Kiss: Hotter Than Hell
Stanley was justified in his determination to play the role of benevolent despot. His songwriting and lead vocals were the force behind many of Kiss’ greatest hits. In the early days, the guitarist worked closely on the music with his longtime musical partner Gene Simmons. The two of them founded Kiss in the early Seventies, molding the group from the ashes of a prior band called Wicked Lester. But over time, they’d grown apart musically. And indeed, in recent years it has seemed like Simmons was far more interested in his successful A&E TV reality show, Gene Simmons’ Family Jewels, and far-flung business enterprises than anything so juvenile and low-rent as writing and playing rock songs. But Stanley insisted that he and Simmons hunker down in the studio and bang out great songs like they did in the days of their youth. Simmons was reluctant at first, but was soon drawn into the process.
“Gene’s playing on Sonic Boom is a reminder of what he can do when he closes his mouth and straps on the bass,” Stanley says.
Stanley also opened up the process to all members of the band. “I’ve got some sort of credit on nine of the 11 songs on Sonic Boom,” he says. “But the contributions of everybody in the band to the songwriting were both selfless and invaluable. I wrote ‘Say Yeah’ and ‘Modern Day Delilah’ by myself, but the other songs were written by different combinations of the guys in the band.”
Sonic Boom gave Thayer his first real opportunity to assert himself as a fullfledged member of Kiss since officially joining the band in ’02. The guitarist came up through the ranks of the Kiss organization, starting out in the early Nineties as a jack-of-all-trades—editing videos, working on album graphics and even managing a Kiss convention in ’95. Gradually, he began to become more directly involved in the band’s music. When Kiss reunited in 1996, it fell to Thayer to coach Ace Frehley and Peter Criss through the process of relearning their old guitar and drum parts.
Thayer says, “I was helping them get back in touch with the music the way they were doing it 20 years prior. I would go into rehearsal early each day with Ace and Peter and just kind of run through the parts—re-remind them of what they were doing before. It wasn’t weird or a bummer or anything, it was just like jamming. I was thrilled because there I was, jamming with Peter Criss and Ace Frehley. I’ve been a Kiss fan all my life.”
Thayer’s ability to handle potentially ticklish situations with tact, combined with his solid work ethic, earned him major points, particularly with the pragmatic Gene Simmons. In time, the guitarist began contributing to Kiss songwriting demos. He also played guitar on 1998’s Psycho Circus without receiving a credit. And since officially joining Kiss, his role has been to replicate onstage the leads played by Ace Frehley and other prior Kiss lead guitarists. He says of himself, “It doesn’t matter if Tommy Thayer wants to add his inflection or point of view to the classic Kiss material. Nobody cares to hear that. I wouldn’t.”
But on Sonic Boom, Thayer came to the table as a full member of Kiss, adding his musical perspective to both songwriting and guitar solos on the album. “In December  we started to talk about the album,” he says. “And by January I was going to Paul’s house to start throwing riffs back and forth, working out songs together. I co-wrote ‘When Lightning Strikes,’ which I also sing on the album. And I co-wrote ‘Never Enough’ with Paul and ‘I’m an Animal’ with Paul and Gene. It was just a matter of keeping things real simple and raw and not overthinking anything or deliberately trying to write something that would appeal to radio.”
Part of Stanley’s master plan for Sonic Boom was that the basic tracks should be recorded live in the studio, the way Kiss did it in the good old days. The band set up at Conway studios in L.A. and cut basic tracks live to analog 24-track tape. Stanley says, “We were much more concerned with capturing feel rather than perfection. There were no click tracks. We don’t have a click track onstage, so why would we need one in the studio? And it wasn’t about doing the songs 10, 20 or 30 times. I think the most takes we did on any song was three.”
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