KISS guitarist Ace Frehley back in rock and roll’s orbit with solo LP

By Patrick Prince

Guitarist Ace Frehley has had plenty of reasons to celebrate in 2014. He joined the ranks of Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame inductees along with his former band, KISS, 40 years after the release of the band’s eponymous debut album.

News of the induction ignited talk — too much talk — about reuniting the original, legendary lineup for a world tour — and ended with a legion of disappointed soldiers of the KISS Army when Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley announced that a KISS Rock Hall performance featuring co-founding members Frehley and drummer Peter Criss wasn’t going to happen.

(RELATED: Album review of Ace Frehley’s ‘Space Invader’)

But fans who have been hankering to hear from Frehley are in for a treat, thanks to the arrival of “Space Invader” (Entertainment One), the follow-up to his well-received 2009 studio LP “Anomaly.” The CD version of “Space Invader” is available now; a two-LP vinyl edition is scheduled to be released Oct. 28, 2014, by  eOne.

Ace Frehley Space InvadersOne of the tracks on “Space Invader” is a cover of Steve Miller’s “The Joker” — which, fittingly for a man nicknamed “Space Ace,” opens with the line, “Some people call me the space cowboy.”

“I Ace-ified it a little,” Frehley says, laughing, when talking about reworking Miller’s iconic track for “Space Invader.”

Frehley is a man who lives in the now, a point he emphasized in this interview. The past can’t be redone, the future is another day, and it’s the present that is filled with a positive vibe.

GOLDMINE: The most obvious question is why five years since the last solo album?
ACE FREHLEY: I kind of had a falling out with my last label, and I was talking to two or three different labels. Finally I struck a deal with eOne Music last year. And the rest is history. Hopefully everybody’s gonna like it. I think it’s probably a better record than my last one.

Ace Frehley photo by Jayme Thornton

Ace Frehley’s philosophy toward his fans is a simple one: “It’s important to be in tune with the people who are paying money to see you,” the former KISS guitarist says. Photo by Jayme Thornton.

GM: You are more than seven years clean and sober, and the song “Change” seems to be about what you had to overcome. Am I wrong?
AF: It’s partly that message. You know, my fiancé, Rachael Gordon, wrote the lyrics for that, so she’ll probably disagree with you. It certainly doesn’t have to be about drugs and alcohol. It can be about anybody who feels they’re in a rut and needs to change their life and get to a better place.

GM: I found the line “all the people surrounding you want what you have” interesting.
AF: She wrote that line, and she’ll tell you it’s about groupies (laughs). It can be interpreted a couple different ways. I wrote a few of the lines in that song, but she wrote the melody and the majority of the lyrics. The biggest surprise for me on the record was the way “Space Invader” turned out. That song was an instrumental up until the last two weeks of mixing the record. I had no idea what that song was going to be. I hadn’t decided which song was going to be the instrumental. While (studio engineer) Warren Huart was mixing a different track, I went back to my hotel room in Los Angeles and wrote the melody and lyrics for that.

GM: One of the best songs on the album, “Starship,” is an instrumental. I was curious why that song ended up being an instrumental.
AF: Because it just lent itself to be an instrumental. It was just one of those songs that I had a melody for but there were three songs in the running to be instrumentals. There was “Space Invader,” which turned out to be the title track for the record. And there’s “Past the Milky Way,” which was an instrumental, also, up until the last two weeks of the record being finished. And I ended up turning “Past the Milky Way” into a love song and dedicated it to Rachael. So that left “Starship” as the instrumental. I did some edits on it, extended it, did an interesting funny thing on the front, did a silly ending where we’re talking about George Jetson. And Chris Wyse is playing bass on “Spaceship,” the bass player from The Cult.

GM: And the cover of Steve Miller’s “The Joker.” Besides being a good song, why that song? Just a favorite of yours?
AF: Nah. I always liked that song, but it’s not like it was a favorite song of mine. But eOne recommended I try that one. And that was actually the first song I recorded for the record. Turns out I got some ideas on how to approach it. The fact that there are no drums on the first verse is an accident (laughs). There were drums on the first verse, but I was doing a drum edit in Pro Tools at my home studio, and I accidentally erased the whole first verse, and the drum kit. Sometimes accidents were meant to happen. I listened to it and said, ‘Maybe there shouldn’t be drums in the first verse.’ So I overdubbed the high hat and put an interesting delay on it. It actually ended up building the song a lot of better. I slowly brought in the bass and guitar line and just started it off with rhythm guitar and vocals and the high hat.

GM: Have you figured out the line “I speak of the pompitous of love”? Because no one else has.
AF: I don’t know, you’re gonna have to ask Steve Miller that question (laughs). I just pulled the lyrics off the Internet. I actually changed the lyrics. You know that line where he goes, ‘Doin’ you wrong’?  I added ‘I’m doin’ you right.’ I Ace-ified it a little (laughs).

GM: You have a knack for producing, too. You produced this one. Do you think you’ll ever produce other albums, for other artists?
AF: Yeah, that’s something I’m really dying to do, because I love working in the studio. I’d love to get a young band in the studio — or even a middle-aged band (laughs) — and produce a record with somebody, because I have a wealth of knowledge, you know. I’ve worked with some of the greatest producers and engineers in the world. And I have my own little bag of tricks that I use. That’s something that I am looking forward to in my golden years, which I’m approaching rapidly (laughs).

GM: You got a great guitar sound on this new album. This album can be an example for a band to hear, where they can say, ‘Hey, maybe he’ll produce our next album.’
AF: Yeah, I mean, if the price is right, you know, anybody can get me (laughs).

GM: You take a lot of pride as being self-taught as a guitarist.
AF: Yeah, I do. I think it’s one of the reasons why I have a signature style.

GM: You’ve always felt comfortable singing and playing guitar. Not every guitarist feels that way. Were you always comfortable with that duel role?
AF: I’m really not that comfortable. It’s by necessity, because I’m a songwriter and I don’t have a lead singer in my band, so it’s like I’m stuck doing the vocals. But, you know, over the years it seems like my voice has gotten better.

GM: Do you ever audition singers or do you just say, “Screw it; I’ll do it on my own?”
AF: Yeah, at this point and this stage of the game, I don’t think people want to hear anybody sing but me.

GM: That’s true.
AF: I’ve been singing since the ’70s, and I kind of painted myself into a corner.

GM: You look at a song like “I Wanna Hold You,” and you have the blazing lead guitar coming in at the same time as the lead vocal. That’s demanding live, I’m sure.
AF: Yeah, well, we’ll see. That’s a problem I’ve encountered in the past. I’ll write a song and then do a solo, but, you know, they’re always done separately — do a lead vocal and a solo and then try to figure how to do them together.

GM: And the song “Inside the Vortex” — really, the whole album — you’ve really gone back to a ’70s sound. “Inside the Vortex” has a hard-edged boogie riff. That’s good in this age of overproduced pop.
AF: It was by design. I listened to my ’78 solo album several times, and I tried to take elements from that record and incorporate it into this new record. Because, you know, all my fans cite that as their favorite album. So I think I achieved that somewhat.

KISS Mercury 1998 publicity photo

Members of the KISS Army who hoped to see the original four members of KISS (from left: Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss) perform together at the 2014 Rock And Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony were disappointed. But Ace Frehley hasn’t ruled out a reunion someday: “Ah, never say never.”

GM: You have; you achieved it well. And when I say ’70s, I think it is different than what you have done with KISS.
AF: Yeah, well, it’s good to me, you know. I just do what sounds good to me and hope people are gonna like it.

GM: You always want to bring in new fans but I think your fans, and KISS fans, will like the album.
AF: Yeah, I might get some new fans with this record. I’m hoping. And I think the KISS fans are gonna like this. What do you think should be the next single?

GM: “I Wanna Hold You,” to me, is the single.
AF: The first single we released was “Gimme a Feelin’.” We released that early. I don’t know if it’s gonna be a full-blown single or not, but I’m leaning toward “Space Invader,” the title track, myself. It’s between that and “I Wanna Hold You.” Those are the two songs that keep coming up.

GM: I guess this solo album will put to rest there will ever be a KISS reunion.
AF: Ah, never say never.

Ace Frehley KISS guitarist pull quoteGM: I always hear you saying positive things. It’s like you are your own motivational coach. You always thought you were going to make it somehow. You always think an album’s gonna do well. Are you generally a positive person?
AF: Yeah, I am.

GM: Do you have a creative deadlines, saying I’m gonna get this done in so many months?
AF: The deadline (for the album) was, like, Feb. 15. I went well over the deadline. If I wouldn’t have gone over the deadline, we wouldn’t have had “Space Invader” and “Past the Milky Way.” I wrote those the last minute, under pressure. Sometimes my creative juices really start to flow when I know I have to produce.

GM: Why is that, you think?
AF: I have no idea. It’s like, for me, a song is never over. With Pro Tools and the flexibility of editing, you know, if somebody doesn’t give me a deadline, I’ll keep changing it for months on end. So I need the deadline to resolve a song and say ‘OK, no more editing,’ because I’ll change the guitar solo five times.

GM: So you’re telling me if the record company gave you another six months on this record it would sound completely different?
AF: It wouldn’t be completely different, but there would definitely be some changes.

GM: What about a tour for the new album?
AF: We’re planning on doing some shows in the fall.

GM: Is it going to be a complete U.S. tour or world tour?
AF: No, we’re just playing some shows, I think, depending how the record does. If it does as well as I think it’s gonna do, we’ll probably go to Europe and Australia and Japan, and then maybe by that time come back and do a proper tour in the States. I don’t think we’re going to kick off a proper tour in the States in the fall. We’re just going to do some isolated shows.

GM: You’re going to play most of the new album live, right?
AF: As much as I can, sure. And I always got a few surprises, but if I give them away they won’t be surprises, will they? (Laughs.) Depending on how well the album is received, I’ll let the fans pick the songs they want me to do off the new record. When I’m performing, I want to do the songs that people want to hear.

GM: Do you follow the chatter of all the fans? Like, go online and see what they’re saying?
AF: I try to more and more these days. It’s important to be in tune with the people who are paying money to see you. GM

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