We recently sat down with Tommy Thayer of KISS to discuss his rise to rock stardom including which guitarists influenced his playing. Tommy also gives us some insider info on his new signature Epiphone Les Paul and the gear he uses onstage.
Coming from your early band Black 'N Blue, could you tell us what it was like the first time you donned the Spaceman outfit and got up on stage as an official member of KISS?
It was a whole new world. Being in KISS onstage is a surreal experience guaranteed to be nothing like any other band. I can attest to that because I've been in other bands. It's a commitment physically in terms of the show, the makeup, the outfits and the boots. Unlike other artists, we start getting ready for our concerts hours beforehand. Being onstage is like being in some kind of apocalyptic, rock & roll fantasy land.. It's definitely different than your average band experience, that's for sure.
Anything going on with your old band Black 'N Blue?
Not a lot. I think they've been doing a few gigs here and there, some of the summer rock festivals.
Now that you have rocked some of the biggest stages in the world, what were some of your early influences as an up and coming musician that directly lead to you being where you are today?
Growing up I was knocked out by guitarists like Ronnie Montrose, Richie Blackmore, Jimmy Page, Peter Frampton, Steve Marriott, Mick Ralphs, Mick Ronson, Alex Lifeson and Davey Johnstone. I've always been drawn toward guitarists that are great songwriters and great riff writers.
During your time with KISS, is there a favorite city you enjoy playing?
It's always a tough question because no matter where you go in the world KISS fans are insane. I'm serious, it can be Moscow, Tokyo, Sao Paulo or Anchorage, they all go nuts. A really cool thing happened recently. We just completed an amazing tour of South America. In Buenos Aires we rocked River Plate Stadium on November 7th, which was on my birthday. When we came out for the encore they brought out a birthday cake and 55,000 KISS fanatics sang "Happy Birthday" to me. I don't know many people that that's happened to recently.
When you're on the road with KISS, do you guys do any writing or recording of new material? If so, do you bring your own portable studio with you
If we're working on a new album and we're in that mode, we'll get together in hotel rooms or backstage on occasion to put new ideas together. I'd say that all four of us are very "low-tech" when it comes to electronics or recording gear. These days we use the voice memo function on our iPhones to collect new ideas.
Throughout the years you've surely tried your fair share of amps and effects. Do you have a go-to combination of effects and amps that makes up your sound and is there any new gear that you want to try?
My approach has always been really traditional when to comes to guitars and amps, meaning I plug a guitar straight into the amp and play. I believe if you can't get to the core of your sound that way then you're probably kidding yourself with a lot of extra "sound modification." I've heard guitarists come out onstage with huge racks of digital gear and you say to yourself, "Honey, someone shrunk the guitar sound." I think some stomp boxes are cool. For me it's a great sounding Les Paul into one of my Hughes & Kettner signature amps, it's a simple, killer, raw tone.
We hear you have worked to bring attention to music in the schools in the past. Are there any current projects you are working on or any organizations you support?
I like to help out where I can. I think it's really important for everyone to try to help other people. Give a little bit when you can with your time or money, it's really our civic duty. It makes for a stronger society and a better World.
Here at American Musical Supply, we're happy to be carrying your signature Epiphone Les Paul. Could you give us a little background on how that came about and what features you personally wanted in this guitar?
When the opportunity came up for an Epiphone Tommy Thayer signature Les Paul, the first thing I thought of was offering a pro guitar for musicians that looks amazing and is also affordable. I wanted it to be the guitar I play onstage with KISS but also a classic looking instrument that would catch the eye of any player. My Epiphone is modeled to the same specs as my silver sparkle top Gibson Custom Shop LP Standard I've played onstage for years. It's a quality-constructed instrument utilizing the same parts I use on all my Les Paul's, including Gibson 498 pick-ups and Grover Deluxe tuners. It's a professional guitar for real musicians but available at a price that's affordable for everyone. The guitar comes in a custom silver hard-shell case together with a very cool studded black and silver leather guitar strap like the ones I use onstage. I'm playing my Epiphone signature model live with KISS now and I couldn't be happier with the sound, the look and the performance of the guitar.
A lot of our customers are familiar with KISS and might someday like to follow a musical path as you did. Do you have any advice for them?
Another good question. The thing a lot of people don't realize is success starts with passion. Nothing is guaranteed if you're the most talented musician. In my opinion, it always takes passion, commitment and effort. It's more important to be able to put yourself in the position to be successful rather than waiting for it to happen because you're really good at what you do. The people that work the hardest will win most every time. You'll find your niche and you will succeed.
Find your Epiphone products at AMS