When an artist is inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, it is usually one of the artist’s top accomplishments. In the case of Gene Simmons — the bassist and sometimes-vocalist behind KISS — his Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction is merely a footnote. KISS has sold more than 75 million albums worldwide, earning more gold records than any other American band in the history of the RIAA. Over 40 years since KISS formed in 1973, the quartet continues to play stadiums and arenas around the world, while its 2012 full-length Monster debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200. The band’s on-going influence can be heard in various genres, as KISS songs have been recorded by Garth Brooks, Cher, Menudo, Nirvana, Lenny Kravitz, and the cast of Glee alike.
KISS, however, is only one part of Gene Simmons’ life. Simmons was the star of the family reality show, Gene Simmons Family Jewels, which produced 158 episodes. He has written several books and been a magazine publisher. He has acted in dozens of movies and television shows. He has overseen record labels and major marketing campaigns. He has been a board member and advocate for several non-profits, including ChildFund International. And that is without exploring his success within the real estate and intellectual property worlds, or his stint on Celebrity Apprentice.
The latest — and arguably most ambitious — project from Simmons is the Gene Simmons Vault. A limited-edition box set made in partnership with Rhino Records, the Gene Simmons Vault includes 150 unreleased recordings from throughout Simmons’ career, as paired with other never-before-available items; the 40-pound vault includes the first-ever non-makeup action figure of Simmons. For $2,000, Simmons will hand-deliver one of the vaults to you and invite you to a proper meet-and-greet event. The Home Experience is the highest-tiered package associated with the Gene Simmons Vault, which will set you back $50,000. In exchange for that 50 grand, Simmons will come to your home for two hours to entertain you and up to 25 guests.
To learn more about the Gene Simmons Vault, and also the entrepreneur behind the vault, I had the pleasure of speaking with Mr. Simmons in-person. Our half-hour conversation covered all facets of his career and ultimately showed him to not only have an encyclopedic knowledge about a variety of subjects but to be a kind-hearted and relatable person. More on Simmons can be found at www.genesimmonsvault.com.
The Gene Simmons Vault is the latest project from you. I remember hearing about it about 10 years ago when it was called the Gene Simmons 100, is that the same project?
Gene Simmons: I don’t remember Gene Simmons 100 but at various points I was planning on Monster, then that became Alter-Ego. But I’ve been working on it at least eight years, compiling, correlating, editing and also taking… A lot of people don’t know that the old-fashioned way of recording involved 24-track tape. It is difficult to describe if people don’t know what it is, and those were stored in vaults. Over the decades, literally in some cases 44 years, they started to get moisture between the tapes. So to cut the story short, we had to literally bake the tape like cake in an oven just like that so that we could play it at least once to download all the stuff on digital. It took many many years to get certain rights… So finally I am proud to say timing is everything. KISS is the No. 1 gold record-winning group of all time — in all categories — and that’s cool because we never really played the game. And I’m 68 and healthy and strong.
Gene Simmons: KISS is touring, and we’re having a great time, but what’s the legacy? What’s the thing that says “thank you” to the fans? So what am I going to do is at my own cost, I’m going to fly around the world. If you buy a vault, one of the few thousand that is going to be available around the world — literally a few thousand — I will hop on a jet and I will go see you in Finland, in Russia, in New Zealand. I don’t care where it is, I am going to come to you and I will hand-deliver the vault to you and your friends at a convenient time. I don’t mean 10 years from now, you know hopefully the next year to where you are. I will come to you and I will hand-deliver the vault into your hands. So here is where the vault is, you’ve got to go to genesimmonsvault.com. You see those real metal wheels?
Gene Simmons: Real metal wheels, metal hardware — snap that hand up here, let it go.
[Interviewer snaps the handle as instructed] Just like a road case.
— Logan Robot Gladden (@LoganRobot) September 21, 2017
Gene Simmons: Real hardware and the thing will last a lifetime, I hope. Inside is 50 years of unreleased music spanning 2016 all the way back to 1966 when I recorded my very first song.
So way before Wicked Lester?
Gene Simmons: That’s right. 1966 is literally the previous century. “My Uncle Is a Raft” is the first song, and it goes all way up 50 years in the future, then 2016. The tracks are 150 songs and 10 CDs apart. Inside the 10 CDs are original versions of “Christine Sixteen” with Edward and Alex Van Halen and two other songs they appear on. A few songs that I wrote with Bob Dylan, including the actual songwriting sessions with us singing and talking and trading leads, that’s in the box.
I remember hearing on the Love Gun reissue where you guys are teaching one another the parts to “Love Gun.” Did you always have a recorder going when rehearsing?
Gene Simmons: No, it just sort of happened. Sometimes we record, sometimes we do not. In this day of virtual reality, I mean the phrase didn’t exist then, now we record everything… Not in those days, we did nothing, you just lived your life and if you want to take a photo, you had to buy a camera. So the reason I recorded Bob and myself writing the song is for one thing, to remember what the parts were. The other thing is, I couldn’t believe am writing a song with Bob Dylan, so I recorded our conversation, the process and all that. He was very very kind and always appreciative, so that’s on the box as well… You know, of course, these extras are in the huge book [accompanying the Gene Simmons Vault], which I’m sure you skimmed and took a look at it.
I had the pleasure of reviewing it, yes. It had photos and anecdotes and also the writing credits, which people don’t always put in a book.
Gene Simmons: Who wrote the songs? Mostly everything is written by myself. Everyone saw somebody co-wrote something and I talk about it. Where I was, what the writing process was, what the instrumentation is… All sorts of photos going all the way back to the dawn of time, before dinosaurs ruled the Earth…
It is the largest box [set] of all time, so again if you weren’t listening, you buy your Gene Simmons Vault, the largest box ever, for the price of two iPhones. I will get on a jet at my cost and I will hand-deliver the box to you wherever you are, and then there are other things we could do together. You can be an executive producer, it can be a home experience, but the bottom line is you buy your vault and I will hand-deliver it to you wherever you are.
— Gene Simmons (@genesimmons) September 21, 2017
So going back, when you were first thinking of Monster or whatever it was called, it was around 100 songs, Did you already have the packaging in mind?
Gene Simmons: No, I did not. I thought the packaging shouldn’t be like the flimsy stuff you buy in stores. There are less and less stores, so there had to be retail places, and I am glad you mentioned that because the Gene Simmons Vault is not available anywhere in any store. There is also no online component, there will not be a cheaper version, there won’t be a watered-down version. You won’t be able to buy the action figure or the book separately. It’s all-in-one statement of acquiring it. The McLaren is never on sale. A Rolls Royce is a Rolls Royce and that’s it… It’s a thank you to the fans for giving me the life I never dreamed I’d have, which why am willing to hand-deliver… You know, there is something about a mountain coming to you, but guess what? The mountain is coming to you.
So Mount Gene Simmons is coming to you…
Gene Simmons: That’s right.
So having listened to everything…
Gene Simmons: Have you heard anything?
I heard the sampler on the website. I heard the “Christine Sixteen” demo… I’m curious if you have a favorite song on the box set.
Gene Simmons: It’s really tough to talk about it that way because it is not so much “what is the best song,” because people can argue about that. But it has to deal with what song brings the memories because the songs are more than songs. People get married to them, people use them when they pass away, people use them when babies are born, when they are partying, sweet 16s… Songs are the soundtracks of our lives… Not just for me, but for anybody. So for me, “My Uncle Is a Raft” probably has the most gravitas, as they say, because it is the very first song I wrote. Why on Earth I decided to get together with Larry Martinelli and Mark Nyberg, my two junior high school buds that recorded, I’ll never know. But the recording’s pretty damn good. It’s clear. [Starts singing the song] It’s got that kind of innocent kind of quality.
So was that the first song you also wrote or is it the first song you recorded?
Gene Simmons: It was close to the beginning. There were a few other attempts at writing the first song, but I would have to say that’s the first song I ever recorded.
Were there any songs that you wanted to include in the vault that you couldn’t due to clearances?
Gene Simmons: No, and I did all the clearances myself. I left the lawyers on the sidelines and I contacted everybody that was involved just make sure if they have any objections… Otherwise, have a good life.
You mentioned the Van Halen brothers before. There’s a rumor that you’ve wanted to put out the demo that you produced and own, but there have been legal hurdles in getting that out there.
Gene Simmons: No hurdles, just out of respect to the brothers and the band, I wouldn’t do it without their okay. They weren’t okay with it, so I hold onto it. I mean, it’s about ethics and morality more than about the legal issue. Do I own the 24-tracks? Yeah, I do, but you have to understand that above and beyond all that stuff, you’ve got to be able to go to sleep at night and just kind of say, “I did the right thing.” When I couldn’t get Van Halen a contract — they were signed to my production company — I tore up our contract right away… I did what lawyers and everybody around me said was the stupidest idea, but I sleep well at night…
So Van Halen was signed to Man of 1,000 Faces?
Gene Simmons: My company, yes.
Did you have other bands signed to production deals? I know that you put out EZO and other bands through Simmons Records, but had you done other production deals at the time?
Gene Simmons: Van Halen was the only band I signed to Man of 1,000 Faces as a production company. Then, later on, I had the labels and had House of Lords and lots of other things and also produced other bands for other labels. But Van Halen was the only one I thought had the legs to go all the way and that sure happened.
Moving on, I want to know as somebody that’s been at the top of the music game for decades, a proven entrepreneur and a television star — I know that your reality show had more episodes than I Love Lucy — with so many accolades, what is it that you’re still trying to accomplish? Is there anything?
Gene Simmons: Every day you wake up, if your heart is beating and have good health, and if you look at America where the sky is the limit, there is always another mountain. You know when you get to the top of the mountain and the view is great and you think you are on the top of the world, then you look to your left and you look to your right and there are other mountains to climb. So at the same time, I am putting out another book on power, relaunching a second magazine because I had one before, this one is called Mogul was just coming up shortly. I have a clothing line called Moneybag…
I see the Moneybag logo over there on a box.
Gene Simmons: There you go, it’s over there now… Lots of other stuff.
The Moneybag logo reminds me of two things. First, there is a band called Teenage Fanclub, a Scottish band, and I remember that their Bandwagonesque album credits say “Money bag appears courtesy of Gene Simmons,” something to that effect. You’re known for having a lot of trademarks…
Gene Simmons: You can ask me a question about that.
Well, I was just curious…
Gene Simmons: That I sued them?
No, absolutely not.
Gene Simmons: I did.
Oh, you did sue them?
Gene Simmons: Of course, I had sent then “I wish you all the best of luck. You may not use my moneybag logo to sell your product because it’s mine. But if you want to ask me to do that, I may allow you to do that.” So they asked me and I said, “Fine just give me credit.”
Got it, but what I’m curious about is how you learned about trademarks and how that could be a valuable business.
Gene Simmons: Read, for f**k’s sake. All these knuckleheads out there… Pick up your cell phone, all the knowledge of mankind is in your hand… I don’t mean you, I mean just anything you want to find is right is right there in your hands. Here, watch me asking Siri. [talking to his phone] “Siri, how far away is the moon? [Gets an answer from Siri about the distance from the Earth to the moon.]
There you go.
Gene Simmons: Okay, now you know, how tough was that? “Gene, how did you ever find out the trademarks?” I asked Siri.
But your involvement with trademarks is decades before that technology.
Gene Simmons: That’s true, but there were things called libraries in those days. There were things called books that people could order or you could go into a public library for free if you’re a voracious reader, which I will also continue to be. Please go in there and read all you want. I’m the only person I’ve ever met who has read the Encyclopedia Britannica from cover to cover…
I remember reading that when you were a kid, going to yeshiva more days of the week than not…
Gene Simmons: People in Wisconsin have no idea what you were talking about…
How would you best explain a yeshiva?
Gene Simmons: It is a Jewish theological seminary that also teaches science, math and stuff like that.
Sure, so while you were studying there, you were spending a lot of your free time in the library?
Gene Simmons: Yeah, after school I would go right into the library every day.
And were you primarily reading non-fiction?
Gene Simmons: Oh, everything. Dinosaurs… I won second prize of the fifth-grade science fair when I could barely speak English, because I was fascinated that you can learn stuff and impress your friends. I’ve got lots of information in my mind that is useless except it is not. It is useful depending on where you go, what you do and [touches interviewer’s shoulder] who you rub shoulders with. You see what I did there?
I see what you did there.
Gene Simmons: Information is POWER and especially because all the information of mankind is right there in the palm of your hands on your cell phone. You haven’t heard of the fiduciary duty, that phrase is a business phrase, but what it means is it’s your responsibility… You can be an idiot and not know anything and people will think that you are an idiot, because you don’t know anything. Educate yourself, and guess what? It’s free.
There was a rumor that you trademarked “O.J.” within the context of orange juice. Is that true?
Gene Simmons: No, that’s urban myth. It’s urban legend, it’s not true. I don’t need urban… Once upon a time, “urban” in the dictionary actually meant city. Yeah, it’s an urban myth.
You mentioned that you’re working on a new book. In your last book, Me, Inc., you talked about how you had multiple jobs going on the same time when you were young. Nowadays you arguably have multiple jobs going on the same time between KISS, all your merchandising, etc. Was that a conscious decision as an adult?
Gene Simmons: I think it’s fair to say that many people look to get a job. I’ve never looked to get a job. I have always just enjoyed working and I will urge everybody out there, if you are lucky to be living in America, that maybe you worry less about getting a job and concentrate more on the love of labor. If you love working you’ll get jobs.
At what point did you quit your job with regards to KISS being a full-time band? I remember hearing that you saved up money to bankroll KISS.
Gene Simmons: $23,000.
I read that you were on the road with KISS but came off the road and you were working while the other members weren’t. At what point did you get to quit having a job?
Gene Simmons: Within a year and a half of starting, we were headlining Anaheim Stadium. Before cell phones, before MTV, in point of fact even before voicemail came. Voicemail, for most of you that are 20-years-old or millennials, which is the same thing. Telephones used to have machines attached that you can record messages. Messages left by people who can’t get you on the phone and that was voicemail. People don’t use that anymore pretty much, they just text and get instant gratification. But in the early days, even before that we were headlining stadiums, I was making $75 and $85 dollars a week.
The tides have turned a little bit with that amount maybe being your per diem these days.
Gene Simmons: Oh, a lot more.
As fans, some musician and artist friends wanted me to ask you some questions on their behalf. The first question comes from Diamond Dallas Page, a former WWE and WCW wrestler who founded DDP YOGA. His question was what it would take for you to try DDP YOGA.
Gene Simmons: I mean, I appreciate anybody doing anything to stay healthy… but I don’t do any of that, I am a simple guy in Los Angeles. I try as much as possible to go hiking… You try to get your heartbeat going… Five miles or more, you do that five times a week, that’s 25 five miles of heart-thumping stuff. You lose lots of weight, of course. You have got to watch what you eat. It’s the corny stuff that nobody talks about you still have to do. As you get older you’ve got to do more of it.
Mike Viola, a singer/songwriter who also works in A&R at Verve Records, wanted to know about “King of the Night Time World.” That was a song by Kim Fowley. How did that song get to the band?
Gene Simmons: If I’m not mistaken, a version of it was originally recorded by the Hollywood Stars… We heard a version of it that Bob Ezrin found and decided to record, but decided to add some more stuff to it. I think it was Ezrin that possibly knew Kim Fowley. Can you answer this: What was Kim Fowley’s first hit record?
I can’t tell you the name of it…
Gene Simmons: Hollywood Argyles. [starts singing “Alley-Oop”]
So you were familiar with his work even before the song?
Gene Simmons: Of course, I mean he found and created the Runaways.
James Lance, who works for Viacom, had a question. His assumption was that the heavier side of the KISS catalog comes from you and the more Beatles-inspired material comes from Paul. So he was wondering, keeping that generalization in mind, if you ever wrote something and then you had to make it a little softer to appease Paul?
Gene Simmons: The answer is no, but I would say it’s fair to say that the heaviest stuff and the Beatles stuff kind of came from me, and Paul was more sort of English, more heavily English band-influenced. Small Faces, Stones, that kind of stuff. I think that’s a fair assessment.
Victor Indrizzo, a very prominent drummer who played on Paul’s Live To Win album, wanted to know which KISS album for you was the most fun to make.
Gene Simmons: Again, it’s never about the best song or best this, it’s about the memories they hold. I would say the first record was the most memorable one, because you have to understand one second you are just a bum off the streets and the next second you go into Bell Sounds and you see a recording counsel in front of you. You are on $75 dollars a week salary and you quit your day job and you are a professional and you have a recording contract. There is even a guy there tuning your guitar. All of a sudden you get to live the dream, you know? You grow up dreaming about it and then boom, you get to live the dream. That was the most memorable record. I mean I remember every day as it went by…
Related to that, Steve Schiltz and Mike James of the band Longwave had a question. As you’re known to be an archivist, since you’ve been filming shows for years and years, might ever see a Creatures of the Night live video or a DVD in the future?
Gene Simmons: Sure.
Does that mean there might be another Kissology coming out?
Gene Simmons: Sure. Already done.
Already done, can you tell me which era that might be from?
Gene Simmons: You know I don’t remember, we finished it over a year and a half ago.
Robby from the Goo Goo Dolls wanted to know if you were wearing the Demon makeup and costume when you recorded the vocals for “God of Thunder.”
Gene Simmons: No.
Did you ever record in the studio while wearing makeup?
Gene Simmons: [pauses] No.
You said that very assertively.
Gene Simmons: I had to think.
Everyone knows that you’re quite the Beatles fanatic and John Davis from the Lees of Memory, formerly of Superdrag, wants to know your favorite Beatles album.
Gene Simmons: They wrote more iconic, memorable songs than anybody. I mean, literally even more than Gershwin, you are talking the greatest songwriters of the 20th century, certainly. By the time McCartney was 20-years-old, he had written “Eleanor Rigby,” “Yesterday”… Just to give you an example of the profound impact of just McCartney, he wrote “Yesterday” — which originally was called “Scrambled Eggs” — it was [John] Lennon who pushed them to get more serious. But to make a long story short, 2,000 different artists have covered “Yesterday.” Just one song. I mean everybody from Ray Charles, “Eleanor Rigby” was Aretha Franklin, Frank Sinatra… Just covers the gamut. So nobody’s had that profound impact. At just 20-years-old I couldn’t even wipe my a**. Not well.
Are there other bands that have had anywhere near the same amount of influence on you?
Gene Simmons: Nothing is even close. I mean if you talk to Ozzy and a few other guys who think you are into metal and stuff, no it’s not. You can’t beat that songwriting. A great song is a great song.
Blair Goldberg, who’s a Broadway actress, wants to know if you ever considered turning your music into a play or musical.
Gene Simmons: Sure, in fact, I have been talking to Broadway folks and Vegas folks for almost 15 years about launching a KISS Broadway-style show about four knuckleheads who come up the streets of New York and create the band that they never saw on-stage. Along with that, chicks and trials and the tribulations and, of course, the self-destructive behavior by some of the members.
You’re known for doing a lot of philanthropy but not really talking about the work that you do. Why is that?
Gene Simmons: To what effect? I mean, the only thing I can do is to get maybe a few more dollars out of people to actually do some good, but I’d like to think that your responsibility and mine is to leave the world a better place than when we came into it. I mean, don’t you think? You don’t want to create Utopia and all that because that already existed with Todd Rundgren. You see what I did there?
I see what you did there.
Gene Simmons: But as an example… September 20 in Saint Paul, Minnesota, we are doing a concert, the Gene Simmons Band, Don Felder, Cheap Trick, Jayhawks… Ace Frehley is going to jump up on-stage. We’ll be playing to thousands of people, and the proceeds are going to go to help our fellow Americans ravaged by the bad weather in Houston. If you want to help, go to thechildrenmatter.ngo and help. Everybody can use your help. And by the grace of God, it could have been you and your city and your family underwater, and only Americans are going to help each other. Trust me, Serbia is not sending first responders.
So in closing, Gene, any last words for the kids?
Gene Simmons: Check out Genesimmonsvault.com for all the details. I will fly to wherever you live and I’ll bring the vault with me, all 40 pounds of it, and hand-deliver it, pretty much as a thank you. Flying around the world is not going to be cheap, it will cost me a good penny. But it’s a chance, 44 years on — we have climbed many hills, not many hills left to climb — so it is probably time to say thank you.
[Featured Image by Mark Weiss]