“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.”
Former KISS guitarist, Ace Frehley, has recently released the excellent album, Space Invader – his fifth and arguably best since originally leaving the face-painted band in 1982. SHANE PINNEGAR catches the mercurial talent in an ebullient mood.
Guitarist, Ace Frehley, inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame with KISS in April of this year, captures the quintessential Frehley sound on Space Invader – from his unique guitar tone to the instantly catchy melodies and out-there lyrics.
It’s classic Ace.
“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.”
Having written a slew of KISS classics as well as bona fide 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.
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.”
All of which begs the question: would Ace, as a solo artist, ever consider rerecording some of his old KISS songs?
“Sure! I mean, my next album 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.”
Titling the new record Space Invader ties nicely in with the ‘Space Ace’ character Frehley invented when KISS first donned outlandish make-up 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, so I’m proud of it, and I still cherish all that stuff.”
Would the guitarist consider touring with KISS again, as a special guest for just a couple of songs a night?
“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 (Criss, ex-drummer/founding member). 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.”
Frehley’s quick to quash the suggestion that there’s a feud between him and Simmons, but he’s not afraid to take another shot at his ex-bandmate in the process.
“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 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!”