Nearly 45 years after Kiss dropped their first album, Gene Simmons is as renowned for his business skills as he is for his thundering bass lines, fire-breathing and demonic stacked-heel footwear. Kiss were always savvy about their business, and were as pioneering with merchandising as they were with stagecraft: Over the years there have been Kiss comic books, condoms, transistor radios and even Kiss caskets.
This month, however, Simmons is thinking big about himself with “Gene Simmons – The Vault Experience: 1966-2016,” a limited edition, 10-CD set of solo material (along with a photo book, medallion and Gene doll) in an actual metal vault that he’s selling in several different, and decidedly fascinating, options and price points. And for a mere $2,000 he’ll deliver the boxed set to you personally.
Let’s talk about this —
You can’t call it a boxed set — it’s the Godzilla of all box sets. It’s about three feet tall, weighs 38 pounds. You can see the video at GeneSimmonsVault.com. You can’t pick it up with one hand. There’s a 50,000 word book that I wrote with hundreds of rare photos from my collection. A lot of cool stuff, like an action figure. Plus, there is personal stuff from me in each box set so that no two vaults are the same.
This is not for the casual Gene Simmons fan.
I didn’t care what it cost. I wanted to do it this way because I am not a fan of the cloud. Cloud schmoud, everything is like a popcorn fart. You can’t touch it or look at it in the cloud, it’s just all up in the air somehow. When I was a kid, there was album art. You could look at the covers. You collected it.
Coveted it …
Yes. So now, I wanted to offer something that was like a Rolls Royce. It’s not on sale. It’s only available in one form, take it or leave it. So we’re only making a few thousand vaults – 5,000 around the world. The cost is $2,000. But there’s more. If you live, say, in New Zealand, I will hand deliver it to your house. The flight tickets, the security, the hotel stay – that’s on me. I’ll lose money flying that around the world but I can afford to do it. Some people feel awkward about admitting it — I don’t. I worked hard for every penny of that, and I’m in a position to do what I wantI’m 68. I’m doing great, Kiss is doing great. I have the Gene Simmons Band. I’m proud of all that. But I’d really have to say this Vault is the pinnacle. I care about creating something that hasn’t been here before.
The Vault goes back to 1966 — where have you kept the tapes for all these years?
There wasn’t a word for it back then, but I was something of a hoarder. I kept everything that I ever did, songs for myself, songs that eventually became Kiss songs. I also really didn’t have many friends, but I didn’t think of myself as lonely. I made music, and I was so enthralled with the possibilities — “That came out of me” — I kept writing songs and recording them on cassette. Then I moved the tapes from my house to a vault. Now I can look back at a half-a-century of these songs that have never been released. About 20-40% of it are demos to the songs like [Kiss’ 1975 hit] “Rock and Roll All Night.” [But there’s also] songs played with the Van Halen Brothers, songs co-written with Bob Dylan, stuff with [Aerosmith’s] Joe Perry on there. Even though Kiss has lots of albums and we have recorded lots of music, on my end, there’s only four or five songs that I get to put on a record. But I write all the time, and am far more prolific than that.
I didn’t receive an advance listening copy —
And you won’t. We’re not giving it away. With fans downloading and shmownloading things for free, it’s called “robbery,” so we’re not letting the music out.
What do those first songs from 1966 sound like?
I hadn’t heard these songs in 20 or 30 years because I was afraid to listen to the tapes. We had to go through a process called baking — with a temperature-controlled oven so that tape becomes solid again, because they deteriorate — so we can digitize them. Hearing it back, that first song from 1966 “My Uncle Is a Raft,” feels like The Beatles’ “Her Majesty.” It has that innocent feel, not a tune that a rock band would do, but there was a song there. My Uncle George was a substitute father figure because my dad ran out on us and my uncle was a raft that kept me floating. Then my stuff got heavier when I started listening to Cream and Mountain, but that very first song was astonishing to me. It’s like the first time that you look in a mirror, you never want to look away.
You and the band have been innovators in finding ways to monetize every aspect of your art form. What does a project need to catch your fancy?
It has to have meat. People are like horses with blinders: They can see clearly ahead, but not on the left or the right. It’s never about getting caught up in the minutiae, but about the big picture. What I’m getting at is that I have been thinking long and hard about dead record companies because fans, of course, killed it. I don’t accept that. I don’t want some freckle-faced college kid to define when I’ve made enough money. Greedy? Sure. And this box set ain’t for everybody, but it wasn’t designed to be. This is the biggest box set of all time. That is why you’ll want it. Size does count. And I’m giving you the biggest.