Thursday, April 29, 2010

Legendary Rockers Talk Kick-Ass Tour

By Arwa Haider

The legendary rockers talk about their latest kick-ass European tour and fulfilling their moral duty in giving the Kiss faithful exactly what they want.

'You wanna bite?' Kiss's legendary bassist Gene Simmons, leathery-faced without his iconic make-up, strides into a London hotel room with a takeaway baguette. When I decline, Simmons doesn't skip a beat: 'OK, how about the sandwich?'

It's like being chatted up by Krusty The Clown. But 37 years after they originally formed in New York, Kiss haven't lost their touch - and they've returned for their Sonic Boom Over Europe arena tour, named after their undeniably kick-ass 19th LP. Simmons veers intriguingly between outrageous flirt, entrepreneur and Rock School lecturer.

'You have a moral duty as a rock star,' he insists. 'All these audiences work at jobs they dislike and spend their pay cheques on something they love: they wanna see Kiss. How f***ing dare any of us ruin that trust? So we introduce ourselves with: "You wanted the best, you got the best." There's a sense of pride.'

In the adjacent suite sits Kiss co-frontman and Sonic Boom producer Paul Stanley (the band's current line-up, including guitarist Tommy Thayer and drummer Eric Singer, dates back around a decade); he's more softly spoken than Simmons yet still given to explosive bravado. Both men are sharply intelligent, articulate and responsible for air-punching party anthems such as Detroit Rock City and Rock And Roll All Nite.

'I'm a great believer in not over-thinking lyrics,' says Stanley. 'You might become technically better as a songwriter but you lose what originally made your songs great. Tracks like C'mon And Love Me were written in 20 minutes - would they be better if they took two months?'

Kiss's latest tour set-list covers their musical history. 'We've got amazing video screens and some new tricks,' Stanley enthuses. 'We've got to a point where we can't do bigger - we can only do better and different.' However, he's reluctant to credit Kiss's mega-success to their extravagant visuals. 'At the core of Kiss is a great band,' he insists. 'And if that's lost on some people, then f*** 'em.'

Simmons, meanwhile, still recalls the first time he donned his 'Demon' facepaint: 'It felt powerful and fascinating, like being a shaman. I'm much too big for the term "musician" - I'm an entertainer,' he barks.

'Kiss harks back to the court jesters and travelling gipsies of old; they used sleight of hand, they romanced a few girls. Music was part of the whole culture.'

It must feel like Simmons came of age in Kiss. 'Sure. It's the key that unlocks all the doors. Being in a band is better than being James Bond - he's got a licence to kill, baby, I've got a licence to thrill. You can be an ugly bastard and get any girl and more money than God.' Did he always bank on being an iconic brand? Simmons doesn't immediately reply but opens his wallet to display his Kiss Visa card. 'You wouldn't expect how well we've done it,' he says. 'We've gone where no band has gone before.'

So Kiss are phenomenal and a phenomenon - and they know it. 'Our live shows are so multi-generational they're more like a tribal gathering,' says Stanley.

'It's super when you see little kids alongside people in their seventies, and everybody feels like they belong. People relate to the spirit of the band, which is to live your way and succeed on your own terms. There's no hypocrisy in being successful and still railing against conformity. I'm damn successful but I got here by not taking crap. I still don't take crap, so if anybody needs a champion, let it be me.'

Surely Simmons would have something to say about that? 'When I was a kid, I wanted to be rich and famous, and now I've actually trademarked the phrase...,' he counters before his voice trails off. 'I forgot the question 'cause I love the sound of my voice too much.'

Perhaps Stanley should get the last word after all, then. 'Democracy in a band is insane,' he says. 'I think the way it works with Gene and me is that whoever feels strongest at that moment gets their way. One thing's for sure: as good as your last Kiss show was, next time - this time - will always be better.’

Kiss's Sonic Boom Over Europe Tour starts on Saturday at Sheffield Arena.