Thinking Out Loud: Gene Simmons

Kiss bassist Gene Simmons has sold over 100 million albums, possesses the longest tongue in rock history and has a keen eye for money-spinning merch ideas. After all, we can’t think of any other band who’d have the inclination to design and sell a branded coffin to their fans.

Simmons – who isn’t exactly on nodding terms with modesty – claims credit for introducing Rush, Van Halen, Iron Maiden and Judas Priest to the worldwide stage. He also foolishly proclaimed that rock is dead in recent years.

But is it all an act? Who’s the man behind the iconic make-up? What does the real Gene Simmons really think?

We sat down with The Demon and found out what’s on his mind…

“I’m well aware that when I expand and pontificate, it tends to be all ‘Me, me, me!’ I get it, because when I hear myself on the radio I also say, ‘Who does this guy think he is?’ But actually that’s a profoundly important question: who do you think you are? You shouldn’t step up on stage unless you’ve got gravitas, because that’s what the stage is all about. But I just want to state for the record that all the pats on the back – no matter how far down they are - are not the important thing. All the toys and games, and the Kiss golf course and the limo service, and all that stuff are great. We have a lot of fun with them and they make us a lot of money. But for Kiss, it all begins and ends on that stage.”

Simmons with the Legend Award for Kiss during the Metal Hammer Golden Gods Awards 2015 in London

Simmons with the Legend Award for Kiss during the Metal Hammer Golden Gods Awards 2015 in London (Image credit: Jo Hale/Redferns via Getty Images)

“41 years ago four idiots off the streets of New York shared a singular, self-mandated goal: to form the best live band in the world. So many times we went to see our favourite band, and they would just stand there on stage and look at their shoes, or light some incense and sit on a Persian rug, and nothing ever happened. We felt so let down by the bands that we saw that we got together and said, ‘Let’s put together a band that we’d want to see live,’ and that was the whole idea behind Kiss. We had the balls to introduce ourselves by saying, ‘You wanted the best, you got the best. The hottest band in the world, Kiss.’ Now either we were idiots, and that’s partly true, or there’s something in that. We’re not the best musicians in the world. We’re not the best looking guys in the world. We’re not the best of almost anything in the world. But when we get up on that stage we consider it holy ground, and even when we suck we’re spectacular, because our passion and commitment to what we do supersedes everything. Kiss is unstoppable. You can love us or you can hate us, but you’ll still walk out of that stadium at the end of the night and say, ‘That’s the best fucking show I’ve ever seen.’ We’re too big to argue with. You can say Godzilla sucks, but he’s 52 storeys above you and he can’t hear you.”

Simmons onstage in 1974

Simmons onstage in 1974 (Image credit: Richard Creamer/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty)

Alive! was in fact the second platinum album of all time – the first was Hotel California by the Eagles. Before us, live records were done by bands at the end of their career, not at the beginning. Then all of a sudden bands started doing them while they were still hot. Alive! actually became the name that bands used for their live records, too. After that we wanted to take things to the next step, and evolve without leaving who and what we were behind. So we teamed up with Bob Ezrin for Destroyer, who actually found out about us through a 15-year-old kid in Canada. When he first started working us it was torture, especially for Ace and Peter. He’d stop Peter in the middle of a song and say, ‘You’re not playing in time,’ and Peter hated him. Ace had just started hitting the bottle hard as well, and sometimes he just wouldn’t show up to the studio. I was in the control room when Ezrin called Ace and said, ‘You’ve got to come down to the studio and record your parts,’ and Ace said, ‘I can’t. I’ve got a card game.’ And that was it. Ezrin said, ‘Fuck it; let’s get another guitar player,’ and we brought in Dick Wagner.”

Kiss at Nassau Coliseum, New York with gold discs for Alive!

Kiss at Nassau Coliseum, New York with gold discs for Alive! (Image credit: Fin Costello/Redferns)

“The original Kiss line-up is the ‘classic’ Kiss line-up, but it’s unfortunately not the best. Tommy and Eric, respectively, can play Ace and Peter under the table. But it all comes down to personal preference. I’m the guy that found Van Halen, and even though Sammy Hagar is by some estimates a better singer than Roth, I still prefer Roth’s version of the band. In all fairness, we couldn’t have become Kiss without Ace and Peter. But if Ace and Peter were in the band today, Kiss would not exist. Bless them, and we love them, but they’re self-destructive human beings to this day. It’s not just the drugs and the alcohol, which would be enough to put anybody away. It seems to be a personality flaw, like the glass is always half full. They could’ve been doing nine to five work and wanted to hang themselves by the end of the week, but instead they got to work only two hours a day, be adored by millions, and get paid tons of money to do it. But they couldn’t get off the ground and fucking show up on time. I mean, come on! We could’ve let their behaviour stop the band from carrying on. But just because you have a flat tyre doesn’t mean the car should be written off. Fuck that. Get another tyre, change it, and get back on the road. Are you going to let one tyre determine whether or not the whole car gets put into the junk pile? I don’t think so.”

The 'classic' Kiss line-up in 1975

The 'classic' Kiss line-up in 1975 (Image credit: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty)

**“For me, the first Kiss record is the best, and the reason it’s my favourite is because they were the days of innocence. **We knew nothing back then. We’d never been in a professional recording studio or made a record before. It’s sort of like that first kiss, you know? It’s not the best or the most sophisticated kiss you’ve ever had, but the innocence and purity of it is magical. It’s not thought out as much, and it feels more honest. That’s what I have to say about that.”

KISS attend the world premiere of 'Scooby-Doo! and KISS: Rock And Roll Mystery' during Comic-Con International on July 9, 2015 in San Diego, California.

KISS attend the world premiere of 'Scooby-Doo! and KISS: Rock And Roll Mystery' during Comic-Con International on July 9, 2015 in San Diego, California. (Image credit: Chelsea Lauren/WireImage)

“I don’t care what people think of me. I really don’t. I don’t edit what I say, and sometimes that strikes people as insulting. People got furious when I said that rock was dead, but it’s true. I don’t mean that you can’t go to stadiums around the world and watch bands like Kiss or Metallica. Yeah, we’re there – but we’re old. From 1958 to 1988 you can name literally hundreds of classic, eternally iconic bands from all sectors of music: Elvis, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Prince, Madonna, Michael Jackson, and so. But from 1988 until today, I can’t name five. I like the Foo Fighters and Queens of the Stone Age and all of those bands, but if you were to walk down the street and say the names of those bands to your average Joe, do you think they would have a fucking clue who you’re talking about? I don’t. So I stand by what I said. Don’t get me wrong, the Foo Fighters are one of my favourite bands and they have some really great material. But is it iconic, like The Beatles or The Rolling Stones? No. Those bands became bigger than their music: they became worldwide icons. And Kiss, love them or hate them, are four of the most recognisable faces on planet Earth. Now that’s iconic.”

Dave Grohl presents Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley the ASCAP Founders Award at the 32nd Annual ASCAP Pop Music Awards in Hollywood, 2015

Dave Grohl presents Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley the ASCAP Founders Award at the 32nd Annual ASCAP Pop Music Awards in Hollywood, 2015 (Image credit: Kevin Winter/Getty)

“I still remember what it feels like to not have food in my belly, and I don’t like that feeling. I’m still the same guy that I’ve always been, and I still want the same thing: more. Growing up, my family had nothing, so every day, I get up and I work my ass off, and if there’s nothing to do then I create work. I don’t want to get too morbid, but if God only gave you 24 hours to live, then you’re not going to just lie there and wait to die. If you’re not using your brain and your body then you’re going to die very fast. So I get up every day and I use every part of me.”

“I’m not a spiritual person. You’re alive, and then you’re dead. While you’re alive you need to revel in it; live hard, love hard, work hard, and be the best that you can be. What you think of it means nothing. We’re here today and we’re gone tomorrow, and that’s all there is.”

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Matt Stocks

DJ, presenter, writer, photographer and podcaster Matt Stocks was a presenter on Kerrang! Radio before a year’s stint on the breakfast show at Team Rock Radio, where he also hosted a punk show and a talk show called Soundtrack Apocalypse. He then moved over to television, presenting on the Sony-owned UK channel Scuzz TV for three years, whilst writing regular features and reviews for Metal Hammer and Classic Rock magazine. He also wrote, produced and directed a feature-length documentary on Australian hard rock band Airbourne called It’s All For Rock ‘N’ Roll, and in 2017 launched his own podcast: Life in the Stocks. His first book, also called Life In The Stocks, was published in 2020. A second volume was published in April 2022.