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Gene Simmons, talent scout, sniffs up north

Despite years of blood-spitting, fire-breathing, and salacious tongue waggling, Gene Simmons is probably not the Antichrist. But the legendary KISS bassist, reality TV star, and marketing mastermind might be channeling Mammon, the demon of wealth, or perhaps whatever Horseman of the Apocalypse rides the most expensive thoroughbred.

At least, that's the impression he seems to playfully cultivate in interviews and his long-running A&E reality show Gene Simmons Family Jewels, as he shrewdly and pragmatically discusses dollars and cents with a devilishly sharp wit, and one eyebrow perpetually arched above impenetrably dark sunglasses.

As a founding member of KISS, one of the biggest-selling bands in rock history, Simmons continues to tour arenas all over the world. But he's in town this weekend for a different reason. At the M for Montreal music showcase, he'll be scouting talent for his new label, Simmons Records, and promoting his first signing, Toronto rockers The Envy, who gave a free show Wednesday night at Cafe Campus.

Partnered with ex-MP Belinda Stronach, Simmons' latest venture is focused exclusively on Canadian bands. "I really believe that the next generation of superstars is going to come out of Canada," he says. "You've got perhaps the biggest marketing entity in the world right next door. You can take advantage of America, but you've got to have the goods."

And those goods can be found right here. "There's plenty of talent (in Canada)," he says, listing off a number of national songwriting treasures and also Nickelback. "What's missing up here ... is not the talent, but the ability to market and sell the talent."

Canada, says Simmons, is a gold mine of great music. But don't compare it to former musical meccas like Seattle. "Seattle was a disaster. You have one band that survived, and that's Pearl Jam. All the others are dead and forgotten," he says. "I love the music. But whining white boys complaining about their lives? I never bought it." To Simmons, it's not about fads or scenes, but promoting solid bands. "We're going to make sure the music's there, the marketing's the right way, the branding is the right way. It's a big opportunity for Canada."

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