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KISS' LEAD GUITARIST TOMMY THAYER INTERVIEWED




Taken from: GUITAR MAGAZINE GERMANY

Annihilator's
Jeff Waters interviews KISS' Tommy Thayer

Jeff:
First off, for those who may not be familiar with the history of Tommy Thayer, or think that you are just a relatively new replacement or fill-in for Ace Frehley, please tell us about your extensive resume; not just your accomplishments in Black and Blue, but also with your being an integral part of the KISS family for an amazing 14 years.

Tommy:
Going back to Black and Blue in the 80's, for people that don't know, we moved to Los Angeles in early 1983 from Portland, where we started out. Quiet Riot and Motley Crue were starting to do well and we just knew that, since we were writing our own stuff, that LA would be the best place for us to be. Within 6 months, we had a record deal; John Kalodner signed us at Geffen Records and envisioned us as being the American Def Leppard. We put out 4 records for Geffen through the 80's up to 1990 and did moderately well but we never really broke, for whatever reason.

Jeff:
And somewhere along the line, you crossed paths with Gene.

Tommy:
Exactly. In 1985 we did part of the Asylum tour with KISS, a dream come true at that point as we were always huge KISS fans when we were kids.

Jeff:
Who wasn't, back then, right?

Tommy:
Ya. I became more associated with Gene to begin with because, after that tour, we asked him to produce our third album “Nasty, Nasty”, which he agreed to do. We kind of developed a relationship and I just got to know him more and more through that and then he did our fourth album, called ”In Heat”. By that time he was asking me if I wanted to write some songs with him for KISS and we wrote a couple of songs that ended up on “Hot in the Shade”.

Jeff:
So the writing relationship came before you were asked to be involved in the business end of KISS?

Tommy:
Absolutely. First, it was Gene working with Black and Blue and then it was writing with Gene for what ended up being KISS songs. At the same time, they were working on, developing songs for their next album and Gene would have me come in to help out. Then I was playing guitar in the studio with him on all of his demos; he liked the way I played guitar. It just kind of evolved from there and pretty soon, by the early 90's, when Black and Blue ran its course, Paul and Gene asked me to come and work for them part-time. I needed a job and thought “Wow, working for the band KISS?! That's not even a job!!”

Jeff:
It is pretty amazing for me to talk to someone who was in the rare group of 80's “metal” musicians who made it out alive, stayed in the music business and was able to transition from the demise of Black and Blue, to being a Kiss co-writer, then to becoming an important part of KISS' business operations for so long and then to, incredibly, being the lead guitarist in KISS.

Tommy:
On the one hand I was just in the right place at the right time, but on the other hand, just to give myself a little bit of credit, I'm a very hard-working guy and have a good concept of what people want when they hire someone. I think in anything that you do, and in me getting involved with the guys in Kiss, if people know you will always be on time, be reliable and work hard, then they will give you the respect back. Then they will respect your opinion, and in my case, Paul and Gene both knew that I was knowledgeable about the rock and roll world and had those qualities. But at the same time you're humble and you're not getting too cocky about things. I'm a pretty low-key guy so I usually say less than more in certain situations. They just kind of started to like my vibe and what I did for them and how I did it. So, anyway, Paul (Stanley) called and said they were going to be doing this book called “KISStory”, a coffee-table book and that they were going to put it together and publish it themselves. They had these archives of tons of old photos from the beginning of their career and Paul wanted me to go through them and pick out the best photos to use for the book. From there, it just evolved from part-time work, doing this and that, then evolved to doing whatever needed to be done. By 1995, the KISS Convention idea was new and they hired me to be the key guy, spearheading and literally running the organization; putting together the KISS Museum and even booking hotels. Almost like a tour/road manager. I do have a good business background and my Dad has been a very successful business man for a long time so I am kind of from that environment. This was actually where I was headed in the early to mid 90's; getting involved mostly in the business side of music, producing and management. That's where I was going. I'd even cut my hair short.

Jeff:
1996

Tommy:
Ace and Peter, the make-up and the reunion tour comes together. I helped put the reunion tour together and made sure that Ace and Peter were ready to go, musically. I'm sure you've heard the stories that I was asked to come in and work with those guys to make sure they got the original parts down.

Jeff:
That, in itself is pretty amazing “job”! So when Ace left, for whatever reason, you were the natural selection to take step in and take over…

Tommy:
Yes, but way back in the late 90's, I was doing video editing, putting together and producing and directing KISS DVD's. I did a lot of “ghost” guitar playing on the Psycho Circus album; I did some rehearsing with the band and even sound checking sometimes when Ace wouldn't show up. I was definitely the natural replacement.

Jeff:
Did you have to give up a lot of your former KISS-business duties when you became the lead guitarist in 2003 or did you just add that to your extensive list of daily jobs!?

Tommy:
I do very little business-related things or KISS now. It is a lot of work and a change of pace but I was busy then and busy now. A different schedule and also a different list of things to do; and some of them you don't want your guitar player doing anyway.

Jeff:
Then at this point of the interview, I gather that your advice to serious guitar players who have good songs and are serious about being in a professional band, might be on the business side, rather than the playing side?

Tommy:
For sure. Pay attention to the business side. Always work hard. Don't wait around for things to come to you. You need to go out and grasp them yourself and be pro-active. My Dad always said “Just make sure people like you”.

Jeff:
Guitar practicing. How often do you pick up a guitar and when you are not on KISS time?

Tommy:
To be honest with you, I don't sit around and play as much as I used to in the old days. That said, I feel like I play guitar better now than I ever have, I really believe that. I think it just comes from years of experience and confidence.

Jeff:
So you mainly start playing or practicing to get ready for rehearsals, before a tour, in order to get your finger, hand and arm muscle strength back in action?

Tommy:
Yes. When we tour, we rehearse for a week or two as a band but I start a week or so before that I like to listen to and play the songs we will do in the set, just to get into the groove a bit. To get loose and also to build the calluses back up so that you don't get out on tour and have painful blisters on your fingers! It's all prep (preparation to get ready). I'll literally put on the KISS live albums and play along.

Jeff:
I find that most touring guitarists will tell you that they like to practice guitar standing up. I know that I can play guitar much better when sitting.

Tommy:
You know that it's a little more challenging if you've got your guitar slung down below your belt, a la Jimmy Page, than sitting down or with the guitar up around your chest. It's just different and, either way, you've got to get used to it again.

Jeff:
On a typical show day, do you play guitar in the daytime? Any jams with any of the band members? Practicing before the show?

Tommy:
I like to warm up a little bit backstage before the show, just to get loose. I don't believe in playing 3 hours the day of the show. I think the band actually plays better if you have a day in between shows. If you cram too much rehearsal, too close to shows, I don't think that's as effective either.

Jeff:
Time to recharge and refresh.

Tommy:
Exactly.

Jeff:
What about your nerves before the show.
Tommy:
I think that being confident prevents you from being nervous. Anticipation and excitement are how I feel but not nervous as in any worrying. Confidence is important in whatever you do and that comes from years of practicing, knowing that you are good at what you do and working hard; that is what gives you confidence.

Jeff:
And having the best crew and gear behind you every night…

Tommy:
Yes, also knowing that the whole support thing is happening. Having a great guitar tech means your guitar and sound are going to be sweet, as soon as you play it.

Jeff:
Your touring role in KISS obviously demands that you play and be the Ace character, as best you can. In your mind, what aspects of your playing, performance or sound does Tommy Thayer bring to the KISS show? Or are you only striving to be the Ace character as perfectly as you can and that is your only goal? You obviously nail (play perfectly) Ace's solos and do them very consistently each night.

Tommy:
We (KISS) talked about this too, that the whole idea for me isn't to just go up and try to mimic Ace completely; that would come across as being real tribute looking. It's a fine line between being faithful to what Ace has done with is playing and looks, and then injecting some Tommy Thayer into it. I don't go out trying to play and sound like Ace. The reason I sound like Ace is because I grew up learning how to play like one of my favorite guitar players since I was 14 years old. So when I play a KISS song, with my style, the way I play, it really sounds a lot like KISS! It just comes out that way because of the influence he and KISS had on my playing. I think that what I bring to the table in the KISS show is a more consistent and solid style of guitar playing. I am not trying to take anything at all away from Ace; Ace is the reason that I am in this band and here at all. To me, Ace was really in his prime back in the 70's and I think that I bring a new version of what he was doing back then, but in a more solid way. Consistent, ballsy and tight is the best way to describe my contribution to the music and show; night after night.

Jeff:
You jammed a lot with Ace back in the mid-90's. Did you notice any similarities in your picking style or how you held a pick compared to how Ace?

Tommy:
I didn't copy his. In fact, my style of picking is nothing at all like Ace's. My right hand style is holding the pick with my thumb and my middle finger. Way back, I noticed that Eddie Van Halen held his pick the same way but that's not why. I hold a pencil the same way; it is just a natural thing for me.

Jeff:
What song contains your favorite KISS guitar solo?

Tommy:
100,000 Years.

Jeff:
Why?

Tommy:
Classic Ace Frehley licks. I was really more a fan, particularly of the first 3 albums because I think that that was when Ace really shined. People think I'm crazy for saying this but my favorite KISS recordings were all the records up until “Rock N Roll Over” but I think it is just because I am biased. I grew up, I was a teenager in that magical era so that is why it is my favorite Kiss. I'm sure that, if I was born a bit later, I would have been more into the later KISS records; you know what I mean?

Jeff:
Same here. Love Gun, Hotter than Hell and Kiss Alive 2 were my favorites however I really did like pieces of all KISS records. So how many guitars do you take on tour with you?

Tommy:
Usually about 4 Les Paul's but I have 5 now because I am going to be doing some cool effects for the Europe tour; I can't tell you specifically what effects but it will be great! The shows we did in Australia and New Zealand, I played one guitar for almost the entire set. It was setup so well that it does not even budge out of tune; it is just perfect. It's one of my Sunburst's, #2, I think. Your readers can visit my site (tommythayer.com) to check out my guitars.

Jeff:
Do you have any special guitars at home that you will not take on the road?
Tommy:
Yes. I have a couple of Les Paul's at home. One has a wine-red finish and it's an old Les Paul Deluxe from 73 or 74 but it was routed out to a Standard. I bought it in the height of the Gibson/Charvel craze around 1987. I bought it at a used guitar shop in Hollywood for $325.00 !!! It's been broken but it has a great neck. I use it for rehearsals and recording; not the prettiest guitar but I love it.

Jeff:
Did you fall in love with the Les Paul when the KISS connection happened or?

Tommy:
Always Les Paul's for me, ever since I started playing guitar!

Jeff:
Strings?

Tommy:
Ernie Ball only.

Jeff:
Picks?

Tommy:
D'Addario picks. Mediums. Custom logos and things on the picks but standard picks.

Jeff:
Pickups?

Tommy:
Gibson pickups. 498 bridge and forgot the neck one. I think it is listed on my web site.

Jeff:
Cables?

Tommy:
Technology-wise, I am more of a low-tech guy. I have a great tech that worries about cable-types and things like that; In fact, I don't even know what cables or even wireless unit I use, although I should!

Jeff:
So you are more of a plug-into-the-amp-and-just-play type of player?

Tommy:
That's it. “Keep it simple, stupid” is my thing. What KISS stands for!

Jeff:
I call that the “Angus Young” philosophy! Do you have channel switching on your amps? A clean and dirty setting?

Tommy:
A good analogy! I go to a clean setting on one song and there is a little picking arpeggio part in the middle of “God Gave Rock N Roll To You” but for the most part, I just use the one channel.

Jeff:
Is there any compression or gating on the dirty channel?

Tommy:
No. Nothing at all. No effects either. Gates will mess with your sound when you turn your guitar down and it starts messing with your natural, low-level picking sustain. Again, simplicity is my rule. Most of the rigs I've heard ending up sounding processed and phony. There are a few exceptions but generally they sound like bad Rockman's. I was watching a band a few years ago and the guitarist, who is a well-known and good player, had the full-on Bradshaw, mega-processed rig with all the stuff but it didn't sound big and ballsy. Then they announced a guest was coming onstage for the encore. It was Slash. He's got his Les Paul on and the roadie rolls out this a 100 watt Marshall half-stack rental and Slash plugs in and KILLED the other guitar player's sound! And the other guitar player had this $50,000 rig! It was not just because it was Slash; obviously it is in the fingers, too… but it was the simplicity of it all: A half-stack with a Les Paul and a great player. Nothing beats that.

Jeff:
A lot of guitar players have signature series amplifiers. You have a “Tommy Thayer Signature Series” amplifier coming out now; however one of the things that really impressed me about it had nothing to do with the amp itself. You are donating 100% of the royalties from the amp to the Children's Hospital Of Los Angeles.

Tommy:
Thanks. It's a charity that I have been involved with for some time, here in town. Helping children and especially sick children is a huge and important thing to me and I just wanted to make these donations to them. It's really important to me in life to be successful but that is also measured by helping other people that need help and I am into that in many different levels.

Jeff:
That is unique and commendable. Tell us how the amp deal came about.

Tommy:
A friend of mine turned me on to the Hughes and Kettner stuff about a year ago. I saw that Alex Lifeson (Rush) and Davey Johnstone (Elton John) used them; a couple of my favorite all-time guitar players. I figured something was going on here if these guys were using them so I tried a few of the amps. They sounded like a really good Marshall that was modded a bit; not like overdriven but more of a warmer- overall tone. H and K then sent me some amps to use with KISS, I loved them and pretty soon they asked me about doing a signature amp. Hughes and Kettner usually have 3 or channels in their amps but a Duotone for me was just fine. It sounds great. Looks cool and it's great to have my own amp.

Jeff:
And even better is what you are doing with the money from them. So this will be the first European tour for Kiss since 1999, Psycho Circus? It looks like you are doing 8 shows, so far, for the great German rock n' roll fans; they will surely appreciate that!

Tommy:
Looking forward to it definitely; it's been a long time!

Jeff:
I will be at one of the German shows wearing my Love Gun shirt with pride! Tommy, on behalf of the readers, myself and all at Guitar magazine, thanks very much for your time and a very interesting interview! Have a great European Tour!

Tommy:
Thanks, Jeff! See you soon!
-------
For up-to-date tour dates and all about Kiss, visit the only official Kiss site: www.kissonline.com
Find out more about Tommy Thayer at: www.tommythayer.com
Visit www.hughes-and-kettner.com to see Tommy's new Signature amplifier.

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