“It’s been interesting doing the avatars so far... it’ll take some time to get the imagery where we want it to be”: Tommy Thayer looks to a virtual future with Kiss, and considers “options on the table” because he’s not ready to retire yet

Tommy Thayer of Kiss
(Image credit: Keith Leroux)

Tommy Thayer befriended Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons while his band, Black N’ Blue, toured as openers for Kiss on their Asylum road trip in the mid-’80s – but he couldn’t have known he was setting the stage for a future in the rock behemoth.

And when he lent his electro-acoustic licks to 1989’s Hot in the Shade – on Betrayed and The Street Giveth and the Street Taketh Away – he couldn’t have foreseen it would be the first of many Kiss adventures. 

When he took a job with Kiss in the mid-’90s, Thayer still couldn’t have dreamed it would lead to an ever-evolving role, which saw him become  tour manager, editor and producer of their longform video releases such as The Second Coming and The Last Kiss, and a session player for hire while recording 1998’s Psycho Circus.

That all led up to the most breathtaking moment of all: in 2003, he would officially wear Ace Frehley’s iconic Spaceman makeup on stage, leading to a 20-year stint that would see Thayer clock out as Kiss’s longest-tenured lead guitarist.

He’s now able to catch his breath after the conclusion of the band’s End of the Road farewell tour. Between the highs – which include packing arenas and stadiums – and lows – such as warding off armchair critics – Thayer looks back with his usual even keel.

”I think all Kiss guitar players have had their moments of importance and significance in the band,” he tells Guitar World. “Ace – obviously in the beginning – Vinnie Vincent, Mark St. John, and especially Bruce Kulick, who had an important role in the ‘80s/early ‘90s era of the band.

“I joined at a time when they needed somebody who could pick up the pieces and start a new run, so to speak. Sure, there was criticism. There always is, particularly in that case; but I felt like I’ve grown and evolved through the years. It’s worked out well for everyone.”

Even though touring can be tedious sometimes, I’ll probably miss that the most

If Kiss, who have dominated rock ‘n’ roll for the last 50 years, truly are hanging up their studded platform boots, fans owe Tommy Thayer a lot. Despite what some say, there probably wouldn’t have been an end of the road to encounter without him.

Regardless, he remains humble and thankful first and foremost. Asked what he’ll miss most about being in the band he replied: “The camaraderie. We have this great team of people who have lived together and traveled together for years. Even though touring can be tedious sometimes, I’ll probably miss that the most.”

Tommy Thayer of Kiss

(Image credit: Keith Leroux)

You’ve just wrapped one of the longer – if not the longest – tour in KISStory, and it’s the band’s final. You must be exhausted on so many levels. What were your emotions like as you rang out the final chords of Rock and Roll All Night at Madison Square Garden?

“I feel good, just unwinding and decompressing a bit. I’m happy and relieved that the tour went so well, particularly the final couple of months. But it was great.

“The New York takeover was done well and was our town to take. We’ve all done a lot to get Kiss where it is today. I felt especially proud for Gene and Paul, though – I really felt like it was their night.”

Was it hard to get through those shows knowing 50 years was about to end, especially for Gene and Paul?

“I’m sure they felt more emotion than anybody after a stellar touring career. I take it one show, one song at a time, so I wasn’t thinking about the finality of it all necessarily, until it was over. But again, I’m super-happy with how the band came to end this.”

Dialing back to when you first joined Kiss, when did it become real to you?

“It took a while, but once we started picking up momentum around 2008 and the shows were filling up and selling out, I knew we had something going. The chemistry was right – the proof is that we continued for another 15 years in packed stadiums and arenas.”

Tommy Thayer

(Image credit: Sierra Sanchagrin)

Once it became apparent that you were in Kiss for the long haul, what was the secret to this lineup’s success when others faltered? 

“I think life dynamics always evolve. As you grow, you change; and the dynamics and chemistry with people around you change. People grow in different directions. It’s really the timing of like-minded people with a certain chemistry that works, and that’s what’s happened with Eric Singer, me, Paul, and Gene the last 20-25 years.”

You knew Paul and Gene dating back to the ‘80s with Black N’ Blue and played a big part in the Kiss reunion. That must have helped, too. 

“I’ve been in the unique position of being a Kiss fan first, then my previous band’s involvement with Kiss in the ‘80s, then working behind the scenes with Kiss in the ‘90s, and then actually being in the band for a long while. It’s about building trust and respect and creating an environment that people are comfortable living, traveling, and working in.”

It’s now known you played guitar on Psycho Circus in secret; then you finally got to shine on Sonic Boom and Monster. What did it mean to you in retrospect? 

“With Monster, I had more latitude and the confidence to play more like me without getting too far away from what Kiss should sound like. What we wrote and recorded felt good – what we had on tape, so to speak – but the mix is where it got screwy. It would be nice to hear Monster remixed at some point.”

Those albums weren’t digested well then, but have become Kiss classics now, with your song from Monster, Outta This World, even being named a standout. 

“I don’t know if they’re classics yet. Pound for pound, some of those songs are as good as anything the band has ever done. But they’ve come later in the band’s career and haven’t had the years to seep into people’s consciences. And yeah, Outta This World is cool; I like the way it sounds, thanks!”

Kiss are often associated with Marshall amps and Gibson guitars, but that’s not all there is to your sound. What did your final touring rig look like?

“I’ve been playing Hughes and Kettner Duotone amps almost as long as I’ve been in the band; I think the fact that I continue to be happy with them for nearly 20 years says a lot.”

While Kiss is off the road for good, it lives on. You’ve been immortalized as an avatar, along with Paul, Gene, and Eric. Did that initially surprise you as much as the rest of us?

“It’s been interesting doing the avatars so far; it’ll take some time to get the imagery where we want it to be. I haven’t really thought about what it all means in the big picture, but with technology evolving as quickly as it is, there’s no doubt that this is the direction a lot of entertainment is going.”

Avatars aside, you’re playing better than ever and you’re the youngest member of Kiss. Where do you go from here?

“I’m not completely ready to retire yet; I have ideas and certainly options on the table. I’m not thinking of continuing to play in another band or that sort of thing – that doesn’t appeal to me. But I look forward to an exciting future, working hard and being a part of good things going forward.”

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Andrew Daly

Andrew Daly is an iced-coffee-addicted, oddball Telecaster-playing, alfredo pasta-loving journalist from Long Island, NY, who, in addition to being a contributing writer for Guitar World, scribes for Rock Candy, Bass Player, Total Guitar, and Classic Rock History. Andrew has interviewed favorites like Ace Frehley, Johnny Marr, Vito Bratta, Bruce Kulick, Joe Perry, Brad Whitford, Rich Robinson, and Paul Stanley, while his all-time favorite (rhythm player), Keith Richards, continues to elude him.