Gene Simmons On Reality Television: ‘Nobody’s Forcing You To Watch Anything’
No matter how big of a Kiss fan you are or aren’t, you certainly can’t escape them. Thanks in large part to the shrewd business acumen of bassist/vocalist and all-around media mogul Gene Simmons, the presence of Kiss is everywhere. They’re only a few signed agreements shy of approving their 3000th licensed Kiss-branded product.
The amount of Kiss-related activity that’s going on at any one time is overwhelming. They’re prepping ‘Monster,’ their latest studio album, for a planned October release, with the first single coming in early July. As Simmons tells us in the interview below, it’s going to be a ‘Monster’ year for Kiss.
We spoke with Simmons earlier this week for an unflinching interview to talk about the upcoming album, the band’s summer tour with Motley Crue, the colorful legacy of Kiss and first and foremost, the current season of his reality show 'Gene Simmons’ Family Jewels.’
Gene, how are you sir?
I’m deliriously happy.
I can imagine that is the case - let’s get right into things. The new season of 'Gene Simmons’ Family Jewels' is in full swing and one of the new developments is the discussion that you and Shannon [Tweed] are having regarding possibly adopting a child. Perhaps understandably, you’ve got some reservations about the idea. How are things going to pan out?
I’m not crazy about the idea and neither is Nick and Soph, you know, our kids. Because Shannon has been amazing and raised two kids to full maturity. Nick and Sophie are both now, young man and young woman and they’re by the way, playing concerts on their own now. They just headlined a thousand-seater and sold it out in Vancouver. They’re doing their own concerts and they now have their own places and stuff so you know, they’re all grown up.
It’s in the DNA intrinsically of the female of the species and Shannon wants to love and take care and do all of that. I don’t know if waking up in the middle of the night to clean up barf from the floor is the right time. And by the way, part and parcel of that is that I’ve been supporting 140 African kids for over 20 years: clothing, food and education and so on. Shannon decided it was time to perhaps go and meet some of the kids that I’ve been supporting who are now young adults and may have their own kids.
So we just came back literally this month from South Africa and Zambia and I will tell you that it’s a....I met Edward and a few of the other kids who are now young adults and it’s a life-changing experience, I will tell you. [There’s] poverty like you’ve never seen before and all of that’s going to be in this season.
As I understand it, you’ve actually taken on sponsorship for more kids as part of that recent trip.
Another 1,200, yes.
When you say “wow” and when I say “wow,” it comes with sort of Western civilization eyes - we don’t see clearly. There’s so much poverty and these kids that we found in these different school systems are barefeet - they don’t even have shoes.
There’s no infrastructure, no roads, no nothing. There’s no electricity, no water, no jobs, no buildings - they’re all living in huts and shacks, some of them mud. There’s nothing there. Some of these kids walk 10 miles one way, so 20 miles a day - it takes them hours and hours just to get to school for the privilege of an education.
The saddest part of all is that at the end of the day, they may go to sleep hungry, because there’s just no food. So I couldn’t leave there. You know, I’ve spent more money treating my friends to dinner and buying somebody champagne - you know, stupid money. [Let’s] take all of the stupid money and help save lives - how about that?
I would imagine that you get approached about donating money to a lot of causes. So 20 years ago, what was your thought process in getting involved with this?
You have to do something. There’s just no way to stop all of the misery in the world. Wars will continue, but there have to be peacemakers. Poverty will continue, but you have to keep trying to give people jobs. Hunger will continue, but if somebody’s hungry next to you, you’ve got to try to feed them. You’ve got to do something. I mean, at the end of your life, you want to go peacefully and know that you left the world a little bit better than when you came into it.
All of that is very real, but talking about Family Jewels, there are a lot of people who are skeptical of how real any of these reality shows really are....
That’s okay. Here’s the answer to that, turn the channel. [Laughs] Nobody’s forcing you to watch anything. Look, I got married - it’s real. Shannon and I burned the photos of the girls I’ve been taking through the years - that’s real, babe. She wanted to adopt a kid - Nick, Sophie and myself are not for it - that’s real.
Fair enough. When this idea came around though, it’s something that is potentially pretty intrusive, so why would this be more of an attractive idea than let’s say, a Simmons family sitcom that’s somewhat based in reality but, you know, it’s a sitcom?
I don’t have time to sit down and do that kind of thing. We’re touring with Kiss and we have the Rock & Brews restaurant chain - go to rockandbrews.com. I’m a partner in Ortsbo, the world’s largest universal language translator, ortsbo.com. I’m a partner in CoolSpringsLife.com, which provides high net worth individuals with loans and money and a life equity strategy and.....in other words, I’m involved in all kinds of businesses and I love ‘em all, but there’s no time to sit there and read scripts and sit around and act.
You definitely have a lot of things going on and one of those things is a new Kiss album. How would you describe 'Monster' from your perspective and when can we expect to hear the album?
Paul produced it, because he’s got a clear mind and time to think in those terms. I don’t have the ability and the attention span anymore to do that. We’ve both produced outside the band and both [have] produced Kiss albums before, but this was the right decision. [The material is] all band-written. We sat together in the same room for the first time in decades and came up with some pretty classic stuff. It could be one of our top two or three records ever.
It’s going to be the year of the ‘Monster’ when the album comes out. You’ll hear everybody in the band singing lead. Everybody co-wrote the songs - that includes Eric [Singer], our drummer. It really is a band record. My favorite records are band records where nobody is trying to take over and push their weight around.
There’s also going to be a 10-hour DVD called ‘Monster’ coming out, which is going to be ‘Kissology’ number four, the fourth one in our series. The first three sold 20-times platinum - they’re monsters. There’s going to be a four-foot book - literally - called ‘Monster.’ It’s so heavy that it has its own legs, because you physically cannot pick it up. It weighs, get ready for this, 45 pounds.
Yeah, that’s how big it is. So forget about the coffee-table book, it is the coffee table!
You guys are always looking to do things differently. I’ve seen pictures of the book and it really is something.
Live big or get off the space!
Is there a release date attached to the record yet?
We’re pushing the record back, because we start the American tour with Motley Crue joining us. We’ll do about 40 shows and then ‘Monster’ will come out and then the DVD and the books and all of that. [The record] will hopefully [come out] in probably September or October.
Will we hear any stuff from the new album on the tour this summer?
Yes, we may stick in a tune or two, yeah.
You have some history with Motley Crue. I know that Motley opened for Kiss on the ‘Creatures of the Night’ tour....
Actually, Motley has some history with us.
What’s the latest word on the deluxe ‘Destroyer’ reissue?
That is also coming out shortly, this summer, remixed by Bob Ezrin with some outtakes and some stuff. Because it was a very pivotal record for us. Bob Ezrin came along and basically decided, “Okay, we’re going back to our roots.” We’re going to learn how to tune our guitars and talk about song structure. Because when we first started out, you know, we basically dove into the deep end of the pool and [said], "Let’s see if we can swim?"
And then once you stay in the water long enough, you want to start to get some style and do the breaststroke and the backstroke and all of that stuff, because you become a better swimmer. It’s not just enough to not sink. So the sink-or-swim thing became, “Hey, let’s be really good swimmers.”
What sort of stuff will be part of this new deluxe edition? There’s the remix...
There are remixes of the entire album - there’s some different elements that are going to be featured. So you’ll hear the DNA of what it’s all about [with] a big booklet that shows the making of [the album] and what everybody was going through.
Because there was a lot of turmoil in the band at that point. That was the first record where the future troubles with Ace and Peter surfaced. Peter started screaming at Bob Ezrin, “Don’t tell me how to play drums,” and Ezrin kind of going, “Well, first you have to learn how to play drums then you can say don’t tell me how to play drums. You’re playing it wrong, here’s what you gotta be doing right.”
So they were butting heads all of the time. Ace literally wouldn’t show up because he’d be in a drunken stupor at his home. It got so bad we literally used outside players to play solos.
Yeah, he was passed out. So when you hear ‘Destroyer’ today, not all of the lead guitars are Ace Frehley’s - some are Dick Wagner.
Which has been a controversial point over the years, but you guys have obviously done what you need to get each album done.
Well look, you’re a football team - you’re a team. Your job is to get a goal. If one of your guys passes out because they’re drunk, what happens? You’re supposed to stop the game?
You bring in another player, for sure.
You kick his sorry ass off the field, continue on and get that goal and then get somebody else to replace him, of course. Because if you don’t have enough self-respect to do whatever it is that you do and bless the ground and God and whoever for giving you the chance to do this stuff, or respect for your bandmates to do your stuff good and respect the fans for giving you the opportunity, then you don’t belong there. You belong in a bar with all of the other sorry asses.
Both the Kiss and Gene Simmons brands seem like they’re in great shape at a time when the rest of the music industry is in shambles. We hear a lot of complaining from musicians and bands about how much things have changed and the resulting negative effects. How have these changes had impact on what you do and what Kiss does?
It hasn’t affected Kiss - we’re approaching our 3,000th licensed product - everything from the Kiss ‘Hello Kitty’ brand, which is launching in 90 countries. We’re making a deal with ‘Family Guy,’ Seth McFarlane, for those characters to be wearing Kiss makeup. ‘Archie’ is now....Kiss and ‘Archie,’ I mean, there’s just nothing we can’t do and nowhere we can’t go, but we have a long history.
I have a label through Universal called Simmons Records and we just signed Kobra and the Lotus, which is a new real hardcore metal band fronted by a 20-year old great looking female whose name is Kobra Paige. And you know, it’s tough - a new band is gonna go out there, so I’ve got to play the role helping the manager get gigs and lining up promoters and licensed products, calling on Judas Priest for a favor to let them open up. You know, all those sorts of things.
You can no longer just be a label. You’ve got to do it all. The hardest part of all is that our two bands - the Envy and Kobra and the Lotus, have a really hard road. Because radio has changed - people are downloading for free - it’s the Wild West out there. So it’s much harder on new bands than it was for us.
On the other hand, when we first started, there was no MTV, there was no cable television. In fact, color television was just coming in - there were only five channels on TV. There was no cell phones, no DVDs - we didn’t even have videos, okay? We just had 33 RPM records. There were just albums and touring and radio. And you had to play every day. So physically, [it was] much more wearing, but at least it was a real thing.
Real fans were born that way. Downloading does not make real fans. You’re separated. It’s kind of like watching a movie far, far away [from] across the street instead of being right up in the front seat where it just envelopes you.
Talking about the young bands on your label, I want to go back and talk about another young band that you discovered back in the day, Van Halen. What are your thoughts on them all of these years later?
Well, we just saw them play, back again with [David Lee] Roth, two days ago. Alex [drummer Alex Van Halen] was very kind backstage and said, “Boy, those early days in New York were the best days of our lives.” Yeah, he’s right, because when you’re starting off and if you’re lucky, to be blunt, they were lucky to have met me.
But I was lucky to have met other bands and new bands are lucky if they meet somebody who believes - it’s not about me. Because you’re a baby and the big bad world is out there and that’s why I love new bands and I always want to show up in clubs and go backstage for the opening band - somebody who is unknown and just kind of put your hand around their shoulders and go, “This is cool, guys. You know you’ve got a chance, go out there and give it your best” kind of thing.
I learned that from Dick Clark. Dick Clark was a guy who just passed away, who never said a bad word to anybody. I’ll never forget, in 1974 we appeared on his TV show on ABC, it was called ‘In Concert.’ Remember, this is before MTV or CDs or cassettes or anything like that. We were nobodies - it was the first tour and we’re on the same bill as Melissa Manchester, disco bands and other kind of stuff and we’re coming out there and blowing up the stage.
He came backstage before we went on, came into the room and said, “Hi, I’m Dick Clark” and by then, he was already world famous for his TV shows. I’ll never forget, he said, “Gentlemen, you’re welcome. This is my house. If you need anything, you just come to me, forget about everybody else.” I’ll never forget that welcome - it made you feel appreciated and welcome. That’s what I always try to do with new bands. I always go in there, give them a kind word, help them along, because they’re babies.