"You wanted the best, you got the best!" has been Kiss' battle cry for nearly 40 years. Anyone making that boast can't afford to be modest, something Kiss bassist/vocalist Gene Simmons is clearly not. His public confidence seldom falters, but after selling 100 million albums worldwide and inspiring thousands to rock 'n' roll all night and party every day, his swagger is justified.
Simmons has worked with longtime Kiss partner Paul Stanley to maintain the band's vitality in song and brand. They have licensed Kiss' likeness to 3,000 items, according to Simmons. The latest products include the Kiss Monster Mini-Golf Amusement Center in Las Vegas; the Kiss Coffeehouse in Myrtle Beach, S.C.; and emblazoning Hello Kitty and "Family Guy" merch with Kiss imagery. Simmons is also a multi-hyphenate entrepreneur in his own right who, in between writing books and making TV appearances, is involved in ventures like conversational translator service Ortsbo.com and high-end estate planning company Cool Springs Life.com.
Even while being interviewed, Simmons keeps busy, plucking possible song titles and headlines from the conversation as he chatted about Kiss' latest studio album, "Monster" (dropping Oct. 9), the upcoming Kiss Kruise to the Bahamas and having Motley Crue join Kiss on the road for an outing simply called the Tour, which wound through the United States from July through September.
Billboard spoke to Simmons the day of Kiss' Sept. 21 date at PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, N.J. Never one to lack for talking points, he explained how Kiss' face paint is more recognizable than the visages on Mount Rushmore -- and that you shouldn't be surprised if someday you see the God of Thunder rocking out onstage with Mother Monster.
How are you?
I'm deliriously happy.
I'm glad to hear that. That's not what most people say when I ask that question.
Well, I get to be Gene Simmons another day.
Who came up with the idea of Kiss and Motley Crue going out on tour together?
Well, we took Motley out on their first tour in 1982, when they first started out, because we always like to give new bands a shot. We also took the following bands on their first tour: AC/DC, Rush, Cheap Trick, Bon Jovi, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden. If there's a big band, we took 'em out. And that has to do with, likewise on this tour, there's a new band called the Treatment that we gave a shot because we always like to give new bands a shot if they've got the goods, and Motley's done pretty well for themselves. It just sort of happened. [Kiss manager] Doc [McGhee] used to manage Motley and we were going out and we always try to ramp up our shows and try to give the fans more: more show, more effects, more everything. And we felt, "Well, why not give them also Crue that comes on before us?" It really warms the stage up because we're of like mind in terms of making sure people get a show.
Is there friendly competition between the two bands to one-up each other onstage?
There's competition with anything and anybody. Mostly though we're in competition with our pasts because there's a legend we have to live up to. Next year is going to be our 40th year and it's clear to us and it's clear to everybody when they think about it is, if you look around and look at anybody doing pyro and making the stage sort of a more bombastic experience, from McCartney to anybody. Where do you think they got that from, Cirque du Soleil?
Ah, no. When you're trying to think of things to do with your shows, how do you keep it fresh after four decades?
There still has to be a connection, whether you're doing effects or anything else, to the music. It has to always come back to the music. So I spit fire doing "Firehouse." I still try to find kind of an ethereal or other kind of connection to it. You can't just decide to do "Beth" and blow the stage up. That would be kind of silly, wouldn't it?
Yes, not exactly the way to present a ballad.
Yeah, and we don't do ballads. We don't even do "Beth" this time. It's just straight ahead.