In an anonymous building somewhere in North Hollywood, a handful of roadies stride about tuning guitars in front of an elaborate drum kit bearing the legendary logo: “KISS.” The instruments fall silent in unison to announce the entrance of the band’s hulking 6ft 2in bassist Gene Simmons. The 72-year-old wears leather trousers, an embroidered denim shirt, dark sunglasses and a black baseball cap illustrated with a cartoon dollar bag. His most recognisable appendage, that famous seven-inch reptilian tongue, is hidden completely behind a square of black cotton. Forget Frank Sinatra with a cold: Gene Simmons is wearing a face mask.
Simmons is taking pandemic precautions seriously, and with good reason. Within a week of our meeting, Kiss frontman Paul Stanley, the band’s only other original member, will test positive for Covid, and shortly afterwards Simmons will too. At least four stops on their farewell End of the Road tour will have to be postponed. Today, Simmons rejects a small back room as the venue for our interview on the grounds that we’ll be in too close quarters. Instead we sit socially distanced right in the middle of the rehearsal space, which brings its own problems. We’ve barely started talking when Simmons hears a murmur from the roadies now gathered in a far corner. “So you guys are going to talk while we’re doing an interview?” huffs Simmons before adding, to no one in particular: “Can you get him out of the room, please?”
He turns back to me, muttering: “He knows I know where he lives.”
This sort of performative assholery is part of the persona Simmons has cultivated in the almost five decades he’s spent as the fire-breathing demon of Kiss, part rock star and part pantomime villain. He seems to believe it is required of him. A few minutes later, one of the various electronic devices in the room makes the mistake of letting out an audible bleep. “That’s not irritating at all, that sound!” barks Simmons immediately, before adding to me, sotto voce: “See what I’m doing there? I’m torturing everybody. It’s my job.”