KISS Guitarist Tommy Thayer on His Unique Career Path, War Hero Father
Chiaki Nozu, Getty Images
KISS recently returned with Monster, their 20th studio album and a rocking return to the thunderous hooks and classic chordal mayhem that makes them, well, KISS. Over their 40-plus year history, the band can boast 28 U.S. gold albums, the most gold records for any American rock band, along with over 100 million albums sold worldwide.
Noisecreep recently had the pleasure of talking with longtime lead guitarist Tommy Thayer about the new album, and his life in the band.
It must feel good to finally have Monster in stores.
We're all super happy and super proud of Monster and we put a lot of time and effort into making it great. We approached it from a very organic and simple place, like a band just starting out. We were just hanging out at each other's houses, we arranged the songs at rehearsal then we'd go in and just knock them out. We didn't even do demos. We didn't have a label involved when we did it so there was no manager or A&R person telling us what to do, it was just the four of us making the calls, so whatever was in our hearts made it onto the record.
How has your role in KISS evolved over the years?
It has evolved a lot. My first dealing with KISS was an opening act on the Asylum tour in 1985 while I was in my band Black 'N Blue. We did about 24-25 shows with KISS and I got to know Paul and Gene and then the relationship with Gene evolved after that. He produced some of our records, and then I worked on some KISS albums after that. Black 'N Blue then ran its course and I was hired to work behind the scenes with KISS, managing different sorts of things. Then ten years ago things evolved again and I came on board as lead guitarist.
It's a unique path you took.
Certainly is. I did a lot of video and photo work back then and really got up to speed on the band, archiving stuff, editing producing and directing videos, pay per views; more stuff than I ever imagined. It was never my aspiration to be in KISS. I was interested in them, but never aspired directly to be what I am today. Very ironic how it worked out. Since I've been in the band my role has evolved more – my playing, my approach in the studio – I'm more confident today than I've ever been. But today the feedback from KISS fans has been phenomenal, just so positive, which means a lot to me. This is a band built for the fans. I also love how much they seem to like Monster.
Were you a big KISS fan as a kid?
Huge. I was a KISS fan when the first record came out – my KISS roots go back to the beginning. The first three records I was a huge fan of in junior high school - so everything has come full circle in my life. I saw them play twice in Portland, Ore. during that time growing up and it was phenomenal. Those shows made a big impact on me –– the attitude, the presentation and most of all, the music.
This band has grown into something of an American and patriotic phenomenon with all the support of the troops you guys provide.
No doubt. KISS started out as a mere rock and roll band and the phenomenon has evolved into something quite extraordinary. This band touches so many people in so many generations in so many ways – it's truly incredible. And to your point, the troops mean the world to us. We will always stand by them.
You dad himself is a true American hero.
Thank you. He's a hero to me as a dad and also as a soldier in the military He just turned 90. In Europe in 1945, as a member of the U.S. Army in World War II he was in head to head combat with SS troops and he earned both the Bronze and Silver Star. His platoon helped liberate one of the Nazi concentration camps in Austria – he was one of the first guys in there and he helped save a lot of people's lives. He's done so many amazing things that the new Oregon Military Museum up in Portland is going to be named in my dad's honor: The Brigadier General James B. Thayer Oregon Military Museum. I'm helping to raise the money for it now.
How can people learn more about it and even contribute?
Thank you. The website is www.allstarsalute.com.
Does he like KISS?
Loves KISS. He came to the recent KISS show in Portland. My parents have always been great supporters of everything I've done. Very encouraging and wonderful.
It still blows us away that KISS does their own makeup every night.
KISS is the hardest working band in show business – it may sound like a cliché but it's true. We get to the gig hours before, do an acoustic set, a meet and greet, soundcheck, eat dinner – then 2-3 hours before the show we do our the make up - and we have all done our own make up since day one. It's a personal transition every night and a great part of the ritual. Then we do photos, press, then we perform, which of course is the most important part of it all. Then after the show is over, we get out of the makeup and transition back to normal life. It's a long day but we are very dedicated – we don't just show up before the gig, tune up and get onstage. There is a huge level of dedication that goes into it KISS every single day and every single show.