Since 2009, original KISS guitarist Ace Frehley has been in the midst of a remarkably productive chapter of his career, releasing five solo albums (four since 2014) while reestablishing himself as a solo artist following a nearly 20 year gap between solo releases.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer is set to put forth his latest album Origins Vol. 2 via the eOne label on Friday, September 18. The new record is the second in a series of cover albums which began in 2018.
Now available for pre-order, the new project, like its predecessor, showcases an impressive roster of guests, featuring vocalists Lita Ford and Cheap Trick’s Robin Zander as well as guitarists John 5 and Bruce Kulick.
From KISS to Frehley’s Comet, the idea of fun has always defined “The Spaceman’s” best work but never more so than on the cover songs that make up the Origins releases.
“It feels great. I finished the album around Christmastime last year. So, I’ve been chomping at the bit to see what the fan reaction is going to be to this record,” said Frehley over the phone earlier this month. “The beauty of doing an album of covers is that you don’t have to write the songs. So there’s a lot less pressure on you. You can have more fun with them. Since they’re already written, all you have to do is really put your stamp on it and alter it a little so it sounds interesting to the listener. And I think I lucked out on this record. It was pretty effortless. It was just a lot of fun.”
Frehley is no stranger to making a cover song his own.
On September 18, 1978, at the height of their popularity, KISS simultaneously released four studio albums, one solo album from each member of the group, leveraging their commercial success at a time when the record industry was booming.
Frehley scored the biggest hit with a cover of Hello’s “New York Groove,” a single which nearly cracked the top 10, driving platinum sales of his album.
“When the albums came out and mine appeared to be the most successful, I didn’t get a lot of pats on the back from the rest of the guys in the band. They were all more concerned with why their albums weren’t doing that well,” said Frehley with a chuckle, looking back at a record that hit #26 on the Billboard 200 albums chart. “Paul and Gene, and Peter, never really gave me that much praise. Gene, to this day, hasn’t admitted that my album did better than his. He always used to say that his album sold more than mine. I don’t even go there anymore. It was a long time ago.”
Origins Vol. 2 comes 42 years later, to the day, and features Frehley’s solo take on the early KISS cut “She,” a track which originally appeared on the group’s third album Dressed to Kill in 1975 but actually dates to the band’s earliest days.
The guitarist unearthed the song for performance during a 2019 tour and the updated take on the new album prominently features the contributions of his current backing band.
In addition to the KISS cut, Vol. 2 debuts Frehley’s spin on equally rocking fare from artists like Led Zeppelin (“Good Times, Bad Times”), Deep Purple (“Space Truckin’”) and the Jimi Hendrix Experience (“Manic Depression” with former KISS guitarist Bruce Kulick).
Picking up where Vol. 1 left off, the latest Origins installment includes another Cream cover, with guitarist John 5 chipping in on “Politician.” The song takes Frehley back to his earliest days as a fan, when he discovered the sounds of Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce at a time when radio functioned as rock and roll’s primary tastemaker and trendsetter.
“I saw Cream and The Who’s first New York appearances. I was actually going to see Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels. Because the lead guitar player Jim McCarty, I’m a big fan of his. I didn’t expect to see the Cream or The Who and I was speechless. They were just amazing. I remember being up in the balcony and just being blown away. I had never seen anything like it,” said the guitarist, flashing back to a 1965 package billed as “Music in the Fifth Dimension,” a concert which took place at RKO Proctor’s 58th Street Theatre in New York City that March. “It was a Murray the K show. He was a DJ and used to have shows in Midtown Manhattan. He was a promoter as well. He’d rent out a theater. I snuck into that show and just had a great time. I actually wound up meeting Murray the K that day as well,” Frehley said, thinking back upon the legendary radio disc jockey.
“Everything was different back then. The internet changed everything. More people listened to the radio because they didn’t have a computer or an iPad to listen to music with. That was such a different time for radio as a way of exposing new music, as opposed to what we hear now,” said the guitarist. “You had all of these distinctive DJs: Murray the K. Cousin Brucie. Alison Steele, the Nightbird. You just had all of these personalities. There’s still some. But nothing like it used to be back then.”
Origins Vol. 2 takes a deep dive into the British Invasion via Frehley’s handling of the Beatles (“I’m Down”), Rolling Stones (“Jumpin’ Jack Flash” featuring Lita Ford), Kinks (“Lola”) and Animals (“We Gotta Get Out of This Place”).
From KISS throughout his solo work, pop sensibility has always been an underrated element of the guitarist’s finest recorded moments. On his latest album, it’s on display via covers of artists like Paul Revere and the Raiders.
“A good song is a good song whether it’s written today or it was written in the 60s,” said Frehley. “I remember seeing Paul Revere and the Raiders as a kid. I’d come home from school and they’d be on TV. And I always liked ‘Kicks’ because I love the guitar riff. As I got older, I realized that, lyrically, the message is anti-drug. And it’s a good message for the youth of today. So I thought that would work well on the record since I’m coming up on 14 years sober.”
Staring down a future amidst COVID-19 that’s taken traditional live performance off the table indefinitely, Frehley, 69, looks ahead to new studio recordings, archival projects and more, keeping busy in an effort to challenge himself creatively and push the music forward.
“The pandemic has changed so many things. I love touring. I’ve got a great touring band. Hopefully by next year, it’ll all become possible again,” he said. “But I kind of live life one day at a time. There’s a lot of different things I can do. I’m probably going to start working on my next studio record once I get my studio built in the new home I just moved into. I’m working on my second book. Gibson’s going to be putting out my Black Beauty 3-pickup custom guitar. I’m working on a movie script for an Ace Frehley movie. I’m going to do a box set eventually. I could stay home for two years and work without touring,” Frehley said.
“At this point in my life, I try to think about things I haven’t done yet. I’ve never done a score for a film. That would be nice to get involved with. I’d like to start producing some younger bands and bring them into the studio – because I have a wealth of knowledge that I learned from working with great producers like Eddie Kramer and Bob Ezrin. Those are the things that are on my bucket list, you know?”