GENE SIMMONS: Writing With BOB DYLAN Was 'One Of The Real Life Highlights For Me'
April 7, 2018
KISS bassist Gene Simmons recently appeared on "The Rhino Podcast" to discuss his new box set, "Gene Simmons: The Vault Experience: 1966-2016". The full conversation can be streamed below (interview starts at the 3:10 mark). A few excerpts follow (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET):
On the song "My Uncle Is A Raft", which dates back to 1966:
Gene: "About a year and a half to two years after I first saw THE BEATLES on 'The Ed Sullivan Show', I taught myself how to strum acoustic guitar and started coming up with melodies and lyrics. One of the first songs I ever wrote was a song called 'My Uncle Is A Raft'. Most people don't know, or maybe don't care, that I started playing guitar. I wasn't a bass player, and I found out that [Paul] McCartney, likewise — although I'm no McCartney — actually played guitar first. I didn't know what the words meant or anything else. I had an uncle George, who was like a substitute father figure for me because mine ran out a long time ago."
On why he felt it was important to release the "Vault":
Gene: "For me, this is a life's work, but really a hidden life's work. Nobody's heard this; it's never been released, and I guess part and parcel of the fact that my songwriting [has] never been linear. I have other alter-egos that the fans have never heard. They know about 'War Machine' and 'Calling Dr. Love' and 'Rock And Roll All Nite', but there's an awful lot of other stuff which you just can't quite put your thumb on, your finger on, because stylistically, it just doesn't sound like KISS. Other tunes like sound like songs KISS should have recorded. For me, this is a labor of love... Up until now, I never released it because I didn't want to do just a piece of it. I wanted, piggishly, to release all of it, but [the] record industry was in chaos, dysfunction. The fans were downloading and file-sharing and iClouds and popcorn farts and other things, so you couldn't hold something in your hand. In my era, records were art. I used to buy albums just for the artwork, and there were art shows, art galleries, that talked about the art of putting together an album. The packaging was every bit as important. You were making a statement. It was art. Now, it's just music. And KISS has the same philosophy — we took great pride in putting the album package together, as well as the shows. Audio-visual. You want to let somebody feel it, touch it, hear it, [and] if we could make him taste it and use all five senses, it's what we would like to do. This is as close as I can get to using as many of your senses as possible."
On writing with Bob Dylan, the results of which are included in the "Vault":
Gene: "The way the Bob Dylan/Gene Simmons relationship started is that, like most things in my life, I don't care about the consequences, because the only thing that's possible on the negative side is 'No — you're on crack. Why would you think you could write a song with Bob Dylan?' On the positive side, it's, 'Yeah, sure, why not?' There are only two choices, so why not? You've got about a fifty-fifty [shot], so I picked up the phone and called the manager, who was telling me, 'Well, you know, everyone wants to write with Bob.' But within two days, Bob was over at my house in an unmarked white van with an acoustic guitar. He came up to my place and we sat around — me with my guitar, he with his guitar — and just started strumming and coming up with ideas, lyrics, melody, chords, and three songs came out of that. That was one of the real life highlights for me."
On experiencing changes in recording technology first-hand:
Gene: "When I first started recording, it was on a two-track. There were only four-track machines in use at that time in 1966. By 1967, THE BEATLES had gone in to record 'Sgt. Pepper'; they used two four-track machines. There were no eight-track machines. There [was] very primitive recording equipment. Through the years, my songs kept being recorded on all kinds of different technology that was available at the time — two-track, four-track, eight-track, 16-track, 32-track, and then finally, 72 tracks. The thing that you wind up learning over the years is more is not necessarily better. Sometimes, less is more. A good song's a good song, and it's tough to write a good song. I'm talking about myself or anybody else, except for THE BEATLES, goddammit, who seem to have been able to write hundreds of good songs. Most of us, you're lucky if you get just a handful out of a hundred."
On why he wanted to hand-deliver the "Vault" to those who buy it:
Gene: "I'm going to roll up my sleeves and hop on a commercial flight and I'm going to go to the fans, wherever they are, at a convenient time and convenient place, and literally hand the largest box set of all time into their sweaty little paws. That has to do with something that I never got as a kid. Elvis [Presley] never knocked on my front door and yelled inside, 'Hey, Gene, open up. Check out my new album. It's Elvis.' There's always that separation between fan and band. You're on stage; the fans are standing on their seats in the audience, but you've got a separation from the stage. If I'm walking down the street or going into a hotel, there's security — 'All right, stand back.' I'm [using] no private jets, none of that stuff — I'm going to get on a commercial flight, go around the world and hand-deliver the box sets to every fan that gets it... I'm going to literally hand-deliver [it]. Me. Not some delivery guy, not UPS. I'm going to be the one that's going to hand-deliver the proudest thing I've ever done to the fans... I'm the luckiest son of a bitch who ever walked the face of the planet. I get to be in America's number-one gold record award-winning group of all time. I get to wear more makeup and higher heels than chicks do. I get to have an awful lot of fun on stage — spit fire, do all that kind of stuff... I don't want to come off like a used car salesman. This is not for everybody; it's just for the super-fans who want it, and I'm here to do it, because I'm going to be out there for a year. KISS is not touring. We're going to do maybe five shows in Spain, and that's it, so for the next twelve months, I'm going around the world, and I'm going to devote myself to meeting my bosses. Truthfully, I'm doing this for myself. I'm 68 now. I'm closer to the end than I was when I was 20 years old, and when I see the finish line coming up, I speed up, and I do more, and so do most of us. When we're 20 years old, we're stupid, wet behind the ears, we think we're invulnerable and we'll last forever. I want to do this as a once-in-a-lifetime memory. I'll never be able to do it again, and this is the right time, now that KISS has climbed the heights that anybody could ever dare imagine. We're not going anywhere – we're touring; we're doing fine – but if there's ever going to be a time for the 'Vault' to come out, now is the time. I want to throw the biggest party and go on a personal journey to meet the fans who made it all possible. I know it sounds corny, but I can afford it. I'm going to do this because nobody's ever done it; I've never done it; and I intend before this journey is over to be able to point back to it as a lifetime memory."
"Gene Simmons - The Vault Experience: 1966-2016" is a comprehensive box set of Gene's solo material that comes packaged in a safe. The set includes 150 previously unreleased songs spread over 10 discs, a leather-bound photo book, a Gene Simmons action figure, an "In Gene We Trust" gold medallion and a "surprise item."