Note: This piece first appeared in Australian Guitar #133. Subscribe to our print edition here!
Ahead of their final Australian tour this November, we're taking one last walk through the glitz, glam and guitar-based glory of KISS.
Words by Peter Hodgson.
It’s a bittersweet time for KISS fans. The band are coming back to Australia one last time as they sweep around the world on their farewell tour, and it’s their biggest, most bombastic tour yet. Truly going out on top.
Guitarist Tommy Thayer has been an important part of KISS onstage since joining the band in 2002, although he’d been in their orbit for almost a decade before then – including working as as a researcher for the KISStory book, producer of film and video releases, and guitar coach for when Ace Frehley rejoined the band.
Thayer assumed the role of the Spaceman, the character made famous by Ace, and he brings his own vibe to the role while incorporating the Spaceisms you would expect - the smoking guitars, the hot pentatonic licks, the fireworks shooting from Les Paul headstocks.
It sounds like this tour is going to be bigger than anything you guys have done before because, basically, it pretty much has to be!
You’re absolutely right! I know it sounds like a typical soundbite: “This is the biggest tour we’ve ever done.” But it literally is! We’re starting from scratch with a whole new stage set, – it’s all new technology. We’re not going to repurpose anything. We’ve been rehearsing and working on the production for months, and I can already tell that this is going be very special. It’s bigger and more badass than anything we’ve done before.
I understand the tour is going to go for quite a while before that ultimate final show.
Yeah! We plan to go over the whole world. The ticket sales are just blowing out, so we know we’re on the right track.
In your 17 years in the band so far you really seem to have made the Spaceman your own with things like the white and silver Explorers and Les Pauls. Given that you’ve been inhabiting the character for so long now, what does he mean to you? What does he represent?
Well first, its a great honour, and I have a great respect for Ace, and for all the other guitarists who have gone before: Ace, Vinnie Vincent, Mark St John, Bruce Kulick... I’m living every kid’s dream. Every kid has dreamed of playing the lead guitar in KISS – I had that same dream before I even played guitar! I played air guitar in the mirror in my parents’ living room! So it’s an honour that’s hard to describe and it’s something I don’t take lightly. It’s the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me, that’s for sure.
This line-up of KISS isn’t afraid to dip into material that wasn’t from the make-up era.
Right! On the End Of The Road world tour, we’re going to be playing songs from all eras of the band. We’re going to be playing more ‘80s stuff and playing more songs than we’ve done in the last few years. Maybe not Bruce Springsteen-length shows, but longer than we’ve done. We want that crowd reaction! The reason we don’t usually play a lot of deep cuts – apart from on KISS Kruises and things like that – is because you’ll play certain songs and hear crickets. If you play a song that most people don’t know, then they’ll sit down and you’ll lose the energy.
I’ve talked about that with Joe Elliot from Def Leppard. They have so many fans, and some of them may love the band’s greatest hits but not listen to the albums themselves, while others know every B-side. It doesn’t mean one fan is any less legit than the other, but it does mean you can’t play those B-sides because you might have 15,000 people in an arena, and 400 of them are going, “Yes!” while the other 14,600 are thinking, “Where do I go to get a hotdog?”
We want to please as many people as much of the time as we can, but the people that really want to hear the deep stuff can go on the KISS Kruise. That’s just 3,000 KISS fans for five days, and it’s incredible. We play the deep cuts then, because those fans expect it and deserve it.
Let’s talk guitar! You’re a Gibson guy, and they’ve really stepped up since the change of management recently. A lot of people are saying, “Gibson is now doing exactly what they should have done.”
Yeah! I know they just went through a big reboot of the whole company, but I’ve always had a great relationship with Gibson – and of course Epiphone, who does my signature guitars; we’re working on another one that will come out soon. I’ve played Gibson for my entire career, ever since I began playing the guitar. I never got into the Superstrats in the ‘80s – I played a wang bar when I had to, but not much.
What was your first Les Paul?
The first Les Paul I got was about six months after I first started playing guitar. I found a used Les Paul Deluxe Goldtop in the paper for about $300. I think I ended up routing that guitar out and putting larger pickups in it. A lot of people were doing that around that time because the Deluxe had the smaller mini- humbuckers instead of the larger PAF size.
So it was a Goldtop Les Paul, then another six months after that, I picked up a used black Les Paul Custom, and I haven’t looked back since! I’ve always been real traditional as far as my approach goes – just a great guitar into a great amp.
I like my neck profiles more like a 1958 Les Paul Standard. Nothing fancy. Nickel hardware, Seymour Duncan pickups and just a basic setup. I’ll use 9-46 or 10-46 strings, JB pickups that are not too high output, a real solid tone with a nice edge to it. It’s pretty traditional. I grew up influenced by a lot of the late ‘60s, early ‘70s Les Paul players like Jimmy Page and Peter Frampton.
Saturday November 16th - RAC Arena, Perth WA
Tuesday November 19th - Entertainment Centre, Adelaide SA
Thursday November 21st - Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne VIC
Friday November 22nd - Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne VIC
Saturday November 23rd - Supercars 500, Newcastle NSW
Tuesday November 26th - Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney NSW
Thursday November 28th - Entertainment Centre, Brisbane QLD
Saturday November 30th - Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne VIC
Tuesday December 3rd - Spark Arena, Auckland NZ