INTERVIEW AND PICTURES BY MARKO SYRJÄLÄ
Tommy Thayer has played with KISS for years, but for many fans, he’s still “the new member” in the band. Tommy replaced the original guitarist Ace Frehley in 2002, and since then, he’s been playing the “Spaceman” character in the band. Before joining the band full-time, Thayer has been working with some KISS members since the mid-’80s. Thayer’s old band, Black ’n Blue, was signed with Gene Simmons’s Simmons Records, and after Black ‘n Blue broke up in 1989, Thayer’s became very close with the KISS camp. Although KISS turns thirty-seven this year, they’re still going on strong and continue making successful tours in front of massive crowds worldwide. The current lineup released its first studio album titled SONIC BOOM last year, and it’s another milestone in the band’s long history. KISS started the new tour’s European leg, titled” Sonic Boom Over Europe,” last month in the U.K. The circus arrived Malmo in early June, and there I had the chance to sit down with Tommy and hear the latest KISS news from the “Spaceman” himself.
SPACEMAN IN EUROPE
Well, I can’t hesitate to ask that after being eight years how does it feel to be the Spaceman now?
“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 has this current “Sonic Boom Over Europe” tour been going so far? I’ve heard and read that the tour has got great reviews and the fans seem to be very pleased.
The “Sonic Boom Over Europe” tour has been phenomenal. We are very happy with how things are going, you know, great crowds, big turn out – a lot of sellouts, the band sounds great, reviews, everything’s has been so positive, we couldn’t be any happier.
Your previous tour two years ago was a huge success as well. If you compare this tour to that “Alive 35” –tour, which one do you prefer more?
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 somehow. 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 of new songs -we’re 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 a great thing about his new tour is that you’ve added more songs from the bands 80/90’s era to the setlist. Songs like: “Crazy, Crazy Nights” and “God Gave Rock n Roll to You II” are more than welcome to the set. 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 of the sound and the equipment. Even what Bruce was using in the ’80s 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 sort 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 whereas 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 theoretic question, but what if Gene and Paul someday decide to add more songs from LICK IT UP and CREATURES OF THE NIGHT to the setlist?
(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 what – all those songs weren’t necessarily him playing all the guitars. Steve Ferris played some of that stuff too. There were others as well – but again, that’s kind of further away from my style and even an Ace type of style, so you know just have to see, but it’s definitely a lot different because that was the early 80’s. It’s just a different kind of environment for guitars at that time. Everybody played with Jackson’s and Charvel’s, and players were more of a getting into the shred mentality, but I don’t think that really is the thing. 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 are a few songs where it was, but overall I’ve got to go more for the overall sound.
Speaking about SONIC BOOM’s writing and recording, how long overall was the process from start to finish?
Not long. 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 a couple of things up and then just recorded them within 2-3 takes. It was great, very simple.
Before the album was released, the band stated that all the SONIC BOOM material is new, and everything was written in the studio. Still, the fact is, there are a couple of songs on the album, which are actually based on old demos from the ’70s. So what’s the real truth in this matter?
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). 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, Paul, for example. He writes a riff, and 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.
With SONIC BOOM, KISS went back to its old 70’s style. For me, the album does sound more like 70’s KISS than PSYCHO CIRCUS did. But I would like to ask about your guitar work on SONIC BOOM. How would you describe your playing style and solos on this album?
It’s a combination of reasons, and first of all, I think SONIC BOOM is kind of a combination of all. To me, it sounds like all areas of KISS, in a way, not just the ’70s. We wanted to make a classic KISS album, you’ve heard Paul saying that, including 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 combined with the fact that I grew up listening to Ace and other great guitar players of the ’70s. 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. If I try to make the guitar solos to stay away from that too much, I don’t think it would sound 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?
Paul has recently stated that there will be another KISS album in the works in the future. Do you know anything more about that?
I heard that.
Did you read it from the Internet as I did? (laughter).
(Laughs) No, I heard it from the interview because I was standing there when he did it. We’ve talked about doing another record. I think it’s a very good possibility. With things going, I think it makes sense, and I think that the Kiss fans would probably also love another great record.
Do you already have new material ready to be recorded at this point?
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 the band was working HOT IN THE SHADE album?
Yes. I did co-write a couple of songs on HOT IN THE SHADE.
At that time, the band used outside players in the studio during the demo sessions. There was a rumor saying that Eric Singer played on some demo tracks. Do you remember if Eric was there because he had recently played in Paul’s solo band on tour a bit earlier?
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-’80s…what was it? 86-87?
HOT IN THE SHADE 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, and 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, some of the band members bring in some old stuff that was used on the album? “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 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 somehow 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.
Let’s talk a bit about CARNIVAL OF SOULS –sessions. I had learned that you were a lot present in a studio when the band was recording that album. From your perspective, was that album a real band effort, or was it more like Bruce Kulick and Eric being in the studio and doing most of the stuff 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 videotaped a lot of that stuff, and they were all there recording that album as a band. Bruce was maybe in there a little more because he had a lot of input, but I think he was writing many 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, 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.
I met your old friend Adam Bomb in Finland some time ago. We talked about the good old days and how you know each other from those times. Do you still remember him?
Hah!! My old friend Adam! When Black N’ Blue first moved to Hollywood, we lived in this house on North Martel, right off the Strip…Sunset Strip. He was living in an apartment right across the street. We had actually met him before because he’s from Seattle, we’re both from Portland. We did a gig up in Seattle one time, and he was in the second version of TKO. He was about 18. He was kind of a hotshot 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.
By the way, he also went to KISS auditions in 1982. Did you know that?
Yeah, I think he might have tried out, but a LOT of guitarists did back then. There were dozens of guitarists that they had in auditions, from what I understand?
Thanks for your time Tommy.
FOR MORE INFO GO TO:
MORE PICTURES FROM KISS SHOW IN MALMO 2010