KISS – Guitarist Tommy Thayer

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TOMMY THAYER

INTERVIEW AND PHOTOS BY MARKO SYRJALA

WITH THE COURTESY OF THIS IS ROCK -MAGAZINE

The legendary KISS arrived in Europe in June after a two year break. The bands tour, The 40’th Anniversary tour, did not come to Scandinavia at all, so I traveled to the Netherlands, where the band played a sold-out gig in the Ziggo Dome arena in Amsterdam. Before the show I had the opportunity to sit down with the band’s long-term guitarist, Tommy Thayer. The good-humored man told not only all the latest KISS news, but also about what it is like to have been in the band for more than 12 years, and what the future might hold for the band. Read on!


 

KISS TOUR 2015 AND MORE

The current European tour seems to be very successful, and the band is getting excellent reviews. It seems that KISS is now stronger than in years. What do you think about it?

I think it’s true; it astonishes me that year after year we keep going out and it gets better every time. I appreciate the fact that year after year the crowds are still there, bigger than ever. You can’t take that for granted. It’s something that’s exceptional and only happens to so few bands. We’re very fortunate and don’t take it lightly, it makes us even stronger. The band as it is has been together now 11 to 12 years, and there’s a strong camaraderie and spirit with us. We get excited to go out on stage, we love being together and we love playing on stage together. That feeling grows and perpetuates more and more as time goes on.

The ongoing 40th Anniversary Tour, as the name suggests, celebrates the long career of the band. This time you don’t have a new album out. Is it different to tour without the pressure imposed by a new album?

Having a new album out makes less difference these days because the record industry has gone down the tubes. Even with a band like KISS, doing a record in the traditional sense doesn’t mean much anymore. If we had a new record out that would be cool and interesting. These days it’s more about an iconic band that people must see. Who knows if we’ll come back again, that sort of thing?

You don’t have a new album, but you just recently released a new song, “Samurai Son.” Tell me something more about that project and the song itself?

KISS as a band still needs to do new things. We always need different, fresh and interesting ideas. Thinking outside the box is really what I mean. There’s a Japanese idol group called Momoiro Clover Z who are huge in Japan. I’m not exactly sure how it came together, but Paul and our producer Greg Collins wrote a song, and then got together with MCZ and finished it. We shot a killer video in Las Vegas last November. MCZ came over from Japan and we spent the whole day shooting. It was really cool, very interesting and different for us. We hadn’t done a music video in years. The girls were funny and had great personalities. It became clear why these girls were in the band and why they’re so popular. It was a cool and different thing to do. Most people loved it of course, but some skeptics said what the hell are you doing? We obviously don’t do things based on what those people think.

I think it was a great idea, and I love seeing KISS do things that people don’t expect.

We will always try to think of new ideas and different ways to do things. It doesn’t work to just release a new album anymore, it doesn’t make business sense. Not to say that we won’t do another record sometime, I could see it happening.

But still… even like you said, it’s important for the band to come up with new ideas and different things, but c’mon…that Scooby Doo thing? Many fans do think that now KISS went too far. How do you see it? Is there really anything that the band can’t do? “Laughs”

Are you serious? Doing a feature animated film with KISS and something as iconic as Scooby Doo is cool. What other band could possibly do that? We love it.

How did the Scooby Doo thing came about and what’s the story behind the “Don’t Touch My Ascot”?

Warner Bros Animation approached KISS and made the offer and KISS accepted. The writer Kevin Shinick and director Tony Cervone are KISS fans. The ascot song was an extra special thing that came about at the end.

Gene is a big fan of animations, comics etc. but how about you? Is Scooby Doo one of your favorites? 😉

Yes. I’ve always loved Hanna Barbera cartoons. I grew up watching The Flintstones, The Jetsons and Scooby Doo.

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THE BACKING TRACK SCANDAL

The band made headlines when you performed “Samurai Son” in Japan with some backing tracks. Do you want to comment?

One night we tried it because the song had all these parts and sounds on the recording. We always play as a band with just the four of us. We don’t go out there like many bands and artists others do with backing tapes or extra singers or keyboards and things. We just don’t do it.

Like you said, there are many bands doing those things, and KISS has toured with bands that use a lot of backing tracks, but now you received all that negativity because of that one try?

Like I said, it’s not what we do. Some bands, they make great records, but it’s almost impossible to reproduce it live and that’s the quandary. That’s the challenge, I understand it.

Tommy Thayer
Tommy Thayer live at Amsterdam

KISSOLOGY IV

I’m sure you’ll have an answer for this next question which is about KISSOLOGY IV. Is it coming out someday or not?

I can completely answer that. I’ve worked on KISSOLOGY IV for the last several years. It’s about 80% done, but we still need to update and add some more things to it. I know that it eventually will come out but I don’t know what the date is.

And which year? “Laughs”

I can’t say, I just don’t know. Everybody is going to have to wait a little bit longer, but it will be worth it. There is some great stuff that’s already done.

Can you give any details about it, what stuff will be included on next KISSOLOGY?

I think it’s important for the KISSOLOGY DVD’s to cover a wide range, obviously it’s somewhat chronological. So KISSOLOGY IV would generally be based on the last 10 or 12 years. When did KISSOLOGY III end?

I think it would have been up to 1999.

Yeah, so this is going be post that period to current day. You can also count on some great vintage and rare stuff included that people haven’t seen as much as well.

Will we ever see full high-quality gigs from the years 1982-1987?

That’s a good question. I know there’s an Asylum tour concert that’s on film in the can, I’ve seen it. So I’m just wetting your appetite a little bit. Do you remember the Asylum tour?

Of course, it was an amazing tour.

Do you remember the killer opening act on that tour?

Yeah, it was called Black ‘N Blue or something? “Laughs”

Those guys were incredible, I don’t know what happened to them now. You have to go to VH1 and watch, What Ever Happened To… “Laughs” There’s also a lot of footage that was shot at the start of Hot in The Shade tour. Maybe that’s a little later than what you were asking about.

But do you have any usable material for 1983 tour?

’83 would be Lick It Up really, or are you thinking Creatures tour also?

Both.

I worked on the LOVE GUN deluxe edition that included some cool bonus material, demos and different things like that. We talked about doing a CREATURES OF THE NIGHT deluxe edition, but had a problem finding enough extra material. Sometimes there’s holes in eras where you just don’t have stuff. I don’t know why, but I couldn’t find enough good stuff that was of decent quality or just enough material to do it. So that idea was shelved. The early ‘80s was a real transitional period for KISS, an interesting period of KISStory.

Paul and Tommy
Paul and Tommy rockin’ on stage!

KISS FANDOM

I agree that it was a really interesting time in the history of KISS. It’s not a secret that you have been a big KISS fan. When did you first hear of the band and which are your favorite albums?

It’s funny, I loved the first three albums and KISS ALIVE. I remember when DESTROYER came out, I thought it was cool but something about it didn’t have the same feel as the first three albums, which were raw, straight ahead rock and roll. DESTROYER was quite different than the first four albums because it was more produced. There were great songs, no doubt about it. But by the time they did ROCK AND ROLL OVER, and I know people are going to say what the hell are you talking about, but I felt that it just didn’t quite measure up in my opinion, but everybody has a different perspective. There’s always that special period of time when you first get into a band and that was the moment for me.

That’s really interesting to hear. Can you guess what’s my favorite KISS album?

I’m going to guess probably something like HOT IN THE SHADE, I don’t know.

Well… It’s ASYLUM

ASYLUM. Okay, I was close. Because you then were probably a 12 or 13 year old kid then “Laughs”.

I found KISS when I was six years old back in 1980. I remember when THE ELDER album came out and I went to buy a cassette. I also remember when CREATURES and LICK IT UP came out and those both were great, but still ASYLUM was the best album they did in the 80’s for me. As you probably know, KISS was a big deal in Scandinavia in the 80’s.

I know, that’s interesting. For me you then had LOVE GUN, ALIVE II, DYNASTY and UNMASKED. I was getting into other bands, to be honest with you. I always kept an eye on KISS, but I didn’t feel the same way. By the time THE ELDER was released I probably didn’t even hear it. But I saw them on a TV show called ‘Fridays.’ They came out and they ripped through “The Oath” and it was really stripped down, Marshall Amps, very raw and live. I thought it was great, I remember thinking, this is what I want in KISS again. Then CREATURES came out not long after that, and I thought yeah I’m digging this. KISS is back on track, I’m back on board. I think everybody has a different perspective of being a KISS fan, through all the different eras. It’s interesting. I talk to different people like Keith (Leroux) and it’s the same thing… He was big fan of the ’80s stuff and REVENGE. That was the golden era for him.

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NEW KISS ALBUM?

You mentioned earlier about a possibility of the new KISS album. Have you already talked about it within the band?

Yeah. A few months ago Paul said he said that he doesn’t see any reason to make a new KISS album. A week later Gene said, of course there’s going to be a new KISS album next year.

Is the truth somewhere in between?

Everybody has the right to speak their mind and give their point of view, and it’s all valid really. It’s not that one guy is wrong. It’s not something that’s planned right now, but with KISS things kind of change quickly sometimes. All of the sudden Paul might say, I’m feeling it now, let’s go in the studio in four weeks from now and record. Let’s write some songs. It’s interesting how things happen quickly and spontaneously sometimes. So it’s almost impossible to sit here and say this is what’s going to happen next year or the year afterwards. Things take a natural flow, we will see.

Gene also said, last fall, that you have already recorded a couple of new songs.

He said we recorded a couple of songs? I don’t remember “Laughs”.

Did you do that or not?

I don’t, maybe he recorded a song, I don’t know. Sometimes people go record things on their own too. You have interesting questions “Laughs”.

Thank you.

KISS Alive at 2015
KISS Alive at 2015

BEING IN KISS

Tommy, you have been a member of KISS over 10 years already but…

Actually about 12 to 13 years. February 2003, that’s over 12 years right now, was officially my first concert with KISS. It was at the Telstra Dome in Melbourne, Australia for the KISS Symphony spectacle. I actually did gigs with the band a whole year before that.

You’ve recorded two studio albums and you’ve done hundreds of gigs with the band, how does it feel?

People don’t have any idea what goes on behind the scenes with a band like KISS, it’s not easy. People say, you should be this and more personality in there and you should have done this. No, I think I did it right. You walk into a situation like this, you have to be very resilient and you need to be flexible. You need to be patient; you need to be a lot of things. It’s not as simple as some people think. So yes, at the beginning you’re just trying to do it. Make things work, play the parts the right way. The evolution of a band is important to consider too. When there’s a new person there’s lots of things for the band to keep in mind. Do you want somebody to come in and to completely recreate the part? Do you want new makeup? Do you want them to sound completely different guitar playing wise? Not necessarily. It’s a touchy thing and most people don’t understand that there is a very fine line you go down. The good thing is by the time we did SONIC BOOM and MONSTER, you can tell on MONSTER, I’m playing more open, a little more Tommy there, it’s more of my thing. When we did SONIC BOOM we wanted to make a record that sounds like classic KISS, and that’s exactly what we did. On MONSTER we took another step, expanded the boundaries. That’s a good analogy for me as guitar player in KISS, to continue to broaden my approach, get more comfortable, stretch out a little bit more. And so it goes.

There are a lot of bands that have replaced the original members with new guys without any major problems, but it seems that in your case a few fans will never get over it.

What are you going to do? I think the fact that KISS has done very, very well for the last 12 years is a real testament and validation of what we’ve done and how we’ve done it. We did it the right way. If anybody thinks its crap and it’s all wrong, then fuck off and start your own band. We’ve done very, very well. I’m very pleased.

I’m pretty sure that without you and Eric the band would no longer exist.

I don’t know about that. On the other hand, keeping bands together is very difficult over the long run. Unless you have people that get along and respect each other, things can really go wrong and thank God that hasn’t happened in the last 12 years. There have been points in KISS’s career, as an observer, where you can see things have really gone off track. Late ’70s, early ’80s was a weird time.

Was the mid ’90s was difficult time as well?

The mid ’90s saw a lot of big changes. The reunion tour was a rollercoaster ride. In the early ‘80s there were new makeup designs. I’ve heard some fans say that was cool, the fox and all that. The reality was it was time for major overhaul. If you’re not careful and you make the wrong move, you could be fucked and your band could be fucked, and your career could be fucked. I’m not blowing smoke. But you’ve got to give Paul and Gene credit, for over 40 years, look at their track record. That stands on its own and it doesn’t matter what anybody says.

This brings me cleverly to the next question…

Nice transition “Laughs”

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THE FUTURE OF KISS

There are a lot of rumors about what will happen to the band in the future, and, as you said, you never know what’s going to happen next year or even next month. What do you think of the idea of KISS someday continuing without Paul and Gene? Would you think it is even possible?

You know that that question’s been asked many times before.

I know that but do you have any updates? “Laughs”

KISS without Paul or Gene sounds pretty weird. On the other hand if somebody did come along, somebody who was really, really good and blew everybody away, you never know. I don’t know when or how that works but it’s actually already worked with 50% of the band. I think anything is possible and we’ll see what happens in the future.

It seems that no one has the answer to this question?

It’s an odd question and I don’t know the answer. On the other hand, KISS is a one-of-kind band that’s seen a lot of surprises along the way over the years. It’s not unusual to hear people say, what? Are you kidding me? They’re doing what?

Gene and Tommy
Gene and Tommy on stage

THE LAST QUESTION(S) 

With the current 40th Anniversary Tour, the whole of Scandinavia and many other European countries missed KISS this time. Do you have plans to fix that next year?

Of course as you know Scandinavia is fantastic for KISS with the greatest fans that we love playing for. We were there two years ago and I think it was probably too soon to come back this time. There are other parts of Europe that we are hitting now that we didn’t do two years ago, like most of Western Europe. You can’t overdo it, you can’t come back every year. You have to space the tours out and make people want you a little bit more before you get there.

Maybe we’ll see in Finland next year then?

Yes next year, yeah.

With a new KISS album?

With a new album? You never know.

By the way, what happened for You Wanted the Best, You Got the Best movie?

The timing of it has changed obviously. I don’t know why, I really don’t. We did interviews. There’s a lot of planning and forward movement on that project. It seems like it is on hold right now and I don’t know why. Usually I know the answer to those questions. You’ll have to find out from somebody else.

This is the last question … The KISS Kruise is coming again soon, and it is for many KISS fans always a highlight of the year. But last year was kind of disappointing, because the set lists were too safe. What can we expect Kruise this year?

I’m sure that this year we will pull more cool obscure tracks out and give you something that you haven’t heard before. I know that’s what makes it special. We will do that.

That was it. Thanks for your time Tommy!

Thanks!

KISS Kruise V

 

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MORE PHOTOS FROM KISS SHOW IN AMSTERDAM 2015 BY MARKO SYRJALA

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gene20 eric1

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gene2 paul6

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