This interview was conducted to mark the 300th issue of Classic Rock magazine, which launched in 1998. The magazine is available to purchase online (opens in new tab), and also features interviews with Ozzy Osbourne, Gene Simmons, Def Leppard, Alice Cooper, Geddy Lee, Slash and many more.
As rock superstars Kiss tour the world for the final time, bassist/vocalist and co-founder Gene Simmons looks back on the past 24 years: the bust-ups with former bandmates, his marriage and reality TV show, and the sad farewells to two of the most important people in his life.
In 1998, when Classic Rock launched, Kiss delivered the Psycho Circus album – the comeback for the band’s classic line-up.
Well, first let me just say what a delight Classic Rock has been and continues to be. In America, rock magazines have ceased to exist, but somehow you’ve been able to do something glorious. Every time we tour, Danny, our English security guy, brings out a stack of Classic Rock and all of us devour the magazine because it’s so well written. British magazines have always been tenfold better than American magazines; Classic Rock just buries Rolling Stone.
That’s kind of you to say. But back to Psycho Circus. It’s said that Ace Frehley and Peter Criss contributed very little to that album.
Hardly at all. When the band first started, Ace and Peter were equally as important as Paul and myself. But for two decades Paul and I kept the band going – and very well. When we were making Psycho Circus, Ace said: “Hey, I deserve as much as you do!” We said: “No you don’t!” So Ace and Peter refused to show up. But the train leaves the station whether you get on board or not. Eventually they left the band.
Were you at all sad to see them go?
Ace and Peter were a pain, there’s no other way to say it. Peter was very emotional at the end. He started to paint a teardrop at the corner of his eye. That’s how unhappy he was making money and having people adore him. Ha! So we decided to see if new blood would re-energise the band.
Kiss carried on with Tommy Thayer on lead guitar and Eric Singer on drums, both performing in the make-up and costumes of their predecessors. Did you worry that fans would react badly to that?
We did not. The fans kept saying to us: “Kiss has got to continue, no matter who’s in the band.” In a football team, when you lose number seven and a new guy comes in, he wears that number. And it’s very tough to hold on to original members. Even The Beatles was not an original line-up.
From 2006 to 2012 you had your own TV reality show, Gene Simmons Family Jewels. Why expose your private life like that?
I looked at it as a family video album. Also, it was a chance to teach commerce to my kids Nick and Sophie. I never gave them m an allowance, so that was when they got their first paychecks.
And in 2011 you did the one thing you swore you’d never do: you got married. What changed?
I got older! When I decided to marry Shannon, I didn’t know if she’d have me, and she said no before she said okay. We’d been together for twenty-nine years, and all those years I was king asshole. I never did drugs, I never got drunk, but all the other bad stuff I did plenty of. We had two kids, and I was still doing it.
But when I turned sixty-two I thought: “On my deathbed, do I want to die surrounded by strippers? Or do I want to die with people who love me: my children and the mother of my children?” So we got married, and it’s the best decision I ever made.
In recent years you’ve lost two profound influences: former manager Bill Aucoin, and your mother Flora Klein.
My mother, I’m happy to say, lived to ninety-four. She was fourteen when our whole family was in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany. The entire family was wiped out, but my mother survived. I don’t want to get into the specifics of how my grandmother was dragged into the gas chambers right before my mother’s eyes. But what’s stayed with me is my mother’s perspective on life: every day above ground is a good day.
How do you remember Bill Aucoin?
He was a great man. And for Paul and me his death was a tragedy. We didn’t know when we signed with Bill that he was gay. Bill was tortured by his personal life, and when he became ill – from a disease I don’t want to name – he didn’t go to the doctor, and I don’t know if it was out of embarrassment or if he didn’t believe in it. But you were able to treat it. He could have had a much longer life. Paul and I were devastated when we found out he was dying. The empire Aucoin helped build is now in its final stage.
The last Kiss album, Monster, was released ten years ago, and there won’t be another. Unless you have something to reveal now?
I do not. Not to say we don’t enjoy the creative process, but Kiss is not a charity. Working your ass off to have somebody download or stream your music for free is not my idea of how things should be. When you don’t put a value on music, it doesn’t have value. So all that’s left for Kiss is what’s happening now: The End Of The Road tour.
How do you feel emotionally, knowing that one day soon Kiss will walk off stage for the final time?
Quite honestly, I don’t really think about it much, because we really are having the best time ever. And we’re playing better than ever. But I know that at some point there’s going to be that last song that Kiss will ever play on stage, and I know I’ll be crying like a baby and won’t be able to hold back the emotions, because what an amazing journey this has been.
Kiss's End Of The Road Tour is currently in the US, and arrives in Europe next month. Tickets are on sale now (opens in new tab).