Gary James' Interview With Jim Seda of
The Original Kiss Army Tribute
Jim Seda portrays Gene Simmons in The Original Kiss Army Tribute Band. He's been doing it since 1985! That's long before most bands even thought about doing a tribute act. Jim has taken his act throughout the United States as well as Korea and Japan. We talked with him about that and a host of other topics related to being in a Kiss tribute band.
Q - Jim, I actually saw your band in the late 1980s at a place called The Lost Horizon in Syracuse, N.Y. Does that ring a bell?
A - Yeah. That was a long time ago.
Q - As long as we're talking about places you've played, what type of places are you playing now?
A - We try to stick more to festivals and casinos. Very rarely do we play clubs, 'cause nowadays, clubs don't pay much to keep it going, especially with gas prices. It's hard to travel when gas prices are high. We have a large travel expense. Not everybody's located in the same area anymore.
Q - Why are you living in Kentucky now?
A - I just ended up down here. We went through different band member changes throughout the years. Some people ended up here. I ended up coming down here. I started living with someone. I just ended up down here.
Q - How many gigs a year would you say you're playing?
A - Now, we're not doing as much. We're looking for new agents, managers and promoters. We go through a bunch of different ones and after awhile they kind of burned themselves out, or they don't do as much as they say they're going to. We're always looking for someone that has the fire and that knows how to get some stuff for the band. It gets to a point where I don't want to be an agent plus the player and everything else.
Q - How do you make a living if the band isn't working as much?
A - Everybody now is working different jobs. I'm looking myself to jump into other things other than doing the band. I've been doing the band since '85. It's not something I'm looking to continue on forever. I can only do it so much longer. The market has definitely changed. It's not as lucrative as it was in the beginning. You got a lot of other tributes coming out. It was brand new back then. It was an event. After awhile when everybody starts to do it, it becomes less of a big deal. The only thing is, people know who's in the band and that's who they go see.
Q - Have you decided on a cut-off date for The Original Kiss Army Tribute?
A - It's not so much s a cut-off date. I'll play as long as the shows come in. If the shows aren't there, then by default, you're not playing. At this point, the agent that we have now hasn't really produced anything, so right no we're really not doing much. We're looking for new agencies to see if we can re-spark the whole thing.
Q - Did it cost a lot of money back in 1985 to get this Kiss tribute band off the ground?
A - When we started it, I did it for fun. It wasn't thought out. We were happy to get shows. We didn't look at the expense. We started small and ended up going overseas. The cost was totally different back then. Everybody back then was actually working full-time jobs and we were doing it on the week end. Gas was cheaper. Everything was cheaper. A totally different time with everything. All the music was totally different in the '80s.
Q - How different is it to find guys who not only look like the guys in Kiss, but can also play their instruments?
A - Even back then it wasn't as critical. So, we got guys that were OK. As we start going around and get a little more serious about it, you tend to fine tune everything. You have to start searching for people who actually resemble... it's really difficult to get someone who's really on all three parts. Not everybody's a hundred percent, but it's still hard to get someone to sound like Paul Stanley, look like Paul Stanley, have the mannerisms of. So, you gotta go out there and look around. Sometimes it takes a little time for them to get it, so you gotta work with them on it. I've been through a bunch of different members. Certain characters are harder to get than others. I think that Paul is one of the hardest ones to actually have that sound. Even though every character has their separate fans, without the strong Gene and the strong Paul, the rest of the band won't look as good or sound as good. Those are the two main vocals up front. They're the more known ones. Especially now. People nowadays don't recognize Ace Frehley, as far as that's who it is. I played Mexico and when we tribute, we tribute with the classic four. Go to Mexico and the ad in the paper for the show mentions Tommy Thayer. Do those people know that's not what we're doing? People only know what they see now.
Q - How many times have you seen Kiss in concert?
A - Oh, I don't even know. I've seen 'em from the late '70s, '80s. I've done some shows with them during their convention tour that they put out.
Q - I'm going to get to that in a minute. Do you remember the first time you saw Kiss, the year?
A - It was probably, either "Creatures Of The Night"...
Q - I think that was either '82 or '83.
A - They played with Accept. From there it was '85 and everything after that, every time I got to see them.
Q - I saw Kiss is concert for the very first time in October, 1975. They played to 1,500 people in a 10,000 seat auditorium. They were the headliners.
A - I didn't get a chance. I lived in New York City back then.
Q - That's where Kiss was from!
A - Yeah. I was more into sports back then. We're only brought up to what our parents and friends are around. It wasn't like a big Rock 'n' Roll thing. I was more into sports. I recognized when I saw it. I said "Hey, what's that?" I knew people who liked them, but I was just not a fan back then.
Q - You played at events when the entire Kiss band was in attendance. Was that nerve-wracking for you?
A - On the convention tours?
Q - Yeah. I don't know, did you just play a convention?
A - I played four; Miami, Nashville, St. Louis, maybe Atlanta. I can't remember if they did one in Atlanta. It was different. We did our thing for the fans. It was like every other convention. They came out and we hung out with them backstage. They came out and did their thing. So, it was kind of cool. I'm a fan, but I'm not one of those fans that loses it. I kind of see what they're going through because I actually did some of it myself.
Q - The military audiences you played for must have been your best audience.
A - Oh, yeah. We went to Korea. We were there a few days earlier. It was nice out. The day of the show, like a monsoon came through and the show went on. We were playing in a, like a tent area, but it was just soaking wet. People didn't care. They were going crazy just like if it was a sunny day out.
Q - The rain didn't get on your equipment, did it?
A - It did a little bit, but we weren't totally exposed. Everybody else in the audience was. The monitor system got damaged a little bit. They had to get another one. After that, the show went on.
Q - How long of a tour did you have overseas?
A - We played one show in Korea, one show in Japan on that run. We went back to Korea. We played Universal Studios.
Q - You've been around as they say.
A - Yup. We've played every state except Hawaii. We were supposed to play (there) but something happened with the promoters. We never got a chance to do it. I've been to Canada, Mexico, Korea, Japan. It's not something like people say "Oh, was that what you were dreaming about?" No. It's just something that happened and went from doing it for fun to honing the craft and taking it to a different level.
Q - You can't actually enjoy the places you're playing because you're there to do a show.
A - Yeah. Every place starts to feel the same way. People are like "How was that place?" I don't know. I drove there, I flew there, however I got there. I saw the clubs. Set up. Played the show. Left the next day. (laughs) There's been a couple of times where we'd fly in a couple of days earlier and get a chance to check out the area where we have some time off or we actually do a little bit of traveling ourselves. Where do you want to go? Let's go to Mount Rushmore. We did that one time. We had a run and had a few days off to get to where we had to be. So, we took our time and went to certain places that we'd never do on our own.
Q - Before this whole tribute band business really took off, how busy were you? How many gigs did you play?
A - I played in a few bands. The original name was Kiss Army. Then I played in Hotter Than Hell for two years. We used to play twelve to fifteen shows a month sometimes. Every month varied. We were always playing. And there was less going on back then. There was less bands. The tribute scene wasn't really a big thing. There were a few tribute bands of certain bands. There was a Zeppelin band and a Pink Floyd band, but it wasn't as huge as it got at one point. Now it's not so much huge as it is out of control. Especially with the Kiss thing. Everybody thinks they can do it. It's not as easy as you think. You've got to portray the character correctly. Everybody gets these make-shift costumes and they think it's a tribute band. But there's a lot more. You gotta be believable. Some of these bands that go out there are not believable. My whole outlook was to give the audience a feel that they saw Kiss, not just a tribute band. That was the whole point when I started doing it. That's why we started getting different members, to be a little more accurate.
Q - It's hard to get people to keep that energy level up night after night.
A - Yeah. That's the thing. Some people are team players. Some people are not. Like any type of Rock 'n' Roll thing, people get involved with the wrong things and they can't keep up anymore.
Q - Do you have ambitions of writing and performing your own material?
A - Yeah. I've done that a long time ago. That's another thing. That's something that doesn't get paid anything when you're doing original music. It's something that you've got to have the right combination of people to do with. It's good to find at least one more person who has the same ideas and the same energy and the same outlook of the whole thing to write stuff. I've done it before. Some people want to do the tribute thing and some people don't. At one point I was like, "we got a band that's a Kiss band. We're good musicians. Why don't we write some original music and take it out on the road with us with the Kiss stuff that we do. Sell it that way." And some people were into it and some people weren't. Some things work. Some things don't. I wouldn't mind doing it now. You gotta find the right combination with anything. The whole music business is tough. Things come and go. Times change. You get clubs hiring bands to hiring DJs. Sometimes it's not that format anymore. Then things go back after awhile.
Q - You wouldn't entertain the idea of going into a Top 40 or cover band, would you?
A - No. When I started playing, I was doing all Heavy Metal stuff.
Q - I don't even know if there's a market anymore for that.
A - There's some bands that come out there that do the music of the '80s. They have a band called Eighties Rock. They made a name that relates to that era and that's what they do. But you've got to have well-rounded musicians to do that too. We're not twenty years old anymore, you know? (laughs)