He has the most uncool laugh you'll ever hear. It's a bit like a high-pitched hyena cackle, but with a New Yorker's nasal accent mixed in. Every Kiss fan shuddered the first time they heard it.
That laugh, though, is one of the reasons Ace Frehley always was the coolest member of Kiss. The band's original guitarist never seemed to take the band as seriously as his pompous, mouthy bandmates. Of course, Frehley was often too wasted to take much of anything seriously during Kiss' heyday, but as he said in a phone interview last week, "For me, rock 'n' roll should always be fun."
Clean and sober for 19 months now, Frehley quit Kiss once again in 2001 after a five-year "reunion/farewell" outing and said he's having a new kind of fun on his first solo tour in 13 years, which brings him to First Avenue on Thursday. He's also releasing a solo album later this year.
These ventures follow recent TV appearances on VH1's "Rock Honors" and "Rock and Roll Celebrity Poker Tournament" as well as -- most surprising/charming of all -- a fireworks-filled Dunkin' Donuts ad directed by "Scrubs" star Zach Braff.
Although he's clearly not making Kiss-sized money as a solo artist, Frehley believes he's getting the last laugh over his former bandmates.
Q Do you think it's a fair tradeoff doing a solo tour? That is, you don't have to put the makeup on, but you also don't get to play as big a venue.
A I don't even think about the makeup. I took the makeup off in 2001, and I really don't plan to put it back on. As far as the smaller audiences, usually the smaller places have better acoustics and you're closer to the people, more intimate. A lot of times that can be a lot more fun. I'm used to playing arenas with a pit and security guards between the band and fans; there's always that distance. The places I play now, people can touch me. As long as they don't get too intimate, you know? [Laughs/cackles.]
Q It's been well over a decade since you did a solo tour. How are things different now?
A For me, things are definitely better because I'm clean and sober now. That puts a different twist on everything. It's great to wake up without a hangover and not remembering what you did the night before. Life just seems to be getting better all the time.
Q Was it harder to stay sober when you toured with Kiss?
A Not really. If I was having a good time and everybody was doing the right thing, I might've stayed. It just turned into the same nonsense that led to me leaving in '82. It all started happening again. For me, rock 'n' roll should always be fun. That's the reason I got into the business. When it's not fun anymore, it's time to move on.
I just had to leave because it wasn't fun anymore and I wanted to move on with my solo career, which I left on the back burner when I rejoined the group in '96. It was time. It was billed as the farewell tour, and then the reunion tour. They're still doing shows in Europe now. That wasn't the whole concept of the way it was presented to me when I jumped on board again.
Q How do you feel about them touring with [former roadie] Tommy Thayer in your place, with the same makeup?
A I really don't think about it [laughs], or I'd rather not think about it. I have no control over that. The fans don't seem too happy, though. What Kiss is doing right now reminds me of like what some great fighters have done in the past when they come out of retirement, when they should have just rolled up the towel. That's the way it seems to me now. It's getting embarrassing.
Q What can we expect to hear on your new album?
A There are some good heavy rockers, some instrumentals, some midtempo stuff. It's the classic Ace Frehley sound and writing. I think everybody is going to ultimately be pleasantly surprised. I can't believe it's been like 15 years since I put out a studio album. Where the hell did time go [laughs]?
Q Every Kiss fan knows your 1978 solo album was the best of the four members'. Did you have something to prove then, and do you have anything similar to prove now?
A I always felt like I had something to prove when I was a member of Kiss because we were all so competitive. Those four solo albums speak for themselves.
I don't think I have anything to prove now, because I'm some kind of legend, I guess. All I need to do now is kind of reinforce that. Positive reinforcement, you know [laughs]? I think my new CD is going to do that.
Q Your most genius song in my mind, and many fans' minds, is "Rocket Ride," with rock's best sexual innuendos outside of AC/DC. What do you remember about recording it?
A I wrote that with our tour manager, Sean Delaney, who passed away a few years ago. We were all whacked out of our minds when we were doing that [laughs]. I actually had a recording setup in my attic at the time, and it was hot as hell, the air-conditioning wasn't working. It was just an entirely crazy recording session. Things aren't crazy like that anymore these days, fortunately.
Q Your recent Dunkin' Donuts commercial reinforced how you don't take yourself too seriously, or at least your Kiss persona. Was that the point?
A I've never taken anything I've done too seriously, and when people take it too seriously I just tell them to calm down. Like the Stones said, it's only rock 'n' roll. This isn't, you know, the Spanish Inquisition [laughs]. That's another thing about Kiss. Sometimes those guys take the whole [expletive] deal too [expletive] seriously.
Like I said earlier, I got involved with rock 'n' roll because it's fun. It's not really work to me. When I'm having fun, at the end of the day I say, "Wow, I'm having a great time. I can't believe I'm getting paid to do this." That's the way it should be. When you're on tour you should be having a great time. That's what it's all about. For some reason with Kiss, it stopped being that.
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658