Though he was a founding member, singer-guitarist Ace Frehley last played with KISS in 2002. Now, KISS is out playing arenas on yet another reunion tour, and Frehley is playing the club circuit, staying at hotels like the SpringHill Suites in Iowa where he was so preoccupied with finding food — room service wasn't available — he could barely focus on this interview. Though he put us on hold numerous times to place a takeout order, he did manage to answer a few questions about Anomaly, his first solo album in 20 years, and what he thinks about KISS' recent nomination for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Why so long between solo efforts?
I don't know. I had to get it right. You know, you don't wait 20 years to come out with a substandard record. So far the reviews have been pretty good, knock on wood.
The record business has changed significantly in the past two decades. These days, is it harder to get people to buy the album and come out to see your show?
Well, what's changed dramatically is how you buy and sell music and how you market it. It all has to do with the Internet. Nothing is hard to adjust to as long as you know what the rules are. I considered signing with a couple of different major labels, but at the end of the day, I decided to start my own record label and hire a marketing company. It's worked out great for me. My album is available everywhere, on Amazon and on iTunes. Some people have decided to go to just Walmart these days, but I wanted everyone to be able to access my album.
You've been good about updating your website regularly.
Yeah, that's a new development for me too. Last year, I toured without a CD and website and still did OK. This time, it's going to be so much better. Anyone interested in coming to see me can just click on acefrehley.com and find the dates. You can buy an autographed copy of the album there too.
I like that rendition of "Fox on the Run" on the new album. Why did you want to cover the song?
I was looking for a cover to do. I was considering a couple of Stones songs because I did "2000 Man" years back, and that worked out good for me. A friend said to try "Fox on the Run." That was the last song we recorded. We took a day off mixing and tracked that one afternoon. It turned out good.
Young guitarists often cite you as an influence. For you, what was the key to becoming a great player?
I grew up in a household where everyone played instruments. It stemmed from that. Even before I picked up an instrument, I was singing in a church choir. I was influenced greatly by the whole English Invasion, the Beatles, the Stones, Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix. Once I got in tune with music, I started studying older music like Elvis and old blues players and B.B. King, who I still listen to today.
Your first guitar was a Christmas present from your dad. Tell me about it.
It was a piece of shit. It was a Japanese piece of crap that cost about 20 bucks. I was 13. That was back in 1964. I went from that to having my own Gibson Ace Frehley Signature Series model, and now I'm working on my second one that will hopefully be out by the end of the year.
Is it the case that you were asked to go on the current KISS tour but declined?
Was I asked to go on the tour? No. I left the group in 2002. They decided to hire Tommy Thayer, and they've been working with Tommy ever since. I had done three tours with KISS since I returned in 1996. I did the Reunion Tour, I did the Psycho Circus Tour and the Farewell Tour. And after the Farewell Tour, it was farewell. I needed a change. I wasn't growing creatively by putting on make-up and wearing an old costume and playing old songs. It was time to get the lead out.
Do you and Gene Simmons get along?
I always got along with Gene. We used to room together in the early days. Paul and Peter were in one room at the Holiday Inn, and me and Gene were in the other. As we got older, his business practices maybe weren't exactly what I agreed with.
You've been playing a few KISS tunes on the current tour?
I'm doing songs I've written like "Cold Gin" and "Shock Me" and "Rocket Ride." I do songs from my new CD and a cross-section of a lot of stuff.
Are your fans necessarily KISS fans or is that not the case?
I don't know. I'm sure a lot of KISS fans are Ace fans. But I'm sure there are Ace fans who aren't KISS fans. That I'm sure of because I read my e-mail. Everybody has a niche.
If KISS gets inducted into the Rock Hall will you perform with them?
I don't know. I don't think that far ahead.
But they've been nominated now for the first time. It might happen sooner than you think.
Yes, it's about time. It should be a lot of fun when it happens. I'm looking forward to it.
Any good memories of Cleveland?
When I think of Cleveland, I think of getting snowed in years ago when I was with KISS. We got snowed into this hotel called Swingos. That's my craziest memories of Cleveland. The last time I was in Cleveland was last year, and I have great memories. It's always been a rock 'n' roll town and a working-class town. It's always been great to me. I'm looking forward to coming back.