From being the original guitarist and a co-founder of KISS to carving his own path in the industry with his solo work, Ace Frehley is a true rock and roll pioneer. Though he has inspired so many musicians to take them, Ace Frehley never took a formal guitar lesson. In 2014, with the original KISS lineup, Frehley was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Forty years after releasing his first solo album, Ace Frehley’s eighth solo album, Spaceman, will hit the shelves on Friday, and it’s arguably his best work since Anomaly.
I recently had the pleasure of speaking with the Space Ace himself. We talked his new album, and what it was like being back in the studio with Gene Simmons, who accompanied Ace on Spaceman in “Without You I’m Nothing” and “Your Wish Is My Command.” He also shared a story with me on how he bluffed his way backstage and became a roadie for Mitch Mitchell, Jimi Hendrix’s drummer. We discussed what drew him to the guitar, and the unique story on how he found his current band. In addition, Ace reveals his favorites sci-fi movies, and you will also learn in this interview how you can have Ace Frehley as a best man at your wedding. Yes, you can have the Spaceman as your best man.
Carter Lee: Hello, Ace. How are you, sir?
Ace Frehley: I’m great!
CL: I really appreciate your time today, thank you for this.
AF: Oh, my pleasure.
CL: I’ve been jamming to your new album, ‘Spaceman,’ all day today. I love it! Before we get into the album itself, I would like to talk a little about the cover. You’re in a throwback attire of something I would likely have seen you wearing a few decades ago, which I love, and you’re holding a Les Paul. I really like the cover. I know that you’re also an artist when it comes to designing. Did you design this?
AF: No, but it was my idea. It’s pretty much a take off an old Barry Levine photo session, where I’m on a Plexiglas throne with fog, and I’m wearing a silver jumpsuit.
CL: Right, right!
AF: We kind of started at that point and took it a little further. We couldn’t find a Plexiglas throne, so we found a silver, leather throne [laughs]. We just, you know, experimented.
CL: It’s really cool.
AF: Thank you.
CL: I love the name of the album, and the three tracks that really stuck out to me were ‘Without You I’m Nothing,’ ‘Quantum Flux,’ as I love instrumentals, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that you did an Eddie Money cover of ‘I Want To Go Back.’ While I tend to like them, covers are not normally my favorite songs on an album, but you really made this one your own and it made the song sound fresh again. For me, it was a two-for because I love Eddie Money and I love your music. What drew you in to covering Eddie Money and that song in particular?
AF: That actually happens to be one of my favorite tracks as well. I was just watching YouTube with Rachel, like a year ago, and that video came on, and I think that was his comeback hit in the 80s. I identified with the video, and I identify with the lyrics of the song because a couple of years ago I did a spread for the ‘Village Voice’ in New York. They asked me to go back up to the Bronx and show my high school, where I went and where I used to hang out. So, there was a parallel there, and something drew me to the song. I mean, the melody and the lyrics are just wonderful in that song, so I figured I could do a good job. Instead of being dominated by saxophones and keyboards, I just layered a lot of guitars, and it seemed to work out.
CL: Oh, yeah. It’s beautiful. How did it feel to be back in the studio with Gene Simmons on this album?
AF: I got Gene to come down to my house. I have a home studio, where I do most of my recording. It was a real pleasure. Gene and I threw two songs together in a matter of three or four hours, then we broke to eat. I was watering palm trees in the backyard. He started laughing and goes to Rachel, ‘This is new.’ [Laughing] He never saw me water a palm tree. It was a pleasant visit.
He’s happy with the way the two songs came out. I wrote most of the lyrics, and he came up with the chord changes and the titles, but I took it from there with my production skills. The combination of me and Gene working together was very strong.
CL: That’s always seemed to be a golden combination, and it shines in this album as well.
AF: We thought we’ve always had that chemistry. KISS started off with the four of us with a collective thought. It just took us farther than any other group has ever taken the whole makeup and costume thing, and luckily, we had the songs to back it up.
CL: Right! I think that’s what made you guys magic. When I first saw you guys, I was a little kid. I was a huge pro wrestling fan so, for me, seeing KISS was like heavy metal meeting pro wrestling, with the flames and the face paint. Then as I got older, I appreciated you all for the music. Like you said, it’s more than just a gimmick, there’s talented musicians behind all of this.
AF: We were lucky; we could all write songs, you know, four lead singers. Even though a lot of people considered us rock and roll clowns, they didn’t really understand what we were doing. In reality, we were just trying to take people and make them forget about their problems for two hours, just take them away. I think we pretty much succeeded with that at a KISS concert.
CL: Oh, absolutely! And the albums as well. Anytime I listen to your music or KISS albums, it’s a nice escape from the pressures of life.
AF: That’s what entertainment is all about. I try to stay away from politics. I don’t think politics has anything to do with music. It should be entertainment, and you should forget about watching the news. You should be able to just go away and put your head in a better space.
CL: Switching gears for a moment, I wanted to ask about a story that I read about you. I read that you bluffed your way backstage, and you ended up a roadie for Mitch Mitchell. That seems fitting to me because I recall reading that Jimi Hendrix was an influence on you, and then you end up being a roadie for his drummer. How did that all go down?
AF: Well, the story is absolutely true. What happened was, there was a peace concert on Randalls Island, which is just across the East River in midtown Manhattan, and a whole bunch of bands played, and I was there for two days. The first day I was there, I was watching how everything went down. Back in those days, nobody had laminates or stick-on passes. Everybody knew who everybody was, in most cases.
I was watching some of the other band members, from the groups that had already performed, come out and watch some of the bands that were performing at the time, and then I watched them go back in, and pretty much all they did was give a nod to the bodyguard who was guarding the gate. At the time, I had really long hair, I had a black t-shirt with a snakeskin star, yellow hot pants, and vans on, so I figured it’s worth giving it a shot. I just walked up to the gate entrance and nodded at the guy, and he just said, ‘Go ahead.’
He just figured I was in one of the bands. Well, they discovered I wasn’t. Before they kicked me out, the stage manager said, ‘By the way, is there anything you can do?’ I said, ‘Sure, I can tune guitars, set up drums, you name it.’ The next thing you know, I’m setting up Mitch Mitchell’s drums [laughs]. It’s so surreal when I think back on it. It’s just so surreal.
CL: [Laughing] Oh, that’s crazy. Yeah, that’d be harder to pull off these days.
AF: Nah, you could never pull that off today.
CL: Something that surprised me, given your talent, you never took a formal guitar lesson. Is that correct?
AF: Never, but I came from a musical family, so I had that background. I sang in the church choir, so I understood melody, and everybody in my family plays the piano.
My brother and sister both play piano and guitar. But when it came time for me to take piano lessons, I’m the youngest of three kids, I dissented. I really didn’t want to go through that. I’d been listening to my brother and sister play scales for years, and I said, ‘I need something different.’ My brother was playing some folk guitar, and he taught me a few chords, and I found the guitar really interesting. A friend of mine got an electric guitar for his birthday, and I started playing that, and I turned the amp up to 10—love from the first time.
CL: Incredible. That’s awesome. Going back to your new album. You’re on a tour for ‘Spaceman.’ What can you tell me about your current band, the band backing you?
AF: I went over to Australia with Gene, and I used his backing band because I was opening the show for Gene. I fell in love with these guys. I mean, they were just terrific, easy to work with, and no hassles. Very professional. Gene was supposed to come to Japan with us, but he canceled for some reason. So, I went over to Japan with these guys, and we did eight shows in Tokyo and Asaka. At the end of the eight shows, I was so impressed with them, I pretty much said, ‘You guys wanna continue working with me?’ And they said, ‘Oh, we’d love to.’ That’s pretty much how it worked out. I stole the band from Gene [laughs].
CL: [Laughing] That’s great. So, I have to ask you about this. I’m recently engaged, and I read that if I got married this month in Vegas, you could be my best man.
AF: That is true, for a menial fee, though you might not call it menial [laughs].
CL: [Laughing] Will this be occurring past October, like maybe next October?
AF: As far as I know I’m only doing this October 27 and 28, right before the [KISS] cruise. We’ll be doing it at the KISS Mini Golf at the Rio Hotel, and they have a chapel there. [Laughing] First come, first serve.
CL: [Laughing] That is rad. Do you have a service if someone wants to hire you to throw their bachelor party?
AF: [Laughing] I don’t have the time for that.
CL: That’s probably for the best. Something tells me that if you planned my bachelor party, I may become a bachelor again, and not by my choice.
CL: Just a couple questions in closing, and I really appreciate your time today.
CL: Oh, thank you. The sci-fi nerd in me needs to ask you this. I read that two of your favorite old-school sci-fi movies are ‘Forbidden Planet’ with Leslie Nielsen and ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’…
AF: With Michael Rennie.
CL: Right! I love both of those films, as well. What are some modern sci-fi movies that you’ve been into?
AF: I love all the Marvel and all the DC movies. Wonder Woman was my favorite movie of 2017. I love all of the sci-fi superhero movies. It reminds me of my childhood and takes me away.
I think films should be entertainment that take you away from your worries and your daily life. I can’t handle these serious films about this, that, and the other thing. Please, leave the politics to somebody else.
CL: I hear ya. I’m also a film critic, and I generally just review horror movies and sci-fi movies because they’re truly an escape, and it gets you away from the other stuff.
AF: Oh, neat. Yes, exactly.
CL: In closing, you are still going strong and cranking out albums. I know KISS is doing their supposed farewell tour, and I’m glad that you are still putting out albums. If a time ever did come for you to step away from the scene, what would signal the end of your musical career for you? If you ever see that happening.
AF: I’m not in any position to retire; my career has been going onwards and upwards since the release of ‘Anomaly,’ and I’m having a blast. You know, I’m only 67, one of the youngest guys in KISS. The sky’s the limit for me. I would love to score a sci-fi film. That’s on my bucket list [laughs].
CL: Awesome! You could score one, and you could co-star in one.
AF: Sure, I can act, half-assed though [laughs].
CL: [Laughing] Right on. Well, I’m glad to see that retirement is not in your future anytime soon because it seems like each solo album that you keep putting out just gets better and better, which is a true rarity in this industry. So, keep ’em coming, we’re loving them.
AF: Thank you so much.
CL: Absolutely, my pleasure. Thank you for today, I truly appreciate it.
AF: Well, thanks for having me. It was a lot of fun.