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INTERVIEW – Ace Frehley, October 2014

| 28 November 2014 | 5 Replies

INTERVIEW – Ace Frehley, October 2014
By Shane Pinnegar

Former KISS guitarist Ace Frehley has recently released the excellent album Space Invader –his fifth and arguably best since leaving the face-painted band in 1982 – and he’s in a great mood (“Everything’s great!” he declares happily when I ask him how he’s doing) when we get on the phone to talk about the record, his choice of guitars, addiction, and – inevitably – the band who seem locked in a never-ending feud with him and fellow ex-bandmate Peter Criss.

Ace Frehley 01

To break the ice, I ask Ace how the album is sitting with him now that it’s been finished for a while.

“Yeah, I still listen to the album and hear stuff that I don’t even remember doing!” he cackles. “I was having such a good time recording this record that a lot of it just came real easy. You know, the lyrics and the solos just kind of flowed out of me. I had a lot of fun doing it and, you know, a lot of the reviews have said that it’s a fun album, it’s a feel good record, and I’m really happy for that because I was having fun, and it seems to have come through on the tracks, and that’s a good feeling.”

Space Invader captures the quintessential Frehley sound – from his unique guitar tone to the instantly catchy melodies and out-there lyrics, it’s classic Ace.

“To me, probably the biggest surprise was the title track of Space Invader,” he says. “We just had a musical track for that while we were mixing [the album], and the record company said, ‘we need a title track,’ and I wrote that in the hotel room while Warren Huart was mixing a different track. And then I went to the studio that evening and, uh, we just tracked it, cut the vocals. Warren actually sang on the background on the choruses, and I tracked the solo, and it just came together in one evening. I’m still surprised how well it came out.”

Having written a slew of KISS classics as well as bonafide solo hits, Frehley says inspiration comes in many different guises.

“Uhhh, you know, I don’t have any set way of writing. Some people have formulas; I’m not a schooled musician, and I’ve never taken guitar lessons so it’s just, I kind of wing it and fly by the seat of my pants. Sometimes songs start with a guitar riff, sometimes they start with just a melody line, or a lyrical idea. On Inside The Vortex, for instance, I wrote on a bass guitar first and then added the guitars. So, there’s no formulaic set method in the way I create music; it just kind of happens spontaneously – and it’s fun!” he laughs.

When asked if that creative lightning can strike at any time of night or day, or he needs to make time to sit with a pen and paper and forcibly create something, the guitarist happily elaborates.

“Yeah, I wish I could [sit down with a pen and paper and just write] – people talk about that method of setting aside a few hours a day, and sit down and try to write. I’ve never written that way. You know, songs come to me when I’m driving. I wake up in the morning sometimes when I’m probably, you know, still halfway in a dream state and a lyrical idea comes to mind, or I’ll be sitting down, just jamming on the guitar and, you know, a rhythm part will come out. The next thing you know there’s a melody line and lyrics. I can never force myself to write; it just has to happen spontaneously.”

Ace Frehley 02

Echoing his 1978 KISS self-titled solo album hit version of Russ Ballard’s New York Groove, Space Invader includes a riff-heavy take on The Steve Miller Band’s 1973 smash The Joker. Frehley doesn’t really have a method to make someone else’s song his own – he just goes in and does it!

“I don’t know, I just kind of like to…” the guitarist hesitates, before laughing, “…some people say to me, ‘man you Ace-ified it!’

“It reminds me, I mean, like, when I redid [The Rolling Stones’] 2,000 Man back in the ‘70s, I really changed that,” Frehley reflects, “but, you know, pretty much with The Joker, I made it a lot heavier, changed the arrangement a little, threw in a cool guitar solo, and changed the melody a little on the vocal chorus at the end. And changed a couple of words here or there, you know – I have to make it my own or it wouldn’t be right. But, I’m happy with the end result. That was actually the first track I recorded for the record.”

All of which begs the question: would Ace, as a solo artist, ever consider recording some of his old KISS songs?

“Sure! I mean, my next album for [label] eOne Music here in The States is going to be all covers and remakes so, yeah, absolutely, I’m re-recording some KISS tracks. I believe I’m going to be doing Parasite; I’m not sure which other ones, you know, and some covers that I’ve always wanted to do that I haven’t done. So, that’s going to be a fun record. I’m going to get a lot of different guest stars to play with me on these tracks. And it’s going to be a much easier record than this last one because I don’t have to write solos, and I don’t have to write lyrics because they’re already set. So, that’s going to be another fun record for me, and I’m looking forward to that, you know, start tracking it out in between tours and what-not.”

Ace Frehley 03

Frehley goes on to say there’s other bucket-list projects he’d like to tackle sooner rather than later, as well.

“Yeah, there’s a couple of, there’s several things I want to do that I haven’t achieved yet. You know, I’ve been talking to a couple different producers about scoring films. I want to do an animation and put music to it because, you know, I’ve been dabbling in computer animation for years myself. I want to start producing other bands, you know, now that I’ve become pretty much a certified producer – the last two albums I produced myself.

“So, yeah, there’s a lot of things I want to do,” he says. “You know, probably be in another film. I’d love to be in a comedy. I’d love to be in a sci-fi movie. You know, maybe make some appearances in television shows and stuff. So, yeah, there’s a lot of things that are still on my bucket list that I haven’t achieved. I haven’t jumped out of a plane yet! [Laughing] I haven’t skydived.”

Titling the new record Space Invader ties nicely in with the ‘Space Ace’ character Frehley invented when KISS first donned outlandish makeup and costumes and started to conquer the world, and Frehley is adamant that he enjoys playing up to that character, rather than wishing he could leave it in the past.

“No, I’m proud of the character I created for KISS,” he says with gusto. “I’m proud of the makeup and all the costumes I had input on. Also, you know, I left my mark on the stage show, obviously. But, you know, I had a lot of fun playing in KISS while it lasted, and that’s part of my legacy. And the Spaceman will always be part of me because it was my creation, and just because there’s some other guy up there dressed like me, playing my solos, doesn’t take away from the fact that I created that, and I’ll always be known for that. My body of work has withstood the test of time, in between solo records and all the stuff I wrote with KISS, so I’m proud of it, and I still cherish all that stuff.”

Ace with KISS in the early days

Ace with KISS in the early days

Over the years Ace has played a wide variety of guitars, but it’s the Les Paul Gibson that he prefers above all others – he even has a signature range of them available.

“Pretty much Les Paul’s live are my choice of guitar,” Frehley affirms. “They’re pretty much, you know, the ideal rock guitar. The difference between a Les Paul and Fender is that the neck is arched. If you try to lay a Les Paul flat on a table, it’s not going to lay flat because the neck is attached to the body at about a six degree angle. And that creates tension when you tighten up the strings, and that’s what gives the Les Paul sustain. And it’s not a bolt-on neck, the neck’s glued on. And it makes more for a solid connection, and gives you better resonance. I’m pretty much a Les Paul man live. In the studio I use a variety of guitars: Fenders, and what have you. [But] even in the studio, Les Paul still rules.”

Ace’s history of substance abuse is well known, but he’s sounding as healthy as he ever has after eight years of sobriety. He also doesn’t see the point in regretting the wasted years.

“Oh, you know, like the title of my book, No Regrets, there are no regrets. Yeah, I had some problems with substance abuse over the years, but that’s ancient history. It’s been over eight years now sober and, you know, life’s been good to me. I got a clean bill of health from my doctor, I kick off the U.S. tour November 13th and, you know, everything’s great. I got a beautiful woman that I’m engaged to – you know Rachel Gordon, my fiancée, actually co-wrote two songs on the new record, so I broke some new ground there, collaborating with a woman. And, who knows what’s going to happen in the future? I’m very excited about touring. It looks like we’ll be coming to Australia in the [U.S.] spring [that’s March-May, our Autumn, Aussies – Editor], and hopefully Japan, as well. And we’ve already booked some dates in Europe for June.

“Everything’s exciting right now,” he continues, his healthy glow almost radiating from the phone, “and I think that the way the album’s being received worldwide is just propelling the live shows, and making everything more exciting. I can’t wait to perform again live, and play some of these new songs. So, you know, ever since the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and this record was released, things have just been kind of snowballing.”

Ace Frehley 04

It’s inspirational to hear Ace talking so positively after what seems like a lifetime seeing him stumble from press conference to show to trouble, not to mention seeing him using his incredible, unique talent to entertain people again, as well as achieving more in other areas of his life like family.

“Well, it’s nice waking up and remembering what you did the night before, and not having a hangover, I got to tell you!” he laughs self-deprecatingly.

“You know, I’m not anti-alcohol or anti-drugs,” he continues, suddenly serious. “I think everybody needs to do and find their own lifestyle. I think it’s rude of me to try to tell people not to drink. You know, I drank most of my life. I’m not anti-alcohol, I just realised that, at a certain point in my life, it was time for me to stop drinking, you know – I couldn’t handle it anymore. It’s a personal choice, and everybody should just do what works for them.

“I really can’t stand the kind of people that get sober and preach the evils of this, and the evils of that. I just think everyone needs to do what works for them.”

Ace Frehley 05

Having seen The Rolling Stones the night before talking with Frehley, with special guest Mick Taylor performing with them on two tracks, I enquire whether he would be interested in doing a similar guest appearance with KISS.?

“Well, I haven’t been invited,” he says bluntly. “I thought it was going to happen when we were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in April. Unfortunately, Paul and Gene decided they didn’t want to perform with me and Peter. And for the life of me I don’t know why.” Frehley gives a sad chuckle before continuing.

“But, you know, here’s looking out for in the future. It’s just a shame that after 40 years, they couldn’t give the fans 15 minutes; it was something everybody wanted. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame requested that the four original members and inductees perform. Gene decided, you know, they didn’t want to do it. You’ll have to ask them why; I don’t know.”

Ace Frehley with KISS at their Rock n Roll Hall Of Fame Induction

Ace Frehley with KISS at their Rock n Roll Hall Of Fame Induction

When quizzed about the supposed feud between Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, and Frehley & Criss, the guitarist crushes the notion immediately.

“Yeah, the press makes it out like we hate each other and that’s just a crock. I called up Gene while I was making Space Invader, and he wouldn’t let me off the phone. We were reminiscing about, you know, driving around in a station wagon in the early ‘70s,” he laughs, “staying in Holiday Inns. But, somehow the press portrays the fact that, you know, none of us get along. That’s really not the case. Obviously there’s still a lot of rivalry, and there always was big egos – all four of us had them, and still do.

“I mean, one thing Gene does, he’s been putting his foot in his mouth a lot lately, talking about depressed people who kill themselves; saying, ‘rock and roll is dead.’ Rock and roll may be dead in his mind, but in my mind, when you come to see Ace Frehley live, you’ll see rock and roll is very much alive!”

This story was originally published in edited form in X-Press Magazine’s 20 November 2014 issue

Category: Interviews

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