December 13, 2018

KISS co-Founder Gene Simmons on His New Book, Personal Growth and MoneyBag Sodas

Terry Wells

Gene Simmons is in rare company in many aspects. As a musician, he is a co-founder of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame group KISS, which has earned more gold records than any other band. As an on-screen performer, he has not only starred in movies but was a star of the popular reality series “Gene Simmons Family Jewels,” which produced 167 episodes. Simmons has also found tremendous success as an entrepreneur within many industries, including runs as a book and magazine publisher, artist manager, television and film producer, and record label executive.

This has not been a slow year for the native New Yorker. Not only has Simmons announced the End of The Road tour with KISS but it has also seen Simmons release a new book (“27: The Legend And Mythology Of The 27 Club” via powerHouse Books), launch a line of sodas (MoneyBag Sodas, in cooperation with the Niagara Falls-based Rock Steady Sodas Inc.), continue to grow his Rock & Brews restaurant chain, and become “chief evangelist officer” of Invictus MD, a Vancouver-based cannabis company.

I had the pleasure of meeting up with Simmons himself, along with Rock Steady’s Paul Janik Jr., at New York City’s Loews Regency Hotel for an in-person interview. In-person, Simmons not only comes across as intelligent, honest and insightful, but the legendary singer and bassist is also full of amusing one-liners, hence all of the denoted laugh breaks. Simmons also manages to be animated and hands-on, demonstrating things on his iPhone and ultimately inviting other people dining at the hotel’s Regency Bar & Grill to try one of his MoneyBag sodas. Highlights from our chat are below.

More on Gene Simmons’ various projects – including the already-sold-out seventh annual KISS Kruise, as done in partnership with Sixthman Cruises and hosted on Norwegian Cruises’ Norwegian Jade cruise ship – can be found online.

Jewish Journal: The introduction of your new book mentions that your son helped you find empathy that you did not know you had.

Gene Simmons: There’s footage of me waxing poetic and prolific, “These guys are just trying to get attention. These guys threaten to get on top of a building and jump and kill yourself, go in a corner and stop bothering us.” I’m on TV going, “You want to jump? Jump…” But it’s judgmental, uninformed and arrogant. I didn’t know.

I didn’t understand because I’m a happy guy, I’ve always been happy, appreciating everything I’ve got. “What are you complaining about?” I didn’t know about the chemical… It could be in your DNA, all sorts of things. Not just in your DNA, the 1929 stock market crash, a lot of people went to the top of buildings and jumped. They’d lost their fortune because they defined themselves by their fortune, nevermind the fact that you can go back to work and build it up again.

So I was wrong, I was an arrogant [expletive] and there needs to be understanding. More people need to understand what this thing is. I don’t mean just depression. When somebody is having a bad day, it’s not a big deal to listen.

Gene Simmons and author Darren Paltrowitz.

JJ: With this book, given how prolific you’ve been, not just as a musician but as a businessman and…

GS: Have you had our soda?

JJ: I was telling your publicist last year that when I was interviewing you last year at The London [Hotel], you had a box of the soda in the corner and I was told it was embargoed information about your line of sodas

GS: I was so proud. [asks his publicist and business partner] What flavors have we got? [Simmons finds out the flavors] You like cream soda? Now you should know, there’s no sugar, no processed sugar, it’s cane sugar. As you can tell, [there’s] the MoneyBag logo.

How about this? I’ll make a deal with you before you taste it. I’m too rich to care. [laugh pause] Honest appraisal. Drink it, tell us if you don’t like it, what’s wrong with it, because we want to learn. You tell us if it’s spectacular, just say spectacular.

JJ: [tastes the soda] It’s great. Definitely less carbonated than what I would expect from a cream soda.

GS: There’s no cheap stuff on this. It’s more expensive to do cane sugar. This is vintage stuff, the champagne of sodas. People should go to GeneSimmonsMoneyBag.com and order cases because it’s too much of a pain in the (explicit) to go to 7-Eleven or Wegman’s, where we’re being sold. That way you can have a party and rock out… No after-taste, you notice? You can taste, it’s real vanilla.

JJ: Was this the first time that you put your name on a food product or a beverage?

GS: No, if it counts KISS, we’ve had other things. Cereal and all kinds of stuff. 

JJ: But you personally?

GS: I think so, but that’s not the end.

JJ: Tell me more.

GS: This is a little early, but I’ll give you a sneak peak. [Simmons shows images of new products on his iPhone] That logo, I designed it.

JJ: Is this soda and those products you just showed me…

GS: No relation.

JJ: But Rock and Brews, as well.

GS: No cross…

JJ: So this soda is not available at Rock & Brews?

GS: Not yet. There are 20, 30 [restaurant] sites. When we move, we move big, so we debuted at 7-Eleven, Wegman’s is coming in, and this other product is gonna be a natural at Whole Foods and all that stuff. That’s gonna creak the door open.

Often food distribution is who you know, very political. You find somebody who’s a nice guy and he introduces you to Joe Blow and 300 stores of all of sudden do it… Shelf space, they would rather give their stuff away for free than to allow you to come in.

JJ: Obviously the “Gene Simmons” name helps you get your foot in the door, but you have to have a great product behind you.

GS: You have to deliver the goods.

JJ: Were you hesitant in any way to enter the food space?

GS: I’m delusional. When you think about it, I can’t read or write music, musical notation, but I’ve written a few hundred songs. We’re a big band. I can’t cook but I have a restaurant chain. But teamwork is what it’s about. Different sides of the same coin. Somebody who can do one thing…

Look, could Apple have happened without Steve Jobs? Probably not. Could Apple have happened without [Steve] Wozniak? Probably not. But they did completely different things, two different sides of the same coin. One guy was a techno-freak and the other guy saw the big picture and didn’t know how things worked. He was not that techno guy at all, but he got all the kudos.

It bears repeating that maybe the secret is to have a relay race. At the outset you have the techno guy that can do the techno thing, he’s the guy who knows how to do it. Then you hand it over to the next guy, because invariably which is a big word like gymnasium [laugh pause]) a religion, a rock band, a political party, a new soda, you have to convince the masses that you’ve got the goods. And Wozniak was not the guy to do that. Every religion needs a messenger, a prophet.

JJ: Another area of something that you are not in favor of reputationally, but have worked on, is the KISS Kruise. I say that because you have often stated that you have never taken a vacation, but you are doing the seventh KISS Kruise this year and I believe it’s sold out.

GS: You’re right. We get paid a lot of money. Is that what you mean?

JJ: What I was getting at is that after going on a cruise six times, even if it is work, did that ever change your mind about taking a vacation?

GS: No, because you’re working you’re a** off. It’s harder there than anywhere. You’re constantly busy… Here’s the thing, I don’t shake my finger in anybody’s face who wants to go on vacation. I just, I’m so grateful, first of all, that I’m alive. One day you’re alive, the next day you’re hit by a truck or your heart stops, whatever it is. The other thing is work is a privilege, it’s not an automatic… “I deserve to have healthcare, I deserve to have a job.” You deserve nothing, (explicit). Roll up your sleeves, you’re a grown-up, now work for it.

We live in a semi-socialist environment. Of course, it’s nice for everybody to have health care, but the country can’t afford it. Of course, everybody should have a job, but Finland just got rid of a guaranteed weekly salary for all the people in Finland, they’re going broke. There’s no incentive for somebody to go to work. So I’m so grateful that I not only have a job but continue to work.

JJ: On the religious end, in old interviews, I remember you talking about interest in starting your own religion, KISStianity. Had that ever come close to happening?

GS: I didn’t want to go there. You could… There’s a Church of Elvis [Presley] in Las Vegas. People get very upset… So the answer is no.

JJ: When I last saw you, you were promoting the Gene Simmons Vault. In terms of KISS…

GS: Oh it continues, it’s huge.

JJ: In terms of unreleased material from KISS, is there more being planned? Another Kissology release? Another vault?

GS: There may be a KISS box-set coming. A big one, because I’ve been collecting everything. I even have some more material that hasn’t gone onto the Gene Simmons Vault — 167 tracks. I’ve been delusionally a fan of myself ever since I was a kid, and I mean that seriously. I collect every report card… Everything. To thine self-be true, the Greeks said. A good piece of advice is, “be your own biggest fan.” It’s a good idea. I am, oh boy.

JJ: So finally, any last words for the kids?

GS: Work. Without that, your heart stops, your motivation stops, girls don’t like you. Work. [Simmons points to his beautiful and well-dressed publicist Terry Wells] She does not want a guy without a job.