By Justin Press
If your band came of age during the Nixon years and landed their highest ranked album on the Billboard charts in the Obama era, you've definitely done something right. In KISS's case, it was creating a groundbreaking live band utilizing grand theater with gritty street themes, motivating a nation of fans to form an army around you, developing a marketing and merchandising industry that matches Ringling Brothers, and then creating a catalog of rock 'n' roll anthems and dark passages.
The founding members - fire-breathing bassist Gene Simmons and flamboyant frontman Paul Stanley - have steered this ship since 1972, and after much success, much turmoil and a bit of tragedy, they have finally formed a union with two like-minded musicians in drummer Eric Singer and lead guitarist Tommy Thayer (a longtime behind-the-scenes guy with the group). Their new album, Sonic Boom, has cracked the #2 spot on the album charts, a feat not accomplished by any of their previous albums, including Destroyer, Love Gun or Dynasty.
Who could believe that a band that topped the charts in 1978 is now, believe it or not, even bigger 31 years later? ENVY had the chance to speak with newest member and Spaceman, Tommy Thayer, about living the dream.
ENVY: The new album, Sonic Boom, was initially hyped as being a return to the sound that KISS captured in the '70s. In your view, did the band find that sound again?
Tommy Thayer: To me, I think the album delves into everything from the early albums to Revenge. It wasn't the intention to just sound like one era of the band, but a cross-section of what has been done before but giving it an updated sound.
Well, for long-time fans, the jacket will immediately remind them of Rock And Roll Over, and some tracks like "Nobody's Perfect" could have been from Love Gun, so it does hit the mark. For your playing, was there a certain sound you wanted to retain?
Well, I wanted to bring my own interpretation of what people have come to expect, but also with the new album, it freed me up to create a signature sound for myself and the band since it's a new KISS record.
Obviously, with this being a new KISS record, it must be refreshing to put your stamp on it.
For sure. I have been copying guitar sounds and solos for some time now, and that is out of respect for the songs and the fans, but it is nice to be able to bring my own ideas to the classic KISS structure.
A lot of people don't realize your role before the new full-time one you have as a band member was quite extensive with the band.
Well, I've been behind the scenes for years working on video editing, working on songs with Paul and Gene and back when they reunited in 1996. I helped Ace relearn some of his solos that he hadn't played in years. So when the time came for the band to continue forth and make some changes, I was put into this role I have now. Sonic Boom helped me be fully realized in KISS.
For the new tour, "Alive 35," from the looks of concert footage available, it looks more video-oriented than past tours. Is it necessary to stay up with technology for a live setting, or could this band bring out the "Alive II" set minus video and still blow minds?
What people don't realize is that the "Alive II" set is really not that big - it was at the time because most bands weren't doing that kind of show in the 1970s. But today, the stage we use is huge, so we needed to be able to fill it up and give fans an opportunity to see us from anywhere in the arena. With the video, it means that something is always visually going on.
For you, personally, is there a part of the new show that is your favorite aspect?
Well, my solo is something I've been working on, and I've been utilizing the ability to launch rockets and flares from my guitar. It's just a great effect and the crowds have been really enjoying it.
Other than the bombast, fire and blood, what else can audiences expect or is that pulling back the curtain too far?
Great rock 'n' roll, the classics and what people want to hear, plus some new stuff from Sonic Boom that will let them know that we are still creating some great music. Otherwise, it's two hours of non-stop spectacle. It's what you expect from KISS, and we continue to deliver.