Big news for Kiss fans broke last week: Original guitarist and co-founding band member Ace Frehley will be joining Gene Simmons for his Children Matter Benefit Concert tomorrow at CHS Field in St. Paul.
Simmons and Frehley haven’t performed together in 16 years, and this surprising opportunity to see them onstage together may go a long way toward restoring harmony among the ranks of the Kiss Army
Simmons made no mention of the reunion when he spoke to me, prior to the announcement, by phone from his home office in Beverly Hills. He did talk eagerly about the upcoming event, a result of his philanthropic efforts with the local Matter organization.
An astute self-promoter, Simmons also managed to break some news about an upcoming box set of his work and his latest venture, the Gene Simmons band, which will be make its Twin Cities debut at tomorrow’s show.
City Pages: Hey Gene, really fun to talk to you, and I’m really excited about this big show. Tell me how you got hooked up with Matter, the local organization putting on this event.
Gene Simmons: Matter is based in Minneapolis and is headed by Megan and Dennis Doyle, who are possibly the largest real estate family in your area. They go out of their way to give back. In the past I have been involved in many of their charitable events, written checks to them myself, and they wanted to put on a Matter event in Los Angeles. I said that it’s difficult to get out of town folks interested so let’s start a new one called “The Children Matter” there.
Ultimately it’s really about getting help to the people that need it the most. That’s innocent children who can’t fend for themselves. Right now in Houston there are tens of thousands of families who are just destroyed by this hurricane. And you and me and everybody else in the Minneapolis and Saint Paul area can do something about it. You know, not get too morbid about it. Just go to a concert and have fun and know that the proceeds go to actually helping fellow Americans.
CP: I have to say one of the moments I was really impressed by on the Family Jewels show [Simmons’ '00s reality show on A&E] was when you went to Africa and you got involved in helping children there. So it seems like something you are really passionate and consistent about.
GS: Well, how about if you have a child and it happens to be born in the wrong place at the wrong time and you can’t feed your child, what can you do? So, whether it’s in Africa or in Houston after being hit by a hurricane, veterans who are returning and needing childcare, we all have to do our part. There’s a lot of need everywhere and we all need to do our part.
CP: Tikkun olam, my brother.
GS: Well said.
CP: I think people often don’t really see that side of Gene Simmons.
GS: I don’t care about that!
CP: Well, I think you get shortchanged about a lot of your efforts that are really positive.
GS: If I get shortchanged, then all my houses around the world thank you deeply. Not everybody likes Jesus either. My job isn’t to tug you on your shirt sleeves and try to convince you I’m a good guy. You know what, take it as you will. Some people like me. Some people don’t and that’s OK. Life’s too short.
CP: So tell me more about the solo band. This is a fairly new thing for you, correct?
GS: Yes, my favorite new band: the Gene Simmons Band. It started naturally this year. We headlined at the YPO Conference in Vancouver. The Canadian prime minister was there, Trudeau and so on. A lot of important people. They asked me to get up after my speech and play a few tunes. I said I can’t just do that. Let me think about it.
So I came back to them with some really great musicians who are based in Nashville. Without rehearsing, I sent them the song titles with the keys and we got up there in Vancouver and played and I was surprised on how good it was. You know, chemistry either exists or it doesn’t. It felt natural. Since the beginning of January this year we’ve done about 20 shows. We have another 20 or 30 to go. We leave for South America shortly and then Japan.
But this is all between what Kiss is doing. Because Kiss continues in full force. We’re playing four outdoor shows this month. Everybody’s busy and I don’t like to take time off.
CP: Do you feel like these gigs are a little easier, less choreography and not having to put on the suit and makeup every night. Is it a different kind of fun for you?
GS: It’s completely a different kind of fun. As girls will tell you, when they go out Saturday night and put on their little black dress it also means two hours of makeup and stuff, their high heels and all that. But when they get together with their fellow chicks and have a shopping day or to the movies, they might not get all dressed up or spend the time but it’s still fun. A different kind of fun.
CP: And you of course don’t mind all the attention on stage being focused on you, right?
GS: No, I’ve always been delusional in my sense of self. They call it self-esteem by I say it veers on delusional.
CP: So a friend of mine had been researching a studio here in Minneapolis, Sound 80, and he sent me a clipping he found about it that mentioned you had been recording some demos here at the time -- I think it was from ‘76. Do you recall that all?
GS: Yeah I do, that’s true and that’s a nice segue here..
CP: You like how I set that up for you? Tell me about that.
GS: This coming week I will be announcing the largest box set of all time. Containing 150 songs from the last 50 years. All these tracks have never been released. There’ll be songs Bob Dylan and I co-wrote together, the Kiss guys will be on it, Ace Frehley sings two songs. Joe Perry. It’s big! The largest box set of all time and it will be announced this week.
CP: And where does all this material come from? You’ve had a lot in storage? How many hours did you have to go through?
GS: Well if you were to listen to the box set all the way through it would take you 18 hours straight to get through it. I have hundreds of songs that have been recorded over the years that have never been put out. There’s a big ten pound book with studio photos and stories of where I did these demos. When you see it you will see your town’s name up in lights.
CP: Very cool. Well I know you sometimes talk some politics. I wanted to get your impression on Charlottesville and what happened. What are you feeling about the country and the extra focus on neo-fascism that’s happening? This must bother you in some ways.
GS: No it doesn’t. Actually, the fact that we are having this conversation is the healthiest thing that can happen. The fact that the neo-Nazis, the fascists, or the racists come up so we can actually see them, that America does have some cancer within it -- I think that’s a good thing. Let those people march. Let’s take photos of them and find out who they are for God’s sake. They walk among us! They are here to destroy America. That’s not going to stand.
In terms of our president, I know the man well enough. Look, politics aside, if you like what he says or if you hate what he says you have the ultimate power. We the people. The next time there’s an election cycle, if you like what the president does you’ll vote him in again. If don’t like him, you’ll vote him back out. But let’s not turn on each other.
People can’t agree on peanut butter and jelly. All right, well let’s just do peanut butter? But I like my jelly! The president is in charge, there are sections of government to check and balance him and unless he breaks the law he will be the president for three and a half more years. And then you can have the choice if he remains president or not.
CP: I just think a person with your background, some of this stuff would bother you a bit more personally?
GS: Everything bothers me! But you are leading the witness, your honor. The reason they have a curtain when you decide to vote is because it is nobody’s damn business. We vote our conscience and that’s what I encourage everybody to do. You can march on the streets, do whatever you want because that’s America. But disliking somebody because they have a different point of view. Really?
CP: Well, disliking the president because he doesn’t condemn certain factions...
GS: To turn on your friend or your next door neighbor is the height of stupidity. Everybody take a deep breath. The guy who disagrees with you, it’s his America too.
CP: Well, what I’ve always liked about Kiss and this upcoming event is your ability to bring people together for something really positive, and we’re looking forward to having you Gene.
GS: Thank you, I appreciate it. Stay well.
The Children Matter Benefit Concert
With: The Gene Simmons Band, Ace Frehley, Don Felder, Cheap Trick, the Jayhawks, and Flipp
Where: CHS Field
When: 7 p.m. Wed. Sept. 20
Tickets: All ages; more info here