red wheelchair?”

So you think digital platforms have impacted on the quality of bands?

No, I think the talent is there. Perhaps there’s more talent than ever. Max Martin and the Swedish writers, those guys can write songs. But they can’t form bands. So they have to keep writing pop songs for the young females, the pretty girls who can actually sell. Because there’s that young female audience. And the boy bands sell well because it’s their first boyfriends that these twelve-year-old girls are gonna get. And I’m all for that. I understand that. The Beatles started off with that. I get it. It’s all great. It was great for The Monkees and on and on. But The Monkees didn’t become The Beatles because they didn’t write their own songs. And they didn’t have a sense of identity. They were created. The Beatles was a real band. And we love the Foo Fighters, but that’s an old band. They’ve been around over twenty years. I don’t see a new band. Not because the talent is not out there. The Greta [Van Fleet] band is great and all that. But nobody’s gonna get the chance we did, where a record company would give you millions of dollars, non-recoupable – in other

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