The God Of Thunder Speaks: Catching Up With Gene Simmons
Within the past year, I’ve had the amazing opportunity to interview Gene Simmons twice! Since we last spoke, he announced The Vault, which is a 150-song box set, chronicling 50 years of unreleased demos and outtakes, housed in a 38-pound safe. Starting in January, Gene is hand-delivering these vaults for $2,000 each to fans across the world. If you spend $25,000 you can be an executive producer of The Vault and spend an hour with Gene in a recording studio. Or, for $50,000 Gene will come to your house for a two-hour party and you can invite up to 25 friends to take part in the festivities. I’m not buying The Vault because it’s way out of my price range and wheeling home one of these behemoths is a surefire way to upset my wife. However, if you’re interested in learning more about The Vault, you can do so at GeneSimmonsVault.com.
How many songs on The Vault are demos or outtakes for KISS albums?
This is the largest box set of all time. Nothing has ever been done like this. It’s almost three feet tall, it weighs 38 pounds, metal wheels, real hardcore solid stuff that will last a lifetime. Not plastic stuff that’s going to break down. Inside there are 10 CDs. And I prefer CDs because I’m tired of clouds and shmouds – things you can’t touch and everything is disposable. I want art. So, there are 10 CDs included, and there are 150 tracks spanning half a century. 50 years. None of the tracks have been released. No record company. I certainly never released them. It goes from 1966 through 2016. The most recent songs are, literally, last year. The oldest go back 50 years, when I was, I don’t know, 14 or 15. What I did was to try to sprinkle…it doesn’t follow a timeline. It gets sprinkled into different vibes, if you see what I mean. There’s a surprise CD, which I’m not going to talk too much about. It’s all over the place and has some really eclectic stuff and some surprise guests. Bob Dylan and I wrote together about 15 years ago, so the entire writing session, Bob and I talking it through and all that. That’s in the box set. Also, three or four Gene Simmons-Bob Dylan songs. I should say Bob Dylan-Gene Simmons songs. (laughs) I can’t even shine his shoes, much less go above him in credit. Then there are the Van Halen brothers, right around the time when I discovered the band. We came back from Japan in ‘77, I think it was. The Van Halen brothers were kind enough to come into the studio late at night and record three tracks with me. One of them was “Christine Sixteen.” It’s just us, the trio, myself, Eddie and Alex. That’s on there.
The KISS demos run the gamut, from the original version of “I Know Who You Are” and “Drive Me Wild,” which became “Rock And Roll All Nite” – the original demo versions of that. They have similar verses but completely different choruses. And original versions of, I don’t know, “Plaster Caster,” “Almost Human,” tons of stuff. There are two or three CDs that run the gamut of demo things, and Paul appears on some of the stuff. Ace appears on lots of the stuff. He even sings two songs that he and I co-wrote that haven’t appeared anywhere. It runs the gamut. Then there’s eclectic stuff. Real hard guitar stuff. On some stuff I play all the instruments, the drums and the keyboard and all that. There’s an awful lot of stuff.
And, for me, there’s a 50,000-word book. Real high-end, with hundreds of photos from my collection, that also spans 50 years and talks about the songs – where I was, what I was doing, who I was doing. There’s an action figure and a gold coin, and personal surprises. Items I stick in every single one.
Beside being the largest box set of all time, because we know record stores are dead and record companies are dead and everybody is doing disposable stuff, I decided to roll up my sleeves and do something that’s never been done before. I’m going to personally deliver the box sets around the world. The box sets, and it’s tough to call them box sets because they’re monsters. You cannot pick it up with one hand, literally. Imagine three or four bowling balls of weight. You literally cannot pick it up. You can pick up a bowling ball with one hand but three or four bowling balls, you’re not going to be able to do it. And, so, this is meant to be a lifetime keepsake, and I’m going to hand deliver this to people. They cost $2,000. Whether you live in New Zealand or wherever you are. I pay for my flights, for my hotels, everything else. In many of the places, this is going to cost me money. I’m going to lose on it, but that’s OK. I’ve been put here in this position by the fans. It’s time to give back. I had to pick a price that somehow makes sense for the cost of doing it. But the flights and everything, that’s going to be a loss. Additionally, there are other areas. If people want to be executive producer on the album, they can go on the site to find out more information. That means they get credit inside the box set, etched into a metal plaque. If they want to have a Gene Simmons party, literally, me and 25 of their friends, at their home or a club or wherever they want, that’s a separate thing. But everything begins and ends with GeneSimmonsVault.com.
When will a full track listing be released for The Vault?
I’m not anxious to release anything, actually, because it doesn’t matter. Nobody has ever heard of it. If I released the songs, all you’d see is the titles. I’m not anxious to do that. And nowadays everything is warped, and I prefer the Christmas idea. You’re going to get a present and when it’s time, that’s when you open it up and your sweaty little paws explore what it’s all about. It’s much more fun, instead of finding out about your present in July. It dilutes the experience.
The Vault costs at least $2,000. For the fans that can’t afford this price or for those that simply want to buy the music without the bells and whistles, when will a more economical version of this box set be released?
There will be no watered-down versions of this. There’s no social media, there’s no one track. A Rolls-Royce comes as a Rolls-Royce. A Rolls-Royce is not for everybody but it’s still a Rolls-Royce. You can’t go there and say, “Can I have it without the radio or the air conditioning?”
Ha! Good point. So, the music itself won’t be released in the future.
No, not interested. I don’t want it to be in the cloud and shmoud and all that nonsense. It’s just disposable and you’re background noise, like in an elevator. You hear the music in the elevator, you walk out and it’s gone. When I was growing up, your albums were part of a collection. You held them, you studied them, you looked at them – it became part of your home. I remember going to people’s homes. They’d stick the albums up on the wall or their fireplace. It’s art. That’s what I want to do. In terms of that, it’s the largest one ever made.
KISS meet and greets at the band’s concerts cost $1,250 and meet and greets at your solo shows cost $399. In your opinion, what makes The Vault Experience, which costs at least $2,000, worth more than the aforementioned meet and greets?
So, what makes The Vault Experience more valuable than a KISS meet and greet or a meet and greet at one of your solo shows?
When there’s a Rolls-Royce there – you want it, you buy it. You don’t want it, don’t worry. There’s only a few thousand of them on planet Earth anyway. Either somebody gets it and wants it, or not. There will be a much greater demand for it than there will be a supply.
When we previously spoke, you told me that you only like entering business deals where you’re paid a large sum of money up front. Assuming you were paid in advance by Rhino for The Vault, how did you arrive at the pricing and distribution model for this release?
Everything started with me saying, “I’m going to put together what I want to do.” The ostentation of the storage of The Vault and all that, they’re not cheap. Everything costs money, and putting together the box set cost a few million dollars. The fans don’t know that. They just go, “Oh, this cost that much?!” They don’t know how much it cost to make or what the price of goods are. So, the way I did it was I first started putting the thing together. I wanted metal wheels. Metal holders on the side, so that when you pick it up, since it’ll be heavy, the handles don’t fall off. I wanted something that lasts a lifetime, and I don’t care what it costs. So, what we did was create three or four different versions. And we went to safe companies around the country and they were bidding. “Let’s do this, let’s do that. Here’s how you ship it.” Shipping is going to be a fortune because you’re talking about crating and all that stuff. Everything costs money. And then I came up with the idea of, I’m going to fly around the world and I’m going to do this. What can I say? Then I said to Rhino, “You guys do some numbers. I’m willing to take a loss on the flights. But for how much The Vault costs, pick a number.” I literally wanted to charge $5,000 a piece for them, knowing full well that they’d be snatched up anyway because there are only going to be a few thousand on Earth. After that, I’m not doing anymore because, as we all know, everybody goes through stuff and just pirates everything.
So, did Rhino tell you it was better to charge $2,000 for it?
They preferred it and they said they believed in giving the fans much more value for the thing. And they think if they go past a few thousand, they might recoup their cost. I said, “OK, we’re talking the same language.” Giving value for the buck.
You and I go to supermarkets and we buy big boxes of cereal. You see the box and you figure it’s filled to the top with cereal because that’s the size of the box. Unfortunately, when you open it up you notice it’s only half-full. I found out later that there are machines that push air into those bags, so that half of them have air in them and the other half has cereal. The inside only has half as much cereal as the size of the box. I didn’t want to do that. I want to give you more. We’ve always had that philosophy. From the early days, we’d put in toys, tattoos, games, and whatever.
You previously said that you’re taking a year off to deliver The Vault to fans. Does this mean there won’t be a full KISS tour until 2019?
Does this also mean your solo band won’t tour in 2018?
That’s a very good question. What I may try to do is if I’m going to New Zealand or some place far away and I’m going to visit 10 folks or 50 folks, whatever, why not bring along the solo band and really make it a party?
Is there any chance of the Gene Simmons Band releasing a studio album or a live album?
I really haven’t thought about it. It started in January of this year. A lot of the speaking engagements I had wanted to know if I’d jump up on stage and do a few tunes, so I quickly put together this band. They’re actually from Nashville and are spectacular musicians. It just kind of happened all of a sudden. In a week I go to Japan and then Bolivia. South American countries. Mexico. If you go to GeneSimmons.com you’ll see the dates. They’re just filling up. So, most of the time I keep saying, “No.” But when there’s enough time and KISS is not touring, my little band, the Gene Simmons Band, picks up dates here and there. There are no rules, I’m just having an awful lot of fun. About just as much fun as I can have with my pants on.
Would the Gene Simmons solo band or KISS ever tour together with Ace Frehley’s band?
As you know, Ace jumped up on stage and helped me put together this relief concert for the hurricane victims in Houston. We raised $1.3 million, and food trucks went right down to Houston. Ace asked me to write for his next solo record and I did. We wrote two songs, which Ace tells me are going to be on the record. But there are no plans. Everything is nice and easy. He’s happy. KISS is happy. When parents get divorced kids always ask, “Hey, Mom, when are you going to get back together with Dad again?” And they don’t understand.
Speaking of people you got divorced from, Vinnie Vincent is re-emerging from seclusion in January for a KISS Expo. Would you ever work with him again?
No. No. He’s a very talented guy. Everybody’s got their troubles in life. You can’t fix everything. I’m a big supporter of his talent. You know, go with god. Enjoy life, be happy. But I don’t need more dark clouds over my life. It’s nice and calm. Eric and Tommy have been with us for a very long time, and it’s professional to the highest degree. Everybody is happy to be together. Everybody shows up on time. There’s no, “The dog ate my homework.” None of that crap.
When you use drugs and alcohol and other bullshit things, it’s everybody else’s fault. You’re always the victim. You never take charge of your situation, and I’m sick of it. I don’t tolerate any of that. I won’t have any of those losers around in my life. That includes regular people too. If somebody I work with in other areas drinks, they’re gone. By the way, they don’t care about you. They just want what they want. Tell me about your new book On Power. What can fans expect from it?
HarperCollins is putting out this book. There are a lot of poor very-well-read people. And then there are a lot of rich people, who are not well read. So, one does not necessarily equal the other. This book is a pragmatic approach to power, which is money. The right thing at the right place at the right time. Now, by the way, if you have lots of money and you’re on top of the mountain and no one’s around, it means nothing. But if you have money and you’re surrounded – you’re in New York – you’re in the right place at the right time and all that, you’ve got a lot of power. If you want a lot of power or certainly more than you have, it’s probably a good idea to get off that farm, if you live on a farm. Right? You’d be shocked at how people say, “Wait a minute. If I work hard enough, I can get enough cows and milk…” They don’t understand. They don’t understand that the pushcart guy that sells hot dogs in New York City will be guaranteed to make more money than the guy who works his ass off trying to drain milk from a cow, and will work less. The mountain comes to him. If you just stand still, all those millions of people go by his hot dog cart. He stands still and sells those hot dogs. Even at the lowest level. So, the book is a pragmatic approach for how you can immediately get more power and make more money.
What other projects are you working on?
I have a new magazine coming out called Mogul. It’s going to be pop culture, but also more about the entrepreneurs of the world.
I’m also launching a moneybag cola line. Cola, diet cola, root beer – all that stuff. That’s coming out as well.
I’m also doing a joint venture film company.
When I was a kid, I’d watch The Ed Sullivan Show and I couldn’t understand how the guy would twirl all those plates on the sticks. I couldn’t even twirl one, so I couldn’t fathom how he does it. But he doesn’t think twice about it, because he knows how to do it. So, when I tell you about all the things I’m doing outside of the band, people can’t fathom it because they don’t do it. So, when I start talking about it. Everybody says, “How do you find the time?” It’s not about, “Hey, look at what I’m doing.” I’m doing what I want to do in my life, and it gets me off. All of these ventures that you’ll be hearing about are exciting for me.