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ACE FREHLEY Let It Rip

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Ace Frehley’s Space Invader Australian tour hits the Astor Theatre on Thursday, May 7, with an array of Kiss songs and solo cuts. BOB GORDON talks space with Ace.

As the original Spaceman character in Kiss, Ace Frehley has long had a very devoted fanbase, who have celebrated not only his work with the iconic rock’n’roll band, but have been hooked on his numerous band (Frehley’s Comet) and solo releases over the years.

The response to his latest album, Space Invader, has been up there with anything he’s ever done, both from the fan community and (even) from music critics.

“It feels great,” Frehley says of the reception to the album. “What really solidified the record was once we came up with the title – because we came up with the title, Space Invader, before I wrote the song, it’s usually the other way around – but while we were mixing the album in Los Angeles I was in my hotel room finishing up songs, then I went into the studio with Warren Huart who mixed the record and we just knocked off the vocals and the guitar solo in one day. It turned out to be one of the best songs on the record. That was a big surprise for me.”

Released in late 2014, Space Invader came almost five years on from Frehley’s previous album, Anomaly. He says the majority of the album is newly written material, with one notable exception.

“Most of the songs are all fresh, but when you posed that question the first song that came to mind was Starship. The rhythm guitar part in Starship I wrote in 2004 on a 12-string and that’s been kicking around forever. It was nice to finally get that into a song and develop it. The instrumental part of Starship went through a lot of changes (laughs). We edited a number of ways and parts of it went in another song, then we took them back, but I’m really happy with the end result and it seems the fans are too.”

While some of Frehley’s Kiss songs such as Rocket Ride and his cover of the Rolling Stones’ 2000 Man reflected his character, his new album invokes the space theme wholeheartedly even though he no longer wears the iconic silver make-up. The galactic theme is inherent in the title, cover art and songs on Space Invader.

“It became really fun towards the end because the space theme is obviously part of my heritage, my character that I created in Kiss,” Frehley states. “So it was fun to revisit that and think about it a little more and write songs and lyrics which reflected that Spaceman character that I created.

“Pretty much I think this is the first concept album I’ve ever done as a solo artist. If you wanna call it a concept record,” says Frehley, laughing his classic laugh. “Would you?”

Possibly… it’s certainly better than the last concept album you were on! (Kiss’ 1981 flop, The Elder).

“(Laughs) Yeah, well it kind of just happened by accident, the record company pretty much came up with the title and I started gearing songs around that. Like I said, I wrote Space Invader at the very end of the mixing process and that was the biggest surprise to me. That and Past The Milky Way, which was also at the very end of the process and turned out to be a gem on the record. Those tracks coming in at the end it was like the icing on the cake. It tied up everything nicely with a big red bow (laughs).”

It’s a unique and perhaps ethereal way of staying aligned with the Spaceman theme, though Frehley doesn’t want to get too deep about it.

“Once we came up with the title the album just kind of took on a life of itself. I try not to overthink things. I try not to overthink lyrics. I do my best creative work when I don’t think, I do my best solos when I just kind of empty my mind and let it rip.”

Interestingly, Space Invader’s cover art was designed by Ken Kelley, who also designed the famous ‘burning city’ cover of Kiss’ 1976 album, Destroyer. Much of Frehley’s past comes to revisit him despite the fact that he left the group for the second time in 2002. At a show last year he was joined by former road manager, JR Smalling, whose voice can be heard at the start of the band’s 1975 Alive! album. Smalling once again announced  Frehley with the famous ‘You wanted the best, well you got the best’ intro.

“I had bumped into him prior to that, but it was great seeing JR,” Frehley says. “That was at BB King’s in New York City, it was a great night. “

In a recent book written by Smalling and other former Kiss crew members called Out On The Streets, he detailed how after two years the fiercely loyal roadcrew was dumped overnight just as Kiss began to hit paydirt in early 1976. Memories are long when it comes to the business of Kiss, but as the years draw out there is still much to celebrate from all sides.

“I’ve tried not to burn too many bridges over the years,” Frehley reflects. “I’ve remained friends with most of the people in the roadcrew… roadies and associates that I’ve worked with. I’m still friends with Paul and Gene and Peter. It’s just the kind of person that I am and I try to be. When I saw JR he was telling me that he’d just written a book. He looked at me and he goes, ‘Ace, you got nothing to worry about! Somebody else might have something else to worry about,’ (laughs). In a nice way he was letting me know that there was no dirt on me.”

It’s already been a year since the four original members of Kiss were inducted into the Rock’n’Roll Hall Of Fame, while the quartet didn’t perform they accepted the awards together. The lead-up and post-event fall-out saw many interviews that seemed to paint each individual into a corner, by asking pointed questions that would pit them against each other, often eliciting stinging criticisms that might not have otherwise been stated.

“Yeah the press exaggerates the rifts between me and Peter and Paul and Gene, you know?” Frehley says. “They’ve liked to portray that it was always me and Peter against Paul and Gene, but that wasn’t always the case. Sometimes I disagreed with Peter and vice versa. It was just that a lot of times I was hanging with Peter because we were the party animals of the band. Paul and Gene were more the serious business-minded guys in the band.

“The balance of power changed once Peter left and then I left because I realised I had lost all my power. I was being outvoted by Paul and Gene on all decisions if I didn’t agree with them. So I saw the writing on the wall and I left and pursued my own career. But you know, we had some good years and a lot of fun times. Most of the memories I have of my days with Kiss are good ones.”

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