INTERVIEW: Ace Frehley

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Ace Frehley. Just the mere mention of his name is enough to send a jolt through the veins of those with even a passing knowledge of KISStory. Whether you subscribe to the mythology of ‘Space Ace’ being a visitor from the planet Jendel or you tend to go with the less colourful version of the story (he’s from the Bronx), Ace represents a certain combination of earthiness and exoticness. In his days with KISS his iconic Spaceman character brought comic book mystique to established guitar hero tropes. His post-KISS career has seen him explore material that’s generally a little more ‘street,’ with more overt nods to his bluesier inspirations. But that doesn’t mean Ace is averse to an occasional trip back to his home planet: last year he released Space Invader, a self-produced album of mostly original tracks along with a very Ace-ian cover of Steve Miller’s “The Joker” which enjoyed a #9 debut on the Billboard 200 charts – the only time a solo album by any past or present KISS member has hit the US top 10. And Ace returns to Australia in April and May with his triple-pickup Les Pauls in tow. Tickets here.

Space Invader is a very energetic album, and the fans seem to have really embraced it. Now that it’s been out for a while and out of your hands, how do you feel about it?

I’m really happy with the way it’s been received. I had a lot of fun recording it and I think that in some way that’s come through on the record. A lot of the reviews have cited that too. They say it’s kind of a feel-good record. My head was in a good place while I was recording. I broke some new ground. Two of the songs were co-written with my fiance, Rachael Gordon, “Immortal Pleasures” and “Change.” I collaborated for the first time with my assistant John Ostrosky on “Gimme A Feelin.” So I mean, it was a lot of fun. It was the first time I worked with Warren Huart, who mixed the record, and I thought he did a great job. I actually gave him a co-production credit on the title track. We recorded that at his place, all the vocals and guitar solos.

Something that really struck me about the title track in particular is that the vocal performance is so animated. It sounds like you’re really having fun being a singer. 

You may have read or you may not have read that that song was an instrumental while we were mixing. And while Warren was mixing other tracks I went back to my hotel room and wrote the lyrics and melody. And Warren is actually singing the high harmony on the choruses. So it was a lot of fun. Everything just came together beautifully and I think that came through on the record.

So what guitar stuff did you use on the record?

Oh well I used about eight dozen Les Pauls! Y’know, a bunch of acoustics, my old Fender Precision that I started using back on my first solo album in 1978. I played bass on ten of the twelve tracks. I used a variety of acoustics; Gibsons, Taylors, Guilds… I used four or five different Strats, Teles… I always like to double the Gibsons with the Fenders because they have different harmonic ranges and when you blend them together you get a thicker sound.

I remember when I was a teenager Guitar World had a poster of you sitting in the studio with a whole bunch of guitars and of course there were a lot of Les Pauls but I remember seeing a Telecaster in there and thinking “That makes sense!”

Yeah! Live I pretty much use Les Pauls exclusively but in the studio I’ll use anything to get an effect or thicken up a track. I don’t want to limit myself in the studio by using any one guitar exclusively.

Ace Frehley GW poster

In terms of effects do you stick with the traditional or are you a bit of a futurist?

Oh pedals and stuff? Oh I like to use both old and new. But I try to stick with analog gear for the most part. I’ve always tried to start with that vintage sound that I grew up with. When I was a teenager I was listening to Led Zeppelin, The Who, Cream, so that was a huge influence on me and it’s still there. And I think it’s still evident when you listen to my records.

How did you learn guitar? Did you learn from records by ear? Did you have a teacher? Were there other kids on the neighbourhood that you could share riffs with?

I was lucky enough to grow up in a musical family. Everyone in the family played an instrument; my mum and dad, my brother and sister… I was the youngest of three kids and being around music and singing in the church choir I understood melody. I listened to everybody else play piano and I memorised scales before I could ever play them. So y’know, I guess I got it by ozzmosis, haha. And I just picked up my brother’s folk guitar one day and started learning chords. That Christmas my dad got me an electric guitar and it’s been a love affair ever since. And I just realised I’ve been playing guitar for 50 years now. I don’t really dwell on time much …god, I’ve been in this business now for 40-plus years… but every day feels fresh to me. This new record feels fresh. I’m really excited about touring in Australia. A lot of good things are happening since the record has been so well received. Tickets are selling well and I’ve got a good line-up. I’ve got the bass player from The Cult, Chris Wyse. I’ve got my old guitar player back, Richie Scarlet. And I’ve got my drummer back, Scot Coogan.

30Jan73_Epiphone_CoronetOne thing I’ve always wanted to ask you but never got around to it in previous interviews is, what was your first Gibson?

Actually my first Gibson was an Epiphone double cutaway. There’s a photo of it on my website I think… maybe… at least there used to be. And once KISS got a record deal I went out and bought a Les Paul Standard and from that point on I have a love affair with Les Pauls.

It must be fun to go to Gibson and say “Hey, I’ve got this idea…”

Gibson and I have a great relationship. They just called me up a couple of months ago and they want to put out another Ace Frehley model. So that would be my third that’s coming out. I don’t have a release date yet but we are gonna put out a third Ace Frehley model and it looks like it’s going to be my flame-top from 1978. That’s going to be an exciting thing.

So what gets you excited about guitar these days?

Well, for me it’s playing these new songs that I wrote. I didn’t realise I could still write the way I write. At this point in my life I thought I’d lost it, and y’know, the fact that I threw this album together in ten  months and during that time wrote 11 songs made me realise that I still have it, and it was mainly effortless for the most part. And I record today the same way I recorded in 1978, just me and a drummer. We’ll cut the basic tracks, I’ll throw on a scratch bass line and we’ll build it from there.

This is not a reference to KISS, although it probably sounds like it, but it must be great to be able to go out there as you with the strength of your modern material. It’s not like you’re going out there and only playing old cuts; you’ve got two fairly recent albums of new material that people want to hear. 

Yeah. The only problem I have is that there are so many albums I’ve played on over the years; which songs do I choose? There’s a lot more material than I can play in one show so I have to choose wisely. I try to get feedback from the fans on which tracks I should do. Obviously I’ll be doing the title track from Space Invader, probably “Gimme A Feelin,” “Change” and one or two others.

That looks like our time up… thanks for your time, Ace. It’s been cool to talk again. 

It was my pleasure. You have a great day!

Ace Frehley Tour Dates:

Tuesday 21st April TOWNSVILLE Civic Theatre
Friday 24th April WELLINGTON James Cabaret
Saturday 25th April AUCKLAND The Studio
Wednesday 29th April BRISBANE Tivoli Theatre
Thursday 30th April SYDNEY Metro Theatre
Friday 1st May HOBART Wrestpoint Showroom
Saturday 2nd May MELBOURNE Forum Theatre
Wednesday 6th May ADELAIDE The Gov
Thursday 7th May PERTH Astor Theatre

Tickets here.

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