Gene Simmons on Football, New Music, a New Movie and More – Exclusive Interview
The L.A. Kiss arena football team, co-owned by Kiss founders Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, didn't have a banner debut season, finishing at 3-15. You wouldn’t know it, however, by talking to Simmons. He approaches the team and its future with a confident swagger that fans of his music will surely recognize.
And why not? Whatever their record, the L.A. Kiss finished second in the league for attendance. And even if you didn't make it for their first season, the whole thing was documented by AMC on its new reality series '4th and Loud,' upping the profile both of the team and its owners.
Simmons gave Ultimate Classic Rock more insight into '4th and Loud,' which airs on Tuesdays, during the Television Critics Association summer press tour at Beverly Hills. He also touched on Kiss' current tour with Def Leppard and plans for a future album, but not before opening with a typical bit of bravado: “You want a drink or crack or anything?”
Music has always been a part of sports. What similarities did you find between the world of sports and the music industry?
Actually, I think the sports world was kind of tame before we came along, because sports, by and large, was designed for sports fans. You sort of assume that everybody who watches football knows the game and stuff like that. We take a decidedly different point of view, which is, we cast a wide net. We want L.A. Kiss to appeal to everybody. So even if you don’t very much about the rules of football, when you come to an L.A. Kiss game, you’re going to be entertained. Look, the NFL does a great job. You put the ball down, and the guy’s whispering, “Yes, now he’s gonna throw, he’s got a tight end with the fullback” -- and you don’t know what the hell he’s talking about unless you’re a real sports fan. So, you can come to our games, and have kids and families who are coming to their first-ever football game of any kind. So, it’s our job to make sure they get entertained and great football, so when the ball is down on the ground and people are talking before the [play], you’re going to see rock bands, you’re going to see people repelling. There’s fireworks, there’s extreme bicyclists who are doing upside-down kind of stuff. In other words, a fun, no-holds-barred, in-your-face event. Make the whole event exciting, which is the philosophy of Kiss.
That sounds like the Kiss' attitude toward arena shows.
Give them more instead of less.
Let’s pick bigger artists, shall we? If you’ve ever seen the [Rolling] Stones or [Paul] McCartney and there’s fireworks going on, where do you think they got that from, Air Supply? The idea is that if Kiss is going to be remembered for anything, it’s upping the live performance. It’s not enough just to strum your guitar and here’s-my-new-song-off-the-new-record. It’s not enough. Tickets cost as much as your next mortgage payment on your home, so they may as well get bang for the buck. We stand guilty as charged by our harshest critics of making a complete spectacle out of ourselves. You’re goddamn right we do.
With your level of success, you could just sit back and enjoy the riches and luxury. Are you always motivated to explore new creative business opportunities like your Rock n’ Brews restaurants?
Well, of course. Warren Buffett does well, but he gets up every day and goes to work. So does Bill Gates. Look, if God gave you 24 hours of life, what would you do -- sit around and wait to die? Or will you try to leave a mark, make lots of money, give back a lot, create jobs? Do something, instead of just sitting around. So, when I was a little kid, and we all think about it -- I want to be rich and famous. OK, well, what does that mean? And at what point is it enough? Actually, it’s never enough, because when your belly is full, and you can sleep well and safely, you realize that there’s more to it. It’s the doing. It’s interesting, when you put a gerbil in a cage, it’s fed, nobody is trying to kill it, but if you give it a wheel, it will continue to run around on it because you’re alive. Use it or lose it. There’s plenty of money and there’s plenty of opportunity and glory and fame, but you want to get up every day, make every minute count.
Does starting a new sports team remind you of the early underdog days of Kiss?
Of course, because everybody in the peanut gallery says, “Oh, it’s not real football. It’s not this, it’s not that.” And then at the end of the day, we become massive -- and we already are -- they say, “Oh, I knew it.” Because when anything new starts, there’s always a reason to throw stones by people who’ve never done anything and still live in their mother’s basement. So, the real doers and movers and shakers and visionaries don’t look over their shoulder to see who else is running the race. You’ve got to run your own race and commit to your own passion.
In the first episode, one of your players had an injury that could have been life threatening had he played. You seemed very shocked that it would get to that point.
Well, we didn’t know. This is not reality TV-scripted and stuff. This is real stuff, where the NFL had their doctors and they reviewed it -- but we wanted stringent, real, hardcore guys so we got the best doctors in Los Angeles. And they did some scans, some brain scans and said, “Listen, you play at your own risk. The next head injury you make might end your life.” And we just went, “That’s the end of it.” Sports is good. You can make a lot of money and become a big star and the chicks are there, but not if you’re dead. That’s life.
You did some of your interviews for '4th and Loud' in your recording studio. Are you by any chance planning a new album after the current tour?
We’re open to it. As a matter of fact, I was writing a new song the other day called 'Your Wish Is My Command.' Sure, not a problem doing that. Although, as you know, the record industry is in disarray and it’s tough putting out new albums because the stores [are closed and] the chaos that is the Internet -- because people download for free. So we make a distinction between charity and commerce. We give millions to charity, but we also want to get paid for our work.
Do you even have to do an album then? If you’ve written a new song, could you just release that for $1.99 and see how many people buy it?
It’s not our style. That’s pop stuff. That’s disco. We want to make a full-album statement.
On the tour Def Leppard is on with you, and on any Kiss tour, what classic Kiss songs have to be in a set?
There aren’t any that have to be, but if you listen closely, you can hear it. When you see the look of fans of all ages from everywhere having the time of their lives, there’s nothing like that. We want that kind of awe-inspiring experience to be part of L.A. Kiss.
What songs that you don’t include in the set do fans often ask you to perform again?
Oh, the most obscure stuff, and usually they’re just trying to show off. They’re not serious about that. What they’re trying to show you is that they’ve been loyal for 40 years, some of them. Some for 20 or 10. It depends on when you get on the train ride. Your perspective on that train ride is where you got on and where you get off, you know what I mean? They’re just mentioning obscure songs to show you that they know it.
Was writing 'Rock and Roll All Nite,' the last song on your third album, a real turning point for Kiss?
We didn’t know or think too much about it. We were too busy being in it. You know when you’re in the middle of a party and somebody runs over to you and says, “How do you feel?” You’re not even aware of it. You’re just sort of caught up in the eye of the storm, if you will. And also marketing and branding weren’t phrases that were bandied about. You’re just busy living your dream of not having to do 9 to 5. I mean, you’re breaking your back. You’re traveling in the back of a station wagon and making $75 a week, literally, but there’s that magic time. You get up on that stage, no matter how bone tired you are, you’re going, “F---, I’m in a band. There’s a record out and people love what we do.” It wasn’t Beatles when we first started out, but it got pretty big.
Was Kiss always in charge of what singles got promoted from the albums?
No, and we never really played the game. 'I Was Made for Lovin’ You' was a concerted effort at doing that, but we never sat down and wrote singles.
You were so prolific in the ‘70s with sometimes two albums a year. What fueled the creativity to come up with enough songs for two albums a year?
It’s difficult to say. Either it comes, or it doesn’t. There are writers and painters also who hit dry spells, for no reason. Sometimes, when you’re feeling good and you dream well and you sleep good, love is good. And some people, by the way, need a lot of misery and rainy days.
Alice Cooper’s famed chicken incident was in 1969, which was an exaggerated rumor, but during the ‘70s, was there a healthy competition between bands trying to top each other in live performances?
No, not really, because you can’t compete against Kiss.
How about a sequel to 'Phantom of the Park'?
Listen, I’m not against any of that, but currently there are plans to do a Kiss cartoon show that’s fully funded, a Kiss TV show and a Kiss motion picture, which is fully funded -- as well as a Kiss documentary to be released in theaters. So there’s an awful lot going on, including a Vegas Cirque du Soleil kind of show that we’re working on. There’s always a lot of stuff going on.
What type of movie would the new Kiss movie be?
It’s a story more about fans. You know, religious movies are only as interesting as the people who are in it and experience the thing. So, in essence, it’s like that. It’s more about the story and the journey that some fans take. It’s very good. I’m trying not to say too much about it.
Has there been a documentary crew following you already?
Yes, but that’s done. It’s in editing stages now.
What period of Kiss does that cover?
It’s a historical overview with commentary and everything for 40 years.