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We Forced Gene Simmons to Listen to Skepta, Death Grips, Radiohead, and More

"Thom Yorke, in particular, gets very upset when I talk about them."

If anybody is well-known for their tongue, it’s Gene Simmons from KISS. At the start of our conversation, however, I can’t be totally sure I’ve got Gene Simmons from KISS at all. On hearing my English accent he launches into a British impersonation of his own, sounding somewhere between a Dickensian orphan and Danny Dyer in panto, “Yeah-you-know-wot-I-mean? Here I am working my fingers to the bone all day.” There is a pause. He continues, in the low, purr of his normal voice. “How do you like my colonial accent?”


In an attempt to widen our collective perspectives, Noisey has, in the past, asked Tom Jones, Will Young, Idris Elba, and even Cradle of Filth to review the most talked about new music in the world. Partly because we just want to witness things like Tom Jones vibing out in his seat to Section Boyz and chanting "Brush your teeth!" when Lady Leshurr comes on, but mostly because we want the esteemed point of view of a wise owl on the sounds we hear today.

Of all the wise owls in the world, KISS are up there. Through a combination of face-paint, more merchandise than the Toy Story franchise, and a shit-load of pyro, the band have maintained their status as one of the biggest bands in the world; elevating themselves from a glam-rock band into a phenomenon, which became a cottage industry, which became an empire.

As Gene coolly reminds me when I mistakenly refer to the late 1970s as the band’s "peak"—“The peak is now. We are sitting here atop Mount Olympus as America’s number one gold record award winning band of all time, in all categories. No other American band has more gold records.” On May 25, the band have a film of one of their live shows, KISS Rocks Vegas, hitting cinemas around the world. The film is billed as featuring flames that are “hotter than hell.”

“KISS is a live show,” Gene adds when I ask about their on-stage spectacle. “I would say we never realized how great a record we might have made because we never spent enough time in the studio, we were always too impatient.” He discusses the band's modern legacy less as a musical venture and more as a franchise. “We have a motion picture opening around the world, we have a KISS Kruise, KISS golf courses, we outsell the Beatles and the Stones combined, we do things other bands could never do.”


In the past, Mr G Simmons has contributed such sparkling music criticism to the canon of humanity as "rap will die" and "rock is dead" and, last but not least, "EDM is honest." So who better to review the latest cuts that are knocking around the Noisey stereo, and just tell us straight how they feel about 2016's bangers? In a post-genre age of hyper-connectedness and content plenty, what would the Demon make of Death Grips, or Skepta, or the latest offering from Radiohead? Or even the new Red Hot Chili Peppers song? Well, here's what.


Noisey: OK, I thought we'd start with something that might be a little up your street. The new Red Hot Chili Peppers. Are you a fan?
Gene: I’ve always found them to be unique and exciting, and the great thing about the Chili Peppers is they know who they are, and they know what their DNA is. That’s the most important thing a band needs to figure out about themselves. This tune sounds like classic Chili Peppers. Their fans are going to love it. They’re a rock band, but they clearly have decided to march to the beat of their own drummer. Their guitars never sound like a rock band, it’s never turned up, they rap, there’s a funky bass player, Flea, who must have been a James Brown fan. It’s not classic rock, but it sure is rock.

So you’re a fan?
Oh yeah. Really like it.

Good start. Right, let's get down to it.


How about Death Grips?
I’m not qualified to talk about the genre, so I can’t really comment on if this is good material. It sure as hell ain’t rock. I recently had my NWA moment with Ice Cube who I get along with great, I think he’s a great guy, great father. But NWA doesn’t belong in the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame in the same way Kiss doesn’t belong in the hip-hop hall of fame. By definition that’s what it is. Rock is guitars, drums, amplifiers. We may have started in the same place, black music in America, but we evolved into different places. And people always pull out the race card, which is so stupid, it’s just handy, you can always pick it up. My favorite guitarist is black. Jimi Hendrix. He doesn’t belong in the hip-hop hall of fame. He’s perhaps the pre-eminent rock guitarist of all time. So, in short, I’m not qualified to say anything about Death Grips, but good luck to them.


You’re not intrigued to find out more about them?
As soon as I hear someone talking over a drum machine beat, I’m out.


How about Radiohead’s latest offering, “Burn the Witch”?
It’s difficult for other bands to do Radiohead songs, because of the strength of their identity. Their identity is key to the song, specifically Thom Yorke’s voice. Thom Yorke has got one of the great voices in modern rock. He could do whatever he wanted with that voice. He could rap, he could sing pop, he could be the new lead singer of the Four Seasons if he wanted to.

So you’re a big Radiohead fan?
I’m very much a Radiohead fan. Funny thing is, Thom Yorke in particular gets very upset when I talk about them. I’m a great fan but I know that they hate everything we do—the over the top visuals, the licensing, the merchandise, we love all that. We bathe in it. That’s not something they want to do. The great thing about Radiohead is that they never tried to look like anyone else. Will Radiohead fans like “Burn the Witch?” Oh yeah. Could Michael Bublé do a version of "Burn the Witch"? I’m not sure that’s a good idea.

Do you have an all time favorite Radiohead song?
My favorite Radiohead song is still their breakout single, “Creep.” And my favorite Blur song is that number five thing, “Woohoo!” That’s just my taste.


How about Justin Timberlake’s new single?
Justin. I mean, you’ve got to give it to the guy. He came from a boy band and decided to just roll up his sleeves. His critics say he’s just a white Michael Jackson, but then… so was Michael Jackson. See what I did there?


Yes, that was… problematic.
Oh, I’ve said worse.

What about “Can’t Stop the Feeling”?
This is going to be a big summer song, very well written, great chord changes, infectious beat, and the guy can actually sing. It’s a well written song. I wish Timberlake and everyone else would stop using the word dance though.


OK, last one, what did you make of Skepta?
Asking me about this is like asking my mother what she thinks of Miles Davis. We’re not qualified to comment.

You really don’t have an opinion on it?
No, but that’s the great thing about music. It’s like going into a huge restaurant. You might not like everything on the menu but there’s something there for everybody’s taste. This is just not my taste.

Is any rap or hip-hop to your taste?
My favorite rap song of all time is Sir Mix-a-lot, the "big butt" song. It’s so infectious I wind up walking round the house sticking my butt out as if I was in jail. You know what I mean?

That’s a powerful image.
Sorry I threw up a little bit in my mouth thinking about that, of course I’d rather throw up a little bit in your mouth, but that’s a different story…

You’re a powerful and attractive man.

OK, bye.


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The new KISS live film is hitting cinemas across the world on May 25.