Gene Simmons is at the other end of a Zoom call. He’s at his home in LA with the family and the dogs, interested in spreading the word about his latest entrepreneurial endeavor: a Canadian-sourced vodka called Moneybag. Here’s how the conversation went.
Alan Cross: The last time we spoke, you called me a “very handsome man.” That’s sustained me through the pandemic. Thank you. I do have some new questions for you. How many KISS products are there now?
Gene Simmons: It’s a living, breathing thing, so there are always new ones and old ones that lapse in their window of opportunity. But I’d approximate between 3,500 to 4,000. Lifetime? North of 5,000.
AC: You’ve always struck me as a straight-edge sort of person…
GS: I’ve never willingly or consciously taken drugs or smoked. I’ve never been high, I’ve never been drunk, and I’ve never smoked cigarettes.
AC: So why this new vodka?
GS: Why not? We have a restaurant chain called Rock & Brews and I don’t necessarily partake in all the stuff on the menu, but it’s not about me. As the head of a company…I’m not a fan of spinach, but if you want a spinach souffle, my job is to give you the best spinach souffle you’ve ever had. So I don’t personally drink, but so what? There are plenty of people who love vodka and Moneybag vodka is a superior vodka. If you love vodka, you’re not going to find anything better. It’s five times distilled.
AC: You’re distilling Moneybag in Canada…
GS: That’s because the machinery is new. This is a new operation. I own the moneybag logo–the one with the dollar sign in the middle [Gene has owned that trademark worldwide for 28 years and has used it on a variety of merch and products]–and not only will you be pleasantly surprised, but you will appreciate the high-end quality of the vodka. And you’ll never throw the bottle away because it’s art. You can’t come close to that design [the moneybag logo] without me coming for your firstborn.
We looked around and found a Canadian company called Glazier and did some prototypes for what the bottle might look like. [My partner and I] decided to raise the ante and give people something they won’t believe. You’ll never want to get rid of that bottle. Put some flowers in it and goodnight, Irene. It’ll be a family keepsake for a long time.
AC: What’s the base of the vodka? Is it rye, wheat…?
GS: I don’t know. When I drive my truck and you lift the hood and you start talking to me about the engine, I don’t know what you’re talking about. And I’m that way with music. I’ve written hundreds of songs and sold 100 million albums, but if you ask me to read a piece of music, I can’t. I can’t read or write music. So you surround yourself with people that understand what you’re talking about and you keep your eye on the big picture.
[NOTE: I went out and bought a bottle of Moneybag with my own money. I honestly–and quite surprisingly–found it to be quite good, somewhere on the level of Tito’s. (No, really!) And in Ontario, it’s only US$29.95 a bottle.]
AC: What else have you been doing during the pandemic? I’ve heard something about you and painting.
GS: I spent quite a bit of time last year in Whistler, BC, with Shannon, who is a Newfie (both of our kids are dual citizens). Because of the pandemic, I self-quarantined and I had time. So I rented out a warehouse. I’ve always doodled all my life so I started painting. I ordered eight-foot-wide and about four-foot-high canvases and just started painting, never thinking anyone would care or give me the time of day.
The paintings–almost 40 of them–happened to catch the eye of the largest art gallery in Las Vegas. There was a big art show. I didn’t know what I was doing, but apparently people like it. I’d never tried paintbrushes. I didn’t understand how the combinations of paint worked on top of each other, what acrylics did. You do it, fall on your face and get up and try again.
I also learned stuff about crypto from a nice guy named Tyler Winklevoss, one of the Winklevoss twins. He was kind enough to mentor me. And I dove into it. I threw millions of dollars into it. I bought Bitcoin at about $10,000. I personally believe it’ll go to $100,000 in six months to a year. I’ve got about 14 different cryptos: Ethereum, Litecoin–all kinds of stuff.
AC: I’m surprised there isn’t a KISS crypto.
GS: Working on it, sir.
(At this point, we were joined by George the husky. Nice looking dog.)
AC: The very first concert I saw in my life was July 21, 1978, in Winnipeg Area, KISS with openers Cheap Trick. What is the future of KISS? I can’t imagine a world without KISS so tell me what’s happening.
GS: Well, we’re busy building the KISS Museum in Las Vegas at the Rio Hotel. There’s a KISS motion picture that’s about to start filming. And there’s going to be a cartoon show and other things. So KISS will continue to exist in various forms. But the touring band should stop–and I’ll tell you why.
You’re a fan of Mick Jagger and I’m a fan of Mick Jagger. He’s in fantastic shape. And Keith, too. But if you put Keith into my outfit which weighs about 40 pounds and the dragon boots that are about seven inches off the ground and you have to spit fire and you have to fly through the air to the top of the stage…and I’m telling you that after a half-hour, they’d pass out.
We can’t keep doing what we’re doing–just the physicality of it. The problem with KISS is we sweat like you at a spelling bee. And therein lies the integrity and self-respect. That’s what it’s all about. I’m 72. Still have some hair. And I don’t want to stay on stage too long. I’ve seen so many bands I’ve liked…and what’s missing now are wheelchairs. Have some self-respect. Go out on top. And that’s what we’re doing.
We have another 100 cities or so to go and after that, the touring band will cease.
AC: So there are no plans for KISS to continue without you and Paul?
GS: Nothing is impossible. A few years ago, Mark Burnett and I were pitching a show called KISS: The Next Generation, which was going to be kind of a competition show to find out who’s worthy to wear the crown–who’s got the stuff, the physicality, and the ability to write songs.
Anything is possible. Did I think there would ever be a KISS Kruise, the museum, and ad infinitum, ad nauseum, and thousands of licensed products? No! The only thing that matters is doing cool stuff while you’re alive so that when you croak, people can point and say “Yeah, that guy did cool stuff.”
AC: One last question: You’re not going to sell your catalogue to anyone, are you?
GS: How much have you got? Bob Dylan sold his stuff for $300-400 million. The problem–and I love the guy and worship the ground he walks on–but [his music] isn’t going to mean a lot to a 20-year-old. They don’t care about “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” “Maggie’s Farm”–they just don’t. Very few pieces of music stand the test of time. What KISS has that no other musical entity has is trademarks. Our faces are bigger than the music, bigger than anything.
Springsteen just sold for $500 million and what you get is the music, not the imagery. I’ve never seen a Springsteen cartoon, comic book, or action figures. KISS is the only one. So what you’re buying into–if anyone does the right price–you’re into buying the imagery that has stood the test of time. Our analogy is Santa Claus/Superman: Imagery that is trademarked so that no one can reproduce. And no other musical act has that.
This interview was lightly edited for length and clarity.