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INTERVIEW – TOMMY THAYER, KISS – September 2015

INTERVIEW – TOMMY THAYER, KISS – September 2015
By Shane Pinnegar

There’s two Tommy Thayers. There’s the all-American chisel-jawed boy from Oregon who played in garage bands during high school and started the band Black n’ Blue with best friend and classmate Jamie St James, before going on to work in video production and tour manage his ex-producer’s band. And then, there’s Tommy Thayer, the successor to the role Ace Frehley created in KISS – The Spaceman.

Tommy Thayer, KISS 01

That producer was Gene Simmons, KISS bass player and singer, and after the bottom fell out of the hard rock industry in the mid-90s, Thayer found ever-increasing work with Simmons and KISS, first as a session guitarist, then co-ordinating a lot of their video releases (including the KISStory series), road managing the band during the reunion tours with the original line-up, and finally, as part of the band. Since slapping on the greasepaint as an official member of KISS in 2002, Thayer has played countless shows as lead guitarist, made two albums with the band, and even made his singing debut.

Suffice to say, we have plenty of questions…

KISS Live in Paris, June 2015

KISS Live in Paris, June 2015

100% ROCK: Hey Tommy, thanks for your time today – it’s much appreciated.

Tommy: I sure appreciate your time as well, and I look forward to talking a little bit about what’s going on with me and KISS.

100% ROCK: Of course we’re always excited when KISS comes back to town, and you’ve got the huge Spider stage set coming this time around, which just looks magnificent.

Tommy: It’s a fantastic stage. Before I did any interviews, I double checked with our management people and our production managers, just to make sure that we are, in fact, bringing the Spider stage to Australia – because I was doing some interviews before we went to Europe this summer, and I was saying, “Yeah, we’re bringing the Spider stage,” and then I found out later that we weren’t even bringing the Spider stage to Europe!

Yes, the Spider stage… it’s really very cool. You just have to see it – it’s all-encompassing. It’s huge. We come down on it. It moves constantly through the show. It’s a great visual and it’s probably one of the coolest stage sets that KISS has ever toured with.

KISS Spider stage 2015

100% ROCK: I’ve seen some of the photos, and it really does look magnificent, but between that thing moving around and all the pyro going off, is it dangerous to be up there? Do you have to really be careful you’re not in the wrong spot at the wrong time?

Tommy: There’s no doubt about it, you have to absolutely be careful. We rehearse the show [so] we know where everything’s going off. We know where the pyro spots are and where they’re placed. It’s well-rehearsed, and we’ve got a very professional pyrotechnics team with us, so fortunately, we’ve never had any mishaps in the long history of KISS and certainly while I’ve been around. Hopefully we’ll keep it that way. Again, it’s very professionally done. We know where everything’s going to be going off and where it’s positioned and where it’s placed. There’s a lot of preparation and work that goes into it in advance, and it’s, like I said, very professionally done [so] we’re in good shape.

100% ROCK: Looking forward to seeing it. KISS has got such a huge back catalogue, not only of hits, but of much beloved album tracks as well. How hard is it, when you start a tour, to sit down and pick a set list?

Tommy: When we’re getting ready to tour, it’s very difficult to pick a set list. As you know, with forty-plus years of albums and songs, it’s just difficult to decide what to do, especially when you have to keep in mind the classics. 99% of the people that are coming to the shows are expecting to hear certain songs, just like if you go see The Rolling Stones, you want to hear Satisfaction, you want to hear Jumpin’ Jack Flash, etc. It’s the same with KISS, so we try to make sure that we please as many people as we can, but it’s sometimes a no-win kind of situation, as well, because you have die-hard fans out there that are saying, “Well, we’re tired of hearing this song. We want to hear something obscure.” We try to take that into consideration to a point, but the way you judge this is when you get on stage and the way the crowd reacts and the energy, and if you throw an obscure song in there, usually the crowd dies down and it gets very quiet out there. I think that affects the show, so you’ve got to be careful with that sort of thing and stick to, really, what most of the people want to hear.

KISS 2015

100% ROCK: That makes a lot of sense. We’re taking our 8 year old daughter along to see the show, and she is beside-herself excited – it’ll be her first time seeing KISS. There’s just no generation gap at all with KISS, is there?

Tommy: Not anymore. I think when KISS started out in the early-to-mid ’70s, it was about a teenage rock thing, but it’s evolved over the years, and today, 40-some years later, like I said, it’s not exact to a certain generation at all. It’s everybody. It’s all generations. There’s multiple generations. I don’t know how many generations, but many, and it’s all ages. It’s like going to see the circus. It’s anybody from 5 to 65, and probably beyond that. We have all ages. It’s a communal gathering of everyone, and everybody, period. It’s interesting, because a lot of bands are more defined to a certain age group or a certain niche or a generation of fans, and KISS is all generations, all niches, all races, all creeds, everybody. Everybody’s at a KISS concert.

100% ROCK: When you had Gene produce your band Black ‘n Blue way back in ’85, I think it was, you can’t have had any idea that fast-forward thirty years, you’d be in the band, up there in the makeup and everything – so you must have made a good impression on him, I would imagine.

Tommy: That was a long time ago. Think about it, that was thirty years ago, really, because I met those guys in 1985, 30 years ago, when Black ‘n Blue was on tour with KISS during their Asylum tour. It’s interesting, thinking back now. Gene was interested in bands, and at the time, we had done our second record with Bruce Fairbairn. We wanted our third record to be more of a raw rock n’ roll album. We thought Gene would be perfect to do that, so that’s why we basically hired him.

Tommy Thayer KISS 04

Back then, no, I really would have never imagined that, thirty years later, I would have been the guitar player in the band for twelve, thirteen years. I really had no designs on that. A lot of people think, “Oh, Tommy, you had this grand plan or this idea that you were eventually going to do this or that,” and it’s really not true. After Black ‘n Blue ran its course in the late ’80s, early ’90s, I just literally needed a job at the time, and these guys hired me to come work part-time. Then it became a full-time job working behind the scenes, working with management. I was producing some of the videos and working on the road and that sort of thing.

Still, at that time, I hadn’t thought about it like, “Oh, well, this might lead to me being the guitar player.” I never, honestly, thought about it that way, and when it actually did happen, around 2002, it was kind of ironic. It was just an interesting twist of fate that it came to that, and I never really thought that that was going to happen. It just kind of happened and I thought, “Well, this is great. I’ll grow my hair longer again and do this,” but I never thought that it was going to lead to that. I was thinking at the time, in the ’90s, I was thinking that I wanted to get more into the music business side of things and work in management and producing, because I was good at that kind of stuff, too. It was just very, very unexpected how this whole thing came together. I’ve heard people say that they thought that I had this idea that I was going to be the guitar player in KISS all along, but that was never my thought, honestly.

100% ROCK: I know you did the video editing and production and you tour managed the band for a bit and a bunch of other stuff. If you look at Wikipedia, it says you also did things like cleaning out Gene’s gutters and painting Paul’s house, and I honestly couldn’t tell if that was real or someone having a bit of a poke at you.

Tommy: Yeah, that’s Wikipedia! A lot of that stuff on there is accurate, but some of it’s not. For the record – right now I’m saying it for everybody – I never cleaned gutters at Gene’s house or whatever. I never did that. I’d like everybody to understand this right now, this is very important: I never cleaned gutters. However, I did work with Paul doing some painting at his house one time. That is true.

He had a new house, and I went and helped him paint some rooms in the house. For the record, it was Paul and me and Paul’s wife and a couple other people doing the painting. We were all painting together. These are urban myths, and I just wanted to make sure that everybody understands what is accurate and what’s not.

Tommy Thayer KISS 02

100% ROCK: It’s good to clear that one up. Having done all that behind-the-scenes work with the band must have given you a very unique perspective on the KISS machine, especially since it allowed you to work with most of the ex-members of the band at one time or another.

Tommy: I have, and that is a unique perspective. I’m glad that I’ve been able to experience that. I was around during the reunion tour with the original four for several years, and that was very interesting. I remember back in the Revenge era when they were recording the record and actually doing demos and writing the songs in the first place. I remember being in the studio, and that’s when I met Vinnie Vincent, just hanging out with Vinnie Vincent and Gene. They were working on some demos of some of the songs that ended up on Revenge.

I had a great relationship with Eric Carr. He was a wonderful man, and we did some recording together. We recorded some demos for the Hot In The Shade record together. He played on the demos of a couple of the songs that I wrote with Gene on Hot in the Shade. Of course, Bruce Kulick is a great friend. I have a lot of respect for Bruce. He’s an incredible guitar player and he’s a good friend. Everybody involved in KISS I’ve had the opportunity to get to know, and it’s been a great experience. Also, further to that, it’s been a good perspective to have – like you mentioned, as far as I have this view and this perspective on KISS and the background of KISS that, probably, not a lot of people have. That probably helps me in certain situations or knowing a lot about KISS, and that helps.

100% ROCK: Absolutely. You’ve now been the longest consecutive serving lead guitarist in KISS.

Tommy: How about that. I thought I was just the new guy!

100% ROCK: Well, Ronnie Wood’s the new guy in The Rolling Stones and always will be, apparently, so Keith says…

Tommy: Tell that to Ronnie Wood!

100% ROCK: To some, you’re keeping the dream alive [by adopting the Spaceman character and makeup], but to others you’re tainting a legend. Ace certainly doesn’t help that by continually bad-mouthing you in interviews. Does it hurt when he says negative stuff about you?

Tommy: No, because I’m kind of used to it. Like I said, I know all these guys pretty well. It doesn’t really surprise me. People will say and do things maybe because they’ve got a chip on their shoulder or they’re feeling insecure about their situation or something, but I don’t let that bother me at all. People can say what they want to say, and it doesn’t really affect me. I was just going to say, at the end of the day, I’m the guitar player in KISS and they aren’t. That’s all that really matters.

100% ROCK: That’s probably the best attitude to take about it, to be honest. My daughter and I watched the Scooby Doo KISS movie yesterday, which was just great fun to watch. Was it good fun to make?

Tommy: It was. It was a real kick to do something like that with an iconic brand like Scooby Doo in cartoon and animated culture. To do a movie with KISS and Scooby Doo, it was a kick to me to even be involved, and especially to be doing all the voice-over work and that sort of thing. The great thing about being in a band like KISS is these kind of things come along, these opportunities and these situations where I’m thinking, “I can’t believe I’m doing this now. I’m in the Scooby Doo movie with KISS, an animated movie, and I’m doing the voice-overs.” It’s a real kick, and that sort of thing seems to happen with KISS all the time, whether you’re playing at the Super Bowl, you’re doing a John Varvatos clothing line or you’re doing a Hello Kitty or Dr Pepper promotion commercial that’s on TV all the time. These kind of things seem to always happen with KISS, and it’s kind of mind-blowing. It’s so cool.

KISS meets the Scooby Doo gang

100% ROCK: For sure. I liked the fun song that you guys made for the show, Don’t Touch My Ascot. That was just good fun. It seems that Gene especially has lightened up a lot in recent years, and he’s doing more fun stuff.

Tommy: Is that the impression you get when you hear that, that Gene’s lightened up?

100% ROCK: Yeah, a little bit. Maybe I’m wrong…?

Tommy: No, things are always evolving, and these days, we’ll do things like the Scooby Doo film and we’ll do this song, Don’t Touch My Ascot, or we’ll do the collaboration with a Japanese idol group, Momoiro Clover Z. A lot of times, people think, “What the hell are these guys doing?” but we think it’s important to keep evolving and thinking outside the box and trying new things. This is just another example of that, so you might see a side of KISS and a side of Gene that you never really expected. To do a fun song like that, we really enjoyed it, and I think you get a feel of the real personalities of Gene and Paul or Eric and I. It’s just a fun little tune, and we enjoyed recording that. It was different.

100% ROCK: Definitely. I loved the way that the show references the Phantom Of The Park film from the late ’70s as well. The whole package was really good fun.

Tommy: It was. Kevin Shinick, who wrote it, he’s a big KISS fan, and I think that it was a nod to Phantom Of The Park, but there was a lot more to it as well. We were just really happy with it, and everybody seems to love it. We went to a premiere recently that was great. We went to Comic-Con, did some interviews and things a month ago, and we had a great time. It’s been really a fun project and it’s been really gratifying and enjoyable.

100% ROCK: Excellent. Where are KISS at in terms of making new music? I know there’s a couple of one-off things that have happened, but Sonic Boom and Monster were such good albums. I know there’s a lot of fans out there who’d like to hear some more.

Tommy: I think there’s a good chance that we will do more. We always love working on new tunes. It’s just a matter of finding the time to do it and having it all make sense in the big picture. As you know, doing a record and spending the time and energy and the money to do it doesn’t pay off, maybe, as well as it used it, in terms of just selling records. It just doesn’t make as much difference these days, because people aren’t buying records as much. I think that’s probably part of what’s taken into consideration when we talk about spending the time and effort to do it, because it takes a while. It takes time to do these things. The recording business is just not what it used to be, and it doesn’t have the impact that it used to, so maybe the motivation’s not there as much as it might have been before, but we still love writing songs, and I’m sure we’ll do another record at some point. It just is what it is.

100% ROCK: KISS, of course, inspires crazy obsession in a lot of fans. You must have had some really good and really bad experiences with obsessive fans?

Tommy: “Good and bad experiences”! Of course I’ve had great experiences with KISS fans that are over the top. You call them “obsessive.” They’re fanatics. To a lot of KISS fans, this is their life, and they go to hundreds of shows. They travel around the world and spend all their money doing these things. We recognize that, and we know a lot of these people by name. We see them and we try to take care of them and get them passes and tickets and things like that when we can.

There are fans that are just over the top, and that’s what makes KISS great. It’s really a tribute to what we do and what KISS is. It means a lot to people. It’s like a religion, and that’s pretty cool. As far as negative stuff, you get a little bit of that here and there. I think everybody in most groups that are high profile or celebrities and things like that, you get a lot of negative flack on the internet these days, but that’s just part of the way it goes.

Tommy Thayer KISS 03

100% ROCK: The KISS machine, the huge business around it, how do you, personally, stop that from consuming every aspect of your life?

Tommy: I think it’s about knowing who you are in the first place. I think being in KISS is a huge part of my life, but at the same time, it’s not who I am all the time. It’s not my identity entirely, either. That’s kind of a negative way to look at it. I see it as this amazing opportunity. It’s a very positive thing to be in one of the greatest rock bands of all time, and I cherish that. I feel that this is something that is very special and unique, and I never forget that. I know what it is and how fortunate I am, and I’ll never lose sight of that.

100% ROCK: Excellent, mate. It’s been a pleasure to talk with you, and as I said, we’re really looking forward to the show.

Tommy: I’m glad that your – did you say your daughter [is coming to the show]?

100% ROCK: Yeah, she’s 8. She’s been a KISS fan since she was old enough to know what music was, so we’re really going to take her along and let her have a big, big time.

Tommy: That’s so cool, and I love the effect that KISS has on kids. There’s something about it, I don’t know if it’s the music or the way the band looks or the characters or something, but it’s so cool, and it always has that same effect on kids. It gets them excited.

100% ROCK: It’s larger than life, isn’t it? It’s like a living, breathing cartoon up on stage.

Tommy: It really is. It’s interesting that that still works today just the same way as it did forty years ago.
KISS with The Dead Daisies, Australia 2015:

Saturday October 3 PERTH Arena
Tuesday October 6 ADELAIDE Entertainment Centre
Thursday October 8 & 9 MELBOURNE Rod Laver Arena
Saturday October 10 SYDNEY AllPhones Arena
Monday October 12 NEWCASTLE Entertainment Centre
Tuesday October 13 BRISBANE Entertainment Centre

INTERVIEW – TOMMY THAYER, KISS – September 2015

Filed Under: Interviews

About the Author: Editor, 100% ROCK MAGAZINE

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