Ask Gene Simmons how he’s doing and the response is, “deliriously happy.”
“Because I get to be Gene Simmons for another day,” he replies.
What better opening from one of the proud lions of rock ‘n’ roll?
He’s a showman, a shrewd businessman, a wily TV star. Of course he’s delirious.
Simmons and the rest of KISS –singer Paul Stanley, guitarist Tommy Thayer and drummer Eric Singer – just wrapped a 40-plus-date summer tour with Motley Crue (it played Aaron’s Amphitheatre at Lakewood in July), but don’t even hint at KISS taking a break.
The band released “Monster” on Tuesday, its 24th studio album. And it’s a firecracker. KISS hasn’t sounded this pumped or tight since “Rock and Roll Over,” and songs such as “Freak,” “All for the Love of Rock and Roll” and the Simmons-sung “The Devil is Me” should rattle the roofs of the arenas on the 60 shows they’re planning for South America and Europe (expect a U.S. return in about a year) to promote the release.
The always-entertaining Simmons, 63, checked in recently from Boston to talk “Monster,” life beyond the now-ended A&E reality show, “Gene Simmons Family Jewels” and what items in the world can still be KISS-ified.
Q. You’ve said in the past that it drove you crazy that bands weren’t interested in putting on a show, and how they’d stand up there and stare at their shoes. Do you still think that’s the case?
A. It baffles me. I just don’t understand it. You’re a woman and if you’re going out, why wouldn’t you put on your makeup and do your hair? Same thing. Why would you go on stage looking like a bum? There is only one personality [currently] who totally has the goods and that’s Lady Gaga. She’s not classically a rock act, but she’s the real deal. She cares about the shows and the appearance. That’s what you want a star to be. Maroon 5 has great songs, but I don’t want to look at them.
From 1980 to 2012, where are the stars? We had grunge. I wanted to kill myself. Kurt Cobain couldn’t shine my shoes. They had some fine bands but the only one that survived was Pearl Jam. The biggest bands in the world play guitars and drums. When we first came out of caves, we picked up sticks and started beat on logs. That has never changed, that primal beat of rock ‘n’ roll.
Q. This new album is total classic KISS. How did you approach this differently from [2009’s] “Sonic Boom?
A. We’re lucky we have Tommy and Eric in the band. It’s a reborn KISS. If I heard a new record called ‘Monster’ and it was from a new band, I’d say, ‘What the hell? This is amazing.’ If this was our first record I’d be proud of it. There are a lot of bands who are long in the tooth and their new product doesn’t hold up.
Q. So what makes KISS different?
A. It’s called caring. Either you care and you want to be up there and the only thing that keeps you up there as a champion is the win or you don’t. We didn’t have to keep doing this 30 years ago. But you know, when you climb to Mount Olympus, the view is breathtaking.
Q. KISS will be 40 next year. How much longer do you see yourself putting on the boots and spitting fire?
A. We can’t do this forever. But if what you saw on stage [during our tour] this summer was legit, then it’s still not time to hang up the platform heels.
Q. After all these years, are you and Paul still friends outside of the band?
A. We live a half mile from each other. He’s got four kids now and I’m going out on dates with my wife.
Q. There’s a word we didn’t hear you use before [Simmons wed his longtime partner Shannon Tweed last year after vowing he’d never marry].
A. That’s something I never said in my life. But luckily, I met a girl who was willing to wait for my sorry [behind] for 28 years.
Q. [Your seven-season reality show] “Family Jewels” isn’t coming back. Do you miss having the cameras around ?
A. No, everything happens for a reason. It’s a good thing the show ended now so we can concentrate on being on tour. We’ve been on TV for how many years? We’ve seen our kids grow up there.
Q. Speaking of, how are Nick and Sophie?
A. They’re just great. Nick just got an acting gig on a TV show, Sophie is on a talent show [she appeared on “The X-Factor” last month]. They both sing at casino shows, the same rooms that Tony Bennett sings in. They each do a set and then join for encores at the end. They do blues and torch songs. And Nick is in the studio with [super producer] Eddie Kramer for his own band.
Q. Do you think the show diluted your mystique as Gene the Rock Star?
A. Yes and no, except that when the curtain drops and we get on stage it’s either real or not. You often see a lion ripping the head off something it just killed and the fact is that it’s also a loving parent. Either you’re the king of beasts or you’re not.
Q. So what’s left to put the KISS logo on to sell?
A. Have you seen the KISS Hello Kitty in 90 countries? It’s just massive. The KISS ‘Family Guy’ line is coming. I can’t wait for Stewie to wear my makeup. There’s nothing we can’t do, no other band can do this stuff.
Q. You always seem to find success in your numerous endeavors. But how do you handle failure of an idea?
A. Failure doesn’t mean anything to me. The guys that play baseball, everybody strikes out. So what? Sometimes you go out on dates and it doesn’t work. So what? The lesson in life is that the word ‘no’ doesn’t mean anything and failure means even less. But my batting average is pretty damn high.
By Melissa Ruggieri, Atlanta Music Scene