Q&A: KISS’s Gene Simmons explains the power of Detroit Rock City, the band’s future, the tour with Def Leppard

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Current KISS members pictured above: Gene Simmons, Eric Singer, Tommy Thayer and Paul Stanley. Past Members: Ace Frehley, Peter Criss, Eric Carr, Vinnie Vincent, Mark St. John and Bruce Kulick.

(Courtesy photo)

DETROIT, MI – The phone conversation last week started off a little awkward.

Me: “Hi Gene! My name is Eric Lacy and I am a reporter for MLive.com. We own eight newspapers in the State of Michigan and cover Detroit Entertainment.

Gene Simmons: “I’m sorry.”

Thankfully, the KISS onstage demon quickly heated up after I asked him to think about the impact Motor City had in the early ’70s when the band needed love.

“We broke into Detroit before any other city,” Simmons said calmly, apparently with conviction. “We did it even though we’re from New York.

I caught up with Simmons last week to learn more about the band’s relationship with Detroit and Michigan over the years, their future which includes a variety of projects, and an ongoing tour with Def Leppard.

The tour will stop on August 23 at the DTE Energy Music Theater in Clarkston.

During the conversation, Simmons broke news when he revealed that a film about KISS’s 1975 visit to Cadillac, Mich. Was fully funded and in pre-production.

Enjoy the interview and feel free to post your questions / reactions in the comments section below.

What does playing in Detroit mean to you after all these years knowing that this city has helped make the band popular across the country?

It was the heart of America because America was built on wheels. Without the cars, the trucks, and that sort of thing, we wouldn’t have the structure of the highways and everything. Detroit was its beating heart; it was Motor City. And it wasn’t just the homeland of Americans working hard so the rest of us could ride comfortably and build the infrastructure, but also the homeland of American music, that kind of amalgamation of R&B, soul and Motown.

I mean, for god’s sake, I even lived with the Queen of Motown – Diana Ross. We broke up in Detroit before any other city even though we are from New York. You can’t name a band from New York other than KISS that has performed in stadiums around the world – not one. Neither the Dolls (New York), nor the Ramones, nor anyone; they were small groups of clubs. And that’s because we had a lot more in common with Detroit.

With that area Alice (Cooper) broke in there, MC5, Ted Nugent, Iggy (Pop), Grand Funk Railroad, Bob Seger – all that great music from the heart that wasn’t about style. It was a matter of the heart. We’ve always had an affinity for Detroit, which is why Detroit Rock City came out; it starts Destructive (album).

Paul Stanley said “Where would we be without Cobo Hall? During the KISS show a few years ago at DTE, a stop while touring with Motley Crue. Where would the band be without Cobo?

It would have taken longer (to gain fame and notoriety). We would have done it, but it would have taken much longer. (Playing at Cobo Hall) was sort of the crossroads for the band that was starting to make noise – before MTV, before digital, even before voicemail. There was nothing at the time. You got in the back of your car or truck and went from town to town and brought your gigs to people.

At that time, we must have played 200 concerts a year, six days a week, 50 weeks a year. All of a sudden we had this opportunity and then there were hallowed halls with the biggest bands from all over the world coming to play. We decided because it was such an event that we were going to record it, that’s where the guts of our record “Live I” came out (KISS Alive). It’s this record, this city, this music and these people that really propelled us, so that less than a year and a half after our formation, we are headlining at Anaheim Stadium in California.

What keeps the band going after all these years when you could all easily quit touring and enjoy your retirement? What have you learned after all these years that can help or motivate you to keep going?

A lot of young people have stupid ideas. And a lot of young people have stupid ideas because they are young; it’s called the madness of youth. We think we know everything; we don’t. We’re idiots, including me. And I remembered when I was a kid: “Never trust anyone over 30”. Well guess what? The coolest people are. The people who play in stadiums all over the world are not only over 30, but over 60. Will you still love me when I’m 64? Fuck I’m going to be 65, (Mick) Jagger is 71, (Paul) McCartney is 72, I think. They play at the stadium! Who is 20 and plays in a stadium? Anybody! So all of these stupid ideas as kids are based on how far we could see. And life is actually much bigger than we realize.

What should KISS fans expect besides other shows around the world, a KISS cruise? What’s up with this football reality TV show?

It’s coming out on AMC next month and you can also see our games on ESPN, KCAL, and CBS Sports, although the season is finally over. Everything we do, we do it big. Go big or go home. Your girlfriend has been lying to you all this time!

It’s really a behind-the-scenes look at the personalities that make up the heartbreak, the drama, and these are really serious things. One of our guys was badly injured – and you have to understand that if a 300 pound guy attacks you head on you can be badly injured – and he’s flat on his back for a year and a half. Broken arms, broken legs, broken joints, it’s very serious. LA KISS isn’t just some sort of sugar-coated football team. Let’s go.

KISS has always been known for having a band that has an incredible work ethic. Where does it come from for you?

The work ethic of immigrants. I came to America with my mother – as a legal immigrant, I might add. There is a difference. And when I realized the greatness of America – even though I was born in Israel – I knew it was the Promised Land. As you know there is a large Arab population in Michigan, but in America anyone can walk side by side and have a chat and no one is trying to kill each other because of their ethnicity or background. religion. The American is a holy land. It’s just the place where people can just walk away and talk about it.

What does playing “Detroit Rock City” mean to you after all these years? Even after all these years, you can’t watch a Detroit Tigers, Lions, or Red Wings game without hearing it.

Well, it’s really kind of a call to arms and it’s actually a sad song. It’s about the tragedy of a fan wanting to get to Detroit, but he crashes on the way because he’s driving too fast. You have to get up… you’re going to lose your mind in Detroit Rock City. You know he’s looking forward to (the show). The song? I have to say we played it in the encore; we started shows with it. Every time this show comes on people throw their fists in the air. It’s kind of a national rock anthem if you will. Sure, “Rock ‘N’ Roll All Night” is a celebration, but there’s something about Detroit Rock City that just says “Heartland.”

How has this tour been with Def Leppard so far?

Since the start of the tour Joe Elliott (of Def Leppard) has been asking “Please let me introduce you to the band” and he actually got the chance to do that a few shows ago and he l ‘just thrilled. If you go to KissOnline.com, you’ll see the behind-the-scenes introduction to the show. You will see him say “You wanted the best, you got the best!” He cries with all his heart.

Something you would like to add since I asked you a lot of questions?

Yeah, we’ve got the Hollywood Star Walk of Fame and we’ve got the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and stuff, but none of that means nothing if the fans aren’t around. It begins and ends for us as a live band. All we do is stick to this step. For us it is an electric church. Very few people deserve to be on this stage, and we take it seriously. We take it really seriously.

That’s why we have the balls to introduce ourselves by saying ‘You wanted the best, you got the best… the hottest band in the world!’ And to that end, we really ended the show. You will see it. There really is nothing like this. There is a huge spider that is part of the live show that can do anything except give birth. It’s an overall amazing show and we’re very proud of it.


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