Gene Simmons of KISS: Native Tongue
Those who can remember the early 80s when Punk Rock and Hip-Hop convened in the wee hours of the night (think Blondie) know that Hip-Hop influence extended beyond Kangols and Cazals even back then. One line in the sand that appeared to be crystal clear was the division between Hard Rock and Hip-Hop - separate fan bases, different art cultures, and unrelated philosophies in marketing to the world.
When KISS released their debut album in 1974, their wild makeup and heavy sound set the pace for theatrics in music that many tried to bite, but few could master. Spearheaded by business-minded bassist Gene Simmons and singer/songwriter/guitarist Paul Stanley, KISS flew to the top of the charts with multiple hits. In the 80s, they re-invented themselves, sans make-up, then joined up again in 1996 for an amazingly successful reunion tour. Between public appearances and a diverse merchandising plan, Gene Simmons has kept the KISS name alive for over three decades now.
While we may not have initially seen the similarities between Hard Rock and Hip-Hop, it seems as though everything has come full circle. Gene Simmons may understand better than anyone in Hip-Hop today what truly inspires a movement, and he definitely understands the power of saying your own name. (Who!?) The busy Rock star took a few moments away from hot chicks and paparazzi at Februarys MAGIC show in Las Vegas to talk to us about his new Gene Simmons Money Bag clothing line, his Gene Simmons Family Jewels television show, and just how great it is to be as badass as Gene Simmons.
AllHipHop.com: KISS set the pace for dramatic presentation in live shows and paved the way for power ballads. How much creative influence back then did you guys have to give up, if any, and how does it compare with how the market is today for artists coming up?
Gene Simmons: Back then means nothing. You're either doing something today or you don't count. So we're just coming off of our six times platinum Kissology six-hour DVD that debuted at number one in Canada and America. We also have a three times platinum box set called KISS Alive, our first KISS coffee house opened a year ago in Myrtle Beach [and] it's now opening in New York and Chicago. We have 2,000 department stores that carry the KISS fragrance line, we just debuted the KISS Comics Group which is gonna be a new line of comics through our group. Simmons Comics Group is gonna be five other titles from a separate comic group. We're developing the KISS casino in Las Vegas even as we speak, including New York state. There's nothing we can't and haven't done, so past means nothing. Either you're doing it today or you don't count.
AllHipHop.com: That's true, they always say, "You're only as good as your last hit," but you're taking it beyond that into merchandising and marketing
Gene Simmons: Hits is a loser's game, small people think about hits. It's all about licensing and merchandising. There's no such thing as a record industry anymore, it means nothing.
AllHipHop.com: A lot of the artists nowadays are realizing that they have to become their own marketing [force]
Gene Simmons: What they're realizing is that we've been right all along, and they've been wrong. Songs will only get you so far.
AllHipHop.com: How do you feel that your dimension of theatrics really compares today with rappers and the way that they present themselves?
Gene Simmons: Well, rap came along at a time when Rock became stale, and that's good. But rap better figure out something new, because the next group of guys who say "Wassup" is not gonna be original enough. Very soon that clock will stop ticking, and it's gonna have to move to that next step, or something else will come and push it out of the way as well. Also I'd like to hear a rapper who can really speak English exceedingly well, somebody who can pronounce every single word, doesn't make up his own language and just is a breath of fresh air. Someone who comes in with a suit and tie and really comes off as well dressed [and] well educated just to be different.
AllHipHop.com: Well Jay-Z did that actually
Gene Simmons: Actually no, that's not Harvard. I'm talking about somebody who can cross-collateralize and fiduciary duty along with the best of them, who can speak White language better than the White man and do it to music. The reason I'm saying that is just to be different, because if I'm gonna be exactly the same then every single person, including White people, are gonna say, "Yo wassup, my hood, my gang." It's a cliché on top of a cliché, so the next guy that wants to come along and make a difference, be different. When I heard Sean Paul I immediately picked up my ears because I heard Jamaican, I couldn't understand what he was saying, but I didn't care because it was different. He didn't say "Wassup."
AllHipHop.com: We were talking about [the Dussault and Gene Simmons Money Bag] line and the way it really merges Rock with the urban couture, and now you see more of the urban lines picking up the rock feel. How do you feel that merge is? Is it a good thing for you?
Gene Simmons: It doesn't matter how you or I feel about it. Ultimately, America's got it figured out, it's called capitalism, and it's defined as of the people, for the people, by the people. The people decide everything. We can sit around and talk about it until we're blue in the face. They're either gonna buy it or not, all the rest of us can do is guess.
AllHipHop.com: Speaking of successes and the things you've done over the years, I know you had a couple of groups before KISS, and then later down the road you and KISS had separations where a couple of guys left the band. What would you say is your biggest challenge that you've overcome in that span of time?
Gene Simmons: To get rid of drug addicts. I've never been high or drunk in my life. The sooner you get rid of the time wasters and the bloodsuckers out of your organization, whether they're in the band or hangers-on, roadies or managers, the better chance youll have of making money. Get rid of drunks and drug addicts - they're vampires and need to be out of your life. The stay-at-home mom has the same thing with sleeping pills and stress pills; get them out of your life.
AllHipHop.com: You're a family guy, and you have your show Gene Simmons' Family Jewels. How hard is it for you to keep a sense of humor about the things that you've done, knowing that your family kind of takes jabs at your ego?
Gene Simmons: The king of all beasts, the lion [who is] the king of the jungle, comes back to the lair and actually allows the cubs to bite its tail. But when it gets up something's gonna die. I allow my kids to be who they are at home, and if I don't allow it then it's not allowed. It's so simple.
AllHipHop.com: Tell us anything else you want us to know.
Gene Simmons: I desire every woman who ever walked the face of the earth, at the same time.