KISS' GENE SIMMONS
Interview by Night Watchman
Illustration by Fphatty Lamar

THE FOLLOWING INTERVIEW WITH GENE SIMMONS WAS CONDUCTED IN JUNE 2004, AND WAS PRINTED IN OUR SUMMER 'O4 ISSUE. IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN PURCHASING A COPY OF THE MAGAZINE, CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE.

GENE SIMMONS HAS IT BETTER THAN YOU. HE HAS MORE MONEY. HIS BAND, KISS, HAS SOLD MORE RECORDS AND MERCHANDISE THAN ANY OTHER BAND EVER. HE HAS SLEPT WITH MORE WOMEN THAN YOU HAVE TALKED TO IN YOUR WHOLE LIFE. AND NOW HE'S RELEASED HIS SECOND SOLO ALBUM, ASSHOLE, WHERE HE CO-WROTE SONGS WITH BOB DYLAN AND FRANK ZAPPA. DOES THAT MAKE HIM AN ASSHOLE? NIGHT WATCHMAN GOT TO FIND OUT FOR HIMSELF.

Night Watchman: Glad to hear you got your voice back.

Gene Simmons: Barely.

NW: Itís got to be rough to lose it, and have to do a concert right after.

GS: And you know what? Nobody cares about excuses. Iím sure you can hear my voice is still a little--

NW: Itís still a little raspy.

GS: Yeah.

NW: So, youíve been doing interviews for years and years--

GS: Probably longer than youíve been alive.

NW: Well, I got my first KISS album, Hotter Than Hell, when I was seven, so, yeah, thatís pretty safe to say. Iím sure you get the same three or four questions asked over and over again.

GS: Donít worry about it.

NW: I wanted to ask something different, because you must get asked the same things all the time. So is there a question you want to answer, but no one ever asks?

GS: No, not really. If somebody asks me, "What time is it?" I just say, "Iím glad you asked me that. When I was a child, I forgot to clip my toenails...." You know, I just say what I want to say. I donít wait for the question. A question is just a button that gets pushed, and I start saying what I want to say.

NW: What do you think about the perception of Gene Simmons as a person, versus Gene Simmons as the character you portray in KISS?

GS: Well, to some people, Iím an asshole, because I win every time.

NW: (laughs)

GS: Because Iím too rich and have too many chicks, or I have too much this or too much that, and people like that are big targets. There are some guys who do very well in life, and, to other people that donít do as well in life, they are real assholes, you know? Donald Trump and Hugh Hefner, theyíre both friends of mine; I like them as human beings, and I know who they really are. But to anyone on the street: "Man, that guyís got a billion dollars... heís an asshole." What it really means is that people are jealous. The word "asshole"-- thatís also the name of my solo record-- is a fun word. Thereís this sense about being an asshole, which really means that you speak your mind. If your girl comes down the stairs and says, "What do you think of my dress?" and she actually looks like Bozo the Clown and you tell her the truth, sheíll call you an asshole. But if you lie to her, youíre a nice guy.

NW: (laughs) Itís a strange double standard.

GS: Itís not a double standard. I speak my mind. Remember, I am an asshole.

NW: Right. So why did it take you so long to make another solo album?

GS: Well, I have a few jobs. Iíve had a record company, managed recording artists including Liza Minnelli, produced ten bands, acted in movies and television, and continued to write songs and tour with KISS. And then there are the toys and the games. There arenít enough hours in the daytime. But past a certain point, this stuff builds up, and youíve got stuff in you that you want to get out. A solo record is a chance for me to be more diverse, and show people that I can do other stuff.

NW: Thatís one of the things I noticed about Asshole. It goes from songs that would be at home on a KISS album, to the opposite end of the spectrum; more poppy songs with Beatlesque harmonies.

GS: Yeah. And I also like some hip-hop, and Iím a big fan of Patsy Cline and Nat King Cole; a lot of stuff. Weíre all diverse people; nobodyís one-dimensional.

NW: With the solo material, were a lot of the songs just not at home on a KISS album?

GS: Well, most of the material I write doesnít fit a KISS record. I write stream of consciousness. Like the last song on the record, "I Dream A Thousand Dreams", sounds like a psychedelic Hawaiian song. That wouldnít fit on a KISS record. But I write a song like that just as easily as I write "Deuce".

NW: I read that you have something like 100 songs recorded and in the can.

GS: Thatís true. Next year, thereís going to be a Gene Simmons boxed set called 100; in other words, there are going to be 100 unreleased Gene Simmons songs on it.

NW: Wow. So this is just stuff youíve been recording over the years?

GS: Right.

NW: I also read that you had just finished up doing a lecture tour in Australia.

GS: Yes. I was there about a year ago, and that DVD, which is called Speaking In Tongues, is going to be coming out in August. You know, I have a big mouth and very peculiar notions about life as we know it on the third planet from the Sun. Life, to me, is not a paint-by-numbers set. Ever since I was a kid-- maybe because Iím an only child-- itís been very clear that the things weíve been taught are not necessarily right. Because America is really remnants of the Puritan ethic. Weíve been taught that money is the root of all evil, which is a blatant lie. Itís obvious a lack of money is the root of all evil. If Iíve got a hundred million bucks in my pocket, why would I want to go and hold up a 7-Eleven? But if I donít have a penny in my pocket, I might be there. All those kinds of notions. Iím also a firm believer in the idea of being selfish; "selfish" is a good word, not a bad word. But weíve been taught that itís not a good word. However, if you donít love yourself first before anybody else, why would I want someone with a self-esteem problem to love me back?

NW: Right. So, for the lectures, do you have things prepared, or do you just go and do it?

GS: I just go. Stream of consciousness.

NW: How was the reception to the tour?

GS: Well, letís see... tickets were $175 each, and we did three concerts, averaging two to three thousand people--

NW: So, they really liked it?

GS: (laughs) I guess they did.

Both: (laugh)

GS: I told you I was an asshole. See, somebodyís reading this right now and saying, "That guyís an asshole." That means, "I wish I was Gene Simmons." Thatís what it means.

Both: (laugh)

NW: Do you get people yelling that at you on the street?

GS: No, never. Jealousy takes on a strange form; itís private. When nobodyís looking, people yell at the television set: "That guyís an asshole." But if you meet them in real life: "Can I have your autograph?"

NW: And then they turn around and sell it on eBay. Whoís the asshole then?

GS: Well, I donít think "asshole" is a bad word, remember? The asshole tells the truth. If somebody walks up to me and starts talking to me, and I say, "Excuse me. You should take a breath mint, because your breath stinks," the guy thinks, "What an asshole." But Iím doing him a favor, because other people wonít tell him, and heíll continue to foul humanity.

NW: And society says the nice thing to do is to not say anything.

GS: But the opposite is true, you see.

NW: I know you were a big comic book fan growing up. Even on your first solo record-- which I remember listening to on an eight-track-- "Man Of 1,000 Faces" was about Lon Chaney. Obviously, those fantasy worlds played heavily into what later became KISS. Are you still as into monsters and comics?

GS: Very much so. Two days ago, I saw The Chronicles of Riddick.

NW: What did you think of it?

GS: I loved it! You know, critics have killed that movie, but I had a ball. Iím a big fan of Van Helsing, and I canít wait to see it. Even things like Troy and The Day After Tomorrow-- Iím a major fan of things that stretch your imagination, because the idea of these things is in the world of "what if?" Reality is wonderful, and I like dramas and novels and things like that. But the idea of fantasy and science fiction really stretches your mind, and doesnít limit you to what is. It lets you play around in the world of "what if?"

NW: Because you are also an actor, is that something youíve wanted to develop? Something big like that for yourself? Or maybe adapt a favorite sci-fi novel?

GS: Well, if you log on to my site, youíll see our motion picture company is about to become a reality. And, yes, that stuff will happen.

NW: Whatís the first project you want to do?

GS: Well, thereís so much to talk about, and if I talk about anything other than Asshole, itís going to dilute stuff. I mean, Iím also in a band-- itís called KISS-- that happens to have more gold records than any American group in history. Weíre on tour right now, and I could go on and do a separate KISS interview. But, you know, for now, we should keep it to Asshole, and anybody whoís interested in the other stuff can log onto genesimmons.com.

NW: As far as the songs on Asshole are concerned, I was very intrigued by "Black Tongue", which was done with the Zappa family. Was that a song that you wrote with Frank Zappa before he passed away, or was it a process of writing a song around some samples of Frank?

GS: Before Frank passed away, he called me out of the blue. Iíd never met him or his sons, Ahmet and Dweezil. He invited me over. I came over to the house, we hung out, and he showed me his vault of unreleased material. Shortly thereafter, he passed away. I asked the family once I started working on my solo record if maybe there were bits of Frankís music that hadnít been developed yet. I told them I sure would love, as a personal dream, to have a Simmons/Zappa co-written song. The family sent over two or three 30 second pieces of music; mostly chord patterns. One of them in particular, a descending chord pattern involving four chords, became the backbone of "Black Tongue". And for the first time, the entire Zappa family appears on one song together. And I think it turned out pretty damn good.

NW: Thatís an interesting way to get to do something if you didnít have the chance to sit down and write a song with someone. Iím sure youíve had a lot of great opportunities to work with people you like. I know you did a song with Bob Dylan.

GS: Yeah. That was face-to-face. Bob came over to the house, and we banged "Waiting For The Morning Light" out in a half-hour.

NW: Iím sure youíve had the chance to meet most of your heroes--

GS: And theyíve gotten to meet me.

NW: Yeah, by being in KISS. Is there anyone you couldnít meet, or they werenít interested in meeting or working with you for whatever reason?

GS: I never got the not interested thing, but it was never pop stars I wanted to meet. A guy like Albert Einstein; I would have loved to have just sat around with him or Freud. Those are the real superstars. There are guys that can shred with their fingers, but these guys shred with their minds. You canít touch that. Stephen Hawking... Iíd like to sit around and talk with him. (pauses) Theyíre giving me the sign, which means Iíve got to move on.

NW: Okay. One last question. Itís the one we ask everyone: do dogs have lips?

GS: Well, they certainly do.

NW: Thanks for your time, Gene.

GS: My pleasure.