INTERVIEW AND PICTURES BY MARKO SYRJÄLÄ
Tommy Thayer has been playing with KISS for years but for many he’s still “the new member” in the band. Thayer replaced original guitarist Ace Frehley in 2002 and since then he’s been playing the “Spaceman” character in the band. Thayer has been a member of KISS for over eight years now but he’s actually been working with KISS or some its members in many different occasions starting already in the late 80’s. Thayer’s old band Black’n Blue was working with Gene Simmons as their producer and since the band eventually broke up in 1989 Thayer’s been very close to KISS camp. Although the original KISS have been gone for years, Eric Singer has replaced Peter Criss and plays the “Catman” character, the band is still going on strong and they keep on doing successful tours and performing in front of massive crowds around the globe. The current lineup released its first studio album titled SONIC BOOM on last year it has become another success story in their long history. Two years ago KISS did one of its most successful tours in history titled “Alive 35” and now they finally came back for more with their brand new “Sonic Boom over Europe” tour. The circus arrived in Malmo in early June and then I had a chance to sit down with Tommy and get some recent info from the “Spaceman” himself.
SPACEMAN IN EUROPE
Well, I can’t hesitate to ask that after you’ve been in the band eight years now, how does it feel to be the Spaceman nowadays?
“Laughs”, it always feels good to be the Spaceman. I like to tell people, I truly believe it’s an honor to be doing what I’m doing, I’m so fortunate to be in this position. I just try to do the best I can and I feel more confident every month and year that goes by.
So it’s getting better all the time?
Yeah, that’s natural, I mean especially with the release of SONIC BOOM it has definitely helped me make more my own stamp on things but still be very much part of KISS and sounding like KISS just the way it should be – things don’t happen overnight and good things take time and that’s what I feel like we are at and I feel good, very good.
That’s great to hear. How this current “Sonic Boom over Europe” tour has been going so far? What I’ve heard and read, you’ve got great reviews and fans seem to be very pleased about it!
“Sonic Boom over Europe” tour has been phenomenal. We are very happy with how things are going you know, great crowds, big turnout -lot of sellouts, band sounds great, review’s, everything’s has been so positive, we couldn’t be any happier.
Your previous tour in here two years ago was a huge success as well. What if you compare this tour to that “Alive 35” –tour, which one you do prefer more personally?
I think they are both great, the “Alive 35” – tour in Europe two years ago was kind of an inspiration to get serious about making SONIC BOOM and taking that step to do another studio record as you know. That’s when the band decided to do that but, every tour is unique and special in some way. I like to believe that the band is getting better and you know the show is getting a little bit better bigger and more going on you know, Eric and I have this new solo spot that I think is cool it’s kind of like a new twist of things you know we have the new opening where we come down and over, a couple new songs -were doing “Beth” now so we always try to take it to the next step and I feel like we are doing that now on this “Sonic Boom over Europe” –tour and “The Alive 35” was a great one too.
You’re right here. What’s really great thing about his new tour is that you’ve now added some 80/90’s era songs on the set list. There are songs like: “Crazy, Crazy Nights” and “God Gave Rock n Roll to You II”. How is it different for you to play Bruce Kulick’s era material compared to 70’s material?
You know if anything that’s a little more of a challenge for me even though it’s not a big challenge but because the sound and the equipment. Even what Bruce was using in the 80’s is a lot different than the sound of the equipment I use now you know where as Bruce was using more of the Strato with the …arm and a lot of that stuff so you know it’s a different approach and I didn’t feel it was the right thing for me to come out with a Floyd rose on the guitar all of a sudden so that would’ve been kind of weird so I have done the best I feel to kind of combine what he did and try to stick to same melodies, pretty close but it’s not exactly because again I think the equipment kind of dictates that little bit of the sound and the field of the 80’s stuff was a little bit different than what we really are sounding right now where as to me it’s a very… my approach is very straight ahead – Les Paul plugged into the amp – very straight ahead basic sound , more really of the band coming out of the 70’s not so much the 80’s sound, again it’s the equipment and the guitar approach and even the type of guitar obviously, so had to modify a little but I think I found the best of both worlds in that.
This is a little theoretic question here but what if Gene and Paul would someday decide to include lot’s material from LICK IT UP and CREATURES OF THE NIGHT in the set, how you would like to play Vinnie Vincent’s era songs and solos then? (laughs)
(Laughs) That would be even trickier. The interesting thing is… if you take a song like “Creatures of the Night”, you know people think of that as a kind of Vinnie Vincent era… except you know what – all those songs weren’t necessarily him playing all the guitars. Steve Ferris played some of that stuff too and there were others as well… – but again that’s kind of further away from my style and even an Ace type style so you know just have to see but it’s definitely a lot different because that was the early 80’s and its just a different kind of environment for guitars at that time. Everybody was playing with Jackson’s and Charvel’s and…
Everybody was playing with “heavy metal” guitar then…
Yeah and players were more of a getting into the shred mentality but I don’t think that really is… if you have to define what the KISS’s sound, lead guitar sound and style is – it’s not the shred so much, even though there’s a few songs where it was, but over all I’ve got to go more for the overall sound.
THE SONIC BOOM
How long overall was the process to create those songs on SONIC BOOM?
Not long you know…we did it in sections. We did in 3-4 sections, maybe three songs at a time. We’d write them, maybe spend an hour or two with whoever was working on it, then we’d go to rehearsal next and maybe spend an hour or two just making sure the arrangements were the way we wanted them. So then when we go to the studio it would just be a matter of putting it down. We didn’t have to keep rearranging or working on it. We just went and maybe tightened maybe a couple of things up and then just recorded them within 2-3 takes. It was great, very simple.
It was originally stated everywhere that all the material there was brand new and it was written in studio but the fact is that there are couple of songs there which are, at least partly, released years ago in different occasions. So what’s the actual truth there…?
I didn’t realize that, but I guess at least one of the songs… see Gene’s approach “laughs”…You know, he kind of backlog ideas and reshapes things and pull things from before and then… You know what I’m saying here. I didn’t realize that but we believe for the most part the stuff is all new stuff (laughter). I guess maybe “Russian Roulette” might have been something that was a riff that maybe was from something before but then again it was kind of restructured and rewritten but a true KISS fan if he hears the old demo…I guess you can kind of go “Oh yes, I see”. But you know I still don’t think that means it’s an old song. Some of the ideas, like Paul writes a riff, it might have been something that’s been in his head for a long time. So I’d have to say that SONIC BOOM is still pretty much 100% new songs and ideas even though there are a few riffs that might have been around for a long time but that’s ok. But you’re smart and you’ve got a very good ear for that because you’re a musician as well.
I would say that in many ways with SONIC BOOM KISS went back to its 70’s style. For me it does sound more 70’s KISS than PSYCHO CIRCUS ever did but I would like to ask about guitar sound and solos on SONIC BOOM… What’s the reason there are so many solo parts and licks which actually do sound pretty much the same what Ace Frehley used to do in 70’s?
It’s a combination of reasons and first of all I think SONIC BOOM is kind of combination of all… to me it sounds like all areas of KISS in a way, not just 70’s. We wanted to make a classic KISS album, you’ve heard Paul saying that, and it includes the songwriting, the sound, the approach with guitar solos and everything. Ace in the 70’s really established the lead guitar sound of KISS and what is a classic KISS lead guitar sound so you have that factor combine with the fact that I grew up listening to Ace and other great guitar players of the 70’s. You know; Ronnie Montrose, Jimmy Page and Ace among others – I think that is very much part of my playing to begin with – I didn’t purposely try to copy a lick here and there… I just really wanted to play this way and it really suits the songs and it’s definitely a KISS sound. I think if I try to make the guitar solos too stay away from that too much I don’t think it would sounded as good? I mean I could have purposely tried to stay away from sounding anything like him but I don’t know if that would have been as good, you know?
How about the future of KISS in recording wise. Paul has just recently stated that there will be another album in the works sometime in the future?
I heard that.
Did you read it from the net? (laughter).
(Laughs) No, I heard it from the interview because I was standing there when he did it. We’ve talked about doing other record. I think it’s a very good possibility. With as well as things are going I think it makes sense and I think that the Kiss fans would probably also love another great record.
There are some rumors flying that you have already recorded some stuff for the new album during the SONIC BOOM –sessions. Is there any truth there behind that rumor?
No. We’d have to write new songs and things and it would be a great time to do that.
BITS AND PIECES
Is it ok to ask something about the old times as well?
You first worked with KISS when band was working on HOT IN THE SHADE album?
Yes. I did co-wrote a couple songs on HOT IN THE SHADE.
At that time band used some outside players in studio during the demo sessions. There was a rumor flying that Eric Singer was used on some demo tracks there. Do you remember if Eric was there because some time earlier he had just played with Paul on his solo tour in U.S?
No, not with Eric Singer. It might have been Kevin Valentine who played drums, some of the drums on PSYCHO CIRCUS. You know, a lot of those songs were written for HOT IN THE SHADE, you know that album was written back in the mid 80’s…what was it? 86-87?
Actually that was recorded in 1989….
Oh yes, 1989, I’m sorry. A lot of the things were written and demoed. That was kind of the thing back then, everybody would make demos and a lot of times use a drum machine for the demos. I think what we did on some of those, not we, but I was around, and I think what happened was they would take some of the demos, because the tracks were very good, and then put real drums on and record it that way. So I remember on the songs that Gene and I had demoed, those two songs, “Street Giveth and Street Giveth Away” and “Betrayed”…and then we came back in and basically took the tracks, and Eric Carr put the drums on. I think Bruce re-did some of the guitars. But some of the original guitars that I had done on the demo might be in there. I think there’s an acoustic guitar in there like on a couple of those like “Street Giveth”. I think they kept that in there possibly? It was kind of a weird way to approach it and interestingly when we did SONIC BOOM we didn’t do that which kind of keeps it in a fresher approach. We didn’t do demos of those songs. We just wrote them, at home, or in hotel rooms and just put them on a recorder like this one (points to Marko’s recording device for the interview).
But still had some members came in and did bring some old stuff there… “laughs”…
I’m talking the most part here… We put it on something like that and then we’d go and rehearse it as a band and then go and record it. I think that’s a much cooler way to go because sometimes you just get into the demos and you get “demoitis”. You start loving parts of that and how we recreate this and suddenly you lose kind of the original energy of the song that you had when you did the demo. So we didn’t do any demos this time, and I think that’s a good thing.
How about the recording sessions for REVENGE? You were involved with that album as well?
I was around. I came in and sang background vocals on a lot of those songs. Bob Ezrin was producing that one.
You also co wrote one song for that?
Not on REVENGE, no.
I did mistakenly remember that there was credit for you on one song as well but I was wrong… sorry “laughs”
There are couple things I did for On CARNIVAL OF SOULS, but not on REVENGE. You gotta get your facts straight there Bud (laughter). You’re surprising me here (laughs).
Right… Let’s talk about CARNIVAL OF SOULS –sessions then. You did some co writing for the album but I have learned that you were also present in a studio a lot when band was working on that one. Was that album a real band effort at all or was it more like Bruce Kulick and Eric working most stuff there without Paul and Gene’s absence?
I was there. I don’t think that’s exactly true from what I remember. I remember the band all being there and working in on this thing. We video-taped a lot of that stuff and they were all there recording that album as a band. Bruce was maybe in there a little bit more because he had a lot of input but I think he was writing a lot of those things with Gene and Paul. He was doing a lot of guitars and working on sounds but they were all in their recording. To me, my impression was that it was recorded pretty much as a band record. Although, they did demos…again which, you know, you kind of play that game a bit but it was pretty much all those guys in there. It wasn’t just them (Bruce and Eric) in there recording it all by themselves.
Alright Tommy…we’ve already used our 15 minutes but maybe you have time for just one more question?
OK, one more.
I met your old friend Adam Bomb some time ago and we did talk about the old days. How you two actually met in a first place?
Ha…old friend Adam! Ahhh….when Black N’ Blue first moved to Hollywood, we were living in this house on North Martel, right off the Strip…Sunset Strip. He was living in an apartment right across the street. And actually we had met him from before, because he’s from Seattle, we’re from Portland. We did a gig up in Seattle one time and he was in a second version of TKO. He was about 18. He was kind of hot shot guitar player, a young kid. We met him then and we hit it off a little bit and kind of stayed in touch. We’ve always stayed in touch. He’s just a funny guy and we’ve always been kind of friends. We stay in touch.
He also did audition for KISS back in 1982 or 1983?
Yeah I think he might have try out but a LOT of guitarist did back then. There were dozens of guitarists that they had in auditions from what I understand?
Thanks for your time Tommy.
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MORE PICTURES FROM KISS SHOW IN MALMO 2010