Gene Simmons is a good bass player
Gene Simmons: Kiss is the hardest working band in show business
"Good day! How are you - would you like a biscuit? ”A reception in flawless German. From a man who welcomes you to the Marlene Dietrich Suite of the Hyatt Hotel in Berlin at eleven o'clock in the morning with black sunglasses, leather jacket, baseball cap, jeans and biker boots - in a darkened room with a bodyguard in front of the door. To his left: a chunky metal safe draped with a gold coin, an action figure, and a plate of biscuits.
"Are you sure? They're with marzipan. Very tasty. ”-“ No thanks, I'm on a diet ”. "Me too," says Gene and courageously reaches for the candy. A gesture that says a lot about him: his attitude towards life, consumption and enjoyment is downright unrestrained, its contradictions fascinating and the target it provides is as big as a skyscraper. Because Gene Simmons is here for business: He wants to advertise a product that works on the principle of “more is more”, that seems grossly overpriced and is primarily aimed at die-hard Kiss fans. It contains undreamt-of treasures that show a completely different side of the make-up rocker - in a positive sense.
Gene, one of the standout pieces in "The Vault" includes your very first recording from 1966, which sounds a lot like the Beatles. Were you a fan of them?
And how! You changed my life. Not that it was the first music I ever heard. When I came to America at the age of eight, I already knew Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino and Ray Charles. The same music that drove the young Beatles crazy too. The founding fathers of rock'n'roll. Their music captivated me - but it didn't make me want to be in a band myself. That only came when the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show and half the country was watching. When I saw that, it changed me forever. I knew what to do with my life: become a musician. No matter how stupid you look, no matter how stupid your hairstyle, and no matter how strange you talk, the girls will still like you.
'The Vault' also contains pieces you wrote with none other than Bob Dylan. May I ask why you never published it?
Because there are only three pieces - where and how should I have published them? On a Kiss album, for example? No. We started writing together, but we had no real plan - and no goal either. That was in the late 80s - when he started the Traveling Wilburys. And this project came about in a similar way: A couple of guys met to jam and develop songs. It worked with Petty & Co. - not with me. No idea why. I have to add that I don't just write Kiss songs, but mainly Gene Simmons songs. Even when we as a band start a new album, I don't write for it explicitly. I've never done that before. I sit down and get started. Out of 20 or 25 pieces made this way, maybe four or five are good for Kiss.
That's why a lot of unpublished things that make you wonder, “Is that really Gene Simmons?” Simply because they don't sound like Kiss.
Exactly. And with some of them I play all the instruments myself: drums, guitar, bass, keyboards. Really everything.
What most fans and critics hardly trust you ...
And they are so wrong with that. They think I'm just a showman and just pose. But that is definitely not the case. Maybe I'm not a bass virtuoso and don't do spectacular things. But I know what a song needs and I am able to give it to it and do my part. I don't have anyone to do it for me backstage and just make me look good - I do it myself. In a really heavy costume and with a lot of makeup. It's not easy - and someone should imitate me first!
I've been in this band long enough to know what I'm doing. If that weren't the case, we - and therefore I - would never have come this far. But to come back to the collaborations on The Vault ‘: On some tracks I work with musician friends who are friends. Ace Frehley, our old Kiss guitarist, sings on two pieces, for example, and the other Kiss guys are also at the start several times. The Van Halen brothers are involved in three pieces. There are 150 songs in total that were never released, and I present them in a safe on steel wheels. This is no nonsense, but something that I've planned for a long time. In other words: something very special, valuable.
You have to take a lot of criticism for the high purchase price. A whopping $ 2,000, that is. Isn't that a bit much?
Not when I hand them over personally, which is important to me. I mean, if the buyers live near Los Angeles, I make a lot of money out of it. Because it's like this: the less I have to fly, the cheaper it is for me. But if I have to go to Düsseldorf especially for that, I'll pay extra. Then I need a plane ticket, security service, insurance, hotels, food, etc.
Why are you doing this to yourself?
Because I'm rich - because I can do what I want. And I'll tell you who I'm doing this for: for me. If you had all the money you could want and then throw a huge party, you don't want to be the only guest. You want people who celebrate with you, who share in your success.
So, in the end, is it all about you?
I'm very selfish about that. I want to meet the fans, the children named after my songs, who may even have been conceived to them, and the tattoos that these people wear. I want to feel their passion and dedication and enjoy them to the fullest. I am like all the people who compose songs, paint pictures, write books or whatever: when they leave their study, they want to see the joy they bring to others. Which is also the reason why you go on tour. Sure, you make money with it, but the magic is to perform your own songs and make people happy. This is only possible in conjunction with them - not alone.
Your philosophy, which you have followed for 50 years, is more that only money makes you happy ...
No, don't misunderstand me: money is the most important thing in the world. And it is evolving in that direction more and more obviously. To say that love comes way ahead of anything is romantic, but it's not true. Because there are women in Ethiopia who genuinely love their children, but still cannot feed them because they have no money. In this respect, love alone is not enough, you also need money - for food, water, clothing and medicine. In this respect, money is everything and nothing works without it. Even God lets the hat go around in church. And even the most beautiful car does not drive without gasoline.
You are officially taking a break from Kiss to take care of this boxing set. At the same time you are touring with your own band. Is the end slowly becoming apparent for Kiss?
In my case, I could never do what Mick Jagger does. That much is certain. But: Jagger can't do what I do either. And that's what I say as a fan. If you put him in my dragon boots with ten centimeter heels and armor that weighs between 20 and 30 kilos, he'd collapse halfway through the set. The same goes for Bono, Thom Yorke and all these guys. If you - like me - needed two hours for costume and make-up, you would be completely finished before it even starts. They wouldn't be able to do that physically.
But, because we don't wear T-shirts and trainers, it also means that we can't possibly do it at 74. That would then be unconvincing. Because Kiss - that's our motto - is the hardest working band in show business. Point off. So I know we wouldn't be able to do it. But right now I feel great, I look good and I don't shiver a bit. Do you see how calm my hand is?
I'll tell you what: if you can fall asleep without stress, you will have fewer wrinkles on your face - that's just the way it is. And that's why I don't need a lift. Only people who are stressed and whose body expresses it clearly need this. That means, the more you put on him, the more worn out he looks. And I don't have any wrinkles, I feel good, my skin is good, I sleep like a rock and I don't do drugs. It's very simple. And the truth is, your mother was always right and your friends were always wrong. They are stupid and basically no better than your worst enemies. They say: “Let's go out and drink or get drunk.” By contrast, your mother always said: “Take a rest, drink plenty of water, eat vegetables and don't waste your time with losers who drink alcohol and use drugs.” With that they hit the nail on the head. And she was very proud of me! Probably my business acumen rather than my music, but I can't blame her for that.
Speaking of business acumen: you sell your own basses on your website - played and unplayed. Are people really spending a five-figure sum to buy an instrument that you've only used briefly on stage?
That sounds very negative now. As if I would ask you who knows what.
Well, a Classic Ax for $ 10,495 is quite a number.
But this is not intended for everyone, only for people who really want it and have the necessary change. Those who want an instrument that I play live in front of their eyes and then sign - with a dedication and everything that goes with it. This is a service that is in great demand - and I serve it. No more and no less. You get a high quality, personalized product that you can have fun with, that you can play on yourself and that is a real collector's item. I only think it's legitimate to charge a fee for it. If the whole thing were cheaper, it would certainly not be so desirable for many fans. You have to create a feeling of exclusivity and offer something that not everyone can afford. Only then does it become a desirable object.
With the Master-Bass-Class you also offer group lessons in playing bass followed by songwriting - with guaranteed success! Would you be able to do this with an autodidact like me?
In under an hour!
You do not mean that seriously?
Oh but. Even if you've never held an instrument in your hands. I mean, that's nothing more than acquiring a basic knowledge of a foreign language - as I did with German, Japanese and Hungarian. I can't read or write Hungarian, but you don't have to to speak it either. And you can write hundreds of songs without reading a single note or having a clue about music theory. In order to write a book, it is enough if you manage to get something verbally. You just dictate it to someone who will write it down for you. And when I compose songs, someone else records the notes for me. Done out.
Hotter Than Hell (1974)
Dressed To Kill (1975)
Rock and Roll Over (1976)
Love Gun (1977)
Alive II (1977)
Music From The Elder (1981)
Creatures Of The Night (1982)
Lick It Up (1983)
Crazy Nights (1987)
Hot In The Shade (1989)
Alive III (1993)
Kiss Unplugged (1996)
Carnival Of Souls (1997)
Psycho Circus (1998)
Sonic Boom (2009)
Gene Simmons (1978)
Speaking In Tongues (2004)
The Vault (2017)
(published in Guitar & Bass 03/2018)
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