GENE SIMMONS: ‘I DON’T LIKE HANDLERS’:
June 6, 2004
NEW YORK (Billboard) – There is not much to write about Gene Simmons that has not been written before. But the man himself can find plenty to say about his extraordinary life.
As co-founder, bassist and co-vocalist of rock group Kiss, Simmons belongs to one of the most commercially successful acts in history. Kiss’ 24 gold-certified albums place it at the top among American bands, according to the Recording Industry Assn. of America.
Amid his Kiss career, Simmons has kept busy as an entrepreneur. Last year he reactivated Simmons Records, which, along with the Kiss Records imprint, has teamed with Sanctuary Records Group for new releases.
Simmons says he is developing a premium-cable entertainment channel, although he could not reveal details. He also has an A&E TV documentary in the works.
On the literary front, he has formed Simmons Books in a joint venture with New Millennium. One title due under the deal is “Kiss & Tell,” an autobiography from Simmons’ longtime romantic partner, Shannon Tweed. (The publication date is yet to be determined.)
Simmons also is reviving his long-dormant career as a solo artist. On June 8, Simmons/Sanctuary releases “Asshole,” Simmons’ first solo album since his 1978 self-titled solo debut. “Asshole” features collaborations with Bob Dylan and Dave Navarro. Simmons says he also wants to release a 100-song boxed set of solo material he has recorded through the years.
Q: Why did you wait all these years to do a new solo album? And why do you want to put out a 100-song boxed set of your solo material?
A: It’s finally time. Over the years, when we’d do a Kiss record, I would write 15 to 30 songs per album to get the four or five that might be used. Most of those songs were sitting around, and a lot of them didn’t make sense in the context of Kiss. I want to put out a boxed set because I owe it to the songs. It’s not fair that they’re just sitting around.
Q: What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
A: On a corporate level, having more gold albums in America than any other band. On a personal level, I have to give the cornball answer and say getting up onstage with people going out of their minds and seeing different generations of people in Kiss makeup. It does put a lump in your throat, and it’s heartwarming.
Q: How do you respond to people who say the band isn’t really Kiss unless it consists of the original members: you, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss?
A: I used to believe that.
Any rules we have for the band are rules we decide for ourselves. There are lots of bands that have lost members who people might have thought were irreplaceable, but the bands got replacements and the bands got bigger: AC/DC, Van Halen, the Rolling Stones, the Who.
I love Ace, Peter and Paul. They helped me get to where I am. I hate myself for not standing up to Ace and Peter sooner when they were destroying themselves.
Q: Last year, Ace Frehley told billboard.com that it was deceptive of you and Paul Stanley to tour as Kiss without him. He asserted at the time that he was “into a health kick” and fit to play. What would you say to Ace right now?
A: I hope you’re happy, but you’re not allowed to be in the band. There’s no way we’d let you onstage and subject people to your erratic behavior. It doesn’t matter if you’re an original member. If you mess up, you’re an ex-member. And that goes for me, too.
Q: There’s a perception that you are the business brains behind Kiss. What are your thoughts on that?
A: Artists always forget the meaning of the word “business” in the music business. It means you sign your own checks. It means the record company works for you, not you for the record company. Once you delegate authority, it means you’re diluting who you are; someone else makes business decisions for you. I don’t like handlers, assistants and bodyguards, because they can’t do things as well as I can.
Q: Why didn’t you assume the management of Kiss?
A: Paul has a lot to do with Kiss’ ideas. He’s one of the best frontmen ever. There’s a friendly, brotherly rivalry with us. If one of us goes a little too far, the other one wants to pull him back. So if I’m managing the band, where does that leave Paul? The thing that keeps this band going is the continuing and abiding respect that Paul and I have for each other.
Q: If Paul Stanley wrote his autobiography, what do you think he would say about you?
A: He would say that I’m a workaholic and that I’ve got the biggest ego he’s ever met. And I think he’d say, and rightfully so, that I get a lot of credit for ideas he came up with.
Q: Can you give some examples?
A:. I didn’t think of the name of the band. Paul did. I didn’t design the Kiss logo. Ace did, and then Paul actually drew the original version, which is used today.
Q: You did some reality-show segments with your family on “Extra” in 2002 that were similar to “The Osbournes.” Would you still want to do a reality series now, considering the problems that Kelly and Jack Osbourne have experienced?
A: The main problems with the Osbournes had to do with drugs. I’d still want to do a reality show about me, but not with my kids involved. Doing a reality show with them wouldn’t be fair to them, because they wouldn’t get a chance to be kids.
Q: Can you explain why Kiss keeps touring even after your so-called final tours? Why call it a farewell tour when most people know Kiss will probably keep touring?
A: We did a farewell tour when it was clear that Ace couldn’t continue. But after the tour was over, it became fairly obvious from fans that they wanted us to continue. Rock bands are a lot like football teams: If a guy is on drugs and messes up, get someone else who’s proud to wear the uniform and be part of the team.
Q: What are the biggest mistakes artists make in their careers?
A: Drugs, this time and every time. I wish more journalists would confront stars with drug problems and ask them, “Don’t your fans think you’re an asshole for getting high?”
Q: What’s your response to people who say there’s too much Kiss merchandise?
A: Actually, we haven’t put out enough, because a lot of it sells out. So whoever says there’s too much Kiss merchandise is not a marketing expert.
Q: How would you describe yourself in one sentence?
A: I love money, I love women, I like to work hard and I don’t use drugs.
Gene Simmons: Career Highlights
2002: Three Rivers Press publishes Simmons’ autobiography, “Kiss and Make-Up”; his financial advice book, “Sex Money Kiss,” appears the following year.
1996: Kiss’ original lineup reunites for a tour and returns to wearing its famous makeup and costumes in concert.
1988: Launches Simmons Records.
1984: Makes his theatrical film debut in “Runaway.”
1983: Kiss begins performing without its trademark makeup and costumes.
1976: “Destroyer” becomes Kiss’ first U.S. platinum album. “Beth” becomes the band’s first top 10 song on The Billboard Hot 100. Simmons discovers Van Halen and produces the band’s demo.
1975: “Alive!” becomes the first Kiss album to reach the top 10 of the Billboard pop albums chart.
1974: Casablanca releases Kiss’ self-titled debut album.
1972: Kiss forms with a lineup of Simmons, co-vocalist/guitarist Paul Stanley, guitarist Ace Frehley and drummer Peter Criss.
Carla Hay courtesy of Billboard