KISS bassist/vocalist Gene Simmons spoke to Billboard.com about the band’s recently completed 20th studio album, ‘Monster’, scheduled for release this July, and the upcoming Rock & Roll Fantasy Camp:
Kiss’ Gene Simmons is prepping the whip for his role mentoring the next batch of Rock & Roll Fantasy Camp attendees.
“I intend to be a hard taskmaster,” Simmons, who joins the camp Oct. 10-14 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, tells Billboard.com. “The guy you hate the most when you go off into war is your drill sergeant, and he’s the guy you love the most when you get on the battlefield and all that hard work he put you through saves your life, or at least made you a better soldier. So I’m gonna be the drill sergeant and take these guys through it. They may not be able to perform in an arena, play in the band of their dreams or become big rock stars, but they’ll certainly be able to step up on their local stages everywhere and be 10 times the performer they were before.”
Simmons also notes that he’s “going to be insulting some people, because in the real world when you get up on stage, sometimes the audience will insult you. All they’re doing is telling you how they really feel — ‘Aw, you suck!’ ”
Simmons will be joined at the fall camp by Black Label Society leader Zakk Wylde, former Skid Row singer Sebastian Bach and Vince Neil of Motley Crue, which will be touring with Kiss during the summer, wrapping up Sept. 23. Simmons says most of his lessons will be pragmatic — “Less about celebrity and more like, ‘OK, here it is,’ ” he notes — teaching the campers to “know about your instrument and know how to play,” develop some sense and appreciation for the business side of music and know that “you’ll be judged by not only how you sound but also how you look, how you dress, how you talk, what you say. I really want to treat this seriously.” Details about the fall camp are available at www.rockcamp.com
Simmons’ camp gig will come after a serious summer for Kiss that will see not only the tour with Motley Crue but also the July release of the group’s 20th studio album, “Monster.” The follow-up to 2009’s “Sonic Boom” is again produced by the band’s Paul Stanley and is, in Simmons’ words, “either the best or one of the top three records we’ve ever done. It’s like ‘Revenge’ meets ‘Destroyer’ — just guitar and drums, nothing else. No keyboards, no little boys’ choir, no strings, no nothing. Band-written; literally we’d get in and strum guitars like the old days.” Co-produced, like “Sonic Boom,” by Kiss co-founder Paul Stanley, “Monster” “was written very fast,” according to Simmons and includes at least one track, “Are You Ready?,” that he describes as “an old song that was torn apart and re-written.”
“Monster” will be accompanied by a “monstrous book” of the same name, an over-sized art book that Simmons says “should weigh 100 pounds or more” and come with its own stand. “It’s something you can’t put on your coffee table, ’cause it’ll crush it. It IS the coffee table.” The book will include paintings, drawings, photos and other impressions by various artists, inspired by Kiss. The group will also be rolling out a new 10-hour DVD this year, a Kiss golf course in New York, a series of comic books and a product line in conjunction with Hello Kitty that will include “everything from back to school items to bed sheets, bedspreads, you name it.” And its Kiss Kruise takes launches Oct. 31 from Miami.
On the horizon, meanwhile, is the 40th anniversary of Kiss’ formation in 2013 and of the release of its first album 2014. Simmons says “there are a lot of plans” to celebrate both. “Let’s just say it’s going to be a two-year long tour,” with details still to come.
Paul Stanley spoke with Andrew Barker of Variety about a variety of topics, incluidng KISS merchandising, the state of the music business, and the band’s future:
Last week, Kiss co-founder and frontman Paul Stanley was busy preparing for an upcoming co-headlining tour with Motley Crue, just after putting the final touches on the group’s studio record, “Monster,” which is due out this fall and will be inevitably followed by yet another tour.
By now, this is all old hat for the 60-year-old arena rock veteran. Yet as staunchly stratified as Kiss’ flashpot-and-greasepaint-aesthetic has become, the group seems set to enter its 40th anniversary year in 2013 amidst a music industry that has in many ways reformed into the band’s own image.
Though no longer attempting to stay abreast of every change in the musical weather, — as it did with disco and glam metal in its middle period — Kiss has managed to keep its name in the pop music conversation admirably well, slotting in on “American Idol” and launching a previous co-headlining tour with Aerosmith. Yet what’s perhaps most remarkable is the degree to which Kiss’ longtime operating procedure — aggressive multimedia licensing and an overall reliance on touring over record sales — has positioned the group for the industry upheavals of the last decade.
The band has a catalog of 3,000 officially licensed, branded Kiss products, and recently signed a worldwide licensing deal with Hello Kitty owner Sanrio. (Kiss beer, coffins and condoms have also recently joined its immense catalog of apparel and toys.) Of course, Kiss’ uber-capitalist stance was once regarded as anathema to the countercultural spirit of rock and roll, yet given the explosion of music branding, licensing and marketing agencies over recent years (as well as such ventures as Dr. Dre’s Beats by Dre electronics line and David Guetta’s new sponsorship platform), the band’s gung-ho branding approach now seems to rival only George Lucas’ “Star Wars” merchandising deals in its prescience.
“Our credibility is defined by our own criteria, and we are as credible as we are profitable.” Stanley said. “It’s undeniable that the (non-traditional) revenue streams can be enormous, and to not maximize your potential outside of music would be absurd. It is the music business, and the business element doesn’t negate or detract from the other end of it. We’re a band, and we’re a brand. And without one, the other suffers.
“Just to give an example, when we first started our (Kiss Army) fan club, people snickered, critics snickered, other bands snickered. And the fact of the matter was, what’s wrong with organizing and affiliating yourself with your fans? It seemed to me incredibly self-absorbed to do the opposite, and not acknowledge and nurture it. In the beginning, we were surprised with the hostility it met. But we’ve always stuck to our guns. There are a lot bands that can’t do the same because, quite honestly, they’re boring.”
Despite such self-promotional chest-thumping that has always accompanied Kiss’ music and business ventures, Stanley casts a sympathetic eye on the acts following in his band’s wake, especially given new digital models that, he notes, “force the artist to go along with a royalty system that they might have never agreed to” if they had the choice.
“I would hate to be a band starting out now, because the pot of gold isn’t there to be had,” he said. “We came up on a route that, in essence, wasn’t far removed from vaudeville. You started fourth on the bill and gradually worked your way up. You graduated from clubs to theaters to arenas. By the time we were headliners, we damned well knew how to headline. That’s an opportunity most bands today will never get, and it shows in their performances.”
While Kiss’ recorded output has long been perceived as supplementary to its maximalist stage show — a model to which, of late, the rest of the music business has been forced to conform — Stanley has taken the reins on the recording side in recent years, self-producing “Monster” as he previously did with 2009’s “Sonic Boom,” which notched the band’s highest rung on the Billboard album chart to date, topping out at No. 2.
“It came from me saying, ‘either I produce or we don’t do albums,’ ” he said, bluntly. “I think we reached a point where democracy showed itself to be highly overrated.”
Similarly, Stanley is remarkably upfront about his own songwriting style (“I’m not a brooding, miserable artist. I won. This is exactly what I wanted”); the band’s missteps (“nothing would have been worse than for our last recorded album to have been (1998 reunion album) ‘Psycho Circus.’ That was an epitaph I didn’t want”); and on his own expectations for the band’s new material (“no matter how great the songs are, nothing on this album is going to have anywhere near the impact that ‘Love Gun’ had on people”). He’s just as straightforward about his unique relationship with bassist-singer Gene Simmons — his constant bandmate since even prior to Kiss’ founding — and who often takes the role of public spokesman for the band: “Over the years, you learn to accept the dynamic, and the best way to make for a great partnership is to accept its limitations. Do my shoulders sometimes get sore from someone standing on them all the time? Sure. But that’s part of the dynamic. … And for all the bluster, I still put 50% of what he gets into my bank account.”
But when asked about the band’s future as it crosses over into its fifth decade, Stanley turned contemplative.
“Kiss will far outlive me,” he said. “I can’t shut it down, nor would I want to. At some point I’ll be gone — to say that other people have been expendable (in the band) and not include myself would be narcissistic and ridiculous. There’s someone out there who can do what I do at least as well, add something else to the band, and take it further. Even as a brand, Kiss is only in its infancy. It’s timeless in the same way Batman and Superman are timeless. Kiss doesn’t age.”