Tom Morello first saw Kiss play when he was 12 years old and attended their shows religiously during his formative years. Tonight his life comes full circle when he inducts the band into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. We spoke to Morello about his favorite moments in Kisstory, watching them rehearse for the reunion tour, what it’s like to describe a Kiss show to Bruce Springsteen and why he hopes the band drama doesn’t get in the way of their own induction.
Are you excited for the big day?
I’ve known Gene and Paul for some time and I’m a huge fan of the band and have been an advocate — a noisy, fist-pounding advocate for years for Kiss to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. One of the all-time great bands is being rightly enshrined.
People forget how many great songs they have.
It’s incredible. When those records were released, focus was shifted because it was a band in makeup or because it was band with explosions. But those are great anthemic songs with badass riffs. There’s a reason why Kiss sold 100 million records around the world. There was no one spitting blood in your living room when you were listening to them. I was rocking out hard to them.
One song a lot of musicians like Mike McCready mention is “Black Diamond.” Was that one of your favorites?
Yeah. The first cassette compilation I ever made was called, “The greatest songs of all time.” And my number one was “Black Diamond.” Because it had the dynamics; the quieter minor-key arpeggio part and the huge riffs. That song was awesome without any explosions in site.
What was the first Kiss record you bought?
Destroyer. I believe I bought it at the grocery store. Until then I had liked songs. Whether it was the Sweet “Ballroom Blitz” or Queen singles. But that was the first record I really dove into beginning-to-end and absorbed while tripping out on the awesome album cover. I was like it’s a rock band and yet they’re monsters! My first concert was Kiss when I was 12.
What was it like to see them live?
It’s hard to even describe the anticipation that the Kiss mystique created. Now you can watch 50 versions of every song every band plays live. Back then you had Creem or Hit Parader magazine and you never even saw them move. There was the legend of how big the amps were and how loud it was. Does Gene Simmons cut his tongue every night to spit blood? There was this mystique we’d debate: who was better, Ace Frehley or Jimmy Page? I had a very strong tribal affiliation for Kiss as a young man. Did it live up to my expectations? Yes. It far exceeded them and I lost my fucking mind. There are a couple of moments in my life that touch that kind of pure euphoria of the first rock concert, or your favorite band, and they definitely exceeded my astronomical expectations. At the time I was unfamiliar with the idea of dummy cabinets. I don’t know what was real and what was for sure. I know when I was younger there were bands that had amps that were the size of a toaster and to see a backline the whole back of the area, everything about it was mind-blowing.
The lyrics can be so cheesy that they’re great.
I appreciated the lyrics unironically at the time. I didn’t have the counter-weight when I was buying Kiss and Rock and Roll Over and Love Gun. It was like a Godzilla movie come to life. I have to admit I probably related more to the loud guitars than to the bragging exploits about limos and groupies. I didn’t relate to those; I was a kid in a basement. Those were not my aspirations.
Was Ace your favorite?
He was definitely my first favorite guitar player. He was a magical guitar player. The solos were awesome. His vibe was awesome. Some of these people criticize bands where showmanship is a big part of the thing. But at the core of great rock & roll is Elvis shaking his hips. It’s the Beatles‘ haircuts. None of those things have anything to do with the aeolian mode or a complicated set of chords and a bridge. Rock & roll when done right is a visually and sonically exciting medium. And Kiss set the bar extraordinarily high.
Did you watch the movie?
Of course, I couldn’t wait for it to come out. Any glimpse of Kiss was a good glimpse of Kiss. You got to see them once a year at Chicago stadium. At the time I remember thinking I wish there was a little more playing of songs and less acting [in the movie]. It’s certainly a curious piece of cinematic history.
I saw a photo from a year ago when you went to see Kiss in Australia.
It was great. We were rehearsing in the Gold Coast and Kiss was playing an hour-and-a-half away in Brisbane with Motley Crue. I was riding back to the hotel one night and mentioned in an off-hand way they are playing in Brisbane, but I’m really beat and Jake Clemons was like, “We are going to that show!” and thank goodness he was forceful in his suggestion because we went and had an awesome time. I don’t think Jake had been to a show like that. The next day we were rehearsing and Jake was telling Bruce about it and I chime in and I’m like, Bruce you don’t understand what goes on at this thing, guys are flying, drum sets going up, guys breathing fire and spitting blood and Bruce is laughing, going, “How are we gonna compete with that?”
Has Bruce seen Kiss?
It seemed like he hadn’t. He seemed surprised at the antics that went on.
Did you try to get a Kiss cover going on the latest tour?
No, the cover songs have been city specific and we haven’t had the opportunity.
The cover of the Bee Gees‘ “Stayin’ Alive” was awesome.
Yeah. Those things come together in a way you would be surprised at how. I guess that one we did a lot of rehearsal. Sometimes it’s nine minutes before showtime and we’re sitting by a picnic table backstage and Bruce talks the band through an arrangement and then we open the show with it.
As you grew older, did your perspective on them change?
Yeah. Well, I have a greater appreciation now than I did at the time but when Kiss went disco with the Dynasty record at the time that didn’t scratch my Kiss itch. I would call the record store on a daily basis to find out when the next Kiss record would be released. They’re like we got your number dude, we will let you know the moment we open the first box. Dynasty had a couple songs on it that I liked but my Kiss wheelhouse was really the two live records, Love Gun, Rock and Roll Over and Destroyer. Some of the more recent records are really big rock records that sit well along with some of Kiss’ best stuff.
Did you like Music from the Elder?
No one could get behind Music from the Elder. Our loyalty was stretched. I’ll tell you though there was a performance on one of the late night shows, a competitor of SNL, [of a song] called “A World Without Heroes,” which was a really great song.
As you saw what happened to the original lineup, over time what was that like to watch?|
I went to the 10th anniversary tour at Harvard and that was the Vinnie Vincent version. And that was great, it was fantastic. I kept buying and enjoying tracks off of Kiss records with different incarnations. I think Adam Jones from Tool and I were in a Kiss video. We were in the audience for “Crazy Nights.” I don’t know if you can see us in the video but we were there.
What was the 1996 reunion like?
Well, [Rage Against the Machine] were in the midst of trying to make the Evil Empire record and having a band meeting that was causing me to go gray prematurely. I remember hearing through our door and down the hall a band playing “Come on and Love Me” and I’m like, “Everybody shut up!” I listen for a second and I think to myself, “I think that’s Paul Stanley.” I press my ear to the door. Why would Paul Stanley be here? There’s no hint of that happening. I thought, “I’ll be damned” and I go to the front desk and say, “Who’s in 4D?” And the guy has a look like he can’t say and I think “Are you fucking kidding me?” That’s Kiss in there? And they rehearsed next to us for months and months, sharing a pool table as they geared up for that first reunion tour.
Was that special to see?
It was interesting. It sounded pretty rusty to begin with and then I saw the show and it sounded fantastic. It was very reminiscent of the great shows I had seen as a 12, 13, 14-year-old.
As a fan do you want to see that happen again?
At this point I’m staying so far out of it. But every band has problems. If you’re in a band, that comes with the territory. I’ve seen them with Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer and it’s a great show and it presses a lot of the buttons it did 35 years ago for me. I have a fondness in my heart for the original four. It’s those guys playing those songs I fell in love with. But bands have to make up their own minds about what they’re going to do. Every band has their own problems.
It’s a shame they can’t play ten minutes at the induction ceremony.
It’s up to them. Kiss fans from my era would love it. The key thing to take away from the night is that Kiss is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And they’re forever going to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. So whoever plays, that’s the show that happens that night. I’ll tell you my one hope. If you were to ask me, “Tom, say the first three things about Van Halen that come to your mind,” I’d say one of the greatest debut albums of all time, otherworldly guitar-playing and their induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was a shitshow. That’s one of the top three things I think. I hope when Kiss is inducted it’s about a great band being rightly put up there on a pillar with a lot of other great bands where they deserve to be. That’s my great hope.