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Gene Simmons uncut: KISS icon talks vodka, anti-vaxxers and final tour


‘We should remember, once the pandemic is over, remember the next door neighbour who didn’t care enough about you to protect you,’ the KISS bassist/singer tells the Sun

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Gene Simmons won’t touch alcohol.

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Still, his aversion to booze wasn’t going to stop the marketing genius from seeing there was an opportunity to extend his MoneyBag venture to the spirits business.

After all, the co-founder of KISS has represented companies that sell insurance, soda, cannabis, clothing, books, jewelry and plenty of other things he’s not personally interested in.

But when Simmons sees an opportunity to make a buck, he’s all ears.

“I wanted to do a spirits line, specifically vodka, even though I don’t drink because it ain’t about me,” the 72-year-old bassist/ singer says as a way of introducing MoneyBag Vodka, which launched recently in Ontario, Manitoba, Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador.

“If you’re a chef and you hate carrots and somebody came up and said, ‘I love your restaurant, make me a carrot souffle,’ what are you going to say? ‘I personally don’t like carrots therefore you shouldn’t either.’ That’s not how life goes.

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“I’m not always excited to play Rock and Roll All Nite again as we have been doing for close to half a century, but the fans want it and that’s what you do.”

Along with the vodka, which won platinum at the 2021 SIP Awards, Simmons is gearing up to resume KISS’ End of the Road Farewell Tour next year and is putting the finishing touches on a museum dedicated to the glam rockers that is slated to open in Las Vegas in the spring.

During the pandemic, he started painting, unveiling his first art exhibit last fall.

“At the end of the day, if you’re running a race, the best thing you can do is look forward and be the best you can be. If you’re looking around for kudos or approval, you’re just going to be a follower.”

Singer-bassist Gene Simmons of KISS performs during The End of the Road World Tour in Toronto on March 20, 2019.
Singer-bassist Gene Simmons of KISS performs during The End of the Road World Tour in Toronto on March 20, 2019. Photo by Ernest Doroszuk /Toronto Sun

After being infected by the coronavirus last summer, Simmons, whose stage persona is The Demon, also became an outspoken advocate for getting vaccinated against the disease.

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“If you’re willing to walk among us unvaccinated, you are an enemy,” he said in an interview with host Steve Harkins on Talkshoplive’s Rock N’ Roll Channel .

“Next, I’m thinking of starting KISS-tianity. What do you think? Would people worship at my feet?”

Always the businessman, Simmons breaks into a grin as he contemplates the idea and sees dollar signs. “The best part is: It’s a religion, so it’s tax-free.”

In a wide-ranging conversation from his home in Los Angeles, Simmons discussed KISS’ longevity, retirement, anti-vaxxers and shared his New Year’s resolutions.

I’ve always been impressed with the amount of stuff KISS licenses its name to. How did that come about for the band?

“The idea of merchandise licensing came from Disney. Personally, I’ve always hated the idea that there are rules. Like if you’re in a rock band, you’re not supposed to sell out … Who are these people that make up these rules? Usually, they’re still living in their mother’s basement in their 40s. I tend to ignore critics. They have no experience and no qualifications. They haven’t done anything.

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Gene Simmons of KISS performing their End Of The Road World Tour at Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa, April 3, 2019.
Gene Simmons of KISS performing their End Of The Road World Tour at Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa, April 3, 2019. Photo by Errol McGihon /Postmedia

“But the idea started when we noticed a few fans showing up at our early shows wearing these homemade KISS T-shirts. They liked our logo and they started to make their own. We saw that and we thought, ‘We should start doing that’ … So it was the classic business model: Give the audience what it wants. Since then there have been things you couldn’t imagine. There are KISS cruises and a KISS golf course … you can get KISS condoms and KISS caskets, so we’ll catch you coming and going.”

KISS turns 50 next year. What was the key to the band’s success?

“Everything is business and you have to figure out how to make it work, otherwise you can’t go quit your day job to do what you want to do. Rockers are morons, drugs get in the way and alcohol … but you can’t pay attention to that. So KISS always took care of business and continues to. That means, when you’re a car and you get a flat tire, you get rid of the tire so you can continue on your journey. You can’t let one or two flat tires stop you. (We had) a few dysfunctional people who preferred alcohol and drugs to doing their best. So, we love Ace (Frehley) and Peter (Criss) and we keep in touch and I wish them well, but not everybody is designed to run a marathon.”

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Why was now the right time to end things for KISS? The Rolling Stones are still going as is Paul McCartney.

“If you took those esteemed gentlemen and stuck them into my outfit with dragon boots that are seven inches high they will feel the pain … Each dragon boot weighs close to a bowling ball. All in, I’ve got 40 pounds on with the bass I’m carrying around on stage. I’ve got to do that for two hours, spit fire and fly through the air. Respectfully, if Keith Richards, who I can’t tell you how much I admire him, but if he got into my outfit, he would pass out in half an hour. The physicality of what we do … we are simply the hardest working band in show business — period.

Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley of KISS performing on their End of the Road World Tour at Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa on April 3, 2019.
Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley of KISS performing on their End of the Road World Tour at Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa on April 3, 2019. Photo by Errol McGihon /Postmedia

“I could have been smarter. I could have tried to join U2 or the Stones and put on a comfortable pair of sneakers and a T-shirt and I would have been fine. So why do we want to quit? I’m 72 and when we stop I’ll be 74 … I still have my hair, but I have a lot more on my back. Now I have Chewbacca ass. Do you know what that is? I have so much hair on my ass I have to put a part in it when I sit down to do my number two business.

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“But we’re doing the right thing by the fans. We have too much self respect to stay out there a day longer if we can’t live up to our self-mandated manifesto: You wanted the best, you got the best. It’s not, ‘Hey, I remember when they were good.’ We’re not fat, bloated Elvis that should have quit earlier.”

I didn’t know that you discovered Van Halen. You made headlines for dumping David Lee Roth as KISS’ opening act on the End of the Road tour last summer.

“That isn’t true. David did come out on tour with us for a long time. We had a great time. Then when the pandemic hit we changed course. Every once in a while I run off at the mouth, and I said a few things that hurt David’s feelings. I apologized. But as a statement of fact, no frontman ever, including Elvis, was able to do what David did during the heyday of Van Halen. No one touched him — even Paul Stanley. I’ll get in trouble for saying that.”

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You wrote an op-ed for our newspaper in 2017 urging everyone — the right and left — to agree to disagree. Is that still the case?

“Yeah. The problem is the left and right simply don’t speak … The one thing people forget about is no matter what you think and how you think, everyone is still just a human being. The other thing is, in times of emergency, people forget that right before World War II, there were isolationists and nationalists and all kinds of ists. But as soon as the Japanese made a big mistake and attacked Pearl Harbor, and as soon as the Germans thought the Americans weren’t coming over, all of a sudden the pacifists and the Canadians and Americans and the rest of the civilized world gave them an ass beating. They got their ass handed to them. I have my own opinions of the atom bomb and I’m sure if I (share them) I’ll get in deep trouble. We would do well to remember that in the Vietnam era that the colleges were shut down by well-meaning people, but they were destroying things. They were burning things, so of course the reaction was violence from the authorities.

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Gene Simmons with Toronto Sun editorial-in-chief Adrienne Batra.
Gene Simmons with Toronto Sun editorial-in-chief Adrienne Batra. Photo by Jack Boland /Toronto Sun

“So the best thing is to agree to disagree, and non-violently just discuss. Right now there is a horrific undercurrent of far-right hatred and racism going on. But the far-left are knuckleheads and unrealistic. The fact that anyone would say anything against Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos misses the idea that people — and these people are creating jobs — can become billionaires. Go for it. Anyone can do that, but you have to be at the right place at the right time with the right thing.

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“The biggest problem is politicians really don’t have qualifications for life or commentary about life. They’re really good at saying the thing you need to hear to vote for them. That’s their job. So I want more business people in politics. People who understand what life is about. Maybe there should be a new hashtag because of cancel culture and all that. Someone should start the hashtag, Gof— yourself. A lot of people would join.”

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You made headlines for branding people refusing to take the coronavirus vaccine as the “enemy” last month. Were you surprised by the reaction to your comments?

“I understand it’s a passionate thing, but the logic evades me. It’s not about your personal rights, it’s about my rights. I don’t want you getting everyone else sick. You don’t want to get vaccinated because you want to be free to spread disease? Yeah, (those people) are the enemy. We should remember, once the pandemic is over, remember the next door neighbour who didn’t care enough about you to protect you. There should be repercussions. … I don’t want someone increasing my chance of getting a paper cut let alone COVID, why would I give you that right?

“It’s not about curtailing other people’s rights — you should have all the rights you want … on top of a mountain. Go to Nome, Alaska, sit on top of a mountain and s— in your diapers. I don’t care, nobody cares. Selfish bastards … yeah, they are the enemy. They don’t care about you. They care about themselves more than you.”

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What does Gene Simmons do on New Year’s Eve?

“I’ll be with my family, my wife and our two kids, Nick and Sophie. We are the luckiest people in the world — people in western civilization. Imagine trying to disagree with the Chinese government about the CDC guidelines. They’d shoot you in the back of the head … The miracle of democracy is it even allows morons to threaten to dangerously infect the rest of us.”

Any New Year’s resolutions?

“I’d like to be a kinder, better-looking and richer guy. Not all of that is going to happen, but I can certainly become a better person. I can be kinder, give more to philanthropy and reach out — even to people I disagree with completely. We all live on this planet and you’re not going to be able to change everybody’s mind and that’s OK. Agree to disagree.”

For info on MoneyBag Vodka, visit moneybagvodka.com .

mdaniell@postmedia.com

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