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Gene Simmons of Kiss on Inspiring a Pokemon Character: 'I Don't Care'

The bad-boy bass player talks to CNET about starting one of the world's biggest bands, and how he doesn't get time to listen to music.

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Kiss' Gene Simmons onstage with his Axe bass.
Getty Images

Three years ago the Pokemon Company unveiled a new character called Obstagoon that debuted in the Pokemon Sword and Pokemon Shield games for the Nintendo Switch. It's a racoon hybrid that looks remarkably similar to Gene Simmons, the bass player for Kiss, complete with a black-and-white face and angry, stuck-out tongue. At the time Simmons quote tweeted his reaction: "Welp."

In a recent interview with CNET, the iconic heavy metal musician maintained his indifference to Obstagoon. "I don't care," he told me via Zoom. "I don't mean that to be uncaring or disingenuous or other big words like gymnasium. I am the luckiest guy on the face of the planet."

Now playing: Watch this: Gene Simmons talks about 50 years of Kiss Mania
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Simmons regularly shares fan-made pictures on Twitter about the multiplatinum band he helped found, including a Record Store Day poster featuring Olivia Rodrigo in Gene Simmons makeup.

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A Record Store Day promotional poster featuring Olivia Rodrigo

Gene Simmons/Twitter

"It's a Kiss world, and you just live in it," he says with his signature tongue in cheek.

Kiss is currently on its End of the Road Tour, which began in 2019 but was interrupted by the pandemic. Now, almost 50 years since the band was founded, the bass player is feeling reflective.

"I came to America and couldn't speak a word of English, as most immigrants -- legal ones -- do," he said. "The idea that you could climb success, to get to heights you never imagined were possible, is more reward than I could ever imagine." Simmons was born Chaim Witz in Israel in 1949.

He started Kiss at the same time he was working at a school in Spanish Harlem. "I wanted to install a thirst for knowledge in young people's minds -- never imagining that in six months I would get a record contract," he said.

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Gene Simmons G² Thunderbird Bass 

Gibson

Simmons is announcing a new signature bass guitar in collaboration with Gibson, called the Gene Simmons G² Thunderbird Bass. Though he is known for his woodsman-inspired Axe guitar, he told me it's not his only instrument. "I've been using a Gibson bass since the '70s -- the 1870s. That was another joke there, you've gotta keep up."

He helped design the guitar because it allowed him to play high on the neck, unlike other guitars on the market.

Because he "bounces around like a ping-pong ball," Simmons says he has little time for listening to music or amassing a record collection, although he does listen to the radio. "You try to find cutting-edge stuff, and then you can get the blues. I've met people who've never heard of Chuck Berry, and I did the eulogy at Chuck's funeral."

The Gene Simmons G² Thunderbird Bass is available on Gibson.com.